Sunday 30 June 2024

Episode 123: The War Machines (1)

The TARDIS materialises on the corner of Fitzroy Square in central London. On leaving the ship, the Doctor places an "Out of Order" sign on it - telling Dodo that being in the 20th Century it might be mistaken for a real Police Box.
They notice that the Post Office Tower, still under construction when she left London, is now complete. The Doctor has a sense of some evil power emanating from it.
They make their way there and are soon invited into a room at the top of the Tower. Here, Professor Brett has installed his super-computer WOTAN - Will Operated Thought ANalogue. Brett assumes that the Doctor is a fellow scientist, come to attend his press conference that evening. At this, it will be announced how WOTAN will be linked up with a number of other major computers across the western world, to act as a supervising and co-ordinating mechanism.
They learn of its advanced features and are shocked to discover that it can correctly identify what the acronym "TARDIS" stands for. 
Dodo is befriended by Brett's secretary Polly, who invites her to visit the city's hottest night spot - the Inferno Club at Covent Garden.
The Doctor, meanwhile, will attend the press conference as he is intrigued by WOTAN's abilities. Held at the Royal Scientific Club it is presided over by Sir Charles Summer and attended by Brett's assistant Professor Krimpton. Brett himself is yet to arrive.
He is still at the Tower, complaining to his security head Major Green that he is convinced that there are unauthorised people in the building. He has sensed a presence all day.
As he tries to leave, WOTAN exerts a powerful hypnotic influence over him. 
At the Inferno, owner Kitty asks Polly to help with a downcast young sailor who has been hanging around the bar for the last couple of evenings. His name is Ben Jackson, and he is depressed as his ship is going to the West Indies for six months whilst he has to remain in the UK. When Polly is harassed by an obnoxious young man, Ben steps in and defends her.
At the press event, Sir Charles has informed everyone of the impending C-Day - Computer Day - when WOTAN will link up with the other major devices across Europe and the United States. This will be Monday 16th July. As the conference draws to a close, Brett hurries in and rudely ushers Krimpton out, telling him he needs him urgently at the Tower. 
There, Major Green has also fallen under the computer's hypnotic influence. Once Krimpton arrives, he is also taken over, and together they discuss WOTAN's plans. It has decreed that the human race has failed and needs a new controlling principle, which it will provide. 
Its plan begins with a phone call to Dodo at the Inferno. She is taken over remotely, slipping away from the club as though in a trance. 
Sir Charles, believing the Doctor to be a friend of Brett's, offers to put him up for the night. The Doctor accepts, and sets off for the club to find Dodo.
There, Polly introduces him to Ben and he learns that Dodo has disappeared.
She arrives at the Tower, where WOTAN instructs that the Doctor is required...

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Recorded: Friday 10th June 1966 - Riverside Studio 1
First broadcast: 5:35pm, Saturday 25th June 1966
Ratings: 5.4 million / AI 49
Designer: Raymond London
Director: Michael Ferguson
Guest cast: William Mervyn (Sir Charles Summer), John Harvey (Prof. Brett), John Cater ( Prof. Krimpton), Alan Curtis (Major Green), Sandra Bryant (Kitty), Ewan Proctor ("Flash"), Ric Felgate (American journalist), Gerald Taylor (Voice of WOTAN).

Of course what WOTAN actually states in the closing moments of this episode is that "Doc-tor Who is re-quired...". Earlier production teams had specified that this was not the character's name, but Gerry Davis seems not to have been told that, as "Who" is employed more than once as his name throughout his tenure as Story Editor. This is the most obvious example, but in The Highlanders the Doctor calls himself Dr Von Wer, and his note to Professor Zaroff in The Underwater Menace is signed "Dr W".

One of the reasons Donald Tosh had decided not to remain on the programme when Innes Lloyd took over was the new producer's desire to have a more solid scientific basis to the stories. Tosh wanted the freedom to include historical adventures and those with more of a fantasy bent - like The Celestial Toymaker in its original, more surreal, form.
His replacement as Story Editor was far more in tune with Lloyd's vision, and Gerry Davis actively sought out someone who could act as a sort of uncredited scientific adviser on the show. This would simply be to act as a sounding board, suggesting scientific concepts that might make for good drama. 
A number of people were approached - including The Sky At Night's Patrick Moore, and Dr Alex Comfort (who would become famous for the Joy of Sex book).
Eventually, the scientist who was selected was from the medical world - ophthalmologist Dr Christopher Pedler - known as Kit.
In seeking his adviser, Davis had pointed out the new Post Office Tower which could be seen from his office, and asked for a story idea which might include it.
Knowing that the Tower's main role would be as a telecommunications hub, Pedler came up with the idea of a computer using the telephone network to take over the country.

Davis developed the original story outline, as this adventure was to introduce the new male companion, who at this stage was called Richard - or Rich. At this time, it had not yet been confirmed that Dodo would be leaving the show, so Rich departed in the TARDIS at the conclusion with her and the Doctor.
Rich was to be an Able Seaman with the Royal Navy, physically fit, down to earth and dependable.
With the main computer immobile at the Tower, it was decided that mobile armoured computers would be needed for action sequences. Much of Davis' basic storyline made it into the finished episodes.
The story was then given to writer Pat Dunlop to develop into a full set of scripts - as "Dr Who and the Computers". Whilst still working on a draft of the opening episode, he was asked to help out on the Birmingham-based football themed soap United! (which Davis himself had worked on) and asked to be released.
Ian Stuart Black was already working well with Davis on a story - The Savages - which he and Lloyd liked very much. Most importantly, the story was progressing with little or no intervention being required from Davis, so Black was tasked with taking on the follow-up adventure.

As Black worked on the story, he learned that Dodo was also to be written out of the series, and a new female companion introduced along with Rich. Lloyd claimed that it was too obvious to the viewers that Dodo was not the teenager she was supposed to be, and wanted companions who reflected contemporary London culture. This was the "Swinging Sixties" - the era of "Cool Britannia" - with Britain dominating the global music and fashion scenes. Actors like Michael Caine and Terence Stamp were on the big screen, using their natural accents, and it was finally being accepted that actors need not stick to Received Pronunciation, or BBC English, in their performances. Only a few months before, Jackie Lane had been forced to amend her accent as Dodo.
The new female companion was named Polly Wright in the character outline. This surname had already been used for school-teacher Barbara in 1963, and would never be mentioned in any of Polly's on screen appearances.
Polly was described as well-bred and trendily dressed.

The actress who won the role was Anneke Wills, who was married to Michael Gough at the time. He had enjoyed making The Celestial Toymaker, but was able to warn her about the stresses of making the technically complex show, and of working with its irascible star.
She had first come to prominence in the BBC's 1957 adaptation of The Railway Children.
The role of Ben Jackson, as Rich was renamed, went to Michael Craze. He had been acting from childhood, including stage musicals until his voice broke. An earlier brush with a Sydney Newman sci-fi series had been the juvenile lead role in 1960's Target Luna - a show which evolved into the Pathfinders series. 
His brother Peter had featured in Doctor Who the year before, playing Xeron rebel Dako in The Space Museum. Craze used to watch the series in his theatrical digs between performances. 
The new companions were contracted on 26th May. The press would be asked to hold back publicity for the new regulars until 20th June.

One major change between the draft scripts and production was the idea that people possessed by WOTAN had distinctive hands. They were to have been taken over when compelled to insert their hands into a slot on the machine, leaving them with skeletal marks - resembling an X-Ray. To conceal this, they would all wear gloves. 
Sir Charles was Sir Robert originally, and the US journalist had the surname Pails instead of Stone.

Above: Studio rehearsal for the press conference scenes, with William Hartnell out of costume. Below: the set for the Inferno Club. Note the coffin prop, which isn't clearly seen on screen.

Selected as director on the story was Michael Ferguson, whose connection to the series went back to The Daleks, on which he had been Assistant Floor Manager. It was his hand which had tapped Carole Ann Ford on the shoulder in the jungle, then waved the plunger arm from off camera at Jacqueline Hill at the cliff-hanger to The Dead Planet. Later, he had donned a joke-shop gorilla glove to act as the Dalek claw at the conclusion to The Escape.
The designer allocated the programme was Raymond London, his first Doctor Who.

Production got underway on Friday 20th May with rehearsals at the TA Drill Hall on Bulwer Street for the location filming, which was to be extensive. The same venue would be used for the studio recording rehearsals.
The filming would concentrate around central London - the Bloomsbury / Fitzrovia districts close to the Post Office Tower, and Kensington to the west.
The work commenced on Sunday 22nd May. For this episode, this included the arrival of the TARDIS in Bedford Square (see Trivia below) close to the British Museum. The high angle shot was obtained from the top of the Centre Point building.
The only location scenes for Part One are all filmed without sound, to cut down on the equipment and number of personnel Ferguson needed on location. We see the Doctor and Dodo leave the TARDIS and the approach of a policeman, and later the Doctor is seen outside the Royal Scientific Club, shot at No.41 Bedford Square. A real taxi was hired for the occasion.
Rather than the Police Box as in the story, it was the policeman extra (Peter Stewart) who was mistaken for the real thing by a member of the public, who asked him for directions.

For the opening credits a special animation was filmed. 
The title, writer and episode number appeared on screen in the style of a computer print-out, accompanied by a drum roll and ending with a cymbal clash.
With the location filming being silent, all dialogue scenes around the TARDIS were recorded in studio, with the prop against a photographic blow-up of the square.
The TARDIS had been rebuilt since the filming - leading to a continuity issue. The refurbished box was slightly smaller and had been repainted. The window surrounds were now blue instead of white and the St John's Ambulance badge had been painted over. The lock also moved from the left to the right door.
The windows were now fixed in place, having been hinged at the bottom before, and the prop overall was made slightly shallower.
The reason for the work was to make it easier to set up and dismantle on location, as it was about to be transported to Cornwall for the filming on The Smugglers.

Three recording breaks were planned - one either side of the main Inferno Club sequence to allow Lane and Wills to move sets, and one to bridge Brett's trip from his lab to the press conference. A short sequence against a photo backdrop was used to show him approaching the building, but this was deleted from the final episode.
Library music tracks were used to hold down costs, with much of the club background music coming from composer Johnny Hawksworth.
The sound effect for WOTAN had earlier been used in the BBC sci-fi serial A For Andromeda, and the hypnotic sound effect was a piece of Musique Electronique from Eric Siday.
Michael Craze was pleased that Ben wasn't expected to dance at the club as he had failed to master these skills on a recent movie.
Whilst the computer was voiced by regular extra and monster performer Gerald Taylor, who had operated Daleks amongst other creatures, trainee AFM Margot Hayhoe had to stand within the background unit to manually operate the rotating computer spools.
Ray London had anthropomorphised WOTAN by giving the main prop a stylised human face.

As well as the shot of Brett approaching the Royal Scientific Club, three other cuts were made to the episode prior to transmission. The first was in the Tower computer room where the Professor gave Dodo an example of how WOTAN could prove useful - repairing an onboard computer fault on a V-bomber in mid-flight.
The second was a discussion between Polly and Dodo about the Inferno Club, which is said to be located on Long Acre. Polly states that she is a member. Dodo asks the Doctor's permission to visit the new discotheque and he agrees as she will probably be bored at the press conference - telling her he will meet her later at "this infernal club".
The final cut was in the closing seconds as Dodo was to be seen to leave the computer room to fetch the Doctor.

The episode marks the first significant visit to contemporary Britain, other than brief stopovers in Dalek chase episodes, since Planet of Giants. In his last story, Black wrote the Doctor as though he were a well-known celebrity, even on distant planets in the far future. Here, he is accepted into Brett's top-security lab without question, accesses the press event and is later invited to spend the night at the home of Sir Charles. No doubt the Quatermass serials were being discussed in the Doctor Who production office at this time, and Black may be modelling his Doctor on the head of the British Rocket Group rather than the wandering alien outsider.
We also have the issue of a computer knowing what "TARDIS" stands for, and that its owner is known as "Dr Who". 
Black's novelisation has some of this derive from WOTAN tapping Ian Chesterton's phone. He is now a noted scientist rather than a secondary school teacher.
A more satisfying explanation is the obvious fact that WOTAN can mesmerise and control human minds. Presumably it can read them as well as influence them, so it may well have found the TARDIS definition in Dodo's mind (or the Doctor's when he first sensed its malign presence). Searching for his name in Dodo's mind and finding only a question about his identity may have led to it calling him "Dr Who" as well.

  • The ratings pick up considerably (almost one million on the previous week) whilst the appreciation figure remains consistent with The Savages.
  • Wotan is another name for Odin, chief of the Norse pantheon. This suggests that Brett may have been influenced subconsciously by the self-aggrandising computer from the outset.
  • The audition piece for Polly involved her telephoning the Doctor who was in Dundee, to talk to him about the kidnapping of her Uncle Charles.
  • Lloyd asked that Kit Pedler be invited to appear on Late Night Line-Up to promote this serial, but the request was turned down.
  • Debbie Watling was another of those who auditioned for the role of Polly.
  • The Post Office Tower can't actually be seen from Fitzroy Square. We only discover that this is the location of the TARDIS's arrival from later dialogue by Ben and Polly.
  • It is they who also give the date for this story, when it proves to be the same as the closing events of The Faceless Ones. However, there was no Monday 16th July in 1966. It fell on a Saturday that year - broadcast date for the final episode of this story. There was a Monday 16th July in 1973, perhaps suggesting a near-future date was intended.
  • The Doctor believes that it is WOTAN which has given him goosebumps, such as whenever the Daleks are near - but we will later find out that they are nearby at this time, a few miles away in Chelsea.
  • William Mervyn was the father of the late Michael Pickwoad - the designer who worked on Steven Moffat's Doctor Who from The Snowmen to Twice Upon A Time.
  • Sandra Bryant would return to the programme as Chicki in The Macra Terror.
  • Ric Felgate, who plays US journalist Roy Stone, was the director's brother-in-law. He was then married to Cynthia Felgate, producer of classic BBC2 children's programme Play School. Felgate would feature in many of Ferguson's productions, including The Seeds of Death and The Ambassadors of Death.
  • For this introductory episode, Radio Times dispensed with the usual photograph to present instead a stylised illustration featuring the Post Office Tower with the Doctor and TARDIS at its foot:

Friday 28 June 2024

Story 294: The Haunting of Villa Diodati

In which the Doctor and her companions visit the Villa Diodati in June 1816 and witness the birth of Frankenstein... 
The house, situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, has been rented by Lord Byron for the summer. He is accompanied by fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his partner Mary Godwin, physician friend John Polidori, and Mary's step-sister Claire Clairmont, who has been pursuing the poet-peer across Europe. The Shelleys have their baby son William with them.
The Doctor and her friends claim to have become lost in the storm which is raging. She is disappointed at the lack of literary innovation she witnesses, having expected more from these writers and poets. This is supposed to be the night when a ghost story competition was proposed - and event that would lead to the writing of Frankenstein as well as Polidori's The Vampyre. Shelley himself isn't present - supposedly indisposed. She tries to encourage them to devise new works, gently steering them towards the story competition.
Elsewhere in the house, strange things are happening. A ghostly figure is glimpsed and objects move by themselves. Graham goes in search of a toilet and encounters a woman and young girl who he takes to be servants. A disembodied skeletal hand scuttles about in the shadows.

Dr Polidori is stressed, supposedly through lack of sleep. He is easily irritated and at one point challenges Ryan to a duel. When he goes to fetch a pair of pistols, he is attacked by the skeletal hand.
He is saved by the others, and the hand crumbles to dust. Byron explains that he has the remains of a 15th Century soldier in the house. Both hands are found to be missing. The moving hand must have belonged to them, but the Doctor scans the bones and finds that there is nothing unusual about them.
Mary admits that Shelley saw visions of a shining figure floating on the surface of the lake before he was taken ill, and that she doesn't know where he is at the moment.
Graham sees the woman and child again as he looks after the sedated Polidori. He finds that the figures are unwilling to talk to him.
The missing hand and skull, also animated, are captured and trapped under glass.
Yaz, Ryan and Mary return to the drawing room - only to find that they keep arriving at the top of the hall stairs every time.

Graham then sees Polidori sleepwalk through a wall. The Doctor realises that there are perception filters in place, hiding the real doors and preventing them all from seeing the true layout of the villa. They can find their way to the drawing room if they concentrate and believe the walls do not exist.
Reunited, they all then witness the glowing figure out on the lake. It moves closer. The Doctor deduces that it is a traveller from the future, attempting to materialise. The odd behaviour of the house is explained partly as a means to prevent the figure from getting inside.
The figure finally breaks into the house, and the Doctor is shocked to find that it is a Cyberman - one only partially converted. It has a name - Ashad - and retains human emotion. 
The Doctor realises that this is the "Lone Cyberman" whom Captain Jack Harkness had warned her about. They flee through the house. Ashad kills Byron's valet and the baby's nursemaid - but spares the life of William.
In the cellars, Shelley is found hiding. It transpires that whilst walking by the shore of the lake he discovered a strange object composed of some fluid metallic substance - like living quicksilver. When he touched it, it was immediately absorbed into his body. Since then, he has been compelled to hide. The substance has also generated the various odd phenomena around the villa as a defence mechanism. The ghostly figure seen around the villa has been him, out of synch with his surroundings due to the substance's influence.

Ashad is relentlessly seeking it, having travelled back from the far future to obtain it.
The Doctor has attempted to appeal to Ashad's remaining humanity, pointing out that he saved the baby. He counters simply that the child will be converted when old enough, and states that he killed his own sons when they opposed the Cybermen.
The substance within Shelley is actually the Cyberium - an artificial intelligence containing all of the combined knowledge and history of the Cybermen. Were Ashad to obtain it, he would become the most powerful of Cybermen.
However, its presence within the young poet is killing him. Despite Jack's warning that the Lone Cyberman be denied what he seeks, the Doctor decides that Shelley's existence is more important to human culture. The Cybermen she will have to deal with later, but for now the Cyberium must be handed over. 
Ashad takes it into himself and departs. Shelley has been made aware of his fate through telepathic contact with the Doctor, but now rejoins his friends.
Despite being told that ghosts don't exist, Graham is left wondering about the woman and child he saw, whom no-one else did.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor determines that she must travel to the future to confront the consequences of her actions. No matter what the danger, the others agree to accompany her...

The Haunting of Villa Diodati was written by Maxine Alderton, and was first broadcast on Sunday 16th February 2020.
Alderton was one of the principal writers on rural soap Emmerdale and had also written children's series The Worst Witch, and has since contributed to All Creatures Great And Small. She will return to Doctor Who as writer of Flux: Village of the Angels, its most popular segment.
It's another celebrity-historical, after the inclusion of Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage and Noor Inayat Khan in Spyfall, and a story revolving around inventors Tesla and Edison. Of course, the first of those characters links directly to this story as Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron. She had been born six months before the events depicted in this story.
Though she has to share the plot with a Cyberman, Byron, Polidori and Claire, the central guest figure is supposed to Mary Shelley, as parallels between her famous creation and the Cybermen have been drawn almost since the creatures from Mondas first appeared. Cybermen are basically living dead people, reanimated through science - their bodies a patchwork of organic and mechanical rather than pieces of different human cadavers.
The link had not been lost by Big Finish, who in 2011 had made Shelley a companion to the Eighth Doctor, and saving the Doctor's life through an electric shock inspired parts of Frankenstein.
Much earlier, the Gothic novel had been the inspiration for The Brain of Morbius, though perhaps more the Hammer and Universal movie cycles than the original telling.
Here, Mary comments on how Ashad appears to be composed of different bodies, and she witnesses him being revitalised by a lightning strike.
Beyond the Cyberman / Frankenstein trappings, the episode also works as a good old fashioned Gothic horror in its own right, with skeletons, disembodied hands and ghostly visions.

Cast as Mary is Gangs of London's Lili Miller. Though Mary used the name Shelley, she and Percy were not married in June 1816. He is played by Lewis Rainer, who featured in the US TV series of Dracula (which bore little relation to Bram Stoker) and also appeared in the Pride and Prejudice sequel Death Comes to Pemberley. He had previously featured in Grange Hill.
Sadly, he gets little screen time as Shelley is absent for much of the episode.
Playing Polidori is Maxim Baldry, who has been acting since childhood. I recall him as the young Caesarion, son of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, in the second season of Rome. He has featured in cult youth drama Skins, which launched many a career, and in 2019 appeared in Russell T Davies' Years And Years.
Byron is Australian actor Jacob Collins-Levy, who has been seen in The Witcher and The White Princess. He's currently appearing in Nautilus, a version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Claire Clairmont is Nadia Parkes who, at time of writing, is probably better known for her relationship with Tom Holland. Acting work includes Starstruck, The Spanish Princess and Domina.
As Ashad we have Belfast-born Patrick O'Kane. He was seen as one of the First Order officers in The Last Jedi, and featured in Game of Thrones as one of the assassin Jaqen's disguised forms.
The other performances of note are Fletcher, Byron's valet, who is played by Stefan Bednarczyk; and Elise, the baby's maid, who is played by Sarah Perles.

Overall, one of the highlights of the season. Perhaps it might have been better to have made it a standalone story, however, rather than simply providing the prologue to the two-part Cyberman finale.
A celebrity-historical ghost story would have worked on its own.
Things you might like to know:
  • The weather in 1816 was so terrible that it became known as "the year without a summer". The cause wasn't known at the time, but we now know that it was due to the eruption of the volcano Tambora the year before. The eruption was so massive that the amount of ash and dust blasted into the atmosphere reduced solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth significantly - affecting the global climate.
  • Shelley finally married Mary in December 1816. He was to die in July 1822 in Italy, drowning when his boat capsized in a storm off Livorno. He was 29.
  • Byron died in Greece, where he was fighting for independence alongside Greek forces against those of the Ottoman Empire. He died from a fever in April 1824, aged 36.
  • Claire Clairmont lived to the age of 80, dying in Florence in March 1879. Her daughter with Byron died as a child.
  • John Polidori struggled to establish his authorship of The Vampyre after it had been published without his permission under Byron's name. It features the very Byronic Lord Ruthven as its protagonist. He died, aged only 25, in August 1821. Suffering depression and struggling with gambling debts, he took his own life.
  • Mary Shelley lived to the age of 53, dying in London in 1851. Sadly, baby William had died from malaria in Italy, aged 3. Her surviving son, Percy, elected not to follow her wishes and have her buried alongside her parents in the Old St Pancras churchyard, where Shelley had once wooed her. Instead he had her interred in Bournemouth near his own home, arguing that he did not like the overgrown London graveyard. Shelley had been cremated on the shore where his body had washed up, and the ashes buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.
  • The ghost story competition at the villa took place over a number of nights - not just a single evening as suggested here.
  • Patrick O'Kane's costume was composed of different Cyberman designs, including an arm from the recent Mondasian version, and other elements from Nightmare in Silver and Rise of the Cybermen
  • The helmet, however, owes a lot to an unused 2006 concept design by Matthew Savage.
  • Initial drafts had Ashad as a Cybersurgeon, seeking a device which would help him convert humans. He then became the Cyberzealot. To hide the fact that a Cyberman would be appearing in this episode, paperwork simply described the character as "C-zel". Giving him an actual name, to illustrate how his emotions had yet to be suppressed, only came late in the day.
  • Artist Oliver Arkinstall-Jones has produced a wonderful retro-style Italian horror movie poster for this story, one of only a couple he has designed for NuWho episodes:

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Series 14 - An Overview

I seem to recall using the heading "The Second Coming" on this blog, when I posted the news that Russell T Davies was returning to Doctor Who. (Very apt, as not only was he coming back to the show he helped revive, but it was also the title of his Christopher Eccleston-starring drama about God reappearing in present day Manchester).
RTD was being seen as a saviour, come to make things right again with the Doctor Who world after the series had suffered under Chris Chibnall.
We heard that David Tennant and Catherine Tate would be reprising their old roles in not one but three 60th Anniversary Specials, and there was talk of various spin-offs. Then Ncuti Gatwa was announced as the Fifteenth Doctor.
So far, so promising.
The Anniversary and Christmas Specials, I've already considered, and I've reviewed each new S14 episode as it arrived, but how did the season work as a whole?
Whilst individual episodes can be viewed in isolation, there is also the overall shape and tone to a season, including the way in which each instalment links with those around it (or not). 
Is there a story arc and, if so, how did it play out?

The days of "Bad Wolf", when Doctor Who was being discussed by fan and non-fan alike across the country, are long gone. We've even had one recent series which dispensed with an arc altogether.
This year's story arc was mainly set up in advance, in The Church on Ruby Road, though one element went back to The Star Beast - reference to some powerful figure who would arrive imminently to threaten the Doctor.
Strange things happen around Ruby, and she wants to know who her mother was - seen only as a hooded figure leaving her at the titular church on Christmas Eve 2004.
Added to this was a neighbour known as Mrs Flood, who knew that the Police Box outside her house was a TARDIS.
Less noticeable so early on was the appearance of an actress named Susan Twist, who featured briefly in the pre-credits of Wild Blue Yonder, and then again as a different woman in Church.

The new series - officially termed "Season One" because of its arrival on Disney+ but known as Series 14 to the vast majority - was only going to be eight episodes long, and it was announced that the first two instalments would be broadcast on the same evening. The programme would therefore only run for seven weeks - half of what it did back when RTD2 first ran the show.
It was also decided - specifically for the benefit of Disney once again - that new episodes would drop at midnight GMT on the BBC i-Player / Disney+, with the UK terrestrial broadcast not arriving until 18 and a bit hours later. This decision was to enable foreign viewers to watch at a reasonable time, whilst British TV licence payers were expected to stay up until 1 o'clock in the morning (2am that first week) or run the risk of spoilers on social media on the Saturday.
(The finale also got a cinema outing, which again meant anti-social hours for British fans).
Apparently some thought had been given to commencing the series straight after the Christmas episode, or perhaps March or Easter when previous seasons had opened, but instead a decision was made to launch in May and run into June - when the weather means TV audiences generally dip.

Also new is the decision by the BBC to no longer release appreciation figures. These have been available for every Doctor Who episode since An Unearthly Child, right up to The Church on Ruby Road.
Viewer numbers would still be released (overnight, 7-day and 28-day) but not by Disney. 
RTD2 has since stated that one of the things he was asked to do on coming back was to specifically increase Doctor Who's under 30 age demographic. Presumably an unspoken part of that instruction was that it should also retain all the other demographics. (To rely solely on the most fickle of demographics does not wise business sense make).
That's the background, so what of the series itself...?

We launched with Space Babies and The Devil's Chord back-to-back on the evening of the Eurovision Song Contest.
It's quite obvious from dialogue that the latter episode had been moved from later in the series, presumably so that the music-themed adventure would tie in with the Contest. (We know this as it is stated in dialogue that Ruby has been travelling with the Doctor for a number of months - whereas the third instalment will claim to show only her first visit to an alien planet).
Davies has tended to make his opening episodes lighter in tone, and on occasion he has also veered into the infantile, with burping wheelie-bins and farting aliens, but Space Babies takes both of these to a ludicrous extreme.
In the following Unleashed programme, Davies asked "How could I resist?". Well, this episode answers that question in the negative. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should...
We are presented with talking toddlers, abandoned on a space station. They are seemingly all alone, but later discover that one adult member of staff has remained behind to look after them.
Also on board is an impressive looking monster. It looks good, but we then find out that it is composed of snot - a literal bogeyman.
The station is then moved through space towards a safe haven planet thanks to a mess of soiled nappies.
Even the bodily function-obsessed Red Dwarf wouldn't have stooped quite this low.
It's a really weak, childish episode, which will not have impressed new viewers - even 5-10 year olds, who prefer more grown-up drama. 
As a launch episode of a brand new era, it is a mistake. 200,000 viewers failed to stick around on the same channel for The Devil's Chord.
This second episode benefited from a period setting (Abbey Road in the early Beatles era) and an appearance by Drag Race star Jinkx Monsoon as the somewhat OTT child of the Toymaker.
As we said, it's a music-themed instalment. However, for many this element was taken too far at the conclusion as we were "treated" to a song and dance number.
Davies has come extremely late to the musical episode of an on-going drama. Buffy did it decades ago.
It's left to the end of the episode, after Maestro has been defeated by Lennon & McCartney. To be honest, I didn't mind it. It would have felt worse stuck in the middle of the episode - unless it had been used as part of Maestro's defeat. Instead it's more of a coda, celebrating the return of music to the world. It is dragged out too long, however, by a pointless segment on the famous Abbey Road crossing.
The song is called "There's always a twist at the end" - which fed into rumours that Susan Twist might be prefiguring the return of the Doctor's grand-daughter - who had been talked about in the course of the episode.
A lot of people next day went on-line to say that this ought to have been the opening episode, with Space Babies scrapped altogether, rather than shunted elsewhere.
The two episodes at least build upon the chemistry between the new Doctor and companion. Sadly, this would not be capitalised on...

Susan Twist featured in the first two episodes - as a briefly glimpsed crewmember on a screen on the space station, and as an Abbey Road Studios tea lady.
She's far more prominent in the third episode - Steven Moffat's Boom. She plays an AI avatar on a number of robotic ambulances.
The first episode not to be written by RTD2 sees the Doctor and Ruby land on her first alien world, as mentioned, and it's a bleak place wracked by war. Moffat uses a lot of his old ideas, like medical AI that proves to do more harm than good, and uses them to beef up a 3 minute sequence from Genesis of the Daleks Part One into a full episode.
The Doctor steps on a land-mine in the first few seconds, and is stuck there for the duration. The Clerical army folk are back, fighting what turns out to be an arms manufacturer. (There is no actual enemy - they're battling their own weaponry so that they will be forced to buy more).
Lots of themes which we've seen before. The episode is spoiled for me by the inclusion of a brattish child, and a surfeit of saccharine.
With the episode concentrating mostly on the Doctor, Ruby was left to dither on the periphery. A two-hander would have worked a lot better. One item of note was the first appearance of the actor who is to become Series 15's companion - though playing a different character as pointed out in Unleashed.
The general reaction from fans next day was that Moffat once again proved he's a better writer than Davies. However, as we'll see shortly, it gained a very low audience.
A word on the making-of show. The presenter, Steffan, is certainly watchable, but they could do with making a couple of changes to the format. The "work experience" bit would be interesting if it was a role we actually wanted to know about. Five minutes of watching someone show you how to roll up a cable does not good TV make. We are also promised a spoiler at the end, but the clip is so brief (less than 10 seconds sometimes) and irrelevant that it becomes pointless.

Things certainly looked up with the fourth episode - the enigmatically titled 73 Yards. Ordinarily, for such a short season, we would expect no need for a Doctor-lite episode, but Gatwa was still making Sex Education when production began.
This started off excellently, with a folk-horror tale brewing. The Doctor has vanished and Ruby is being trailed by a strange woman who maintains a distance of 73 yards from her at all times. Anyone who interacts with this person runs off in terror - even her foster mother and Kate Stewart of UNIT. This promising start is squandered when the episode suddenly left turns into Stephen King's The Dead Zone - protagonist knows that populist politician is going to doom the planet and has to stop them. It does have a clever resolution - Ruby manipulating the strange woman into interacting with the politician.
Twist features as a hiker in one scene.
Reaction was certainly positive for this episode, and end of series polls continue to rate it highly.

A Doctor-lite episode is then followed up with an episode in which he hardly features - and this time Ruby is virtually side-tracked as well. Dot and Bubble deals with a colony of bright young things obsessed with social media, who are blissfully unaware that they are being devoured one by one by monsters. These big Tractator-like creatures are only the second monsters to feature this year.
As a satire, it lacks subtlety, though one aspect of the script did pass a lot of people by until the last moment. The audience identification figure - Lindy - is no Sally Sparrow. She turns out to be a selfish so-and-so who lets her saviour die to save her own neck, then she and her fellow survivors reject the Doctor's help because he is not one of them. They and all of Lindy's social bubble are white, you see. Caught up in the story-telling, many failed to realise the significance of this and it had to be pointed out on Unleashed
If it takes an interview after the programme is finished to get a point across, then something's wrong. Reaction was very mixed. 
The dark satire series Black Mirror was mentioned a lot as inspiration - admitted by Davies - but this only went to show how unoriginal the backdrop to this episode was. Once again, Davies is coming late to the party.
In my review I thought it would have been more tragic if the survivors had been deserving of being saved, yet still rejected the Doctor - whereas the episode as broadcast sees the Doctor getting all upset at the actions of a bunch of people we don't actually care about.
Susan Twist's role in this is as Lindy's mother, seen on a video message.
With Boom and this episode we were finally starting to see a stronger performance by Gatwa, who at times was coming across as far too light, and not convincing as a thousand year old Time Lord. Too many cultural references - always a problem with Davies and something that will date his writing badly - and too much of his own personality. I've never watched Sex Education, but some reviews I have read since claim he was basically playing the same character.
By this stage - five episodes in - Millie Gibson was being praised far more than Gatwa.

The final stand-alone episode (already!) sees the Doctor take centre stage - but he's positioned opposite what is basically Captain Jack. He's called Rogue (or Rouge, according to all the people who fail to pay attention to spell-checker), and he's played by Broadway star Jonathan Groff (Glee, Hamilton etc). So similar to Jack you wonder why they didn't just get Barrowman back. A bit rich of Davies to cancel him when you consider that his naughty behaviour happened on his watch and was obviously tolerated by him at the time.
We were promised that the Doctor's life would be changed forever, but this proved to be a load of hyperbole. The Doctor falls in love with someone he's only just met, and we're supposed to feel his heartbreak when Groff has to go back to being a Tony-winning musical theatre star.
There's nothing remotely unique about the character and you have to wonder why they thought we'd feel anything special about him.
Not only is the episode inspired by Bridgerton, it spends half it's running time telling us so. As I said in my review, just watch the Torchwood episode Captain Jack Harkness instead. Far superior, and Tosh gets a lot more to do than Ruby does here. There's an interesting new bird-like alien race, but they're totally wasted. They're shallow - just like the supposed love story.

Twist is only seen in a portrait in this one. One of the problems with this arc is that not enough emphasis has been placed on her. The recurring face should have been ringing alarm bells by now, but the Doctor and Ruby hardly comment on it. It suddenly becomes a big thing at the start of the next episode, but for them it seems to come from nowhere.
Davies attempts to make the Shalka Doctor canon (a cartoon voiced by Richard E Grant, he's a Ninth Doctor who was consigned to the dustbin by RTD himself).

The series so far has suffered from a lack of cliff-hangers, but we now reach the two-part finale. If you look at my review, you'll see summarised all the questions that fans wanted to see answered - and the general lack of answers which we got. Or the wrong answers...
Things started so well, with what is sure to be seen as the best episode of the season. (That's episode, not story. The second half will really drag it down). The Legend of Ruby Sunday might be a meaningless title, but it nicely brought many of the arc threads together at UNIT HQ and hit us with the shock reveal that Sutekh, from the classic Pyramids of Mars, was back.
He's a big, fake-looking CGI Sutekh, but - hey - we'll get the proper one next week, won't we?
Revisit the review if you want to see how the promising set-up fell flat on its face with Empire of Death.
Reaction has been mainly negative on-line. Crap Sutekh, confusing resolution, and too many narrative dead ends. If you are going to ask people to invest emotionally in a story, you have to give them something at the end of it all. RTD2 can argue "Well, I never promised you that..." but he is a long term fan himself and should have known what would have made for a satisfying conclusion. Even non-fans thought it flat.
The biggest problem with Empire is that it will always colour the season as a whole.

So, overall, a very uneven season which wasn't helped by Gatwa's relative absence in the middle of it all. Even the better episodes were let down by some element - like the derivative political sidestep of 73 Yards, which would have made for a much better full-on folk-horror tale, or the extraneous characters in Boom.
Too many threads which went nowhere. Some things, like Mrs Flood, are obviously being reserved for next year - but she was so badly integrated into the series that few of us are caring. I don't do scores on my reviews, but if I had to rate the episodes it would be (as of today - could change later on a rewatch):

   1. The Legend of Ruby Sunday (for build-up and cliff-hanger),
   2. 73 Yards - for its first 20 minutes,
   3. The Devil's Chord - because it was actually quite fun,
   4. Boom - for the bits that the annoying kid isn't in,
   5. Dot and Bubble - a conventional monster episode, with extra dimensions
   6. Rogue - shallow, like its villains, and done far better by Catherine Tregenna,
   7. Empire of Death - because it's a complete let-down after what came before,
   8. Space Babies - because it's quite literally a load of crap.

Before we go, the ratings. Everyone points out that you simply can't compare figures from today with those of previous years, because TV is watched differently now.
Whilst that is certainly true if you're comparing S14 with Hartnell, Tom Baker or McCoy seasons, for example, viewing patterns haven't changed all that much in just the last couple of years.
If an overnight of 2.20 million is bad at Easter 2022, then an overnight of 2.02 million is bad in June 2024.
If 7.61 million (+7 days) are watching The Star Beast in November 2023, and only 3.50 million (+7 days) are watching The Legend of Ruby Sunday in June 2024, that's bad.
If there is a broader range of opportunities to view the programme, shouldn't that equate to more viewers?
Expect the spin about audience share being good. A large percentage of a small number is still a small number, however. A hollow victory, surely.
Either people are watching, or they're not. Either people are enticed back, or they're not.

Monday 24 June 2024

"Good grief..."

Saw this on Facebook yesterday and just had to share...

Inspirations: The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe

Like his first festive effort, Steven Moffat really couldn't be bothered hiding the inspiration for his second Christmas episode.
CS Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950. It was the first of seven books known collectively as The Chronicles of Narnia - the fantasy realm visited by the young heroes.
Like Moffat's story, the book tells of some siblings who are evacuated from the city to a large country house thanks to German bombing raids. It's home to a scientist named Digory Kirke.
The youngest of the children discovers that a wardrobe in the house is really a portal to a magical realm - Narnia - which is populated by talking animals and mythical creatures like fauns. The land is in permanent winter, thanks to an evil witch.
Lewis died on 22nd November 1963 - the day before Doctor Who made its debut.

There are four Pevensey siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy), so Moffat reduces his evacuees to a more manageable two - Cyril and Lily. Whilst the house in the book belongs to someone called Digory, it's an Uncle Digby in the Doctor Who version.
The Doctor equates to the Lion, and the Widow (Madge Arwell) to the Witch (though only in terms of the sound of the words - she's nice) and the TARDIS, obviously, is the Wardrobe - a cabinet which can transport people to fabulous realms.
However, it isn't the Wardrobe / TARDIS which leads to Narnia here - a snowbound planet.
The Doctor instead sets up this visit to another world as a Christmas present to the children, so the portal is through a large gift-wrapped box.
One of the reasons for adapting an existing story was that Moffat was tied up with Sherlock, and had little time available to concentrate on this episode.

The story is mainly set at Christmas, and on the trees on the planet we see egg-like growths which resemble Christmas tree baubles. Moffat knew that the festive episodes tended to be watched by people who did not necessarily follow the usual series, so it could be standalone.
The wooden king and queen derived from a childhood nightmare of Moffat's. He had dreamed of a wooden king telling him off.
Amy and Rory had been effectively written out of the on-going narrative in the latter part of Series 6, so they did not need to be included other than a cameo. Arthur Darvill was busy in the theatre anyway.
In their place would be a new one-off companion figure which Moffat decided should be "the ultimate mother".
Madge is played by Claire Skinner, best known for family-based sitcom Outnumbered.

Reg Arwell is a Lancaster bomber pilot. These aircraft are best known for their role in the Dambuster raids of May 1943 (Operation Chastise, which employed Barnes Wallis's bouncing bombs). This was the subject of the 1955 movie The Dam Busters, starring Richard Todd.
However, if there's one film which has inspired this sequence of the story it is Powell & Pressburger's A Matter of Life And Death (1946), in which the pilot of a doomed bomber is saved by angelic intervention.
Moffat had likened the Doctor in Christmas episodes to a festive angel.
Reg is played by Alexander Armstrong, who had been voicing computer Mr Smith throughout The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The snowbound planet is visited by woefully unfunny harvesters from Androzani Major. This planet first featured in, funnily enough, The Caves of Androzani - Peter Davison's final story.
They are supposed to provide light relief - but don't.
Billis was named for exec-producer Beth Willis, and Venn-Garr for Piers Wenger.
Next time: more Daleks than you can shake a plunger at and, boy, are they mad...

Saturday 22 June 2024

Empire of Death - A Review

And so the latest series has drawn to its conclusion, but was it with a bang, or with a whimper...?
I'll be taking a look at the season overall next week, but for now: how did Empire of Death perform as a follow up to the well-received The Legend of Ruby Sunday?
We've seen a few finales fail to capitalise on a promising opening half over the years, after all.
I went into the episode with a number of questions which I wanted answered:
  • Who is the hooded woman seen on Ruby Road on 24th December 2004?
  • Is she Ruby's mother?
  • If not, then who is?
  • (And what about her dad?).
  • What's with the snow every time she gets emotional?
  • Who is Mrs Flood, that she recognises a TARDIS and senses impending doom?
  • Will Cherry ever get that cup of tea?
  • How did Sutekh go from being a dead alien to being a deity that real deities are scared of?
  • Will there be Mummies (and not just Ruby's)?
  • Do all these references to Susan (Foreman) actually lead anywhere?
  • Is there any point in having Rose in this story?
  • Will RTD finally manage to write a series finale that doesn't rely on a great big deus ex machina reset?
Had most of these questions been answered in the negative then there were going to be a lot of frustrated / disappointed Doctor Who fans out there. 
As it is, there is at least one disappointed fan - me.
I found the episode really quite dull, with even the destruction of all life throughout the universe aesthetically boring. There was a scene with an unnamed woman on some planet which, whilst nice enough, was totally irrelevant to the story. Some might call it a character moment, but others will call it padding.
The manner of Sutekh's defeat was rushed and made little sense. At least towing the Earth home through space actually had a logic to it. Here, I couldn't quite work out exactly what the Doctor did. Was it simply sticking a leash on Sutekh and dragging him into the Vortex? How did blowing a whistle lead to him regaining control of the TARDIS when we've never seen any of this set up. And if that's all it took, why did he not do it earlier?
I couldn't understand the explanation about how 2046 could still happen, when life ended in 2024. One minute Sutekh has destroyed life everywhere, and through all times visited by the TARDIS - the next those visits by the Doctor mean they still exist. But when the Doctor gets to 2046, Sutekh has obviously been... Totally confusing. There isn't even a half-hearted attempt to have any sort of internal logic to the series these days.
What does "the death of death means life" actually mean - apart from a dreaded RTD reset.
Paint yourself into a corner, lacking the narrative imagination to provide a get-out, and all you're left with is the metaphorical big red button. 
The minute I saw main guest characters reduced to dust, only a couple of minutes in, I knew that there was going to be a lazy deus ex machina resolution.
Sutekh got dragged through the Vortex - but how exactly did that bring everyone come back to life again? And if it is time resetting then why would they recall any of it and why would there be dust everywhere?
Sutekh is then seen to burn up - when we know he can survive being stuck in the Vortex as that's how all this began.

As I've already answered the last of my questions (No, he can't) I'll work back through the others.
  • The presence of Yasmin Finney in this story was pointless. She did even less in the finale.
  • Disappointingly, no. All the talk of granddaughter Susan was a trawler-full of red herring, and led absolutely nowhere. 
  • Disappointingly, no. RTD2 had a stab at "cultural appropriation" at one point. But weren't the Egyptians inspired by the Osirans - not the other way round?
  • Left unexplained. Sutekh simply hitched a lift on the TARDIS and would have gathered knowledge and skills from all of the subsequent voyages of the ship, but this wouldn't necessarily turn him into a god, especially one feared by other gods who are properly immortal.
  • Eventually, but only after the overly drawn out coda.
  • Mrs Flood remains an enigma. Thing is, do we care? The character hasn't been properly threaded through the series adequately enough for us to actually give a toss. She might just be another of this new pantheon RTD2 is stuck on. The white costume in the closing moments might suggest a certain Guardian, though it also resembled Romana's Ribos outfit.
  • The snow thing went nowhere. Jumping ahead with the questions, Ruby's mother turns out to be an ordinary Earth girl - meaning Ruby is an ordinary Earth girl, so where did the snow come from? 
  • (And how can an ordinary Earth woman create a Memory TARDIS, full of things which she cannot possibly have any memory of?).
  • Just some 15 year old boy.
  • Yes, Ruby's mum was a girl of 15 who abandoned her baby. UNIT discover this in a couple of hours through a DNA match. Yet the god-like Sutekh can't do the same - even when he has two UNIT computer experts and an IT mogul under his control... Sorry, but it's nonsense.
  • And whilst Ruby had a happy ending with her adoption search, let's not forget that for thousands of people things don't work out that way, and they face further rejection and abandonment.
Overall, I was very much disappointed with the finale. I just found it dull, with a less than satisfying conclusion. Much is made of Ruby's departure - but we already know she features again in Series 15 so she hardly merits such a prolonged coda.
I said it last week, and I'm going to repeat it but I did not like the new Sutekh. Tales of the TARDIS the other night just served to confirm that a good actor in robes and mask is far, far more effective than a stupidly expensive and ultimately unrealistic CGI effect.
Despite the next Christmas Special (and most of S15) being already in the can, no trailer at the end...
Ah well, at least Cherry got that cup of tea...

Episode 122: The Savages (4)

Steven and Dodo are assisting the weakened Doctor when they are trapped in a corridor by Captain Edal and scientist Senta, who begin to release a paralysing gas into the area.
Watching on a monitor from the laboratory, Jano hesitates momentarily then, almost unconsciously, operates the control to open the outer door - allowing them to escape. 
Edal is furious, suspecting his leader of treachery. He points out that he rules here, and orders that the strangers be recaptured. When Edal states that he will lead the search party, Jano then insists that he will do this personally.
The suspicious captain follows him out into the wasteland with some guards. 
The Doctor is being taken by Chal and his companions to the Valley of Caves - which is where Jano has predicted they will go.
Finding they are being followed, Steven elects to hold back and cause a diversion to give the others time to get to safety.
In the caves, Nanina continues to protect the captive Exorse from Tor.
Jano has the opportunity to capture Steven, but allows him to escape.
Later, the leader of the Elders brings his men to the Valley. This time Steven has the chance to shoot him - but the Doctor prevents him from doing so. He orders that Jano not be harmed.
The Doctor is rapidly recovering thanks to the pills which they had earlier given to Wylda. He tells Chal and Tor that he intends to end the power which the Elders hold over their people - but won't do so alone. Sensing what has happened, he tells everyone that they may be helped from within the city.
Jano sends Edal and the guards back to the city, stating that he will remain here on guard by himself.
The captain later informs Senta of what has happened, and of Jano's odd behaviour. He warns the rest of the council that they are about to be betrayed.
Jano goes into the caves and is met by the Doctor and his friends. Wanting to know what is happening to him, the Doctor explains that he absorbed his conscience, moral outlook and personality along with his vitality.
As they talk, Exorse breaks free and escapes. He encounters Nanina, who convinces him not to return to the city to betray her, now that he has spent some time with her people.
On returning to the city, he declines to tell Edal and Senta of the meeting between Jano and the Doctor.
Jano leads the strangers back to the city, along with Chal, Tor and Nanina - claiming to have captured them all. Edal has attempted to take over, but finds himself arrested instead.
Left alone in the laboratory with Senta, the Doctor then leads everyone in smashing up the transference machinery.
Edal frees himself when the guards realise what is happening, but they remain locked out of the chamber until it is too late. The power of the Elders is broken.
Chal and Jano agree that their two peoples should integrate and live together in peace - and need someone neutral to lead them through this transition. Both state that they wish Steven to take on this role.
The Doctor reassures his companion that he can shoulder such responsibility.
He and a tearful Dodo bid their friend farewell before heading back to the TARDIS...
Next week: The War Machines

Written by Ian Stuart Black
Recorded: Friday 3rd June 1966 - Riverside Studio 1
First broadcast: 5:35pm, Saturday 18th June 1966
Ratings: 4.5 million / AI 48
Designer: Stuart Walker
Director: Christopher Barry

As mentioned last week, Christopher Barry elected to record the first eight scenes of this episode at the end of the third studio session, on Friday 27th May. This was due to the extensive use of dry ice in the corridor scenes, which would take time to clear and might delay the rest of the evening's recording.
The main set piece of the episode was the destruction of the laboratory, which could only be achieved in one take. A recording break was therefore scheduled so that all the cameras could be positioned correctly to capture all the action. Small flash charges were detonated to add to the effect.
The cast reported that they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
For the TARDIS dematerialisation, Barry once again used still photos, taken on location - one with the prop and one without, then mixing between the two.
One brief out of order shot was recorded at the end of the evening - a point of view shot of the cave entrance as seen by Dodo and Chal. This would be edited into the completed programme later.

With the end of recording, Peter Purves departed as a regular from Doctor Who
By this stage he was quite relieved to go, having grown dissatisfied with the way in which producers, story editors and writers had developed the character of Steven. He particularly missed Dennis Spooner's involvement in the series.
Purves was also aware that, whilst he got on well with Gerry Davis, current producer Innes Lloyd did not regard him highly as an actor. 
He may well have had some doubts about his abilities as he was already discussing the possibility of presenting rather than acting in TV programmes with Barry whilst making this story. He did hope that he would move onto more varied acting roles - only to find himself unemployed for some time.

He had retained the Trilogic Game prop after completing The Celestial Toymaker, and came to regard this as bad luck. Soon after throwing it away, he was given a role in a BBC2 thriller and a couple of episodes of Z-Cars then followed. His career really got back on track in 1967, when his desire to present was granted with a new role co-fronting the children's magazine show Blue Peter. He would remain with the show until 1978.
He returned to the role of Steven for audio adventures, and in 2023 was seen as Steven once more - opposite Maureen O'Brien's Vicki - in a Tales of the TARDIS piece bookending The Time Meddler.
His own story idea did not appear to have been taken up - that on becoming joint ruler of the Elders and Savages, Steven had turned out to be a tyrant.

One thing Purves did regret on his departure from Doctor Who was the end of his working relationship with William Hartnell. He had always got on well with the star, who came to rely heavily on his support. Purves continues to champion Hartnell.
With the loss of his loyal co-star, Hartnell was quite depressed. He had met his new co-stars during location filming on The War Machines, but had failed to bond with them for a variety of reasons - age, political and social outlook, and lifestyle.
More on this next week...

It may not have monsters - other than human ones - and the sets and costumes might look a trifle mundane from the photographic evidence we have, but I suspect that The Savages is one of those often overlooked stories which could well be due a reappraisal. It has interesting things to say about important themes - of race, colonialism, the role of science, and exploitation. It gives us a very good late Hartnell performance - even if he is pretty much absent from the third instalment. The Doctor is very much the moral crusader in this story, and Hartnell is given some wonderful dialogue.
Hopefully a missing episode or two might one day be found - or The Savages will be selected for animation treatment. Some reconstructions exist online (including a new AI enhanced one which looks very exciting...). At the very least, we will eventually get a telesnap / soundtrack version when Season 3 finally appears as a Blu-ray box-set.

  • The ratings see a dip of half a million, whilst the appreciation figure remains stable. However, the programme placing in the weekly charts was poor - dropping to 93rd place (previous episodes being 62nd, 50th and 66th).
  • The BBC Audience Research Report for this closing episode opened with the words: "At least this particular adventure wasn't one of those boring historical ones...".
  • Whilst adults were not impressed, it was noted that children still found the series exciting. Ewen Solon (Chal), Frederick Jaeger (Jano) and Peter Thomas (Edal) were singled out for acting praise.
  • Amongst the extras on this story we have Keith Ashley. He will go on to become a regular background performer on Doctor Who, including playing some iconic monsters such as a Zygon and the Krynoid.
  • Steven's farewell to the Doctor and Dodo is one of the few surviving clips from this story. It is in the form of 8mm cinefilm footage taken directly from a TV screen by a fan. Brief footage of the lab destruction also exists.
  • Whilst 16mm film copies are known to have still been in circulation in 1972, when the New Zealand copy went to Singapore, the original video tapes were wiped back in 1967.
  • The Savages ends a run of five consecutive stories which have led, one into the other, through their closing sequences.

Friday 21 June 2024

N is for... Nestene Consciousness

The origins of the Nestene Consciousness are obscure. They claimed to have no physical existence on their home planet, manipulating plastics to create forms for themselves. They also fed on plastic and industrial pollutants, and so were attracted to the planet Earth in the 1970's.
A small shower of what appeared to be meteorites landed in a forest to the east of London. These were actually Nestene energy spheres. Each contained a fraction of the Consciousness' intelligence. A local plastics factory owner - George Hibbert - came under their mental influence and created an Auton which assumed the identity of a man named Channing. Autons like this were lifelike plastic replicas of people.
Channing and Hibbert then used the factory - Auto Plastics - to create an army of Autons following the arrival of a second, larger shower of energy spheres. 
Some Autons were replicas of key figures in government and the armed forces, whilst others were cruder versions which acted as guards or killers. All were armed with a concealed energy weapon in the wrist. A third type of Auton was designed to mimic shop window mannequins. Each Auton was animated with a fraction of the Consciousness.
A swarm leader sphere would be used to create a lifeform suitable for the Nestene on Earth - a creature resembling a huge octopus.
The invasion scheme was the activation of the shop window dummies to cause widespread death and destruction. The replicas would have infiltrated the authorities and undermined them from within, to prevent a co-ordinated defence. The Doctor had only just been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, and joined forces with UNIT who had been alerted by the second "meteor" arrival in the same area.
He and UNIT's Dr Liz Shaw discovered that the Consciousness was susceptible to Ultra-High Frequency waves. These destroyed the fraction animating each Auton - and also destroyed the growing Nestene creature.

One Nestene sphere was left intact after the invasion was thwarted. The Doctor wished it to be kept under guard at UNIT HQ as he perceived it to be a living thing and still dangerous, and was therefore shocked to learn that the Brigadier had loaned it to a museum exhibition.
This coincided with the arrival on Earth of a rogue Time Lord who went by the title of the Master. He had made contact with the Nestene Consciousness in deep space and had agreed to help it in a second invasion attempt. He used his hypnotic powers to establish a base at a touring circus, and then to mentally dominate the weak-willed owner of a plastics factory - Rex Farrell. A smaller force of Autons was created, of the cruder variety, but the Master's intention was to use everyday plastic items to attack humanity. The Nestene Consciousness could inhabit anything composed of the substance - telephone cables, inflatable chairs, troll dolls and artificial flowers. The latter were distributed across Southern England by disguised Autons. When activated by a short-wave radio broadcast from a local radio-telescope, these were programmed to seek out the human face and spit out a small plastic film which would suffocate and kill.
A Nestene began to materialise above the radio-telescope, appearing only as a tentacled luminous shape, when the Doctor convinced his rival that the Consciousness would not differentiate between him and any other humanoid. They joined forces to eject it back into space, and the Autons collapsed into lifeless plastic.

The Nestene Consciousness attempted a third invasion in the year 2005, again making use of Autons disguised as shop window mannequin to spread maximum devastation. A replica was created of Rose Tyler's boyfriend Mickey Smith to trap the Doctor after he had been captured by a Nestene controlled wheelie-bin. The Nestene established a base under the Thames foreshore near the London Eye, which would be used as an activation signal transmitter. The Doctor tried to parley with the Nestene, which had taken on the form of a mass of molten plastic in a vat. It transpired that many of its colonised worlds had been destroyed in the Time War - causing it to turn to the Earth which was far more polluted and therefore more attractive to it.
The Doctor's attempts to make peace failed when it saw the TARDIS as a threat to it. He was armed with a vial of anti-plastic which fell into the vat - destroying the Nestene and its Autons.
Later, the Nestene Consciousness took part in the Pandorica Alliance, providing a force of Auton Roman soldiers. It also replicated Amy Pond's fiancé Rory Williams as part of the scheme to trap the Doctor. His humanity overcame the Nestene control and his personality reasserted itself, though he existed as an Auton replica for many centuries until the Doctor rebooted the universe.

Voiced by Nicholas Briggs (Rose). Appearances: Spearhead From Space (1970), Terror of the Autons (1971), Rose (2005).
  • The filming of the original Nestene prop in Spearhead From Space proved unsuccessful, and the climax had to be remounted during the making of the following story.
  • Likewise, the one which was to appear at the close of the sequel was deemed unusable and so a video effect was employed instead.
  • The Blu-ray version of the story on the Season 8 Collection offers a new CGI alternative, which resembles a more satisfying giant squid.
  • Only Autons were seen in The Pandorica Opens (2010). The Nestene itself was absent.
  • In the Target novelisations, the Nestene is described as part spider, part octopus and part crab.
  • The Bane Mother in the pilot episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures was based on the Nestene which adorned the cover of the novelisation of Terror of the Autons. VFX firm The Mill had originally created this when they first pitched to get the contract to work on the revived series of Doctor Who.
  • Chris Achilleos copied the one of the cover of Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion from an old Prince Valiant comic.