Thursday, 22 March 2018

Inspirations - The Space Pirates

Written by Robert Holmes. This story was one of those last minute commissions which characterise the final half of the final season for Patrick Troughton. We've already mentioned how a number of scripts have had to be abandoned late in the day. Holmes was deemed a good, strong writer, who could deliver a workable story at short notice, so he was invited back quickly after contributing The Krotons.
His first idea was what would eventually be turned into a BBC radio drama called Aliens in the Mind, starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, made in 1977. It is set on a remote Scottish island, and involves telepathy and mind control. The earlier Doctor Who version was called "Aliens in the Blood". The radio adaptation was handled by someone else, as Holmes was busy on Doctor Who in 1977.
The story was rejected, and Holmes was tasked with devising something else. For inspiration, he only had to look at the sort of adventure films and books he had always enjoyed.
The main inspiration lies in the story title. It's all about piracy, but instead of the Seven Seas we are in deep space. The principal pirate - a man named Caven - isn't just raiding ships, however, he is stealing them wholesale. Actually, the ships in question are unmanned navigation beacons, and he is stealing them to break them up and melt them down in order to sell their metal - a particularly rare and therefore precious mineral called Argonite.

Pirates were very popular in fiction back in the Victorian period, but their cinematic heyday was relatively short-lived, centred round the middle of the 20th Century. Many movies were adaptations of literary classic such as Jamaica Inn or Treasure Island. Despite the fact that they featured sea-going criminals, many of these movies glamourised the pirate as Hero - either up against a more villainous pirate captain, or the authorities (usually the British navy, presented as the baddies). Back in 1935 we had Errol Flynn as Captain Blood. Burt Lancaster was The Crimson Pirate in 1952, and then there was Tyrone Power in The Black Swan. Even Bob Hope got in on the act with The Princess and the Pirate, in 1944. As well as their adaptation of the Dr Syn novels (see The Smugglers) Hammer contributed The Pirates of Blood River in 1962.
The pirate movie continued strongly on the continent, being a particular favourite of Italian cinema-goers, but for British and American audiences they had rather fallen out of fashion after the 1960's.
There were some attempts to translate the genre into either modern times (e.g. The Island) or as science fiction (e.g. Waterworld). 1995 saw a big budget attempt to do a full-blooded pirate movie, with Cutthroat Island. This did not do well at the box office. Then, in 2003, we got Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. This was the first of what has become an incredibly successful franchise, based on a Disney theme-ride. The most recent film was released in 2017.
It is to books like Treasure Island, and those classic Hollywood films with Lancaster, Power and Flynn, that Holmes would have looked for inspiration.

Scratch the surface of The Space Pirates, however, and there is clearly another genre lurking not very deep beneath. The story is as much a Western in space as it is a pirate adventure in space. In particular, it is a story about the 19th Century Gold Rushes of California and the Pacific North West.
On 24th January 1848, gold was found at Sutter's Mill, Coloma, California, by James W Marshall. When word got out, several hundred thousand people headed for the area to stake a claim and hope to strike lucky. The peak was in 1849 - hence the nickname for prospectors of 49'ers.
Forty years later, more gold was discovered in the north west areas of the Yukon and Alaska, centering on the Klondike River. This led to another Gold Rush. Owing to the harsher terrain, only around a third of those who set off to capitalise on the rush actually made it.
Many movies have been made about these events, and there are a number of significant writings - such as the works of Jack London and Robert W Service. (Side note: Service's father came from my home town - Kilwinning in Ayrshire). The lawlessness of the prospecting communities can be summed up in The Shooting of Dan McGrew, by Service. (It's the poem Miss Marple uses as an audition piece in the 1964 film Murder Most Foul, starring Margaret Rutherford).
In Holmes' story, these pioneer prospectors are embodied by the character of Milo Clancey. Despite being set in the far future, and with the rest of the cast in spangly silver costumes, Clancey is given a rough lumberjack-style checked-shirt to wear. From the waist up he looks like he has stepped out of a Western. And he has the accent to boot.

Caven isn't just stealing and breaking up the navigation beacons, he is also robbing the Argonite shipments of miners like Clancey. Most fiction relating to the Gold Rushes features a degree of lawlessness - with claim-jumpers or bands of thieves stealing the miners' hard earned efforts. In the Klondike, the authorities were amongst the worst offenders, though the vast majority of crime related to what used to be called camp followers - the sex industry that grew up around the mining towns.
If Clancey is an Old Timer, 49'er, then General Hermack and his International Space Corps would be the US Cavalry, bringing lorr and orrder to the frontier zones, as Major Warne might have said it.
This region of space is basically the Wild West.

Interestingly, Holmes spends quite a bit of time setting up his characters, to the point that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe don't actually turn up until more than half way through the first episode. This was partly due to Troughton wanting to have an easier time of it on the show - one of his conditions for doing a third year. One of these conditions involved not having to come out of rehearsals on the next serial to do the filming, or to have to film on scheduled days off. As the following story - The War Games - was to have a massive amount of filming, it was agreed that the main cast's roles in the final episode could be committed to film in advance of the episode being studio recorded. This is the only episode other than Mission to the Unknown where there were none of the regulars present in the studio for the evening's recording.
The other thing to say about this story is that it attempts to make space travel look authentic. Spaceships take an age to get to where they are going - no Warp Factor 9 here. This is commented upon in the story itself, as Hermack bemoans the fact that the pirates will have left the scene of the crime before they can get to it. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey had made space flight more mundane, but this was not new. Some of those 1950's Sci-Fi films had tried to imagine what it would really be like, and had made use of genuine space research scientists in their production (such as Wernher Von Braun acting as technical consultant on Conquest of Space in 1955).
Next time: It's the end of an era in oh so many ways. He is going, but They are coming...

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Meat - Torchwood 2.4

In which a lorry belonging to Harwood's Haulage crashes on the motorway outside Cardiff, killing the driver. The police call in Torchwood, as the vehicle was on its way to an abattoir, and the back is full of some unknown meat. The company is the one which Rhys works for. He is called to the crash site, and sees Gwen and her colleagues examining the vehicle. Samples of the meat are taken back to the Hub for analysis, and Owen confirms that it is alien in nature. Gwen tells the others about Rhys' connection with the company, and there are suspicions that he might be involved with whatever is going on, as the meat seems to have been destined for human consumption. Back home, Rhys tries to find out from Gwen what she was doing that day, not letting her know that she was seen. She is evasive, which causes him to become suspicious.

He follows her to work the next day, and sees her meeting with Jack in the plaza above the Hub. They go off to visit a warehouse on the outskirts of the city, which is where they believe the meat had originated. He suspects that Gwen and Jack may be having an affair. He is spotted by some men and captured. Jack and Gwen see him enter the building with them, and assume he is known to them and therefore part of the conspiracy. In the warehouse, Rhys discovers that the men have a captive creature similar to a vast whale. They are harvesting meat from it whilst it is still alive. They explain that the meat keeps growing back, and they plan to make a fortune from it. Rhys explains that the driver who had died was his friend, and now he wants to take his place. This is a ruse to get information about them. At home once again, he and Gwen argue and she admits that she and her team investigate aliens after he accuses her of sleeping with Jack. Rhys does not believe her, and so she takes him to the Hub.

Jack confirms everything that Gwen has told him. He tells them of what he has seen in the warehouse, and he agrees to act undercover to get them inside. The plan goes awry and Ianto is captured. The men shoot at Gwen but Rhys jumps in the way and is wounded. The rest of the team overpower the men and they are given heavy doses of the retcon amnesia drug. Owen examines the whale creature, which originated in outer space, and determines that it cannot be sedated. To attempt to move it could harm them and it. It is in great pain so they decide that it should be euthanised. Jack gives Gwen some retcon to give to Rhys, but she refuses to use it on him. Rhys now knows about her life with Torchwood, and accepts it, and he was willing to assist them. Jack reluctantly agrees to this, as he had always wanted Gwen to have a life outside the work.

Meat was written by Catherine Tregenna, and was first broadcast on 6th February, 2008.
The episode was designed to take a deeper look into the realities of Gwen having to live a double life, something which had always been there since the second episode of the first series, as well as providing Kai Owen with a more significant role to play. In this, he actually progresses to become the unofficial sixth member of the team.
Another clear inspiration is the eco-message. The creature is basically a space whale, so we have comment on the treatment of terrestrial whales, though it doesn't champion vegetarianism. Tregenna claimed that she never intended the story to do this, and is not a vegetarian herself. Also, the initial concept she had for the creature was not of a whale. It was simply supposed to be a big slab of meat.
The first designs for the creature were of a more exotic shape and colour, but it was felt that the men who held it would have been more likely to make money from exhibiting it than from cutting it up.

You'll notice that I haven't named "the men" above. That's because they are the weakest part of the story. They are rather bland, generic villains, who aren't even seen to pay for what they have done - last seen simply having their memories erased.
Overall, a so-so episode, notable mainly for bringing Rhys into the fold.
Things you might like to know:

  • Nothing much of note to mention for this story. It was generally well received, though the realisation of the whale creature was thought poor.
  • In case the whale metaphor was missed, Ianto mentions Captain Ahab at one point.

Monday, 19 March 2018

D is for... Davros

The brilliant Kaled scientist who created the Daleks. The Kaleds had been fighting a war against the Thals for centuries on their planet of Skaro. At some point during this conflict Davros had been badly injured, but he designed a mobile life support unit for himself and continued his work. He had lost the lower half of his body and the use of his left arm, and his senses had been impaired. He built for himself an electronic eye and a network of audio sensors to replace these lost functions. To protect the dome covering the Kaled city, he perfected a chemical which made it impervious to Thal missiles. His principal work was to ensure the survival of his race. He based himself in a bunker on the edge of the battlefield and set up his own special scientific elite unit. He began experiments to determine the ultimate evolutionary form for his people, predicting that the centuries of chemical and nuclear warfare would mutate them. He developed a strain of mutant which would require a mobile life support unit in which to move around. The design for what became known as the Mark III Travel Machine was based on his own wheelchair unit. He gave it a single eye on a stalk attached to its dome, and at the front he fitted a utility sucker arm. He also decided to fit it with a powerful energy weapon for defence. The fusion of mutant and travel machine he decided to call a Dalek - an anagram of the Kaled race name.

The Fourth Doctor and his companions Sarah and Harry were diverted to Skaro by the Time Lords, arriving just as Davros was putting the finishing touches to his new creations. The scientist had become obsessed with them, and sought to make them the most powerful creatures in existence. His people would not just survive, but become the supreme beings in the universe. To this end, he ordered chromosomal variations to the Daleks' brains, removing certain emotional weaknesses, like pity and compassion. When the Kaled government was warned of the new direction his work was taking and threatened to close his work down, he decided that his own people were now inferior to the Daleks, and he would do anything to ensure their survival. He and his henchman Nyder went secretly to visit the Thal government. He gave them the formula for a solution with which they were to bombard the Kaled dome. This would weaken the protective layer he had created and allow a massive Thal rocket to penetrate it. When the Kaled city was destroyed, Davros feigned disbelief and fury, and blamed the treachery on one of the scientists whom he knew to be opposed to his work. This man, Ronson, became the first victim of a Dalek. Davros then sent the Daleks into the Thal city to exact revenge. Soon Davros was facing a more widespread revolt from within the ranks of his elite. He called upon the Daleks to wipe out his opponents, but they then activated the automated Dalek production line without his orders. When he challenged them, they informed him that they did not recognise anyone as their superior - even him. His own supporters were then killed, including Nyder. The Daleks then exterminated Davros when he tried to shut down the production lines.

Many centuries later, long after the Daleks had abandoned Skaro, they went to war against the robotic Movellans. Both sides programmed their battle computers to the point of stalemate. To break this impasse of logic, the Daleks returned to their old city to look for their creator. The Doctor managed to locate him first. Davros stirred back to life, explaining to the Doctor that his secondary life support systems had activated and repaired the damage done to him by the Daleks. He would now help his creations to break the stalemate. The Movellans wanted to kidnap him to work for them, but then decided to use the Doctor instead. Davros was updated on events whilst he had been in suspended animation thanks to a data-sphere provided by the Dalek Supreme. He was scathing that such a Dalek could exist, feeling that only he could lead his creations. Davros was determined that the Movellans should not leave the planet with the Doctor, as he would undo any advantage that he might give to the Daleks. He sent all of the Daleks to their spaceship, with bombs attached to their casings and orders to press themselves up against the hull. They would sacrifice themselves to buy time whilst he awaited the arrival of a rescue ship. The Doctor forced him into detonating the bombs prematurely, wiping out the entire taskforce. Freed slave workers took control of the Movellan spaceship, and used it to take Davros to stand trial for his crimes on Earth. He was placed in a cryogenic suspension unit.

Some decades later the tide of war turned in the Movellans' favour, as they developed a virus which attacked Dalek systems. The Daleks once again looked to their creator to help them. A Dalek cruiser attacked the space-station on which Davros was being held captive - left physically immobile but mentally alert in a cryogenic chamber. The Daleks employed mercenaries led by Commander Lytton to secure the station and Davros was freed. At some point prior to his incarceration he had created a device which could suppress people's willpower and make them susceptible to his orders, hiding it in a compartment in his chair. He suspected that the Dalek Supreme would never tolerate his own ambitions to lead his creations, and feared that they would turn against him again once his usefulness to them was over.

Davros refused to leave the station - claiming he might need to be put back into cryogenic suspension in the event of an emergency with his life support systems. He then converted a number of Lytton's men to obey his will, and then used the device on a pair of Daleks. The Doctor had the opportunity to kill Davros, but found that he was unable to press the trigger and end his life. When the Supreme discovered that Davros was assembling a force of his own, it sent a squad of Daleks to kill him. Davros released a quantity of the Movellan virus into his laboratory then got ready to flee in an escape pod. The virus destroyed the Daleks come to exterminate him, but Davros then discovered to his horror that it attacked his own systems. One of Lytton's men, freed from mental conditioning, then blew up the station using its self-destruct mechanism, taking the Dalek cruiser with it.

Davros had survived, however. The escape pod had been picked up by a freighter and Davros soon found himself on the planet Necros. He set himself up as "the Great Healer" and established himself as controller of the Tranquil Repose funerary complex. This was where people from across the galaxy were interred, and many of them were only in suspended animation - awaiting the day when cures could be found for their illnesses. For Davros, this was a rich source of genetic material with which to experiment upon, in order to create a whole new race of Daleks which would be loyal only to him. To fund his work he went into partnership with the businesswoman Kara, who ran a nearby artificial food processing plant. Bodies which Davros could not use were given to Kara to be turned into a foodstuff. Davros was now confined to a complete life support unit, with only his head remaining. Kara decided to employ an assassin to kill him, so that she could gain control over both industries. Davros was aware of her ambition, however, and the head in the life support unit was merely a decoy. He remained hidden behind the scenes, his body intact.

Davros set up a trap for the Doctor - luring him to Necros with the news that an old friend had died and been interred at Tranquil Repose. His warped sense of humour led to the creation of a fake memorial to the Doctor set up in the Garden of Remembrance. Kara's assassin, Orcini, infiltrated the complex and destroyed the decoy, but Davros appeared from hiding to shoot him down. He could now harness electrical energy and discharge it from his fingers, and his chair could now levitate. Two of the complex's funeral attendants - Takis and Lilt - were unhappy with what Davros had done to Tranquil Repose, and had sent a message to the Dalek Supreme on Skaro. A ship was dispatched with a squad of Daleks to arrest him and bring him to Skaro to stand trial. Orcini's squire, Bostock, shot off Davros' remaining hand, and he was then captured by the Dalek squad. He was taken to their spaceship, which took off just before the dying Orcini blew up the complex - wiping out Davros' new army.

The Doctor, now in his Seventh incarnation, arrived on Earth in the London of 1963, in order to lure the Daleks into a trap of his own. He had previously hidden the powerful Hand of Omega in the city. This was the stellar manipulator which Omega had used to first provide the Gallifreyans with the energy needed to begin their time travel experiments. The Daleks wanted it so that they could also master time travel, but the Doctor had not reckoned on two opposing factions turning up to claim the device. The most powerful faction were loyal to the white domed Emperor, who was stationed on their command ship in orbit above the planet. These Daleks, in a white and gold livery, had been augmented with artificial implants, and possessed more powerful weapons - such as the Special Weapons Dalek. Those Daleks loyal to the Supreme were now a smaller rebel group.

Within the Emperor's casing was Davros, seemingly with very little of his body left. It transpired that he had managed to turn the tables on the Supreme when he had been sent for trial on Skaro, and had succeeded in taking over. His forces beat those of the Supreme and he was able to take control of the Hand of Omega. The Doctor goaded him into activating the device - sending it to Skaro's star system to provide the energy which Davros would use for his time travel experiments. However, the Doctor had pre-programmed it to fly into Skaro's sun and detonate it - wiping out the entire solar system. It then rebounded on the command ship. Davros was forced to retreat to an escape pod.

Davros then participated in the Time War, helping lead his creations against the Time Lords. They had helped start the war by sending the Doctor back to Skaro at the time he was creating the Daleks. The Doctor had seen Davros' spaceship apparently destroyed by the Nightmare Child. However, he had been saved by the intervention of Dalek Caan - last survivor of the Cult of Skaro, who had re-entered the time-locked conflict using an emergency temporal shift. Davros created a whole new army of Daleks using his own genetic material, including a new Dalek Supreme. He was then tasked with devising a weapon that would make the Daleks the supreme rulers of the universe - by being the only inhabitants of the universe. He created the Reality Bomb, constructed in the Dalek space-station known as the Crucible. This was hidden in a temporal pocket within the Medusa Cascade. It required the alignment of a number of planets, which were removed from space / time using a Magnetron and brought to the Cascade. These included the Earth. Davros was able to break into the sub-wave network which the Doctor and his companions were using to communicate with each other. He recognised Sarah Jane Smith from her visit to Skaro all those centuries ago.

Davros had divested himself of his Emperor casing, and the lost right hand had been replaced with a metal gauntlet, from which he could still discharge electrical energy. The Doctor believed that he was merely a puppet for the Supreme, locked away in a vault with the insane Caan and forced to obey the Supreme's instructions. Davros intended to break the Doctor's spirit before he activated his Reality Bomb - showing him how he had turned his friends into soldiers, and making him remember all those others who had died helping him. An attempt to destroy the TARDIS inadvertently led to the creation of a second, half human, Doctor, and giving Donna Noble Time Lord mental powers. Together they attacked the Crucible. Davros shot Donna with his electrical discharge, but this merely triggered the Time Lord part of her brain. She then set about sabotaging the Reality Bomb, and ultimately the Crucible was destroyed along with Davros' army. The Doctor attempted to save the Kaled scientist, but he refused his help.

Travelling alone in his Twelfth incarnation, the Doctor found himself on a battlefield on an alien planet. He came across a young boy trapped in the middle of a mine-field. He was about to rescue him when he discovered that he had arrived back on Skaro, at an earlier stage in the Kaled-Thal war, and the boy was Davros. He fled and abandoned him. Davros remembered this act, and sent his new head of security, Colony Sarff, in search of the Time Lord. The Doctor hid himself away in Medieval England, and prepared for his death, as he knew he had to atone for what he had done in abandoning the boy. Sarff tracked him down and brought him to a space-station where Davros was said to be dying. Clara Oswald and Missy accompanied them.

The space-station was really an optical illusion, and they were actually in the Dalek city on Skaro, which had been rebuilt by the Daleks. Davros was here, hooked up to an intensive care unit. He was replaying previous encounters with the Doctor. The Doctor attempted to escape by removing Davros from his chair, which he then used to travel to the command centre to force the Daleks to free him and his friends - leaving Davros' half-body lying on the floor. Colony Sarff, who was a gestalt snake creature, was hidden within the chair and he overpowered the Doctor. Back in the ICU, the Doctor and Davros spoke at length about their relationship. Davros sought to make the Doctor understand his actions, whilst the Doctor sought to make him see the error of his ways. They began to see some common ground, and the Doctor decided that he would not let Davros die. Davros revealed that he still had his own eyes, and wanted to see the sun rise above Skaro one last time.

Earlier, Davros had revealed that he was biologically linked to the Daleks, and killing him would destroy them, but the Doctor had been unable to do this. He agreed to give some of his regeneration energy to Davros and so prolong his life. This was all a trap, as Davros knew that this energy would be transmuted into all of his creations, turning them into partial Time Lords. He did not realise that the Doctor had known this all along, and that the energy would also animate the millions of liquefying Dalek remains which had been flushed into the sewers of the city. As Davros and the Daleks were revivified, the city was overwhelmed and destroyed. The Doctor then went back and saved Davros as a boy - implanting the concept of mercy in him, which he hoped he would have passed on to his creations.

Played by: Michael Wisher, David Gooderson, Terry Molloy, Julian Bleach, Joey Price.
Appearances: Genesis of the Daleks (1975), Destiny of the Daleks (1979), Resurrection of the Daleks (1984), Revelation of the Daleks (1985), Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), The Stolen Earth / Journey's End (2008), The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar (2015).

  • Wisher was the original Davros, playing him in Genesis of the Daleks. He was unable to reprise the role in 1979 so David Gooderson replaced him, wearing the same mask and seated in the same prop chair, both of which had seen a lot of wear and tear whilst featuring in numerous Doctor Who exhibitions. Wisher was all set to reprise the role for "Warhead" in 1983, but industrial action at the BBC forced this to be put back a season, becoming Resurrection of the Daleks. The delay meant that Wisher was no longer available, and so Terry Molloy was cast as the new Davros. He kept the role for the remainder of the Classic era of the programme. Molloy, who has performed Davros many times on audio, came very close to being brought back when Russell T Davies wrote The Stolen Earth / Journey's End. Instead, Julian Bleach was given the role. Bleach has retained the part since. Joey Price played Davros as a boy in his most recent appearance.
Some images of Davros as he has appeared at the Doctor Who Experience and the Doctor Who Festival:

Sunday, 18 March 2018

D is for... Davidson, PC Andy

Gwen Cooper's partner in the Cardiff police force before she left to join Torchwood. He was with her, investigating a murder, when she first saw the team in action and decided to find out more about them. Following her departure, he continued to meet his ex-colleague whenever the police stumbled across an incident which Torchwood would take over. He alerted them when a Roman Legionary turned up in the city, and later joined forces with Rhys when the station came under siege by Weevils. Andy informed Gwen of a support group for the relatives of missing people, whom she discovered had been swallowed up by the space / time Rift that ran through the city. When the Hub was destroyed and the team were forced to go on the run, Andy assisted them. During the Miracle Day global event, Andy once more came to Gwen's assistance - helping to hide her terminally ill father and getting Rhys in to see him when he was captured, so that he would be with him when he died. He had earlier been forced to help extradite Jack and Gwen to the USA. By this stage he had become a sergeant. Andy carried a crush for Gwen, and was always jealous of Rhys. This is why he did not attend her wedding.

Played by: Tom Price. Appearances: TW Series 1: Everything Changes, Day One, End of Days (2006/7); TW Series 2: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Adrift, Exit Wounds (2008): TW: Children of Earth - Day Two, Day Five (2009), TW: Miracle Day - The New World, The Categories of Life, Immortal Sins, Blood Lines (2011).

D is for... Daves, Proper & Other

Two members of the archaeological expedition sent to the Library planet to discover why it shut down a hundred years ago, and what happened to the 4,022 people who were visiting at the time. The party was led by Prof River Song, and financed by Strackman Lux, descendant of the Library's founder. The more senior of the two men named Dave was termed "Proper", whilst his colleague was termed "Other" to differentiate them. Proper Dave was the second of the team to be attacked and killed by the Vashta Nerada. He was consumed within his spacesuit, which continued to pursue the others through the Library, continually speaking his last words - "Hey! Who put out the lights?". Later, Other Dave was also killed in the same fashion. Both men had their consciousness downloaded into the Library's mainframe, so that they would live on forever with River and the rest of their colleagues in a virtual reality.

Played by: Harry Peacock (Proper Dave), O.T. Fagbenle (Other Dave). Appearances: Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead (2008).

  • Harry's brother Daniel Peacock played Nord the Road Vandal in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy back in 1988.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Inspirations - The Seeds of Death

It is the last monster story of the B&W 1960's phase of the programme - even though another 16 weeks have to be filled after this. Trouble is the money is starting to run low, so not enough for any new monster costumes. There are those expensive Ice Warriors in stock, which have only been used once, and they were quite popular with the viewers, so let's have them back again.
This partly explains The Seeds of Death, by Brian Hayles. The story Hayles actually submitted was "The Lords of the Red Planet", which was a sort of origins tale for the Ice Warriors. The Doctor and his companions arrived on Mars to find a society split on class lines, like Patricians and Plebeians. There was an elite, known as the Gandorans, who were reptilian humanoids. Beneath them were the genetically engineered Saurians, who formed the army and were something of a slave caste. These latter creatures were what we know as Ice Warriors. There was civil strife between the Gandoran leadership and the rest of the society, and a threatened invasion of the Earth, and it all ended with the Saurians being left in charge of the planet. Derrick Sherwin and Terrance Dicks were not happy with this initial proposal, so Hayles was sent back to the drawing board. He came up with a totally new idea, which is something like what we see in the finished programme. However, it is known that Dicks carried out some major rewrites on it, not least having to write the Doctor out of the fourth episode so that Troughton could have a holiday.

What we got instead was a more conventional alien invasion story, with base-under-siege elements thrown in. Much of the adventure takes place in a Moonbase - the second of the Troughton era. This base acts as relay for a new transport facility - T-Mat. This is a form of instantaneous matter transmission, and it has replaced more conventional transport systems, including road vehicles and spaceships. The implication is that Mankind does not venture into space at all during this period, not even to the Moon. The Ice Warriors see the planet's over-reliance on T-Mat as a weakness, which they will exploit in their invasion plans. By taking control of the Moonbase, they cripple transportation of vital commodities across the globe, but their main aim is to use the system to transport Martian seed pods to Earth. These will produce a plant blight that will destroy vegetation and disrupt CO2 production, eventually altering the atmosphere to suit them. Had the Ice Warriors merely sat in Moonbase and waited for society on Earth to collapse totally, taking pot shots at the odd satellite sent up to replace some of T-Mat's functions, then this would have been a much more sensible plan.
The seeds are sent to the northern cities where it is winter, so presumably they would not thrive in hotter climes. Trouble is they are susceptible to water, so Ice Warrior scouts have to be despatched down to the planet to disable the local rain-making systems at weather control. Another plot hole here, as you don't need any rain-making technology to make it rain in the northern hemisphere in winter.
We should at this juncture bid a fond farewell to the BBC foam machine, which bows out in this story in a soapy blaze of glory. The plant blight is represented on screen by copious amounts of foam. Watch out for Wendy Padbury's total failure to keep a straight face when she rescues Patrick Troughton from the stuff at the beginning of the final episode.

Earlier in Troughton's tenure we were introduced to new "leader" aliens. The Daleks got their impressively massive Emperor, and in the very next story the Cybermen got their big-brained Controller. In their first outing, the Ice Warriors were commanded by Varga, who looked just like his underlings. He spoke in a slow hissing voice, which made complex dialogue scenes just that little bit restrictive. It made sense to have a more voluble leader for the Ice Warriors, one who was not hampered by a thick mask and even thicker accent. Thus we get Slaar, the first of the Ice Lords. Of course, they are never referred to by this title ever on screen, but it is the generally accepted term for them - all played by Alan Bennion. Actually, Slaar is hardly named on screen, though other characters seem to know what he is called. He is not in overall command, however. Above him is the Grand Marshal, whose helmet is covered in sparkly sequins.

One of the principle inspirations for this story, as far as I can see, is the cuts to the railway network which were prompted by the Beeching Report. Note how the elderly Professor Eldred gets nostalgic for the lost days of spaceship flight, and bemoans the fact that all of the transport eggs have been placed in one basket. Once upon a time, Great Britain had a wonderful railway network. The smallest town in the kingdom had relatively easy access to cheap, regular services. Competition to transport goods and services by road increased after WWII, and to cut losses Dr Richard Beeching was tasked by a Government in the pocket of the road builders to find ways of economising. (The Transport Minister ran a construction company, that built roads). Beeching produced two reports - one in 1963 and another in 1965 - which proposed the closure of 55% of the railway stations, and 30% of the track lines. Some local campaigns were successful, and a smattering of stations and routes were saved. Transport by road may have been cheaper, but huge swathes of the country lost any connection with the rail network, and we were stuck with the traffic choked roads and motorways which we have to endure today. The one thing that the Government failed to realise was the love that people had for railways and trains - especially ones that ran on steam. Steam locomotives were works of art, as well as pinnacles of industrial design. Even the Doctor wanted to drive a steam train, and he came from Gallifrey. Ever since Beeching's axe fell, local groups have brought a number of small branch lines back into use, aimed at the tourist industry. If you want to see all of this crystallised into 90 rather charming minutes, just watch The Titfield Thunderbolt, a classic Ealing Studios movie. This was actually quite perceptive, coming as it did a whole decade before Beeching.
One good thing that did come out of Beeching is the reuse of the old railway lines as walking and cycling routes, of particular interest to nature lovers and fans of industrial archaeology.

Something of note in this story is the presence of Gia Kelly, who runs the T-Mat programme. She has a male boss - Commander Radnor - and he answers to a male bureaucrat - Sir James Gregson - but it is clear that she is a capable team leader and technician. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, and is quite prepared to ignore her bosses and get her own way on things. This era of the programme is often knocked for its sexual politics (usually when Cybermen are lurking), but Kelly provides a good strong female role model.
Someone who doesn't come out of this story very well is the Doctor himself, however. By creating the infra-red light weapon, he is basically arming himself with a gun. Episode 6 is the first time we see him single-handedly kill someone face to face. Just because the Ice Warriors are bent on invading the Earth, they are still intelligent beings. There will be a lot more of this once Pertwee arrives.
Next time: the start of the 16 week long Great Monster Drought, as we get a Pirates / Western in space.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Warriors of Kudlak - SJA 1.3

In which Sarah Jane Smith investigates the disappearance of a teenage boy named Lance, who attends the same school as Luke, Maria and Clyde. He had been obsessed with a futuristic role-playing game at a branch of Combat 3000. Computer Mr Smith reveals that a number of children have gone missing in the last few weeks, all from the vicinity of Combat 3000 establishments. Luke cannot understand why people would want to play such games, so Clyde decides to introduce him to them. Sarah, meanwhile, has discovered that strange meteorological events have taken place in the area of the arcades when the disappearances have occurred. She and Maria go to a nearby hill and set up a machine to monitor the weather. Luke and Clyde prove to be very good at the game, easily getting to the end of Level 1. The owner, Mr Grantham, is impressed by their performance and offers them the chance to try the next level. They are once again successful. They reach a metal-walled room, and are bathed in a strange light. Sarah and Maria spot some weird weather as a storm brews immediately above the Combat 3000 arcade.

They go to the establishment and meet Grantham, and learn from him that he has a business partner named Mr Kudlak. Breaking into his office, they find that this is an insectoid alien. Luke and Clyde have been teleported up to a spaceship in orbit above the Earth, where they discover Lance and several other youngsters being held in captivity. Sarah and Maria escape back to Bannerman Road where Mr Smith identifies Kudlak as a member of the warlike Uvodni race. They fought a long war against the Malakh, which ended in their defeat 10 years ago. Grantham breaks into the house but is overpowered and forced to transport Sarah and Maria to the spaceship. Here they learn that Kudlak was retired from the fighting after being wounded and sent to Earth to recruit more warriors. He takes his orders from The Mistress, who only ever appears via a view screen. Kudlak has been sending young people to fight in the wars for years. Luke manages to discover that Mistress is merely a computer programme which has suppressed the fact that the war is long over. Realising that he has been sending the young people to a conflict which no longer exists, Kudlak destroys Mistress, then vows to set off and find the people he has sent away, so that they can be reunited with their families. Everyone is returned to Earth, and find that Grantham has fled.

Warriors of Kudlak was written by Phil Gladwin, and was first broadcast on 15th and 22nd October 2007. This was Gladwin's only contribution to the Doctor Who universe. He had previously written for Grange Hill and The Bill, and had been a script editor on Casualty.
The inspiration for the story comes from the then-popular live action shoot-em-up games - a high tech version of paint-balling where points are scored using lasers.
The episode develops Luke's attempts to assimilate, as he first tries to master humour from Clyde, then seeks to understand why people like Lance love these kinds of games. He gets a kiss from one of those he has helped to rescue - a girl named Jen. Clyde realises that romance is an area that he cannot really help him with.
Paul Kasey plays Kudlak, though he and the Mistress are voiced by Silas Carson, best known as the voice of the Ood, plus various alien creatures in the Star Wars prequel movies. Grantham is played by Chook Sibtain, who went on to play Tarak Ital in The Waters of Mars.

Overall, an entertaining enough 50 minutes. Kudlak's is a great make-up, but the effect is rather diminished by the rest of his uniform - looking like he's pinched his mum's coat.
Things you might like to know:

  • There is a link with the parent programme as Combat 3000 employ Slabs as competitors in the games - the leather creatures which had featured in Smith and Jones.
  • Sarah has a picture of a Cyberman in her attic, and as Mr Smith searches his database to identify Kudlak we glimpse the Beast (from The Satan Pit) and a Krillitane (from School Reunion).
  • The sequence where Sarah and Maria set up the weather machine on a hill is lifted directly from the video for Kate Bush's Cloudbusting - the one featuring Donald Sutherland. This was in turn inspired by the inventor Wilhelm Reich, who created a rain making machine.
  • The machine is a reused prop, built from Max Capricorn's mobile life-support unit.
  • Both Star Trek and Star Wars are referenced as being fictional in this universe. Taking on a mentoring role over Luke, Clyde frequently calls him his "young Padawan" - as Jedi Knights address their apprentices.
  • A member of the Uvodni race was present under Stonehenge as part of the Pandorica Alliance.