Sunday, 24 May 2015

Wembley Arena - Symphonic Spectacular

On Saturday (23rd May 2015) I attended the first London performance of the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular. Here's what I thought about it.
First of all, a word about the audience. Being a matinee a large proportion of the audience was children - always a good thing to see kids are still loving the show. Quite a few fezes in evidence. Also saw a First, Second and Fifth Doctor, plus lots of people wearing long scarves. Most people just opted for a Who themed T-shirt. Whilst very busy, there were quite a few empty seats, so far from being a sell out.
Peter Davison makes a congenial host. Quite a few jokes about the unexploded bomb alert which had seen the crew lose half a day's set up. Lots more jokes at Colin Baker's expense. Some verbal sparring with conductor Ben Foster as well. Foster wore a Fifth Doctor coat for the final piece of music.
Wembley Arena isn't laid out like the Albert Hall where the DW Proms take place. As such, the monsters which appeared throughout the show only turned up on stage or on the main floor. Those of us seated up on the sides needed binoculars to see them. Half the time, they did get shown up on the big screens - but only half the time. I only noticed the robot knights from Robot of Sherwood when they were leaving, as I was watching the screens at the time.
There were cameras around, which didn't match up with what was shown on the screens, so I assume that the performances are being filmed for either a TV screening later in the year, or perhaps for inclusion on Series 9's DVD release.
Onto the music itself. Much of it came from Series 8. The show opened with A Good Man? - the Twelfth Doctor's theme. This includes Capaldi's rousing speech against the Boneless from Flatline. Next up was Wherever / Whenever - a medley of music from four Series 8 episodes (Listen, The Caretaker, In the Forest of the Night, Robot of Sherwood).
The third selection took us back in time to the Ninth Doctor - his theme - coupled with Song of Freedom (the towing the Earth back home piece from Journey's End). Some Ood appeared on stage to accompany this bit. This went down very well with the audience - particularly as it featured Lis Sladen on screen.
The Companions was a medley comprising the themes for Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy. Then we had To Darkness. This was a suite of Dalek music. The earlier pieces which it included, from earlier Dalek stories, were great, but then it switched to music from Inside the Dalek which was unremarkable. I have never understood why the Cybermen have maintained a consistent theme since 2006, whilst the Daleks get new music which is never as good as that heard nearly 10 years ago. Naturally, there were Daleks patrolling the stage and the floor of the arena whilst this was going on.
The final piece of music before the interval was a suite from the last Christmas special, which I could have done without. Just didn't stir me at all. Quite a few people who opted to hit the loos and the snack bars before the interval crush seemed to be of the same opinion as myself. Despite gasping for a smoke, I persevered with it.
20 minutes (and two fags) later, the second half began.
First up was the excellent All The Strange, Strange Creatures. Lots of monsters prowling for this, naturally. Included were the Teller, Cybermen, Vampires (of the Venetian variety), Skaldak the Ice Warrior. The screens included a clip of Patrick Troughton giving his "There are some corners of the universe..." speech from The Moonbase - which got a big cheer.
Then we had Clara's theme - The Impossible Girl. Davison joked that if he had known that Clara was around during his tenure in the TARDIS, Adric would have kicked the bucket sooner.
Next up was one of the better pieces of music from Series 8 - the pounding 66 Seconds. This comes from Mummy on the Orient Express.
Back to the Matt Smith era with The Pandorica Suite. This included the Eleventh Doctor's theme - I am the Doctor.
The vocalist Elin Manahan Thomas then really got to shine with the beautiful Abigails' Song, from A Christmas Carol.
The penultimate piece of music as listed in the programme was Fifty / This is Gallifrey, accompanied by clips from The Day of the Doctor.
Then we had a suite of music from Dark Water / Death in Heaven. (Called the Death In Heaven Suite).
The first of the two encores was Vale Decem. Whilst written to see out the Tenth Doctor's tenure, the screens showed all of the Doctor's regenerations. Each Doctor actor got a cheer but if these could be translated into votes, David Tennant remains the peoples' favourite. The reaction to Colin Baker was priceless - almost a groan. Naturally, because he was present, Davison's appearance got a good reception.
The final piece of music was - of course - the greatest theme tune in the world. And not the tinny zither one either.
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable show. Seat wasn't the best in the house, and I could have done with some more earlier material, but very glad I went.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Spectacularly Symphonic...

How ironic that, in the week exactly ten years after The Empty Child was first broadcast, a World War II bomb dropped during the events shown in that episode should almost scupper the London dates for the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular. Yes, it's been in the news today that a large unexploded bomb was found in the vicinity of Wembley Arena. One of the photographs I saw was eerily reminiscent of the site in Quatermass and the Pit...
The Luftwaffe are not going to spoil my enjoyment of this event - I'm off to Wembley for the matinee tomorrow. Expect my musings over the weekend.

TARDIS Travels No.25

The 25th anniversary season sees only four new stories, but one of them has a lot of TARDIS travelling in it...

Journey 369: Iceworld, date unknown, to Coal Hill, Shoreditch, London, 1963.
The TARDIS returns to the Coal Hill district of Shoreditch in London, shortly after it first departed from the nearby Totter's Lane junkyard. It materialises in an alleyway close to the school where Ian and Barbara taught, and where Susan was a pupil. There is another unearthly child at the school - this time a girl enslaved by the Daleks. We are supposed to believe that this is just a few days after the teachers stumbled into the ship - but it is obviously not winter. A new sci-fi series is coming on TV at 5.15pm - yet it is clearly bright outside. That don't happen in London in the winter!

Journey 370: Coal Hill, London, 1963, to Terra Alpha, date unknown.
Sometime in the far future. The Doctor mentions encountering a Stigorax like Fifi on Earth in the 25th Century. The TARDIS has landed in the unnamed capital city of this colony world. Blue is a forbidden colour due its association with melancholy - so the Happiness Patrol paint it pink. They have to undo this once the Doctor has toppled Helen A's government.

Journey 371: Terra Alpha, date unknown, to Berkshire, England, 1988.
Somewhere close to Windsor. The Doctor and Ace take in a jazz performance by Courtney Pine in a pub beer garden. There is a river nearby - the Thames or a tributary - beside which the TARDIS is parked. Yet again there is something wrong with the weather / daylight hours. This ain't November - no matter what the script says.

Journey 372: Windsor - river to Castle basements, 1988.
The Doctor and Ace travel to the cellars of Windsor Castle where the Queen houses all those gifts she keeps getting given - every time she goes there, every time someone comes here... They are in search of a piece of the Nemesis statue. The Doctor dons a fez for the first time...

Journey 373: Windsor Castle, 1988, to Lady Peinforte's home, also Windsor, 1638.
The Doctor and Ace next travel back to the 17th Century, where (and when) the Doctor last encountered the Nemesis comet, which has returned to Earth in this vicinity in the present day - as they discover from some documents. Lady Peinforte and her manservant Richard have already left for 1988 using a magic spell (subsequently revealed to be one of Fenric's time storms).

Journey 374: Lady Peinforte's home, 1683, back to Windsor Castle, 1988.
The TARDIS materialises in the grounds this time. The Doctor doesn't recognise the lady walking the corgis - at least not at first. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to recognise any of the tourist party - despite one of them being the spitting image of Nicholas Courtney... Ace finds a portrait of herself from the 18th Century - but only if you watch the Special Edition.

Journey 375: Windsor - Castle to industrial waste ground, 1988.
The TARDIS travels to where the Nemesis comet has landed. Cybermen, Lady Peinforte and a bunch of Nazi mercenaries all turn up to claim it. One of Lady Peinforte's poisoned, gold-tipped arrows gets embedded in the TARDIS exterior.

Journey 376: Windsor - waste ground to Safari Park, 1988.
The arrow in the hull survives the journey. They have come to the safari park as this is where Lady Peinforte's mausoleum is situated. The Cybermen have brought the Nemesis statue here.

Journey 377: Windsor Safari Park, 1988, to Lady Peinforte's home, 1638.
The TARDIS makes a brief return to the 17th Century. The Doctor ponders the chess game, and Ace picks up a bag of gold coins that will come in handy shortly.

Journey 378: Lady Peinforte's home, 1638, to waste ground area, Windsor, 1988.
This time the TARDIS materialises inside the abandoned hangar-like building close to where Nemesis landed. There is a final battle in which Lady Peinforte kills herself before she can reveal details about the Cartmel Masterplan; the last of the Nazis is killed; and the Cybermen are destroyed. That arrow stuck into the ship comes in handy for despatching the Cyber-Leader.

Journey 379: Windsor - waste ground area, 1988, to Lady Peinforte's house, 1638.
Third and final jaunt back to the 17th Century. I assume Richard will take over the house now.

Journey 380: Windsor, 1638, to region of space near Segonax, date unknown.
The TARDIS is idling in space near the current location of the Psychic Circus. One of their robotic advertising 'droids manages to enter the ship as the Doctor practices his juggling skills. Or does he let it in? Bit of a coincidence he has parked up here and is practising circus skills don't you think...?

Journey 381: Segonax - region of space to planet surface, date unknown.
Despite Ace expressing her phobia about clowns, the Doctor takes the TARDIS to the planet so they can attend the Greatest Show In The Galaxy. They land a whole episode away from the actual circus site...

Silver Nemesis, with 8 TARDIS journeys within its 3 episodes, marks the final hurrah for the TARDIS in the classic series. The final season will prove to be one of the most TARDIS-lite, with only the briefest glimpse of the console room...

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Know Your Cybermen No.8

The Five Doctors (1983).
A brief one this. Only the second outing for the new Cyberman costumes, and already there is a (slight) bit of a design alteration. The "moon boots" of Earthshock had not been very popular, so the footwear is changed to proper boots. Other than that, these Cybermen are the same as those seen in the previous story.
No Cyberman plan as such this time, as these ones have been kidnapped from their proper time / place by Borusa and deposited in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, using the Time Scoop. It is the Time Lord President who has the convoluted scheme on this occasion. He wants the Doctor to deactivate the defences of the Dark Tower so that he can go there and claim immortality, yet puts lots of barriers in his way - such as a large number of Cybermen. He even gives them a means of tracking down the Doctor - using a homing device hidden in the recall device given to the Master.
One group of Cybermen is destroyed when it stumbles across the Raston Warrior Robot. A second batch, including one of the two Cyber-Leaders we see, is tricked into walking across a booby-trapped floor within the Tower. A third group attempt to blow up the TARDIS with a massive bomb.
One thing to note. Up to this point, the Cybermen have always been uniformly tall. There are a couple of noticeably shorter ones on view here. This would make sense if individuals are "upgraded" a bit at a time. Cyber spare parts are not all of a uniform size, apart from the head / shoulder sections.

Story Notes:

  • The Raston Warrior Robot Cyber-massacre sequences were directed by a second unit under producer John Nathan-Turner.
  • Probably the sequence people best remember, it was added late in the day as filler material.
  • The Third Doctor and Sarah were originally supposed to have met Autons instead.
  • The Raston Warrior Robot costume is one of the Earthshock sentinel androids painted silver.
  • Robert Holmes, who tackled the first version of this story, hated Cybermen - but script editor Eric Saward loved them. Holmes' initial idea was that the Cybermen wanted to identify the unique genetic element that allowed Time Lords to travel safely through time so they could use it themselves. They lured the Doctors to a planet named Maladoom, and had prepared android replicas of the First Doctor and Susan (thus explaining the different actor playing the First Doctor). Of course, Holmes kept the idea of the search for the Time Lord genetic element for his later The Two Doctors.
  • Whilst most of the Cybermen seen in Earthshock were dancer friends of PA Gary Downie, and there was some control over height casting, many of the Cybermen we see at the Welsh locations are local extras - hence the height differences.

Figurine Collection - May 2015

If you looked at my Facebook page yesterday you will have seen another image of the latest pair of figurines to arrive from Eaglemoss. Alongside the Lady Cassandra we get the Third Doctor - a very good likeness of Jon Pertwee. He's in his dark blue, red-trimmed suit from The Green Death, the story featured in the accompanying magazine. Only in his first season did Pertwee wear any kind of "uniform" outfit, as most of his fellows have done. Physically and sartorially, Pertwee changed his appearance more than any other Doctor. He is holding his sonic screwdriver - its first appearance in the figurine collection. One nice touch is the detail of the silver ring on his left hand. Just five more Doctors to be released - One, Two, Six, Seven and Eight.
The Cassandra figure is the one from New Earth rather than the original seen in End of the World - so it's her backside rather than her front. The frame is rusted. For the first time, the base actually constitutes part of the figurine. A pity they couldn't have added a little Giant Maggot to the Pertwee figure's base.
The next confirmed release will be the strait-jacketed Teller, from Series 8's Time Heist.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Story 127 - Enlightenment

In which the TARDIS suffers a power failure. As the Doctor struggles to work out what could be causing this, the White Guardian of Time appears and attempts to pass on a message. Alarmed, Turlough tries to stop this but the Guardian is able to give them a set of co-ordinates before vanishing. The Doctor takes the TARDIS to the location specified and they find that they have materialised in what appears to be the hold of a sailing ship. The Doctor and Turlough set out to explore whilst Tegan is left in the TARDIS should the Guardian reappear. He does - giving a cryptic warning. Tegan then sees a young man on the scanner, who appears to be looking into the ship and who can see her. She goes outside to look for him. The Doctor and Turlough have found the crew quarters and have learned that it is the Edwardian era. This vessel is about to take part in a race, and the Doctor has been expected. This proves to be a mix up over his title - it being also the name given to the ship's cook. An officer appears and escorts the Doctor and Turlough to the bridge, where they are reunited with Tegan. The man she had seen is Mr. Marriner, first officer of this vessel - The Shadow. They meet the captain - Striker - and the Doctor discovers that the officers are not all they seem. They appear to be able to read their minds. Tegan is feeling seasick and is given a cabin to rest in - which appears to have elements of her room on the TARDIS as well as her old bedroom back in Brisbane.
The race commences, and the TARDIS crew discover that it involves ships from different periods of Earth's history - all floating in space.

The Doctor learns that whilst the crews of the vessels are from Earth - conditioned not to realise where they are - the officers are all immortal beings called Eternals. These creatures exist outside of Time. They have long exhausted their imaginations and seek their entertainments from the minds of ephemeral beings such as humans. This race will take place through the Solar System, using the planets as marker buoys. The winner will gain "Enlightenment" as a prize. A number of the ships are destroyed as the race proceeds, and the Doctor becomes suspicious of the circumstances. He suspects that one of the captains is prepared to use any means necessary to win. Striker states that his principle rival is Captain Wrack of the pirate ship The Buccaneer. The Black Guardian finally loses patience with Turlough, who no longer wants to harm the Doctor, and claims he will be left on The Shadow for all eternity. In despair, Turlough throws himself overboard whilst they are out on deck wearing spacesuits. He is rescued by The Buccaneer. Soon after, Wrack invites all her fellow contestants to a party aboard her vessel. Striker does not intend to go, but the Doctor asks to attend in his place in order to retrieve Turlough. Tegan and Marriner will go with him. On the pirate ship, Turlough has discovered that Wrack is also in league with the Black Guardian. He is helping her to destroy the competition. He tries to ally himself with Wrack, to save his own neck.

At the party, Wrack separates Tegan from the Doctor and freezes her in time. She gives her a small red jewel, which she adds to Tegan's tiara. Tegan then rejoins the party oblivious to what she has done. The Doctor fails to get Turlough back. The boy claims he does not want to go with him and would prefer to stay with Wrack. Back on The Shadow, the Doctor works out how Wrack is destroying the other ships. She is able to focus destructive energy through the red gemstones. He realises that they have inadvertently brought one of these aboard. The Doctor smashes it, but this only multiplies the power. He must collect the shards and throw them overboard - which he does with only seconds to spare. Wrack has disposed of all the other captains and their officers by making them walk the plank into space at the conclusion of her party. The end of the race comes into view - a vast crystal city floating in space. It looks as if The Buccaneer will get there first. The TARDIS has gone missing and the Doctor asks for it back in order to try to stop Wrack. Striker reveals that he hid the ship in the Doctor's own mind. The Doctor uses it to return to The Buccaneer. Soon after, Striker and Tegan see two bodies ejected into space. They fear the worst and assume that it was the Doctor and Turlough. The pirate ship reaches "Enlightenment", so Striker, Marriner and Tegan cross over to it to congratulate Wrack. Instead, they find the Doctor and Turlough. It was Wrack and her first mate who fell into space. The Black and White Guardians both appear. The Eternals are sent back to where they came from. The Doctor is offered the prize and turns it down. He does not want to know everything there is to know. Turlough is offered a part share for helping bring the winning ship into dock - a huge gemstone. He rejects it, and the Black Guardian vanishes in flames. Turlough is now free of him. The Doctor explains that "Enlightenment" wasn't the crystal, but the choice.

This four part story was written by Barbara Clegg, and was broadcast between 1st and 9th March, 1983. It brings the Black Guardian Trilogy to a close. It is significant for being the first Doctor Who story to have been written by a woman. A previous female co-writer credit (for The Ark) had been purely nominal - Lesley Scott had not written any of it.
The story also had a female director - the late Fiona Cumming - as well as a strong female villain role. Wrack is played with relish by Lynda Baron - best known to UK viewers as Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, the object of desire for Ronnie Barker's stammering shopkeeper Arkwright in Open All Hours. Baron had been heard but not seen in the programme before - she sang the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon in The Gunfighters. She returned to the programme during Matt Smith's tenure (as Val in Closing Time).
As with much of the anniversary season, Enlightenment was troubled by industrial action. The production dates had to be changed and original casting had to be abandoned. For instance, Peter Sallis (The Ice Warriors) was to have played Striker. His work on perennial sitcom Last of the Summer Wine meant that he wasn't available for the new dates, so Keith Barron took over the role. Pop star Leee John replaced David Rhule as Wrack's first mate, Mansell. John is supposed to have been told by a fortune teller that he would appear in Doctor Who. Enlightenment took the slot that should have gone to Eric Saward's Dalek story and became the last story of the season to be recorded, once a remount for Terminus was out of the way.


Two other cast members worth mentioning are Christopher Brown as the love-struck Eternal Marriner, and Tony Caunter making his third Who appearance as crewman Jackson.
And of course, Cyril Luckham returns as the White Guardian - last seen in this role in the opening episode of The Ribos Operation. Sadly, this was Valentine Dyall's final appearance as the Black Guardian. He died in 1985, Luckham in 1989.
Episode endings are:
  1. The race gets under way and a panel opens on the bridge of the schooner - revealing that they are flying through space...
  2. On the deck of the ship, Turlough can hear the voice of the Black Guardian tormenting him. Horrified, the Doctor sees him climb up onto the railings to throw himself overboard...
  3. Away from the other guests, Wrack freezes Tegan in time and places a red jewel in her tiara. Cue much malevolent laughter...
  4. Once the Guardians have gone, Turlough asks the Doctor to take him back home to his own planet...

Overall, a very good story with some fine performances and some wonderful imagery. The first cliffhanger is often cited in top ten lists for the classic series.
Things you might like to know:
  • Barbara Clegg has said that one of her inspirations for this story was the visit by some relatives who sought constantly to be kept entertained, which she found draining.
  • The original title was to have been "The Enlighteners" - beings who would have appeared at the end of the race. When the Guardians were added instead, this title became redundant.
  • As well as making it onto Doctor Who, Leee John was also told that he would appear in Coronation Street. To date, this prophesy has yet to be fulfilled.
  • Publicity pictures of Lynda Baron, John and Peter Davison taken on the TARDIS set did lead to speculation that there were deleted scenes. Episodes actually under-ran, so Clegg built up Tony Caunter's role and added all the crew room dialogue to the first episode.
  • Incidental music composer Malcolm Clarke had barely a week to score and record music for the first episode. The most distinctive piece of music in this production - that used for Wrack's party - is actually a recycled piece, taken from a documentary about Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges.
  • The Doctor discards his celery stalk at the party for a fresh piece. Some have pointed out that both stalks he wore on his lapel were actually unreal ones - the first piece having come from Castrovalva. This isn't necessarily the case, as real vegetables could have been brought into Castrovalva, and if the crew were real humans, then the ships and all they contain could also have been real.
  • The Eternals haven't returned to Doctor Who though they have been name-checked by the Tenth Doctor.
  • As with one of her other productions, Fiona Cumming put together a special edition of this story for its DVD release - a shorter (75 minute) version with CGI effects replacing the model work. The cuts aren't anywhere near as noticeable as with the Planet of Fire special version. The sequence of the rounding of Venus is actually very well done.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

TARDIS Travels No.24

Season 24, and Colin Baker has unwillingly departed the TARDIS.  The Sixth Doctor is still there, however, along with Mel - so to viewers it looks as though very little time has elapsed since the end of last season. If the books and audios are canon for you, then you know what they have been up to in the intervening time. Apparently Big Finish are going to release the final Sixth Doctor story later this year. However that goes, it has to end with him lying on the floor of the TARDIS as it is attacked by the Rani and dragged towards  Lakertya.

Journey 363: Location and date unknown, to Lakertya, date unknown.
The TARDIS is bombarded by laser fire and the Doctor appears to be injured enough to trigger a regeneration. This takes place after the ship has materialised on the rocky planet. Later, the Seventh Doctor will return to the ship to fetch a piece of equipment which the Rani (posing as Mel) needs for her work. The Doctor takes the opportunity to raid the costume store for his new outfit. Items worn by most of his previous incarnations are seen.

There are at least 9 unseen journeys after the Rani has been defeated, as the Doctor takes all of the genii back to their correct places and times.

Journey 364: Date and location unknown to Paradise Towers, planet and date unknown.
Some have suggested that the Towers is on Earth, and this is the 21st Century, but this is not clear from what we see on screen. The TARDIS materialises in a dilapidated square in the complex.

Journey 365: Paradise Towers, date unknown, to Space Toll Port G715, date unknown.
The Doctor and Mel find they are the 10 billionth customers to have passed through the toll, so win a prize of a holiday with the music-loving, time-travelling Navarino. Delta mentions some higher authority she can turn to in order to punish the Bannermen for their acts of genocide. This might well be the Time Lords. They may also hold a watching brief over the Navarino time travelling.

Journey 366: Toll Port G715, date unknown, to Earth orbit, 1959.
The Doctor is shadowing the Navarino craft and is forced to intervene when it collides with an American satellite. The Doctor employs the ship's tractor beam to stabilise the coach-shaped vessel.

Journey 367: Earth orbit to Shangri-La Holiday Camp, North Wales (in England...), 1959.
Yes, best joke of the season, especially for those of us from parts of the UK other than England - and I am sure there are Americans who don't get it. Instead of arriving at Disneyland, the TARDIS helps the Navarino craft land just outside a holiday camp near Llandrindod Wells. The Doctor is able to force grow an energy crystal in the TARDIS for the Navarino ship.

Journey 368: Shangri-La Holiday Camp, North Wales, 1959, to Iceworld, date unknown.
Some time in the very far future (two million years hence) unless Sabalom Glitz can time travel. (Actually, his presence on Ravalox might have been down to the Master, and he really comes from a time much closer to our own). The TARDIS materialises in a frozen foods shop section of this complex. There must be more to Iceworld than just cheap frozen prawns, or Crab Nebula Pasties, though it not terribly clear on screen what. May just be a cosmic motorway service station.

Mel bids farewell here, and the Doctor will travel on into Season 25 with new companion Ace.