Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Comments!!!


Dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... There has been a bit of a dearth of comments recently for this wee old blog of mine. Have you pudding brains nothing to say? Whenever I log on, I get to see all sorts of interesting statistics - such as which country is viewing the most (Hello USA!) and even which browser you are using (Firefox has overtaken Google). Some of you are actually Google+-ing my posts. I have no idea what this means but assume it is something nice.
Anywhos, next time you do choose to Google+, why not say why? Maybe there's something you totally disagree with, or have an alternative take on. Maybe there's something I've missed (Pah! A likely story...).
A very good friend of mine, the other day, in the pub, tried to push me towards Facebook. (He's just joined it - Mr Marcel Van Limbeek, sound engineer, Tori Amos and others. Did you know I once helped Tori Amos move house? True story).
I've always intended to make my fortune from developing an anti-social network, where people can go who want to be left alone and can ignore the rest of the cosmos - though by its very nature it would be a bit hard to market... Would being on Facebook make a difference? You tell me.
In the meantime, comments always welcome.

TARDIS Travels No.1


Before we begin our look at each of the TARDIS' on screen journeys through Space and Time, it might be useful to consider what we know of where it might have travelled before we first caught sight of it, sitting in a corner of I.M. Foreman's junkyard at 76 Totters Lane. How did it get there? Thanks to The Name of the Doctor, we know that the Doctor was already well into his first incarnation when he and Susan "stole" the ship from a repair bay in the Capitol on Gallifrey. It appears he was guided to that particular Type 40 time capsule by Clara Oswin, and that the ship itself deliberately allowed itself to be taken (The Doctor's Wife).
We know that the ship did not travel directly from Gallifrey to London, 1963, as a number of other journeys are mentioned very early on by the Doctor and Susan - which must pre-date Totters Lane, as they are obviously news to Ian and Barbara.
As the series has progressed, more and more unseen adventures get a mention. It is not always possible to deduce exactly when these took place. Only when a specific companion is mentioned as having been present can we be clear, or if a companion is the one telling a third party about it - e.g. Rose telling Mickey about Woman Wept in Boom Town. We know that the Doctor's unseen visit to Karfel was in his Third incarnation - thanks to someone having painted his portrait, and a locket with Jo Grant's picture in it. We assume that it was in his Fourth incarnation that he got drunk with Azmael on a previous visit to Jaconda if we take the Doctor's "couple of regenerations ago" literally - and, frankly, because it sounds a lot more like the Fourth Doctor than any other up to this point.
Between Gallifrey and Totters Lane, a handful of journeys are definitely known. The majority of these seem to have been to different periods of Earth's history.
Susan sees a mistake in a book about the French Revolution and this, along with the fact that it is supposed to be the Doctor's "favourite" period, implies they visited France at this time before Ian and Barbara were taken there. This might have been when the TARDIS disguised itself as a sedan chair. The Doctor met Pyrrho - founder of scepticism. Perhaps that was when the TARDIS appeared as an ionic column. (These disguises could equally have been entirely different visits). The Doctor and Susan also encountered Henry VIII, when the ship needed to be retrieved from the Tower of London. We also know that the Doctor and Susan experienced a Zeppelin air raid, and that the Doctor was with James Watt when he had his revelation about the potential of steam power. At some point, he was given an ulster coat by Gilbert and Sullivan.
When we get to that encounter between the Doctor and the Mountain Mauler of Montana, however, this could well be an unseen adventure post Totters Lane - as he is speaking to Vicki, and Ian and Barbara are not present to give us any clues one way or the other.
Of the few non-Earth destinations visited by the TARDIS prior to London, 1963, we have a trip to the planets Dido, Quinnis, and Esto. Susan claims to have seen the metal seas on Venus. A more recent mention of the early travels of the Doctor and Susan came in The Rings of Akhaten.
And so, onto the televised journeys of the TARDIS.


Journey 001: 76 Totters Lane, London, 1963, to an unknown location on Earth, c. 100,000 BC.
This dematerialisation is unlike any that will follow. From what we see on the scanner, the ship seems to take off vertically - the surrounding streets seen from above and diminishing. The ship will travel upwards only very occasionally in the future. The lights dim. Most significantly, the take-off seems distinctly uncomfortable for the Doctor and Susan - and renders Ian and Barbara temporarily unconscious.
The landing location is not known. (We are only taking the date from an alternative story title).
As well as the Chameleon Circuit breaking down, the Yearometer has also failed.
We now know that the reasons that the Doctor can't pilot the ship accurately are three-fold:
1. He doesn't fully understand it.
2. The TARDIS is nearing obsolescence and had been in for repairs when taken.
3. Sometimes the ship takes him where he needs to go, rather than where he wants to go.


Journey 002: Earth c. 100,000 BC to Skaro, date unknown.
The TARDIS materialises in the middle of the petrified forest on Skaro within seconds of leaving its last destination - the Doctor and his companions are practically still out of breath from fleeing the Tribe of Gum. The radiation meter takes its time to register, and only flashes. (There really ought to have been some audible alarm as well - maybe another technical failure).
The Doctor makes a number of excuses for not knowing where - or when - they are, and for being unable to get back to the London of 1963. Is there really no star chart / navigation system on board?


Journey 003: Skaro, date unknown, to location unknown - possibly the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago.
The stuck Fast Return switch has taken the TARDIS back towards the creation of a solar system. The date above refers to our own, if it was heading back to Earth, though the scanner implies that it is Skaro's system. Only a bright light can be seen from the TARDIS doors when they open.


Journey 004: Location unknown to the Himalayas, 1289.
On landing, the ship suffers a catastrophic power failure. Coveted by Marco Polo as a gift for Kublai Khan, the ship is manually transported across the Plateau of Pamir, the Gobi Desert, then through Tun-Huang, Sinju, Cheng-Ting and Shang-Tu to arrive in Peking.
When travelling across the desert, condensation forms inside the ship - so the systems do at least appear to be waterproofed.


Journey 005: Peking, 1289, to an island on Marinus, date unknown.
The TARDIS appears to materialise silently - something it will do occasionally throughout the Hartnell era. This is the first time we have not seen the ship arrive at its new destination at the end of the previous adventure - so scope for unseen adventures between? Unlikely, as Ian is still wearing the previous story's costume. Also, later on in The Sensorites, the Doctor and his companions will reminisce about their adventures so far and this implies no unseen stories at this point.


Journey 006: Marinus, date unknown, to Mexico, c. late 15th Century.
The TARDIS materialises in the tomb of Aztec High Priest Yetaxa. There is nothing to suggest that this is the Aztec capital - present day Mexico City - as there is no mention of any ruler. Montezuma or one of his fellow kings would surely have wanted to meet the reincarnation of Yetaxa.


Journey 007: Mexico, late 15th Century, to Earth spaceship in the vicinity of planet Sense-Sphere, 28th Century.
Another reason for believing that the Doctor and Susan have not done a huge amount of travelling, other than through Earth's history, is the puzzlement the Doctor experiences when arriving on Captain Maitland's spaceship. They have landed and yet are still moving. Seems to be the first materialisation on a spaceship.
Back on Skaro, Susan explained that the TARDIS lock had a defence mechanism, whereby if the key wasn't fitted exactly right, the lock would melt. The Sensorites simply remove the whole lock. When Ian suggest breaking the down the doors, the Doctor states that this would destroy the internal dimensions - maybe rendering the craft the same size inside as out, as will happen later on.


Journey 008: Earth spaceship (?), 28th Century, to France, July 1794.
The Doctor and his companions viewing the departure of Maitland's ship on the scanner does seem to imply that they are not actually on it themselves. Has the TARDIS possibly been manhandled down to the Sense-Sphere unseen? Maybe taken down to have the lock re-affixed.
The TARDIS materialises in a forest somewhere to the north of Paris (Stirling / Le Maître can take them part of the way on his route to the Channel - and Barbara conveniently points it out on a map). The date can be fixed from the inclusion of Robespierre's downfall in the story.

Season One ends with the TARDIS dematerialising from the French bois on journey 009 - but that's for next time...

Monday, 15 December 2014

Story 110 - Meglos


In which the Doctor receives a request for help from an old friend. The message comes from Zastor, leader of the planet Tigella. The vegetation on this world is so hostile that the humanoid inhabitants are forced to dwell in an underground city. This is powered by the Dodecahedron - a mysterious device which fell from the skies centuries ago. It is starting to fail - and this is why Zastor has called upon the Doctor, who has visited Tigella before. Tigellan society is strictly delineated between the superstitious Deons - who worship the Dodecahedron and believe it was a gift from their god Ti; and the technological Savants, who believe only in science. Zastor's role is to mediate between the two opposing groups. Opposed to the Doctor's summoning is the Deon leader, Lexa.


A spaceship belonging to the mercenary Gaztaks lands on the neighbouring planet of Zolfa-Thura. This was once home to a powerful, war-like race which wiped itself out centuries ago. All that remains of their civilisation are the Screens - whose purpose is long forgotten. One last Zolfa-Thuran has survived, however - Meglos - and it has commissioned the Gaztak leader, General Grugger, to obtain a 6 foot tall humanoid and bring him to the planet. Meglos dwells in a control centre which is hidden beneath the Screens. It emerges from the sands. In their natural form Zolfa-Thurans resemble xerophytes, but have the ability to change their form provided they have a host to copy. Meglos informs Grugger and his lieutenant Brotadac that it intends to imitate the Doctor in order to retrieve the Dodecahedron from Tigella. The abducted humanoid - from 1980's Earth - will provide the general body form to copy. Meglos then puts the approaching TARDIS into a chronic hysteresis - a form of time-loop.


Meglos adopts the Doctor's likeness and it has Grugger transport it to Tigella. Meglos is able to shrink the huge Dodecahedron to small size in order to steal it. The Doctor and Romana manage to break out of the time loop by breaking the pattern of their repeated actions, and the TARDIS materialises on Tigella. As the city systems begin to break down, the Doctor finds himself accused of the crime. Romana is captured by the Gaztaks and forced to lead them to the city. One of the Savants - Caris - meets Meglos and realises he is an imposter when his skin reverts to its cactus-like appearance. Romana gets free of her captors after leading them into the midst of some carnivorous Bell-plants, and she manages to reach the city. She meets Caris, and they are just in time to prevent the Doctor from being sacrificed by Lexa in an attempt to appease Ti. Lexa is killed saving Romana during a Gaztak assault at the city entrance.


Grugger takes Meglos back to Zolfa-Thura. The Screens are actually part of an awesomely destructive weapon which is powered by the Dodecahedron. It will be used to destroy Tigella. The Doctor and Romana travel to the planet in the TARDIS, accompanied by Caris and a Savant colleague named Deedrix. The Doctor elects to impersonate Meglos to learn its plans. He succeeds in having Meglos imprisoned - as the Doctor - before being captured himself when seen wearing a coat the Meglos-Doctor had just given to Brotadac. K9 leads a rescue and Meglos flees back to is control centre. Before his capture, the Doctor had managed to sabotage the Screens - so that when they activate it will be Zolfa-Thura that will be destroyed. The Earthman has been freed, and everyone flees in the TARDIS back to Tigella as the Screens blow up - destroying Meglos and his Gaztak allies.


This four part adventure was written by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, and was broadcast between 27th September and 18th October, 1980. The writers are still today better known as character actors. Whilst script editor Christopher H Bidmead was happy with the story, producer JNT was not. It does seem to be a throwback to an earlier era. It would certainly fit quite comfortably in the previous season. The idea of a society split between religion / superstition and science / reason is not a new one - even for Doctor Who. The story struggles to fill four episodes. The reprise at the start of part four is quite lengthy - always a sign of an under-running script. The Doctor and Romana are stuck in the TARDIS for the whole of the opening episode, and much of part two. The manner by which they break free of the time loop is ridiculously simple - acting out the events within the loop to break it.
Meglos is also let down by its casting, and some of the visual elements. The Quantel VFX system is again put to good use, and a new system called Scene Sync is employed to provide moving CSO shots, but Tigella is clearly dangling above Zolfa-Thura on wires at one point, and the studio jungle is overly lit and never convinces. The Tigellans are too simplistically sketched in. Grugger (veteran actor Bill Fraser) is lumbered with a stupid costume and blatantly false beard. His performance suggests someone who doesn't really know what he is doing - or cares very much about it. He certainly doesn't convince as a ruthless pirate warlord.


The story's biggest (actually only) significance is in bringing back original cast member Jacqueline Hill. Rather than reprise former companion Barbara Wright, she plays Lexa. She does okay with a thankless role. Lexa's sudden self-sacrifice to save Romana is badly shot / edited - it is almost missed - and just comes out of nowhere. Edward Underdown, as Zastor, gives a very weak performance - but this can mostly be put down to his failing health. One of the better performances comes from Freddie Treves as Brotadac. He just seems to be enjoying himself and relishing the part. Caris is Colette Gleeson, and Deedrix is Crawford Logan. The Earthman, who gives the impression of having wandered in from a sit-com in a neighbouring studio, is played by Christopher Owen.
Episode endings are:
  1. Grugger and Brotadac are amazed to see that Meglos has transformed itself to look exactly like the Doctor...
  2. Romana is captured by the Gaztaks, and Brotadac orders her killed as she has seen too much...
  3. The Doctor is tied to an altar with a massive boulder suspended above him. The ropes holding it up are burned away one by one...
  4. The Tigellans will need to start reclaiming the surface of their planet. The Doctor offers to get the Earthman back home before he left...

Overall, a largely forgettable story - the weakest of the season. At least Tom Baker gets to play a nasty doppelgänger. The cactus make up is very effective - except when Tom's wrists show. For all its faults, the story does feature one of the best lines in all of Doctor Who - Zastor describing the Doctor thus: "Some fifty years ago I knew a man who solved the insoluble by the strangest means. He sees the threads that join the universe together and mends them when they break".
Things you might like to know:
  • Meglos' voice is provided by Deedrix actor Crawford Logan, uncredited. 
  • It was claimed in the press that Bill Fraser only accepted his role if he got to kick K9 - which he does indeed get to do.
  • The story appears to pick up immediately after the events of the previous story - with K9 being repaired after blowing up on Brighton beach.
  • At one point the Doctor states that he wasn't allowed to see the Dodecahedron on his previous visit, yet later says he remembers seeing it.
  • It is highly unlikely that the Gaztaks are time travellers - so this story must be set in 1980 from whence the Earthman has been abducted.
  • Why go to all the bother of getting someone from Earth? Surely there are humanoids much closer to hand - the Tigellans for instance, or even one of the Gaztaks themselves.
  • The writers were worried that Freddie Treves might take offence when he realised his character's name was an anagram of "bad actor".
  • Brotadac covets the coat worn by Meglos as the Doctor - hoping he will get it when he "stops playing the Doctor". Ironic, considering what was soon to happen...
  • I'd be quite happy with Brotadac's own coat - its the one worn by Peter Halliday when he played Pletrac in Carnival of Monsters.
  • Flanagan and McCulloch submitted one other storyline to the programme which nearly became Peter Davison's first outing - "Project Zeta-Sigma".
  • Gareth Roberts originally planned for Meglos to return as the protagonist in Series 5's The Lodger. One reason for the change was that the cactus-like Vinvocci had just been seen a few months before in The End of Time.
  • Thanks be to Ti!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Randomise!


The Randomiser. Has a piece of equipment ever been so seriously misnomered? Introduced in the closing moments of the final episode of The Armageddon Factor, and seeing its final appearance in The Leisure Hive, this particular invention either never worked - or was continually bypassed.
The reason for employing it was supposed to be to prevent the Black Guardian from tracking the Doctor down to wreak his revenge. The history of the show up to this point, however, suggests that it wasn't really needed.
The Doctor spends two years trying to get schoolteachers Ian and Barbara back to the London of 1963. Trying and failing. True, he does get them back to the right country and time-zone once during this period - but unfortunately they are only one inch tall...


When the TARDIS materialises on Dido, the Doctor briefly entertains the idea of making out to the teachers that this was deliberate - until he remembers that he was fast asleep during landing.
Several of the early stories remind the audience that the Doctor cannot pilot his ship properly. When Vicki appears to have been left behind in the funfair "House of Horrors" (in The Chase) only the capture of the Dalek time machine will get her back - it is an impossible task for the TARDIS.
The ship travels randomly throughout the 1960's, which seems to please the Doctor. Note his utter delight at realising they have landed back on Dulkis again. Not knowing where you are going to end up is one of the joys of his jackdaw meanderings. None of the stories in this era relies on the dramatic device of having a controllable TARDIS to resolve any plot points - in the way that today's stories constantly do.


Once the Third Doctor has his exile terminated, he spends ages trying to get Jo to Metebelis III. He succeeds eventually, by physically wiring the co-ordinates into the journey programmer. He returns to that planet a few months later to rescue Sarah Jane Smith - presumably because those co-ordinates are still wired in - but the telepathic circuits also appear to play a part, as far as specific time / location of the landing are concerned.
The Doctor does seem to have a limited amount of control over the ship at times - such as managing to get back to Peladon. However, as it was the Time Lords who directed him there in the first place, they may have been behind this later visit as well.
Which all begs the question - why need the Randomiser?
The first location the TARDIS travels to after it has been fitted just happens to be Skaro - on the very day that Davros is brought back from the dead. With hindsight, knowing that Genesis of the Daleks marked the opening skirmish of the Time War, we can safely assume that the Time Lords are meddling again? Then again, this would be only the second ever landing on Skaro for the TARDIS - so maybe purely random. From this point on, however, the TARDIS is piloted exactly where the Doctor wants to go in every story in which the device is fitted.


It may have been the Randomiser that brought the ship to Paris in 1979 - the Doctor blames the device for the date - but in City of Death we then see the Doctor travel back to 16th Century Florence, return to Paris in 1979, travel to prehistoric times to waylay Scaroth, then back to Paris, 1979.


The next two stories both feature the TARDIS responding to a distress signal - from Erato's shell in Creature from the Pit, and the stricken space liner Empress in Nightmare of Eden. In the former adventure, the Doctor additionally pilots the TARDIS to intercept the neutron star that is on its way to destroy Chloris, then lands the ship back on the planet.


The last story televised, before the Randomiser is taken out to be used in the Tachyon Recreation Generator on Argolis - The Horns of Nimon - sees the Doctor able to pursue the kidnapped Romana to Skonnos. It is specifically mentioned, mind you, that the Doctor has dismantled everything at the start of the story in order to repair the control console - presumably including the Randomiser.
Even the unseen adventure - Shada - would not have been immune to a complete lack of randomisation. The Doctor pilots the ship specifically to St Cedd's College after receiving a message from Prof. Chronotis, and it then travels around throughout the rest of the story - turning up to rescue the Doctor from the mind-sphere, going to the field where Skagra's ship is hidden, and so on.
Finally, let's not forget that the TARDIS was able to travel to Argolis - intentionally - before the Randomiser was eventually removed from the ship.
As much as I love "Nu-Who", there are a couple of things I have never been happy about. One is the over-use of the sonic screwdriver - and the other is the controllable TARDIS. It is frequently argued that such devices are necessary for 21st Century story-telling - 45 minutes, fast paced plotting, etc. An excuse, I think, for a lack of ingenuity on the part of some of the writers.

This little trawl through some of the TARDIS travels has inspired me to concoct a new, occasional, series of posts - a look, season by season, at all of the TARDIS journeys through Space and Time.
Starting soon...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Story 109 - The Leisure Hive


In which the Doctor and Romana have a rather disastrous outing to Brighton beach - K9 blowing its fuses when it ventures into the sea to fetch a ball. Romana suggests an alternative holiday destination - the Leisure Hive on the planet Argolis. Around the year 2290, this world hosts a vast entertainment complex - the Hive - where the science of Tachyonics has been employed to create all of the amusements. The surface of Argolis is highly toxic - the after effects of a war which took place some years ago between the Argolins and the reptilian Foamasi. The conflict lasted only twenty minutes, but the radiation has laid waste the planet and the people are now sterile. Tachyonics are also being investigated as a possible means of securing the survival of the race. Recently, the Hive has seen dwindling visitor numbers, thanks to competition from rival complexes on other worlds and, to make matters worse, a guest dies horribly soon after the Doctor and Romana arrive - one of the demonstrations going wrong. Other faults are appearing throughout the Hive. The Hive's business agent from Earth - Brock - contacts leader Morix with a Foamasi offer to purchase the complex. Fiercely opposed to this is Morix's son Pangol. Morix passes away shortly after, and his wife Mena is recalled to the planet. She arrives and assumes control. She has commissioned a scientist from Earth - Hardin - to develop a means of rejuvenating her race. Hardin is expected to arrive at the Hive - but the Doctor is mistaken for him and taken to see Mena.


He and Romana witness a video of one of Hardin's experiments, and realise that it has been faked. Brock arrives unannounced with his taciturn colleague Klout, ready to press Mena to accept the Foamasi buy-out offer. Hardin's business partner - Stimson - starts to panic that their deception will be found out. He makes ready to flee in a shuttle, but is soon after found murdered - the Doctor's scarf wrapped rather too tightly around his throat. The Doctor is accused of the crime. In reality, the Hive has been infiltrated by a small number of Foamasi. It was they who killed Stimson, and they have also been carrying out various acts of sabotage. Mena insists that Hardin conduct an experiment with the Tachyon Recreation Generator device. The Doctor finds himself having to act as guinea-pig. Thanks to Foamasi sabotage, he emerges from the machine as a frail old man.


Romana realises that Hardin is actually close to success and agrees to help him perfect his experiments. Pangol has been working on a scheme of his own. He points out that he is too young to have been born since the war - when his race was made sterile. He is really a product of the Tachyon Recreation Generator. He is now going to use it to replicate himself a thousand-fold - creating an army which will make Argolis great once more. Mena ages rapidly - her death near. Most distraught about this is Hardin who is in love with her. The Doctor and Romana meet a Foamasi government agent, who reveals that the Brock and Klout on Argolis are imposters - the Foamasi saboteurs in disguise. They are members of the West Lodge crime syndicate, who have been attempting to buy the Hive for a reduced price. Pangol takes control. He blows up the departing Foamasi shuttle, then enters the Generator - unaware that the Doctor has hidden himself inside also. It is the Doctor who gets duplicated and returned to his normal age. The duplicates are unstable and begin to vanish. Pangol re-enters the device, followed by the dying Mena. She emerges rejuvenated, with Pangol now a baby in her arms - thanks to the work of Romana and Hardin, with a little help from the TARDIS' Randomiser unit. It transpires that only the criminal Foamasi, trying to escape, had been killed by Pangol. Mena starts diplomatic talks with the Foamasi government agent - and determines to bring up Pangol a bit better next time...


This four part adventure was written by David Fisher, and was broadcast between 30th August and 20th September, 1980. It was the first story of Season 18, and is significant for a number of reasons. For some years John Nathan-Turner had worked as Production Unit Manager on the show - a role mainly concerned with finance and logistics in support of the Producer. Graham Williams had left after the stresses of the previous season, and JNT was eventually felt to be a suitable replacement. He, and one-time director on the show David Maloney, had stepped in to cover some of the production on Season 16 when Williams had been ill. However, he was inexperienced in many specific aspects of the programme, especially the creative. As such, Barry Letts was asked by Graeme McDonald, Head of Serials, to act as exec-producer for the first year - to help ease JNT into the role. Script editor Douglas Adams had also moved on - to concentrate on Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy in all its myriad forms, and so Christopher Hamilton Bidmead was brought in to replace him (Johnny Byrne had been first choice). He and Letts hit it off straight away - both determined to get rid of the fantasy elements (and under-graduate humour) that had crept in. Letts wanted the series to take itself more seriously, and both wanted more hard science to underpin the drama. JNT concurred, and had no intention of being bossed by his lead actor, and so they all embarked on a collision course with Tom Baker. Baker had a lot of respect for Letts - as he had given him the job in the first place - and quickly realised that the Fourth Doctor's number was up.
JNT had decided on a clean sweep. The theme music was rearranged by Peter Howell - using the Radiophonic Workshop's latest - and more contemporary - technology. Howell and his colleagues would take over all the incidental music as well. Sid Sutton provided a new title sequence - based on a star-field with a more recent image of Baker's face and a neon tube logo.
June Hudson came up with a new costume for the Doctor - in sombre, deep red shades. JNT informed her she could get rid of the scarf, but she decided to retain the basic shape of the familiar outfit.


John Leeson was brought back to voice K9 for its final year - as JNT and Bidmead were determined to get rid of it. The Doctor should get out of trouble using his own ingenuity - and not have his own personal mobile weapon. K9 had actually undergone an expensive refit after Season 17 - including replacing the wheels with caterpillar tracks. On its first outing, however, the shingle beach at Brighton defeated it, and it can be clearly seen on screen that it is the lightweight dummy prop being pulled along by nylon wires. Regular operator Nigel Brackley was not present, as his boss at Slough Radio Control was in dispute with the BBC over the costs of the refit at the time.
That the programme has a new look is evident from the beginning (and I don't just mean the titles). Director Lovett Bickford opens the first episode with a slow panning shot across the beach - taking in a number of brightly coloured beach tents before the camera reaches the similarly shaped TARDIS. "Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside" plays plaintively in the background, with Tom Baker's snores becoming ever louder as we approach the ship. (Baker had actually just flown back to the UK on the morning this was shot and was terribly jet-lagged - so not much acting required).
Stylistically, we had never seen a shot like this before - and it does succeed in stamping JNT's (and Bickford's) mark on the show. Of course the shock of the new only ever works first time, and the sequence is regarded as rather boring now. If it's boring you are after - wait 'til we get to Argolis...
Yes, the actual story isn't that great. There is very little incident. The science (Tachyonics) gets mentioned just a bit too much. The new regime have sucked all the joy out of the programme.
Good things: Lalla Ward's Edwardian schoolboy bathing suit (very Death In Venice), some good video effects, and a very good cast. Musically, I quite like the bombastic shuttle arrival theme.


Morix is played by Laurence Payne, who had previously appeared as Johnny Ringo in The Gunfighters. Mena is Adrienne Corri (a Hammer films stalwart). Pangol is portrayed by David Haig, who has since gone on to great things on TV, film and stage. Hardin is Nigel Lambert, and Brock is John Collin. Usually, non-speaking roles don't get a credit, but Ian Talbot - as Klout -does.
I suppose I should say a word about the Foamasi. That word is "rubbish".
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor has gone into the Tachyon Recreation Generator - and on the video screen appears to have had his limbs torn from his body...
  2. The Doctor emerges from the Generator as a wizened old man...
  3. The Foamasi agent attacks Brock - tearing away his face and suit to reveal another Foamasi...
  4. With a rejuvenated Mena taking charge on Argolis, the Doctor and Romana slip away...

Overall, a lot of cosmetic changes on view. It is still the same programme underneath, and Tom Baker is still the Doctor. Great shame the story itself can't live up to the new look.
Things you might like to know:
  • There is a new TARDIS prop - this time made out of fibreglass rather than wood. It doesn't have the flat roof of its predecessor (introduced back in Masque of Mandragora).
  • At heart the story is taken from gangster books and movies. Foamasi is an anagram of Mafiosa. They are running the business down through sabotage so they can buy it up cheap.
  • The off screen problems of Season 17 had not gone away when this story was recorded. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were in conflict throughout, and there is a lovely out-take on the DVD of this story where we get to see the "controlled fury" of Mr Baker when he is not happy with the time it is taking to film a scene.
  • The Quantel VFX system is used for the first time - allowing for the first ever materialisation of the TARDIS in a moving shot. (Up to this point, roll-back-and-mix always necessitated a static shot).
  • Lovett Bickford went so over-budget he was never asked back. JNT got an official reprimand for the budget issue.
  • Previously, John Leeson had had his voice modulated electronically to portray K9, but for his final series he uses his own, unmodified vocals.
  • ITV elected to launch glossy US TV series Buck Rogers in Britain on Saturday 30th August 1980 - i.e. right opposite part one. It tempted a lot of viewers away from Doctor Who (resulting in episode four dropping out of the top 100 programmes for the week for the first time ever), until people realised how crap it was.
  • The Audio-Go version of the novelisation for this story is another one of those where David Fisher has written it as he would have liked it to have been, rather than how it was.
  • The Randomiser makes its final appearance in the TARDIS. More of this wonderful gizmo shortly...
  • A criticism that has always dogged this story is how could the bulky Foamasi fit into the Brock & Klout disguises. Such a pity Fisher did not think of Gas Exchangers, as RTD would a quarter of a century later. We could have had farting Foamasi...
  • Those bloody awful question marks appear for the first time...

Friday, 5 December 2014

Ian Fairbairn


Very sorry to hear that actor Ian Fairbairn has passed away (on Tuesday 2nd December).
He guested in four Doctor Who stories - three of them highly regarded. The first was the early Troughton story The Macra Terror (as Questa). Not so highly regarded an adventure but the next three appearances were all for director Douglas Camfield. He was the cowardly and ineffectual International Electromatics scientist Gregory in The Invasion; technician Bromley - who becomes a Primord in both this Universe and the parallel one - in Inferno; and finally (hidden in a parka in a blizzard so you'd be hard pushed to recognise him) as Dr. Chester in episode 3 of The Seeds of Doom.
He features prominently amongst the DVD extras for all the Camfield stories.
RIP.

Underwater Menace for 2015


Looks as if we are finally going to get the DVD release of The Underwater Menace sometime next year. BBC DVD have said so, and confirmed that the missing two episodes will be animated - so not sure what that means for the great "Omni-rumour" debate. The excuse for the delay is put down to them "spreading their output effectively". Sounds like another word for shoemakers to me.
Are we finally going to get some more Special Editions? Perhaps more Blu-ray releases. Remember, a SE of Earthshock was strongly rumoured to be on the cards back in 2013. We are still waiting for the second half of that "Tales From TV Centre" documentary that began on The Visitation SE after all.