Monday, 14 August 2017

Small Worlds - Torchwood 1.5

In which Jack wakes from a vivid nightmare - a memory of something which happened to him decades ago. As an officer in the British army he was traveling through India in the boxcar of a train when it passed through a tunnel. Within seconds, all of his men were dead - suffocated with rose petals. Jack finds a lone petal beside his bed. The next day he takes Gwen to see a lecture about local folklore, given by an old friend of his named Estelle Cole. She has taken some photographs which she claims show Faeries, taken in a local woodland.
At Estelle's home, Gwen sees a photo of her as a young woman, with a man who looks exactly like Jack. He claims that this was his father, who courted Estelle for a time. Jack warns Estelle that Faeries are not the benign creatures she believes them to be, but she refuses to accept this. Outside, he tells Gwen that they are beings from outwith Time itself and are totally amoral. Back at the Hub, Jack asks Toshiko to monitor for any unusual weather events, as these can indicate Faery activity.

A young girl named Jasmine lives in a house that backs onto the woodland where Estelle saw the creatures. She is a solitary child, with no friends, and who does not get on with her mother's boyfriend, Roy. He fails to pick her up from school and so she walks home. A man named Mark Goodson attempts to lure her into his car. Jasmine does have friends - ones that only she can see. A fierce wind forces Mark to withdraw and he feels that someone is hunting him. In a nearby market he begins to regurgitate rose petals. He finds a police officer and asks to be arrested, admitting that he is a paedophile.  In custody, he dies - suffocated by petals. Jack and Gwen are called in to investigate the death. Jack tells Gwen about the events in India, back in 1909. Some of his men had drunkenly run over and killed a child. This child was a chosen one for the Faeries, and this is why they killed his men in the train.
That night Estelle hears someone prowling outside her home and calls Jack. Going out into the garden to fetch her cat she is caught in a torrential downpour. This freak weather is spotted in the Hub. By the time Jack gets to the house, Estelle has died from drowning. Jack admits to Gwen that the man in the photo was him. Returning home, Gwen finds her flat has been ransacked. A miniature sculpture, like a stone circle, has been left on the floor.

The next day, Jasmine is bullied at school. The playground is buffeted by strong winds, causing everyone to panic - all except Jasmine. Owen has discovered that the piece of woodland where Estelle saw the Faeries - Roundstone Woods - has always been wild and never been built upon, despite redevelopment all around it. It contains an ancient stone circle. When Jack and Gwen investigate the school, Gwen is convinced that something is watching them from the trees. They decide to go and speak to Jasmine. Roy has boarded up the fence to stop Jasmine from going into the woods. A party is being held to celebrate the fifth anniversary since Roy started going out with her mother. It is attacked by winged, green-skinned creatures. One of them kills Roy, suffocating him. Jasmine runs into the woods. Jack realises that the girl has been chosen to join the Faeries, and that nothing will prevent this. To the horror of his colleagues and her mother, Jack allows the creatures to take Jasmine.
Back at the Hub, Gwen is studying images of the Cottingley Fairies, taken in 1917. She zooms in on one of the faces of the dancing figures, and sees that it shows a smiling Jasmine.

Small Worlds was written by P J Hammond, best known for creating Sapphire and Steel. It was first broadcast on 12th November, 2006.
Hammond had been sounded out for a Doctor Who contribution by script editor Eric Saward in the mid 1980's, though nothing had come of the approach.
For a change, there are no alien aspects to the story, though Jack does reference a monster from the classic era of Doctor Who. The Faeries are Earthbound creatures, who have always lived alongside us, though they don't follow linear time. I've read a lot of Scottish folklore, and Faeries feature prominently. The stories rarely show them in a benign light. At best they are amoral. They are often alleged to steal children, or nursing women to feed their own children, replacing them with a piece of wood. Another popular tale is that of the person who joins them in a dance. He thinks he has only been with them a few hours, whereas a year or more has really passed. In one version, a whole century has gone by.
Child abduction features in the Doctor Who series 2 story Fear Her, but at no point is it ever even suggested that this may be due to a paedophile. Small Worlds tackles this subject head on, in the character of Goodson.

Jasmine is played by Lara Phillipart. She features in The Idiot's Lantern, watching the Coronation at the Connolly household. Estelle is Eve Pearce. She's a poet as well as an actor.
Overall, one of the highlights of the first season. Hammond is a great writer, and his contribution to the second season will be one of its best.
Things you might like to know:

  • The Doctor Who monster Jack refers to is the Mara - from Kinda and Snakedance. He suggests that the Faeries might be part Mara. At least that's the conclusion fans jump to. Hammond would be referencing the Germanic legends, where the Mara can steal peoples' breath and are the derivation of the word "nightmare", whereas Christopher Bailey was inspired by a Buddhist demon.
  • It has been implied that Jack never sleeps, yet here we see him in bed, waking from a nightmare.
  • The Torchwood website claimed that Jack's role in India, 1909, was when he was acting as a con-man, out to steal diamonds.
  • The Cottingley Fairies were revealed to have been a hoax in the early 1980's, when the two cousins who feature in the pictures admitted they cut the figures from a book and fastened them with hat pins. When first revealed to the public, they caught the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was convinced of their authenticity. The August 2017 edition of Fortean Times has a feature, marking the centenary of the photographs.
  • The episode ends with a quotation from The Stolen Child, by W B Yeats - a devout believer in the supernatural. It runs: "Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild. With a faery hand in hand. For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand".

Friday, 11 August 2017

August's Figurines

Three figurines again this month - two regular releases plus the latest of the special editions. First of all we have the Professor Yana Master. An extremely good likeness of Derek Jacobi.
With him is Dalek Caan, as he appeared in The Stolen Earth / Journey's End, with the casing broken open. This is one of those figurines that looks odd out of context, being so brightly coloured. On screen it was kept in a harsh spotlight, in a darkened chamber.

The special edition figure is the Yeti, as it appeared in The Web of Fear. It is roughly twice the size of the normal figurines. Unfortunately, mine came with a couple of the talons broken off - that's three months running I've had to get the super-glue out. Either Eaglemoss need to improve their packaging, or my postman has to to go.
Next month we will be treated to Sharaz Jek, from The Caves of Androzani, plus - what it possibly the most pointless release yet - the Space Pig from the Series 1 Slitheen story. October sees an Ogron plus a Cheetah Person, whilst the next special edition will be Aggedor.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Inspirations: The Myth Makers

Until relatively recently, it was widely accepted that a man named Homer wrote an epic poem about a legendary war - and of a ten year siege by Achaean (Greek) heroes of a city named Troy.
More recently it has become widely accepted that the Greeks really did besiege and destroy the city of Troy, in the Dardanelles, during the Bronze Age. It's Homer himself who has become the myth.
If he did exist, he certainly wasn't a first hand observer of the conflict - he lived several centuries later.
It appears that the tale was handed down orally over those centuries by story-tellers until someone - possibly Homer - wrote it down. But the germ of the poem came from first hand accounts of a real conflict. There's corroboration in Hittite texts of a Mycenaean Greek High King campaigning in Asia Minor in the area where archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann unearthed the ruins of the city he believed to be Troy, which had clear destruction layers. The Greeks had built a new city on top of this, and the Romans had built another on top of that. Alexander the Great had no problem identifying it as the site of Troy. He was shown the tomb of Achilles - a mound near the site - and is said to have swapped his own shield for that of his hero.
That's as much as we can say about a conflict in the region in the Bronze Age. The details, such as Paris abducting Helen; her husband Menelaus seeking help from his brother - Agamemnon - and other Greek city states to lay siege; the siege lasting ten years; and the subterfuge of the Wooden Horse etc - all this can never be proved. Some of it is certainly artistic licence on the part of the bards who first told the tale.

We've said a lot about Homer, but nothing so far about the Doctor. The Myth Makers - always known under this title - was written by Donald Cotton. He had written a number of plays for the Third Programme, most inspired by the classical Greek myths. When story editor Donald Tosh invited him to contribute a storyline to Doctor Who, he settled on the legend of the Wooden Horse of Troy. Cotton elected to make the episodes humorous, but with a sudden switch to darkness in the final section when Troy would fall, and most of the characters would be killed.
The action begins with the TARDIS materialising near Troy. The Doctor goes out to confront two men who are fighting - distracting one of them (Hector) long enough for the other (Achilles) to kill him. Achilles takes the Doctor to be Zeus, and he plays along as he's taken to the Greek camp where he meets Agamemnon, the spineless Menelaus - who just wants to go home and isn't that bothered about getting Helen back - and the cynical Odysseus, who wants proof of his divinity. Steven comes looking for the Doctor, gets taken for a Trojan spy, and so the Doctor has to step in to save him. He decides to show Odysseus his "temple" - the TARDIS - but when they get there it has gone. Vicki, nursing a sore ankle, was still inside. She emerges from the ship after it has been carried into Troy.
Vicki needs to be rescued from the city by Steven, whilst the Doctor is challenged to come up with a way of capturing it. She falls in love with King Priam's son Troilus, whilst making an enemy of his sister Cassandra, the prophetess. Steven pretends to be a warrior named Diomedes and allows himself to be captured by Paris - so he can get to Vicki. The Doctor decides that the Wooden Horse must have been made up by Homer, so he won't be messing with history if he suggests it to Odysseus.
The city falls, the Trojans are massacred - except for Cassandra who gets taken captive, Troilus, who runs off with Vicki (who changes her name to Cressida), and Katarina, a handmaiden who looks like she's going to be the new companion as she departs in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Steven.

As well as the general myths of the Trojan War on view, the other big inspiration is the story of Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare's play is probably the best known version, but earlier than that we have Chaucer's poem - and he is said to have taken the idea from Boccaccio. He in turn took inspiration from 12th Century poet Benoit de Saint-Maure. The two lovers fail to live happily ever after in the literary sources - with Troilus slain in battle and Cressida taking a Greek lover, ironically the person whom Steven is impersonating.
Whilst on the subject, Diomedes was not killed during the Trojan War. He returned to Greece and successfully founded a number of new cities.
Maureen O'Brien only discovered she was being written out of the series on her return from holiday at the end of Season 2. New producer John Wiles had heard her complain about the scripts for Galaxy 4, and thought she wanted to leave, so asked Tosh to arrange it as soon as possible. Of the four companion departures to date, that's two who have fallen in love with someone in the course of a few days, though Susan never got to make the decision to leave the TARDIS for herself.

Homer's Iliad is set in the later stages of the war, but ends before the fall of Troy - so the Wooden Horse doesn't feature. It is briefly mentioned in his other great work - The Odyssey - though that is set after the war has ended, when Odysseus is trying to get home to Ithaca. It is actually to the Roman writer Virgil that we should look for the full story of the Horse - in The Aeneid. Virgil recounts the story of the actual fall of the city, and of how the survivor Aeneas, after much wandering, arrives in Italy and founds Rome.
As far as Donald Cotton was concerned, the Wooden Horse was simply inspired by a Siege Machine. Though not common, they had been used at the time the war was set. An interesting theory is that the Horse was not a real one but a metaphorical one. The horse was one of the symbols of Poseidon. As well as being god of the seas, he was also responsible for earthquakes. Archaeologists working at Troy have found that it is not always possible to confirm if an area of destruction was man-made, or the result of a natural disaster like an earthquake. Troy lies in modern Turkey, which is geologically unstable.
Was the idea of a ten year siege such an unlikely one? It is written as though it was continuous, but warfare up until the formation of standing armies was a seasonal thing. You went off campaigning each year, but went home for important things like the harvest. A campaign lasting ten seasons is perfectly feasible.
Even something as fantastic as Achilles' vulnerable heel might have its derivation in truth. Experts have recreated armour from Bronze Age Asia Minor. It affords a great deal of protection - apart from the back of the lower leg...
Next time, it's back to Kembel for Dalek shenanigans of epic proportions.

Friday, 4 August 2017

C is for... Cass (2)

Crew member of the Drum - an underwater mining facility in a flooded valley in the North of Scotland. The crew had found a strange craft on the lake bed and brought it into the complex. Its engines suddenly fired - killing the commander, Moran. His ghost appeared moments later, and the crew had to seek shelter in a Faraday Cage which the spirit Moran could not enter. Another, alien, ghost appeared - dressed like a funeral director.
As Cass was second in command, she took charge. She had been deaf since birth, and had a colleague named Lunn who signed for her. Cass was very protective towards Lunn - refusing to allow him to enter the craft. Fortunately, this prevented him from becoming a victim of the ghosts - transformed into another of their kind. Her protectiveness was because she was in love with him, but didn't feel she could say so. He was secretly in love with her in return.
Lunn's immunity proved helpful once the Doctor and Clara arrived and helped them investigate what was going on. Whilst Cass couldn't hear an approaching ghost, she could feel the vibration of the axe it was dragging, and this saved her life.
Another victim of unrequited love, her colleague Bennett convinced Cass and Lunn to admit their feelings towards each other after the ghosts had been neutralised.

Played by: Sophie Stone. Appearances: Under the Lake / Before the Flood (2015).

  • Sophie was a 24 year old single mum when she became the first deaf actor to be enrolled at RADA. Inspiring.

C is for... Cass (1)

Pilot of a spaceship which was breaking up near the orbit of the planet Karn. She had transported her crew off the vessel and stayed behind. The Doctor materialised the TARDIS aboard the vessel and attempted to rescue her. On discovering that he was a Time Lord, she refused to go with him - believing both sides in the Time War to be just as bad as each other. The Doctor decided not to leave her, and remained on the ship when it crashed. He was taken from the wreckage, dying. Cass was already dead, and the Sisterhood of Karn could not bring her back. This prompted the peace-loving Eighth Doctor to regenerate into the incarnation known as the "War Doctor".

Played by: Emma Campbell-Jones. Appearances: Night of the Doctor (2013).

C is for... Carter, Alice and Steven

Daughter and grandson of Captain Jack Harkness. Her mother was Lucia Moretti, who worked with Jack in Torchwood Three. She left the organisation in 1977, and put her daughter under deep cover - as Alice Sangster. She went on to marry Joe Carter, and had a son - Steven - in 1999.
Alice knew all about her father, and refused to have any connection with him - knowing the dangers associated with him. They started limited contact after Lucia died - Jack being passed off as an uncle to Steven due to his apparent younger age.
When the aliens known as the 456 began to send messages to Earth through its children, Steven was one of those affected. The Government elected to destroy Torchwood as part of a cover-up, as Jack had been involved in an earlier encounter with the species. Agent Johnson traced Alice and Steven and took them into custody, as a means of getting Jack, Gwen and Rhys to hand themselves in. They were released when Jack convinced Johnson that there was a way to combat the aliens. This needed a child to be used as a conduit for a signal. To save millions of other children, Jack allowed Steven to be used. The signal worked, but Steven was killed. Alice refused to speak to him after this, and in remorse Jack fled from Earth.

Played by: Lucy Cohu (Alice), Bear McCausland (Steven). Appearances: TW: Children of Earth (2009).

C is for... Carter (3)

Commander of the Teselecta - Justice Department Vehicle 6018. This humanoid-shaped machine could transform its appearance to look and sound like anyone. The original person was transported inside it. If a wrong-doer, they were killed by the machine's robotic Antibodies. Others were given a wristband device which protected them.
Within the Teselecta were some 421 miniaturised crew members. The machine could travel through Time - visiting people who had committed serious crimes and who had managed to escape justice, usually by dying. Carter's vessel travelled to Berlin in 1938 to punish Adolf Hitler, taking on the appearance of a Nazi officer named Zimmerman. Carter realised that they had arrived seven years too early. The Teselecta was then knocked down by the crashing TARDIS. When Amy and Rory's friend Mels regenerated into River Song, Carter realised that he had a new target - as she was the killer of the Doctor. He was prevented from harming her by her daughter, who disabled the Antibody safeguards - forcing Carter and his crew to abandon ship and return to their mothership.
The Doctor encountered Carter again when the Teselecta was disguised as Gideon Vandalour of the Silence, frequenting a bar in the docklands of Calisto B. After giving him information about Silence agent Gantok, Carter allowed the Doctor to use the machine to feign his death.

Played by: Richard Dillane. Appearances: Let's Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song (both 2011).