Sunday, 19 April 2015

History Without a TARDIS updated

Fans of The Sarah Jane Adventures might be interested in taking a look at the latest post on my new history blog:

It tells the story of the Nine Day Queen - Lady Jane Grey - who featured in the SJA story Lost In Time. The Sarah Jane Adventures is one of the few places where her story has been featured on TV, as I mention in my post. As I have stated before, Doctor Who (and its off-shoots) have often covered periods of history that mainstream media generally overlooks, in favour of the more populist stuff. The recent Wolf Hall on the BBC was very good, with an exceptional performance by Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, but it did simply regurgitate the oft-filmed story of Anne Boleyn.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Know Your Cybermen No.5

The Invasion (1968).
Despite a redesign only a few months before, the Cybermen change appearance once again. This time, the main differences are with the helmet. The "ear-muffs" are added to the side of the helmet. The "tear-drops" are still at the edges of the eyes but the mouth no longer has one below the lip. The chest unit is smaller and more compact. Stiff metal rods replace the piping along the limbs. They have built-in weapons in the chest unit - the circle at the top centre. However, these Cybermen also carry flame-thrower guns. These Cybermen don't say a great deal, and the voices are so heavily treated that it is sometimes difficult to make out what they are saying when they do speak.
The Cybermen are invading the Earth in 1968, making use of a human businessman named Tobias Vaughn. He has been arranging for Cybermen to be dropped off at his factory outside London, then shipped to the city where they are kept hidden in the sewer system. Vaughn communicates with the Cybermen via the Cyber-Director. This appears to have been built by Vaughn, and it contains organic components.
Cybermen can be destroyed by explosives such as bazooka shells and hand grenades. They can also be driven insane by emotional impulses generated by the Cerebretron Mentor - intended as a teaching machine but turned into a weapon by Vaughn.
The Cybermen are finally defeated when Vaughn turns against them and the Doctor protects UNIT troops from falling under the paralysing Cyber-signal. Their main invasion force is destroyed in space by a missile.
The date of 1968 shows that these Cybermen are certainly not Mondasian ones. They mention knowing the Doctor from Planet 14 - which might be Telos, but is more likely to refer to some unseen adventure on one of their other colony worlds. As I have argued before, the coldly logical Cybermen are unlikely to give planets names. Both Mondas and Telos were already named before the Cybermen were born / invaded. Planet 14 would simply be the 14th planet they colonised.

Story Notes:

  • This time the story is written by producer / script editor (depending which week it is) Derrick Sherwin, from a story idea by Kit Pedler.
  • Whilst it sees the return of Lethbridge-Stewart, now a Brigadier, this wasn't always the intention. Originally, it was Professor Travers and / or his daughter Anne who was to return from The Web of Fear.
  • The story also marks the first appearance of UNIT soldier Benton - here still a Corporal.
  • As well as the aesthetic reasons for redesigning the helmets, the added ear-muffs also gave the actors more ventilation. The ear muffs are regarded as iconical - yet only appear in two stories (plus a couple of cameos).
  • Those cameos are in Carnival of MonstersDeath In Heaven, and The War Games. In the former, you can clearly see the back of the helmet flapping open, whilst in the latter the helmet sits over the collar of the costume, rather than tucked inside.
  • The Cyber-head seen in Van Statten's museum purports to come from this story, according to its label. However, it is of a design from the next Cyberman story.
  • UNIT's Kate Stewart produces a damaged Cyber-head of the correct design in Death In Heaven to prove to the Cybermen that they can be defeated.
  • The metal rods had a habit of popping out of their sockets, and had to be continually put back into place.
  • Sherwin thought that an Earth-based adventure would save money - especially spread over 8 weeks. However, The Invasion went over budget.
  • Nicholas Courtney claimed that the two missing episodes were still around for Ian Marter to be loaned them by an unnamed fan when he was preparing the novelisation of this story - although they did not have sound. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Forget learning Klingon - here's a proper course!

Yes, you can now enrol at a college in Stockport, Greater Manchester, to learn all about the history of Doctor Who. Or, you could just keep reading tardismusings... You'll learn just as much - nay, more - but I have a lot more jokes. And I'm cheaper.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

TARDIS Travels No.21

Before we get into Season 21 proper, which sees Peter Davison bow out, and Colin Baker barge in, we still have the stand-alone 20th Anniversary story to deal with.

Journey 224: Fitzwilliam Castle, England, 1215, to the Eye of Orion, date unknown.
No sign of Kamelion, strangely. The much mentioned Eye of Orion looks just like Earth (North Wales in particular). The Doctor comes under attack as his earlier selves are removed from their time-streams.

Journey 225: Eye of Orion, date unknown, to Gallifrey, date unknown.
The Doctor sends the TARDIS to where he can find out what is happening to him, and so it materialises on Gallifrey once more. This time it doesn't land in the Capitol. Instead, it arrives in the middle of the Death Zone - which looks very like the Eye of Orion. Or, indeed, North Wales.

Journey 226: Death Zone (exterior), to the Dark Tower, Gallifrey - date unknown.
Turlough and Susan are trapped in the ship as the Cybermen are about to blow it up. The force-field emanating from the Tower - Rassilon's tomb - is deactivated, and the TARDIS travels there.
Once Borusa has been defeated, if it is the Special Edition you are watching on DVD, all the earlier Doctors leave Gallifrey via the Time Scoop. As broadcast they all traipse into the TARDIS, which then splits into alternative versions to depart.

Journey 227: Gallifrey, date unknown, to Earth orbit, 2084.
The TARDIS develops a fault and is stationary in orbit above the Earth. It is attacked by an automated defence probe.

Journey 228: Earth orbit to Seabase 4, 2084.
The Doctor makes an emergency landing, the ship materialising in a storeroom in Seabase 4. Two power blocs are poised to go to war in this period, but we aren't sure who they are. The obvious would be the West (USA and allies) and the East (Russia and allies). If so, judging by the names of the base personnel, this belongs to the Eastern forces. One other theory is that the blocs represent the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In keeping with his open door policy the Doctor - leaves the TARDIS door open... Yet again, someone seeing the ship's interior renders the Doctor completely innocent of any possible wrong-doing.

Journey 229: Seabase 4, 2084, to Little Hodcombe, England, 1984.
Tegan wants to visit yet another of her incident-prone relatives - this time her grandfather. The TARDIS materialises in the crypt of the local church, which now stands derelict. This is probably due to there being a huge evil alien underneath it. Dry rot they could have coped with... The Malus is able to breach the ship's defences and begin to materialise in the control room.

Journey 330: Little Hodcombe - church crypt to elsewhere in the village, 1984.
Another packed TARDIS. The Doctor moves the ship out of the crypt before the Malus destroys it and itself.
There is an unseen journey when the Doctor takes Will back to the 17th Century. This may have been after Tegan spent some time with her relative, or the Doctor may have left her there, and come back to collect her after taking Will home.

Journey 331: Little Hodcombe, 1984 (or 1643), to Frontios, far distant future.
So far in the future that the ship warns it has exceeded temporal limits. Presumably some limit built in by the Time Lords, as the TARDIS goes well beyond this point once they are no longer around. The Gravis is able to pull the ship apart and drag the pieces into the ground - without unleashing any destructive forces from its heart. The console room hat-stand gets a pivotal role to play, and is left behind on Frontios as a souvenir once the Gravis has been tricked into reassembling the ship.
Two unseen journeys here, as the Doctor takes the Gravis to Kolkoron and then returns to Frontios.

Journey 332: Frontios, far future, to London, 1984.
On leaving Frontios, the TARDIS gets trapped in a time corridor which pulls it towards Earth. The ship breaks free but shadows the corridor so the Doctor can find out who is responsible. Clue: they come from Skaro. Yes, the Daleks are behind this - with a convoluted plan worthy of the Cybermen at their height. The ship materialises at Shad Thames, in the Pool of London. The Daleks move the TARDIS to their spaceship in the future (sometime post 4000AD).

Journey 333: Dalek spaceship, future, to London, 1984.
The TARDIS materialises in the warehouse where the rival Dalek factions are fighting, and the Doctor releases the Movellan virus. Tegan elects to leave the ship at this point.

Journey 334: London, 1984, to Lanzarote, 1984.
At last Kamelion finally comes out of hiding - just in time to fall under the thrall of the Master once more. Turlough is acting all suspicious, before rescuing Perpugiliam Brown from drowning.

Journey 335: Lanzarote, 1984, to Lanzarote, date unknown. Well, it's Sarn actually.
Not that you'd know as Sarn just happens to look like Lanzarote. They should have made it look like, oh, North Wales - just to differentiate it a bit. This is Kamelion's doing - under the Master's influence - as he is trapped here, in somewhat reduced circumstances. The TARDIS lands in the town square.

Journey 336: Sarn - town square to volcano control centre.
The TARDIS travels to the control room at the heart of the volcano, where the Doctor destroys Kamelion and - apparently - the Master.

Journey 337: Sarn - volcano control centre back to town square.
Half the population take shelter in the TARDIS this time. Turlough calls on his own people to come and mount a rescue mission, and he decides to go home with them.

Journey 338: Sarn, date unknown, to Androzani Minor, date unknown.
If Androzani Major is another Earth colony, then we are somewhere beyond 5000AD. Considering how much we have seen of the TARDIS interior during his tenure (along with half the guest artistes), it is a TARDIS-lite conclusion to the Fifth Doctor's time. It is only seen during the finale / regeneration. Yes, time for Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor...

Journey 339: Androzani Minor, date unknown, to Titan III, 2200.
August to be exact. The new Doctor decides to become a hermit on this knobby crag. His words, not mine. Peri will be his acolyte, whether she likes it or not. The ship's wardrobe has suffered a catastrophic Taste failure.

Journey 340: Titan III, to Jaconda, still 2200.
Look - he's waving his arms about. Again! He'll be like this for the next couple of years, I'm afraid. The TARDIS materialises on the ravaged surface of the once verdant planet, visited at least once before by the Fourth Doctor (unseen).

Journey 341: Jaconda (surface) to Jaconda (tunnels), 2200.
To infiltrate the palace, the Doctor moves the ship to the tunnels beneath the surface. As a tribute to the late Fifth Doctor, the twins and the Jacondan chancellor, as well as Hugo Land, all get to see inside.
Another unseen journey when the Doctor  takes the Sylvest twins home - assuming he did not ditch them on Kolkoron instead.
More of the Loud Doctor's TARDIS travels next time.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

History - without a TARDIS

For those of you who have an interest in history, I have decided to set up a second blog, which I hope you will find to be of some interest. It is called "History Without A TARDIS". (All the best titles with the word 'musings' were taken, sadly). A link will go up on this blog shortly.
As my opening post mentions, this is another excuse for me to set down in writing a lot of the arcane knowledge that normally clutters up my head - this time of the non-Doctor Who variety. I suspect that my love of history is in no small measure due to my love of Doctor Who. Apart from academics, Doctor Who fans probably know more about the St. Bartholomew's Massacre than anyone else, for instance. Obviously, where my two favourite subjects intersect, this will receive special mention.
Unless archive material, photos (such as the above) will be my own.
Don't worry - tardismusings will not be neglected. Posts on will tend to be shorter ones. At present I am still endeavouring to give you each week a story review, a TARDIS travel, plus the evolution of the Cybermen.
The first post proper on the new blog is up, and it manages to cover the Great Fire of 1666, grave-robbers, ladies of the night, and a ghost. All from one street corner in London.
I hope you will enjoy it as much as this blog.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Story 124 - Snakedance

In which Tegan is having nightmares about the time she was possessed by the Mara. The Doctor is perturbed to discover that the co-ordinates have been changed - causing them to go to the planet Manussa. The TARDIS materialises in a quiet corner of the local bazaar. Exploring, the Doctor learns that this world was once part of the Sumaran Empire - the home of the Mara. He realises that Tegan was never totally dispossessed, and the evil entity has lain dormant within her mind. He gives her a device which helps to deaden the senses, which should keep the malign influence at bay. Unable to hear, and bewildered by her surroundings, Tegan wanders into one of the fair booths - that of a fortune teller. The woman who runs the booth removes the Doctor's device - and the Mara takes full control over Tegan. Elsewhere in the city, Director Ambril is playing host to Lon - son of the Federator - and his mother, Tanha. The Federator rules the Manussan Federation, which supplanted the Sumaran Empire. His ancestor is reputed to have destroyed the Mara centuries ago. Lon is a bored teenager, with no interest in his heritage. A festival celebrating the expulsion of the Mara is due to take place, but this fails to arouse his interest. Ambril's young assistant, Chela, is one of the few who believes in the old legends. He meets the Doctor and Nyssa, and tells them of Ambril's predecessor - Dojjen - who became a Snakedancer and left the city to become a hermit in the wilderness nearby. The Snakedancers believe the Mara still exists and will one day return. The Doctor agrees with this, and tries to warn Ambril.

Tegan has taken shelter in another fair booth - that of a Hall of Mirrors, run by a man named Dugdale. He falls under her evil influence, and is sent to the palace to fetch Lon. Lon goes to the Hall of Mirrors and he too falls under the Mara's spell - a snake tattoo appearing on his arm. Tegan instructs him to ensure that Ambril is brought to a nearby cave system. This is where the forthcoming ceremony which marks the height of the festival is to take place. Wall carvings there tell of the legend of the Federator, and there is a slot in the wall where a great crystal is supposed to be set. In the ceremony, a fake crystal is always used, but Tegan wants the real one to be used this time - and this rests in the care of the Director. Tegan knows of a secret chamber full of early Sumaran antiquities - which should excite the interest and greed of the history-loving Ambril. In exchange for them, Ambril must agree to let the real great crystal be used. The Doctor's continual efforts to get Ambril to listen to him and to halt the ceremony land him instead in jail. Chela visits him there and gives him Dojjen's notebook. From this, the Doctor starts to comprehend how the Mara came into being - and how he can stop them.

Nyssa and the Doctor convince the young man to help them, and Chela steals the key to the Doctor's cell from Ambril's office. Lon witnesses this, and orders the guards to kill them all - claiming they are trying to assassinate him. Tanha, disturbed by her son's recent behaviour, intercedes and they are able to escape. The Doctor decides to go into the wilderness to find Dojjen. The old man appears and the Doctor communes with him. He now knows that the Mara were created by accident, when the Sumarans perfected the great crystal. So perfect was it that they attuned their minds to it, and all of their negative emotion manifested itself as the Mara, and so it took on a life of its own. Should the great crystal be used in the ceremony, the Mara will be able to manifest itself once more and take over all the minds of the inhabitants. The festival begins, with Lon playing the part of the original Federator. At the moment in the cave ceremony when the fake crystal is revealed, he produces the real one - to the horror of the watching citizens. It is inserted into the slot in the wall carving as Tegan appears. The festival-goers all begin to fall under the Mara's sway. The Snakedancers all wear a smaller crystal - representative of the great one - but it is also shares similar properties. The Doctor focuses his mind through it just as Dojjen had instructed him, and so uses it to block the Mara from manifesting itself through Tegan. The great crystal is smashed, and the Mara are expelled, this time forever. Lon and Tegan are freed of its influence.

This four part story was written by Christopher Bailey, and was broadcast between the 18th and the 26th of January, 1983. It is a sequel to the previous Season's Kinda, which producer JNT and story editor Eric Saward had admired. Bailey had experienced a difficult time bringing his first story to the screen, but now he felt a little more in tune with what Saward wanted, and the writing came much easier.
Once again we have Buddhist references, as well as Hindu ones. Many of the names are significant. Dojjen derives from the monk Dogen, Duggan comes from Duggati - a sense of dissatisfaction with the path chosen, Chela means "apprentice", and so forth. There are some noticeable parallels to be found with Planet of the Spiders.
Snakedance is entirely studio based - though the scenes in the wilderness with Dojjen were filmed at Ealing. The designer, Jan Spoczynski, and director Fiona Cumming manage to make Manussa seem like a real place, with a proper culture and history.
One significant improvement since Kinda is the prop for the giant snake which appears in the final episode. This one just about gets away with it.
Even if not everyone watched Snakedance on transmission, or bought the VHS / DVD, just about the entire population of the UK has watched a clip from it - namely the early appearance of the now ubiquitous (on ITV at least) Martin Clunes, playing Lon. Those "before they were famous" clip shows about film and TV personalities always dig out a clip of Clunes with his (very 80's / New Romantic) lipstick and mascara - preferably a clip from the final episode where he also wears the rather fetching smock and headdress combo.
The cast also features the wonderful John Carson as Ambril, Jonathon Morris (famous for Liverpool-based sitcom Bread) as Chela, Collette O'Neil as Tanha, and Lis Sladen's husband Brian Miller as Dugdale.
Episode endings are:
  1. In the fortune teller's booth, Tegan has become totally possessed by the Mara. A snake skull appears in the crystal ball before it shatters, and Tegan laughs as the fortune teller screams...
  2. A terrified Dugdale is ordered to look at Tegan. He sees her eyes glowing red...
  3. As they attempt to flee from the palace, the Doctor, Nyssa and Chela are trapped by guards, and Lon orders they be killed...
  4. On the steps outside the cavern, the Doctor reassures Tegan that this time she is really free of the Mara.

Overall, an enjoyable story which makes for a good sequel to Kinda - giving Janet Fielding a better role than usual. Good cast and visuals, and as mentioned above a real sense of this being an actual place. The plot does leave Peter Davison stuck in a cell for pretty much the whole of episode three, however.
Things you might like to know:
  • Chris Bailey did not write for Doctor Who again, though he did have other ideas that never proceeded to commissioning. He did have an idea for a third Mara story.
  • The Mara were chosen for one of the first Big Finish audios after they finally secured the services of Janet Fielding - but it isn't Bailey's third story idea. They were also name-checked by Captain Jack in the Torchwood episode Small Worlds, but have yet to return to the parent programme. Bizarrely, the Mara turned up at Trenzalore - according to BBC books.
  • Personally, this is my favourite of the two Mara tales, but polls disagree. In the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, Kinda is in 63rd position, whilst Snakedance is 112th.
  • Was the designer a fan of Star Trek? The snake-head shaped cave mouth is reminiscent of the cave mouth seen in the episode "The Apple". Like Kinda, that also features strong Garden of Eden influences - as well as a young David Soul.
  • Tegan and Nyssa appear to be sharing a bedroom, as both of their fancy dress costumes from Black Orchid can be seen hanging in the background in the opening scenes.
  • Dojjen is played by Preston Lockwood (died 1996, aged 84). In 1994 he featured in a fly-on-the-wall documentary about his local golf club (Northwood in Middlesex). This resulted in the club members becoming a bit of a national laughing stock for a while, which Lockwood warned might happen if they let the cameras in.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Know Your Cybermen No.4

The Wheel In Space (1968).
We last saw the Cybermen at the start of Season 5, and they are back again to close it. We have the second significant design change, though this specific variation will only make this one appearance.
The faces are different - the eyes and mouth no longer having the silvered flashing around them. Added to the eyes are "tear-drops" - presumably oil-ducts. There is a similar notch added to the lower lip. The mouth no longer has the opening / closing hatch when they speak. The actual bodies are now more steam-lined. The previous version had a rather baggy appearance, whereas now it is like a silvered wetsuit. The chest unit is now inverted, and the piping which runs along the limbs is thinner, with less prominent joints. Their finger tips have thimble-like covers.
These Cybermen hail from the early part of the 21st Century - so before the ones who attacked the Moonbase. The design variations may be due to them coming from a different colony world - not necessarily Telos. However, one of the Cybermen seen trying to space-walk to the Wheel does have elements of the Telos design.
The Cybermen's plan is convoluted, to say the least. They first of all ionise a star in the Messier 13 cluster, causing meteoroids to head towards the Wheel which orbits the Earth. They then take over a space cargo vessel named the Silver Carrier and hide two Cybermen aboard along with a number of Cybermats. This ship is then sent to drift towards the Wheel. The Cybermats travel through space and break into the Wheel, seeking out and destroying the bernalium fuel rods which power the station's defences - needed to knock out those meteoroids. This forces the crew of the Wheel to send a couple of men over to the Silver Carrier to obtain the bernalium stocks held there. The men are put under the mental control of the Cybermen and are used to smuggle them onto the Wheel. Once there, the Cybermen will kill all the crew and use the station in their attack on Earth. A large Cybership is approaching, which contains their invasion forces.
The Cybermen take their orders from a small unit - a metal framework with a heart-shaped object at its centre. It allows the Cybermen to read people's minds. The Cybermen do not carry any hand-held weapons. Their guns are built into the top of their chest units.
Of the two Cybermen on board the Wheel, one is destroyed with a powerful electrical charge, whilst the other is despatched with a quick-setting plastic spray applied to the chest unit. A group of Cybermen attempting to space-walk to the Wheel are deflected off into space by the activation of its forcefield. The Cybership is destroyed by the Wheel's laser weapon, boosted in power by a TARDIS component.

Story Notes:

  • Whilst the story is based on ideas from Cyberman creator Kit Pedler, the script this time comes from David Whitaker. Gerry Davis is not involved.
  • The Cyber-plan is quite ludicrously complicated. Most of it is simply a means to get two Cybermen onto the Wheel. They could have simply shot it full of holes and let the crew asphyxiate, or just smuggle themselves on board directly. Why take the Wheel at all, when they could just destroy it and park their Cybership in the same orbit and launch the invasion from there?
  • And if they really did ionise a star in Messier 13 to send the meteoroids this way, they must have started this plan tens of thousands of years ago. Presumably the meteoroids originate from a region of space much closer to Earth but in the direction of Messier 13, as seen from the Wheel. Early Doctor Who writers often exhibit a rather quaint understanding of cosmology - mixing up galaxies with universes and one person even placing Skaro in the Solar System.
  • It had been hoped that this story slot would have been filled with a Cyberman / Dalek get-together, but this was vetoed by Terry Nation. He had already withdrawn the Daleks in an attempt to get their own series off the ground by this point but, even if this hadn't happened, he just did not ever want a Dalek / Cyberman story.
  • One reason for the use of wetsuits for the Cyberman bodies was that the previous design tore easily. If you watch Tomb, you will see that one of the Cybermen has a noticeable tear under the arm pit.
  • Only two new costumes were made, but a third was cobbled together from older costumes for the space-walking sequence.
  • And the tear-drops were added to give the poor actors a bit more ventilation inside the helmets.
  • Wendy Padbury makes her d├ębut as Zoe in this story. She isn't introduced until episode two. Padbury turned down a role in the Oscar-winning film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to take the part.
  • Jamie, forced to make up a name for the Doctor, calls him John Smith - after reading the label on a piece of medical equipment. This alias will be adopted by the Doctor himself from now on.
  • And yes, some fans to this day are still convinced that the Wheel has a sexual air supply...