Tuesday, 31 December 2013

That Was The Year (and the Smith Era) That Was 31.12.13

So that was the 50th Anniversary year. Some highlights. Some disappointments and frustrations. Lovely to see 9 lost episodes return - especially Troughton ones. Lots of things were advertised at the beginning of the year, then we had a long wait for them to actually take place. The series returned in the spring - and proved to be very patchy. It was also the second half of the series that started the year before, rather than a full new season.
In the summer there was the Prom - which sold out very quickly. The bulk of the celebrations were reserved for just one week in November. The convention also sold out very quickly, despite being held in a large venue over three days. Doctor Who then took over BBC TV and radio for a few days. An Adventure In Space And Time was certainly a highlight. The Day of the Doctor could easily have proved an anti-climactic disappointment, but managed to succeed. That Five Doctors (Rebooted) piece really ought to get a DVD release somewhere. My biggest disappointment was The Time of the Doctor, which was just too rushed and tried to do too much.
And what of the Smith era as a whole? Here's my view.

The Eleventh Hour: Off to a great start - very good. Loved little Amelia, but Amy as a kissogram says more about the writer than anything else.
The Beast Below: First evidence that Moffat could write rubbish. Smilers visually great but totally underused.
Victory of the Daleks: One of the worst Dalek stories ever, in my opinion. Falls apart as soon as the Ironsides get blasted. The plasticky, gaudily coloured wheelie-bin New Paradigm represent the trashing of a design icon. At least they have the good grace to clear off 10 minutes before the ending.
The Time of Angels: Things start to get better. Welcome back River Song.
Flesh and Stone: Ruined for me by that ending. Amy is eager to have sex with a relative stranger on the eve of her wedding. And I'm supposed to like this person?
Vampires of Venice: Okay, so long as you don't examine it too closely. Whithouse does like his alien-infiltrated schools. Nice to see Rory join the team.
Amy's Choice: I liked it. Toby Jones' Dream Lord should come back.
The Hungry Earth: A Pertwee greatest hits package. Not content with trashing the Daleks, Moffat ruins the Silurians. Turns them into bog-standard lizard people. Uses the fact that people might confuse them with Davros to excuse the absence of the third eye. Ridiculous.
Cold Blood: Nope. Still don't like the new Silurians. Rory's death undermined by his previous demises. Proof sit-com writers aren't necessarily good drama writers.
Vincent and the Doctor: Thank goodness for Richard Curtis. Emotion returns to Doctor Who. Brilliant performance by Tony Curran.
The Lodger: Funny in places but ultimately inconsequential. Gareth Roberts simply reuses an old DWM comic strip idea - where Ten stayed with Mickey Smith. For a programme with a huge children's following, the headbutting nonsense was positively irresponsible. Certainly not deserving of a sequel I would have thought...
The Pandorica Opens: Very good. Brilliant cliffhanger. The Doctor's challenge to the assembled aliens hovering above Stonehenge is one of the era's defining moments. Shame the Alliance, when they reveal themselves, prove to be a wee bit bargain basement.
The Big Bang: Excuse me, but is this really the second part of Pandorica? It's as if we're watching an entirely different story. Timey-wimey gone much too far. There's clever-intelligent, and clever-smartarse. This falls into the latter camp for me.

Death of the Doctor: Smith's Sarah Jane Adventures appearance. The return of Jo Grant. Loads of classic series references and a strong RTD emotional core. Brilliant.
A Christmas Carol: Despite the near absence of the companions, I really liked this. What flying sharks have to do with Christmas I know not, though.

The Impossible Astronaut: Dreadful title, but an intriguing story. Love Canton. Great new monsters. The "the Doctor really does get killed, honest..." bit doesn't convince for a second.
Day of the Moon: Just about pulls it off as second parts go. Great cliffhangers - little girl regenerating and the "is she / is she not" pregnant bit.
Curse of the Black Spot: How can you get Pirates and Doctor Who so wrong? By making the "monster" a misguided medical hologram. That's how. Rory's death (again) totally undermined by the fact that this chief writer has destroyed Death as a threat for the sake of some cheap gags.
The Doctor's Wife: It will, deservedly, be remembered as a highlight of this particular era. Lots of lovely references to the story of the Doctor's ongoing relationship with the TARDIS.
The Rebel Flesh: Strong start to a two-parter.
The Almost People: Story flags a bit. Ultimately wasn't quite strong enough to sustain two full episodes. Good cliffhanger ending, mind you.
A Good Man Goes To War: Very good, though I do wonder why Captain Jack, Martha, Mickey weren't called upon when the Doctor needed help. Flags up Moffat's aversion towards reusing elements from his predecessor's era - which I put down to a certain insecurity complex. Moffat is also determined to make this the story of River Song this season. At least the new "old friends" are quite entertaining.
Let's Kill Hitler: River's story fully explained (almost). Shame we see so little of Mels. Hitler appears only long enough to justify that attention-grabbing title. According to the most recent SFX Magazine specials, Hitler features in quite a lot of time travel stories of the last half century.
Night Terrors: Gatiss maintains his losing streak. The Peg Dolls are a wonderful design / concept, but the story boils down to some sentimental rubbish.
The Girl Who Waited: Another gem. Other writers seem to manage the emotional depth that Moffat's efforts lack.
The God Complex: I rather liked this.The idea that the labyrinth of the hotel should ultimately have a full-blown Minotaur in it is a bit unimaginative. You've got to applaud any story that references the Nimon at the end of the day.
Closing Time: God, this is awful. Worst Cyberman story of all time. Yes, even worse than Nightmare in Silver which is saying something. Worse even than The Wheel In Space or Revenge of the Cybermen. And Silver Nemesis. Seems Cybermen can now be killed by the power of "love". A pale shadow of the series 5 episode, which I only just tolerated. Sentimental clap-trap. So far Moffat has trashed the Daleks, the Silurians, and now the Cybermen on his watch.
The Wedding of River Song: Visually quite stunning, with lots of little references to previous stories, but where does it actually get us? The "Doctor" that was killed was really a robot copy. Lots of things happen, except they occur in an alternate time-line. What really happens to Kovarian? Are River and the Doctor really married? How can things that happen in this timeline be taken as having happened in the "original" timeline in the subsequent series? As a series finale it is really a triumph of style over content.

The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe: Worst Christmas Special to date. Doesn't even feel like a Doctor Who story. No real threat or menace whatsoever. Companions side-lined again. Totally underused (and poorly written) guest artists in the Androzani tree-harvesters.
Asylum of the Daleks: A bit of a disappointment this was for me. I read all this stuff beforehand about old Dalek props being used - and then we never really saw any of them. Biggest annoyance was when the Doctor went into the "intensive care section" - i.e. Daleks who had encountered him on Kendal - sorry, Kembel, Spiridon, Exxilon etc. And they're all RTD era bronze Daleks! And to think they had real props from some of those eras in the studio at the time... "Clara" makes her surprise first appearance.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: A pretty enjoyable romp. Rory's dad joins the series in what will be the eleventh hour of the Ponds' tenure. David Bradley makes for a great villain. A cold-blooded Doctor.
A Town Called Mercy: That cold side to the Doctor continues. Not a bad story.
The Power of Three: The last days of the Ponds. The overarching plot is a bit rubbish, good only in that it introduces us to Kate Stewart of UNIT. It's the incidental stuff between the Doctor and the Ponds, whilst they're waiting through the "slow invasion", that the story is really all about.
The Angels Take Manhattan: A good atmospheric story for the Ponds to bow out on.

The Snowmen: A Christmas Special that manages to get the balance right - between fan pleasing and accessibility to the general audience. The return of the Great Intelligence - but no Yeti! Yet again emotion is a weapon of sorts - tears destroying the titular monsters. Another false start "Clara".
The Bells of Saint John: Not the strongest opener to a series (or half series) ever. A contemporary version of The Idiot's Lantern really. We finally get to see the real Clara.
The Rings of Akhaten: Generally derided for its lack of any real threat. It does have its moments. Some striking visuals. A grandstanding performance from Smith.
Cold War: Lots of people liked this but I found it entirely derivative. A mix of the original Ice Warrior story with Dalek, and lots of submarine movie / Alien cliches. Don't like what they did with the Ice Warriors at all. That's four classic monsters trashed so far.
Hide: Much better effort. Scary in places. Let down by the resolution(s).
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: The least said the better. A huge disappointment.
The Crimson Horror: At last Gatiss gets some of his mojo back. Doctor Who's answer to Carry on Screaming.
Nightmare in Silver: Terrible. Annoying kids. Cliched soldiers. Great new Cybermen introduced just to be underused. The emotional "Mr Clever" Cyberplanner is dreadful in concept and delivery. Proof Neil Gaiman can also churn out rubbish.
The Name of the Doctor: The series finally comes good in the end. Excellent. Almost an anniversary story in its own right.
The Day of the Doctor: Builds well on the previous story. Only real failing is that the Elizabethan Zygon sub-plot is a bit of a waste of time.
The Time of the Doctor: Some good elements, but a disappointment overall for me.

I have said before that I have always found Matt Smith to be a good Doctor. I don't think, however, that he will necessarily be counted a great one in the grand scheme of things. I believe he has too often been let down by the material he has had to work with.
Anyway - time to look forward. New Year, New Doctor. Maybe more lost episodes recovered?
Happy Hogmanay to you all.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Wot - No Emperor Dalek?

A good / bad surprise this morning when I received the latest Doctor Who figurines from Eaglemoss. Bad, in that the promised Emperor Dalek is still nowhere to be seen. The delivery earlier in December had an insert which stated that there was a "production problem" with this larger scale item, but it would be sent out next time. This problem seems to be continuing.
The good thing about today's delivery is that it comes three days earlier than I expected it - and included is the first of the rare Daleks only available to subscribers. This is the Dalek Supreme from The Daleks' Master Plan. It has its own little magazine to go with it. It marks the first figurine not to come from the post-2005 series. As you can see, the two main figures are of a Silent and the Timothy Dalton Rassilon. Shame the latter does not look too much like him. The next release after Rassilon will be Ood Sigma.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Musings on The Time of the Doctor

I must admit I came away from my initial viewing of last night's Christmas Special feeling a little underwhelmed. The negatives stayed in the mind more than the positives. That might be because there were quite a few negatives on show.
First of all there were all the loose ends that needed to be tied up. Too many going back too far in my opinion. I'm sure half of the programme went over the casual viewer's head. As such, as a Christmas Special which is supposed to appeal equally to the "We" and the "Not-We", I don't think it succeeded.
The plot The crack returned, and this time it is being used by the Time Lords to send out a message for the Doctor. Gallifrey is stuck in its pocket universe from last episode, and the Time Lords already want to come home. Problem is, their message has actually brought loads of enemies to the planet where the crack is open - which just happens to be Trenzalore (last seen two stories ago but first mentioned at the end of Series 6) where the Doctor expects to die. If the Doctor says his name, the Time Lords will return. The Papal Mainframe (Series 6 again) needs to stop this as the Time War will start up all over again. A schismatic group, lead by Madam Kovarian, breaks away to make Series 5 & 6 whilst the Doctor sends Clara back to Earth so he can protect the dozen or so Trenzaloreans from attack for several centuries. (Wasn't Tessa Peake-Jones totally wasted in this?). Most of the action takes place off screen. The TARDIS pops back to Rose Tyler's first block of flats to pick up Clara so she (and we) get an update on what is going on. The Doctor promptly sends her back to Christmas dinner once this has been achieved. On one of Clara's visits, the whole regeneration limit thing gets discussed.
The Daleks finally destroy all the other aliens (off screen) and take over the Papal Mainframe (off screen). Alex Kingston is busy making Arrow so Orla Brady's Mother Superious, Tasha Lem, takes her role.
Clara tells the Time Lords to cool it and go away for a bit longer. They take the hint and, by way of thanks to the Doctor, give him a whole new regeneration cycle through the crack. He can't blow up the TARDIS again (RTD already did that) so instead the Doctor uses his regeneration energy to blow up the Daleks. He reverts back to his younger self, to draw the thing out longer than it needed to be, then just turns into Peter Capaldi.
I mentioned story arcs the other day. I have absolutely nothing against them - but if not handled properly, as I said before, you get the tail wagging the dog. Some story telling suffers. I liked RTD's arcs, because they were subtle. Hardly anyone even noticed "Bad Wolf" until it got scrawled onto the TARDIS in the fourth episode. The Doctor didn't even comment on it until the penultimate story of Series 1. "Torchwood" references were more shoehorned into Series 2, but "Mr Saxon" was more subtle again. The odd poster, a couple of mentions of the name, and references to the forthcoming general election. Things only move up a gear from The Lazarus Experiment onwards. The arc in series 4 was a mixture of seemingly unrelated things - vanishing bees, lost planets and the Doctor-Donna. Then it was "He will knock four times...".
I sincerely hope that next year we will get some straight-forward, linear story-telling. I am also hoping that having an older Doctor will mean a more straight-forward Doctor-Companion friendship. I am thirdly hoping that we have a companion who actually travels in the TARDIS full-time. Unless it means more Sheila Reid, less domestic please.
Talking of companions, wasn't Handles just a surrogate companion - someone for the Doctor to exposit to because Clara wasn't there?
Other negatives? A bit too rushed. The monsters had no more than cameos. A wooden Cyberman just seems stupid and gimmicky - like a stone Dalek. (Still, it will keep Character Options happy). I still think it was a mistake to have Smith leave so soon after the 50th Anniversary story. Amy's journey should have ended with the Eleventh Doctor's. Capaldi didn't get the chance to make any sort of impact.

Must admit that Karen Gillan's appearance was lovely - it was more of an emotional moment than Smith's departure for me.
The very best thing in The Time of the Doctor was Smith himself. I loved his older versions. He's been a very good Doctor, often badly served. I'm glad he got some excellent material to work with last night, though the overall story just didn't quite do it for me.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Festive Greetings & Happy Holidays to you all. I'm at work today - and won't get home until well after The Time of the Doctor has aired. Probably won't watch it until after The Tractate Middoth and Mark Gatiss' M.R. James documentary on BBC 2 (you've just got to have ghosts at Christmas).
I will therefore be posting my musings on Smith's final adventure on Boxing Day rather than tonight.
Enjoy the day.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

That Was The Week That Was 22.12.13

Relatively quiet at the moment. Last year, this blog's first Christmas, I was a bit overly zealous and committed to a Christmas Who-related post every day of December up to 24th. If you are new to the blog, go back and have a look. (Saves me trying to come up with a couple of dozen more items...).
For younger readers, let me reiterate, Santa does not normally employ flame-throwing trombones or mortar-firing tubas. He does not help alien invaders. Usually.

A couple more images released from The Time of the Doctor the other day - explaining Moffat's reference to it containing nudity. A clip from the family Christmas dinner sequence was also released.
I am a bit puzzled by the news that the Region 2 DVD release of this story (due on Monday 20th January) is going to contain Smith's three previous Christmas outings as extras. I would have expected most people to own versions already - either the single releases or as part of the box sets. I've actually got two versions of A Christmas Carol already - as the single issue has the first Smith Prom concert on it, which wasn't on the subsequent Series 6 box set.
The Region 1 release won't be out until 4th March, and doesn't have these other episodes, but there are three documentaries - which also feature on the Region 2 release.

The most astonishing thing about the winners of the Blue Peter "design a sonic device" competition was that a kid today knows what a lorgnette is. My faith in the British education system is restored. Either that or those daytime antique programmes have a younger following than I thought. This particular item sounds a bit more Vastra than Strax, however.
Lastly, no news from the recent BFI "Missing Believed Wiped" event. At least nothing concrete as far as Doctor Who is concerned. There was a very strong hint, however, that something might be announced next year.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

That BBC America extended trailer...

The new, longer, trailer - courtesy of BBC America. One week to go until that Trenzalorean folk dancing. Good to see Sheila Reid back. Loved her as Etta in Vengeance on Varos. Love her as Madge in Benidorm. Like I've said before - the Davros of that comedy series. The sociopathic nature, the parchment skin, the mobility scooter instead of a wheel-chair...
Big dislike: yet another oldest, bestest friend of the Doctor who was only invented five minutes ago. For goodness sake, Moffat, there's 50 years worth of genuine old friends of the Doctor. Use some of them, and stop being so insecure.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

What a difference a regeneration makes...

Is it just me, or is there something a wee bit underwhelming about the forthcoming departure of Matt Smith? I know that The Time of the Doctor has had a lot of popular monsters thrown at it, has explosions, and will have some sort of emotional impact, but when we consider Smith's popular appeal then publicity is certainly rather low key.
I have thought for some time that to leave so soon after the 50th Anniversary was a big mistake - especially only four weeks after, and with no further televised adventures. In a way, the Anniversary has hijacked Smith's departure. The general public is a bit Who'd out.
Compare with Tennant's departure. (Some would, of course, argue that went a little too far in the opposite direction).
Tennant's last year was the Specials Year - each one turned into an event. The viewers were starved and so avidly lapped them up. The finale was an epic two parter spread over Christmas and New Year. DT appeared everywhere. Chat shows, game shows, comedy specials, radio and TV interviews. He hosted as well as guested. I read somewhere recently that he appeared 70 times across TV and radio over the Christmas period. Plus, Doctor Who got the BBC idents.
Smith's last series was split in two - the second half (decidedly patchy) shown back in the Spring. The Day of the Doctor was as much about the other Doctors - Tennant and Hurt especially - and the legacy of Hartnell etc. as it was about Smith. In a way, I don't think he has been all that well served this year. Overall, he might have had 4 years, but there have only been 3 series. No Specials Year for him.
(Personally, I think the Ponds' arc should have been carried on, had they known Smith was going so soon after. Do you recall when ST: DS9 introduced a new, highly annoying, Dax in the final season? Almost wrecked the momentum of the final year and ruined the emotional impact of the original Dax's demise. Clara has always felt a little like that to me).
There's something a bit rushed about it all. Simply tying up loose ends. Story arcs. The tail wagging the dog. Smith was eager to move on, so Moffat is quickly getting things ready for the new guy. Seems a shame, somehow, that the Doctor gets a new purpose in life, and we get that wonderful ending we saw to TDOTD, then - suddenly - one quick, hour long, adventure and he's gone.
Anticlimax. That's the word I'm looking for...

Story 89 - The Face of Evil

In which the Doctor arrives on a primitive planet, only to discover a previous visit by him has made a big impression on the locals...
Leela, a warrior woman of the Sevateem tribe is being punished for blaspheming against their god, Xoanon. She is offered a choice between the Test of the Horda or exile. Her father agrees to take the test in her place - only to fail and be killed. Leela is banished. Not content with this punishment, her enemies in the tribal council (would-be leader Calib and High Priest Neeva) conspire to send some men to kill her. She meets the Doctor, and he is intrigued by her reaction. She accuses him of being the "Evil One", the abductor of Xoanon. He gets the same reaction from the men who have been hunting Leela.
He insists on being taken to the Sevateem village. Here, he sees evidence of advanced technology - defunct equipment and spacesuit components - their original use long forgotten. He had earlier noted that the tribesfolk use spacesuit safety check movements as a form of "blessing". He finds that everyone believes him to be the "Evil One". He is shocked to hear Xoanon speak to Neeva - as it is recognisably his own voice which answers the High Priest.

Calib attacks Leela with a Janis Thorn - whose poison paralyses instantly, with death following minutes later. Fortunately, a piece of medical equipment is still working and it provides the antidote. Leela takes the Doctor to see where Xoanon is believed to be imprisoned (guarded by another tribe known as the Tesh). The Doctor sees his own features carved into a mountain. There is a force barrier stopping the Sevateem from getting near this place - and invisible monsters are said to roam the jungle. The Doctor returns to the village to try to communicate with Xoanon. He is captured and forced to take the Test of the Horda. These are small, vicious, flesh-eating creatures. He must shoot a moving cord with a crossbow bolt before a mechanism causes him to plunge into a pit full of the creatures. Having passed the test, the Doctor must get the tribe to work together if they want to break through the energy barrier.

He and Leela travel beyond the face on the mountainside (through the Doctor's mouth) and see a spaceship lying on a plain beyond. The Doctor has finally worked out why his image is here. Many centuries ago, by the planet's time-scale, he had arrived here and helped the Mordee expedition, which had just landed from Earth. He had repaired their computer using a Sidelian Memory Transfer - effectively patching in part of his own mind. Over the centuries, this mental component has conflicted with the computer's own emerging personality to create a machine suffering from multiple personalities. Xoanon is that computer, and it is quite mad. One of the things it has been doing is conducting an experiment in eugenics. The Sevateem (corruption of Survey Team) have been left to live a natural, instinctive existence, whilst the Tesh (Technicians) who remained on the ship are emotionless technocrats. The Sevateem attack and break in, and the Doctor must stop both sides destroying each other whilst curing Xoanon by removing his memory trace. He succeeds, and Xoanon becomes sane and lucid. It will guide the two groups and help them live together - learning from each other. Leela prefers to join the Doctor on his travels - whether he agrees or not...

This four part adventure was written by Chris Boucher, and broadcast between New Year's Day and 22nd January, 1977. The director is Pennant Roberts - Louise Jameson's favourite. She makes her début in this story as new companion Leela. Louise's revealing leather costume caused quite a stir of publicity - not necessarily welcomed by the leading man. Tom Baker was famously unhappy with some of the more bloodthirsty attributes which Leela demonstrated. She wielded a knife and the Janis Thorns whereas he thought the Doctor and companions should never carry weapons of any kind. Tom had also been arguing that he didn't need a companion at all.
The idea of a society split between the technically advanced and the savage / primitive is not a new one. Indeed, Doctor Who had already shown something similar back in 1966 with The Savages. The mad computer is not an original Sci-Fi concept either. Boucher melds the two and makes the madness the cause for the division in the society.

There is quite an impressive guest cast - with a few Welsh performers on show. (Director Roberts was Welsh, of course). High Priest Neeva - just as mad as his god - is a stand-out performance by David Garfield. He had previously been seen in The War Games as Von Weich. The initially treacherous Calib is played by Leslie Schofield - who would be reunited years later with Louise Jameson on Eastenders. Leela has an admirer in young Tomas (Brendan Price). Price would soon find fame in the Philip Hinchcliffe produced Target police series. Leader of the Tesh is Leon Eagles (Jabel).
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor finds out why everyone thinks he is the "Evil One" when he sees his own features carved into a mountainside.
  2. His leader - Andor - dead, Tomas fires at one of the invisible monsters with an energy weapon, and it is the Doctor's face which is revealed.
  3. In the Inner Sanctum - the computer core - the Doctor is bombarded with images of his own face crying out "Who am I?".
  4. The Doctor tries to get Leela to leave the TARDIS, but she dematerialises the ship...

Overall, an impressive début on the show for writer Boucher. Interesting, if unoriginal, concepts. Good performances. At the time, I was not too keen on this - still suffering from the loss of Sarah Jane. The jungle set is nowhere near as good as that seen in Planet of Evil.
Things you might like to know:
  • The original story title of "The Day God Went Mad" was deemed a bit too controversial by the BBC.
  • As well as Tom Baker, Xoanon is voiced by a number of people - Rob Edwards, Pamela Salem, Anthony Frieze and Roy Herrick. Edwards and Salem were both to appear in the following story (The Robots of Death) and so were in rehearsals for that at the time. Frieze was a young visitor to the studios (a pupil of Pennant Robert's wife). It is his voice which we hear just before the end credits of Part Three.
  • Jameson was originally going to be "blacked up" to portray Leela. She did get stuck with red contact lenses - to make her blue eyes look brown. We'll return to them when we get to Story 92...
  • Listen closely and Leela pronounces Calib's name differently, depending on whether it's on film at Ealing or in studio. It's "Kah-lib" on film, and "Kay-lib" in studio.
  • Schofield and Jameson are not the only Eastenders regulars on view. In Part One, there is a blink-and-you'll-miss-him glimpse of Peter Dean (as one of the tribesmen). He played Pete Beale for many years on the soap.
  • Tom Baker and Louise Jameson changed the pronunciation of the name of the thorns from Janice to Janus (like the Roman god). They thought Janice Thorn sounded too much like an out of work actress.
  • SFX man Matt Irvine made his first appearance on the BBC1 Saturday morning magazine programme Swap Shop on the back of this story - the first of many. He created the Horda and the Mordee spaceship model.
  • The planet is one of only a tiny handful in the series' history that is left unnamed.
  • Mordee? Could that be the planet's name? Might it be the name of the Earth colony the expedition came from? Or the expedition leader's name?
  • Just when did the Fourth Doctor first visit the planet? Most people think he slipped away from the UNIT HQ sickbay post regeneration - hence the bodged job he made of fixing Xoanon. The only other possible gap is actually the one immediately preceding this very story. We don't know how long he travelled alone after leaving Gallifrey.
  • A bit like the way Series 7 has sometimes been thought to be two separate series due to the length of time between the two halves, the Radio Times actually billed this as the start of a new series. There had been a five week gap since The Deadly Assassin ended. It does have the feel of something new - more Williams than Hinchcliffe.
  • The ending has always been a bit controversial. First of all, there was the Doctor's claim in Pyramids of Mars that the controls of the TARDIS are isomorphic - so couldn't be operated by anyone else. We now know the Doctor often lies about the attributes of his ship, in the hope people will believe him and not try anything (as with the "temporal grace" claim). What seems more unlikely is that Leela just happens to press the right button. Then again, maybe the TARDIS is doing its own thing yet again...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Moonbase DVD

The artwork has finally been released for The Moonbase DVD release. It is due in the shops from January 20th, in the UK at least. It can be pre-ordered on amazon etc.
The Web of Fear DVD is still on schedule for February 24th. I assume we will either get The Underwater Menace in March or a Special Edition re-release (Earthshock has been rumoured for the SE treatment for a while).

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Thanks for the spoiler, BBC America...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the worst people for spoilers are the BBC themselves...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Monoid Is Not Just For Christmas...

Well, actually, it probably is. Biggest surprise among the new images released today for Time of the Doctor is the inclusion of that "Punch & Judy" style Monoid. These Beatle-mopped monocular reptile folk only ever appeared in 1966's The Ark. They have always been regarded as one of the typical one-hit wonders among Doctor Who aliens - never likely to be seen again. And yet there's a little puppet one, alongside a puppet Matt Smith.
Other images released feature a number of children's drawings of the Doctor's adventures - in this case nearly all Matt Smith ones. There's Prisoner Zero, the Atraxi, a Smiler, a Saturnyne and so forth. A Slitheen is clearly seen on another piece of paper - so not all 11th Doctor adventures.

Other items of note: what is that big Dalek gun thing? A big Dalek gun, I suppose.

The artist must have been wearing an eye-drive to capture a Silent in that painting...

They still have The X-Factor in the 51st Century...

Potentially annoying kid alert...

Well, it is Christmas after all. Other musings - the character named "Handles" in the cast list. Not voiced by Nick Briggs (for a change) but might it be that disembodied Cyber-head which is prominent in the poster?
And talking of prominence in the posters, where are the Sontarans? And how can Weeping Angels possibly be part of any kind of alliance? Have they simply been thrown into the mix without any real thought to logic?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Number of the Doctor

Are you as confused as I am about all this business of Matt Smith being the 13th Doctor?
First of all, let me say that I don't participate in any on-line forums. That way madness lies. There are some corners of the internet that have bred the most terrible things... etc.
I therefore don't know what others have to say on the matter. All I know is that Moffat says he's the 13th Doctor, and the regeneration limit will be broached (and breached) in the Christmas Special.
Of course, semantics will come into it. 13th incarnation of the Doctor, or there have been 12 regenerations? If the latter, then the regenerations have indeed been used up and the Doctor doesn't have any more. Not content with having the 50th anniversary land on his watch, and sorting out the Time War, Moffat is determined to crack the regenerations limit debate as well. (Mind you, he has left the hunt for Gallifrey and the potential for a female / ethnic minority Doctor for future showrunners).
As for the number of Doctors there have been, the answer is - indubitably - 12. Smith is the 12th. John Hurt became the 9th and moved his successors along one place. (Don't bother with the Brain of Morbius thing - that's been well and truly put to bed).
How many regenerations have there been? 12 also.
1. Hartnell to Troughton. 2. Troughton to Pertwee. 3. Pertwee to Baker T. 4. Baker T to Davison. 5. Davison to Baker C. 6. Baker C to McCoy. 7. McCoy to McGann. 8. McGann to Hurt. 9. Hurt to Eccleston. 10. Eccleston to Tennant. 11. Tennant to 10.5. 12. Tennant to Smith...
Yes, the only way this works is that Tennant used up two regenerations. Personally I would never have counted the creation of 10.5. The Doctor stopped the regeneration, siphoning off the energy into his hand, creating the half human version of himself. So not a regeneration, in my view.
Whatever way you look at it, it means that Moffat is wrong and that Smith is still only the 12th Doctor - but he doesn't have any more regenerations left, so does indeed become the last under the old Gallifreyan rules. (It also means that the Valeyard comes into being between Smith and Capaldi).

Monday, 9 December 2013

Story 88 - The Deadly Assassin

In which the Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey by nightmare visions in which he appears to assassinate the President of the High Council of Time Lords. In the visions, he sees a ceremony taking place in the Panopticon - the great council chamber of the Capitol - and the elderly President is shot down. He sees himself holding a rifle and apparently firing the fatal shot.
The TARDIS materialises on the day that the President is about to retire and name his successor. The Doctor evades capture by Castellan Spandrell - head of security - and his Chancellery Guards, as he plots a means of warning the authorities about his vision - which he takes to be a premonition. He is inadvertently aided by Chancellor Goth, who orders the TARDIS to be transported to the museum - with the Doctor still hidden aboard. Goth is leader of the Prydonian Chapter of Time Lords - the Doctor's own chapter. He is widely expected to be the new President. The Doctor steals the robes of the Gold Usher from the museum, then those of an elderly Prydonian. In this guise, he is able to enter the Panopticon and mingle with the crowd. He meets Commentator Runcible - an old school acquaintance - who is covering the ceremony for state television. Runcible loses contact with his cameraman up on the high gallery, and the Doctor looks up to see the barrel of a staser rifle pointing down. He rushes upstairs only to find the gun abandoned. Spotting an assassin in the crowd surrounding the President he tries to shoot them - but the shot goes wide and the President is killed. It is assumed the Doctor is the assassin and he is arrested.

The Doctor is put on trial - Goth eager to see justice run its course before the Presidential election. Cardinal Borusa is opposed to this. Once the Doctor's tutor at the Academy, he would rather see cautious deliberation. The Doctor surprises everyone by announcing his own candidacy for the Presidency. As a candidate, he has legal immunity until after the election. Spandrell suspects there may be some truth in the Doctor's story and agrees to help him investigate. First of all, the Doctor's rifle shot is found high up on the wall. The sights of his weapon had been fixed. Then, the camera recording is stolen and Runcible murdered. The Doctor realises that the visions were somehow beamed into his mind from the Matrix - a computer which holds all the mental energy of deceased Time Lords. This helps the Time Lords predict future events. They did not see the assassination however. Someone must have intercepted this information and directed it at the Doctor. They would need access to his biological data print to do this over such a huge distance. Spandrell and the Doctor enlist the help of Co-ordinator Engin to look into this. Who could have accessed the Matrix and obtained the data print? Who would also want to frame him for murder? He realises that his old enemy, the Master, is behind all this.

The Doctor decides the answers lie inside the Matrix. He will join his mind with it. In a nightmare world created and controlled by the Master, the Doctor must combat the real assassin - Chancellor Goth. He eventually defeats him. The Master is traced to the lowermost levels of the Capitol. He is dead. The body is skeletal, his regenerations long exhausted. A dying Goth is also found. He confesses that he found the Master near death on the planet Tersusrus, and smuggled him back to Gallifrey. He had learned that he was not going to be named President, and so entered into this scheme to kill him before he could name another - and frame the Doctor into the bargain. The Doctor is troubled. The Master appears to have killed himself - something he simply would not do. It turns out that it he has really used a drug that feigns death. His true scheme is to steal the energy of the Eye of Harmony - the captured Black Hole from which the Time Lords derive their power. This should provide him with new regenerative energy. His tampering with the Eye - a huge black monolith hidden under the Panopticon - will destroy the planet. The Doctor manages to stop him, and the Master appears to fall to his death down a fissure which opens up in the floor as the Capitol is rocked by tremors.
Soon after the Doctor departs, Spandrell and Engin see an old grandfather clock dematerialise from the museum. The Master has survived...

This four part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and broadcast between 30th October and 20th November, 1976. The director is David Maloney.
It is significant for many reasons, and at the time, was highly controversial. Certain sections of fandom hated the way that the Time Lords were portrayed (chief amongst them Jan Vincent-Rudzki, the head of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society). The complaint was that the omnipotent god-like beings seen in the series up to this point were now shown to be just like us - with all our human physical and emotional frailties. There were arthritic old men, devious killers and manipulative politicians. Prisoners were tortured. The truth could be adjusted to make it more palatable to the public. There is a shadowy intelligence group who operate outside the law (see below). The Doctor thinks Gallifreyan technology is obsolete rubbish.
The argument that Holmes has demystified the Time Lords does not quite bear examination. Vincent-Rudzki seemed to be basing his criticisms purely on their brief appearance in Part 10 of The War Games.
Thereafter, they are seen to be absolute hypocrites. They don't agree with interference in the affairs of others, but are happy to use the Doctor to do just that. (In this story, we learn that it is the Celestial Intervention Agency who employ the Doctor on these missions). They are also happy to break their own laws - especially around Time Lords crossing their own timelines.
Holmes' main argument in defence was that, if Time Lord society was so nice, why did the Doctor leave it and not want to go back? It wan't just the lure of the Universe that set him on his travels. He was also turning his back on a corrupt and decadent society. We also had to see the society that was capable of producing someone like the Master (and the Monk, and the War Chief). It is a society that has also executed a previous President (Morbius). And they were prepared to commit genocide with the Daleks - something which will obviously come back to haunt them.

The story is also significant for giving us much Time Lord lore - from Rassilon and the Eye of Harmony to the regenerations limit. Rassilon's Seal is a reused prop from The Revenge of the Cybermen, also designed by Roger Murray-Leach. Oscar winner James Acheson began the costume designs but stepped aside and they were completed by Joan Ellacott. Acheson's iconic Time Lord collars and robes are still in use today.
There is a wonderful guest cast. The late Bernard Horsfall (a Maloney regular) plays Goth, and the dessicated Master is portrayed by operatic singer Peter Pratt (selected for his voice skills as he is under so much costume / mask). Spandrell is George Pravda, in his third Doctor Who appearance. Engin is the marvellous Eric Chitty, who had previously played the apothecary Preslin in The Massacre. Every Borusa will be played by a different actor, but the first is Angus MacKay. MacKay was due to return in The Invasion of Time but proved to be unavailable for filming when production was hit by strike action.
Episode endings are:

  1. As the President emerges into the Panopticon, the Doctor raises the staser rifle and fires. The President falls to the floor...
  2. In the Matrix, the Doctor finds his foot trapped between railway points. He hears a train hurtle towards him...
  3. Goth and the Doctor are fighting to the death. Goth appears to get the upper hand, holding the Doctor down in the water to drown...
  4. Engin and Spandrell see the Master's slightly regenerated features appear in the face of an old grandfather clock, just before it dematerialises...  

As mentioned, a very significant and contentious story. It is often said that this is the only companion-less story of the classic series, but really Spandrell and Engin generally act as surrogate companions, making for a memorable Holmes double act. The mostly Matrix-bound episode three is one of the things this story will always be remembered for.
Things you might like to know:

  • There are three Time Lord Chapters mentioned, each with its own colour scheme. The Doctor and Goth belong to the Prydonians (orange and scarlet); the Arcalians (green) and Patrexes (heliotrope). Runcible implies there are others.
  • The TARDIS is first referred to as a Type 40 in this story. It was a Mark 1 back in the Hartnell period.
  • The story is influenced by political thrillers such as The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate, as well as the real life assassinations of JFK (on the very eve of Doctor Who's first broadcast), Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Holmes makes the point explicitly when he names the outfit responsible for the Doctor's frequent missions - and his War Games "trial" - the Celestial Intervention Agency (the CIA).
  • The story title has often been slightly ridiculed - aren't all assassins deadly? (A working title was The Dangerous Assassin, which would have been even worse...). Robert Holmes did point out that you might get an assassin who isn't very good at their job, however.
  • The Matrix causes the Doctor's scarf to appear and disappear...
  • Not for the last time, Action Man dolls will be used for the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator victims.
  • The story seems to imply that not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords. It does seem odd that some of the (supposedly omnipotent) beings would hold down fairly menial jobs. Who is Runcible broadcasting to?
  • There are a lot of odd, but uncomplicated, Time Lord names. We have to assume that the Doctor's real name is similar.
  • It is unclear from this story which incarnation of the Master the Delgado one actually was. Is this a later incarnation, or that one - dying and decomposing?
  • The regenerations limit debate is, we're told, finally going to be resolved in Time of the Doctor. Might it have something to do with the fact that Borusa offers the Master a whole new regeneration cycle in The Five Doctors...?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Clara's Granny

Have just read that Sheila Reid will be returning to Doctor Who in the role of Clara's grandmother (in Time of the Doctor). Sheila played one half of the "Greek Chorus" of Arak and Etta in Vengeance on Varos (she was Etta, of course).
These days she is best know as the formidable Madge - the Davros of comedy series Benidorm.

That Was The Week That Was 8.12.13

A batch of new photographs from Time of the Doctor released yesterday. The Christmas double issue of Radio Times features the episode, but doesn't offer any new information. Some of the images are intriguing - especially what appears to be a wooden Cyberman. The Clerics are also back - as expected if this story is supposed to tie up the Silence arc. The Doctor appears to have gone all Harry Potter, with his cape and that Dalek eye-stalk being waved around like a wand.

Thursday saw the latest DW figurines being sent out to subscribers - Issue 8 featuring the Tenth Doctor from School Reunion, and Issue 9 having an excellent Skaldak figure (Cold War). If you signed up to the special releases, you will also have received an Eleventh Doctor TARDIS. This is a full 149mm tall and sturdily constructed.

The accompanying magazine is more than double the page count of the regular issues, and of much higher quality. There was also news on the Emperor Dalek which was one of the free gifts for subscribers. It has been delayed but should be sent out alongside the Silent and Rassilon in January.

Forbidden Planet are advertising a War Doctor figure from Character Options - due in the shops in February next year. There is a Moment box - and you can swap the head for that of the the Eighth Doctor.
One last thing to mention is the lack of news about The Moonbase DVD. It has only ever been advertised on the US version of Amazon. The last issue of DWM said it was due out on 20th January - so I am surprised we haven't seen a cover yet, or had it listed on amazon.co.uk and other on-line retail sites.

Looking forward to the week ahead, Wednesday 11th December sees the publication of the next issue of SFX, with the latest DWM following the day after.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Barry Jackson

Very sorry to hear that actor Barry Jackson has passed away today at the age of 75. He appeared three times in Doctor Who, the first occasion being when he played the mute assassin Ascarius in The Romans.
He's famously beaten up by the First Doctor. All in a day's work for someone who used to be a stunt performer - under the name Jack Barry.
Jackson returned to the series the following year as ill-fated Space Security agent Jeff Garvey in Mission To The Unknown (appearing first in the closing seconds of The Myth Makers).
His biggest role was as the comedic dodgy Time Lord Drax in The Armageddon Factor.

In the UK he is best known for his long-running role as Police pathologist George Bullard in the highly popular detective series Midsomer Murders.

The (insert word here) Of The Doctor...

Christmas Day sees the third consecutive story to have "Doctor" in its title - specifically Something of the Doctor. (We also had the minisode Night of the Doctor between The Name... and The Day...).
Having "Doctor" in the story title is a relatively new thing - and Steven Moffat uses it most. Back in the earliest days of the classic series, no story featured the Doctor in the title, though a couple of individual Hartnell episodes used it - The Death of Doctor Who (The Chase) and A Holiday for the Doctor (The Gunfighters).
There was a slight aberration early in the Pertwee period, when The Silurians had the full on screen title of Doctor Who And The Silurians. This was a production error and never intended.
From The Three Doctors onwards, all multi-Doctor stories use the same title structure - Three, Five and Two.
During the RTD era, the Doctor gets his first title mention with The Doctor Dances - penned, of course, by Moffat. Not an overall story title, but the new two parters don't have one.
The first time the Doctor features in a full story title of the new series is 2008's The Doctor's Daughter. After that, there is only The Next Doctor.
Once Moffat takes over we get Vincent and the Doctor, The Doctor's Wife and The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe - followed by this current run of stories.
Of course, that run might not end at Christmas. The Doctor might get mentioned in the title of Peter Capaldi's first story ( I have heard that this is going to be a two parter, however) - though I suspect some play on the number twelve is more likely.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Doctor versus The Street

It has just been announced that The Time of the Doctor is going to be shown exactly opposite the festive edition of ITV's long-running soap (and what is consistently the most popular UK TV programme) Coronation Street.
Now, the last time they went head to head, Corrie beat the Time Lord hands down. But that was another era. With The Day of the Doctor beating even the London Olympics on the BBC i-player this week - and record viewing figures on television across the globe (and the US cinema outing beating big budget movies), it will be interesting to see how this battle pans out.
It may be that people choose to wait and see TTOTD on catch-up platforms also, and overnights for Who are not great.
The obvious thing to do, if you are a fan of both programmes, is watch Who as broadcast and record Corrie. Then you can fast forward those annoyingly inane adverts. Sorted.

Story 87 - The Hand of Fear

In which the TARDIS materialises in a quarry on present day Earth. The Doctor and Sarah get caught up in a rock blasting. When she is found amidst the rubble, Sarah is unconscious and clutching a stone hand...
She is taken to the local hospital where she  remains in a comatose state. Dr Carter takes the hand to his laboratory for examination. The Doctor joins him and they discover that the hand was once living material - a silicon-based life-form. The Doctor returns to the quarry to investigate the level in which the hand was buried - and realises that it is millions of years old. It must have come from space. Whilst he is away, Sarah wakes up. She has retained a blue crystal ring from the hand and it exerts a strange hypnotic power over her. She uses the energy of the ring to render Carter unconscious, then she steals the hand and leaves the hospital. She is compelled to take it to the nearby Nunton nuclear power complex.

Sarah carries the hand into the outer chamber of the main reactor. The Doctor and Carter follow and meet the complex's manager, Professor Watson. On CCTV, they see the hand regrow its missing finger and come to life. It is absorbing radiation to reconstitute itself. The Doctor manages to get Sarah away from the chamber and the hand is locked away in a secure cabinet. A technician named Driscoll finds the ring and is hypnotised by it. He steals the hand and carries it into the heart of the reactor. Carter has also come under the ring's malign influence and he is killed when he attempts to attack the Doctor. Watson evacuates the complex and calls in the RAF to destroy whatever has taken over the reactor. The bombs seem to have no effect. The creature absorbs the radiation to fully reconstitute itself. It appears to be a female crystalline humanoid. The Doctor and Sarah go to meet it, and he tells Sarah that it has patterned its form on her - the first being it came into contact with. The creature identifies itself as Eldrad, a member of the Kastrian race.

Eldrad explains that she was a pioneering scientist, sentenced to death millennia ago by her own people after Kastria was invaded. Her space capsule was blown up above the Earth, and the hand was all that survived. She demands that the Doctor take her home. With Sarah, they travel to the planet as it is today - the protective shields created by Eldrad now destroyed, and the surface made barren by freezing winds. Inside a dome structure, Eldrad is shot with an acid-filled dart - a trap supposedly left by the invaders. She asks to be taken to the lower levels where help can be found. There is a vast underground city, apparently totally abandoned. The Doctor realises that the sand underfoot is all that remains of the Kastrians. They are all dead. Eldrad is regenerated in its original "male" version. A recorded message from King Rokon reveals that there never was any invasion. Eldrad had tried to seize power and had been executed as a traitor. Rather than live a miserable life underground or risk the return of Eldrad, the Kastrians chose to destroy their genetic race banks and die out. The Doctor and Sarah flee back to the TARDIS when Eldrad announces he intends to rule the Earth instead. He plunges into a ravine as he gives chase.

In a bad mood, Sarah announces she wants to leave - fed up with being hypnotised and menaced by aliens. The Doctor receives a telepathic message from his homeworld. He must return home - and Sarah cannot accompany him. After bidding her a fond farewell, he drops her off at her home in South Croydon. After the TARDIS has dematerialised, she realises she is nowhere near home...

This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was broadcast between the 2nd and 23rd October, 1976.
It marks Lis Sladen's departure from the programme as a regular cast member.
The story was originally intended as a six part adventure that would bring the previous season to a close. Influences include the 1946 Peter Lorre movie The Beast With Five Fingers. Disembodied hands have featured in a number of horror tales. In Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965), humiliated art critic Christopher Lee is stalked by artist Michael Gough's murderous severed hand after Lee has run him over and killed him.
Director Lennie Mayne had already helmed the two Peladon stories and The Three Doctors, and reuses a couple of actors. One of these is Rex Robinson (who had appeared in both The Three Doctors and The Monster of Peladon). He is Dr Carter in this. Another is Frances Pidgeon who had been in the second Peladon tale. She is Prof. Watson's assistant Miss Jackson. She just happened to be Mayne's wife. Sadly, this was to be Mayne's last work on the programme. He died in a boating accident soon after.
Professor Watson is played by Glyn Houston, who will return to the series to guest in the Peter Davison story The Awakening.

King Rokon is played by Roy Skelton, usually off camera voicing the Daleks.
To play the two versions of Eldrad we first of all have Judith Paris as the female one, and then series semi-regular Stephen Thorne (Azal, Omega and an Ogron) as the shouty male one. Paris gives the superior performance, and has the best costume / make-up.
Episode endings are:

  1. As Sarah watches, the hand regrows its missing finger then squirms to life...
  2. Professor Watson is thrown to the floor as the station's control room explodes around him... 
  3. In Outer Dome 6 on Kastria, Eldrad is shot by a poisoned dart...
  4. Sarah realises the Doctor has left her nowhere near her home. She looks up to the sky, wondering what the Doctor's next adventure will be, and if she'll ever see him again...

Overall, not a bad little story. It is Lis Sladen's departure that raises it above the ordinary. It was screened again in 2011 as a tribute after her untimely death.
Things you might like to know:

  • The original storyline (had this ended Season 13) would have seen the hand belong to the advance scout for an alien invasion. The Brigadier would have died helping defeat the invasion.
  • Eldrad Must Live!
  • The Kastrians were originally going to be called Omegans - until Robert Holmes reminded Baker & Martin they had already used the name Omega for their The Three Doctors character.
  • Episode 3 sees only the second time that a villain in jeopardy gets the cliffhanger - the first being the end of Episode 3 of The Daemons.
  • It was originally intended that this would have been set at Nuton power complex - the same location as that seen in The Claws of Axos.
  • Sladen's costume - the Andy Pandy one - is probably her most iconic outfit, despite only being worn this once. (It does get a second outing in the best forgotten Dimensions In Time, as well as Kevin Davies' (More than) 30 Years In The TARDIS documentary). The costume is actually referred to as being like Andy Pandy on screen - by Dr. Carter.
  • Eldrad Must Live!!
  • Baker & Martin use the "Gallifrey being somewhere in Ireland" joke for the first time.
  • Baker & Martin did not write Sarah's departure scene. It was the work of Robert Holmes, with significant contributions from Sladen and Baker. 
  • Eldrad Must Live!!!
  • The main hand prop was stolen from the studio, and a replacement had to be quickly made up. Sometime later, police raided the home of a BBC employee and found dozens of purloined props - including the hand.
  • Glyn Houston is noticeably pestered by a fly at one point. Lis Sladen later swallowed it.
  • Eldrad Must Live!!!!