Saturday, 31 October 2015

Have A Hellish Hallowe'en...

A Happy Hallowe'en to everyone. Sleep well tonight. Remember, all Devilish characters are really ancient super-beings from the planet Daemos, or somewhere else. Ghosts are either holographic projections designed to scare away nosey theatre proprietors, psychic transmitters designed to summon alien rescue missions / invasion forces, or projections of time-travelers stuck in pocket universes.
Should you see a scarecrow suddenly come to life as you walk across a lonely field at dusk, fret not - it's just the Master up to his latest hair-brained scheme, or perhaps some fringe animation by the Family of Blood.
Vampires only exist in E-Space, and werewolves are aliens from the planet Vulpana who can be quite nice when you get to know them, or lupine haemo-varioforms. They'll still rip you apart, but at least you'll know there is a sound scientific principle behind the blood-thirsty beast. (Don't die in ignorance...).
See any Thin Men, don't worry - you'll forget them when you look away.
Should the Frankenstein Monster lumber up your stairs, check first that it isn't the Time Lord Morbius. (If it's half lobster, it's him). Challenge him to a game of Twister, and he'll probably blow a gasket and storm off into the night. You might want to have a blazing torch handy so you can force him over a nearby convenient ravine. (If there isn't a ravine nearby, build one).
If it isn't Morbius, it might be a robot from the Festival of Ghana, in which case it is only dangerous to Daleks.
If you're unfortunate to live beside a museum where the Mummies tend to walk about a bit late at night, just try giving them a salute, or track down the reanimated corpse who controls them and steal his ring so that you can order them not to throttle you. (Clue - try the big gloomy house in the woods with the weird organ music playing before you knock on any of your other neighbours' doors).
The only thing I will caution against is any stone statue that might follow you home from the local cemetery. Keep a close eye on it. Don't even blink...

TARDIS Travels No.35(a)

The first half of the Twelfth Doctor's travels. Last time, the TARDIS was leaving Trenzalore - and the new Doctor had to ask Clara if she knew how to pilot it. All three of the regenerations in the new series have involved the new Doctor crashing the TARDIS.

Journey 722: Trenzalore, date unknown, to Earth in prehistory.
The TARDIS lands in prehistoric Earth, where it gets swallowed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Journey 723: Prehistoric Earth to London, 1890.
When the TARDIS dematerialises, it takes the surrounding dinosaur with it. The creature spits the ship out, and it lands on the Thames foreshore opposite the Houses of Parliament. Madam Vastra arranges for it to be transported to the yard at her home.

Journey 724: London, 1890, to London, 1890.
Once the Half-Face Man has been defeated, the Doctor disappears. Where he goes we do not know. He may simply have entered the Vortex for a while, or might have visited a dozen alien worlds. All we do know is that the ship returns to Vastra's home. The Doctor has redecorated - adding bookcases, comfortable furniture and a warmer lighting scheme.

Journey 725: London, 1890, to Glasgow, 2014.
The TARDIS arrives in the middle of the Scottish city. It was filmed in Cardiff, but does look a bit like Buchanan Street, where there is a real Police Call Box. Clara gets a phone call from the previous incarnation of the Doctor. The Doctor goes to get some coffee.

Journey 726: Glasgow, 2014, to unknown region of space, date unknown.
The TARDIS materialises on Journey Blue's spacecraft, just in time to save her before it is blown apart by a Dalek saucer. The Doctor has the coffee he went to collect in Glasgow.

Journey 727: Unknown region of space, date unknown - Journey's ship to the Aristotle medical vessel.
The Doctor takes Journey to the medical ship which is hidden among the asteroids. He meets the Dalek captive, which Journey's uncle wants him to treat.

Journey 728: Unknown region of space, date unknown, to Coal Hill School, London, 2014.
The Doctor finally delivers the coffee to Clara, the TARDIS materialising in the stationery cupboard at the school where she works. She has just met Danny Pink for the first time.

Journey 729: Coal Hill School, London, 2014, to Aristotle, unknown region of space, date unknown.
The Doctor takes Clara to meet the Dalek, which he will nickname "Rusty".

Journey 730: Aristotle, to Coal Hill School, London, 2014.
The Doctor takes Clara back to the stationery cupboard. Danny is surprised that she has changed her clothes in a matter of seconds, whilst still at school.

Journey 731: Coal Hill School, 2014, to Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, c.1190.
Clara gets to choose where they go next.She wants to meet Robin Hood, whom the Doctor tries to convince her cannot possibly exist... We see an arrow embed itself in the TARDIS shell for the third time. We also get to see it self-repair when the Doctor pulls it out.

Journeys 732 & 733: Sherwood Forest to London 2014 to Earth orbit, 2014.
Unseen, the Doctor has taken Clara home. He then travels into space and meditates on top of the ship in orbit around the Earth. He develops a theory about evolution. Does the thing you think you see out of the corner of your eye, the thing that lurks under your bed, really exist? Could there be a creature that has the perfect camouflage?

Journey 734: Earth orbit to Africa, date unknown.
To explore his theory further, the Doctor visits the Savannah somewhere in Africa.

Journey 735: Africa, date unknown, to bottom of the ocean, date unknown.
More explorations - this time on the sea bed. Somewhere where they have puffer fish.

Journey 736: Seabed, date unknown, to London, 2014.
The Doctor travels to Clara's flat, materialising in the bedroom. He becomes disconcerted by her triple mirror. Does she need it because her face is so wide?

Journey 737: London, 2014, to Gloucester, 1990's.
First sight of the new telepathic circuits. A bank of gelatinous panels on the console that you stick your hands into. The Doctor wants to visit somewhere significant in Clara's past, but she gets distracted by thoughts of Danny after a disastrous dinner date and so they end up in his childhood instead - a children's home that he stayed in.

Journey 738: Gloucester, 1990's, to London, 2014.
The Doctor takes Clara back to the scene of that dinner date so that she can salvage the situation.
Journeys 739 & 740: London, 2014, to unknown planet, end of the universe, to London, 2014.
Unseen, the Doctor goes into the far future and collects Danny's (and Clara's?) descendant Orson Pink, who is an explorer. This is due to the telepathic circuit once more. Orson was supposed to travel a short time into the future, but ended up at the end of the universe. The Doctor brings him back to the restaurant where Clara is meeting Danny.

Journey 741: London, 2014, to unknown planet at the end of time.
The TARDIS travels to Orson's time-ship, as the Doctor assumes that his theoretical creature will have survived until the end of the universe. He wants to see it, but doesn't get the chance.

Journey 742: Unknown planet, end of the universe, to Gallifrey, date unknown.
The telepathic circuit once more plays a part, as the TARDIS arrives in the Doctor's childhood. It materialises in a barn where he liked to sleep on his own. Clara inadvertently plants the Doctor's latest obsession in his head. She is the thing under his bed. Strictly speaking, the TARDIS should not have been able to land on Gallifrey, as it has been out of bounds due to the Time War and subsequently hidden in a pocket universe. Then again, the Time War has leaked like a sieve...

Journeys 743 & 744: Gallifrey, date unknown, to London, 22nd Century, to London, 2014.
First Orson is taken home, then Clara.

Journeys 745 & 746: London, 2014, to date and location unknown, to London, 2014.
The Doctor goes off somewhere unknown, then arrives back at Clara's flat. He has a trip in mind when the phone in the TARDIS door starts to ring.
Journey 747: London, 2014, to spaceship in orbit around unnamed planet, date unknown.
The planet is home to the Bank of Karabraxos. The Doctor, Clara and new friends Saibra and Psi find themselves with their memories wiped, and involved in a bank heist. They discover that the TARDIS is parked on an orbiting spaceship.

Journey 748: Spaceship orbiting unknown planet, date unknown, to unknown planet, date unknown.
The Doctor and Clara take the Teller creature and its mate to a new home.

Journeys 749 - 751: Unknown planet, date unknown to same, to same, to London, 2014.
The Doctor takes Saibra, Psi and Clara to their respective homes and times.
Journey 752: London, 2014, to unknown planet, date unknown.
Now that he has worked out that he is the mastermind behind the heist - really a rescue - the Doctor has to travel back to the Bank at a slightly earlier time in order to set up the adventure that he has just experienced.

Journeys 753 & 754: Unknown planet, date unknown, to London, 2014, to unknown planet, date unknown.
After setting up the Karabraxos affair, the Doctor returns to London and picks up Clara for her next trip - and they find themselves chained up in a harsh desert landscape, with sand piranhas...
Journey 755: Unknown desert planet to London, 2014.
Danny is surprised that Clara has developed a tan since he last saw her - earlier that same day...

Journey 756: London, 2014, to Atlantis (?), date unknown.
The Doctor takes Clara to meet some Fish People. Probably not the Fish People from The Underwater Menace, but it would be nice to think that it was.
Journey 757: Atlantis (?), date unknown, to London, 2014.
Danny wonders why Clara has seaweed in her hair when they embark on another date...

Journey 758: London, 2014, to location and date unknown.
We see the Doctor and Clara running for their lives through a futuristic labyrinth, an unseen pursuer firing laser weapons at them.
Journey 759: Unknown location and date, to London, 2014.
An exhausted Clara has to go for a jog with Danny...

Journey 760: London, 2014 - Clara's flat to Coal Hill School.
The Doctor takes up the temporary position of caretaker at Clara's school. The TARDIS is parked in the janitor's storeroom. The Doctor has no qualms about showing the ship's interior to young Kourtney Woods - believing she is the same age as Clara.

Journeys 761 & 762: Coal Hill School - caretaker's area to assembly hall to caretaker's area.
The Doctor temporarily moves the TARDIS onto the stage of the assembly room where he planned to ensnare the Scovox Blitzer. Unfortunately Danny intervenes. He finds it all hard to take in - especially why Clara would be travelling in time and space with her dad... This does not endear him with the Doctor. The Doctor later takes the ship back to the caretaker's storeroom.

Journey 763: Coal Hill School, London, 2014, to unknown region of space, date unspecified.
Having managed to deactivate the Scovox Blitzer, the Doctor allows Kourtney to accompany him whilst he dumps it in deep space. Kourtney suffers from travel sickness. Get the paper towels...

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Underwater Menace DVD - Review

This evening I finally got to watch The Underwater Menace Episode 2. It is a long time since I was able to look at the bookcase and think that the collection was complete - every Who episode that exists in the archives now being available for us all to own.
Of course, we don't have every episode that exists full stop - because we now know that part three of The Web of Fear is still out there, and there is always the chance that other lost episodes might one day come to light.

The highlight of today's release is that second episode. It is far better than the third part which we have had for a while, and which has helped to maintain a low opinion for this story overall. There is a lot more Troughton on show, and we start to see his Doctor beginning to form. Apparently this came about when he realised he couldn't top Joseph Furst (Zaroff), and so elected to take his performance down a notch. Furst fares better in this episode as well. The madness is starting to build, but he isn't chewing the scenery at this stage. Plus we get to see Colin Jeavons as Damon, and a lot more of the characters Ara and Thous.
Seeing the footage, when before all we had were some telesnaps and the audio, reveals a few visual gems. Troughton's head-knocking gesture when describing Zaroff we would never have known about. There are a couple of things we didn't need to see, though - such as Ramo's shadow lingering for ages before Tom Watson's appearance into the scene (when the Doctor is in the sou'wester). I loved Zaroff's model, which he uses to demonstrate his plans for Atlantis. Does water draining really need to be demonstrated by, er, water draining?

Am a little upset at the way in which parts 1 & 4 are presented. This release has obviously been done on the cheap - which I find more than a little insulting. There has been no effort to include proper titles, and the telesnaps tend to linger long after the dialogue has moved on. We get to hear a whole bit of dialogue between Zaroff and Ara, whilst we are presented with a picture of a shark. Then there is the lingering picture of the Doctor's back, whilst his companions can be heard getting captured on the soundtrack. It wouldn't have hurt to move some of the snaps around from other sequences to make it more visually interesting.
There is quite a nice little documentary, with someone dressed as a Fishworker on the beach at Windspit, Dorset, where the location work took place. The latest issue of DWM shows that the costume is bright orange. The latest issue of Fortean Times also happens to feature this location in one of its features "Weird Wessex" - mentioning this story's filming as well as its doubling as Skaro in Destiny of the Daleks.
The other main extra is the second half of the documentary which features on The Visitation SE DVD - The Television Centre of the Universe. Of course, this is totally out of place on this release.
I haven't listened to the commentaries yet - I'll save them for the weekend - but they promise to be interesting. Whilst the two extant episodes get regular commentaries from cast & crew, part one comes from Michael Troughton, and part four has an archive Patrick Troughton interview, plus contributions from director Julia Smith, producer Innes Lloyd, and the man who almost directed this story (and was for a time favourite to play the First Doctor) Hugh David.
As I have said, Episode 2 is certainly superior to Episode 3, but I don't think it is quite enough to redeem the story overall. The Underwater Menace was just too ambitious a production, and a work in progress for the new Doctor.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Return of K9

News on Saturday that Bob Baker is bringing back K9 once more - this time for a movie. You'll recall that K9 Mark 1 - the one left behind on Gallifrey with Leela - turned up in future London, was badly damaged and regenerated into a cuter looking version capable of flight. This was in the TV series produced in Australia and shown on UK TV (Channel 5) around the time Matt Smith took over the TARDIS. It was made by Disney-XD. Though set in London, the mostly young cast had suspiciously Aussie accents, and London looked a bit more sub-tropically exotic than it usually does (there was an on screen explanation that this was due to global warming).
The original K9 prop turned up in the opening moments, and it was definitely intended by the makers to fit with overall canon. John Leeson provided the K9 voice throughout. A second series wasn't commissioned, but now the tin mutt is coming back in 2017, in a family-friendly movie called K9 - Timequake. Apparently K9 isn't the only Bob Baker-created Doctor Who character that will be on show. The villainous Time Lord Omega is also set to return. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Woman Who Lived - Review

The second half of the Ashildr story - or is it the second part of a trilogy...?
Readers of Blogtor Who will be able to answer that one.
First thing to mention is that this episode was written by a woman. It's the first story to be commissioned from a female writer since Steven Moffat took over as show-runner. Fret not, there will be another along in a moment (episode 10 to be exact).
Catherine Tregenna, who has written for Torchwood, has elected to concentrate on the consequences of last week's episode. Much of The Woman Who Lived is taken up with the Doctor and Ashildr (or just plain Me these days) talking.
The alien artefact / lionesque Leandro plot feels just tacked on, to provide the obligatory alien and a bit of jeopardy for the last 10 minutes. Superficial stuff. Like the Fisher King, we have a great bit of make-up and design woefully underused.
It is those scenes between Maisie Williams and Peter Capaldi that this episode will be remembered for. Great performances from both. The curse of immortality, how it hardens you, lies at the core of this. Tragically, Ashildr hasn't just seen people grow old and die, she has had children who didn't even survive infanthood - victims of the Black Death.
Ashildr is bitter, and blames the Doctor for cursing her, whilst he thought he was saving her. The Doctor reveals that he has checked on her at least once, and thought she was using her new life for good - running a leper hospital. Turns out he was wrong. Over time she has turned into an adventuress - seeking thrills where she can find them. This has led to her fighting at the Battle of Agincourt, and now taking up the life of a Highwayman in the England of 1651.
Ashildr seems to have found out quite a bit about the Doctor - presumably from having met characters through time that he has encountered. There haven't been many televised stories set in the period between Viking times and the 17th Century, but fans will be able to think of a few characters whom Ashildr might have met, starting with the Saxon villagers of The Time Meddler.
The Doctor lets her know that the plague will be visiting England again soon, and that London will burn - providing a reference to the Fifth Doctor story The Visitation.

Rufus Hound plays the thief Sam Swift. As a comic, allegedly, he gets to provide a bit of stand-up just before he gets hanged at Tyburn. In keeping with the bawdy 17th Century, we get a couple of knob jokes. (Younger readers: ask your parents. Actually, no - they'll only fob you off with some nonsense, so ask your big brother or sister. If you don't have one, ask someone else's. Or just wait until you're - oh - about 12).
Anywhose, back to the plot. After the brief flurry of action at Tyburn, the Doctor and Ashildr have a final tete-a-tete in the pub. She was never going to go travelling with the Doctor, so she decides to help clear up his messes, and seek out more folk whom the Doctor has left behind. (The door is left open for a potential immortal relationship with Captain Jack Harkness).
Clara didn't appear until the closing moments - and the Doctor discovers that Ashildr has been keeping an eye on her in the present day. Clara does the fatal thing of telling the Doctor that she isn't leaving him any time soon - the kiss of death for any companion.
Next week, Zygons. Lots of Zygons. Plus the return of UNIT and the last-seen-dead Osgood. Will they finally reveal that that was her dad we saw back in The Daemons?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Story 142 - Revelation of the Daleks

In which the Doctor learns of the death of an old friend - Professor Arthur Stengos - and decides to pay his respects on the planet Necros. This is home to the vast funerary complex Tranquil Repose. The Doctor is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the death.
Many of the people interred here are actually in cryogenic suspension - awaiting the day when cures have been developed for their illnesses. Some of the clients can have news and music piped into their tombs by an Earth-music obsessed DJ. Overseeing everything is the Great Healer, who is never seen in public. Stengos' daughter Natasha, and her medic friend Grigory, break into the complex as she also has suspicions about her father's death. They discover that his tomb is empty. Exploring further, they come upon a laboratory where there is a tank of living human brains, and nearby is a transparent Dalek. Within are the remains of Arthur Stengos - mentally conditioned to turn him into a Dalek. He pleads for his daughter to kill him - which she does. She and Grigory are then captured by funeral attendants Takis and Lilt. The TARDIS has materialised outside the complex, and the Doctor and Peri make their way towards it on foot. They are attacked by a mutated humanoid. To save the Doctor, Peri strikes the man with a branch, and the blow proves fatal. Before he dies, he warns them about the Great Healer, who was responsible for his condition. The Great Healer is Davros.

Near Tranquil Repose is the artificial food processing plant run by businesswoman Kara. She knows the Great Healer's true identity, and is plotting to assassinate him. Davros is using Tranquil Repose to create a new army of Daleks that are totally loyal to him. It is the waste products from his work that Kara uses to create her food product. Fed up with sharing profits with Davros, she has employed Orcini to kill him. He was once a member of the Grand Order of Oberon - an assassin guild - but now works on his own, accompanied by his loyal squire Bostock. To destroy the creator of the Daleks Orcini sees as an honourable act. Kara plans to double-cross him. He is given what he thinks is a transmitter that will call in a rescue vessel once his work is done - but it is really a powerful bomb.
The Doctor and Peri finally reach Tranquil Repose, and the Doctor is shocked to see a funerary monument erected to himself, in his current incarnation. This collapses on top of him. It proves to be a light weight mock-up - designed as a cruel joke. Peri goes off to meet the DJ, but the Doctor is captured by the Daleks and finds himself locked up with Natasha and Grigory.

Soon after Orcini and Bostock have set off for Tranquil Repose, the Daleks arrive at the food processing plant. Kara's sycophantic assistant Vogel is exterminated, and Kara is forced to accompany the Daleks to meet Davros. Orcini frees the captives then goes to the lower levels to confront Davros. He finds him totally encased in a life support unit. He and Bostock shoot and destroy him. However, this was just a diversion. Davros appears, still seated in his wheel-chair and now able to fire electric bolts from his hand. He blows off Orcini's artificial leg. Bostock shoots off Davros' hand before he is shot down by Daleks. When Kara reveals her treachery with the bomb, Orcini stabs and kills her. The DJ is killed after converting a weapon to fire concentrated rock & roll music - compressed sound waves - that destroy some of the Daleks and Peri is captured. Natasha and Grigory are sent to destroy the laboratory but are exterminated by a Dalek sentinel. Takis and Lilt have been secretly plotting to oust Davros. They have contacted Skaro and a squad of Daleks loyal to the Dalek Supreme soon arrive on Necros. They take Davros into custody - to be taken back to Skaro to face trial. They refuse to believe his claims that the Doctor is their arch-enemy. Orcini elects to sacrifice himself to blow up Tranquil Repose before the Daleks can remove Davros in their spaceship. The Doctor has the complex evacuated but Orcini detonates the bomb too late to stop the departing Dalek ship. With both industries on Necros ruined in the same day, the Doctor recommends to Takis and Lilt the cultivation of a native plant that can produce a protein substitute.

This two part story was written by Eric Saward, and broadcast between 23rd and 30th March, 1985. It marks the ending of Season 22, and would be the last new Doctor Who story for 18 months, as the programme was put on hiatus. It is Eric Saward's last credited script. It is also the last story of the classic series to be directed by Graeme Harper.
The BBC had decided to rest the programme following a number of concerns about violence, as well as the current interpretation of the Doctor. The experiment to create a darker Doctor was not deemed to be a successful one. It was also claimed that the budget for the next series was needed for other things. It is widely accepted that the BBC had actually cancelled the show, but public opinion forced them to claim it was only being rested. The first episode of the already planned Season 23 would have been "The Nightmare Fair" by former producer Graham Williams, set in Blackpool and featuring the return of the Celestial Toymaker. As such, the Doctor tells Peri at the very end of Part Two that he is going to take her to "B - ". Eventually, when the show returned, they would be going to somewhere beginning with "R", and the planned Season 23 stories were all ditched.
Much of Revelation of the Daleks is taken up by a sub-plot - which I decided to omit from the summary above - regarding some of the characters who work in Tranquil Repose. There's the vain womanising mortician Mr Jobel, and the dowdy Tasambeker who carries an unrequited torch for him. Takis and Lilt also have more to do than the summary might suggest. The fact is that very little of this really inter-connects with the main Davros / Kara / Orcini plot.
Sadly, nor does the Doctor - or even the Daleks.
Back when I reviewed Vengeance on Varos I said it was the best story for the Sixth Doctor - but not the best Sixth Doctor story. This is the best story of the Colin Baker era, but he and Nicola Bryant might just as well not have bothered turning up. Eric Saward obviously finds everyone else far more interesting. The Doctor and Peri haven't even reached the plot by the end of Part One, and have little to do in Part Two. It is easy to envisage a version of this story that is entirely Doctor-free.

That sub-plot about the goings-on in the funerary complex is obviously inspired by Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. This is a darkly comic look at the American funeral parlour industry in pre-war Hollywood. The book has a Mr Joyboy and Miss Thanatagenos - obvious sources for Jobel and Tasambeker.
"Darkly comic" might be a good description for Revelation of the Daleks. Terry Molloy's Davros is his best performance in the role, with a good deal of graveyard humour. William Gaunt's Orcini only kills people he thinks deserve to die, and he gives his fees to charity. John Ogwen's Bostock is said to smell like rotting flesh, but he is a good squire. He and Orcini are patently inspired by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, though this only emerged in rehearsals. Kara (Eleanor Bron) and Vogel (Hugh Walters) make for a comically camp couple, whilst Takis and Lilt (Trevor Cooper and Colin Spaull) are a sadistic Laurel & Hardy.
A few of these names will be familiar from other stories. Bron was seen alongside John Cleese in City of Death. Hugh Walters was Runcible in The Deadly Assassin. Trevor Cooper and Colin Spaull have both been in the new series - the former in Robot of Sherwood, and the latter in Rise of the Cybermen / Age of Steel. Spaull was cast in that story by the director of this one - the excellent Graeme Harper.
Mr Jobel is Clive Swift (Mr Copper from Voyage of the Damned). Tasambeker is Jenny Tomasin. Natasha is Bridget Lynch-Blosse, and Grigory is Stephen Flynn. The DJ is Alexei Sayle - more on him below. Another actor who has appeared more than once in the show plays Stengos - Alec Linstead. He was Sgt. Osgood in The Daemons, and Jellicoe in Robot.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor is standing looking up at the marble memorial to himself, pondering his mortality. Peri cries out a warning as the monument collapses on top of him...
  2. Takis and Lilt have been advised to grow the rampant weed plant as a substitute for the artificial protein which Kara had been producing. The Doctor knows where he will take Peri next - somewhere beginning with "B"...

Overall, brilliant direction, a great cast (including a couple of roles that might not have worked but did) and lots of pitch black humour. My favourite Saward script. Shame he couldn't have found a role for the regulars in it.
Things you might like to know:

  • A glass Dalek had featured in David Whitaker's novelisation of the very first Dalek story. We finally get to see one on screen - but the logic behind it just isn't there. Why is Stengos in a transparent Dalek?
  • Natasha and Grigory are killed by a levitating Dalek - though you wouldn't have known it by what appears on screen. Running out of time in studio, Harper wasn't able to film this the way he wanted. It would have been the first time we saw a Dalek properly levitate on screen. The Special Edition of this story on DVD has new CGI effects, plus a (marginally) better version of this sequence.
  • Talking of levitating Daleks, when Orcini and Bostock encounter one just before they enter Tranquil Repose, an elaborate stunt had been arranged. A Dalek prop was to have been catapulted into the air using a huge see-saw mechanism, and they would have blasted it out of the sky. The location was hit by heavy snow, and so the sequence had to be redone with just the stationary prop being blown up.
  • Some publications call this planet Nekros, but my researches find that Necros is the most common spelling.
  • This is one of only two Doctor Who stories still to be novelised, now that Douglas Adams' estate has authorised his Who work to be put into print.
  • The whole wintry look of the exterior filming adds to the atmosphere of the story, but - being the Great British Weather - was entirely unplanned and mostly unwanted. The snow played havoc with the logistics.
  • The set for Davros' lair was a reused one from comic DJ Kenny Everett's show. It had been built for a 4 minute performance by Culture Club. Light Entertainment shows had huge budgets compared to drama series like poor old Doctor Who.
  • Producer John Nathan-Turner was really concerned about Alexei Sayle's performance as the DJ. Throughout rehearsals he had been quite reserved, and not like any of his on-screen / on-stage personas. Sayle was simply saving himself for the actual recording - as you can see when you watch this. Not the greatest of actors, he is best when playing the zany music-era parts - the Hippy and the Rock'n'Roller. Once he is "himself" he does rather show his then lack of acting experience.
  • A number of other people were considered for the role of the DJ - mostly folk better known for their music than for their acting. Ringo Starr was one, Roger Daltrey another. Harper also thought about David Bowie. You'll remember that Harper had considered Bowie and Daltrey for the role of Sharaz Jek in Caves of Androzani
  • All but two of the pieces of music played by the DJ are cover versions by Roger Limb. The originals are Procul Harem's A Whiter Shade of Pale, and Jimi Hendrix's Fire. Repeat screenings on TV have both in place, but the latter had to be replaced on the VHS and DVD releases owing to rights issues.
  • Two lots of Daleks on show. The grey ones that come from Skaro to arrest Davros are old props, but the ones that he has created on Necros are the white / gold liveried ones which were a new build. They differ from the originals not just in details like the flush dome bulbs and central slats, but in being taller and narrower overall, with a smaller base circumference. 
  • One of the grey Daleks dated back to The Dalek Masterplan, and had also been the Gold Dalek in Day of the Daleks and Frontier In Space.
  • Colin Baker was arrested for speeding during the filming of this story. Having originally trained for the legal profession before becoming an actor, he decided to defend himself. He lost, and was banned.
  • Baker and Bryant were performing in one of JNT's Who-themed pantomimes at the time, in Southampton. This was close to where the location work for this story was filmed. Which was convenient. The cast included Anthony Ainley and Jacqueline Pearce. It was directed by Fiona Cumming. Baker and Bryant were pulled out of rehearsals for Timelash because of this - which goes some way to explain how that turned out. The show lost a lot of money. Just shows how JNT prioritised things during his stewardship of the programme at this stage.
  • The mutant that attacks the Doctor and Peri in the forest is the role that JNT thought Sir Laurence Olivier might just have gone for. As mentioned in my look at Mark of the Rani, JNT found out that George Stephenson actor Gawn Grainger had written the Stage Lord's biography. Sir Larry had said that he might just consider a small role so long as it was on film. Due to the production schedule, this was the only unfilmed part that was left in the season. He would probably have been up for the make-up, but I doubt he would have been happy rolling around in the snow with Colin Baker.
  • Other things that were on Eric Saward's mind when he wrote this were Band-Aid - Bob Geldof's musical fundraising charity - and his recent holiday on the island of Rhodes. Orcini talks about giving his fees away to charity, and Kara's food processing plant is doing great business because of a galactic famine. The Knights of Oberon are a reference to the Knights of Rhodes (one of the incarnations of the bunch that started off in Jerusalem during the Crusades). On Rhodes there is a monastery called Tsambika (think about it). And one of the Grand Marshals of the Knights of Rhodes belonged to the ancient Roman family of the Orsini...
  • That holiday on Rhodes was timed so that Saward could write this story when he was between contracts - so that he couldn't be accused by the Writers Guild of commissioning himself, he still being script editor. Joint heads of the Guild at this time were Pip & Jane Baker, who would have been keeping a watchful eye on the programme, having now started to write for it themselves.
  • Had the show not been put on hiatus, what might Season 23 have looked like? That, and some of the other things people got up to during their break, will be the subject for another post, very soon. Caution - may contain Doctor In Distress...

Monday, 19 October 2015

History blog - The Massacre

I've been neglecting my other blog over the last few weeks, but have finally updated it tonight - with another of the Who-History crossovers - a look at the events of the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day. Do take a look.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Girl Who Died - Review

Naturally - don't read on until you've seen this.
Another excellent episode. Last year, Jamie Mathieson scooped all the plaudits for his two stories, and if this episode is anything to go by he might do well in the polls for this series as well.
In a way it is the first single episode story of Series 9, in that the Viking / Mire plot was wrapped up within these 45 minutes. In 35 minutes, actually, as the last 10 minutes were there to set up next week's story.
We started with one of those openings where we are seeing the tail-end of some unseen adventure. The Doctor and Clara then arrive in Viking territory. Two days later they find themselves in their village, and the Doctor's efforts to pretend to be Odin are ever so slightly undermined when another Odin turns up in the sky and the armoured Mire show up to transport all the virile males away - plus Clara and young Ashildr, the local tomboy.
The Mire just like to pick fights, and feed off testosterone. I can think of a few northern towns where they would feel right at home.
Clara is about to get them to leave, when Ashildr provokes them into sticking around - so the Doctor has just 24 hours to turn the non-combatant villagers into a fighting force. Cue some funny scenes with what he has to work with. The aftermath of their first practice with real swords is hilarious.
Being the Doctor, he eventually comes up with a number of non-violent methods to defeat them.
Unfortunately, one of these involves Ashildr putting on a Mire helmet and using her imagination to conjure up the image of a dragon.
The Doctor threatens to upload footage of their defeat on-line, galactically, so basically he You-Tubes the Mire into retreating.
Then, the story's title comes into play. Projecting the dragon using alien tech has killed Ashildr.

The Vikings might be heartbroken, but we know that this is not the end of her story. We already know that she appears in next week's linked episode, set centuries later.
Even though it never really needed an explanation, we then see the Doctor realising why he chose his current visage. (They never felt the need to explain why the Sixth Doctor looked like Commander Maxil of the Chancellery Guard).
We get to see a few scenes from Deep Breath, where he wondered where his face came from, then some from The Fires of Pompeii. (Lovely to see David Tennant again).
It is all because sometimes the Doctor decides to save someone. You'll recall that the Tenth Doctor was going to leave the family of Caecilius to their fate, but Donna talked him into saving them.
There was a lot of talk up 'til this point about how, as a time traveler, the Doctor feels he is allowed to make ripples - just not tidal waves.
What he does with Ashildr might possibly prove to be a tidal wave. That's because he uses a bit of Mire technology to bring her back to life - as an immortal.
There are obvious parallels between the Doctor's life and how Ashildr's will unfold. The Doctor leaves a second Mire medi-kit in case she ever wants to gain an immortal partner for herself - something the Doctor can't - or won't - take for himself.
Some beautiful direction from Ed Bazalgette - special mention for that final sequence with Maisie Williams, witnessing the passing of the years. All those theories about her being Time Lord - Susan, Romana, or even Jenny - all crumble to dust.
A great performance from her. David Schofield, as Odin. didn't get to do anything subtle, sadly - playing an alien warrior imitating a Viking God does inevitably lead to a more scenery-chewing performance.
In some ways I wish they weren't revisiting Ashildr's story in the very next episode. It might have been nicer to have stretched out this plot, and for her to turn up again a bit later in the series. Space things out a bit.
Death, and the loneliness of longevity / immortality, are bubbling through this series - which I assume are all leading us inexorably towards Clara's imminent departure.
Next week, more Maisie, Highwaymen (or rather Highway-persons), an alien artifact, and a flame-breathing lionesque being.

Friday, 16 October 2015

TARDIS Travels No.34(c)

The final journeys of the Eleventh Doctor. You may experience a bit of deja vu, as some of these overlap with the travels of the Tenth and War Doctors during the events of Day of the Doctor.
Unseen, the Doctor has taken Clara back to Earth from Trenzalore. Some time has passed for her as she has now secured a teaching post at Coal Hill School. We find the TARDIS on a lonely, windswept road (looking nowhere like the Home Counties). The ship is picked up by a UNIT helicopter which flies into London along the Thames from the east. Presumably it is November 23rd, 2013.

Journey 704: Trafalgar Square, London, to UNIT HQ, Tower of London, 2013.
Something odd happens when the three Doctors enter Ten's TARDIS. The ship seems to change through time, so we see the 2005 - 2009 console room, then the War Doctor's - before we see them in the current incarnation. The Tenth Doctor doesn't like what Eleven has done with it.
The ship travels into the painting of "Gallifrey Falls / No More". The Doctors can then enter UNIT's locked-down Black Vault, as the Doctor has requested the picture be moved there.

Journey 705: UNIT HQ, London, 2013, to Gallifrey, date unknown.
The TARDIS travels to the barn in the wastes of Outer Gallifrey, where the War Doctor is about to activate The Moment.

Journey 706: Gallifrey - Outer Wastes to planet's orbit, date unknown.
The Eleventh Doctor joins all his previous incarnations, plus one future one, in their scheme to save Gallifrey by depositing it in a pocket universe.

Journey 707: Gallifrey, date unknown, to National Gallery, London, 2013.
The three Doctors assemble for the last time in front of the painting in the Under Gallery.

Journey 708: Earth, 2013, to Trenzalore orbit, date unknown.
The TARDIS is in orbit around a planet which the Doctor will later discover is Trenzalore, after a number of alien races assemble there in response to a strange signal.

Journey 709: Trenzalore, orbit, to Cybership, date unknown.
The Doctor transmats onto a Dalek saucer, but takes the TARDIS when he visits the unknown ship which has turned up - which proves to belong to the new Cybermen.

Journey 710: Cybership, Trenzalore orbit, date unknown, to London, 25th December, 2013.
The TARDIS materialises outside the block of flats where Clara lives. It is Christmas Day. The Doctor is naked. Placing an under-cooked turkey in a cabinet beneath the console will either cook it or revert it back to being an egg.

Journey 711: London, 2013, to Trenzalore orbit, date unknown.
The Doctor takes Clara into the midst of the assembled spaceships above the planet.

Journey 712: Trenzalore - space to Papal Mainframe, date unknown.
The Doctor is invited aboard the HQ of the Church by old friend Tasha Lem, the Mother Superious. This is why the Doctor was not wearing any clothes - it is a mark of respect.

Journey 713: Trenzalore - Papal Mainframe in orbit to the village of Christmas, date unknown.
The Doctor cheats with regards keeping technology off of the planet, having hidden a TARDIS key under his wig. He brings the ship to the village of Christmas. The mysterious signal which is being broadcast throughout the Universe is being generated by the Crack in Time, which is found inside the village church.

Journey 714: Trenzalore, date unknown, to London, 25th December, 2013.
The Doctor tricks Clara into returning to the TARDIS so that he can send her back home - just as he had done with Rose at the end of his Ninth incarnation.

Journey 715: London, 2013, to Trenzalore, date unknown.
Clara tries to get back into the TARDIS as it dematerialises. She is carried to Trenzalore on the outside of the ship, which arrives 300 years into the Doctor's future. Normally this sort of TARDIS travel proves fatal, but Clara survives. The turkey is still not quite cooked.

Journeys 716 & 717: Trenzalore - Christmas to Papal Mainframe in orbit then back to Christmas, date unknown.
The Doctor and Clara return to the Church HQ to find that it has been invaded by the Daleks. Tasha has been converted into a slave, but she manages to break the mental conditioning. The Doctor and Clara escape back down to the planet.

Journey 718: Trenzalore, date unknown, to London, 25th December, 2013.
The Doctor sends Clara back home once again. The turkey is done.

Journey 719: London, 25th December, 2013, to Trenzalore, date unknown.
The TARDIS automatically returns to the village of Christmas.

Journey 720: Trenzalore, date unknown, to London, 25th December, 2013.
The TARDIS returns to London, and this time it is being piloted by Tasha Lem. She collects Clara, as the Doctor is nearing the end of his life and losing his centuries-long battle to save the village.

Journey 721: London, 2013, to Christmas, Trenzalore, date unknown.
Clara arrives hundreds of years further into the Doctor's future. He now appears a very old man. The Time Lords offer the Doctor a whole new regeneration cycle for protecting them further and avoiding a resumption of the Time War. He destroys the Daleks and changes his own future. Trenzalore will no longer be a blasted wasteland - the location for his grave. Before he regenerates, he uses the phone in the TARDIS door to call Clara in her near future - to accept and look after his new self.
Next time, we move onto the journeys of the Twelfth Doctor.