Saturday, 27 February 2016

Next week - Return to the DWE and another TARDIS Tour.

Am still busily compiling my A-Z list for the forthcoming (sure to be long-running) post series that replaces "TARDIS Travels". It has been interesting work so far. You would expect a Sci-Fi series to feature lots of characters / aliens beginning with those letters that score highest in Scrabble, but this is not the case. "S" and "M" are far and away the most popular letters to begin character and alien names.
Russell T Davies' love of the surname Tyler is well known, but it just happens to have a bit of lineage throughout the series.
Anyway, that's to come. Just like to tell you that it's my birthday next week, and I am treating myself to another trip to Cardiff. Not only will I be seeing the Series 9 exhibits that have been added to The Doctor Who Experience, but the chance of another tour of the TARDIS set is available, and I'm already signed up.
Before then, you'll get to read my wit and wisdom concerning Remembrance of the Daleks, plus my look at February's figurine collection items - if they ever arrive. Were due yesterday... Next ones due are a Fisher King, a Pertwee Silurian and Scaroth, plus a special edition of the Face of Boe.

Story 147 - Dragonfire

In which the Doctor and Mel pay a visit to Iceworld, a service station on the frozen planet of Svartos. Here there are cafes, shops and other entertainments. In one of the cafes, they are reunited with Sabalom Glitz. He is threatened by Iceworld staff, led by Belazs, over unpaid fees. He informs the Doctor that he has used the last of his money to buy a treasure map. Somewhere on this planet is a marvelous prize known as the Dragonfire. The Doctor and Mel also meet a girl from 20th Century Earth, who is working as a waitress. She is known as Ace. The Doctor is intrigued by Glitz's map, and decides to join him on his quest. The parchment has a hidden microphone embedded in it. Listening in is Kane, who is in charge of Iceworld. He never leaves his inner sanctum, which is kept at temperatures below freezing. heat would destroy him. He knows of the Dragonfire and wants it for himself. He will allow the Doctor and Glitz to bring it to him. Ace gets into an argument with her boss and pours a milkshake over his head when he sacks her. Mel decides to befriend her. Hearing that there is an ice blockage at one of the entry ways, Ace decides to take matters into her own hands and uses some homemade explosive called Nitro-9 to blow it up. She and Mel are captured and taken to Kane.

He has been building his own private army. He already has Glitz's crew frozen in readiness - having bought them from the rogue due to other debts. He tries to enlist Ace, but she refuses. The Doctor and Glitz, meanwhile, have descended to the lower levels of Iceworld to find their treasure. It is reputedly guarded by a Dragon. Belazs and her colleague Kracauer are virtual slaves of Kane's. They decide to kill him by braising the temperature of his sanctum. He has just had an ice sculpture made of his long-dead escort, Xana. Kane wakes from his sleep cabinet and catches Kracauer, killing him with his freezing touch. Belazs decides to seize Glitz's impounded spaceship - the Nosferatu - so that she can flee Iceworld. Realising what she is up to, Kane kills her as well. he activates his army of mercenaries and sends them to find Glitz and the Doctor. They have met the Dragon - really a bipedal biomechanoid creature. Ace and Mel join them, and Mel uses more Nitro-9 to attack the mercenaries. The Dragon leads them to a crystal chamber where the Doctor finds a star chart which puzzles him, and the creature activates an ancient recording. A hologram reveals that Kane and Xana were criminals from the planet Proamon. She was killed, and he was imprisoned here on Svartos. The Dragon's head opens up and reveals the Dragonfire - a powerful energy crystal.

The Doctor realises that Iceworld is really Kane's stranded spaceship. The Dragonfire is its power source. Kane would need to destroy the creature to ever escape, and it is heavily armed. He examines the star chart and realises something which Kane is unaware of. A couple of Iceworld staff are sent to kill the Dragon. They succeed and remove its head, but it kills them with an energy blast as they do so. The Doctor decides to take the Dragonfire to Kane. He has ordered that Iceworld be evacuated immediately. Many people try to flee in the Nosferatu, but Kane destroys it as it lifts off. The Doctor's party arrive at the inner sanctum and meet Kane. The Doctor reveals that Proamon was destroyed many centuries ago - so Kane can never have his long-cherished revenge. When he accepts that this is true, Kane elects to kill himself by opening the sun-filters - causing him to melt. Glitz has lost his ship, so decides to commandeer Iceworld, which is now fully operational as a spacecraft. He renames it Nosferatu II. Mel elects to travel with him, to keep him out of trouble. She recommends that the Doctor take Ace with him. He is intrigued by her story that she inadvertently summoned up a time-storm in her bedroom one night whilst experimenting with Nitro-9. He promises to take her home - but via the scenic route...

This three part adventure was written by Ian Briggs, and was broadcast between 23rd November and 7th December, 1987.
It marks the conclusion to Sylvester McCoy's first season - Season 24 - and sees the departure of Bonnie Langford as Mel. Sophie Aldred becomes the new companion, Ace. Seeds of future stories are sown here, regarding Ace's background and how she came to be on Iceworld. She claims to be an orphan, but this will prove not to be the case.
As mentioned under the previous story, producer John Nathan-Turner had found a way to make two 3-parters by having one entirely filmed on location, and the other in studio. This was the studio-bound partner to Delta and the Bannermen. Malcolm Kohll and Ian Briggs had worked together on their stories, as they would be made in the same recording block. Delta was supposed to be the serious one, and this the more light hearted romp. Cast and director saw things differently.
Briggs is obviously a student of film theory, as many of the characters derive their names from film writers, directors and critics - Belazs, Kracauer, McLuhan, Bazin, Podovkin and Anderson. The Dragon is clearly intended to mimic the titular creature from the Alien movies. A sequence where Kane's people are hunting for it is obviously meant to look like something from Aliens, but fails miserably due to over-lit sets and poor performances. If you are going to copy the Alien, do what Ridley Scott did and don't show it in the full glare of studio lights.
Another influence on the script is The Wizard of Oz - Ace's transportation to this place courtesy of a time-storm, plus her real name being Dorothy. And the cafe scene is supposed to remind us of the cantina sequence from Star Wars... Might have worked if it wasn't for those floodlights in the studio.
Bonnie Langford's departure is very odd - going off with someone she hardly knows other than that he is not to be trusted. She doesn't belong in this time. Ace is interesting, but Aldred's initial performance isn't promising as she does not convince as a girl of school age. Unable to swear before the watershed, she uses some odd turns of phrase which sound stupid, and don't help make the character real in any way.

Tony Selby returns as Glitz. The character was already toned down for his second appearance at the conclusion of Trial of a Time Lord, after the first four episodes of that lengthy tale showed him to be a ruthless killer. Funny, but a ruthless killer. He is much more the intergalactic Arthur Daley here.
Kane is played by Edward Peel. Belazs is Patricia Quinn - best known for Rocky Horror. Returning to the series after playing a Movellan is Tony Osoba (who will be back again in Peter Capaldi's first season). He's Kracauer. Another returnee is Shirin Taylor. She was one of the campers killed by an Ogri in The Stones of Blood. Her character serves no real plot function. She's a rather stuck-up woman who flits around in the background and who has a little girl, who she obviously neglects. The girl does have a function in that she is befriended by the Dragon, to show that it is not a mindless killer.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor notices that it is 30 seconds from the end credits and so, for no discernible reason whatsoever, climbs off a perfectly safe walkway and dangles by his umbrella over a precipice...
  2. The Dragon's cranium opens up to reveal a glittering crystal. Listening in, Kane is jubilant that after 3000 years, the Dragonfire, for discernible reasons for a change, is his...
  3. For no discernible reason whatsoever, Mel has left the TARDIS to join Glitz on his travels. The Doctor tells Ace he is taking her back to 20th Century Earth, but a straight line is not necessarily the most interesting route...

Overall, not a bad little story. At three parts it does not flag. Edward Peel makes for great villain. Some fantastic model work - the Nosferatu and Iceworld's lift-off. The Kane death scene is one of the best VFX of the classic series. The jury's still out on the new companion.
Things you might like to know:
  • Dragonfire was trumpeted by JNT as the 150th Doctor Who story. One look at the title of this post will show this is not the case. You should know by now that JNT was keen for publicity wherever he could get it. This was the same man who trumpeted Trial of a Time Lord as the longest ever story. He split it up to make this story number 150.We'll come across this again when we reach the 200th story.
  • The Doctor has a philosophical discussion with an Iceworld guard at one point. This is the "semiotic thickness of the text..." bit. This comes from a weighty tome written about the series - Doctor Who - The Unfolding Text by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado. Script editor Andrew Cartmel had encouraged his new brace of writers to read this.
  • There are a number of familiar bits of costume amongst the background extras in the early cafe scene. Most noticeable is what appears to be an Argolin lady.
  • In this sequence, the Doctor is seen to be reading The Doctor's Dilemma, a 1906 play by George Bernard Shaw. Ian Chesterton quotes from this, so he has also read it or seen it performed. We'll later see the Seventh Doctor read H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. The Eighth Doctor will finish it. Back in Frontier in Space, we saw the Master read the same author's The War of the Worlds. They're seen to read these at their leisure, whereas we have also seen the Fourth and Ninth Doctors speed-read whole novels in a matter of seconds.
  • That first episode cliffhanger then. What are we to make of it? Something incredibly clever and post-modern - a literal cliffhanger? No. The sequence just wasn't done properly. Director Chris Clough as good as says so on the DVD commentary.
  • Ian Briggs did not endear himself with fans when asked about this cliffhanger at conventions. He advised that they read his novelisation, rather than give an explanation. Just wait till we get to Ghostlight for more of this sort of thing.
  • And we now know that Clara Oswald was nearby watching this. So much for her being scattered throughout the Doctor's time-stream to save him.
  • The hologram lady is played by Daphne Oxenford. She was one of the original cast of Coronation Street, and was the voice of Watch With Mother - the CBBC of my childhood.
  • Briggs original script - "Absolute Zero" - would have had the villain a teenage businessman.
  • Another film reference is Raiders of the Lost Ark - inspiration for Kane's melting demise. One of the actors approached for the part was Ronald Lacey, who had already been melted in that film. Other actors considered for Kane were David Jason and John Alderton, of Please Sir! fame and who is hubby to Samantha Briggs / Queen Victoria actress Pauline Collins.
  • Dragonfire coincided with an escalation by some fans of a movement to have JNT sacked. They didn't like the stories, and hated some of the light entertainment casting.The TV review programme Open Air had featured a piece about Who, with JNT and Bonnie Langford in attendance. A group of fans in the studio were mostly hostile towards the recent run of stories. This led to the other TV review programme Did You See...? covering Who the day before the first episode of Dragonfire aired - again generally negative. The fanzine Dreamwatch Bulletin (DWB) launched an all-out attack on JNT. He considered suing, but his boss advised him not to, as to take their stance seriously might be seen to lend it some credence.
  • A year or so ago, DWM ran a sort of "Trial of JNT" series. One of those who came out in favour of him was current showrunner Steven Moffat. One of the Open Air critics back in the day was future showrunner Chris Chibnall. Has he changed his tune over the last 30 years?
  • Dragonfire is the 4th lowest rated McCoy story, according to the DWM 50th anniversary poll. (No 215 out of 241).

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Story 146 - Delta and the Bannermen

In which the Doctor and Mel arrive at Tollport G-715 and find that they are its 10 billionth customers. The prize is a trip with Nostalgia Tours to Disneyland, in 1959. This will be in the company of a group of alien tourists - the shape-changing Navarino. The Doctor is familiar with this tour company, and so declines to go on their ship - which is disguised as a period coach. Mel can go, and he will follow on in the TARDIS. At the last minute, another spaceship arrives and a young woman rushes from it, desperate for passage. She is offered the Doctor's place on the coach. After they have all departed, another craft arrives - belonging to the sadistic mercenary Bannermen. Their leader, Gavrok, forces the Toll-keeper to tell him where the young woman went. He then shoots down the hapless official. Above the Earth, the Navarino craft strikes a small communications satellite and the Doctor has to use the TARDIS tractor beam to land them safely. Instead of Florida, they are in Wales - just outside the Shangri-La holiday camp. Everyone will have to stay here until the coach is fixed. The Doctor and Mel meet the camp manager, Burton, a young mechanic and musician named Billy, and a young woman named Ray, who carries a torch for Billy. He seems more interested in the enigmatic woman who joined the group at the Tollport. Mel is convinced she is hiding something.

That night, there is a dance laid on. One of the Navarino is really a bounty hunter, and he notifies Gavrok of the coach's whereabouts. Rather than pay the bounty, Gavrok has him destroyed - hoping to kill the young woman also. In their chalet, Mel is shocked to see that the woman - Delta - is carrying a large egg, which hatches to reveal a green, reptilian baby. Delta reveals that she is one of the last of the Chimeron race. They have been hunted almost to extinction by the Bannermen. She needs to protect the child and have the Bannermen persecution halted. Camping nearby are two American secret service men - Hawke and Weismuller. They have been tasked with finding the missing satellite - which has became embedded in the front of the Navarino craft. They are captured by Gavrok and his men. Delta is feeding the child a special foodstuff which causes her to grow rapidly. Billy secretly takes some of this substance, and consumes it himself - trusting it will make him like Delta and the child.

The Doctor has Burton evacuate the holiday camp, as the Bannermen close in. He meets an old gentleman who keeps bees - Garonwy - who agrees to help them. The Doctor notices that the child can emit a high-pitched tone which the Bannermen cannot stand. This gives him an idea how to defend themselves. The Bannermen are lured into a trap where they are covered in honey and attacked by Garonwy's bees. Gavrok has the Navarino coach blown up just as it is about to take off, and he also sabotages the TARDIS by planting a powerful explosive on its roof - killing anyone who approaches it. Billy helps set up a loudspeaker system and this broadcasts the Chimeron girl's piercing cry. This overpowers the Bannermen. Gavrok stumbles into his own trap and is destroyed by the device he planted on the TARDIS. Billy becomes part Chimeron, and he decides to leave with Delta and the child in the Bannermen's spaceship. Hawke and Weismuller have helped round up the mercenaries, and they will be taken to face justice. Billy leaves Ray his prized motorbike. The Doctor and Mel depart, as Burton has to face a coachload of new arrivals with no staff on site...

This three part adventure was written by Malcolm Kohll, and was broadcast between 2nd and 16th of November, 1987. It will be Kohll's only script for the series.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had realised that he could stretch his budget to four stories per season if one three parter was entirely filmed on location, and another was done entirely in the studio. This was made alongside Dragonfire, which would be all in studio. Kohll intended his story to be much darker - and was inspired by Kurosawa for the Bannermen look. Cast and director went for a much more light-hearted take. Many think this a huge mistake. The story is particularly singled out for its casting. JNT wants to leave Doctor Who behind him and produce light entertainment. He gets his fix with the regular Who-themed pantomimes - and by casting as many light entertainment performers as possible. The holiday camp setting immediately brings to mind the popular BBC sit-com Hi-Di-Hi!. Comedian Ken Dodd is cast as the Toll-keeper - the one bit of casting everyone picks up on.
Also amongst the cast is a real showbiz legend - star of Broadway and Hollywood musicals Stubby Kaye (playing Weismuller).
The tone of the thing often jars. Despite all the frantic running around and comedic characters, we have the Toll-keeper gunned down - shot in the back. Then we have the whole Navarino contingent blown up - after we have got to know and like them. Then there is the whole back-story of a race being genocidally wiped out.

Other cast members of note are Don Henderson, playing Gavrok straight. Garonwy is veteran comedy actor Hugh Lloyd (best known for his own BBC shows and a regular Tony Hancock accomplice). Hawke is Morgan Deare. Burton is Richard Davies (best remembered from the ITV school-based sitcom Please Sir!). The coach-driver, Murray, is played by Johnny Dennis, who has done much to champion old time Music Hall (as has the Cyber-Controller / K1 robot Michael Kilgarriff) as well as being the PA announcer at Lord's cricket ground for many, many years. The juvenile leads are David Kinder (Billy), Belinda Mayne (Delta) and Sara Griffiths (Ray). The bounty hunter Keillor is the late Brian Hibbard - best known for the acapella group The Flying Picketts.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor and Ray are trapped in the linen closet with Keillor, whilst in their chalet Mel sees the baby Chimeron hatch from its egg...
  2. The Doctor confronts Gavrok and demands he leave. He is about to depart when the aliens surround him, weapons drawn, and he realises he may have misjudged the response to his demand... 
  3. Delta and Billy have flown off, and the Doctor and Mel are about to leave as well, when a coach load of holiday-makers turns up at the camp. Burton is determined to cope, despite having sent all his staff away...  

Overall, this story is generally dismissed as a bit of a comedic runaround, with some dodgy casting. The holiday camp setting means that it was never going to be dark and dangerous. There is some really nice FX work - the Chimeron planet and the spaceship landings. Sadly, fans have tended to err on the side of not liking it - making it third least favourite Sylvester McCoy story in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll (217th out of 241).
Things you might like to know:
  • The holiday camp location was in Barry Island, South Wales. It was mostly unused, and the cast and crew had to contend with a rat infestation. You'll notice that the grass between the chalets is very long. A real camp would never have allowed this. A number of stories post 2005 have been filmed nearby.
  • Pottering about in the long grass is Burton's dog. This is really JNT's dog, Pepsi, and we'll be seeing more of it in the final season.
  • Apart from a silly little dance when he first appears, Ken Dodd actually puts in quite a good performance. Those vehemently opposed to his casting probably felt rather satisfied seeing him shot down so early on.
  • Fans have long been fascinated by the character of Garonwy. He seems so unphased by events that there is a popular theory that he is possibly another retired Time Lord. Lloyd will go on to play a Time Lord in a fan-made video production.
  • It is known that Bonnie Langford is leaving at the end of this season, so various actresses are auditioning for both Ray and the forthcoming character of Ace. (It isn't decided yet which one will actually become the new companion). Sara Griffiths and Sophie Aldred are up for both roles. Aldred thinks she is in with a chance as she can ride a motorbike. The part of Ray actually goes to another actress who did the usual thing of claiming they can do something when they can't, just to secure a role. The actress does herself a mischief whilst practicing the bike and so Griffiths gets the part.
  • Series composer Keff McCulloch gets to do a Dudley Simpson by appearing on screen. He is in the band playing at the end of the first episode. He's the guy with the totally anachronistic pony-tail. I'm afraid to say that his OTT score for this story is one of the reasons it is so disliked. 'Subtle' is certainly not his middle name.
  • (Wanna know why it's called a pony-tail? Lift it up and you'll find an a**hole underneath...).
  • Moving swiftly on...;-)
  • You'll notice that the Doctor can sometimes be seen to be wearing glasses when he is in long-shot riding the motorbike. Simply because McCoy had to wear them to see where he was going, and it was hoped they wouldn't be noticeable. Yes, they are.
  • Just what is the Chimeron persecution all about, and how does Billy turning into one help? Apart from the fact that they can't stand the noise Chimeron young make, why are the Bannermen hunting them to extinction? It is never explained. 
  • As Billy is half-human, this still means the end of the Chimeron race as it was. How will two adults and child go about rebuilding the species? That's a very small gene pool.
  • Who is it that Delta means to take her appeal to? Might it be the Time Lords? The Navarino are using time travel technology in the vicinity after all, so Gallifrey must be keeping an eye on them.
  • Other people considered for the Toll-keeper role were Christopher Biggins - and Bob Monkhouse.
  • When the novelisation of this story first came out, the spine title was misspelt - giving Gavrok an army of only one Bannerman.
  • The story title is inspired by the great band Echo and the Bunnymen.
  • Hi-Di-Hi!
  • Ho-Di-Ho!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

New post series coming soon...

With no new Doctor Who until Spring 2017, apart from a Xmas Special, I have been pondering ideas for this blog to cover over the forthcoming months. TARDIS Travels has ended for now, and I have already run series looking at the Daleks and Cybermen over the decades.
Alongside the story reviews I have decided to launch a new post run - an A to Z.
It will cover all the monsters, aliens and villains who are worthy of note, as well as companions and allies. No planets - I'll save those for another series - and no bits of tech.
I have been spending the last few days embarking on putting my list together - on a nice Excel spreadsheet. It will be a personal list. Some individual characters might not be covered - mentioned in an overall look at their race instead. For instance, I wasn't going to include any individual Thals. The more I thought about it, however, it seemed that Taron, Vaber, Alydon and Ganatus should get posts on their own. Whereas, when it comes to Dulcians, only Cully will get a spot to himself.
I am really looking forward to starting this run, as the A - Z nature of it means I get to write about all eras of the programme random-fashion each week. As some entries might be quite brief, I won't be limiting myself to one post per week. Finding nice images will also be fun - though quite what I will do when I get to the Visians and the Refusians...
As I will be covering Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures when we reach them in the story reviews (not long to go now, I am about to hit Delta and the Bannermen tomorrow night), I will also be covering characters and aliens from those shows as well.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Story 145 - Paradise Towers

In which the Doctor and Mel decide to have a short holiday. She picks a visit to Paradise Towers, which has a famous swimming pool on its roof. When they arrive in the vast residential complex, they find that it disappointingly run down. The corridors are rubbish strewn and the walls covered in graffiti. They meet a group of young women dressed in red - one of the colour-coded girl gangs known as Kangs who live in the Towers. Their rivals are the Blue Kangs. The Doctor learns that the last of the Yellow Kangs has been made "un-alive". Elsewhere in the complex, one of the Caretaker staff is killed by one of the Cleaning Machines which patrol the corridors. The Doctor and Mel become separated. She meets a couple of the residents - elderly ladies Tabby and Tilda. They invite her into their flat and seem reluctant to see her leave. They insist she eats some of their cakes as well. Suddenly a young man named Pex breaks down the door. He claims that he is the Tower's defender and had come to rescue her - though she did not think she was in any danger. The Doctor, meanwhile, is captured by the Chief Caretaker. he accuses the Doctor of being the Great Architect who built the Towers, and so must be executed...

The Doctor tricks his guards and is able to escape. Mel and Pex find themselves threatened by the Cleaning Machines, and split up. Mel finds herself back at the flat of Tabby and Tilda. It transpires that they intend to eat her. Both are killed by a metal tendril which pulls them into the waste disposal system, and Pex once more comes to the rescue. Mel discovers that the Kangs belittle Pex - claiming he is really a coward. Some years ago all the young people left the Towers to fight in a war. Pex was afraid to go and stayed behind. The Doctor joins the Red Kangs in their hideout, and gains their trust.
The Chief caretaker makes regular visits to the basement, where the real Great Architect - Kroagnon - resides. He had been unhappy that his perfect building was going to be spoiled by having people living in it. The inhabitants of the Towers turned on him, and only his disembodied mind survives. The Chief knows that Kroagnon is using the Cleaning Machines to kill people and bring their bodies down to the basement.

The Blue Kangs attack the Red Kang base, but the Doctor gets both gangs to work together.Mel makes it to the famous swimming pool - only to be attacked by an aquatic Cleaning Machine. Kroagnon takes over the Chief Caretaker's body so that he can roam once more through the corridors of his Towers. As Cleaning Machines kill all who they come across, the remaining residents and Caretaker staff make their way to the swimming pool area. The Doctor encourages all of them to set aside old differences and to fight together. A trap is set to destroy Kroagnon. This only partly works. Pex sacrifices himself to destroy the Great Architect. The Doctor and Mel leave the Towers, whose inhabitants are now all co-operating with each other.

This four part adventures was written by Stephen Wyatt, and broadcast between 5th and 26th October, 1987.
This is the first story that script editor Andrew Cartmel could really call his own - with Wyatt the first of the new writers that he commissioned from the BBC's script pool.
Cartmel was a big fan of Sci-Fi comics - 2000AD in particular - and wanted to have stories that had a more serious, political edge.
The idea of lethal buildings was not a new one. One of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations had featured a building that turned people into mince-meat, for instance. Both The Avengers and The New Avengers had featured stories in which a computer-run building started bumping off its residents.
An obvious source for this story was JG Ballard's High-Rise.
The story also looked at general themes of urban decay - with gang warfare, and the isolation many occupants of tower blocks felt, having been uprooted from their traditional communities.
There are a lot of things that don't quite work with Paradise Towers. The Kangs should really be much more grubby and feral. On screen, they are a bit middle-class drama school and too well groomed. Some of their pidgin-English is quite fun, but you do get the impression this was written by someone who had never met any real gang members.
The back-story behind this society does not make a lot of sense. Just how long ago was this war? Pex is a young man, so presumably only a couple of years ago, but everyone talks about it as if it is almost legend. And where are the male equivalent of the Kangs - young boys who would have been too young to go to war? There are no middle-aged people at all on view - apart from some of the Caretakers. Did all of the young women also go off to fight. One other thing absent is some context as to where we are. It cannot be Earth, as it does not fit with any of the future histories of this planet elsewhere in the series, so presumably an alien world. An Earth colony perhaps? But where is the wider society?
A design problem is the Cleaning Machines. Too big and cumbersome, and slow-moving. And their tools don't seem to have anything to do with any likely cleaning tasks.

There is a formidable cast on view - though sadly not everyone treats the script seriously. Principal guest artist Richard Briers, as the Chief Caretaker, is the main culprit in terms of unrealistic performance. He decides to play him as an OTT Hitlerian jobsworth. Or Blakey from On The Buses. He starts off over-playing, then goes up the way.
Tabby and Tilda are veteran actors Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce respectively. Spriggs had almost been cast as Chessene in The Two Doctors a couple of years before. Judy Cornwell plays another of the Rezzies - Maddy. Pex is Howard Cooke, and the Deputy Chief Caretaker is Clive Merrison, last seen in Tomb of the Cybermen. Amongst the Red Kangs is Julie Brennon, once wed to Turlough actor Mark Strickson.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Chief Caretaker tells the Doctor that he believes him to be the Great Architect - and so faces execution...
  2. Mel screams as she is bound in a crochet shawl by Tabby and Tilda, and threatened with a toasting fork...
  3. The Doctor and some of the Kangs see the Chief Caretaker being taken over by Kroagnon. As they attempt to flee, the Doctor is seized by the throat by a Cleaning Machine...
  4. The now united residents of Paradise Towers perform a ceremony in honour of Pex, as the Doctor and Mel depart.

Overall, a huge improvement on the previous story - in terms of script quality and Sylvester McCoy's performance. The first sign of how the Seventh Doctor's era will develop. Could have done with being a bit darker and with more naturalistic performances.
Things you might like to know:
  • Stephen Wyatt wasn't happy with the casting of Pex. He wanted a hulking Rambo-like figure - so that his appearance contrasted with his cowardliness. 
  • He also wanted the Caretakers to be all old men in shabbier uniforms, and regretted bumping off the cannibalistic Tabby and Tilda too early.
  • Wyatt was commissioned for another story while this one was still being made. Paradise Towers was not his first story idea. Cartmel did not like the original idea and this story developed during further meetings.
  • Producer JNT asked for the Cleaning Machines to be made more prominent, so that the story had a "monster".
  • Following the Hungerford massacre, all BBC shows were asked to tone down on screen violence. Originally Mel was to have been threatened with a carving knife at the climax of Part Two, but - bizarrely - this was replaced with an even more vicious looking toasting fork.
  • The Doctor mentions that they had to jettison the TARDIS bathroom when it started leaking. If it's the one we saw in The Invasion of Time - a big swimming pool - then this might explain why Mel wants to visit the Towers.
  • The pool we see in this story is just so underwhelming. It is just an average sized indoor pool that you would find in any big house in the stockbroker belt. Hardly worth traveling across the galaxy for. These scenes were the only location filming for the story. The owner had been away for some time, and the pool was not heated.
  • The rather annoying music is courtesy of Keff McCulloch. He was called in at the last minute (well, three days before the first episode needed to be scored) to replace original composer David Snell.
  • It had been hoped that Edward Hardwicke would play the Deputy Chief Caretaker. He was well-known at the time for playing Watson to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes. Apparently Roger Daltrey and Ian Richardson were also approached. The Chief was almost TP McKenna, who will appear at the end of the next season.
  • Talking about his performance later, Briers claims that he was never asked to tone it down in any way. Briers was the nephew of British comedy great Terry-Thomas, and though he never appeared in Doctor Who again, he did feature in Series 2 of Torchwood. His wife played Jenny in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The (Real) Great Fire of Rome

My history blog tonight takes a look at what Doctor Who had to say about the events surrounding the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD - and what really happened. comes, sees and conquers as it takes a look at that Hartnell classic The Romans.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Who has been in Star Wars?

Watch many TV series coming out of the US these days and you will see British actors in lead roles - often putting on a fake accent to be Americans. Idris Elba, Hugh Laurie, Andrew Lincoln, and many more. Go back a few decades, and Hollywood preferred British actors to take on the role of the principal villains. There's many a war movie with a noted British thesp playing the German officer.
This was the case back in the mid-1970's, when the first Star Wars film was being produced. It obviously helped that the first trilogy was made in England, as far as studio work is concerned.
Watch those first three movies and you will see a great many actors who are familiar to us from Doctor Who - almost always representatives of the Evil Empire (the Star Wars version of the Nazis).

Let's start with the most iconic figure in the entire series - Darth Vader. The voice might be James Earl Jones, but the body is Dave Prowse. He had appeared only once in Who, again unrecognisable in a mask, as the Minotaur in The Time Monster.
His boss is Grand Moff Tarkin - who has lent his title to a nickname for the current showrunner. He is Peter Cushing - the cinema Dr Who.
That Tusken Raider who attacks Luke Skywalker? That's Peter Diamond. He also arranged all the light-sabre work for the original trilogy. Diamond was a fight arranger on Doctor Who, and had two speaking roles in the Hartnell era - Delos in The Romans, and the rather cowardly Morok guard in The Space Museum. Diamond is also the Morris Dancer who bursts into the pub to attack Sgt. Benton but gets clobbered by Miss Hawthorne's reticule.
Onto Imperial officers, and the first we see is the one who informs Vader that the plans are not aboard the captured rebel ship. That's George Roubicek, who was Captain Hopper in Tomb of the Cybermen. Then we have Don Henderson, from Delta and the Bannermen, in the conference scene aboard the Death Star.
There are four Imperial officers who have played more than one role in Doctor Who, and the first to mention is Leslie Schofield (The War Games and Face of Evil).
One of the regular extras on Who was Harry Fielder - known simply as "H" - who features prominently in the second of Schofield's appearances. He is a Stormtrooper in the first Star Wars film.

Onto the good guys, and a couple of people worth a mention. First up, we should say something about Garrick Hagon (The Mutants and A Town Called Mercy). As Biggs, he had a much bigger role, set on Tatooine, but it was all cut - so he only features in the latter part of the film.
Amongst the flight crew helping the rebels prepare for the attack on the Death Star is Shane Rimmer (The Gunfighters), and one of the rebel officers is Malcolm Tierney (Terror of the Vervoids).
Lastly for the first movie, one of the stunt artists was Rick Lester, one of the principal Ogrons actors in Frontier in Space.

And so onto The Empire Strikes Back. A lot more Imperial officers on view, and guess what? Yes, a few faces familiar to Doctor Who.
First up we have Michael Sheard. He's the Admiral who displeases Vader and gets throttled quite early on. His Who credits have a whole post on this blog to themselves, should you care to have a little hunt.
The officer who takes charge of the Imperial Walkers down on Hoth is none other than Julian Glover, the third of the actors to have more than one role in Who. He was King Richard in The Crusade, then later Scaroth / Scarlioni in City of Death. (plus special mention should be made that his wife was in The King's Demons, and his son played William Russell in 2013's origins drama).
The last of the multi-Who actors to appear as an Imperial officer is Milton Johns. He was in The Enemy of the World, The Android Invasion, and The Invasion of Time.
One other low ranking officer is played by Mark Jones - Keeler from The Seeds of Doom.
There's a new bad guy on the block - Boba Fett. He is played by Jeremy Bulloch, from The Space Museum and The Time Warrior. I wouldn't like to say for certain, and he isn't credited anywhere as such, but one of the Imperial officers seen in the Cloudmine sequences looks suspiciously like Bulloch as well...
Pay attention to the line-up of other bounty hunters, and (allegedly) you'll see a reused spacesuit costume from 1960's Who.
There's also a new good guy introduced - Lando. His chief aide is John Hollis, who was Professor Sondergaard in The Mutants.

Sadly, as the films progress, we see fewer and fewer Who actors. save returnees like Prowse and Bulloch. The Return of the Jedi introduces those blasted Ewoks, chief of whom was young Warwick Davis, from Nightmare in Silver.
Deep Roy (Talons of Weng-Chiang and Mindwarp) plays one of the alien characters.
As well as choreographing light-sabre duels, Peter Diamond is still around on screen. He's one of those Imperial bikers in the forest of Endor.
Last but not least, there is an actor who was almost the Seventh Doctor - Dermot Crowley. He is the rebel General Madine (the one with the Donald Trump comb-over).

Sadly, the second set of three movies were mostly filmed in Australian studios, and UK actors were not used quite so much. Warwick Davis will appear in some capacity (sometimes more than one character). In The Phantom Menace he's both Greedo Jnr and, without a mask, as one of Jabba The Hut's entourage.
Brian Blessed (Mindwarp) - another nearly Doctor - voices the Gungan ruler.
One of the Naboo fighter pilots is Celia Imrie (The Bells of Saint John). Lindsey Duncan (The Water of Mars) provides one of the protocol droid voices.
And talking of voices, a very special mention for Silas Carson, the voice of the Ood. He is Nute Gunrey and Jedi council member Ki-Ade-Mundi (plus others). He will make it to the end of this second trilogy - as both characters.
Also from The Waters of Mars, we have Alan Ruscoe. An alien in this and the next film, he was also a Slitheen and the Anne-Droid amongst other things in Doctor Who.
From the most recent series of Who, there is also Peter Serafinovicz. He voiced Darth Maul, and we recently heard him voicing the Fisher King in Before The Flood.
Jeremy Bulloch gets a cameo appearance in the last of that original set of 6 movies - in Revenge of the Sith he's Captain Colton.

Which brings us to the most recent entry in the series - The Force Awakens. There's now 21st Century Doctor Who, so crossovers with 21st Century Star Wars are inevitable. Warwick Davis is back for a start, and genre fan Simon Pegg (The Long Game) is in it. So is young Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Human Nature / The Family of Blood).
Who is still going on (just), and there are a few more Star Wars movies in the pipe-line (including those spin-offs), so I expect I'll be revisiting and updating this in a couple of years' time.