Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Story 144 - Time And The Rani

In which the TARDIS is bombarded by laser fire and forced to make a landing on the rocky planet of Lakertya. The culprit is the Rani. She and her Terap allies enter the ship and find the Doctor and Mel unconscious. The Doctor regenerates. He is removed and taken to the Rani's nearby base. She has need of his technical skills. When the shorter, dark haired Doctor revives, he is suffering from post-regeneration amnesia - which the Rani decides to exploit. She dresses up as Mel and pretends to be his companion. She claims that this is his laboratory, and he was knocked out when an experiment went wrong. The Doctor claims he needs some equipment from the TARDIS, so the Rani sends the Tetrap leader - Urak - ahead to remove the real Mel. Tetraps are large bat-like creatures, who have eyes on the sides and backs of their heads. Mel has already recovered, and has been captured by one the planet's natives - Ikona. The reptilian Lakertyans are an indolent species, and have been easily conquered by the Rani. Only Ikona is determined not to become a slave, like their leader Beyus. The planet's surface is covered in lethal traps set by the Rani, and Beyus' daughter is killed by one. Mel saves Ikona from stepping into another, and so he grudgingly decides to let her help him.

When Mel steps into a trap, the Rani convinces the Doctor that it is she who has been caught. Mel is rescued by Ikona. The Doctor changes out of the Sixth Doctor's costume, and returns to the Rani's lair. He is starting to wonder what the work he is doing here is about. Mel breaks in and meets the new Doctor. She does not recognise him, and he thinks she is the Rani. A quick check of each others' pulse reveals the truth. The Doctor feigns amnesia for a while longer - hoping to learn the Rani's scheme. He sees that she is monitoring an asteroid nearby, which is composed of Strange Matter. This substance is incredibly dense. He has noted that power lines feed into a sealed vault at the back of the laboratory, but fails to break in. The Rani realises he is feigning, and starts to reveal her plan. She has captured a number of brilliant scientists from across the universe and is harnessing their minds. The Doctor is to join them. He and Mel escape, and go with Ikona to the Lakertyan hall of pleasure. Here, the Rani subjugates the natives using killer insects, which she can release from a metal sphere in the ceiling. The Doctor is later captured by Tetraps, and taken back to the Rani's base.

Here he is forced to join the rest of the captured scientists. His brain power gives her the boost the Rani needs, though he also confuses the others. The Rani is forced to remove him. The Doctor discovers that behind the huge metal hatch is a massive brain - a Time Brain. The Doctor inadvertently gives it the final piece of the equation it is seeking to create a light-weight version of Strange Matter - loyahrgil. The Rani plans to tip a rocket with this substance and fire this at the asteroid. Lakertya will be destroyed and the Time Brain will expand to fill a shell of chronons - creating an organic computer that will enable the Rani to manipulate evolution throughout the entire universe. The Laketyans are finally convinced to fight back and the Doctor ensures that the rocket is delayed by a few moments so that it misses the asteroid. Beyus then sacrifices himself to blow up the Time Brain along with the rest of the Rani's base. She tries to flee, but ends up a captive of the Tetraps, who had learned that she was going to abandon them on the doomed planet. They leave with her in her TARDIS. The Doctor has an antidote to the killer insects, but Ikona pours it away. His people must solve their own problems...

This four part adventure was written by Pip & Jane Baker, and was broadcast between 7th and 28th September, 1987. It introduces Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, and opens Season 24. It also marks the return of Kate O'Mara as the Rani, and gives us a new title sequence and theme tune arrangement courtesy of Keff McCulloch. We also get the first ever use of computer generated effects - in the titles as well as part of the VFX. Andrew Cartmel takes over as Script Editor.
This is the last contribution to the show by the Bakers, who originally wrote it for their namesake, Colin.
On learning that he had been given the push, Colin Baker had been asked to come back to do one final story in which he regenerated. He told the BBC that to do so would mean having to give up other jobs, so proposed instead one final season with the regeneration at the conclusion. The BBC said no. Baker also rejected the chance to do a regeneration scene - so what we get is McCoy lying on the TARDIS floor in Baker's costume, wearing a Harpo Marx wig, and some VFX are laid over his face as Urak turns him over. The effect does not work as it is clearly McCoy in an ill-fitting wig just before the FX kick in.

Prior to this, Mc Coy was best known to the UK public for his childrens' TV work, though he was also an accomplished stage actor. He had also spent a considerable part of his career putting ferrets and explosives down his trousers.
The Bakers were unhappy on the production. They had planned that Lakertya should be a beautiful forest planet - only to see it realised as yet another quarry. They also clashed with Cartmel, who did not like their style and was keen to take the show into fresher areas. The Bakers also missed their namesake, who had become a close friend.
The Bakers were always keen to use real science in their scripts, but the Rani's plan is incredibly convoluted, and Kate O'Mara struggled with their dialogue.
The cast sees a reunion from a Troughton story. Donald Pickering (Beyus) and Wanda Ventham (playing his wife Faroon) had both appeared in The Faceless Ones. Both had appeared in other stories - he in Keys of Marinus and she in Image of the Fendahl. Of course, she now plays Sherlock's mum - both on and off the screen. Urak is Richard Gaunt, and Ikona is Mark Greenstreet. Best known at the time for taking his shirt off in a TV ad, he went on to star in a drama series based around the world of horse racing.
Episode endings are:
  1. Mel gets caught in one of the Rani's lethal bubble traps...
  2. The Doctor tries to find a hiding place - only to find himself in the middle of the awakening Tetraps...
  3. The Doctor is helpless as the Rani adds his mind to her collection of genii...
  4. The new Doctor assures Mel that he will grow on her, as the two head back to the TARDIS...

Overall, a pretty dreadful start to the new Doctor's tenure. McCoy is really struggling to find the part and his acting is quite atrocious in the first episode, with some clumsy clowning thrown in. The Rani's plan is plain stupid and almost incomprehensible. The Tetraps look good, however, and there is some great model work. The new titles / music have remained divisive to this day.
Things you might like to know:
  • Yes, loyhargil is an anagram of holy grail.
  • The story went by the name of Strange Matter for a long time. This would have been much more apt, what with the plot being incredibly dense.
  • The Tetrap leader Urak gets his name from the Dickens character Uriah Heep - as he is so obsequious.
  • McCoy's costume is mercifully more sedate than his predecessor's. The one big gripe everyone has is with the question mark pullover. At least the more recent Doctor's only had one pair of question marks on their shirt collars. McCoy has stated that had he got a fourth season, the jumper would have gone.
  • For this story only, he wears a tartan scarf. This is replaced in his next story by the Paisley patterned one.
  • Only Castrovalva and The Five Doctors have had a pre-credits sequence up until this point - something we now take for granted. One was a recap, and the other was a little bit of nostalgia, but here it is the start of the new story (from the TARDIS being bombarded up to the Doctor's regeneration).
  • The main reason for the pre-credit sequence is because the new titles had McCoy's face in them, so it was daft to show it before the regeneration.
  • When broadcast, the fourth episode had McCoy's face less obvious in the titles. This was felt to make him look a bit sinister, so was never used again.
  • Unseen story time - just how does the Rani know how to imitate Mel when they have never met? Obviously an unseen adventure? Trouble is, Mel doesn't appear to know about the Rani.
  • That horse-racing drama that Mark Greenstreet was in was called Trainers. It was written by someone else with a Rani connection - Gawn Grainger, who had played George Stephenson in The Mark of the Rani.
  • McCoy's ferret / exploding trouser escapades had occurred when he was part of The Ken Campbell Roadshow. Campbell himself was up for the part of the Seventh Doctor. As was Andrew Sachs of Fawlty Towers fame. Irish actor Dermot Crowley was also considered. At the auditions, Janet Fielding was brought in to play a Mrs Thatcher-style villain.
  • Another audition piece would become part of Mel's leaving scene at the end of this season.
  • Talking of Mrs T., at his audition, Andrew Cartmel had said that he hoped Doctor Who could bring down the government. There will be a Mrs T. pastiche along in just the next story, though the media won't notice it for another 30 years or so... 

Monday, 25 January 2016

January's Figurines

Well, if there is one time that I might not have minded a parcel going missing in the post, this would be it. My least favourite Doctor, paired with my least favourite Dalek.
Old Sixie first. There is a hint of Colin Baker in the features, though it would be unlikely to stand up in an identity parade. Believe it or not, but the costume is actually toned down somewhat. The yellow of the trousers is not quite as bright as the costume as seen on TV.
This means there is now just one more Doctor to be released - the Second.
I deliberately went for a side view of the hunch-backed Supreme Dalek, as it perfectly demonstrates how much of a design monstrosity these were compared to the original Ray Cusick ones.
The Sixth Doctor is as he is supposed to have appeared in Vengeance on Varos, whilst the Supreme does not represent Victory of the Daleks. The magazine does not cover this story, so that opens the door for a future other New Paradigm Dalek release - i.e. this one just painted another colour.
Next month we get the first character from the most recent series - the Fisher King.
PS - last time I mentioned that the Sensorite was the first figure to be released from the Hartnell era that wasn't a Dalek (not counting the Doctor himself). I had clearly forgotten about the Tenth Planet Cyberman. What I should have said is that the Sensorite is the first figurine from the B&W era that isn't a Cyberman or a Dalek. That saves me going back and correcting the earlier post - not that anyone commented on it.

Sunday, 24 January 2016


I'm afraid that Friday's news has rather depressed me - hence no update last night as promised. Am still trying to work out what the announcement means for the longer term future of the programme.
Quite what a big relaunch in 2018 will look like - and who will be in it - remains to be seen.
My look at Time and the Rani will be out tomorrow instead.
(Maybe, subconsciously, I really don't want to think about that particular story in any great detail...).

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Moffat Out. Chibnall In.

No doubt you will have already read that Steven Moffat has finally resigned as showrunner on Doctor Who - and his replacement is going to be Chris Chibnall.
There is not going to be any new series in 2016 - just a Christmas Special.
Moffat will be in charge of Series 10 - but that doesn't start until Spring 2017.
Am I happy with this?
Of course not. A whole year without any new series- and a bit of a prat at the end of it.

Chibnall has a little bit of cache with Broadchurch. The first series, whilst totally derivative, did get big viewing figures. The second series was laughable in its ineptitude. This is also the guy who was responsible for the first series of Torchwood - which everyone agrees was a bit of a mess. Chris Chibnall also wrote that TW episode Cyberwoman... I rest my case...
Do I trust this man to take over the show?
Ney. ney and thrice ney!
The BBC are obviously giving us a lot of guff about this. They are saying the programme will relaunch in the Spring of 2017, and that's a good thing - because the series came back in the Spring of 2005.
That's the from the same d***heads who said that the programme needed to go out in the Autumn -when it was darker. I do believe that one of these d***heads was Steven Moffat himself.
Logic dictates that Steven Moffat is a d***head...

What does this mean for the future of the series? Basically Moffat is more interested with Sherlock, Gatiss isn't trustworthy to take over Who. Neither is Toby Withouse.
The future is bleak...

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Next Update Sat 23.01.16

Apologies once more for lack of recent updates, but have been taking a little break from the blog. Normal service resumes this weekend, when we begin the Sylvester McCoy era in the story reviews. There will be three posts w/c 25th, so back in the swing of things.
No news from the programme itself at the moment - like when they will start filming, who the writers will be etc. The later they start, the more likely a split series 10 will be. Class is expected to be broadcast in the Autumn - after BBC3 has moved to being an on-line service only. Again, no word about this actually starting production yet.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Story 143(d) - The Trial of a Time Lord (Parts 13 - 14)

The Ultimate Foe
In which the Doctor is furious that he has just been accused of committing genocide. As he argues against the court, his old enemy the Master intrudes on the proceedings from within the Matrix. A couple of travel capsules are on their way to the space station - containing Mel, from the Doctor's future, and Sabalom Glitz. The Master has brought them here to give evidence on behalf of the Doctor. Why would the Master help the Doctor? Because the Valeyard poses a much greater threat to him than his old school acquaintance. The prosecutor is really a future version of the Doctor - the amalgam of all his evil, negative aspects, originating from between his twelfth and thirteenth incarnations. He has entered into a deal with the High Council to have the Doctor executed, so that he can gain his future lives. The Master reveals that the Matrix security is deeply flawed, and its secrets have been plundered over the centuries. It was these which the Sleepers of Andromeda were after. Held on tapes by Drathro, once the planet Earth had been moved and renamed Ravolox, the Master had employed Glitz to procure them for himself. It was the High Council who destroyed Earth and moved it - to cover up the theft of the secrets. This is why that piece of evidence was censored.

On hearing all of this, the Doctor is furious and rails against his own people. Whilst he has been battling evil across the cosmos for centuries, a far greater evil was brewing on his home planet. The Keeper of the Matrix had claimed that no-one could penetrate it, but the Master has managed to. He reveals that there is an entry point here on this station. The Valeyard flees into it -  and the Doctor follows. Glitz goes after him. The Doctor finds himself in a strange nocturnal Victorian urban landscape. He comes upon a man named Popplewick - a Dickensian office clerk - who refers to a J J Chambers who is in charge here. The Doctor and Glitz pass through an office door and find themselves on a deserted beach, in broad daylight. Disembodied hands grab the Doctor and drag him down under the sand.

This is all illusion, however. The Doctor enters a nearby hut - which proves to be the Master's TARDIS. The Master hypnotises him so that he believes that he has been found guilty and so must be executed. Mel decides to enter the Matrix to rescue him. The Doctor had only been pretending to be hypnotised - so that he could flush out Chambers. The Doctor finds a note in Chambers' handwriting - a list of senior Time Lords. Chambers is found to look exactly like Popplewick - really the disguised Valeyard. The Doctor recognised the handwriting as his own - for the Valeyard is a version of himself. All the names on the list are Time Lords present in the courtroom. The Valeyard is going to assassinate them all using a weapon hidden within the Matrix - which is linked to the court. The Master finally gets his hands on the secrets, which he aims to sell, but the Valeyard has booby-trapped them. He and Glitz find themselves frozen in time. The Doctor and the Valeyard finally confront each other. The weapon is activated. The Doctor and Mel manage to escape back to the space station to warn the court, whilst the Valeyard gets caught up by his own weapon. The Inquisitor announces that the High Council has been overthrown. She also reveals that one of the Matrix tamperings by the Valeyard concerned the death of Peri. She is really alive and well and living with King Yrcanos. Bless. The Doctor pleads leniency for Glitz, once he and the Master are freed from their time trap. He then leaves the station with Mel. She already knows him, yet he has only just met her. The Inquisitor asks the Keeper to start clearing up the mess with the Matrix. After she has gone, he reveals himself to be the Valeyard...

This two part finale to the Trial of a Time Lord, and indeed the 23rd season of the programme, was written by Robert Holmes (part 13) and Pip & Jane Baker (part 14). It marks the final on screen adventure for Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, as well as introducing the character of the Valeyard - a (possible) future incarnation of the Doctor.
If you've been following the behind the scenes story closely so far, you'll know that Robert Holmes has sadly passed away during the recording of one of the earlier segments. He has written the final two episodes, and the Valeyard idea is his. His final episode ends with a bit of a downer, however. The Doctor and the Valeyard are sucked into a time fissure, and it ends on a Reichenback Falls cliffhanger. Producer John Nathan-Turner is really up for this at first, but then starts to get cold feet. He knows the programme's future is in the balance, and is worried that this might give the BBC top brass an excuse to end the show. Leave the fans hanging -  a bit like they did with the final episode of Blake's 7. Script editor Eric Saward, who regarded Holmes as a mentor and a bit of a father figure, won't countenance his final work being messed about with. He loves this ending. Stalemate in the production office. Saward is fed up with JNT anyway, so decides to finally walk away. Taking Holmes' script with him.
What's a producer who has a show with no ending supposed to do? He calls upon Pip & Jane, who he trusts to fire off something usable at short notice, to get him out of a hole. They get summoned to the BBC and get to see what Holmes had written, with lawyers present. They then have to come up with a final episode that picks up from the conclusion of Part 13 and deliver a satisfying conclusion that doesn't use any of Holmes' Part 14.

The result? A bit of a mess, but good on the Bakers - when you consider the circumstances. They get the nightmare world of the Matrix and help develop the Dickens-ish Popplewick and the Valeyard. Fans find it confusing and a tiny bit incoherent - and laugh at the idea of a mega-byte modem being a weapon of mass destruction. They say so on a TV review programme - chief slagger-off being a young Mr Christopher Chibnall, of a local DWAS group. Whatever happened to him...?
Tragically, Robert Holmes' final piece for Doctor Who is one of his weakest - a pale attempt to recapture the third episode of The Deadly Assassin (one of his finest moments). An "alternative" dodgy Doctor is a great idea. Steven Moffat will pinch it when it comes to springing the unseen War Doctor on us. And the Dream Doctor.
The episodes look very good, with some nice atmospheric night-time location filming, and we get some great performances. We finally get to see why they cast the brilliant Michael Jayston at the start of the season. Tony Selby had been likable as Glitz back in the first segment. The big addition is Geoffrey Hughes as Popplewick / Chambers. Even Anthony Ainley rises to the occasion - his Master being a witness to some grander scheme than one of his own, more feeble, recent efforts.
Episode endings are:
  1. As Glitz watches, the Doctor is seized by humanoid arms which rise out of the ground and drag him down under the surface...
  2. The Doctor has departed the space station. The Inquisitor has a brief word with the Keeper of the Matrix before flouncing out of the courtroom. He turns (to camera) to reveal that he now has the features of the Valeyard...

Overall, a very weak ending considering that it isn't just a story in its own right but the conclusion to a whole season. Lots still to commend it though. It's the catharsis of spurious morality, if you want my opinion. And you just can't prevent that. Lord knows I've tried...
Things you might like to know:
  • You'll have noticed that I have gone with the segment title of The Ultimate Foe. This is the most common one, but some fans prefer "Time Inc.". I would say that the Valeyard - as the Doctor's own evil persona - is the ultimate foe for him. Don't quite see what "Time Inc." actually means in the context of the episodes as broadcast.
  • Naturally, fandom has had a field day working out how to reconcile Mel going off with the Doctor when he hasn't met her yet, as far as his time-line is concerned. Check the books and the audios for this, if you have more time and money than is really good for you. Obviously, he has to lose her somewhere, then pick her up again before she knew him (in that adventure involving the Master trying to bring down the global economy, which was in her character brief).
  • Is George Osborne an unseen incarnation of the Master? Looks a bit Harold Saxon if you ask me...
  • The Sixth Doctor's last words are "Carrot juice". Repeated a few times. In 2015 Big Finish brought back the Valeyard, played again by Mr Jayston, to give the Sixth a much better send-off than what he got on screen. Problem is, he still has to end up falling off that exercise bike on Lakertya, and be played by Sylvester McCoy in a wig, no matter what BF have done.
  • To finish off Colin Baker's stint as the less than popular Sixth Doctor, time to go back behind the scenes. JNT has handed in his annual resignation letter to the BBC. Trouble is, he isn't well liked at the corporation due to his associations with the popular press amongst other things, and they don't have any other job they trust him to do. Also, no-one wants to pick up the seemingly poisoned chalice that is Doctor Who and replace him. He gets the call to stay on, and the BBC will make a new series. It will be his last one - honest guv. Only thing is they don't want Baker. Infamously JNT calls Baker at home and tells him he has some good news and some bad news. Good news is that there will be a Season 24. Bad news is that Baker won't be the star...
  • Baker is told that he has done three years and that is quite enough, merci beaucoup - despite the fact that he was twiddling his thumbs for 18 months of that period. He gets offered the chance to return for a final story, to regenerate at its conclusion. He asks to get the full season and regenerate at the end of that. BBC says no. Baker won't give up job offers just to be free to do four episodes many months hence. He walks away. Result: McCoy in a wig.
  • JNT forebade any use of the Valeyard during the remainder of his tenure on the programme. The danger is that he will always turn out just like the Master - except with even bigger words - if not written properly. Of course we have now gone beyond the point when he should have been created. Matt Smith turned out to be the final incarnation of the Doctor, so he arises between Tennant and Smith. Or doesn't. The new Time Lord High Council can engineer things so that he never comes into being. Then again, he would have made a valuable weapon in the Time War...
  • Bonnie Langford had to film the location work for this before she did anything else, so was understandably confused by the whole thing.
  • Having moved on by this time, Nicola Bryant had no idea that her character had actually survived and had gone off to be a warrior queen. Check the DVD extra commentary where she gets to see the hideous, tacked-on ending. She hates it. Not only is it dramatically rubbish, but we see the loving couple in a cliched pink halo, in case you weren't already feeling nauseous.
  • There is a not terribly funny sketch by French & Saunders which was filmed on the courtroom set. They play aliens based on half-Silurian, half Foamasi costumes. George Layton (The Space Pirates) plays a Doctor who dresses like Tom Baker. It was never broadcast - no prizes for guessing why - but can be seen on the DVD for these episodes.
  • They'll get a lot of mentions over the next three seasons, but this is our final look at the Time Lords of Gallifrey until The Sound of Drums.
  • The bit above about JNT handing in his resignation / asked to stay on for a new series etc. will be cut and pasted so that I can use them for the next three seasons - just in case they look familiar.

Friday, 8 January 2016

January-ish Figurines

I say -ish, because I should have received these two figurines back on 31st December, but today is the first chance I've had to get to the Post Office to collect them. (Maybe I should have posted a picture of the delivery notification card, just to maintain the suspense...).
Both come from the Classic Series. Hooray!
First we have the Sensorite - the first Hartnell era figurine to be released that hasn't been a Dalek (barring the Doctor figure himself). A lovely figure, from an under-rated story. Dig those crazy plate feet. The arm bands make him a warrior if I remember correctly. (There's a handy guide to Sensorite markings in the accompanying magazine if I'm wrong).
The second figurine is the Cyberleader from Revenge of the Cybermen. Not everyone likes this particular design, but I have always had a soft spot for this story as well. Probably because I was 11 when I first saw it, and it was Tom Baker's first season. He's rather awkwardly posed, with one hand behind his back. I thought they might have gone with the arm across the chest pose, from that photo they always use (of the Cybermen in their spaceship). That, or the infamous hands on hips pose.

Next up, we're promised yet another Dalek - but watch out! It's the pathetic Daleks. One of the New Paradigm, who have thankfully been dumped from the programme since Capaldi arrived. In this case it's the white one. (He's either plastic bottles, or mixed paper and cardboard).

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Next update...

... will be on Friday evening. Bit busy with work at the moment, and finally getting round to seeing the new Star Wars movie tomorrow night. Expect the final part of The Trial of a Time Lord next up.