Sunday, 30 April 2017

Inspirations - The Dalek Invasion of Earth

For the very first time we have the return of an alien race which has already featured in the series before. It is not a sequel, however. There will be very few pure sequels throughout the history of the programme. If anything, the Doctor's assertion that these are Daleks from an earlier point in their history to the ones encountered on Skaro makes this a prequel rather than a sequel.
Also, for the first time, one of the Doctor's companions leaves the TARDIS.
As story inspirations go, this one is very straightforward. The Daleks had proven incredibly popular with the viewers, helping to establish the fledgling show, and so writer Terry Nation was tasked with coming up with a new story featuring them. It was in his best interests to do so, as he had a lucrative financial stake in the monsters.
In the first story, the Doctor and his companions had gone to them - visiting them on their home planet of Skaro. For the rematch, the Daleks would come to us.
This story sees the first of the alien invasion genre in the show, and Nation looks once again to H G Wells for inspiration. The Daleks (aka "The Mutants") had borrowed heavily from The Time Machine, with the Morlocks / Daleks and the Eloi / Thals. The Dalek Invasion of Earth looks to The War of the Worlds. Nation even has a character called Wells.
The Martian war machines are armoured constructs with alien creatures ensconced within - just like the Daleks. They have invaded the whole planet, but we focus on the impact they have made on London and the Home Counties.

The genocidal Daleks were born out of Nation's experiences growing up during the Second World War, and this provides further inspiration for this story. What if the Nazi's had invaded, and actually won the war? There is a film called It Happened Here, which was a documentary style drama, with a mostly amateur cast, which depicted a United Kingdom that had been taken over by the Germans. It was released in September 1964, two months before Nation's story was first broadcast. This is probably too late to have had much impact on the Dalek story. Alternative histories, in which crucial points of history were turned on their heads, were popular in pulp science fiction. They remain so, as we have recently had a BBC adaptation of Len Deighton's SS-GB, and The Man in the High Castle, from a story by Philip K Dick, is doing very well for Amazon at the moment.
So The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a look at what might have happened if the Nazi's had invaded. This makes the Rebels of London the UK equivalent of the French Resistance. Scientist Dortmun, Jenny, David Campbell and Tyler are members of the Maquis, whilst the two women who hand Jenny and Barbara over to the Daleks are collaborators.
It is interesting that Dortmun is confined to a wheelchair, and makes spherical bombs. You half expect them to have "Bomb" written on the side, and to have fuses that you light with a match. Nation will have a thing about scientists in wheelchairs, though Dortmun might owe something to Joseph Conrad.

The mine workings in Bedfordshire resemble a forced labour camp. Wells refers to the Black Dalek as the camp's Commandant. As their plan nears fruition, one of the Daleks excitedly describes it as the "final solution" - the term used by the Nazis to describe their genocidal policies.
The black marketeer Ashton draws on elements of the Spivs, who furnished the wartime population with goods that weren't available on the ration book. Usually young men of fighting age, they were despised by the people, but tolerated for the service they provided. The comedy series Dad's Army would feature the character Walker, who was a Spiv.
In Nation's original drafts, the Doctor and his companions would have encountered "Subterraneans" in the sewers - pale faced people who had lived down there for years. They got removed from the finished scripts, and Susan instead encounters an alligator. It was a popular urban myth that the sewers of New York were full of these, flushed down the toilet when they grew too big to be exotic pets, and who flourished in that environment.
The idea of the Robomen is another old pulp Sci-Fi notion - with alien invaders making people their slaves by surgically suppressing their will.
In trying to foment a revolt, Barbara tells the Black Dalek about an imminent attack on the mine workings. She mentions the Indian mutiny. Nation had been working on a story set during this period, "The Red Fort", which he had to set aside in order to write the new Dalek story. One idea for a new companion to replace Susan was a young Anglo-Indian girl named Saida, who would stow away on board the TARDIS after the Doctor left Susan with David. Saida then became Jenny, but she would be left behind and the new companion wouldn't be introduced until the following story.
Carole Ann Ford had felt increasingly frustrated with her scripts, as they failed to give her any character development, save for The Sensorites. She is reduced to a gibbering wreck in The Reign of Terror, seemingly preferring to face the guillotine rather than find the energy to escape. The romantic sub-plot with David Campbell was therefore introduced to give Susan a reason to leave at the conclusion of this story. The seeds are laid throughout - handled far better than the later departure of Leela, for instance. Nation's draft script actually has David propose to Susan, which the Doctor witnesses just before he enters the TARDIS - finally making his mind up to leave her on Earth. He knows her loyalty to him will mean her breaking her heart in leaving the young man, so makes the decision for her.
Hartnell's famous farewell speech was to have been longer, but the studio was already 15 minutes over time when it was recorded.
Next time - the new companion.

Thin Ice - The Review

Last week's episode ended with the TARDIS failing to return to the Doctor's university rooms. Instead, the ship had materialised on the frozen Thames in 1814, during the last of the great Frost Fairs.
We're still in that phase of a new companion asking lots of questions, and the programme is still setting out its stall for all the new viewers who are supposed to have joined in the last three weeks. It's Bill's first foray into Earth history, and they are in a period when slavery is still a fact of life. Naturally, she expresses her concern - just as Martha had done when she was taken to London in 1599. Then, the subject was quickly brushed aside. The city was already a cosmopolitan place, and so she needn't worry. Looking at the visitors to the Frost Fair, Bill needn't have worried either, as there was much ethnic diversity on view. Racism was a running theme through the episode. The monster became a metaphor for slavery. Owned by a rich white member of the aristocracy, exploited and kept in chains. The villain - Lord Sutcliffe - was a racist, but this was simply one aspect of a general sociopathy. I don't think you would have found many members of the House of Lords in 1814 who didn't share similar views on race.

Sutcliffe was prepared to feed Londoners to his sea monster purely as a means of making money. The episode worked best when it was looking at the Doctor's ethics. As with Kill The Moon, the Doctor insisted that a human being take the decision as to what to do with the river beast. He claimed to act only on behalf of the human race, as their servant. Apart from the above named episode, this is far from consistent with what has gone before.
The actual scheme of Lord Sutcliffe didn't bear too close a scrutiny. He had his monster, which we are supposed to believe lay on the river bed of the Thames for centuries without anyone noticing it - even when the TARDIS scanner showed that it stretched from Westminster all the way past Greenwich. What did Sutcliffe's family actually do with the creature, before the coming of the Industrial Revolution? It's of use to him now, since its poo can be used as a highly efficient form of fuel, but prior to the family opening its steel works, of what possible use was it?
Sutcliffe's sudden decision to blow open the ice also failed to make much sense. The creature has lain hidden since before records began, so why do something that might draw attention to it. He acts when the Doctor and Bill turn up, thinking others may have found out about it. He doesn't wait to see if this is the case, and he keeps them alive instead of just bumping them off in the privacy of his own stately home.
And whilst I am in "things that don't make sense" mode, why does the Doctor not take the TARDIS to the river bed to check what's down there. Why use old diving suits when he has spacesuits in the ship? And where was the air coming from for those suits?
And if the angler fish hunt out food by sound, surely Stevie Wonder playing for River Song would have meant big trouble for the Eleventh Doctor...

Yes, the actual plot this week was nonsensical, so best to just ignore, and concentrate on the plus points. It looked amazing. The sets were remarkable. The child actors were more than bearable. Some viewers will have been shocked that a child was killed early on in the piece. The Doctor usually saves children, but not poor Spider. Bill's reaction to his death reminded me strongly of Donna in Fires of Pompeii. Pearl Mackie showed that she can do more than just act goofy and ask annoying questions, which is mostly what she has been called upon to do up til now. I'm enjoying the Doctor / Bill relationship more than I did the Doctor / Clara one of the previous season.
The season story arc moved on a little. We now know that there is definitely someone in there, because they have started banging on the doors. The Doctor suddenly seems to be on the verge of reneging on his oath. Presumably this will impact on the latter episodes, as the Doctor's negligence leads to the events of the series finale.
Overall, another good episode, though again not a great episode. Were I to be giving these stories marks out of 10, we would be looking at 7's. We've got David Suchet next week, and a creepy old house, so I am expecting great things.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

B is for... Borad

The Doctor first visited the planet Karfel in his third incarnation with Jo Grant and another travelling companion - possibly UNIT's Captain Mike Yates. He befriended a scientist named Megelen, but was forced to denounce him to the authorities because of his unethical experiments with the indigenous Morlox creatures. These were large and savage reptilian quadrupeds which lived in tunnels beneath the Karfelon citadel.
Megelen continued his work undaunted, and one experiment using the gas Mustakozene-80 caused a cellular hybridisation. The gas mimicked Morlox pheromones, causing one of the creatures to attack him just as the substance merged their DNA. Megelen was left mutated - part-humanoid and part-Morlox, but with increased strength and longevity.
He was somehow able to overthrow the leadership of the planet and install himself as the new ruler, taking the title of Borad. Because of his mutated appearance, he kept himself hidden away in a fortified vault and created a public face for himself - using an android of an old man to act as his official appearance on video screens.

Megelen then set about experimenting with temporal physics. He created a device called the Timelash, using Kontron crystals, which acted as a time tunnel. His enemies would be thrown into it, and no-one knew where it lead. Other time technology enabled him to create a weapon that could age people rapidly to death.
The Sixth Doctor was drawn back to Karfel when the TARDIS clashed with the Timelash tunnel. A councillor named Vena had stolen one of the keys which the Borad needed to transfer power to his vault, and had fallen with it into the Timelash. Tracing the tunnel to the planet, the Doctor found that the Borad was detested as a tyrant, prepared to see his people die rather than have his experiments upset. He also seemed hell bent on provoking a war with the neighbouring Bandril race.
The Doctor was coerced into going after Vena - learning in the process that the Timelash actually lead to medieval Scotland - though the TARDIS had deflected her to the late Victorian period.

On his return to Karfel, the Doctor went to the vault and discovered that the Borad was really Megelen. The scientist planned to wipe out his own people, but would leave himself a mate. The Doctor's companion Peri would be used in an experiment to replicate what had happened to him. The Bandrils would be provoked into destroying Karfel using weapons that would not affect the Morlox (or partial Morlox). The Doctor used a Kontron crystal to turn Megelen's aging weapon against him.
However, this turned out to be a clone, and Megelen attempted to abduct Peri. Having noted the lack of reflective surfaces in the citadel, the Doctor smashed a portrait of his earlier self to reveal a mirror hidden behind. Horrified by his own reflection, Megelen was overcome and was pushed into the Timelash. The Doctor speculated that he may have ended up in Loch Ness, and given rise to the legends of the Monster.

Played by: Robert Ashby. Android avatar by Denis Carey. Appearances: Timelash (1985).

  • Ashby was born Rashid Suhrawardy, son of a Prime Minister of Pakistan, and a Russian actor mother.
  • He was married to Leela actor Louise Jameson.
  • Of course we all know that the Loch Ness Monster is really the Skarasen, so the Doctor's speculation is out, somewhat. Presumably the Zygons' pet ate him not long after his arrival.
  • It is Tekker who implies that the Doctor had more than one companion when he last visited Karfel. If this is the case, then fandom has generally assumed that this was an unseen date between Jo and Mike Yates, as we know they were due to meet at a restaurant when Jo got sidetracked to Peladon.

B is for... Boneless

The name given by the Doctor to an obscure alien species which originated in a 2-dimensional universe. They attempted to cross over into our 3-D universe on a housing estate in Bristol. They began by killing some of the local inhabitants, reducing their bodies to two dimensions in order to study their anatomy. This process would leave flattened images of skin samples and maps of the central nervous system at the scene. Other victims were left looking like painted images on walls.
Their presence drew the TARDIS off course, and caused dimensional anomalies - reducing the exterior shell of the ship to a few inches in height, with the Doctor trapped on board.
Clara was left to join forces with a young graffiti artist named Rigsy, and his community service colleagues, to investigate further.

The Doctor attempted to communicate with the creatures using mathematics. Instead, they carried on killing - attempting to turn themselves into 3-dimensional simulacra of their victims. They had the power to convert 3-D objects into 2-D, and vice versa.
Clara used this against them - tricking them into returning the TARDIS to normal by hiding the miniaturised ship behind a painting of a door. The creatures attempted to make this 3-D in order to open it, but their energies passed through it to the TARDIS.
As the Boneless had failed to communicate or negotiate, and had carried on killing, the Doctor had no qualms in sending them back to their own dimension, even if they perished in the process.

Appearances: Flatline (2014).

B is for... Bonaparte, Napoleon

The Doctor didn't get to meet Napoleon Bonaparte when he and his companions arrived in France during the Reign of Terror. The English spy James Stirling knew of a meeting that was to take place at an inn on the Calais Road, to be attended by Paul Barras, who was plotting the overthrow of Maximilien Robespierre. He wanted to know the identity of the man Barras was going to recruit to help him, and so Ian and Barbara went to the inn disguised as its temporary staff. They recognised Barras' guest as Napoleon. When Ian and Barbara reported back, no-one could believe that the young Corsican general could possibly come to anything.
The Doctor did come to meet the French Emperor at some point later, or so he claimed. Raiding Sir Reginald Styles' well-stocked larder, he took the credit for initiating Napoleon's famous phrase about an army marching on its stomach.

Played by: Tony Wall. Appearances: The Reign of Terror (1964).

B is for... Bok

A statue of a demon or imp, that was to be found in the cavern beneath the church in the English village of Devil's End. The diminutive figure had stubby wings, horns and was carved seated and cross-legged. The Master infiltrated the village in the guise of its new vicar, Mr Magister. He took over the local black magic coven which met in the cavern. He was planning to resurrect the dormant alien Daemon Azal, and began tapping his psionic powers. With these he brought Bok to life, employing it to destroy anyone who stood in his way. Bok was able to shoot powerful energy bolts from its claws.
When the Doctor and Jo went to investigate the recently opened barrow in which Azal had slept, the Master sent Bok to kill them. The Doctor confused the creature when he held up an iron trowel, and began quoting what appeared to be an incantation. This was really a Venusian lullaby, but Bok's simple mind overpowered the Master's control and it withdrew. Later, the Master used Bok to destroy the village squire when it appeared that the villagers were turning against him.

Bok was then employed to guard the church against UNIT when the Master summoned Azal for the final time. It would kill anyone who approached - even an ally such as Bert, the pub landlord. When blown up by a bazooka, Bok instantly reassembled, and five rounds rapid were merely shrugged off.
Bok was weakened when Azal came under attack, and reverted to stone once the Daemon had destroyed itself.

Played by: Stanley Mason. Appearances: The Daemons (1972).

  • Please note the distinct lack of the word "gargoyle" in the description above. Bok is not a gargoyle. These are architectural features, originating in medieval times. Usually, they are ornamental water spouts designed to drain away rain. Bok's features were based on a famous gargoyle, to be found on the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. This isn't a genuine medieval feature of the edifice, however, but an addition created centuries later.
  • Bok in Dutch / Afrikaans means "goat" or to be "goat-like" in temperament. In Croatia you can use it like we would "Cheers", as in an informal greeting or farewell. I'll spare you what it means in Turkish...
  • Jon Pertwee kept the Bok prop as a garden feature at his home in Barnes.

B is for... Boaz

One of a trio of guerrilla fighters who travelled back in time from the 22nd Century to assassinate diplomat Sir Reginald Styles. A previous attempt by a lone killer had failed. Boaz arrived near Styles' home, with companions Anat and Shura, to complete the task. Styles was not in residence. Instead, the Doctor and Jo were in the house, expecting another attempt to be made. The guerrillas claimed that Styles was about to blow up a forthcoming peace conference. This would plunge the world into a series of wars which would leave the planet helpless when a Dalek invasion force arrived. These Daleks had time-travelled in order to re-invade the planet and alter history, after the original attempt had been foiled by the First Doctor. Boaz was very much a "shoot first, ask questions later" sort of man, and had to be kept in check by team leader Anat.
When a party of Ogrons attacked the house, Boaz and Anat returned to the 22nd Century, taking the Doctor with them. He wanted to retrieve Jo, who had accidentally been catapulted forward in time after handling one of the guerrillas' time machines.
Guerrilla leader Monia discovered that the Doctor had been captured by the Daleks, and that he was someone who had defeated them in the past. He organised a rescue mission. Boaz was killed in the raid, sacrificing himself to blow up a Dalek.
As this particular timeline was erased when the Doctor and Jo returned to the 20th Century, Boaz would have led a much different life, had he existed at all.

Played by: Scott Fredericks. Appearances: Day of the Daleks (1972).

  • Fredericks would return to the programme in 1977, playing Max Stael in Image of the Fendahl. An appearance in the Blake's 7 episode "Weapon" has led to him featuring in a number of Kaldor City audios, which mix Doctor Who and Blake's 7 elements.

B is for... Blue, Journey

A young woman who was rescued by the Doctor seconds before her spacecraft was destroyed by the Daleks. She was a soldier, based on the Aristotle, a vessel belonging to the Anti-Dalek Alliance. Her brother was killed when her ship was attacked, and the Doctor materialised the TARDIS around her at the last moment. She tried to commandeer the ship, but the Doctor was able to quickly gain her trust. He took her back to the Aristotle, which was commanded by her uncle, Colonel Morgan Blue. He was all set to execute the Doctor, but relented when he thought he could help with a captive Dalek which appeared to have turned against its own kind. Journey lead the team that was miniaturised and injected into the Dalek in order to examine it. Apart from the Doctor and Clara, she was the only survivor of the mission - the others falling prey to the Dalek's automated defences.
Journey was ready to give up her life on the spaceship in order to go travelling with the Doctor, but this particular incarnation of the Time Lord harboured a strong dislike of soldiers, and he refused to take her.

Played by: Zawe Ashton. Appearances: Into The Dalek (2014).

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Smile - The Review

First of all, let's get the look of last night's episode out of the way. Traveling to Valencia to film really paid off. The cityscape, and the sweeping vistas of wheat fields were beautiful to look at. It was such a pity that the plot then moved into the spaceship interior, which was plainly yet another factory location.
Apart from a brief appearance by Nardole at the beginning, plus the two colonist women, the first half hour was pretty much just the Doctor and Bill. Knowing that Ralf Little was appearing, I kept looking at the clock and wondering if it would be worth his while ever turning up. (It wasn't - a real waste of a good guest actor. Same with Mina Anwar, who was so good as Rani's mum Gita in The Sarah Jane Adventures).
So, for much of the running time it is just the Doctor and Bill. He deduces what is going on, whilst she is still in educating-new-viewers mode by asking all of those questions which have already been asked and answered for longer term fans. Had there been any aliens this week, she would no doubt have asked the one about how she could understand them.
Watching the Doctor work out what was going on in this seemingly deserted colony was interesting, as we already knew what was afoot.

The robots - both the tiny flying Vardies and the cute little Emojibots - were killing people who weren't happy. Helen A could have done with some of these on her colony world in The Happiness Patrol. Once again, we have technology designed to help humans acting against them due to over-literal programming. Just like last week. The Doctor works out that this was all caused by them encountering grief, which spread through the human community following the death of a much loved elder. The robots have been programmed to make sure everyone is happy, so they eliminate sadness by killing people and turning them into fertiliser for the gardens. As a threat, they didn't quite work. The Doctor and Bill simply ran out of the city. While they were back at the TARDIS, why didn't they remove their emoji badges, by the way?

The Doctor decides he's going to blow up the city - only to later discover that the colonists have already arrived. They're in cryosleep in the spaceship at the heart of the complex, which is where Ralf Little comes in. The Doctor makes reference to having encountered a number of craft which have fled a dying Earth - something which has caused a few continuity headaches for fans. Little announcing he is a Medtech obviously reminds us of The Ark In Space, where Medtech Vira was the first of the crew to be reawakened. The Doctor states that Gliese is one of the first Earth colonies, but that can't be the case if these people have come from the dying Earth. The history of Doctor Who is littered with much earlier colonies. Then again, the Doctor does get things wrong. He says so here, when he admits to not having recognised a nascent AI lifeform.
The name of the spaceship is significant - The Erewhon. This derives from the book by Samuel Butler, published in 1872. This features a Utopian place (the name taken from "Nowhere" backwards, with the W and H transposed). This place does not allow machines, as they are thought to present a threat to humanity, which is exactly what the robots here pose.
This season's story arc gets a mention, but not in any way that moves the mystery forward. We already know that he has promised to guard the Vault. Who he promised this to, and why, are still for a later episode.
Overall, it was a good episode, but certainly not a great one. If it was intended to further introduce us to Bill and some of the series' core tenets, then it succeeded. It just needed a bit more oomph.

Friday, 21 April 2017

April Figurines

Three figurines this month - the two regular releases plus the latest larger sized special edition.
The former comprise the Destroyer, from Battlefield, and the Veil, from Heaven Sent.
The Destroyer is bound with a flexible chain. He's a little more silvery than he looked on TV, though he was shot mostly in the gloom.
If you want to know what the Veil looks like under its shroud, forget it. The face is just a black blank. The oddest thing about this figurine is its misshapen feet, because these were never really noticeable in the programme. No wonder the poor thing walked so slowly.

The larger special edition figurine is King Hydroflax, from The Husbands of River Song. I wouldn't say this is a great likeness of Greg Davies. The head also looks far too big. Most of the time, the actor playing the robot body was looking out of a panel in the chest. This is a remodel of the robots that appeared in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, so you can see the scale is all wrong.
Next month, we get the Cyber-Controller from Attack of the Cybermen and, if the preview photo is to be believed, they've got rid of the paunch. Joining him will be the Black Dalek from Dalek Invasion of Earth. In June we hit issue 100, and that will be the Roger Delgado Master (Hooray!). He'll be joined by a Tetrap (Boo!). The next special edition will be the Daemon, Azal.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Totally Sonic-ed

You might be pleased to learn that as of June this year, "Sonic Screwdriver" joins "Dalek", "Cyberman" and "Tardis" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Not entirely sure how often people use "Cyberman" out of context, but visiting Glasgow as often as I do, where there are a number of Police Boxes, I hear everyone refer to them as a Tardis. People refer to any deceptively small space as being like a Tardis. I've heard dustbins referred to as Daleks, and some people have been called that - e.g. playwright Dennis Potter calling BBC chief John Birt one. Satirical magazine Private Eye used to depict him in cartoons as Davros. Some UK politicians have used the name to refer to their opposition colleagues. The entry in the OED will mention the fictional screwdriver's history - such as its introduction in Fury from the Deep, and apparent destruction in The Visitation, but it also mentions real life attempts to create one - such as at Dundee University.

Inspirations - Planet of Giants

The first story of Doctor Who's second season, though it was made before the short summer break. It owes its origins to the programme's prehistory, for a story in which the Doctor and his friends were shrunk to diminutive proportions was almost the show's opening adventure.
The three types of story which the programme could show were to have been backwards into the past, forwards into the future (or to alien worlds - held to be always in the future), or "sideways". The latter meant subverting the ordinary, and could be set in the present day. An idea for the very first story - commonly referred to as "The Miniscules" - had the TARDIS take the Doctor, the two teachers and their pupil to Ian's (Or Cliff's, as he was then) science lab at Coal Hill School. The travellers would find they were only one inch tall, and would have to navigate the classroom to get back to the safety of the ship. They could drown in a sink, be burned by Bunsen-burners, or be trapped in a matchbox by one of the pupils.
As the debut broadcast date approached, it was realised that the effects needed to pull this off successfully required more planning to develop. The idea was shelved, to be revisited later. The original storyline was devised by C E "Bunny" Webber, one of the series' forgotten heroes. It was then given to writer Robert Gould to develop, but that also fell through. Sydney Newman had reservations about the giant insects that would plague the travellers - fearing they would be too close to 1950's giant insect B-movie monsters - his detested BEMs. In the end the idea went to Louis Marks, and he came up with the four episodes that comprised Planet of Giants. Marks had written for soaps and one-off drama series, but his real interests lay in Renaissance history. He had written an academic piece about the economy of late medieval Florence. He'll later be asked to stick Daleks in a temporal paradox story, rewrite Forbidden Planet / The Tempest / Jekyll and Hyde, before finally getting some of his real interests on screen.

In September 1962 Rachel Carson produced a book called "The Silent Spring". This science tome dealt with the detrimental effects of pesticides, which she felt were being widely used without proper study of their long-term effects. She argued that the big chemical companies were unduly influencing governments - putting people at risk for the sake of profit. In particular, Carson was concerned that pesticides were killing those insects essential for plant propagation, as well as the pests. This would have a knock-on effect up the food chain, affecting birds and other animals. If left unchecked, one day there would be a silent spring, when no insect chirruped or bird sang. Naturally, the chemical giants complained, but the US public had their eyes opened, and the common pesticide DDT was banned. The book helped towards the creation of the US Environmental Agency - that body which the current POTUS seems determined to undermine. Marks obviously read the book, and had the same concerns, and hence the creation of the scientist Smithers and his business partner Forester.
Unusually, Marks structures his story in such a way that the TARDIS crew and the full sized human characters never once interact, though the actions of each influences the other. Smithers and Forester only inadvertently threaten the miniaturised time travellers, and the Doctor's party decide to fight against them without knowing anything about them, personally. They are primarily battling the new chemical - DN6 - in order to make sure it doesn't kill all the useful insect life. They know that they are in the grounds of a house that is occupied by a murderer, but have no idea that the creator of DN6 is present, save for finding its chemical formula scribbled on a notepad. They make quite a leap in assuming that the two things are connected.

Jeopardy is added as Barbara rather foolishly picks up a seed that has been coated with DN6 - even though there is enough evidence to show that it is toxic. This provides an element of "race against time". They can't spend forever trying to work out how to warn against DN6. The obvious thing would have been to let Smithers know that his chemical is killing the useful insects, but that avenue is blocked by Forester's murder of the civil servant Farrow, who had planned to prevent its production.
There is some argument as to when the Doctor starts to become the character that we know today - the crusader who will fight injustice wherever, or whenever, he encounters it. Some have seen it in his decision to venture into the aqueducts of the planet Sense-Sphere. He could simply have let the Sensorites sort this out for themselves. All other stories so far have seen the Doctor act purely to regain his TARDIS, or free his companions - primarily his grand-daughter.
Here in this story, the TARDIS crew have the chance to get back to the ship, and need to do it quickly as Barbara could die otherwise, and yet the Doctor decides that a stand must be made. This is helped by Barbara herself urging her friends to do so, despite the risks to herself.

The Smithers / Forester / Farrow half of the plot is lifted straight from a police show, like Z-Cars or Dixon of Dock Green. Had the story not been cut down from four to three episodes, there would have been a lot more of Smithers and Forester becoming increasingly suspicious of each other (mainly due to the acts of sabotage by the TARDIS crew), and the roles of local switchboard operator Hilda Rowse and her policeman husband Bert would have been enhanced. More would have been made of how Hilda worked out that Forester was impersonating Farrow. As it was broadcast, Hilda seems to make some incredible intuitive leaps.
Setting a fantastical element against a common crime caper puts one in mind of shows like The Avengers, which will later have a miniaturisation plot-line, guest starring Nicholas Courtney and Kevin Stoney.
Other influences to look for must obviously include the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was based on a Richard Matheson story. The main character in this, his shrinking caused by exposure to a radioactive cloud, also has trouble with a domestic cat, though it's the fight with the spider that most folks remember. Planet of Giants has some oversize insects, but they never actually threaten the TARDIS crew. Gould's scripts would have featured a spider.
It is significant that the story spends only one episode in the wilds of the garden, and the next two (should have been three) hanging around a sink.
The two cliffhangers are actually amongst the strangest in the show's history - threatened with being eaten by a cat, or being washed down a plug-hole. Who would have thought that the image of a man washing his hands with a bit of carbolic would lead into that famous music, and it would work.
Before parts three and four were edited together, it would have been shown that the cat would have also been killed by DN6. This caused alarm amongst the production team. Thals can be exterminated willy-nilly, but god forbid the children of Britain should be confronted with a dead Tiddles.

It is interesting to note that when Susan and the Doctor start to talk about being caught up in an air raid, there is a long enough pause for the viewers at the time to automatically think they are referring to the WWII Blitz. Bombs had been falling less than two decades before. The Doctor then mentions how terrible those Zeppelins were - pushing their adventure back to the war a generation before.
In the first episode, Ian speculates that they may have arrived in some sort of World's Fair. These huge events did often feature special displays wherein visitors might have been expected to walk through an area where they saw oversize props, making them feel tiny.
A special mention for designer Ray Cusick for being able to realise this story on screen. Some of the insects had been created for another show, and there is a lot of use of characters being shown against photographs, but he achieves a lot of good effects in this. The photo technique involved the actors standing in front of a black drape in one part of the studio, and this camera image being superimposed over the photographic image. This tended to make the characters somewhat transparent, and it is the reason why the Doctor wears a white hat on Vortis instead of his black one.
Cusick claimed that the Bunsen-burner finale was partly due to him - being asked what was feasible to realise in studio. Others claim that it was always in the scripts.
Another special mention - Douglas Camfield has arrived. He directed the final of the four original episodes, and was allowed to get sole credit for the edited one broadcast.
Next time, THEY are back, the Unearthly Child leaves, and Terry Nation gets to exorcise more of his childhood wartime experiences...

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Pilot - The Review

Series 10 kicks off with a slow-burner of an episode, that takes its time setting up the new companion, Bill, and setting the scene for what looks to be this year's story arc - that mysterious vault under the university where the Doctor and Nardole have based themselves for decades. We finally learn how the latter returned from the dead - he's got a robotic body.
The story title was for a long time "A Star In Her Eye", until someone pointed out the similarity to the well known "impersonate a celebrity singer" light entertainment show. The new title - The Pilot - was well chosen.
Apart from Christmas Specials and the opening episode of Class, we haven't seen much of the Doctor for quite some time. New viewers could easily jump on with this episode. The TARDIS is reintroduced, as it is seen travelling through both Space and Time, and Bill gets to do the "bigger on the inside" bit. The Doctor is in the middle of a mission, which we don't need to know all about quite yet. He has Nardole as his assistant, and now a new companion arrives. The Doctor looks at the photo of grand-daughter Susan on his desk as he invites Bill to become his special project. She is the new unearthly child, though thankfully Bill seems to be really ordinary. Nothing impossible about her, and she isn't going to turn out to be the Master's granny or anything like that - I hope.

My biggest worry going into this episode was Bill's quirkiness. I wasn't impressed by the introductory piece shown last Spring. She just seemed too stupid - annoyingly so. Apart from the "kitchen" comment about the TARDIS interior, she turned out to be quite endearing. I think I'm going to like her after all. Not at all sure about the appropriateness of the "perversion" dialogue for a family show. Says more about the writer than the character.
As for the plot, well it was a bit of a greatest hits package. I was reminded of a number of other stories as I watched. First of all, we have The Lodger - with a mysterious spaceship needing a pilot in someone who wants to travel. Heather's watery appearances reminded me of the Siren, from Curse of the Black Spot, as well as the transformed humans in The Waters of Mars. Like the Siren, Heather's motivation turned out to be the fault of over-literal programming. Bill had promised to go with her, and she was holding her to this vow. The Doctor's university life obviously puts one in mind of Prof. Chronotis in Shada as well.

Whilst accessible to new viewers, The Pilot also had lots of little references for the more established fans. As well as the photo of Susan on his desk, there was also one of River Song. He has a brace of older sonic screwdrivers on his desk as well. The Daleks made what may be their only appearance this year, in what was little more than a cameo, and they were seen in mid-skirmish with the Movellans. These were clearly Movellans from an earlier era than the ones seen in Destiny of the Daleks, from a time before they became totally robotic, judging from the shouts and screams they were making. The Doctor's attempt to mind wipe Bill was halted by her asking him how he would feel if it happened to him - and we heard a snatch of Clara's theme.
Overall, a strong start to the new series. Next week, Bill goes on her first proper TARDIS voyage as companion, and we get the Emojibots. The preview for this episode did kind of seem to give the game away as to the plot - even showing us the colony city being blown up.
We were also treated to a preview of the rest of the series - the highlight being our first glimpse of John Simm's Master - and hooray, he's got a little beard.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

B is for... Blue, Colonel Morgan

Commander of the troops stationed on the former medical ship Aristotle. He was part of a resistance alliance who were waging a war against the Daleks. His team captured a badly damaged Dalek which appeared to oppose its own kind. When the Doctor rescued his niece and brought her aboard the spaceship, Colonel Blue was still prepared to summarily execute him, as it was known that the Daleks used human duplicates as spies. On hearing that he was a doctor, he introduced him to the Dalek patient and tasked him with helping it. He permitted the Doctor to leave to fetch Clara to assist him, trusting him to return. When the miniaturised Doctor and his friends repaired the Dalek from within, it broke free and began to exterminate Blue's troops. The ship then came under attack from more Daleks, who had been alerted to the Aristotle's location hidden in an asteroid field. Clara was able to reboot the memories that had caused the damaged Dalek to turn against its own kind. It stopped killing the Colonel's men, and fired upon the Dalek attackers, destroying them all. The Dalek then agreed to transmit a signal to the fleet claiming that the Aristotle had been destroyed, so that the Colonel and his troops could escape.

Played by: Michael Smiley. Appearances: Inside The Dalek (2014).

  • This episode was directed by Ben Wheatley, who employs Michael Smiley on a regular basis. He is probably best known for his regular appearances as the manic bike courier Tyres O'Flaherty in the Simon Pegg / Jessica Hynes comedy series Spaced. He once shared a flat with Pegg.

B is for... Blowfish

An obscure alien species, they are bipedal but have bright red piscine features, with prominent crests. They can survive in water or on land. They have a reputation for criminality and general trouble-making, fond of thrill-seeking. They visited Earth a number of times via the Space / Time Rift that ran through Cardiff.
Captain Jack Harkness encountered one on the day he was forced to join the Torchwood organisation, in 1899. Unable to send it back home, Torchwood operative Alice Guppy shot it dead. This prompted Jack to insist that in future all alien creatures should be incarcerated rather than killed.
Whilst Jack was away travelling with the Doctor and Martha Jones, Torchwood had to chase a Blowfish who was high on drugs and who had stolen a sports car. It paused to allow an old lady to cross the road, however. It ran into a house and took the family hostage. Jack reappeared, shooting the creature through the head before it could harm the humans. It later transpired that the creature was in league with Captain John Hart. In its pocket was a small pyramidal object that he thought would lead him to a fabulously wealthy gemstone.

In 102 AD, the Blowfish were members of the Pandorica Alliance. In the far future, a Blowfish was to be found among the patrons of the Maldovarium when Colony Sarff arrived in search of the Doctor. The head of a Blowfish, or a replica of one, could be seen in "Hedgewick's World of Wonders", in the collection presided over by Mr Webley.

Played by: Paul Kasey. Appearances: Torchwood 2.1 Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2008); TW 2.12 Fragments (2008); The Pandorica Opens (2010); Nightmare in Silver (2013); The Magician's Apprentice (2015).

  • Just watched the Blu-Ray of Rogue One last night, the day of its UK release. Nice to see that a number of Doctor Who monster performers are involved in the new Star Wars movies. Paul Kasey is the Rebel General Raddus. Jimmy Vee has taken over R2-D2 duties from the late Kenny Baker, and Ice Warrior / Minotaur performer Spencer Wilding is Darth Vader. The latter has a nice symmetry with Doctor Who, Dave Prowse having played the Minotaur in The Time Monster before donning the iconic black armour.

B is for... Blor

The Queen's Champion on the planet Peladon, encountered by the Doctor on his return to that planet. He protected Queen Thalira. He wore a helmet made from the fur, tusks and horns of one of the Aggedor creatures. When the Doctor agreed to investigate the mines where the spirit of Aggedor was said to be killing the Pel miners, the Queen sent Blor with him. Both became trapped by a rockfall engineered by the militant miner Ettis. An apparition of Aggedor - really a hologram with a heat ray weapon - materialised, and Blor was killed.

Played by: Michael Crane. Appearances: The Monster of Peladon (1974).

  • Blor appears only in the first episode, plus the reprise at the beginning of the second, and yet he was immortalised by featuring in the second set of character cards to be collected from boxes of Weetabix in 1977, along with the even shorter-lived Vega Nexos.

B is for... Bloodaxe

Deputy to the medieval warlord Irongron. Bloodaxe believed that his chief had a towering intelligence. When a shooting star fell to earth near the castle they had taken over, Bloodaxe refused to go and look until the sun had come up. He mistook the Sontaran Linx for a Saracen. He was later shocked to see the alien without his helmet. It is to be presumed that Bloodaxe had a number of siblings. All the smart genes must have gone somewhere in his family. Only his sword and axe were sharp. Sir Edward of Wessex's archer, Hal, roused Bloodaxe and his men from a drugged sleep so that they could flee from the castle before it was destroyed by Linx's exploding starship. He would have probably taken over from the now dead Irongron.

Played by John J Carney. Appearances: The Time Warrior (1973 / 4).

  • Carney mostly played policemen or villains throughout his career. He features in the Richard Chamberlain TV mini-series Shogun. Genre appearances include an episode of Blake's 7 - the one with Colin Baker - and the movie Hawk The Slayer. He died in 1995.

B is for... Bliss

One of the members of LINDA - the London Investigation 'N' Detective Agency. This was a small group of people who were obsessed about the Doctor. Bliss was an artistic soul, who at one point created a sculpture which she felt represented the Doctor's essence. She fell victim to Victor Kennedy - really the alien Abzorbaloff. When she vanished from the group, Kennedy claimed she had gone off to get married. Unfortunately, her face had ended up on his backside. With her other absorbed friends, she helped destroy the Abzorbaloff and save Elton Pope.

Played by: Kathryn Drysdale. Appearances: Love & Monsters (2006).

B is for... Blessing, The

The name given to a pole of the Earth which ran from Buenos Aires in Brazil, to Shanghai in China. It was discovered by a mysterious group known as The Three Families. They noticed that the life expectancy of the population of Shanghai exactly matched that of the global average. The Blessing generated a morphic field matrix which affected all of the human race. By introducing some of Captain Jack Harkness' immortal blood at both ends of the Blessing simultaneously, it caused the entire world to become immortal. One day, no-one could die. The Three Families had secured Jack's blood when he had visited New York in the 1930's, and it was found that he couldn't be killed.
The phenomenon had caused Jack to become the only mortal person on the planet. When his now mortal blood was fed into the Blessing, the matrix was reversed and so people could die again.
Neither The Three Families nor Jack had any idea what the true nature of the Blessing was. Jack speculated that it may have resulted from huon particles interacting with the buried Racnoss spaceship at the core of the planet, and he claimed that it featured in Silurian mythology.

Appearances: Torchwood: Miracle Day (2011).

Moffat's Radio Times Synopses

The new Radio Times was published today, covering the launch of Series 10. Steven Moffat gives his usual brief synopsis for each episode, and the final story titles are revealed. This year, all of the titles that were already attached to episodes 1 - 10 have been confirmed, with no changes.
Episode 11 is to be called World Enough And Time, whilst the finale is called The Doctor Falls.
That first one comes from a poem by Andrew Marvell - To His Coy Mistress. Apt, as it involves Missy. There's no mention of the return of John Simm's Master, so presumably this went to the publishers before the BBC were forced to announce his reappearance.
A few snippets of info about the episodes are included in the piece, though nothing really new for the first three (The Pilot, Smile and Thin Ice) which have already been previewed by the latest DWM.
The house in 10.4 - Knock Knock - is one which Bill and some friends are thinking of renting, and there is mention of a strange tower in the middle of the building which no-one can find a way into.
The space station in 10.5 - Oxygen - is called Chasm Forge, and all but four of the crew are dead. Problem is, the dead ones are still up and about.
10.6 - Extremis - sees the Doctor employed by the Vatican and involves a book in the Haereticum (one of the secret archives) called The Veritas, which leads people to kill themselves after reading it. Problem is, it has just been published on-line. Missy has been confirmed as appearing in this one.
Extremis leads into The Pyramid at the End of the World. A 5000 year old pyramid is found in the middle of a conflict zone (between America, Russia and China). Problem is, it wasn't there the day before. There's something about aliens who can't invade unless they get the consent of the human race.
The third of the interconnected episodes - The Lie of the Land - is about everyone in the world believing a deception, except for Bill, and even the Doctor has been fooled.
10.9 - Empress of Mars - features a human invasion of the Red Planet. Whose side should the Doctor take? One of the Ice Warriors - probably the Empress herself - is called Iraxxa. The invading humans hail from the Victorian era.
10.10 - The Eaters of Light - involves the disappearance of a Roman legion in the north of Scotland. A cairn on a hillside has a portal leading to the end of the world.
World Enough And Time sees the Doctor trapped on a huge spaceship on the edge of a black hole. Mention of the death of someone whom the Doctor was pledged to protect, which drives him to some rash actions. The quote for this episode is "My name's Doctor Who." As mentioned, Missy is back for this one and the finale.
The Doctor Falls simply states: "The Mondasian Cybermen are on the rise. It's time for the Doctor's final battle...".

Monday, 10 April 2017

Inspirations - The Reign of Terror

AKA "The French Revolution", which was its working title.
Like the Doctor, this is one of my favourite periods in History. Not that I would ever want to have been caught up in it, of course, but studying why the Revolution took place and how it unfolded is something I have always found fascinating. There was no one Revolution. Rather, it was a series of upheavals over ten years, as one political faction rose to prominence only to be cut down by the next. The Reign of Terror was just one such episode - albeit the bloodiest.
How do we know that this is a favourite period for the Doctor? Well, Susan says so, to the two school teachers. It is implied that she and the Doctor may have already visited France during this period, as she immediately spots a mistake in a book Barbara lends her, back at Coal Hill School.
There is no one single cause for the Revolution. Its seeds lie in the religious wars that had blighted Europe for centuries. France had embarked on a couple of unsuccessful conflicts which had drained the economy. The country then faced a period of poor harvests, and the people were starving. Substantial amounts of tax were going to the rich and powerful Church. Most French peasants were little more than serfs.
A number of bread riots broke out in Paris in 1789, culminating in a march to the royal palace at Versailles to demand assistance from King Louis XVI. He was generally liked by the populace, though they hated his Austrian wife Marie Antoinette, and his predecessor Louis XV had been very unpopular.
The old prison fortress of the Bastille was stormed. Believed to be holding many political prisoners, it was actually almost empty, and some of those that were incarcerated there died in the assault.
King Louis agreed to the setting up of a parliament or assembly, made up of the three great sections of French society - the nobility, the Church, and the people, who were represented by a number of political radicals who had learned a great deal from the recent American Revolution.
The assembly failed to reach any kind of consensus, as the nobility and the Church refused to concede anything of note.
Things continued to break down. By 1792, the royal family were being held virtual hostages in Paris. A republic was announced, and the King branded a traitor. First Louis, and then his Queen went to the guillotine. The Revolution was supported by the army, which was also fighting abroad at this time in other parts of the continent.
Various republican parties came to the fore, but all were superceded by political rivals. In 1793, the Jacobin faction came to power under Maximilien de Robespierre, who set up what was basically a dictatorship. The old calendar was thrown out and the Committee for Public Safety began the wholesale slaughter of anyone perceived to be its rivals.
And this is where the TARDIS crew come in.

Writer Dennis Spooner sets his story at this particularly dangerous moment during the revolutionary period. Hundreds of enemies of the state are going to the guillotine on a daily basis. We're coming towards the end of Robespierre's time, when his political rivals are starting to question his tyranny. He was an incredibly vain man, with little or no social skills. Some of his schemes were scoffed at. He had ideas about a great divine being, which smacked of replacing one god with another.
Spooner is inspired not only by historical events, but by two great pieces of literature, set during the Reign of Terror. One of these most of the viewers at the time will have read, whilst the other would have been better known from a popular movie.
The one that people would have read is Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Anyone not having read it would probably have seen the film starring Dirk Bogarde in the Sidney Carton role, or the earlier one with Ronald Coleman. The other story is The Scarlet Pimpernel. The book was written by Baroness Orczy in 1905. It had been made into a movie in 1934, starring Leslie Howard. In a couple of year's time, it will inspire a Carry On film, with Sid James as The Black Fingernail.
The Scarlet Pimpernel deals with an Englishman, Sir Percy Blakeney, who appears to all the world as a decadent fop. However, he has an alter-ego - the Pimpernel - who sneaks back and forth to France and helps members of the aristocracy to escape from the guillotine, smuggling them back to safety in England. A pimpernel, before you ask, is a small flower of the primrose family.
The character of Le Maitre (the Master) proves to be an English spy - James Stirling - who is secretly assisting the escape network, whilst at the same time getting close to Robespierre to discover his plans.

Ian, Barbara, and Susan get locked up in the Conciergerie Prison when they are captured and taken to Paris. This still exists - on the Ile de la Cite opposite the Louvre. It was built as a medieval palace for the Merovingian kings and was turned into a revolutionary prison. You can still see the cell where Marie Antoinette was held. Barbara and Susan are taken from here in a tumbril to be executed, but Jules Renan - senior member of the escape network - intercepts them in an ambush and frees them.
Tumbrils were two wheeled agricultural carts, which were emptied by tipping them backwards - mainly used for hauling grain and manure. Executions in Paris were held in the Place de la Revolution - formerly Place Louis XV, and now Place de la Concorde. The guillotine was regarded as a socially leveling means of execution, as befitted revolutionary ideals. Previously, under the Ancien Regime, the nobility had been executed by alternative means to members of the ordinary populace.
In Dickens' novel, Sidney Carton, a rather dissolute young man, takes the place of a prisoner to allow him to escape, and goes to the guillotine in his place. The Doctor's companion Mel references this when the Sixth Doctor travels by tumbril to his supposed execution towards the conclusion of The Trial of a Time Lord.
Executions were major spectacles for the masses, who thronged the square. Programmes of a sort were sold - detailing the names of those to be killed that day. The tailor from whom the Doctor purchases an Official's costume, remarks on his regret at having to miss that day's executions. Attendance would have been seen as loyalty to the cause, and those who refused to attend would have been regarded as potential traitors. The Doctor puts himself at risk by challenging Robespierre's methods. He claims to be representing a region where the execution figures are not very high. A region's loyalty would be judged by the number of enemies of the people whom it eliminated. Whilst the guillotine was the favoured means of despatch, in one city a whole load of prisoners were held in an old ship which was then deliberately sunk in the middle of the river.
The Paris prisons were so full at this time that trials were brief affairs that could only have one allowable sentence - execution. This was a special law brought in to tackle overcrowding just at the time when the time travellers have arrived - hence Barbara and Susan being whisked off in a tumbril within hours of their incarceration.

The bulk of the material featuring Robespierre is missing from the archives, but the final episode introduces two more historical personages. We first see Paul Barras - Paul Francois Jean Nicolas, Vicomte de Barras, to give him his full name. Ian and Barbara witness him trying to recruit the Corsican army officer Napoleon Bonaparte to help shore up his planned coup against Robespierre.
Spooner gets things wrong by having Robespierre quote a date that doesn't match the Jacobin calendar - though it does let the viewers in the know realise that he is about to fall.
The jury is out as to how Robespierre came to be shot in the jaw. One theory is that he tried to commit suicide, whilst another has it that he was deliberately shot in the mouth to shut him up. Whatever, he went to the guillotine within hours of his arrest, and it is said that when the executioner removed the bandage around his face, the shattered jaw came away with it.
The Reign of Terror was supplanted by the Directory. There was one further attempt by the Jacobins to retake power in 1795, but this was crushed. The Directory spent most of its time fighting foreign wars and being generally corrupt and self-serving at home. So much so that Napoleon staged a popular military coup that put the Directory out of power, and led France on the path to the Empire.

It is to the French Revolution that every subsequent revolutionary movement has looked, with its ideals of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. France itself was not done with Revolution - as any fan of Les Miserables will know. Revolutionary ideals were still alive in Paris in 1968.
Last time, I promised you a Woody Allen joke. Writing about the causes of popular revolutionary movements, he claims that the Russian Revolution was provoked when the people realised that the Czar and the Tsar were really the same person...
A few final points. The distance to Paris is quoted in kilometres. This is an anachronism. The kilometre did indeed originate out of the French Revolution, but not until a year or so after the Reign of Terror.
The Fourth Doctor mentions Marie Antoinette on two occasions. He claims in Pyramids of Mars that his picklock belonged to her. Does this mean that she might have escaped execution if it hadn't been for the Doctor? It certainly suggests a visit to France just before the events of this story. He then compares the crew of the Sandminer to her, in The Robots of Death, unable or unwilling to countenance a revolution taking place under their noses.
The story's composer - Stanley Myers (his only work on the show) - frequently riffs La Marseillaise. This was composed in 1792, and was adopted as the anthem for the Republic.
Next time, Dixon of Dock Green saves the Environment...

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Series 10 - The Story So Far... (Updated)

Episode One - The Pilot - was premiered in London on Tuesday evening, so expect spoilers from this point on around the interweb.
We've just learned that new companion Bill is gay - the first openly gay companion at last, though the omnisexual Captain Jack has certainly helped pave the way. Clara has also had this thing about Jane Austin.
Rumour has it that this will be Bill's only season, with Chris Chibnall getting a clean slate for his first series. The New Doctor rumour mill has gone from a female Doctor to younger male one.
The second of the two trailers has shown a clip of the Doctor appearing to begin the regeneration process. We've seen two false regenerations before, but there is no reason why the Doctor can't start his regeneration at the end of the series, considering he makes the change in the following episode, which will be the 2017 Christmas Special. The Tenth Doctor went on a lengthy series of voyages between the start of his regeneration and its culmination - visiting all of his old companions.
As for the episodes themselves, The Pilot obviously introduces Bill, who works in the canteen whilst the Doctor is lecturing at a university. The brief plot synopsis only states that the Doctor and Nardole are on some kind of a mission.
Seems this is where they are going to insert the Dalek scene that introduced Bill last Spring. Also includes the girl made of water. There is a brief glimpse of Movellans, so the Dalek sequence takes place during their war.

The second episode has a tentative title of "Smile", was filmed in Spain, and is the one that features the Emojibots. They look nice, but kill you when they hug you, apparently. Set on a human colony, but there's no sign of the colonists. Includes small bird-like creatures called Vardies.

Getting a bit of a Handbots vibe from this lot. This is the Frank Cottrell-Boyce episode.
Episode 3 is by Sarah Dollard, and is the Frost Fair one - set in the Regency Period. A big serpent in the Thames under the ice, apparently. Possibly called "Thin Ice".

The fourth episode is the one with David Suchet as "The Landlord". The creepy wooden woman, and giant woodlouse creatures - the real reason why your floorboards creak at night... Might be called "Knock Knock".

Episode five is by Jamie Mathieson, and is set in space. It has been referred to as "Oxygen" and is the one with all the spacesuits and the blue-faced people.

Six, seven and eight are three linked episodes, featuring the Monk characters, and see the return of Missy. I say linked, as each part has its own writer - Moffat, then Peter Harness, then Toby Whithouse. An early title for the first part is "Extremis". The second part is called "The Pyramid at the end of the World", with the third part named "The Lie of the Land".

No. 9, appropriately enough, comes from one-time League of Gentlemen star Mark Gatiss, and is the Ice Warrior one - with the new female Ice Lady. "The Empress of Mars" - and it features lots of Ice Warriors.

Episode 10 marks the return of Rona Munro, and is the one with the Iron Age characters, and possibly some Romans. It has been referred to as "The Eaters of Light". The above image comes from this one, set in Pictish Scotland.

Then we get to 11 and 12, written by Moffat. The return of the Cybermen. Missy is also supposed to feature, and there was an image doing the rounds on Wales-Online of the Mondasian Cybermen with the new ones in the same scenes. The latest issue of DWM mentions three different types of Cyberman. We also know that there will be two versions of the Master - as John Simm is returning. One scene features the Doctor and Missy on a rooftop observing an apocalyptic cityscape, of fire and furnaces. Might this be Mondas?
This might be where the apparent regeneration scene also fits - but as mentioned above it may well be a bit of hoodwinkery...

Just five and a bit days to wait... Tuesday 11th sees the release of the new Radio Times, which will have Moffat's episode synopses, and confirmation of story titles. The BBC always release the main tranche of publicity photos on a Tuesday during a season's run.