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.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Everything Changes - Torchwood 1.1

In which WPC Gwen Cooper is called to a crime scene on a wet Cardiff night. The victim is a young man, murdered by a serial killer who has been stalking the city. All of the dead have been stabbed with an unknown bladed weapon. The police are suddenly told to withdraw when a large black SUV arrives. Torchwood are taking over. Gwen decides to enter a multi-storey car park which overlooks the crime scene, curious to learn more about the newcomers. They comprise Captain Jack Harkness, his second in command Suzie Costello, Dr Owen Harper, and scientist Toshiko Sato. Gwen sees them produce a metal glove, like a gauntlet from a suit of armour. When placed under the victim's head, the young man suddenly comes back to life. It appears that the effect only lasts a brief time, and the victims are usually too panicked to provide any useful information - such as the identity of their attacker. Whilst the gauntlet is being used, the rain suddenly stops. Jack shouts out that he knows Gwen is watching. The next day, Gwen asks a colleague to search for information about the Captain. It transpires that the only person of that name and rank on record died in 1941.

Gwen and her colleague Andy are attending a pub brawl when she is injured. At the local A&E department, Gwen sees Jack again. She follows him into a section of the hospital which has been sealed off. Here, she sees a bipedal alien creature. It attacks a porter, mauling him to death. Jack and his team appear and subdue the creature with a chemical spray and bundle it away. Gwen gives chase in the patrol car. She finds the SUV at Roald Dahl Plas, in the Bay area, but there is no sign of the occupants. Investigating further, she learns that there is a regular pizza delivery to an obscure tourist information kiosk under the boardwalk. She pretends to be a delivery person and enters, meeting a young man named Ianto Jones. He seems to have been expecting her, and she is allowed to pass through a hidden door. She descends a flight of stairs and finds herself in a vast chamber, full of strange equipment. There is even a pterodactyl flying around the roof space. Jack welcomes her and tells her all about Torchwood. They exist to monitor the Space / Time Rift running through the city, negating any threats which come through it. The creature Gwen saw at the hospital is a Weevil, savage creatures which normally live in the sewers. The one she saw is kept in the cells on a lower level of the base, which they call the Hub. Jack takes Gwen for a drink, exiting the Hub via a lift which brings them out onto the Plas by the water tower sculpture. It is covered by a perception filter, so passers-by don't notice them. Gwen wants to know why jack is telling her so much, and he reveals he has spiked her drink with a substance called Retcon, and she won't remember a thing by morning.

This proves to be the case, but Gwen begins to get flashbacks when she visits the incident room for the murders at the police station. The description of the killer's weapon seems to jog her memories. She suddenly remembers seeing a multi-bladed weapon in the Torchwood Hub, in the workshop area used by Suzie Costello. She returns to the Plas that night, and is confronted by Suzie. Obsessed by finding out how the gauntlet works, she had used the weapon to kill people in order to test the glove on them. Gwen had suspected that the killer was a woman, as the male victims were stabbed in the back, and only the female ones were killed from the front. Suzie has decided to flee, realising that she is about to be discovered by her colleagues. Jack suddenly appears via the lift. He too has realised that his deputy is the murderer. Suzie shoots him in the head. She then turns the gun on herself, claiming that no one can ever escape Torchwood. Once you join, it is to the death. Jack comes back to life, and explains to the shocked Gwen that something happened to him that means he can never die. Impressed with her skills, and the humanity she brings to her work, Jack offers Gwen a place on his team.

Everything Changes was written by Russell T Davies, and was first broadcast on BBC 3 on 22nd October, 2006 - giving the channel its highest ever ratings at the time. This will be Davies' only episode until the third series. He will act as executive producer, along with Julie Gardner, but Chris Chibnall will be the chief writer and general show-runner for the first two years.
The series was originally going to be called "Excalibur", but "Torchwood" had been used as a code to conceal Doctor Who material in its first year of production - Torchwood being an anagram of Doctor Who. The organisation then became the story arc for Series 2.
The series is the first spin-off from Doctor Who to reach the screen - the 1981 Sarah Jane / K9 spin-off never making it past the pilot stage. The new further adventures of Sarah Jane Smith were already being planned for broadcast on CBBC, and a Rose Tyler series had also been briefly considered.
Torchwood sees the continuing story of Captain Jack Harkness, as played by John Barrowman. When last seen, he had been exterminated by the Daleks in the year 200,100 AD, only to be brought back to life by the Bad Wolf Rose. How he has come to end up in Cardiff working for Torchwood Three is not explained at this stage. Two other Torchwood offices are mentioned. Number Two is in Glasgow, and is run by a strange man, whilst Torchwood Four has somehow disappeared, but is expected to turn up again. Torchwood One was Canary Wharf in London.
The series debuts on BBC 3 - a channel aimed primarily at young adults - and is post watershed, so the violence level is increased, with substantial blood letting and a gratuitous F-word, just so you know that the production team are aware this is more grown up than Doctor Who. There will be a sex-gas alien and a fetishised Cyberwoman along any week soon, just to labour this point.

Three of the six Torchwood team have previous Doctor Who form. As well as Captain Jack, we have Naoko Mori as Toshiko "Tosh" Sato. This is the same character who we met in Aliens of London, investigating the Space Pig. Gwen Cooper is played by Eve Myles, who was servant girl Gwyneth in The Unquiet Dead. It will later transpire that there is a reason for her looking the same. Joining them are Burn Gorman as Owen Harper, Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones, and Indira Varma as Suzie Costello. The latter was featured prominently in the publicity for the series, so it was a bit of a shock when she failed to make it to the end credits of this first episode. It's not the last we will see of her, however...
The episode introduces the series' signature aliens - the savage Weevils. They don't really do very much until the second series. The gauntlet - known as the Resurrection Glove (or the Risen Mitten as Ianto coins it) will also feature a few more times. Gwen has a boyfriend, Rhys Williams, played by Kai Owen. This character will be developed over the four series and become one of its most popular figures. PC Andy is Tom Price, and he too will feature on and off for the duration of the series.

Overall, the episode is the first of a new series, so it pretty much has to introduce the characters through Gwen, and bring her onto the team. No great spectacle. This new show is more adult, but uncomfortably so. It clearly doesn't know quite where to pitch itself - something that will plague this first season. That F-word in the opening scene is totally gratuitous - grating, as no-one else swears like this for the rest of the 50 minutes. One episode in, and we don't necessarily like all these characters. Captain Jack has had all the fun sucked out of him.
Things you might like to know:

  • The episode very much dwells on Jack, Gwen and Suzie. The others are introduced through what items they have borrowed from the Hub, apart from Ianto who is some kind of major domo and makes great coffee. Tosh has borrowed an alien device that lets her scan and download books, so she is clearly a bit of a swot. Owen borrows a pheromone spray that makes him sexually irresistible to anyone - man or woman. No-one is allowed to remove anything alien from the Hub, so we see that jack has little control over his team. They are quite dysfunctional and, as mentioned above, not necessarily likeable.
  • Doctor Who is mentioned obliquely in the dialogue, but there are a lot of visual references. Jack has the Doctor's severed hand in a flask - the one lopped off by the Sycorax leader. The Hub armoury has Dalek and Cyber weapons. Jack also has a piece of coral on his desk - a piece of TARDIS material which he is growing.
  • The pizza delivery firm is called Jubilee. This company featured in Dalek - a box is seen in Adam Mitchell's workshop - and is a reference to the audio origins of that story.
  • The working title for the episode was "Flotsam and Jetsam" - referencing the material that gets washed up by the Rift, which Torchwood has to deal with.
  • The title used comes from what will become the opening pre-titles monologue from Jack, when he describes the 21st Century as being the time when everything changes. We'll later learn that this is what his last boss claimed, just before he killed himself and the rest of his team on the eve of the millennium. 
  • Jack claims that the spot where the lift emerges onto Roald Dahl Plas is covered by a perception filter due to a chameleon circuit being used on that spot, made permanent by the Rift. The way he says this makes it sound as though he has forgotten that he was there when it happened - in Boom Town. We'll later learn that over a century has passed for him since that first visit to Cardiff.
  • Retcon derives from Retroactive Continuity. For many years fans have used this phrase to cover continuity holes in long-running Sci-Fi series.
  • The pterodactyl is called Myfanwy. We'll later see how Torchwood came to have it - at the same time Ianto joined the team.
  • The Hub appears to have a tube station in it, of the same design as those in London - implying that the two cities had a secret underground link. Presumably Glasgow and the location of the missing Torchwood Four were also connected.
  • The Risen Mitten prop will later become the Gauntlet of Rassilon.
  • Chris Chibnall - whatever happened to him?

Sunday, 2 April 2017

B is for... Blathereen

When Sarah Jane Smith and her young friends were on the point of being killed by members of the Slitheen family, they were saved by the intervention of a pair of Blathereen - Leef Apple Glyn and Tree Lorn Acre. They were identical to the Slitheen, except that their skin was orange instead of green. They claimed to be enemies of the criminal Slitheen and wanted to make amends for the trouble they had caused to the Earth. Sarah was initially distrustful of them, but invited them to dinner. The Blathereen offered a gift - a plant named Rakweed. This could solve world hunger, and they wanted Sarah to act as intermediary for them in forging a friendship with Earth.
The plant released spores which caused Sarah's son Luke to become dangerously ill. The spores quickly spread and began affecting people all over London. Sarah realised she had been duped. She used her computer Mr Smith to transport herself to the Blathereen spaceship, which was hidden near the North Pole. Here she learned that the Blathereen were not a separate clan but were really the Slitheen-Blathereen. They were addicted to Rakweed, and planned on turning the Earth into one vast Rakweed farm.
Sarah's friends Clyde and Rani discovered that Rakweed was susceptible to sounds at certain high frequencies. They used K9 and Mr Smith to tap every phone and alarm in the infected area to destroy the plants. Sarah escaped back to her Ealing home, but the Blathereen gave chase. Mr Smith used the high frequency sound to excitate the Rakweed permeating their systems, causing them to explode.

Voiced by: Simon Callow (Tree), and Miriam Margolyes (Leef). Appearances: SJA 3.6 The Gift (2009).

  • Callow and Margolyes are huge fans of Charles Dickens, and both have performed solo shows based on the author and his characters. Callow has played Dickens twice in Doctor Who.
  • Inside the suits are regular monster performers Paul Kasey (Leef) and Ruari Mears (Tree).

B is for... Blasco, Dee Dee

A student who accompanied Professor Hobbes on his trip to the planet Midnight. The Doctor met her when they took the Crusader 50 tour across the planet's surface together. Though only a second-year student, Hobbes had been impressed with a paper she had written on the Lost Moon of Poosh, and so had made her his assistant. When an alien entity invaded the tour bus and took over Sky Sylvestre, Dee Dee wasn't caught up in the panic and paranoia quite as much as the other passengers, managing to observe what was going on and try to work things out logically. Hobbes turned on her - saying she was an average student at best. When it looked like the entity had passed into the Doctor, Dee Dee was against throwing him outside. She realised what the entity was doing, along with the Stewardess, who sacrificed herself to drag Sky out of the vehicle.

Played by: Ayesha Antoine. Appearances: Midnight (2008).

B is for... Blake, Ursula

Ursula Blake was one of a group who were obsessed with the Doctor. She wrote a blog about him, and once saw him in Trafalgar Square on the night after the Sycorax spaceship had been destroyed. Fellow obsessive Elton Pope came across this blog, and learned that Ursula lived near him. She introduced him to her group, which Elton later named LINDA - London Investigation 'N' Detective Agency. The group became firm friends, and shared their interests beyond learning about the Doctor. Ursula sang and played a number of instruments. The group was then taken over by a man named Victor Kennedy, who insisted that they refocus their energies on finding the Doctor. Elton and Ursula became very fond of each other, though both were too shy to admit their true feelings. Ursula was not afraid to stand up to Kennedy, especially when he threatened Elton. She and Mr Skinner quit the group with Elton once they got fed up of Kennedy's bullying ways. Their walk-out was marred when Mr Skinner was talked into staying behind with Kennedy, and then Ursula realised she had left her phone behind. Skinner had become the latest victim of Kennedy's true form - the Abzorbaloff. Ursula was then absorbed. Ursula lead her friends in attacking the Abzorbaloff from within - allowing Elton to seize and break his cane, which controlled his absorption powers. Without it, he was absorbed into the earth, along with his victims. The Doctor was able to partially save the last victim - Ursula - as a face embedded in a concrete paving slab. Her mind and personality were retained, and Elton took her home to live with him.

Played by: Shirley Henderson. Appearances: Love & Monsters (2006).

B is for Blake, Major

Officer in charge of UNIT's HQ, built beneath the Tower of London, in 2006. When the Guinevere One space probe began transmitting images of alien lifeforms back to Earth on Christmas morning, Blake was joined by Prime Minister Harriet Jones, and Daniel Llewellyn, the space mission's director. Blake was able to confirm that the aliens were not Martians. He witnessed the Sycorax hypnotic blood control - which caused one third of the Earth's population to ascend to high locations, apparently conditioned into jumping to their deaths. Along with Jones' senior aide, Alex Klein, Blake, Llewellyn and the Prime Minister were teleported up to the Sycorax spaceship once it had parked itself over central London. The Sycorax leader killed Llewellyn, and when Blake challenged this deplorable treatment of prisoners he too was killed.

Played by: Chu Omambala. Appearances: The Christmas Invasion (2005).

  • No first name is given on screen, but visitors to the BBC's UNIT website could discover that the Major was named Richard.

B is for... Blake, Josiah

A member of the King's Revenue Men, encountered by the Doctor, Ben and Polly in late 17th Century Cornwall. Blake was investigating a smuggling ring operating out of the village close to where the TARDIS had landed. At first, Ben and Polly suspected that he was the murderer of church warden Joseph Longfoot, when they found him exploring secret passages in the church crypt. Blake in turn thought the strangers to be in league with the smugglers. He soon learned that the local squire was in charge of the smuggling operation. The Doctor sent Blake to call up reinforcements when the pirate captain Pike and his men arrived in search of the treasure of Captain Avery and intent on stealing the smugglers' loot. Blake saved the Doctor's life - shooting Pike dead.

Played by: John Ringham. Appearances: The Smugglers (1966).