Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Four

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 12th January 1990

Mr Hargeaves is still obsessing over the unauthorised photocopier use. Today he’s targeting Miss Booth – convinced that she knows more about the numerous animal rights posters dotted around the school than she’s letting on. She doesn’t of course, and his none-too-subtle probing only serves to irritate her all the more.

Mrs Monroe, present when he begins another round of questioning, warns her to “be careful, he’ll be taking your fingerprints next”.  Indeed, Mrs Monroe is the recipient of most of the best lines today – when the still trustingly innocent Mr Hankin tells her that he’s going to take a group of third years to the canal, she comments that “there’s one or two little heads in that year that I might be tempted to hold under the water a fraction too long”.

She also does terrible things to Mr Hankin’s tie – it’s wrapped around a dog’s neck and then dipped into custard – although she blithely tells him that it’ll perk up with a damp iron! Plus there’s the moment where she gives Mr Griffiths a brief restorative shoulder rub (a busy episode for her today then).

There’s a nice moment of continuity as Deirdre Costello makes her fourth and final appearance as Mrs Donnington (she was previously seen in both series eight and eleven). Her short scene kicks off another plot-thread in a rather off-hand way – Mrs Donnington casually complains that she was slightly worried when Calley stayed out all night. You might have expected there to be much more panic on Mrs Donnington’s behalf – so her resigned calmness suggests Calley is now a frequent absentee.

Calley’s excuse (she was spending the night with Ronnie) sounds rather feeble and when Robbie later spies her getting into a man’s car for a night out, all the pieces seem to be fitting together.

Georgina and Aichaa decide to enter a modelling competition and as luck would have it, Georgina knows a local photographer so high quality photos will be no problem. Ronnie looks on – content to observe but not participate – although she’s told that she could be a decent girl next door type. Flattering with faint praise there ….

Julie continues to be something of a wet lettuce, blubbing after forgetting her sports kit (she wails that she’ll be forced to do games in her underwear).  Becky and Alice offer verbal support (and Becky manages to find her a spare kit) but the message seems plain – Julie needs to toughen up or she’s not going to survive at Grange Hill.

The episode ends with a fight in a pub involving Robbie and Mike, which is another new plot-thread that will run and run. Mike, anxious not to get involved in any trouble, accidentally trips over an injured man but his action is interpreted as a hostile one. The whole scene is rather confusing, mainly because we’re only ever told about the injuries inflicted (it’s obvious why a children’s series would steer clear of graphic violence, but it does rather rob the moment of any impact).

The last scene – Robbie, having thrown a few punches during the melee, is approached outside the pub by a well-dressed man who compliments him on the way he handled himself – is a more ominous one though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Three

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 9th January 1990

Today’s episode opens with a race against time – Ronnie and Calley are using the school photocopier to run off more anti-vivisection posters, but Mr Hargreaves is getting ever closer to them ….

As the photocopier keeps ticking away agonisingly slowly, will they be able to escape before he catches them? Well yes. But he does find a warm photocopier, which sends him scurrying to the log to see who last used the machine. The total cost is probably just a drop in the ocean, but it’s plain that every penny counts for him.

I’m a bit baffled as to why the staff-room (where the photocopier is located) was unlocked. That just seems to be asking for trouble.

After a few years during which the teaching staff became fairly negligible characters, it’s interesting to observe that we’re entering an era where they become much more central again. Today that’s highlighted by an entertaining staff room meeting where Mr Hargreaves holds court to an air of general apathy.

Chief apathetic is Mrs Monroe, who masks her dislike of the man with an air of polite brutality. Mr Hargreaves has now emerged as a thrusting Thatcherite figure – eagerly espousing concepts such as economy and image, worrying about how Grange Hill is seen in the marketplace and attempting to find ways to provide good value for their consumers (i.e. the parents). He rounds off his speech with a rallying cry of “traditional values”.

Mrs Monroe later attempts to give him what he wants – a school song sung in Latin by R1 (her “empty-headed vessels” as she delightfully calls them). This leads to a nice beat of tension between the pair as he correctly assumes that she’s mocking him. Mr Hargreaves is a very different character from Mr Bronson then, but I’d say the change has done the series good.

Elsewhere, Mike and Georgina start to get a little closer, although this means that he misses his lunchtime training session (much to Robbie’s chagrin, who’s been working out on his own). Mr Hargreaves is displeased with Mike’s lack of application – as a star athlete he brings prestige to the school but without this skill he’s nothing.

Although Mr Hargreaves has been set up as a somewhat pompous and comic character (today he receives his nickname “Mad Max”) moments like this are illuminating. His single-minded drive to raise the profile of the school means that he has little interest in the pupils as people – only in what they can deliver for Grange Hill’s greater glory.

We also find out that Justine’s boyfriend is called Andy and that Rod is an extremely sharp type. Pretending to Trevor that he can’t play darts and then fleecing him in a money game isn’t very friendly.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Two

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 5th January 1990

Many things have altered at Grange Hill over the years, but Mrs McClusky remains the one fixed point in a changing age. At the start of today’s episode she’s quite taken with young Rod – who’s been able to repair her chair in double quick time (she makes her delight plain by spinning around a few times!)

Mr Griffiths can’t help but harrumph at the speed at which his young deputy has been able to attend to certain jobs. This is anathema to Mr Griffiths, who prefers to mull everything rather slowly (preferably with a nice cup of tea). Rods’s ability to get things done in double-quick time leaves Mr Griffiths feeling rather threatened – so he seeks reassurance from Mrs McClusky.

But it’s Mr Hargreaves who sets his mind at rest in a lovely little scene where he outrageously plays on the caretaker’s vanity (telling him that young Rodney needs the guidance of an older, more experienced man). Give George A. Cooper the comic material and he’ll never let you down.

As for Mr Hargreaves, he comes into sharper comic focus today. The new Deputy Head is emerging as a cheerfully single-minded type – he’s someone quite prepared to ride roughshod over everyone else whilst remaining convinced that it’s all for their own benefit. Efficiency is his watchword – at one point he regrets that the pupils don’t have numbers (which suggests he sees them as work units, rather than people).

Tegs and Justine give Mr Hankin a rather rough time in his science class, although that’s more to do with their on-going issues than any particular dislike for him. Tegs continues to fume that Justine has the temerity to go out with someone (whilst at the same time refusing to accept that he’s at all romantically interested in her). Hmm ….

Mrs Monroe has no such problems controlling her class – she’s more than able to hold R1 in the palm of her hand. From her first scene onwards she’s presented as an inspirational and left-field sort of teacher – whatever else she is, Mrs Monroe is certainly a one-off.

Anna Quayle had quite the career (A Hard Day’s Night, The Avengers, Basil Brush and Brideshead Revisited, to name just a few of her credits) before pulling into the harbour of Grange Hill, which turned out to be her last major television role.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode One

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 2nd January 1990

A new year, a new decade and a new producer (Albert Barber). All of which means that it’s easy to spot that the series has undergone a subtle revamp. There’s a new theme tune and opening titles for starters, which was a positive move – it’s good to see the series moving forward, rather than clinging onto the past with yet another regigged version of ‘Chicken Man’.

There’s also an influx of new characters – both pupils and teachers. Most make an appearance here, even if some (Mrs Monroe) don’t speak. Mr Hankin (Lee Cornes) has slightly more to work with – his debut scene (scrabbling on the floor for his textbooks, knocked over by an unruly pupil) is a deft shorthand move. He seems affable enough, but this moment marks him out as someone who will find class management a problem.

Mr Hargreaves (Kevin O’Shea), the new deputy head, seems to have no such problems on that score. Right from this first episode there seems plenty of scope to develop his character. Slightly surprising that O’Shea’s television career has been fairly limited (with only two regular roles – GH and The Gentle Touch).

The way Mr Hargreaves deflates Mr Griffiths’ affronted pomposity is very nicely played, as is his later encounter with Mauler. In time-honoured fashion, Mauler is changing the direction of the arrow on the blackboard, thereby attempting to confuse the first years. Luckily, Mr Hargreaves catches him and subjects the six-former to a lengthy and impassioned speech. Which impresses Mauler not one little bit ….

Mauler (unfortunately) doesn’t seem to have grown as a person since last year (ditto Trevor and Robbie – who are both as irritating as ever). Ted seems a little better adjusted though.

It’s always melancholy to witness the debut of actors (such as Jamie Lehane, playing Jacko) who have passed away. Although substantial plotlines in this first episode are conspicuous by their absence, Jacko’s misadventures with his pet dog (who’s roaming the school corridors, searching for his master) do provide some low-level comic relief.

Natalie Stevens (Julie Buckfield), is one of those characters who we are invited to believe has always been in the school (just out of shot for the last two years). Ditto René Zagger as Mike Bentley, although maybe he’s slightly more of a new arrival. Positioned as something of a heartthrob (and an athletics ace to boot) it’s plain he’s got his eye on Georgina.

Most contrived moment of the episode concerns Justine and Tegs. We see Justine waiting for someone – who else could it be but Tegs? That’s what we’ve been primed to expect (especially as when he appears, she smiles and moves towards him). But no … she walks on by (totally blanking him) and into the arms of another boy. Eek!

There’s plenty more plot-threads established – the loneliness of new-girl Julie Corrigan (Margo Selby), Aichaa’s (Veena Tulsiani) reluctance to hang around with her much younger brother Akik (Sundeep Suri), the arrival of shifty deputy caretaker Rod (Wayne Norman), Matthew’s straightened financial circumstances and Ronnie’s growing obsession with animal rights.

Phew! Hopefully now these have all been established they can be tackled in a less fragmentary way as the series continues. Time will tell.

The Day of the Triffids on Blu Ray

When The Day of the Triffids came out on Blu Ray late last year it was greeted with a chorus of disapproval. Having recently acquired a copy, I was intrigued to find out how the various reviews published at the time addressed the hotly debated picture issues.

Some quick Googling later, it appears that whilst most of the reviewers were aware of the negative comments, they went on to dismiss the concerns raised – either because they hadn’t watched the serial since its original broadcast and so were unaware of how it had always looked or they simply believed that VT interior shots would never have the same quality as the film exteriors.

The arguments against the BD were basically threefold. Firstly the film sequences (which make up approximately 60% of the serial) had been oversaturated, lending some sequences a bright, sunny feel (rather at odds with the gloomy feel of the original). Next, the VT studio shots had all been “filmised” – but unlike various previous releases where this had been done accidentally, apparently this time round it was an artistic choice. Hum.

Lastly, the credits were remade. This is something that happens regularly on the Doctor Who DVDs and BDs, but they take extreme care to find fonts which match the originals – whereas on the Triffids BD a close approximation was used. Good enough for most, but an irritation for those who have lived with the serial for forty years ….

I could cope with the titles issue, but the grading and filmising are the sort of things which raise my hackles. We’ve been here before with grading problems – some of the Peter Davison Doctor Who DVDs looked a little odd (Black Orchid springs to mind) whilst accidental filmising has bedeviled various DVDs such as Softly Softly: Task Force series one (eventually fixed) and Grange Hill series one – four (never fixed, alas).

Modern televisions tend to handle filmising better than old ones (when I rewatched the early Grange Hill DVDs recently I found that it didn’t look quite as bad as I’d remembered) so the VT scenes in Triffids aren’t totally horrible, although knowing that they could and should be better is a tad irritating.

The film sequences are certainly dazzling – Jo’s yellow boiler suit leaps out of the screen, for example – but I think overall I prefer the more muted feel of the DVD. When I come back to Triffids in future it might be the DVD I’ll reach for, rather than the more glossy BD. What’s certain is that unlike some BD upgrades, I’ll be hanging onto the DVD.

Irrespective of how you watch it, you certainly should. John Duttine is very solid as the everyman cast in an almost impossible situation, with Emma Relph (an actress with surprisingly few credits) offering him strong support. Maurice Colbourne is always watchable whilst there are plenty of vividly sketched cameos (from the likes of Jonathan Newth, Stephen Yardley, David Swift and John Hollis).

With a limited budget, director Ken Hannam managed to effectively depict a London in turmoil during the early episodes (it’s amazing what a few sound effects and a handful of extras can achieve). There are some drawbacks – it was a pity that Bill (John Duttine) didn’t witness Dr Soames’ suicide as he did in the book – but having Bill return to find Soames’ body did mean that the production was saved the cost of an expensive stunt ….

Coming up to its 40th birthday, Day of the Triffids has lost none of its power to discomfort (amazing to think that it was deemed to be acceptable pre-watershed fare).

Journey of a Lifetime – Network BD/DVD Review

Newlyweds Anne and John undertake the journey of a lifetime as they traverse the Holy Land – stopping off to visit a wealth of historic places, such as the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Petra, Bethlehem, Samaria, Jericho, Emmaus, Judaea and the River Jordan.

For Anne, it’s a chance to see the real places she’d only previously read about in the Bible and serves to strengthen her faith. As for John, whilst he retains an open mind, he’s sceptical about the many miracles chronicled in the Bible. But he’s always prepared to listen and consider ….

Network continue to mine the ABC archive for interesting gems – today they’ve come up with this 39 part series (each episode running for approx 15 minutes) shot in colour by Pathe and broadcast during the early sixties. Only ever seen in the UK in black and white, the series has been newly transferred from the original 35mm Eastmancolor negatives for this BD/DVD release.

Anne Lawson and John Bonney play the doting newlyweds (both actors should be familiar to seasoned archive television viewers). The early episodes were shot mute, so there’s no dialogue or natural sounds (just a spot of rather unconvincing foley work every so often). Anne and John provide a breathless narration whilst Muir Matheson chips in with suitably stirring incidental music.

Anne’s cut-class tones strike a rather unintentional comic note to begin with, but once the couple begin exploring in earnest and the travelogue aspect really kicks in, this becomes less of an issue.

I’ve a feeling that the series was recorded in blocks of 13. The first thirteen episodes feature John and Anne’s narration, but from the fourteenth episode onwards we hear them speak  Which is a bit of a shock to begin with …

This change is to the series’ benefit through – the pair emerge as much more rounded and believable figures once they start to talk to each other.

It’s fair to observe that Journey of a Lifetime has a glossy unreal air (everywhere Anne and John go they’re greeted and shown the sights by helpful smiling locals) but to complain that the programme doesn’t show the reality of life in Israel and Jordan during the early sixties is missing the point – that’s not what the series is about.

Instead, each episode finds our intrepid pair discovering another landmark or location which has some significance to the writings in the Bible – the town of Nazareth, Mount Tabor or the shores of Galilee, say. Anne will soak up the local colour and maybe do some sketching whilst the rational John (taking time off from his job as a water engineer) seeks the truth behind the stories and legends he’s read about.

Although the tone of the series is quite sedate, there’s also room for a little dissention and debate. Fire from Heaven doesn’t shy away from highlighting some of the prophet Elijah’s less admirable moments (such as his massacre of the prophets of Baal).

Since each episode only runs for 15 minutes, the programme is an ideal one to dip in and out of. And with John positioned as a sceptic, this means the tone isn’t a particularly preachy one – so no matter what faith you follow (or indeed if you follow no faith at all) it’s still possible to derive a great deal from Journey of a Lifetime.

Whilst this may be something of a niche release, it’s good to see that Network have brought it out (after all, they’ve always been a company who’ve championed the obscure). It’s been a programme that I’ve enjoyed working my way through and I’m sure I’ll return to it again in the future. Recommended.

Journey of a Lifetime is released on the 5th of April 2021 by Network and can be ordered directly from them (BD or DVD).

Journey of a Lifetime – to be released by Network on BD and DVD (5th April 2021)

Journey of a Lifetime will be released on the 5th of April 2021 by Network on both DVD and BD. Press release is below –

Unseen for over 50 years, and now presented in colour for the first time, Journey of a Lifetime is an adventure of spiritual enlightenment across the Holy Land and through the Scriptures.

Filmed in the early 1960s throughout Israel and Jordan this unique quasi-documentary series follows young newlyweds, Ann and John, as they explore this sacred region rediscovering the past through their discovery of the present – while visiting such historic places as the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Petra, Bethlehem, Samaria, Jericho, Emmaus, Judaea and the River Jordan.

Through their journey of discovery and enchantment the couple see for themselves the holy places that Ann’s faith has always made real for her while John, who keeps an open mind, finds that much which he considered miraculous and unlikely could well have happened. Their discussions and encounters with friends and strangers along the way reassert their understanding of the need for unity and tolerance between religious denominations.

Delving into the breathtaking landscapes of these ancient places, and with reference to key passages from the Bible, the landmarks the couple venture to are brought to life through religious teachings and stories – remaining a fascinating snapshot of these areas at the time.

Part travelogue, part history lesson and part reaffirmation of one’s personal faith, this is an absorbing series for the whole family – it does not preach but has a message for those who wish to listen.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Twelve – The Destruction of Time

The Destruction of Time is devastating.  Nothing in the story to date, indeed in the series so far, quite prepares you for the cataclysmic events that unfold during these twenty five minutes.  Even with only the soundtrack and a handful of photographs it’s incredibly powerful, so we can only guess what it would look like in motion.  But with Douglas Camfield directing it seems more than likely that the visuals would have been extremely striking.

Mavic Chen meets his well-deserved end.  Kevin Stoney once again sails merrily over the top, but that suits Chen’s character – who by now has lost his last lingering shreds of sanity.  What makes his demise particularly fascinating is the way he’s treated by the Daleks.  They simply ignore him.  This silent treatment is the ultimate humiliation, although he’s still able to rationalise it away by believing that the Daleks will continue to obey him.  Instead they take him out into the corridor and kill him.   For the self-proclaimed ruler of the universe it’s a squalid and ignominious end.

The Doctor suddenly pops up out of nowhere and tells Steven and Sara to return to the TARDIS.  While they’re doing this, he steals the time destructor and also heads back to the ship.  It goes without saying that the Daleks really need to strengthen their security …..

Whilst Steven makes it back to the TARDIS, Sara returns to help the Doctor.  The bitter irony is that there’s nothing at all she can do and her exposure to the time destructor has fatal results.  Although we’re denied any video record of this scene, the photographs we have help to sell the horror of the moment.  This is no quick, easy death but a long, lingering demise.

The Doctor’s also affected, although he manages to quickly rally round.  But when Steven comes to help, Hartnell barks at him in such an unearthly manner that it’s another moment that jars.  We rarely hear the Doctor under such pressure.

And then it’s over.  The time destructor is exhausted, Kembel is now a desert wilderness and Sara and all the Daleks are dead.  Once the Doctor recovers some of his equilibrium he can’t help but crow a little. “Well, my boy, we finally rid this planet of Daleks.”  It’s up to Steven to remind him of the human cost (“Bret, Katarina, Sara”) to which the Doctor belatedly agrees. “What a waste. What a terrible waste.”

When picking out top Doctor/companion pairings, Hartnell and Purves probably wouldn’t be top of many people’s lists, which is a bit of a shame. Peter Purves always accepted that his role was to provide solid support for Hartnell (both on screen and off) and that’s something he always did very well. Maybe if a few more episodes existed then their era might have a higher profile. Are there are more out there? Time will tell I guess ….

The Daleks Master Plan might lurch from comedy to tragedy and all points inbetween, but it still works.  It shouldn’t by rights as it has all the hallmarks of being another (admittedly entertaining) debacle like The Chase.  But thanks to Douglas Camfield’s direction (the three episodes in existence, plus a handful of other clips more than hint at the overall visual quality) the story avoids that fate.  It’s quite a leap from the comic book thrills of the mid part of the story to the final ten minutes of destruction, but this final downbeat tone still packs a punch 55+ years on.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Eleven – The Abandoned Planet

After a run of light-hearted episodes, there’s a sudden shift of mood in The Abandoned Planet.  Things open normally enough – the Doctor has managed to land the TARDIS on Kembel, although initially he thought he’d failed and apologised to both Steven and Sara.  But when he realised that he’d succeeded after all, he then rounded on Sara and told her to have more faith in him in the future!

This nice little character moment for Hartnell, as well as his inability to say “impulse compass”, is pretty much business as usual – but after this opening scene the Doctor strides off into the jungle and isn’t seen again.  The slowly dawning realisation that the Doctor isn’t coming back is a perturbing one – not only for Steven and Sara, but also for the audience.  The Doctor might not always know exactly what’s going on, but he usually manages to bluff his way through.

Steven and Sara should be more than capable to cope on their own (Steven is a pilot, Sara a space security agent) but without the Doctor to guide them they do seem a little adrift.  But the good thing about his absence is that it forces them to take charge as well as offering Purves and Marsh a chance to move centre-stage for a change.  What Steven and Sara discover is a mystery – Kembel seems abandoned.

The Dalek city is empty.  The Doctor’s nowhere to be seen.  Have the Daleks already left and taken the Doctor?  It seems logical, but if so, where have they gone?

Earlier, we saw Mavic Chen return with the core.  He was naturally jubilant and couldn’t resist rubbing the Black Dalek up the wrong way. “I hope that the Daleks will not suffer any more setbacks which could upset the plans for our conquest of the universe.”  He doesn’t seem to have considered for a moment that now he’s delivered the core his usefulness will be pretty much at an end.

One of the Daleks raises this point, but the Black Dalek disagrees. “No. His arrogance and greed have a further use for us. Alert the council to attend their final conference.” The way that the Black Dalek says “final” shouldn’t leave you in any doubt that their fate is sealed ….

The conference is a hoot.  All the other delegates are more than a little miffed at the way Chen seems to know more than they do.  He misquotes a little Orwell at them.  “Though we are all equal partners with the Daleks on this great conquest, some of us are more equal than others.” This doesn’t go down well at all.

His moment of triumph over the others is short-lived as the delegates suddenly find themselves trapped in the conference room.  Chen, with his usual self-delusion turned up to eleven, doesn’t seem to realise this means they’re all now prisoners.  The Daleks clearly now have no further use for them – which begs the question as to why they let Chen chair this last meeting.  It served no purpose, so was it simply to humiliate him?

What happens next is slightly odd.  The delegates are taken to a detention room and left there.  Why didn’t the Daleks simply exterminate them?  This allows Steven and Sara to release them and they all head home, promising to warn their respective planets about the imminent Dalek invasion.  Their change of heart is a little hard to swallow, but then if they really thought they’d be equal partners with the Daleks, their judgement wasn’t at all sound to begin with.

Chen is now loopier than ever.  He tells Steven and Sara that soon he’ll be master of the universe.  At gunpoint he leads the two of them underground, where it seems the Daleks (and presumably the Doctor) will be found.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Ten – Escape Switch

It’s possibly not terribly surprising that the ruthless and deadly Sara Kingdom we saw in her first episode has been somewhat watered down as the serial has progressed (this explains the way she reacts in terror at the sight of a mummy rising from an Egyptian tomb).  Steven, of course, moves protectively in front of her.  It would have been an interesting wrinkle for Sara to be the protective one whilst Steven showed fear, but the series was a little way off such a role reversal.

There’s no need for any panic though, as the mysterious figure is only the Monk (who’s been trussed up in bandages by the Doctor!)  He’s a bit of an imp, this Doctor – it’s a far cry from his original characterisation as an unknowable patrician, but one that Hartnell’s very adept at playing.

The Daleks continue to bumble around.  They’re not as useless as the ones we saw in The Chase, but they’re not the greatest bunch of thinkers either.  We can’t be too harsh on them though, as it’s mostly Dennis Spooner’s fault (and maybe Terry Nation’s too – since Spooner was still apparently scripting from Nation’s original story outlines).

In this Egyptian interlude, the Daleks decide to recruit the Monk as their agent.  Eh?  Why wouldn’t the Monk have simply nipped off in his TARDIS at the first opportunity?  How could the Daleks have guaranteed his co-operation?  And why use him anyway, why didn’t they hunt the Doctor down themselves?  Their desire not to see the core destroyed is the motor that’s driven the story, but even if that happened it would only delay (by about fifty years) their plans, not derail them completely.

The Daleks, now extremely miffed at the way things have gone, finally decide to launch an all-out attack.  Chen’s not pleased about this and shows his displeasure by roughly shoving one of the Dalek’s eyestalks aside.  A scripted moment or something worked out in rehearsal?  Either way it’s a lovely little touch which illustrates just how reckless the Guardian has become.  Few people would dare to show such an open sign of contempt against the Daleks, since we’ve seen time and again how they “reward” such gestures.  It’s another small sign that Chen’s humiliation and fall from grace can’t be far away ….

Steven, Sara and the Monk set out to look for the Doctor.  Steven and Sara shout the Doctor’s name at the top of their voices, whilst the Monk also calls out – but sotto voce.  Possibly a nod back to a similar gag in The Myth Makers, it’s another opportunity for Butterworth add his inimitable comic touch.  When they’re surrounded by the Daleks, the Monk offers up Steven and Sara as hostages – it’s a good plan, as the Doctor would be sure to hand over the core in exchange for the safe of his friends.  A pity that neither Chen or the Daleks thought of it earlier then …..

It’s possible to wonder if Hartnell’s got the week off, as the Doctor’s been absent from proceedings so far.  But ten minutes in he does finally turn up, as the Doctor listens silently to Chen’s demands broadcast from the Dalek ship – hand over the core, or Steven and Sara will die.  Hartnell does little in this very brief scene – he doesn’t utter a word – but the way his eyes dart from side to side and the expression on his face tells an eloquent story.

It’s often been observed that Hartnell – using his years of experience as a film actor – was remarkably comfortable in front of the tv cameras.  During this era of television a great many actors had come to the small screen via the theatre, so their performances tended – initially at least – to be broader.  Hartnell, as befitted a wily old pro, always knew that less was more, and that just a look or a small gesture could speak volumes.  Numerous examples of this are dotted about his episodes and whilst it’s always fun to spot his fluffs and stumbles (and there’s a great one in this episode – “Magic, Mavic Chen”) it shouldn’t be forgotten just how skilled an actor he was.

There’s a classic Doctor/Dalek face-off, with the Doctor seemingly in full control.  The Daleks agree that the handover of the core will take place with just one Dalek present.  Chen later wonders they agreed so readily.  “One Dalek is capable of exterminating all!” is the chilling reply. Thanks to an ominous stab of Tristram Cary’s incidental music and the expression on Chen’s face this is a moment which helps to reemphasise the power of the Daleks.

The Doctor is forced to hand over the core to Chen, but all isn’t lost.  He’s stolen the directional unit from the Monk’s TARDIS, so they’ll be able to travel back to Kembel.  This is a small, but significant, moment.  For those brought up on the new series, it seems inconceivable that the Doctor wouldn’t be able to control the TARDIS, but in the early days every trip was a mystery one.  Personally I think that something was lost when the Doctor gained full control over the TARDIS, but what’s really interesting is that up until this point it’s never been clear whether the TARDIS’ erratic performances was due to the Doctor’s ineptitude or a fault with the ship itself.  Now it’s made clear – with the right components the Doctor can steer the TARDIS anywhere.

As the Doctor and the others set off, the Monk fades away from the story.  This hasn’t been such a good vehicle for Peter Butterworth as The Time Meddler, as the Monk was only a supporting character, not the centre of attention.  Even so, Butterworth was always worth watching and it’s a pity the Monk didn’t return for a third time.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Nine – Golden Death

The TARDIS turns up next in Ancient Egypt, but what we see is a far cry from the sober historicals of previous years. Here, the backdrop of the pyramids is simply that – a backdrop which provides the Doctor, the Monk, Chen and the Daleks a colourful location to do battle against.

Whilst the Doctor repairs the lock of the TARDIS, Steven and Sara set off to find the Monk – but run into Chen and the Daleks instead. The Daleks then tangle with the Egyptians (no surprises for guessing who comes out on top).

One of Douglas Camfield’s favourite actors, Walter Randall, turns up as Hyksos, whilst the presence of Derek Ware as Tuthmos implies that some action took place (although the lack of pictures makes it hard to know exactly how athletic the Egyptians’ deaths were).

To be honest, the Egyptians are rather pallidly portrayed. Even though they have a fair amount of screentime in this episode and the next, we never get much of a sense that they’re individuals. Instead they come across as little more than cannon-fodder for the Daleks (and it’s notable how the Doctor has zero interest in their fate).

The first meeting between the Monk and the Daleks is amusing. “Good morning my son” says the Monk cheerily to the Daleks, before attempting to beat a hasty retreat. But he reluctantly finds himself forced to serve the Dalek cause.

Hartnell and Butterworth share another entertaining scene, which is one of the highlights of the episode. Although we’ll have to wait until the next episode to discover exactly what fate was meted out by the Doctor to his fellow time-traveller.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Golden Death. It’s diverting enough, but ultimately it’s also a little forgettable as well as being a good example of twenty-five minutes of running on the spot.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Eight – Volcano

The delegates are back! And they’re giving Chen a hard time. One interesting revelation to come out of their discussion is Chen’s statement that the Daleks know the Doctor is a time-traveller. This presumably means this story carries on chronologically from The Chase, although if that’s the case why didn’t the Daleks identify the Doctor previously?

This also opens another can of worms – if these Daleks have access to time-travel technology then why don’t they simply nip ahead to Uranus fifty years in the future and collect another supply of taranium for the Time Destructor? It would have them saved ten episodes of running about ….

It doesn’t take long before the Daleks realise that the taranium core given to them by the Doctor is useless – which puts the pressure on Chen. They also continue to exterminate their former allies for no good reason, other than the fact it’s what they like to do. Spiky Trantis is the latest to bite the dust and the fact that it happens in front of Chen must be a clear signal to him that he’s on increasingly shaky ground.

The first eight minutes of the story have been pretty much business as usual, but when the TARDIS materialises in the middle of a cricket pitch (to the bemusement of the commentators) it’s obvious that the story is lurching into an off-beat mode. Eek! It’s become The Chase II 

The TARDIS then lands in an inhospitable, volcanic location. The last person you’d also expect to see there would be the Meddling Monk (Peter Butterworth) but there he is. Unexpected though the Monk’s appearance is, it’s also very welcome. Butterworth was excellent value during The Time Meddler and with Spooner now on scripting duties there promises to be more fun to come.

The Monk seems to have tracked down the Doctor purely in order to immobilise his TARDIS and strand him in one time and location (as the Doctor did to the Monk previously). But whatever the Monk did to the TARDIS’ lock, the Doctor – with his ring and the help of the sun! – still manages to get into the ship. Which makes this section of the story a little pointless really.

Never mind, as we’re soon off again – but this time the Doctor will be pursued by both the Monk and the Daleks. Once again the TARDIS heads back to present-day Britain (which is odd, since it’s the one place and time that the Doctor was rarely able to find for Ian and Barbara).

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Seven – The Feast of Steven

For many years it was a widely held fan-myth that Nation and Spooner had penned alternate episodes of DMP – each installment ending on a “now get out of that” cliffhanger for the other one to deal with.

The reality (Nation writing 1-5 and 7, Spooner 6 and 8-12) was a little different, although at the start of Coronas of the Sun Spooner did have to resolve Nation’s previous cliffhanger which saw the Doctor surrounded by Daleks and apparently defeated.

When Spooner ended Coronas of the Sun with the Doctor warning Steven and Sara not to go outside, since the atmosphere was deadly, was this a challenge for Nation or just a gag at the Doctor’s expense?

Because for once they’ve not landed on a jungle planet, but instead have arrived in Britain during the mid sixties. The TARDIS has materialised outside a police station, which causes the boys in blue some consternation. Were the cast of Z Cars really due to appear in this sequence, before someone decided that it maybe wasn’t a good idea? Possibly it’s one of those drawing board ideas which progressed no further than that.

The appearance of Reg Pritchard as a man who’s come to report the fact that someone keeps moving his house (his greenhouse that is) enables the Doctor to tell him that he’s seen him before, in a market in Jaffa. Any fan who knows his Jethrik from his Jablite will be aware that Pritchard played Ben Daheer in The Crusade. Today, an in-joke like that would be picked up instantly by a section of the audience, but back in 1965 Doctor Who fans like that didn’t exist (a sobering thought I know). So this gag seems to have been put in (either by Hartnell or possibly Camfield) as something to amuse the crew. It’s an early sign there’s an “anything goes” feel about this Christmas Day episode.

There’s one lovely scene though, with Hartnell on sparkling form.

DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: I’ve heard of a housing shortage, but I never knew it was so bad you’d have to spend Christmas in a Police Box.
DOCTOR: Oh, Christmas! Oh, is it? Of course, yes, yes, yes, yes! That accounts for the holly in the hall.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: You mean you didn’t know?
DOCTOR: Well, of course I didn’t know! I travel about too much.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: And why is that?
DOCTOR: Well, a quest of knowledge, dear boy. I mean, you have a saying in this country, have you not, er… “travel broadens the mind”?
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: You mean you’re not English?
DOCTOR: No, good gracious no!
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: Scottish?
DOCTOR: No.
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: Are you Welsh, then?
DOCTOR: Oh, you’ll have to think in a far bigger way than that! Your ideas are too narrow, too small, too crippled!
DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR: All right, all right. What are you then?
DOCTOR: Well, I suppose you might say that I am a citizen of the universe…and a gentleman, to boot!

Peter Purves gets to put on a Scouse accent (another nod to Z Cars) which is also good fun. It’s when they leave for Hollywood in 1920’s that things really get odd ….

The lack of visuals makes it impossible to know exactly how effective the Doctor’s misadventures in the film studio were, but with Camfield directing it almost certainly looked good. The dramatic piano music and silent inter-titles (another unusual meta textual joke) sound amusing and there’s some decent lines. Sara complains that a strange man keeps telling her to take her clothes off, whilst the Doctor succinctly sums the whole situation up. “This is a madhouse. It’s all full of Arabs.”

The Daleks are conspicuous by their absence though. Presumably it was felt that their brand of exterminating mayhem would have been a bit of a downer on Christmas Day. So instead Feast of Steven works (or not, depending on your point of view) as a stand-alone episode that has no connection at all to the rest of the serial.

Oh, and Hartnell’s Doctor ends by breaking the fourth wall years before Tom Baker did it …..

Coronation Street – March 1978

Having had a bit of a break, I’ve recently picked up my Coronation Street rewatchathon from January 1978 (at the rate of two episodes per evening).

The trial of Ernie Bishop’s killers, from mid March 1978, has been an interesting storyline. This was partly because it allowed the topic of capital punishment an airing (most of the residents were in favour although there were some voices raised against). One naysayer was Emily, who reacted with characteristic quiet dignity when Ivy blithely shoved a petition under her nose.

We never actually saw the trial (the viewers got no further than the corridor outside the courtroom). It’s hard to image a soap opera today not milking this scenario for all it was worth, but there’s several possible reasons why the 1977 Street decided to be more discrete.  I’ve a feeling that it may just have been budget related – a one-off courtroom set might have been too expensive to build (ditto filming on location).

The audience doesn’t lose too much by having the events reported second hand though. Indeed, the endless sitting about and waiting for something to happen is nicely captured. When Betty caustically wonders if Hilda would be taking her knitting, it deftly creates the image that she was attending purely out of ghoulish curiosity (although since Hilda was quite happy to sit and keep Emily company maybe we shouldn’t judge her too harshly).

The mother of one of the accused – Mrs. Lester (Penny Leatherbarrow) – is also at court, and her close encounter with Emily is another fascinating moment. The pair are briefly in the same space but don’t talk to each other (which might seem like a missed opportunity, but I think things play out better this way).

Emily slowly realises that even the successful conviction doesn’t offer her any closure (with good behavour, the pair might be released in ten years time). Long-time viewers would be rewarded though, as Ernie’s killer returned in 2005 and 2006, now a changed man and seeking forgiveness from Emily. Nearly thirty years is an incredibly long time to wait for a storyline pay-off, but it was appreciated by this viewer.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Six – Coronas of the Sun

The Black Dalek is having a bad day.  In an earlier episode we saw how he dealt with failure from some of his hapless Dalek subordinates (he permanently puts them out of his misery).  He’s still in a foul mood and Mavic Chen is now in his sights.

Chen’s not prepared to go down without a fight though and manages to turn the argument around by claiming he diverted the Doctor to Mira on purpose.  “You make your failure sound like an achievement” rasps the Black Dalek ironically.

Chen is unable to stifle a smile when he learns that the Doctor and his friends have stolen the Dalek ship on Mira.  Naturally, this sends the Black Dalek into another tizzy!

The Black Dalek in Coronas of the Sun is probably the most sharply drawn Dalek we’ve seen since their debut story.  He’s not content to simply bark out orders, there’s a touch of character and individuality about him.

Was this due to Dennis Spooner’s input? This was the first of his six scripts for DMP (although it was based on a Nation story outline).  Nation famously hated the way David Whitaker later wrote for the Daleks in Power and Evil (somewhat missing the point by believing that the Daleks in Power were too subservient) so that does make me lean towards the probability that Nation wouldn’t have made the Black Dalek so individual – he tended to depict the Daleks as much more of a homogeneous collective.

Although Spooner takes over scripting duties for the remainder of the serial (with the exception of the next episode) there’s no sudden tonal shift.  That’ll happen next time with Nation’s bizarre Christmas episode before Spooner starts to have some fun over the next few episodes (and it’s fair to say that Spooner was a better comedy writer than Nation) before everything gets serious again for the final two installments.

As for the Doctor, he has some nice confrontational scenes with the Daleks on Mira (it’s pleasing that the Daleks still don’t know who he is – all that “Doctor Who is our greatest enemy” in The Chase was rather tiresome) and later somberly leads Steven and Sara out to meet the Daleks on Kembel.  It’s a pity we can’t see this scene as Hartnell is uncharacteristically subdued to begin with.

Thanks to the Doctor whipping up a fake core he’s able to get the TARDIS back.  There’s another whacking plot contrivance – Steven manages to inadvertently create a forcefield around himself (!) which means he can hand over the fake core and withstand being exterminated by the Daleks before nipping back into the TARDIS.

Although compared to the events of the next episode that seems quite sensible ….

Witness Statements: Making The Bill Series 1-3 by Oliver Crocker (Book Review)

Given The Bill‘s length of service (1983 – 2010) it’s surprising that books about the series are very thin on the ground. Although maybe it’s worth remembering that this is the fate of most television shows – programmes like Doctor Who (which have been examined in painstaking detail) are very much the exception rather than the rule.

During the series’ lifetime, The Bill generated several glossy, large format books (by the likes of Hilary Kingsley and Geoff Tibballs). These are good to have, but Witness Statements: Making The Bill Series 1-3 offers a much more forensic examination of the early years of the show.

Oliver Crocker’s Bill podcast has been running for several years now, clocking up an impressive number of episodes (each one interviewing a different Sun Hill alumni). With all this material to hand, it made sense to distill some of it into book form (plus Crocker has carried out new interviews especially for this book). Witness Statements concentrates on the original incarnation of The Bill – when it was a post-watershed 50 minute series (prior to its re-formatting in 1988).

Each episode, from the Woodentop pilot to the final episode of S3 – Not Without Cause – is given its own chapter. A highly impressive roster of personnel – both in front of and behind the screen – provide commentaries on the episodes in turn.

Every contributor offers something of interest, but John Salthouse’s comments were especially fascinating (possibly because he’s rarely spoken about his time as DI Roy Galloway before in any depth).

I’ve recently been revisiting the first series of The Bill and I’ve found Witness Statements to be an excellent companion. If you have any interest in The Bill – or indeed British television of this era in general – then Witness Statements is an invaluable book which comes highly recommended.

Witness Statements: Making The Bill Series 1-3 by Oliver Crocker, published by Devonfire Books, is available from Amazon.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Five – Counter Plot

Back in the 1990’s I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of The Daleks’ Master Plan – which wasn’t really surprising as I only had access to the (then) two existing episodes (Counter Plot and Escape Switch) courtesy of Daleks – The Early Years on VHS.

Jumping into the story cold with Counter Plot is a strange experience, as the horror and tension of the previous episode, The Traitors, is completely absent.  Counter Plot hits the reset switch by transmitting the Doctor, Steven and Sara to the jungle planet of Mira.

Oh good, another jungle!  Following Kembel and Desperus we now end up on Mira, which looks spookily similar to the previous jungles.  No surprises for guessing that since this was an extra long story they had to stretch the budget as far as possible – reusing the same sets was an obvious money-saving move.

The Doctor’s jaunt to Mira is another clumsy part of plotting.  The Doctor and Steven just happen to stumble into a room where a time experiment is being carried out (and they enter at exactly the right time too, which stretches credibility even further).  And then Sara (also somewhat randomly) joins them.  There’s little time for any discussion though, as all three (plus some white mice!) are then transported far far away.

Cue various camera effects by Douglas Camfield to sell the illusion of matter transmission.  Most entertainingly, this involves Peter Purves and Jean Marsh bouncing up and down on a (hidden) trampoline.  It’s an eternal regret that William Hartnell also wasn’t present at Ealing for this filming, although it’s no real surprise that he wasn’t.  Can you imagine the conversation?  “Bill, we’d like you to get on this trampoline”  Cue various expletives ….

There’s a wonderfully revealing scene between Karlton and Mavic Chen.  Chen seems hesitant, unaware of how to proceed.  Karlton suggests he tells the Daleks that they sent the Doctor and the Core to Mira on purpose (since it’s only a stone’s throw away from Kembel – gosh, another coincidence!).  After a few seconds Chen sees the logic in this and launches into a highly dramatic monologue. “Without me, their plan cannot completely work. Without me, they are but nothing. Nothing! When I am next to the Daleks, only they stand between me and the highest position in the universe. Then will be the time for me to take complete control!”

As he raises his arms to take the applause of an imaginary crowd we cut to Karlton. He’s staring silently at Chen, giving the clear impression that he’s only just realised that his boss is completely mad. And Chen’s reaction to Karlton is also interesting, as he seems to acknowledge that he’s gone too far. It’s a telling few moments that, in non-verbal terms, speaks volumes and it again makes me regret that Karlton shortly fades away from the story.

I love the Doctor’s opening line to Sara. “Pull yourself together, madam. I want to ask you a few questions.” Sara might be under the mistaken apprehension that she’s in control but the Doctor soon puts her right! Although it’s another slight weakness that Sara changes so quickly from an icy killer to the Doctor’s friend (and why does she accept Steven’s story at face value?).

It’s a nice scene for Peter Purves nonetheless, with Hartnell popping up at the end to sadly confirm the truth.  Also of interest during the Mira scenes is the moment when the Doctor tangles with the invisible Visians (like many Terry Nation creations, there’s a clue in their name!).  Billy waves his walking stick around furiously in an attempt to beat them off.  And despite the fact they’re apparently eight feet tall he succeeds.  This moment, played dead seriously by Hartnell, never fails to raise a smile.

There’s a cracking cliffhanger too, as the Doctor, Steven and Sara find themselves surrounded by the Daleks.  The Doctor tells them that “I’m afraid, my friends, the Daleks have won.”

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Four – The Traitors

Katarina’s death is a bit of a shocker.  The last few episodes have suggested that she’s now firmly a regular, so her sudden demise (sucked out of the airlock with Kirksen) certainly helps to reinforce the impression that the stakes in this story are higher than usual (as we’ll see, other allies will also perish before we reach episode twelve).

But the nature of this type of adventure serial means that it’s impossible to dwell on her fate for too long.  Steven sounds upset and the Doctor delivers a nice little tribute (“She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. She wanted to save our lives and perhaps the lives of all the other beings of the Solar System. I hope she’s found her Perfection. Oh, how I shall always remember her as one of the Daughters of the Gods. Yes, as one of the Daughters of the Gods”) but once that’s done they press on and she’s only mentioned again at the end of the final episode as Steven counts the human cost of their victory.

Although the story seems set to be a re-run of The Chase (the Dalek pursuit ship wasn’t able to intercept the Doctor on Desperus, so you assume it’ll carry on following them) at present it takes a different tack.  The Black Dalek orders the pursuit ship to be destroyed as he doesn’t tolerate failure (another sign that the Daleks are back to their ruthless, single-minded best) and then contacts Chen – telling him that he’ll be the one to regain the core and exterminate the Doctor and his friends.  This is another sign that the Daleks are thinking – it would have been impossible for them to travel to Earth and not attract attention, so using their human agents is the logical course of action.

Every good megalomaniac needs a confidant and Chen has Karlton (Maurice Browning).  Browning is wonderfully smooth and his performance gives us the impression that Karlton is well aware of his worth.  It’s a pity that he doesn’t stick around longer as he would have served as a good sounding board for Chen’s various plots and dreams.

The Traitors has an increasing vice-like feel, as the Doctor, Steven and Bret (now back on Earth) find it difficult to know who they can trust.  Bret contacts Daxtar (Roger Avon) but he’s part of the conspiracy and Bret shoots him dead.  The Doctor is appalled by this, but as he was powerless to intercede it’s another sign that the Doctor isn’t in control – at present he’s being buffeted along by events whilst others (both enemies and allies) hold the upper hand.

This episode introduces us to Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh).  Chen initially refers to her by her surname and sums up her character.  “Ruthless, hard, efficient. And does exactly as ordered.”  This scene is another mis-direct, as no doubt the audience is supposed to be surprised when this top agent is revealed not to be a man but a woman.  Sara, like the troopers later seen in Blakes 7, is a product of her training.  Once she has her orders then she’ll carry them out without question.  It’s not difficult to imagine that Terry Nation was again drawing on his memories of WW2 when crafting this character.

If Katarina’s death at the start of this episode was a jolt, then so is Bret’s demise at the end.  He’s shot dead by Sara which spells trouble for the Doctor and Steven as she’ll now be gunning for them …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Three – Devil’s Planet

After being little more than comic relief during The Chase, it’s good to see the Daleks regaining their ruthless streak – highlighted when they question the hapless Zephon.

Zephon’s arrogance won’t permit him to admit he was in any way culpable for the Doctor’s theft of the taranium core (although you do have to agree with him that the Daleks’ security was rather lax).  When the Black Dalek tells him it’s been agreed that he’s guilty of negligence, it’s not clear who’s agreed this.  The Black Dalek by himself maybe?  This would seem to be the most likely option and if so it’s a clear demonstration to the other delegates that the Daleks can and will operate unilaterally.

Dalek technology is shown to be rather advanced, as they’re able to remote land Chen’s craft (carrying the Doctor, Steven, Katarina and Bret) onto the prison planet Desperus.  They then launch a pursuit craft to intercept them and regain the core – although you have to wonder why they didn’t launch the pursuit ship earlier (that way it could have maintained a watching brief a safe distance behind).

It may not surprise you to know that Desperus is an inhospitable prison planet.  There’s no guards and the prisoners are left to fend for themselves (echos of Cygnus Alpha from Blakes 7).  Alas we never find out if Desperus was named after it became a prison planet or if it always had that name and someone decided it sounded just the gloomy sort of place to establish a penal colony!

It’s another jungle planet, no doubt reusing the Kembel sets.  We’re quickly introduced to three very hairy convicts, Bors (Dallas Cavell), Garge (Geoffrey Cheshire) and Kirksen (Douglas Sheldon).  The pecking order is established during their first scene – Bors is leader, Garge wants to be the leader but Bors (at present) is too strong which leaves Kirksen as the third wheel.

Terry Nation seems to be deliberately wrong-footing us, since everything suggests that Bors will be the main threat.  But after the Doctor is able to repair the ship and they take off again, it’s Kirksen who sneaks aboard and grabs Katarina …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Two – Day of Armageddon

Moving pictures!  It’s nice to be able to watch Day of Armageddon for several reasons, not least because it gives us an opportunity to see Nicholas Courtney (Bret Vyon) and Adrienne Hill (Katarina) in action.

We open with the Doctor skulking around the jungle.  At one point he’s on his hands and knees, which is a tad unusual (and undignified) for this Doctor.  A little later he meets up with Steven, Katarina and Bret and is forced to admit that Bret is a decent sort after all.

The Doctor, naturally enough, takes control of the situation (or at least attempts to).  But both Steven and Bret also have their points of view and it’s fair to say that the exchanges between the three of them are frank.  Bret doesn’t hold back when attempting to bring the Doctor into line. “Sir! Will you shut up!” It’s a lovely scene which helps to strengthen Steven’s character (he’s had previous experience of the Daleks and so isn’t prepared to blindly follow the Doctor’s lead) as well as Bret’s.

Rather oddly, the Doctor tells Bret that the Daleks can be defeated if they look at their history books. “You must tell Earth to look back in the history of the year 2157, and that the Daleks are going to attack again. History will show how to deal with them.” Eh? Unless the Daleks plan to steal the Earth’s Core for a second time I’m not sure how that’s going to work.

Another plus point about having this episode back in the archives is that it’s a good showcase for Mavic Chen.  Douglas Camfield obviously knew a good actor when he saw one, as he later cast Kevin Stoney as the not totally dissimilar Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion.

Indeed, there’s not a lot to choose between the two characters – both ally themselves with one of the Doctor’s bitterest enemies and both fail to spot all the warning signs that they’re becoming surplus to requirements.  Also, both Chen and Vaughn have a mocking, sardonic sense of humour which marks them out from your run-of-the-mill villains.  Chen wears a lot more make-up than Vaughn though ….

We get a good insight into Chen’s character during his discussion with one of the delegates, Zephon (Julian Sherrier).  We’ve already seen the Daleks vow to dispose of all their allies as soon as their usefulness is at an end, but both Chen and Zephon obviously don’t believe this could happen to them.

When Chen suggests they join the meeting, Zephon retorts that “they will not start the meeting without me.” Chen’s insincere bowing and his amused attitude gives the very strong impression that he considers Zephon to be nothing more than a pawn in the game (Chen clearly views himself as something very different).  Let’s check back in about ten episodes time to see how that works out for him.

The Doctor suggests that Bret steals Chen’s ship – with it, they could make their way back to Earth and warn the authorities. But first the Doctor elects to take Zephon’s place in the meeting (luckily, Zephon wears a big cloak, so after knocking him out it’s a simple disguise).  All the delegates gather, but annoyingly we’re not told most of their names (which has been the cue for more than fifty years of debate!) Only one of them (apart from Chen) has a speaking role, Trantis (Roy Evans). It doesn’t seem right for Roy Evans not to be playing in a miner if he’s in Doctor Who ….

When the delegates arrive, each walks into the conference room in a very strange way – let’s be kind and say none of them were used to that level of gravity.  As they don’t speak, they have to show their approval by banging on the table – each has a different way of banging, which is rather sweet.  Chen has to be different of course, when the others are thumping the table he elects to clap his hands.  Another sign that he sets himself apart from the others.

Chen proudly displays the core of the Time Destructor.  It’s taken fifty years to mine enough taranium to make it work, so it’s precious beyond belief.  When Zephon manages to escape and sound the alarm it’s a little surprising that neither the Daleks or the delegates bother to pick the Time Destructor up.  Instead, all the delegates run around like headless chickens whilst the crafty old Doctor grabs it and makes his escape.  This is another clumsy piece of plotting – the Daleks’ scheme depends on a device which the Doctor has very fortunately managed to acquire.

As the episode draws to a close, Bret is keen to take off.  The Doctor hasn’t turned up, so Bret tells Steven and Katarina he’ll have to go without him.  Will the Doctor make it in time?  Hmm, I wonder.