Doctor Who – The Creature from the Pit. Episode Two

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At the end of episode one the Doctor decided to join Doran in the pit.  This was rather unexpected, although it appears that he merely planned to hang about until everyone had left and then climb out.  Quite why no-one could spot him from the pit entrance is a slight mystery, but no matter.

There then follows the (in)famous scene where the Doctor attempts to climb his way out of the pit with the aid of a book, Everest in Easy Stages.  Unfortunately it’s in Tibetan so he then pulls out another handy book – Teach Yourself Tibetan.  If you’re not a fan of the humour present in the series at this time then I don’t think this gag is going to impress.

With the Doctor apparently dead, Adrasta is keen to utilise Romana’s knowledge to destroy the creature.   There’s a nice hard edge to Adrasta, which is demonstrated after she gives the wise-cracking Romana a swift slap.  Ouch!

The Doctor, having fallen into the pit, then makes the acquaintance of Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon).   Bayldon is simply delightful as the cowardly astrologer and is obviously one of the serial’s trump cards.   He gets plenty of good lines (“Seer to princes and emperors. The future foretold, the past explained, the present apologised for”) and works excellently with Tom Baker.  Tom always seemed to thrive when he had strong actors to bounce off against and Bayldon is a fine example of this.

And then the creature turns up.  It’s not good (although the model shots don’t look too bad).  What’s fairly astonishing is that none of the production team appear to have seen it before it was unveiled on the first studio day.  You’d have assumed someone would have kept an eye on how things were going, but no.  In the post-mortem that followed, Graham Williams put the blame firmly on the shoulders of the visual effects department, but this seems more than a little unfair.  With a very limited budget, just how do you create a monster of almost unimaginable size?

That neither Williams or Douglas Adams ever stopped to ask whether such a creature could be effectively realised on Doctor Who’s budget is very perplexing.  But whilst the monster doesn’t impress, the byplay between the Doctor and Organon does.

ORGANON: Ahem. What do we do when we find the monster? Have you thought of that?
DOCTOR: Shush. I don’t know.
ORGANON: You don’t know? What do you mean, you don’t know?
DOCTOR: I haven’t made up my mind yet.
ORGANON: Well, haven’t you got a plan?
DOCTOR: A plan? Oh yes, I’ve got a plan.
ORGANON: Well then?
DOCTOR: I just don’t know how to apply it, that’s all.

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Doctor Who – The Creature from the Pit. Episode One

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Watching episode one with no knowledge of the (very large) problematic monster to come, this is more than decent fare. The jungle filming at Ealing is glossy and well mounted (that Tom is made to look a little sweaty heightens the illusion that we’re in a lush, tropical environment).

Adrasta might be a rather one-note villain, but Myra Frances does her best with the material and the fact she’s rather easy on the eye doesn’t hurt.   There’s also a gang of comedy bandits lurking about, led by Torvin (John Bryans).  Torvin is the least subtle Jewish stereotype (“my lovely boys”) you’re ever likely to see, for all the world he seems to be playing Fagin from Oliver Twist.

I have to confess it was only recently that I connected him to his Blakes 7 roles (Bercol and Shrinker) which just goes to show what a beard and a broad accent can do.  Romana is captured by Torvin and his associates, although she’s not terribly impressed by them.  “I’m a traveller. I’m a Time Lord. And I am not used to being assaulted by a collection of hairy, grubby little men”.  Few actresses could do haughty like Lalla Ward, it just seems to come naturally ….

As an actor, Terry Walsh was a great stuntman.  Bless him.  But it makes sense to give him a speaking part, since his character, Doran, would be the next victim to be thrown into the pit to be consumed by the mysterious creature.  And the sight of Walsh’s terror stricken face as he spies something off-camera, glowing green, is another well-mounted moment.  At present, with the creature still unseen, the imagination can work overtime to create an impression of what it could possibly look like.

I wonder if the reality will match our imaginations?  Next time we’ll find out.

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode Four

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Both the Doctor and Scarlioni have one last encounter with the Countess, although Scarlioni’s is rather more deadly. The Doctor once again switches from playful joshing to a more serious persona in a (double) heartbeat.  Tom’s in full pop-eyed form here.  Whereas the Count once again gets to show his true features, which comes as something of a surprise to his wife ….

This is another of those odd moments. The Egyptian scroll depicting a splinter of Scaroth had white skin with a green blobby face – was this a touch of artistic licence, or are all Scaroth’s splinters like that?  It would make undressing a little easier, as surely otherwise the Countess would have noticed that her husband was not as other men.  There’s the possibility that they shared separate bedrooms, but the way that the Countess went on the hunt for the Count at the end of the first episode implies otherwise.

I also have another burning question – how did Scaroth manage to make face masks throughout time and why did he always use the same face?  I’d have assumed he’d have wanted a touch of variety.

John Cleese and Eleanor Bron pop up briefly and are excellent. But everybody knows that.

There’s a chance to luxuriate with Ian Scoones’ modelwork again as the story reaches its conclusion. Unlike the cut-price effects on, say, Nightmare of Eden, there’s no scrimping here – film, instead of videotape, was used and the difference is quality is startlingly obvious.

For once, Duggan’s propensity for hitting everything that moves turns out to be a good thing. It’s another gag moment, but it works – although the following brief scene (as Scarlioni returns to 1979) has always seemed to be something of a bodge.  Possibly the clock was ticking ever closer to ten o’clock, which meant that something had to be cobbled together.  What we have – a brief shot of Scaroth and Hermann, an even briefer explosion and then an abrupt jump cut to the Doctor and Romana saying farewell to Duggan – is a little disorientating.

DUGGAN: Where do you two come from?
DOCTOR: From? Well, I suppose the best way to find out where you’ve come from is to find out where you’re going and then work backwards.
DUGGAN: Where are you going?
DOCTOR: I don’t know.

They don’t make them like this anymore. Indeed, they didn’t really make them like this back then, which is all the more reason why City of Death should be savoured.  Because it’s like a fine wine, with an attractive bouquet, etc, etc …

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode Three

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The Doctor jaunts back to 1505 in order to ask Leonardo Da Vinci why he painted so many copies of the Mona Lisa and runs into another mystery. A man – Captain Tancredi – who not only looks exactly like Scarlioni, but also has all of his memories ….

Peter Halliday is good fun as the harassed guard captain. Barely recognisable as the sadistic Packer from a decade earlier (maybe it was the hat) this is a character who’s no match for the wily Doctor.  Even if Tom delivers one of the least convincing punches ever seen to knock him out.  He should have taken lessons from Tom Chadbon.

Luckily for us, Tancredi is a very garrulous sort of chap who’s happy to stop and explain the plot (“the knowledge will be of little use to you, since you will shortly die”). This is something of a cop-out, but also a dramatic convention – how often does the villain not kill the hero, but instead chats to him about his wicked plans?  Possibly Douglas Adams intended this to be an obviously groanworthy moment or it might just have been that the clock was ticking and he had to make an info-dump and quick.

Back in 1979, Romana and Duggan are too late to stop the Mona Lisa from being stolen. I haven’t mentioned how wonderful Lalla Ward’s Romana is yet, which is a terrible oversight.  She’s wonderful.  Whilst the debate about a female Doctor continues to rumble on, it’s plain that we pretty much had one right here – Romana as the Doctor with Duggan as her dim companion?  Yep, I’d go for that.

The dialogue continues to sparkle as Romana propounds a theory.  “Perhaps Scarlioni has discovered a way to travel in time. Yes, perhaps he went back in time, had a chat to Leonardo, got him to rustle up another six, came forward in time, stole the one in the Louvre, and now sells all seven at enormous profit. Sound reasonable?”  To which poor Duggan can only respond that when he used to do divorce cases they were never like this!

Isolating the Doctor from pretty much all of the 1979 action during this episode obviously allowed Romana to take his place. She’s a more than adequate substitute, as seen when she dices with Scarlioni, but there’s still a hint of her inexperience (touched upon during the Key to Time season, where it was stated on more than one occasion that her knowledge lacked the Doctor’s practical edge).  It’s hard to imagine the Doctor agreeing to build Scarlioni a time-field interface so readily, but since it needed to be done to advance the plot and also because Duggan was threatened it doesn’t make her seem too dim or easily duped.

One of my favourite moments of the entire story occurs right at the end of the episode. After Kerensky ages and dies before the horrified gaze of Romana and Duggan, the Count flashes them an amused stare.  There’s something about Julian Glover’s coolness which appeals immensely.

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode Two

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The opening of this episode features some classic Tom Baker clowning (“what a wonderful butler, he’s so violent”) but back in 1979 many fans weren’t impressed. Browsing through the various fanzines which circulated during that era, it’s fascinating to take the pulse of Doctor Who fandom – for some it was pretty much a case of Tom Baker Must Go!  The levels of humour during the Graham Williams era continues to be an issue which divides opinion – although this period of the programme has picked up in popularity somewhat in recent decades (this first occurred during the early nineties when JNT was firmly out of favour).  That’s the nature of fandom, if someone’s out of fashion, like JNT, then that allows someone else (Williams) to be back in.  Personally, I don’t have an issue with enjoying both Williams and JNT, but that’s a whole other debate ….

Let’s take a look at some of this Tom-foolery –

Doctor: Hello, I’m called the Doctor. That’s Romana, that’s Duggan. You must be the Countess Scarlioni and this is clearly a delightful Louis Quinze chair. May I sit in it? I say, haven’t they worn well? Thank you, Hermann, that’ll be all.
COUNTESS: Doctor, you’re being very pleasant with me.
DOCTOR: Well, I’m a very pleasant fellow.
COUNTESS: But I didn’t invite you here for social reasons.
DOCTOR: Yes, I could see that the moment you didn’t invite me to have a drink. Well, I will have a drink now you come to mention it. Yes, do come in, everybody.
DOCTOR: Romana, sit down over there. Duggan. Now, Duggan, you sit there. Do sit down if you want to, Count… Oh, all right. Now, isn’t this nice?
COUNTESS: The only reason you were brought here was to explain exactly why you stole my bracelet.
DOCTOR: Ah, well, it’s my job, you see. I’m a thief. And this is Romana, she’s my accomplice. And this is Duggan. He’s the detective who’s been kind enough to catch me. That’s his job. You see, our two lines of work dovetail beautifully.

The Doctor continues clowning as he, Romana and Duggan are escorted downstairs and locked into a small cell. It’s only then that his expression and manner changes and he becomes completely serious.  This, for me, is key – I don’t have an issue with the Doctor mucking about if it’s made obvious (as here) that it’s just an act, designed to make his opponents underestimate him.  So once Scarlioni’s gone, the Doctor reverts back to being business-like and focused.

I can’t see a great deal of difference between this style of performance and the clowning of Troughton’s Doctor (who could equally turn serious when it was required). In every Williams-era story that I can think of, the Doctor “earns” his right to clown, by demonstrating at various points that there’s much more to him than meets the eye.

The Doctor’s interaction with Kerensky is also interesting. Keresnsky tells him that although Scarlioni is a true philanthropist he doesn’t ask too many questions, to which the Doctor tells him that “a scientist’s job is to ask questions.”  This harks back to similar exchanges in the past, such as with Sorenson in Planet of Evil, where the Doctor makes it quite plain that a scientist has definite obligations – not just to himself, but to the wider community.

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode One

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Given the fact that the script was written at great speed (or re-written, depending on how many of David Fisher’s original concepts actually made the final cut) City of Death sparkles throughout. It would be easy enough to quote huge chunks of the script, but I’ll restrain myself to the odd choice selection, such as –

DOCTOR: What Paris has, it has an ethos, a life. It has …
ROMANA: A bouquet?
DOCTOR: A spirit all of its own. Like a wine, It has …
ROMANA: A bouquet.
DOCTOR: It has a bouquet. Yes. Like a good wine. You have to choose one of the vintage years, of course.
ROMANA: What year is this?
DOCTOR: Ah well, yes. It’s 1979 actually. More of a table wine, shall we say. Ha!

For the first time, the series had actually travelled abroad – which gave the production a considerable extra gloss. It was obviously something of a guerrilla operation though, as seen by the way that some members of the public appear to be a little dazed and confused as they pass through the various scenes (presumably Michael Hayes and the others just pitched up and started filming).  This episode, as well as part four, certainly makes the most of the locations and – allied with Dudley’s music (the change of scenery seemed to have done him the world of good as well) – there’s a pleasing travelogue feel to these sections.

Yes, there’s nothing much going on during the first few minutes, but we’re in Paris! In the Springtime! The same trick would be repeated later, for example when Peter Davison’s Doctor spent the last episode of Arc of Infinity running around Amsterdam in a similar way to Tom’s Paris sprinting here.  But it was very much a case of diminishing returns.  Once you’ve seen the Doctor rushing through the streets of one town, you’ve rather exhausted that avenue ….

If one were being picky, I’ve never understood why the artist who sketches Romana was sitting directly behind her. Since that meant he couldn’t see her face, it seems a little odd.  It’s mentioned in the script (“I wonder what he thought I looked like?”) but it’s still a slightly strange piece of staging.  And his sketch (“a crack in time”) makes for a nice visual moment but goes unexplained otherwise.

City of Death has two prime guest performances – Julian Glover as Scarlioni and Tom Chadbon as Duggan. Catherine Schell is also more than solid as the Countess, although her character does lie in the shadow of her husband throughout.  David Graham’s Kerensky is amusing, although his comedy accent means that it’s impossible to take the character that seriously.

Glover just oozes class, charm and hard-edged villainy and without him the story would be much poorer. It’s possible to argue that he gives more of a James Bond style villain performance here than he did when he appeared in For Your Eyes Only.

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Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

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There may be a few production missteps (tatty looking Daleks, David Gooderson squeezed into Michael Wisher’s old mask) and scenes which should have gone to a second take (“spack off!”)  but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Tom’s on fine form, switching from playful to serious in a heartbeat (for example, the moment when the Doctor learns he’s on Skaro).  The Doctor might have plenty of gags, courtesy of Douglas Adams, but there’s also a pleasing somberness about him, especially in episode one as he and Romana explore the mysterious planet (the lack of incidental music increases this sense of unease).

Ken Grieve’s low-angled shooting favours the Daleks but it’s also used to good effect elsewhere.  And these low angles make it clear that several sets, including the TARDIS, have ceilings – which is very unusual, especially during a period when the series was rather cash-strapped (you’d have assumed it was an extravagance the show could ill afford).

Lalla Ward is Romana.  Within a few minutes any thoughts of Mary Tamm have been banished and although Romana II might be somewhat hysterical at times (especially when confronted by the Daleks) possibly we can put this down to post-regenerative trauma.

But her fear and panic during the Dalek interrogation scene does help to sell the notion that the Daleks are powerful and dangerous opponents, something which is rather negated as the story progresses.  The nadir of this comes with the unforgettable sight of the sad suicide Daleks shuffling awkwardly across the Skaro plains.

Terry Nation ends as he began, with a trip to Skaro.  Familiar Nation tropes are given a final outing – such as an obsession with radiation and the sight of the TARDIS made inaccessible.  Although it’s a little bizarre that the radiation subplot goes nowhere (the Doctor warns Romana that they have to take radiation pills regularly, she’s then separated from the Doctor and the pills, but no matter since they’re never mentioned again). Also, it’s a little irritating that Nation seems to regard the Daleks as purely robotic, a far cry from David Whitaker’s devious schemers.

Holding back Davros until the end of episode two was a good move, since it gave the second half of the story fresh impetus.  Although it does mean we have to consider the Davros problem.

It seems that poor David Gooderson has never been regarded with a great deal of affection by the majority of Doctor Who fandom, although in his defence he was dealt a pretty rough hand.  His Davros doesn’t have any of the signature moments that Wisher enjoyed and this – together with the reused mask – ensured he was always going to come off second best.  But he’s by no means bad and is certainly closer to the original than Terry Molloy’s frustrated Ena Sharples from Resurrection was.

It may be comfortable and rather predictable, as only a Terry Nation story could be, but there’s plenty to love across these four episodes.  So long Terry and thanks for all the scripts.

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“I could play all day in my Green Cathedral.” Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom

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My irregular Doctor Who rewatch has reached Robert Banks Stewart’s second and last script for the series.  First things first, a few plot-holes that have always slightly irritated me.

In episode three, Dunbar tells Chase that he’s attended to the Doctor and Sarah (via a decoy chauffeur who’s rather handy with a gun).  We later learn that the chauffeur was on Chase’s payroll.  Eh?  Surely it would have made more sense for Chase to send the homicidal chauffeur to intercept our heroes, especially considering the way that Dunbar reacts in horror to the deaths in Antarctica.  So it doesn’t scan that Dunbar is happy to dispose of the Doctor and Sarah in cold blood.

Still, it’s some recompense that the chauffeur was played by Alan “Chuntzy” Chuntz, a familiar Doctor Who stuntman who rarely had the luxury of dialogue.  When you hear his rather stilted delivery, the reason becomes clear …..

The link between Chase and the stolen pod is done in an incredibly clumsy way – via Amelia Ducat’s painting, left in the car boot.  Surely Banks Stewart or Holmes could have found a slightly more nuanced way to bring Chase to the Doctor’s attention.

Another slightly baffling moment occurs when Amelia turns up at Chase’s palatial country house to demand payment for the painting.  That’s fine, but the revelation that she was sent there by Sir Colin makes little sense.  How did he know that the Doctor and Sarah had spoken to her?

But a few carps about the plotting aside (like Pyramids of Mars this had to be put together in extreme haste after other scripts collapsed) Seeds is gripping stuff.  Tony Beckley’s super-camp performance is an obvious highlight and from his first scene he’s an absolute joy (there’s no doubt that without him the story would sag a little).

Mark Jones’ role as Keeler is less showy, but equally impressive.  He’s clearly marked as doomed from the moment we first meet him and Jones is perfect as the twitchy, conscience-stricken scientist.

Possession has always been a theme in Doctor Who and it’s especially prevalent during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, where it’s usually tied in with a body horror theme (Noah in The Ark in Space, Sorenson in Planet of Evil).  It’s bad enough to be taken over, but even worse when it results in a grotesque physical change ….

Tom Baker’s Doctor dabbles in fisticuffs in a few other stories (such as knocking out Salamar in Planet of Evil) but this is certainly the serial in which he’s in full-on Duggan mode.  Had this happened more regularly it would have ended up as a touch monotonous, but there’s something undeniably appealing about the way that he becomes the man of action – springing through the skylight to duff up Scorby at the start of episode four is a definite highlight.  “What do you do for an encore Doctor?” indeed.

So although the tone of the story is odd and off-kilter (it rather feels like an ultra-violent TV Comic strip) it’s hard not to love The Seeds of Doom.  A little pruning (sorry) would have tightened things up – as a four-parter it would have been unbeatable – but I’m not unhappy with what we ended up with.

Pondering about Pyramids of Mars

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Rewatching Pyramids of Mars for the umpteenth time, a couple of things worried me in episode three.  Of course, given that Robert Holmes had to cobble the story together at very short notice (and had clearly run out of steam by episode four) it isn’t too surprising that the odd plothole remained ….

After Sarah and the Doctor discover Lawrence Scarman’s body, Sarah is perturbed that the Doctor seems unmoved by Lawrece’s violent death.  He responds that Lawrence isn’t Sutekh’s only victim, counting out the others. “Four men, Sarah. Five, if you include Professor Scarman himself.”

Hmm, okay.  Lawrence, Doctor Warlock, Ernie Clements (“murdering swine!”), Namin and Collins make five, six if you include Professor Scarman.  My first thought was that the Doctor was unaware of one of their deaths, or maybe he didn’t count Namin since he was a baddy?

And why did Marcus Scarman, after murdering his brother, gently prop him up into the rocking chair with such obvious care and attention?  It creates a shock moment but doesn’t make much sense.

Just how many service robots were there? In actuality there were three, so if that was also the true figure why didn’t Professor Scarman immediately twig that that the faux-Mummy (containing a grumpy Tom Baker) was an imposter? Two robots had been guarding the pyramid and Scarman had seen a disassembled third just before killing Marcus.

And I’m not even going to ponder exactly when Sarah became so efficient with a rifle.

Not that any of this matters as Pyramids of Mars is still great (if rather nasty) fun. Can it really be nearly thirty years since I bought it on sell-through VHS? And a mere twenty three years since I taped the episodic repeat from BBC2, enabling me to see the scenes snipped from the official release for the first time. Time passages ….

The Five Faces of Doctor Who

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It’s a little staggering to realise that The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season began airing in early November 1981.  Thirty five years, where has the time gone?

Back then, the eighteen year old An Unearthly Child and even The Krotons (a mere thirteen years old) seemed like relics from a different age.  The flickery black and white telerecordings had a lot to do with that of course, the lack of colour made them appear much older than they actually were.  But it’s still more than a little strange that Survival seems like a much more current story today than An Unearthly Child did then, despite the fact that Survival is a whopping twenty seven years old.  Funny thing time …..

If you weren’t there, it’s difficult to describe just how important The Five Faces of Doctor Who was.  Old Doctor Who didn’t get repeated and the first commercially available story wouldn’t hit the shelves until 1983.  So if you wanted to get a feel for pre-Baker Doctor Who then your options were rather limited – Target novelisations were your best bet, although there were also the World Distributors annuals (even if their vision of the Doctor Who universe was idiosyncratic, to put it kindly).

Factual information could be gleaned from Doctor Who Weekly and Doctor Who Monthly, whilst a small handful of books – The Making of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Monster Book – also offered tantalising glimpses of these “lost” stories.  After all, back then we weren’t concerned about the stories which were actually missing from the archives, everything from the past was as good as lost to us.

And then in early November 1981 we had the chance to see how it all started.  I’ve written here about how I view An Unearthly Child today, rewinding thirty five years I’m pretty sure I was just as taken with it then.  Three episodes of caveman antics might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the grime and despair of those episodes fitted perfectly with the dark winter evenings in 1981 (just as they would have done in 1963).  I loved it then and I love it now and I know I always will.

The Krotons had a bit of a bumpier ride.  My ten-year-old self found the story a little thin, but Troughton (like Hartnell) impressed right from the start.  It’s a story I’ve grown to appreciate a little more over the years, as it’s perfect undemanding fare.  And the lovely Wendy Padbury wears a very short skirt, which is nice.

If the internet had existed in 1981 then no doubt it would have gone into meltdown after Carnival of Monsters and The Three Doctors were broadcast the wrong way round.  Carnival, thanks to Vorg and Shirna, looked a little odd back then, and it would take a few more watches before the cleverness of Robert Holmes’ script became clear to me.  The Three Doctors is good fun, nothing more, nothing less.  It was nice to see the Brig in action for the first time though, even if I’d later realise we weren’t really seeing him at his best here.

Logopolis was an obvious choice, as Castrovalva was less than a month away from broadcast (and since it featured Davison’s sole appearance to date, if they hadn’t shown this one then the Five Faces tag wouldn’t have worked).  Since it was a current story it rather lacked the “wow” feeling of the others, but in the pre-VHS age, “another chance to see” was always welcome and following this broadcast I wouldn’t see it again for nearly a decade (a pirate copy came my way in the late eighties).

I’m off to recreate those winter evenings from 1981 with a rewatch over the next few weeks of those five serials – splendid stories, all of them.

Doctor Who – More than Thirty Years in the TARDIS

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One thing that the range of Doctor Who DVDs (from An Unearthly Child to the TVM) isn’t short of is documentaries.  Just about every release has a plethora of supplementary information – from story-specific features, interviews with people from both in-front of and behind the camera to more tangential featurettes (such as The Blood Show from the State of Decay DVD.  A twenty minute documentary on the use and meaning of blood in society?  No, me neither).

But back at the start of the 1990’s, things were very different.  The only British-made documentary screened during the series’ original twenty-six year run was 1977’s Whose Doctor Who.  Reeltime Pictures catered for the fan market during the 1980’s and 1990’s with the MythMakers series of interview videos, but these (like VHS releases of convention panels) were only preaching to the converted.  A mainstream documentary on BBC1 seemed like a remote possibility.

But 1993 was Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary and even if the show had been off the air since 1989, it still had a certain presence (thanks to healthy VHS sales).  Kevin Davies was keen to make a documentary celebrating the program and he had an impressive calling card – The Making of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a popular straight to video documentary that mixed archive footage, outtakes and new interviews.

Thirty Years in the TARDIS was to eventually take very much the same shape – although prior to this format being agreed Davies made numerous other pitches which were rejected.  These included Tomb of the Time Lords which would have featured Ace searching the Doctor’s memory in the Matrix – which would have provided the excuse for a series of clips.  Another intriguing possibility was The Legend Begins, a drama-documentary about the creation of the series (Davies suggested Pete Postlewaite as Hartnell).  We would have to wait another twenty years, and Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time, for this idea to eventually hit the screen.

Thirty Years in the TARDIS was produced by The Late Show team and although Davies had been given a free hand, some higher-ups became concerned with the approach used.  Davies wanted to take the nostalgic route to try and pinpoint why Doctor Who had been such as success whilst The Late Show team felt that the documentary should have a more factual basis and so additional interview material was shot.

In the end, this made the transmitted version a rather uneasy comprise between Davies and his producers.  But even though it was a bit of a hodge-podge, there were still plenty of impressive moments (especially the drama recreations).  However, Davies still felt that there was a better documentary that could be made from the material and so in 1994 More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS was released on VHS.

Davies had free reign to re-edit the program to his wishes as well as adding an additional forty minutes (bringing the running time up to ninety minutes).  From the perspective of 2015 it’s just another documentary, but back in 1994 it was something rather special.

Although the pirate video network (see Cheques, Lies and Videotape on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD for more info) was still flourishing at the time (which meant that some of the rarer material featured – studio outtakes, for example – were in circulation) not everybody had access to them.  So a major draw of the VHS were the snippets from studio sessions, including The Claws of Axos and Death to the Daleks , as well as ephemera like the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward Prime Computer adverts.  Even the end credits were fascinating, as they were packed with clips of studio off-cuts.

Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were interviewed, but Tom Baker and Peter Davison were conspicuous by their absence.  Tom did make an appearance via archive footage though and given that many anecdotes were already calcified by this time (yes, Jon Pertwee does mention Yetis in Tooting-Bec!) this probably wasn’t too much of a drawback.

One notable new section concerned the thorny issue about who exactly created the Daleks (was it Terry Nation, Raymond Cusick or Davros?).  This discussion was intercut with Jon Pertwee’s appearance on the Anne and Nick show where he disagreed that it was Terry Nation (much to the amusement of the studio crew!).

The DVD release of More Than is pretty much a direct port of the VHS master which means that many of the clips look rather grotty.  Along with the staggering number of special features, the amount of restoration work carried out the DVD releases is really highlighted when you see exactly how badly the stories used to look.

If you didn’t live through the 1990’s as a Doctor Who fan, then More Than is probably not going to have the same special appeal today as it did then.  Just about every scrap of interesting material can be found in a more complete form somewhere on the DVD range (you want the whole studio spool from The Claws of Axos? You’ve got it) but More Than does manage to compress twenty six years of history into an entertaining ninety minutes.

This obvious nostalgia apart, it remains a very decent documentary that does its best to explain the magic of the series and I’m glad it ended up on DVD.

A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about. Doctor Who – The Five Doctors

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For me, The Five Doctors defies critical analysis as to watch it is to be twelve again, when it seemed like the best programme ever.  Time may have slightly tempered that enthusiasm, but I still find it’s impossible to rewatch it without a silly grin appearing on my face from time to time.

Is it perfect?  Of course not.  The Five Doctors was a party where many invitations were handed out, but several people (and one very important guest) were unable to attend.  Possibly in a parallel universe they had a story where the 2nd Doctor was partnered with Jamie and Zoe, the 3rd teamed up with Jo and the Brig and the 4th and Sarah were reunited.  Also in that parallel universe, maybe Roger Delgado decided not to travel to Turkey in 1973 to film Bell of Tibet so that he was able to return to the role of the Master for the first time in a decade.  It’s a nice dream.

But what we have is still very decent fare.  Richard Hurndall isn’t attempting to impersonate William Hartnell, Hurndall is playing the first Doctor, which is an important distinction.  The only Hartnell story to be repeated in the UK was An Unearthly Child in 1981, so for many of us Hurndall’s was a perfectly acceptable performance.  And it still is.  He captures the essence of the Hartnell Doctor, there’s certainly the hard edge Hartnell could show from time to time, for example.

Troughton’s back! He may look older, but he’s the major highlight of this story and it’s hardly surprising that they offered him another one shortly after.  He has a wonderful partnership with Courtney and all of their scenes fizzle with memorable dialogue.  Frankly, I could have watched a story with just these two and been very content.

Pertwee’s back! Although his hair’s a little whiter, he’s still recognisably the same Doctor that we last saw nine years previously.  But his sequences don’t quite have the same appeal as the Troughton ones and it’s difficult to put my finger on why this is.  Terrance Dicks had, of course, been script editor for the whole of the Pertwee era so he should have had no problem in recreating the 3rd Doctor’s characterisation.  But he does has some nice moments whilst traversing the Death Zone though, insulting the Master and finding an appropriately heroic way to enter the Tower, for example.

Pertwee benefits from being matched up again with Elisabath Sladen.  We’d seen Sarah two years previously in K9 and Company which was lovely, but to see her back with Pertwee’s Doctor is something else altogether.  Like everyone else, her lines are rationed so she has to make the most of everything she’s given, and this she certainly does.  The fact that her mittens are sewn onto her jacket is incredibly adorable as well.

"Jehosaphat!"
“Jehoshaphat!”

Tom’s not back! The reason for his non-appearance is well known and it does leave a hole, but we still have a very good story without him.  For many people, Tom Baker was the series, so it’s possibly not a bad thing that he wasn’t here – that way it’s possible to see that there can be a decent tale told without him.

Davison’s still here!  Terrance Dicks said that he was keen to ensure that Davison got the best of the action and he does have some good scenes, although the Gallifrey section is a bit limp and it’s a pity that he wasn’t teamed up with Troughton and Pertwee a little earlier on.  The Doctors were kept apart since there were concerns that egos would clash.  I don’t think that Davision would have been a problem, but Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker certainly would have been an explosive combination.

One slight problem I have with The Three Doctors is the way that Troughton is sometimes written down in order to make Pertwee the dominant figure.  Since Pertwee was the current incumbent it’s sort of understandable, but I doubt that Pertwee would have been happy to play second fiddle to Davison.  And the prospect of Pertwee and Baker together is even harder to imagine.  Pertwee never made any secret of his dislike of the way the series progressed after he left (those cynical souls put this down to the fact that Tom Baker was more popular with both the fans and the general audience than Pertwee ever was) so Tom’s non-appearance was possibly a blessing in that respect.

As for the monsters, we have a rather tatty looking Dalek but we finally get to see that the Pertwee Doctor was right when he said that: “inside each of those shells is a living, bubbling lump of hate”.  Given that it stays in the shadows, presumably the Yeti was rather shabby, but it gives Troughton another lovely comedy moment when he’s rummaging through his pockets in a desperate search for something to sort it out with.

Since they only appeared eighteen months previously, it’s a little disappointing that the Cybermen are so prominent here but it makes both economic sense (the costumes were in stock) and also practical sense (it’s difficult to imagine the likes of the Daleks trundling through the Death Zone).

Mention of the Death Zone brings us to one of the major plus points of this story – the locations.  NuWho has exhaustively mined Wales for locations but as the original series was based in London, trips to Wales were much rarer.  Various locations in Gwynedd were used in March 1983 and they help to give The Five Doctors an expansive, epic feeling.

If Leonard Sachs in Arc of Infinity wasn’t the best Borusa ever, then neither is Philip Latham here. It’s hard to understand how the Borusa of The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time could have ended up as the lunatic obsessed with ruling forever that we see here.  So that makes his corruption (which should be shocking) something of a damp squib.

And if the Old-King-Cole Rassilon is another odd move, we do get to see the Doctors together at the end of the story, which is something to be treasured.  The rarity is why it’s so special, if it had happened more often then the shine would have been taken off it.

"I know what it says, but what does it mean?"
“I know what it says, but what does it mean?”

As it was, it’s Pertwee’s final bow as the Doctor (sorry, Dimensions in Time isn’t canon, and isn’t even a story) whilst Troughton was to have one more appearance to come.  Therefore, while The Five Doctors is a celebration of the first twenty years, it also marks something of an end as over the following years we would start to bid farewell to some of the actors who had done so much to ensure that the series had reached 20 not out.  And while they may be gone, thanks to the magic of DVD their adventures live on forever.  So for me, that’s the best way to approach this story, as an appreciation and celebration of some of the people that made this programme so special.

I’ve just dipped into the future. We must be prepared for the worst. Doctor Who – Logopolis

doctor companions

And so after seven long years it all came to an end on a set cobbled together from leftover pieces from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Top of the Pops.

Tom Baker still casts a long shadow over Doctor Who – he was voted No 1 in the DWM 2014 poll which is a fair indication that his support amongst older fans remains secure whilst many younger ones have also succumbed to his charms. If there’s one certainly, it’s that in five or ten years time Matt Smith will have slipped from the No 2 position but Tom Baker seems indomitable at No 1, ready to outsit eternity you might say.

Is Logopolis a good story to bow out on? Yes, pretty much. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give Tom some good moments whilst also moving into place the line-up that would accompany Peter Davison through S19.

Introduced in this story is Tegan (Janet Fielding). An unwilling traveler at first, to put it mildly, Tegan would take several stories (probably until Kinda) before she really settled in.  In Logopolis, this may be partly be because she’s much more broadly Australian than later on, when her accent is notably toned down, or it could be that from Kinda onwards she was simply a better written character.

Like Adric and Nyssa, Tegan joins the Doctor after a close relative is murdered – coincidence or a definite story plan, I wonder?

Both Nyssa and Tegan have lost loved ones at the hands of the Master who makes a full appearance here, in the guise of Anthony Ainley, following his brief appearance at the end of The Keeper of Traken.

Entropy increases
Entropy increases

Christopher H. Bidmead seemed to hold the opinion that the Delgado Master simply wasn’t evil enough, so the Ainley Master has notably less charm than the Delgado incarnation.  But this does seem to fundamentally misunderstand the role of the Master during the Pertwee era.

The Doctor's been cut down to size
The Doctor’s been cut down to size

Whether by accident or design, Pertwee’s Doctor largely ended up as a moral, rather humourless figure, so Delgado’s Master was allowed to have all the charm and wit that the Third Doctor rarely showed.  Remove this aspect from the Master and there’s little left.  But the Doctor and the Master do enjoy a little byplay in Logopolis, such as this scene –

MASTER: The Pharos computer room.
DOCTOR: Yes. I envy you your TARDIS, Master.
MASTER: Excellent, Doctor. Envy is the beginning of all true greatness.
DOCTOR: Shush.
(A technician returns to the room. The Master points a device at him. The Doctor snatches it away.)
DOCTOR: No!
MASTER: It’s the lightspeed overdrive, Doctor. You’ll need that to accelerate the signal from the transmitter.
DOCTOR: I’m so sorry. I thought you meant to shoot him.
MASTER: Oh, Doctor. You can explain.
DOCTOR: Yes.
DOCTOR: Ahem. Good morning. Good evening.
(The Doctor notices the Master now has a weapon in his hand and drags the technician’s chair aside before the Master can fire)
DOCTOR: He’s unconscious.
MASTER: Never mind. I feel we’ve been spared a very difficult conversation.

The return of the Master wasn’t the only link to the Pertwee era.  Possibly it was the influence of Barry Letts as executive producer that saw several lifts from Third Doctor stories (the radio telescope as seen in Terror of the Autons and the Master’s TARDIS inside the Doctor’s TARDIS from The Time Monster).

Barry Letts was also on hand to read the scripts and offer his advice, although often it wasn’t taken.  He wasn’t happy, for example, with the Master’s line that although Tremas was dead his body remained useful, feeling that the concept of an animated corpse was rather disturbing.  He also queried the rather large plot hole concerning the lash-up job that the Doctor and the Master made at the Pharos Project to save the Universe.

The Doctor and his humble assistant
The Doctor and his humble assistant

What would happen to the Universe, asked Letts, if the Pharos Project switched it off?  This is quietly forgotten at the end of the story and the impact of the imminent death of the Universe is rather swept under the carpet.

Letts also disliked the concept of the Master broadcasting his threats to the entire Universe.  How, he reasoned, could they respond?  Still, he wasn’t alone in pointing out how idiotic that was!

But whilst the script does feel somewhat bitty in places, there is a definite sense of impending doom as the Doctor finds himself shadowed at every turn by the Watcher.  And despite the end taking place in a hastily cobbled together set made from bits and pieces from other programmes, it’s a sequence that still (particularly for those of a certain age) resonates today.

Doctor Who would go on, but Tom Baker would be a very hard act to follow.

A whole empire held together by people just being terribly nice to each other. Doctor Who – The Keeper of Traken

You will find immobility endurable, Doctor. I speak from experience.”

Although some may view The Keeper of Traken as simply a prelude to Logopolis and the confrontation between the Doctor and the Master, there’s enough of interest in Johnny Byrne’s story to ensure it’s a good yarn in its own right.

Like the majority of S18, Traken was subject to a heavy re-write by Christopher H. Bidmead (and I do like the theory that later script editor Eric Saward was unaware of this and wondered why Byrne’s subsequent stories lacked the quality of this one).

One notable amendment was the revelation that Melkur was actually the Master, although this doesn’t really affect the story too much as it’s only discovered at the end of the story.  Indeed, if you view Traken as a Master story then you could come away disastisifed, despite Geoffrey Beever’s brief but impressive turn.

But taking the story on its own merits and not worrying about how it fits into wider Doctor Who continuity, what we have is a tale that seems to hark back to the Hartnell era.  The Doctor and Adric’s early encounter with the Keeper paints an idyllic picture of a whole series of planets free from war and hatred –

KEEPER: I fear that our beloved world of Traken faces disaster.
ADRIC: Universal harmony, you said.
DOCTOR: Shush.
KEEPER: The Doctor does not exaggerate. Since the time of the Keepers, our Union has been the most harmonious the universe has ever seen. Does the boy not know of this?
DOCTOR: Oh, he’s not local. E-space, wasn’t it?
KEEPER: How vain one can be. I thought the whole universe knew the history of our little empire.
DOCTOR: Yes. They say the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shriveled up and died. Maybe that’s why I never went there.
KEEPER: Rumour does not exaggerate, Doctor.

Don't look into his eyes!
Don’t look into his eyes!

We’ve been here before, as this seems like how the Conscience Machine operated in The Keys of Marinus.  Presumably the Source Manipulator works in a similar way and it’s impossible not to conclude that it must somehow sap the will as a complete lack of anger or aggression doesn’t seem at all natural.

In Marinus the Doctor concluded that human beings weren’t meant to be controlled by machines but there’s no such statement here as by the end of the story Luvic (from an increasingly short-list of possibilities) steps into the breach to maintain the status quo.

If the story has a feel of the Hartnell era, then the Shakespearean-style production design could be another nod to this.  We don’t quite have characters speaking in iambic pentameter, as in The Crusade, but it’s close.

Production-wise, Traken is a studio-bound world that looks somewhat artificial and theatrical although it’s possible to argue that this is intentional as maybe they were attempting to replicate the look of the then current BBC cycle of Shakespeare productions.

Margot Van der Burgh (from The Aztecs) is another link back to the Hartnell era and she, like the rest of the cast, plays it dead straight – there’s no S17 goofing around here.  Sheila Ruskin as the doomed Kassia is very good as is Anthony Ainley as Tremas.  His performances as the Master can best be described as variable, but he’s restrained and subtle as Tremas.

Nyssa of Traken packs a punch
Nyssa of Traken packs a punch

Sarah Sutton gives an acceptable performance as Nyssa, although you’d be hard pressed to predict that she’s automatic companion material, as plenty of one-off characters in the past have had much more potential.  But there was clearly something in the scientific nature of Nyssa that caught the attention of both Bidmead and JNT.  A pity, then, that incoming script editor Eric Saward would have much less interest in developing scientific themes, hence Nyssa would have a reduced role to play, particularly once Tegan was installed in the TARDIS.

As the Doctor and Adric leave Traken all seems well, but a final confrontation awaits the Doctor in a cold and lonely place …

The weak enslave themselves. Doctor Who – Warriors’ Gate

doc gundan

If the previous story, State of Decay, could be said to depict Doctor Who at its most traditional, then Warriors’ Gate is certainly a trip into the unknown.

The inexperience of key members of the creative team is definitely a reason for this – as they didn’t necessarily know the rules then they didn’t realise when they broke them. For some, particularly director Paul Joyce, it was a bruising experience as he came up against inflexible BBC bureaucracy.

Script editor Christopher H. Bidmead was keen to get new writers onto the show and Steve Gallagher seemed to fit the bill. Gallagher had plenty of ideas but had no experience in television script-writing, but he had previously written radio plays and also had just seen his first novel published.

Bidmead was later to comment that Gallagher’s draft scripts did read like a novel, as they included many unnecessary descriptive passages. Bidmead, with some input from Joyce, set about the task of distilling Gallagher’s scripts into something workable. Along the way he included some ideas and concepts of his own, such as the I Ching.

Whilst Steve Gallagher was initially aghast at the treatment of his scripts he was later to appreciate the reasons for Bidmead’s ruthless rewrites and he would be better prepared when he came to write Terminus a few years later.

Like Gallagher, Paul Joyce was also very inexperienced in television terms, with only a single Play for Today on his cv. Joyce had hoped to direct this story in a filmic style but the reality was that this simply wasn’t achievable at this point in Doctor Who’s history.

Joyce’s preferred way of working was to shoot scenes a couple of times and then assemble everything in post-production.  But as the recording time for each story was strictly limited this caused numerous delays and was very unpopular with the BBC technical staff.

Each Doctor Who story was allocated a number of studio sessions and all the material for the story had to be completed within that timescale.  At the end of the recording day the sets would be removed as the next day another production or programme would need the space.

Overruns were extremely costly – at 10pm the lights went out whether everything had been completed or not – and even worse was the prospect of a remount, where another studio would have to be booked and the sets reassembled.

The Doctor ventures beyond the gateway
The Doctor ventures beyond the gateway

After day one, the production was behind schedule and it began to slip further behind as each day progressed.  Joyce was sacked briefly and then re-instated and whilst everything was eventually completed there’s no doubt that tensions ran high throughout all the studio days.  It’s worth reproducing this excerpt from the BBC Technical Manager’s report for the studio session which ran from the 24th – 26th of September 1980 –

The director lacks a working understanding of the methods used to make programmes in BBC television studios.  His shooting ratio must be near the 10:1 level of a feature film production.  He expects a 360 degree panorama to be continually available to the ‘hand held’ camera and the lighting and sound problems are endless.

If the BBC is really interested in quality and economy, no Technical Operations crew should be subjected to such self-indulgent incompetence.

It’s therefore no surprise to learn that Paul Joyce was never asked to direct another Doctor Who and it could be that this experience was one of the reasons why producer John Nathan-Turner tended to favour the likes of Peter Moffatt and Ron Jones in the future.  They could best be described as “journeymen” directors and he could guarantee that they’d get the show made on time and on budget.  Indeed, there wouldn’t be another Doctor Who story directed with such flair as this one until Graeme Harper helmed The Caves of Androzani in 1984.

But for all the production problems we are left with a story that is visually very arresting and although Joyce still bemoans that the final product is comprised, enough remains to mark this out as something very different.

The opening tracking shot, which takes us through the spaceship and up to the bridge, is a clear statement of intent. The hand-held camera work gives the shots a fluidity of movement which would have been impossible with the traditional rostrum cameras.

Whilst not all of Steve Gallagher’s concept and story made it to the screen he was very clear that Cocteau’s Orphee and Testament d’Orphee would be key texts that needed to be understood in order to visualise the story.  Joyce certainly took this on board and the production design reflects these influences, for example in the stylised black and white deception of the world on the other side of the Gateway.

Joyce was able to recruit some quality actors, including Clifford Rose as Rorvik (best known at this time for Secret Army) and Kenneth Cope as Packard (a familiar face from Randall & Hopkirk).  Rose likened Rorvik to Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army since he was the leader of a group of men who are less than competent and are never quite able to follow his orders out.  By the end of the story, Rorvik has lost his grip on reality completely as seen in his final moments as he prepares to blast the Gateway, killing himself and all his crew in the process.

Clifford Rose as Rorvik
Clifford Rose as Rorvik

Given the denseness of the original script, it’s possibly not surprising that it doesn’t all make sense.  Some sections are particularly inexplicable – the cliff-hanger ending to episode three looks wonderful as a horde of Gundan Robots attack the Doctor and the Tharils in the banqueting hall, but how only the Doctor manages to move in time from the past to the present isn’t clear at all.

Elsewhere, the answers are there, just buried deep in the text as this excerpt from episode two demonstrates –

GUNDAN: There were always slaves from the beginning of time. The masters descended out of the air riding the winds and took men as their prize, growing powerful on their stolen labours and their looted skills.
DOCTOR: Yes, well, look, look, I’m sure this is frightfully interesting. Could you get back on to the bit about the gateway, please?
GUNDAN: The masters created an empire, drained the life of the ordinary world.
DOCTOR: Your ordinary world. I’m from N-space.
GUNDAN: They came from the gateway.
DOCTOR: Ah ha.
GUNDAN: There are three physical gateways and the three are one.
DOCTOR: Well
GUNDAN: The whole of this domain, the ancient arch, the mirrors.
DOCTOR: The thing is, it’s not actually a physical gateway that I’m looking for.
GUNDAN: All the gateways are one.
DOCTOR: Ah. So it is here. The way out.

It later becomes clear that the Tharils were the enslavers that the Gundans spoke of and now ironically they find themselves enslaved by the likes of Rorvik.  With the help of a Time Lord then can travel through E-Space releasing the Tharils held captive on other planets.

Although as it’s often been assumed that Rorvik and his crew came from N-Space and only ended up at the Gateway (the dividing line between N-Space and E-Space) by accident, who are holding the Tharils in captivity in the rest of E-Space?

The noblest Romana of them all
The noblest Romana of them all

Although sidelined a little, Tom Baker does have some nice moments, particularly when he faces off against Rorvik.  This story is, of course, notable for featuring the departures of Romana and K9 Mk 2.  It’s quite a hurried farewell (not quite as bad as Leela maybe, but close) but had Baker or Ward wanted to add anything they probably could have, so they must have been happy with it at the time.

Rorvik’s suicidal attempt to break free has destroyed his ship (and inexplicably freed the imprisoned Tharils and also sent the Doctor and Adric back into N-Space).  But back in the old home universe, this Doctors days are looking distinctly numbered ….

A sociopathetic abscess? Doctor Who – State of Decay

throne

In retrospect, State of Decay by Terrance Dicks looks totally out of place in S18. As already touched upon in my article on Full Circle, new script editor Christopher H. Bidmead was a man who wanted the Doctor Who stories he commissioned to have a strong scientific basis. If there’s one thing he disliked it was scripts which paid homage to/ripped off other films, books or television programmes.

Therefore it’s no surprise to learn that Bidmead didn’t commission the story, instead it was new producer John Nathan-Turner, who whilst leafing through a pile of unmade stories found a submission entitled The Vampire Mutations from a few years earlier.

So Bidmead and Dicks couldn’t have been further apart in their understanding of what made good Doctor Who. Dicks always shared the opinion of his friend Malcolm Hulke who once said that in order to write good science fiction you need: “a good original idea. It doesn’t have to be your original idea.”

Doctor Who had been borrowing from other sources for a long time, for example other Tom Baker scripts by Terrance Dicks include Robot (King Kong) and The Brain of Morbius (Frankenstein). Indeed, the only surprising thing about State of Decay is that Doctor Who hadn’t tackled a vampire story before.

Despite Bidmead’s misgivings (and he did attempt to crowbar some of his ideas into the story, much to Dicks’ chagrin) the story went into production. And if it wasn’t clear from the script that this was Doctor Who meets Dracula then the design and costume should have made it explicit.

To be honest, there’s no logical reason why the inhabitants of the Hydrax should have chosen to dress like they’ve just walked off the set of a Hammer film, just as there’s no logical reason why Morbius, one of the greatest scientists in the galaxy, should choose to live in a castle that looked just like Baron Frankenstein’s castle instead of working and living in a modern laboratory.

But it does work in a visual sense, so sometimes you have to accept that style has to win out over content.

If Terrance Dicks was unabashed about borrowing from other sources to create his story, then it’s fair to say that his other writing traits are also present and correct here.

For Dicks, the Doctor should always be central to the action. Other stories in S18, particularly the forthcoming Warrior’s Gate, depicted the Doctor as a passive figure, not much more than an observer who does little to resolve matters. This certainly isn’t the case in State of Decay where the Doctor has the lions share of the plot.

A sacrificial victim
A sacrificial victim

Terrance Dicks was also well-known for his opinion that the companion existed to get into trouble and be rescued by the Doctor. He has two here – Romana and Adric – to fulfill that function. Romana does seem a little underwritten by Dicks, for example when she’s held captive in the final episode there’s not much spark. It’s tempting to suppose that he wasn’t really writing for Romana – possibly more for a generic companion along the lines of Jo or Sarah.

The peasants aren’t particularly well drawn and they tend to conform to fairly common stereotypes – the weary head man of the village, the hotheaded rebel, etc.

The Three Who Rule are more fun though – particularly Aukon (Emrys James).  James was an actor of some distinction, a former RSC player, and although he can’t resist laying on the ham it was probably difficult not to.

The Three Who Rule
The Three Who Rule

Zargo (William Lindsay) and Camilla (Rachel Davies) underplay a little more and are very effective.  Particularly when Zargo confesses to Camilla that he is afraid.  A small character beat, but quite a revealing one.

Although the Three Who Rule hold the majority of the villagers in a grip of fear, there are still a few who rebel.  When the Doctor meets them in their base he is shocked to discover how far their society has regressed –

KALMAR: Some of us could still read. It’s forbidden, but the knowledge was passed on in secret.
DOCTOR: What? Reading forbidden?
KALMAR: All science, all knowledge is forbidden by the Lords. The penalty for knowledge is death.
ROMANA: No schools of any kind?
KALMAR: Children start in the fields as soon as they can walk, stay there till they grow up, grow old and die.

In 1979, John Pilger, David Munro and Eric Piper traveled to Cambodia in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Pol Pot.  What they found there was shared with the world, first in a special issue of the Daily Mirror and later in an ITV documentary, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia.  Their discoveries were pretty much the same as the events described by Kalmar and this would have been clearly understood by the audience at the time.  Doctor Who rarely commented on real-world events, so this is an interesting reference.

As previously mentioned, Tom Baker is in his element here.  He has some wonderful material to play with, such as this –

DOCTOR: Do you know, it just occurs to me. There are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet.
ROMANA: Really?
DOCTOR: Yes. Creatures that stalk in the night and feast on the blood of the living. Creatures that fear sunlight and running water and certain herbs. Creatures that are so strong they can only be killed by beheading, or a stake through the heart.
ROMANA: Or? Please, say something.
DOCTOR: Whatever it is, we want to find it, don’t we?
ROMANA: No.
DOCTOR: Good. Come on then.

doctor romana

The only downside to the story is the reveal of the Great Vampire, which is  something of a disappointment.  It would have been better to leave him to the viewer’s imagination as the brief glimpse seen in the last episode fails to convince in every possible way.

This is only a minor niggle though and the Doctor’s solution to find a stake big enough to kill the Great Vampire is pretty ingenious.

With Tom Baker’s time on Doctor Who drawing to a close it was a nice touch to have a story that harked back to the Hammer Horror style of his early years.  This probably wasn’t intentional though, as it seems that the script was pressed into service because stories were urgently needed.

But whatever the reason it was made, State of Decay is an effective tale from the pen of one of its longest-serving contributors.  It’s not brimming over with originality, but sometimes you just need to borrow – and if you do so then borrow from the best.

 

A little patience goes a long way. But too much patience goes absolutely nowhere. Doctor Who – Full Circle

k9 doctor

Change was most definitely in the air during the 18th season of Doctor Who. A new producer (John Nathan-Turner) and a new script-editor (Christopher H. Bidmead) were firmly in place, whilst an experienced old hand (Barry Letts) kept a watching brief as executive producer.

Those who have been around Doctor Who fandom for a long period will probably recall the time when S18 was highly rated. This was at exactly the same time that some of fandom intensely disliked S17.

The viewpoint at the time seemed to be –

Season 17 = Silly = Bad

Season 18 = Serious = Good

But as S17 came back into fashion this seemed to dent S18’s popularity a little. It was now seen by some as a little po-faced and science obsessed compared to the free-wheeling S17.

For me, both seasons have their merits and demerits and the dividing line between them can get a little blurred. Meglos, for example, could easily fit in to S17, whilst The Leisure Hive had originally been commissioned for S17.

By the time we get to Full Circle, the third transmitted story, we are seeing more of the pure vision of Bidmead though. Without a doubt this season, for good or bad, was created in his image. He once estimated that he wrote about 70% of S18 and Full Circle is a story that he had a great input into, as he considerably reworked Andrew Smith’s original scripts.

It doesn’t all work (there are some holes in the logic) but there’s a fine performance from Baker, particularly in episode three, and confident direction from Peter Grimwade which carries the story along.

Bidmead is quite a divisive figure. The DVDs have allowed him the space to clearly state his vision of what he believed Doctor Who should be – a series rooted in scientific fact and definitely not drawing on popular books or films to pastiche. One can only wonder how he would have got on with Robert Holmes, although we can probably guess by the somewhat strained relationship he had with Terrance Dicks, who didn’t care for his rewrites on State of Decay.

Bidmead’s extensive input across the season does mean that there’s a thematic unity unusual in Doctor Who at the time. The first six stories all portray civilisations that for one reason or another are stagnating.

The Argolins are sterile, Tigella is a planet held back by the superstitious nature of the Deons, the Three Who Rule have deliberately devolved the development of their planet, the Tharils once enslaved others but now they find themselves enslaved while the inhabitants of the Traken Union live in harmony for as long as the Keeper lives.

In the final story, the Logopolitans have been attempting to stave off the heat death of the universe by attempting to maintain stasis. But as the Doctor observes, entropy increases, and like the other stories of the season, change is inevitable.

In Full Circle, the Alzarians seek to deny the course of evolution by sealing themselves in the Starliner until the danger they believe exists has passed. Theirs is truly a stagnant society – with ineffectual leaders, the ironically named Deciders, who are unable to make any decisions except to maintain an existence based on continual procrastination.

The creatures from the Black Park lagoon
The creatures from the Black Park lagoon

Production-wise, this is an impressive Doctor Who directing debut from Peter Grimwade. The early episodes benefit from a generous amount of location filming and the location, Black Park, looks gorgeous in the sunshine. It looks so good that it’s surprising it wasn’t used more often in Doctor Who.

The production was fortunate to shoot in sunshine, which enhanced the shots, but there was also clearly some thought given about how to depict an alien landscape. Grimwade used coloured lamps from just off-screen to bathe parts of the landscape in an unearthly glow. It’s a simple trick, but effective.

Full Circle was, of course, the first transmitted story featuring Adric.  In production terms Matthew Waterhouse had already recorded State of Decay, but as can be seen he’s still somewhat uncertain in the role.

Given his lack of acting experience this isn’t a surprise – although a more actor-friendly director may have helped to refine his performance.  But anecdotal evidence suggests that Grimwade wasn’t an actors director, so Waterhouse had to make his own way.

Romana meets the Outlers
Romana meets the Outlers

He’s not noticeably worse than the rest of the Outlers though, who all have a whiff of the stage school about them.  They’re fairly unrewarding parts but Richard Willis (Varsh), Bernard Padden (Tylos) and June Page (Keara) do the best they can.  Although maybe it’s indicative of one re-write too many when Keara becomes suddenly intensely curious about everything in the last episode – possibly her lines were originally intended for Romana or Adric.

We’re on much firmer ground with the Deciders – James Bree (Nefred), Alan Rowe (Garif) and George Baker (Login).  Bree had previously given a strange performance in The War Games, where every line was drawn out to the nth degree, but he’s far, far, better here.  Bree plays it like many a politician or manager promoted way above their ability – he is able to project a calm outward exterior whilst having no original or helpful ideas of his own.

Alan Rowe, a familiar face from his guest appearance in Horror of Fang Rock a few years earlier, is equally indecisive as Garif.  As previously mentioned, the title of Deciders is obviously intentionally ironic, but both of them are lucky to have a new Decider who knows his own mind in the form of George Baker.

Episode one establishes the planet and the mystery of the negative co-ordinates before ending on the emergence of the Marshmen.  As monsters incapable of speaking, for a large part of the story the Marshmen are simply used as figures to menace the Alzarians.  But the Marshchild shows that they are intelligent, reasoning creatures who have a closer relationship to the inhabitants of the Starliner than at first thought.

Episode two is where the story begins to kick into gear as the Doctor meets the Deciders and can begin to understand exactly what is happening on the planet.

In episode three the Marshchild dies and enough groundwork has been laid to ensure that we don’t regard it as just another monsters death.  The Doctor’s link with the creature means he reacts with a fury that hasn’t been seen for a few years (since the conclusion of The Pirate Planet).  It’s a wonderfully acted scene from Tom Baker.

DOCTOR: You Deciders allowed this to happen.
GARIF: The marsh creatures are mindless brutes. Animals!
DOCTOR: Yes. Easy enough to destroy. Have you ever tried creating one?
NEFRED: We were within our rights.
GARIF: One might argue that Dexeter was overzealous.
DOCTOR: Not an alibi, Deciders! You three are supposed to be leaders.
GARIF: Certainly we are. Though, of course, Nefred is, er, is now First Decider.
DOCTOR: Then Nefred is responsible.
NEFRED: For the community, yes.
DOCTOR: No, no! Perhaps they haven’t let you in on the secret, Login. Shall I tell him, gentlemen?
GARIF: Secret?
DOCTOR: Yes! And the fraud of perpetual movement. The endless tasks going round and round. The same old components being removed and replaced.

We haven’t yet discussed the other regulars.  Lalla Ward gets an episode or so where she’s possessed by the Marshman.  Although Sarah-Jane Smith used to get taken over on a regular basis it’s not something that has happened before to Romana, so it has a little more impact.  Poor K9 finds himself decapitated half way through, which is a clear sign that his days are numbered.

“You can’t fight the Time Lords”.

The eventual solution to the mystery in episode four is something that may have been clearer in early drafts.  The notion that the Marshman boarded the Starliner when it first landed, killed the occupants and then gradually evolved into the Alzarians is possibly not too explicit in the dialogue – so anybody watching for the first time might have missed this important plot twist.

And if the Starliner has been on the planet for 40,000 generations, how many generations passed until the Marshmen evolved into the humanoids we see today?  It surely couldn’t have taken all of that time, so why have the Marshmen not been able, until now, to board the Starliner again?

Minor quibbles apart, this is a solid story.  Attractive location filming, a decent monster, a great performance from Tom and some solid actors for him to react to all help to lift this above the norm.  It’s only ranked 143rd out of the 241 stories in DWM’s 2014 poll and deserves to be higher (but then what has poor Meglos done to be ranked 231 out of 241?  It’s not perfect but anything with Bill Fraser and Freddie Treves can’t be all bad, can it?)

After a slightly shaky start with The Leisure Hive and Meglos, S18 really started to gain momentum with Full Circle.  And there was even better to come.

Weakling scum! Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon

"Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I'd like to say one thing and let me make it perfectly clear, I stand before you desperate to find the exit. Can anybody help me?"

With The Horns of Nimon, Graham Williams’ (televised) tenure as producer ended with something of a whimper rather than the bang he intended.

Williams had budgeted two cheaper stories (Nightmare of Eden & Nimon) in order to lavish a generous amount of location filming on the season finale, Shada. But Shada was never completed due to industrial action, which was the final piece of bad luck to befall Williams on Doctor Who.

Even before this though, Williams had more than his fair share of problems to deal with. The late 1970’s was a bad time to be a Doctor Who producer – hyper inflation meant that year on year the show’s budget was shrinking, industrial action was a constant threat and Tom Baker was proving to be more of a handful than ever.

Nimon is rated 223 of out 241 stories in DWM’s 2014 poll. So it’s very much down amongst the also-rans, rubbing shoulders with similarly unloved stories such as Arc of Infinity, Warriors of the Deep and The Time Monster. But whilst nobody in their right mind would call Nimon an overlooked classic, it does have some good points which go some way to balance out the numerous production mis-steps.

On the credit side, Tom Baker is still coming up with the goods. Six years in, there’s no doubt that he’s done all of this stuff hundreds of times before but he still manages to make it seem fresh. Whatever his thoughts about poor scripts and his off-screen spats with Williams, on-screen he’s focused and giving it 100%. And he does have the odd gem, such as –

Nimon: “Later, you will be questioned, tortured and killed”

The Doctor: “Well, I hope you get it in the right order”

Lalla Ward is equally good value as Romana. Separated from the Doctor for an episode or so she effectively becomes a surrogate Doctor and manages to effortlessly carry the narrative. Forget K9 & Company, a spin-off with Lalla and K9 was a huge missed opportunity.

romana
Lalla Ward as The Doct, sorry I mean Romana.

As for the guest cast, a mixed bag is the kindest way to describe them. Simon Gipps-Kent and Janet Ellis are really just the Babes in the Wood – and their characters are so under-written that they aren’t called on to do much acting.

Malcolm Terris is pretty poor as the Co-Pilot which is summed up by his final scene as he faces the wrath of the Nimon and his trousers fail to take the strain.  Elsewhere on Skonnos, Sorak (Michael Osborne) and Soldeed (Graham Crowden) are an odd couple, to put it mildly.

Sorak (Michael Osborne) models a typically understand costume from designer June Hudson.
Sorak (Michael Osborne) models a typically understated costume from designer June Hudson.

Osborne plays it dead straight, which is all the more impressive when you consider his costume. Crowden, on the other hand, gives a performance that is on another planet to everybody else – even managing the impressive feat of making Tom look like an actor of great restraint.

Much has been written about Crowden’s turn as Soldeed and it’s the sort of performance that you either love or hate.  Frankly, I love it as Nimon is the wrong story for too much naturalistic acting. But as some people have never liked Doctor Who to be fun it’s no surprise that many either don’t get the joke or consider it to be out of place.

"My dreams of conquest ....."
“My dreams of conquest …..”

But amongst the under-acting, over-acting and no-acting, there is one perfectly pitched performance – John Bailey as Sezom. Bailey had previously appeared as the doomed Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks (1967) and there’s a similar vibe to this character. It’s only a small part, but Bailey is excellent and it’s one of the highlights of the story.

As for the Nimon, oh dear. The Williams era is notable for a run of underwhelming monsters (immediately prior to this viewers would have been reeling from the glowing green bag that was Erato and the less-than-terrifying Mandrels) so the Nimon are pretty much business as usual. And as soon as the first one stumbles onto screen in his platform heels you know it isn’t going to end well.

nimon
“Roaaaarrrrr!!!!”

The Horns of Nimon was the end of an era in many ways. When the series returned it would feel quite different with a much more serious tone to proceedings.  But everything is cyclical and there would eventually be heirs to Crowdens throne (Paul Darrow in Timelash for example).

But for the moment, Nimon is the last gasp for this kind of goofy Doctor Who. Full of faults yes, but anything with Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden can’t be all bad.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (BBC 1982) now available on DVD from Australia

hound

The 1982 BBC Classic Serial adaptation of Hound, starring Tom Baker as Holmes and Terence Rigby as Watson has been released on DVD in Australia by Madman –

http://www.madman.com.au/catalogue/view/23503/sherlock-holmes-the-hound-of-the-baskervilles-starring-tom-baker-1982

The carrot of this release is a commentary track with Baker on all four episodes, highlights in the clip below.

Whilst this version of the story does have its faults (I’ve never cared for Rigby’s performance, for example, which is a problem since Watson is centre stage for a large part of the story) Baker is a commanding Holmes and it’s a very faithful adaptation of the novel.

A teaspoon and an open mind. Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit

“We call it … the pit”

Ranking a lowly 211 out of 241 stories in DWM’s recent poll would imply that The Creature from the Pit isn’t a favourite of many. But apart from one (admittedly large) problem it’s difficult to see why.

The positives far outweigh the negatives – the jungle scenes at Ealing give the episodes a glossy sheen, Myra Frances is a gloriously hissable villainess, Tom’s on great form, Lalla looks lovely and there’s an entertaining guest turn from Geoffrey Bayldon.

The problem? Well you can’t really avoid it. Erato is a vast, shapeless blob that is said to stretch for miles. How do you realise that on Doctor Who’s budget in 1979?

The answer is, of course, that you can’t. So Erato looks like an inflatable green bag with a rude appendage. But the scenes in the pit are nicely lit and Erato’s green glow is quite eerie, so it’s not a total write off.

No, sorry I can't think of any caption.  Please add your own.
No, sorry I can’t think of a caption. Please add your own.

Producer Graham Williams was in no doubt that the special effects department had let the programme down and after transmission made this point in an internal memo. But it’s hard to imagine how this monster could ever have been successfully created, so you do have to wonder why this was never queried at the scripting stage.

New script editor Douglas Adams wasn’t terribly experienced, but Graham Williams had been around for a while and should have twigged that a mile wide green blob was simply asking for trouble. But whatever the merits and demerits of Erato, there’s plenty to enjoy in this story, so let’s take a closer look.

Chloris is a planet rich in vegetation but low on metal. The Lady Adrasta (Myra Frances) owns the only metal mine on the planet and therefore is able to rule with a reign of terror.

But the arrival some years ago of an ambassador from the planet Tythonus has threatened her grip on the planet. Erato proposed a trade – they have plenty of surplus metal but Tythonus is extremely low in vegetation which Erato’s people need in vast quantities.

Adrasta quickly understood that if she no longer had the metal monopoly then her power would dissipate. So she arranged to banish Erato to the pit and would henceforth throw anybody who displeased her down there.

Although transmitted third, this was the first story of Season 17 to be recorded, so it was Lalla Ward’s acting debut as Romana. Her performance here is subtly different as she was still feeling out the part. There’s some nice moments from her though – particularly when she confronts the bandits in their lair.

Sigh.
Sigh.

The guest cast is uniformly solid. Myra Francis manages to be gorgeous and deadly at the same time. Eileen Way (Karela) had appeared in Doctor Who’s first story back in 1963 and is good value as Adrasta’s right hand woman.

Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon) is a hapless astronomer who falls foul of Adrasta and found himself flung into the pit. Managing to avoid being crushed by the monster he has lived a lonely existence until the Doctor turned up. Bayldon, best known for Catweazle, sparks off Tom very well and their scenes together are highly entertaining.

Also skulking around the jungle are a group of inept bandits, lead by Torvin (John Bryans). There has been some criticism of this character over the years, so the viewer will have to decide if he’s a riff on a Fagin-like character or simply a broad Jewish stereotype – “My lovely boys”.

Myra Francis and Tom Baker
Myra Francis and Tom Baker

So while Creature has its flaws, if you can ignore the glowing green bag there’s plenty of entertainment here. Unloved for decades due to its feeble dinosaurs, in recent years there seems to be more appreciation for Malcolm Hulke’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974). So maybe one day the same thing will happen here and fandom will learn to stop worrying about Erato and love The Creature from the Pit.