Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Claws of Axos

I think the best way to describe ‘The Claws of Axos’ is an experiment. Is it one that succeeded? Some would say yes, some would say no. Personally, I would call it a success.  It’s far from perfect, for sure, but it is an interesting, entertaining and different four episode tale.
An Axos

We have the idea of an organic space ship to start with, and with the concept of Axos – which is in fact the ship, the Axons on board and a substance called Axonite as well that Axos tries to use to suck Earth dry so it can keep on moving and surviving. It’s a tale about greed, double crossings and at times sheer stupidity.
Written by first timers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, ‘The Claws of Axos’ is not only innovative in ideas and writing, but also in direction. Michael Ferguson deserves a lot of credit for this story, the way it looks, the way he has presented the writers’ vision with remarkable originality and at times genius. His use of multi-camera here is fantastic,
A soldier fights an Axon.
the location shooting wonderful, it’s a triumph of imagination and a great example of a director taking a bizarre script that many would have given up on and letting it inspire and turn into something visually quite brilliant. For the time, I should hasten to add.
Every aspect of the production needed clever thinking – from the different weather conditions thrown at the team each day they shot. The interiors of Axos are a combination of strange material-based walls coupled with overlays to disguise the rough edges, the Axos have at least two forms, the more human form where they wear tights and the monster version featuring tentacles which do look rather good. The tight-version has zippers clearly showing which is a shame, and they attempted so much in this story we couldn’t expect everything to be perfect.
The Doctor and Chin.
Our regular cast, including the Master, is back for the story. The Doctor seems to be at the centre of a little controversy in this tale, people have argued that he isn't very likable. I would argue that the third Doctor is on the whole a bit anti-authoritarian – definitely anti-civil servant, although occasionally he presents the opposite way in some stories. The presence of the character ‘Chinn’ begins the story wanting to find out exactly who the Doctor is. He is precisely the sort of pen-pushing annoying ignorant and greedy man that the third Doctor can’t abide. So we start with an outraged Doctor.
The Master at the controls of the Doctor's TARDIS.
This leads into his offer to the Master to escape before Axos destroys Earth in his TARDIS – the interior being seen the first time since the Troughton era. Of course, this is all part of a trick to trap Axos in a time loop – a rather clever and original idea at the time! But then he is quite happy to try and escape Earth on his own. Of course, the limitations set by the Time Lords on his TARDIS won’t allow that.
But the Doctor wants to be free – should the viewer feel bad that he wants to leave the Brigadier and Jo? No, it’s seems a natural want to me, although by now they have become somewhat close. It’s an interesting thought. Does it spoil the story? Well it didn’t for me.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Mind of Evil

Coloured again - episode one thanks to Babelcolour
If I loved Don Houghton’s first Doctor Who story, ‘Inferno’ (which I did) he was going to have a lot to live up to in his second story, ‘The Mind of Evil’, and he didn’t disappoint! ‘The Mind of Evil’ is a cracking tale that never lets up over six episodes. Recently returned to colour, the DVD is fantastic. The colour results on this one are far superior to that of ‘Ambassadors of Death’, and episode one was re-colourised from scratch by the incredibly talented ‘Babel Colour’.

Firstly, it is probably the most adult-orientated story I have seen in Doctor Who. Some stuff is pretty
confronting and pretty ‘real’ for want of a better word. Much of the story is set in a prison, and the sets are superb, and the director, Timothy Coombe, achieved a genuine feel of a prison, rather than a pantomime ‘don’t scare the kids to much’ feel that they might have gone for a year earlier.

The direction on this one is absolutely top-notch, and I was saddened to find this was Coombe’s last contribution to Doctor Who. Having overspent and having to remount a day’s filming, Producer Barry Letts decided not to re-engage the director and was clearly not happy. Personally I think it was worth it. The scenes when UNIT storms the prison are excellent, but hey, so is the whole story.
The Doctor is subjected to the Keller Machine.
Houghton very cleverly ties three strands of story together – the prison, the peace conference and the moving of a gas missile. He weaves the Master into the plot wonderfully and has created the Keller machine that sucks evil out of people, and then uses that evil to attack others. But my favourite bit of scripting is the use of the character ‘Barnum’, played by Neil McCarthy. The prisoner receiving the Keller process at the start of the story is only in the periphery for the next five and a bit episodes, displaying a child-like understanding of the world with ALL his evil impulses removed. Then suddenly it turns out he is the key to controlling the Keller machine in the last fifteen minutes. Wonderful use of re-incorporation, although a sad ending to the story.
Mailer (left) with Doctor Summers at gunpoint.
Which is fine – in fact the gravity and sadness of what has gone on through the story dictates that it’s not going to be all smiles and happiness when the machine is dealt with, and it’s nice to see the Doctor and Jo (especially) aggrieved over the death of Barnum, as so many on-screen deaths in Doctor Who are somewhat glossed over.
There’s a fair bit centred around the Chinese delegation at the Peace conference, and it’s interesting that back in 1970-71 they considered China to be such an important player on the world stage. Consider today they are pretty much the most powerful country on the Earth, it’s a good piece of prediction. The only downside to the
scenes in the Chinese delegate’s rooms is the dragon which isn’t so convincingly done, but they worked hard to use authentic language and had people who were actually Chinese playing the Chinese parts. Something else they are to be commended on.
Don Houghton, I have found out, never wrote another Doctor Who story which is truly a pity. His scripts presented real characters in unreal situations, but not situations outside the realms of imagination. ‘The Mind of Evil’ is less apocalyptic than ‘Inferno’, but is still confronting and frightening.
Pik-Sen Lim 

The casting was spot on too. Barnum I have already mentioned, but the casting of William Marlowe as Mailer couldn’t have been more perfect. He was able to portray a believable character that was easy to hate and fear as an audience member. Coombe did well to find good Chinese actors, with Don Houghton’s wife, Pik-Sen Lim, perfect for Captain Chin Lee. Benton has a tough time in this story, but John Levene does an excellent job of collapsing and getting hit on the head. Mike Yates is given some dynamic stuff to do as well, Richard Franklin must have enjoyed this one particularly and nice to see him return and become a regular cast member.
It’s probably Pertwee’s best story to date, as the actor delivers a wonderful monologue to Jo in episode four or five, and all the regulars get a good go. Finally, I must mention Michael Sheard as Doctor Summers, he’s been in everything (and regularly scored roles as Hitler), and this is his second Doctor Who tale – his first ‘The Ark’. Fine piece of acting and casting. Loved this story.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Terror of the Autons

The Autons return in another four-part Robert Holmes story. It’s fair to say that so far his two Jon Pertwee
Roger Delgado as the Master.
stories have been much better than his Patrick Troughton stories – although that wouldn’t be hard! This time we are treated to a brand new character, and arch-villain, ‘The Master’, deftly played and perfectly cast, Roger Delgado has a wonderful stillness and arrests the viewer’s attention straight away. I too have an arch-foe, perhaps you know of him? His name is Peter O’Feild, and he is always up to some mischief. He even stole my body print and for a time was walking around looking just like my first incarnation! The cheek of him! In fact, I believe a visualised retelling of the adventure will soon be available to watch on Youtube... but I digress!
Harry Towb about to pull a chair over himself!
‘Terror of the Autons’ has some wonderful characters, fast becoming Robert Holmes’ forte. Michael Wisher, who appeared as a TV presenter in ‘Ambassadors of Death’, plays Rex Farrel with aplomb. Slowly being hypnotised by the Master, but regaining a sense of self by the end of the story. There are several notable smaller parts well played too such as Harry Towb as McDermott, partner to Farrel who has a wonderful scene pulling a black plastic chair over himself in one of the strangest death scenes in Doctor Who thus far. Interesting cameos also from David Garth as a Time Lord with a bowler-hat, and Stephen Jack as Farrel Snr.
UNIT gets a new Captain, Mike Yates, portrayed by Richard Franklin. Andrew has met Richard apparently and says he is a splendid chap! Not only that, but we have a new companion in Jo Grant – played by Katy Manning. I’m not sure what to make of her – she is the very opposite of Liz Shaw, who I really liked. Jo Grant is rather ditzy, a young woman recently out of High School it seems. Quite headstrong, but not the smartest cookie in the jar. She starts by ruing the Doctor’s work on his dematerialisation circuit, then getting hypnotised by the Master and trying to set off a bomb to destroy the Doctor’s lab, the Doctor and Yates and Benton. All in Episode One – not the perfect start!
The Master arrives at Rossini’s Circus, his TARDIS disguised as a horse float. I have to confess to thinking this is all a bit of a red herring, as the plastics factory is again where the Master’s operations are based. I like the circus as a setting, but it seemed to be irrelevant to the actual plot. I would love to see a story fully set in the circus – a great location for a Doctor Who story. I’m it will happen in the next few seasons or so.
Autons dressed to sell flowers.
The Autons are used less than in ‘Spearhead from Space’, but when they are used they are quite effective and scary. Particularly distributing the lethal plastic daffodils, central to the Master’s plans. The story cleverly uses plastic as a weapon by animating it. The use of the telephone wire to strangle the Doctor is well done, less well done is the use of the black plastic blow-up chair to suffocate McDermott. It is so obviously the actor pulling the chair down on himself sadly that no-one could be convinced.
Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) wonders if the 'dafs are dangerous'.
Then there is the abrupt and frankly strange ending, the weakest element of the story in my opinion. Stuck with the story needing to end pretty quickly, Holmes decided the Master would suddenly change his mind about the Autons and send the Nestene back into the farthest reaches of space. The only impetuous for this change of heart is the Doctor suggesting the Nestene wouldn’t be up for sharing the power with the Master. He is opening up the gateway via satellite dish, and just changes his mind. Personally I would have been more convinced by a fight sequence involving the Brigadier and the Doctor turning everything around. But this is what Holmes and presumably Dicks went with. It was an odd choice.

Katy Manning is the new assistant, Jo Grant.

But we can’t complain too much, it’s an exciting adventure, like the previous two it has a offering of action and stunts. Wonderful shot of an Auton falling down a cliff, getting up and continuing on at the bottom, perhaps my favourite moment in the story. A very enjoyable story.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013


I quite simply loved this story. This is the first Doctor Who story to use parallel dimensions, a concept that often appears in many science fiction stories, so it’s interesting that it took nearly seven years for the production team to go down this route. This story also brings to a close Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor, seasons now reduced to 25 episode, and with all the long stories in season 7 of seven episodes, Jon Pertwee only has four stories to his name after a full year as the Doctor.
Olaf Pooley and Sheila Dunn

But a fine start it has been, with four very solid stories, two of them excellent in fact. I started this marathon back in February and ‘Inferno’ definitely rates as my favourite story to date. It’s a piece full of atmosphere, sometimes apocalyptic, great characterisations by the actors, thoughtful and gripping story-telling by the writer Don Houghton, great stunts, fantastic location shooting, and one that simply doesn’t let up for the full seven episodes.

Benton the Primord. All good... except those teeth!

So I will start with the negatives. The Primords – I like them, mostly because they are not a unified group with a goal trying to conquer anyone, rather simply the effects of touching the ooze from deep inside the Earth. However, the teeth are a bit silly really, especially one shot of Seargeant Benton in Episode Six I think, when he looks right at the camera. The teeth don’t seem to fit the mouth, and are bright white. The audio of them snarling is also rather out of place, doesn’t seem properly mixed. There are a few other tiny details but all in all this story holds up to pretty tight screening.
Nick Courtney

They couldn’t have picked a more perfect location. The HAVOC stunt team did a brilliant job of falling off silos but the most amazing thing is the stuff shot on top of the silos, a good fifty feet or more above the ground. Not only did Douglas Camfield get his cameramen up there, but Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier went up there too, with only a rudimentary handrail between them and the quick way down! In making a TV programme today, I doubt whether they would be allowed to film in a location like that!
It makes for an exciting story, following on from ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ in using a lot of stunt work and action sequences far becoming the hallmark of this era of Doctor Who. One thing quite unique to this story though is the use of the parallel dimension, and I think it’s one of the best examples of a parallel dimension story there is. With the UNIT team now regulars in the series, it was great that only the Doctor visited the parallel dimension, allowing us an alternative Brigadier (Brigade Leader), Liz Shaw and Sergeant Benton. Interestingly enough, other characters in the story, not regulars but guest cast, didn’t have a very different character to the one on normal Earth.
The guest cast is fantastic with Sheila Dunn as Petra Williams, Christopher Benjamin as Sir Keith Gold and Olaf Pooley as Professor Stahlman. The alternative Earth provides a reality where the royals were executed and perhaps England is living under some sort of fascist or communist regime. It’s unclear which one exactly, but this world seems to suit Stahlman more than the normal Earth. We also have the character Greg Sutton, played by Derek Newark, who appeared in ‘An Unearthly Child’ as the leader of the cavemen. This character is similar in both dimensions.
Courtney and Caroline John in the alternate Universe.
Howere Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and John Levene get to play sadistic and brutal versions of themselves in the parallel dimension. They do a brilliant job, only Liz Shaw’s character has any sort of change in thinking. We see the whole world destroyed as well just as the Doctor escapes. With the end of the world nigh, and our group of characters desperately fleeing the Primords but trying to get to the TARDIS console, episodes five and six are like nothing ever seen in Doctor Who. The atmosphere created is apocalyptic in the extreme. It’s simply brilliantly-pitched television.
Oh, and Jon Pertwee of course!
Jon Pertwee has his best outing yet. He has a charm that is coupled with a self-righteous indignation, and those factors seem to be the hallmark of his Doctor. Caroline John is fantastic as both Lizes in this story. I’ve learnt by starting the next story that it’s her final story. They could have at least let her go out with a goodbye scene, if not another story especially for the character. She’s worked very well with Pertwee’s Doctor, and shown that the Doctor’s companions do not need to be stupid. ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ is another where she is clever, resourceful and more than the usual companion. Sad to see her go so quickly.
So for the first time, I am rating a story


Monday, 24 June 2013

The Ambassadors of Death

‘The Ambassadors of Death’ is a very interesting, a very different story from anything that has come before it. Obviously keen to include something space related in the programme to mirror the first man on the moon and the excitement of the space race that was going on at the time of production, this story had been in the works for a long time. Terrence Dicks and Malcolm Hulke are largely behind the script which is credited to David Whitaker, and it is one with a focus on the visual and action.
The console is back, episode One.

Which is why it’s such a pity that the original colour prints no longer exist bar episode one. The DVD does present it in full colour, but the team found this clearly a very difficult story to work on and they weren’t able to achieve the level they did for ‘The Silurians’. The results also vary from episode to episode, with episode 7 being the best and episode five very good, yet four and six are not nearly as well done. Still, after so many years of it not being available in colour, the restoration job really must be highly commended.
Michael Ferguson’s direction is for the most part inventive, clever and ahead of its time. Really he has done so very well, and aided with a haunting soundtrack and a very solid script, ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ is a very successful experiment in the format of the programme that still holds up today. It is slow-moving watched in 2 or 3 sittings, but I think as it was originally intended, one episode a week, it would have been very gripping indeed. It has a real James Bond feel to it, which is intentional and very much suits Pertwee’s Doctor, growing and improving each story and being quite clearly defined by this point. A man of action? For sure, but also one with a very strong sense of moral justice, which happens to be a strong theme of this story.
Carrington holds a gun to the Doctor's head.
Although we have visitors from outer space in this adventures, they are not the true menace. They are being used by General Carrington, excellently portrayed by John Albineri in his second Doctor Who adventure (he was also in ‘Fury from the Deep’) to create havoc and panic so that the Earth will be forced to act on the aliens and blast them out of space. Carrington is mad, but this is not a character driven by any selfish reasons, he believes the aliens are a threat to the Earth. This is not the power-hungry megalomaniac, nor is it a story about alien invasion. It’s a very original take on a Doctor Who story.
The story is filled with chases and stunts, and apparently went well over budget but in fairness it was worth it. Some of the capsule work in space is very very good and holds up today, Ferguson has a beautiful homage to ‘2001’ in these shots using the carefully chosen music. The sets and the props are excellent too. The only let down really is the shots of the rocket flying through the atmosphere, and some of the overly-long sequences with Reegan (William Dysart) as he buries bodies in gravel, changes the fuel percentages in the Doctor’s rocket and when he connects gas to the decontamination unit.
Crazy accents, Dr Taltalian
Cyril Shapps returns to Doctor Who again playing a crazed and stressed out of his mind scientist, pretty much the same role he played in ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’. His death scene is chillingly shot and one of the most horrific deaths in Doctor Who in some ways, trapped with a radioactive isotope in a prison cell he can’t escape.
Inside the alien space ship.
It’s a wonderfully done example of the unknown enemy that knows everything you do and is always one step ahead. It has a rather odd ending when the Doctor says ‘I’m done here, see ya later’ when really he has not much place to go. That was very odd to me, and the finale could have done with a bit more action although episode seven does have a fair bit nonetheless. The ending just could have been a bit more dramatic.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but be impressed by this story, the ideas, the twisting of established norms, the intrigue and the element of the unknown. Michael Ferguson’s direction is very very clever and inventive as well.


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Doctor Who and the Silurians

Jon Pertwee’s second story takes him to some caves where he meets a reptilian life-form which has been hibernating for millions of years and now become awoken. It’s interesting that in this, the second adhering to the Pertwee-UNIT format, that the show already feels like it is in a rhythm. ‘Spearhead from Space’ set everything up, but ‘The Silurians’, the next story, treats the audience as if this is has been the format of the show for ages now! Perhaps it’s because the order of the stories wasn’t something the production team was sure of, I don’t know. I would have thought that more background could have been built into this story about the Doctor’s working relationship and settling in to this new life for him. After all it is seven episodes long!
We have a change of producer here, as Barry Letts takes the reins with Terence Dicks as script editor, and Malcolm Hulke, a good friend of Dicks, was gotten in to write the story.

At its heart, ‘The Silurians’ (please forgive me for not referring to it as the official title, ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’, is an excellent story with some great ideas, performances and direction. It is, I believe, regarded as something of a classic. But also I think it has many faults that stretch beyond the design, the costuming and the stupid voices of the Silurians.
My biggest bone to pick with this story is this – it’s all so stereotypical. Yes it was made in 1969, we had less stereo-types then, but nevertheless the three-dimensional Silurian characters plod along such a predictable course. Some of their dialogue is genuinely terrible. The director of the project built into the caves, played brilliantly by Peter Miles, is just pushy and mad. The Brigadier for some reason has no intention of listening to a thing the Doctor says or advises, despite relying on him completely in ‘Spearhead from Space’ and ‘The Invasion’, and Norman Jones’ character, Major Baker, also goes a bit stir crazy.
I guess the storyline is purely functional, as are the characters. And it’s by no means a bad story, but I find all the ‘I am leader now, we must kill all the humans’ rubbish very lazy writing. The original Silurian leader suddenly decides to listen to the Doctor and trust the humans, as the Doctor makes promises he can’t possibly keep, and the Doctor does some strange things too, like decide not to tell anyone bar Liz Shaw that Doctor Quin is dead.
Doctor Quin is an interesting character, helping the Silurians in return for them promising him scientific knowledge. Why he’s so desperate for the knowledge is not fully explained, and his death around the middle of the story only rids the story of an interesting character that I would have liked to see continue.
Malcolm Hulke certainly struggled with the length.  It could have easily been six parts if not four. The Doctor spends a lot of time looking for the cure to a disease in scenes which are really padded out. That’s why I think the story would have benefitted with being six episodes, and a new episode one set at UNIT.
However, this sounds like a damning review and I didn’t hate the story by any stretch of the imagination. The sound-scape is very interesting, with a series of original sounds and noises used to flavour the story. Not the sort of thing to sit down and relax too, and very different from the orchestral scores of TV today, I appreciated what was done. The cast throw themselves into the story with gusto, no-one could be accused of under-acting! The sets are mostly good, the cells are cleverly designed.
I like the design of the Silurian costumes on the whole, but they realisation is poor. The third eye is a great idea, but the creatures look all plastic and rubber, which the suits were made out of. They were a little too human like, and thus look like men in suits. They needed a bit of slime or ooze, the costumes needed to look a bit wet I think. They used the dinosaur mercifully sparingly, however they still could have used it less. It certainly was not the most convincing aspect to the story.
The ending, when the Brigadier destroys the Silurian base, is poignant. Pertwee fits very comfortably in the role, but already he has shown himself to be rather self-righteous. Otherwise he is quite dynamic and has built a great rapport with Caroline John as Liz Shaw.
The ideas behind the story are great, let down by some poor extrapolation in my opinion, but I still enjoyed the story a lot more than it seems I did from this review!


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Spearhead from Space

Jon Pertwee is the Doctor!
Bam! I’ve hit colour! And wow it really does make a difference. ‘Spearhead from Space’ not only introduces us to colour, but also a brand new Doctor in Jon Pertwee, and into a new format of being exiled on Earth and being part of the UNIT team. He cuts a dashing and somewhat different figure to the two previous Doctors with frills and a cape, a great contrast to Troughton’s Doctor immediately.

The UNIT team for Spearhead from Space.
This story has quite a unique feel. Completely shot on film, the DVD release has wonderful picture quality – hard to imagine it being that enhanced by the blu-ray which has not been released yet as I write this blog entry. The feel of this story is like no story before because of all the factors already mentioned. The musical score, provided by Dudley Simpson, is orchestral and quite understated compared to the sort of score used in today’s television and movies, but even for a show produced in 1969 does sound a little dated, or not quite right. Perhaps better suited to a show like ‘The Avengers’. Still it’s not BAD.
It’s a pretty well done story, and benefits from not being shot on video, which provides a more washed out feel. This clearly feels like a film! Which is why it was chosen for blu-ray release. We see the Doctor almost at the start, falling out of the TARDIS, and then he is taken into a local hospital where he spends much of the next two episodes bar one escape. To be truthful, I felt a bit disappointed that he doesn’t feature so much in the first half of this story.
Caroline John

Caroline John is the new ‘companion’, or perhaps ‘assistant’ is the more apt term in her case. A scientist herself she is very good in ‘Spearhead from Space’, offering a sceptical view and even a little cynical humour to role. Nicholas Courtney is back as the Brigadier, but we don’t see any other people from UNIT that featured in ‘The Invasion’.
Where the story excels is in being creepy and scary. Manikins or shop-dummies coming to life was a brilliant idea from Robert Holmes (or possibly it was Derrick Sherwin), and it was something that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to do. They even had the chance to film in Madame Tussaud’s which was a nice touch. Andrew tells me he remembers the scene of the figures coming to life there as one of his earliest Doctor Who memories. Again the music is understated, which is not a bad thing at all. As the Autons walk down the road shooting people, we have a rather well directed scene that adds to the fear of the audience. A very real threat.
Autons invade London!
Finally, the story concludes at the plastics’ factory. Simple dolls have never looked creepier! John Woodnutt plays Hibbert, controlled by the head Auton, Channing, a wonderfully creepy performance given by Hugh Burden. In fact think it’s not until episode three that he actually speaks on camera. Kudos for Holmes for this, and kudos to him for a far better script than his previous two.

The real let-down is the finale. Firstly the Doctor builds a machine to destroy the Nestene Consciousness, which isn’t very dynamic. Then the story ends with a very comical fight with some very poor tentacles coming out of the machine which houses the Nestene. As the foam tentacles are desperately pulled around his neck by Jon Pertwee, not fooling anyone, Liz Shaw operates the machine. It doesn’t work. The reason why is not given. Then she fiddles with it a bit, and it does work. The Autons looked great throughout the story, wonderful ideas, but the final confrontation needed better scripting and effects. Otherwise it was a fantastic start to the third Doctor, and the colour era of Doctor Who.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The War Games

All good things must come to an end, and so did Patrick Troughton’s time as the Doctor, and of course black and white episodes as well. To complete the story of the second Doctor we had a ten-part adventure, the second longest story in the six-year history of the programme to that point, and it was called ‘The War Games’.
I was worried beforehand. TEN parts and no Daleks? How will they sustain that, but as many others have mentioned, the story doesn’t really let up and certainly doesn’t feel like a full ten parts. Credit to the writing team of Malcolm Hulke and Terence Dicks for that.
We have the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arriving on an alien world that appears to be Earth, divided into time zones where different wars are being played out by soldiers kidnapped by the War Lord and his kind. In the central zone is the controlling base if you like, decked out futuristically. We go from one zone to the next, although most action is limited to the First World War Zone (where the story begins) and a barn in the American Civil War Zone.
The final episode is set on the Doctor’s home world, and mine incidentally, but I won’t mention its name as it hasn't been mentioned yet in the series and I don’t want to spoil it for viewers if they should reveal it later in another story.

The sets, although a little wobbly, hold up well considering there are a lot of them and they were made on sixpence. There is a lot of location shooting which really adds to the atmosphere and makes it all feel rather authentic, especially the First World War stuff. The quarry they use for the opening sequence is perhaps the best quarry they have ever used for Doctor Who!
The way they peel the banana so to speak in this story is great too. We start believing our heroes to be in the First World War. Then clearly something isn’t right, and slowly but surely more is revealed, with the final revelations about the Doctor himself.
It’s been an interesting turn in the kinds of stories throughout this sixth season, which began with ‘The Dominators’. Only two stories have the same feel and approach that so many Fifth Season stories did – principally ‘The Seeds of Death’, but also ‘The Invasion’. There is a lot more variety which produced great stories such as ‘The Mind Robber’ and ‘The War Games’, but there’s always a risk with trying something different, ‘The Space Pirates’ and ‘The Krotons’ were rather poor stories. It’s a fair price to pay though when you are trying to ‘mix it up’ and give the audience something new week after week, and it’s similar to the Hartnell years which were far less predictable and showcased a variety of styles and ideas.

‘The War Games’ is the crowning achievement of that, a wonderful idea that peels away throughout all ten episodes. Wonderful twists and turns, an absolutely stunningly good cast – Philip Madoc as the War Lord is chilling, but two of the best performances come from Noel Coleman as Smythe and David Garfield as Von Weich. Thoroughly evil performances from both. David Saville as Lieutenant Castairs was an excellent almost pseudo companion, and Jane Sherwin was great as Lady Jennifer. A strange quirk of the script that after episode five she just disappears from the story and never reappears, getting a cursory mention in the final episode.
James Bree and Edward Brayshaw - interrogating the Doctor
The only questionable performance is James Bree as the Security Chief. It’s an almost theatrical yet stiff performance as he battles with the War Chief and speaks with a bizarre slow monotone voice. Was this what was envisaged? Sometimes you wonder if the actor made the choice himself or was directed to speak in a certain way. It’s very un-naturalistic and goes against most of the other characters, perhaps with the exception of the War Chief (Edward Brayshaw) who gets a bit panto too at times, although is well over-shadowed by James Bree.
As for the regulars, well they all have a lot to do. Patrick Troughton is outstanding in his last story, but we should not forget it is also Wendy Padbury’s and Frazer Hines’ last story too. They made a wonderful pair of companions for the Doctor. Some of their work in Episodes Eight and Ten is fantastic, and very well written too as Jamie pretends to be the leader of the resistance and Zoe asserts herself. Then in the last scene with the Doctor, you can feel the sadness between the group that their journey making the show together has come to an end.
The sets are very clever, the design excellent considering how many things they needed to produce for the show. The futuristic sets, though minimal made maximum use of the small space they had and were rather psychedelic in design. The lack of money does show through at times – the controls of the time machines are magnets moved around a board. I wasn’t convinced by that at all, and there seemed to be a lot of hanging plastic sheets used. The guards costumes had very silly tight hoods on and wore strange glasses which I guess were designed to obscure their faces so that they could kill and reuse the same actors over and over again.
‘The War Games’ though owes much of what it is simply to the writing team of Terence Dicks and Malcolm Hulke who in short time whipped up an excellent story, and a fitting end to Troughton’s fine tenure as the Doctor. This story is as good as any other Patrick Troughton story. He was lucky to begin and end with two all-time classics.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Space Pirates

On the face of it, the title ‘The Space Pirates’ conjures some exciting images in one’s mind. Pirates in space? Brilliant! Oh and treasure, there must treasure right? Pirates without treasure is like Mork without Mindy, Troughton without Hines, or Morecombe without Wise, right? There’s going to be sword fights – maybe laser sword fights, in space, it’s going to be a swashbuckling non-stop adventure.
Swash-buckling pirates? Maybe not....
Well, I’m sorry but after such a title it’s hard not to be disappointed with Robert Holmes’ second story. I’d be very surprised if he writes another script after the two duds he’s served up thus far. What exactly is wrong with ‘The Space Pirates’? Well, it’s more a matter of asking what is right about it, and the answer is simply – not much.
Alpha One, where the Doc and co spend the first two episodes.
The first two episodes in particular are very slow, and it never really speeds up all that much. With no pace it’s immediately a hard story to get into considering the subject matter. It should have been a good story. But the realisation is just so poor. It seems more akin to Somali pirates stealing oil than swashbuckling pirates in the mould of Blackbeard and John Sparrow. Which, in all fairness, is the way it should have gone.

One annoying thing is that the Doctor and his companion are hardly relevant for the story. Especially Jamie and Zoe who don’t appear to do anything for six whole episodes. The Doctor defuses a bomb in episode six, and apart from that they just get captured, escape, recaptured, blown up but not actually contribute to the narrative. Instead the story is driven by a somewhat pantomime character in Milo Clancy, with a cowboy costume, a handlebar moustache and a somewhat dubious and over the top southern accent.  Milo Clancy is played by Gordon Gostelow, as whacky a character they have had in Doctor Who to this point, so a strange choice to be the main character for the six-parts.

Milo Clancy

The accents are a feature in this one, and they seem to have gone mostly for American accents. Donald Gee plays Warne, he’s American like many characters. The pirates are led by Caven, played by Dudley Foster, who is really a gritty character I guess, happy to kill and be brutal at will. It just doesn’t gel with all the other characters with bizarre accents and strange costumes.
General Hermack, played by Jack May, is the perfect example. He and Warne spend the six episodes mostly in their space ship looking for the Argonite pirates, but don’t ever meet the Doctor and his companions and only have a brief encounter with Milo Clancy. They feature heavily in Episode Two, the only episode to still exist, an episode where the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe spend the whole 25 minutes stuck in part of a beacon away from the TARDIS. Hermack doesn’t have an accent I can place, but he does have a ridiculous voice. I doubt whether it was the actor’s natural voice but I suppose anything is possible.
The sets are pretty poor too. Doctor Who, at least at this stage of its evolution, does not do space craft well, especially not the interiors. The use of cathode-ray TV sets everywhere is laughable, and all the switches and buttons look so dated and lacking in imagination that they are completely unbelievable and the audience knows for sure that they are watching something made in a studio.

The Doctor’s journey begins halfway through episode one when he, Jamie and Zoe arrive on the beacon. They are chased very briefly, pirates attack and leave them there and blow up the beacon. Episode Two they are in the beacon, alone, for the whole episode. Episode three they meet Milo Clancy and travel with him, episode four they are locked away by the pirates, episode five they escape, get captured again and are thrown into a room (rather than a cell). Episode Six they talk a bit and the Doctor defuses a bomb. That’s the journey for our three characters who sadly get little to do in the second Doctor’s penultimate story. They basically just want to be reunited with the TARDIS, stuck on a different piece of the beacon that was blown up in episode one. However, being reunited with the TARDIS happens after the story is finished!
It has a strange feel, very different to any other story I can recall. The first Doctor met pirates in his penultimate story too – ‘The Smugglers’. Real proper treasure-hunting pirates in a cracking adventure. 3 years later, pirates in space failed to have nearly as much impact.


Friday, 14 June 2013

The Seeds of Death

We return to a base-under-siege format for ‘The Seeds of Death’ and see the return of the rather immobile Ice Warriors in a story which takes place on Earth and the moon. It’s a lot of fun really. The regulars are great and the guest cast is fantastic. It’s a six parter that moves well and doesn’t get bogged down, and my friend Andrew tells me it was the first Troughton story he saw which apparently makes it special. His favourite Doctor, I should add, is Patrick Troughton.

I did enjoy this story, and although it’s not brilliant, it’s a very strong story in the style of the previous season. Season Six, which we are now in, has been experimenting up to this point, and this is the first and only return to monsters and base-under siege, the staple diet of the fifth season which ended with ‘The Wheel in Space’.
It’s full of amusing curiosities, such as the death effect for the Ice Warriors’ weapons which twist and distort the victim, and a computer which announces everything that is happening to expedite the plot outside the story show on screen. The computer is constantly telling the audience and indeed the characters what is happening in other countries around the world. The seeds themselves, designed to create foam and change the atmosphere of Earth, are basically just balloons that get bigger and then burst. It’s simple, but effective most of the time but looks dodgy at others.
The direction is rather good. I gather the story stretched its budget to the limit, and Terence Dicks had to re-write most of the final four parts, I believe mostly for budgetary reasons. There is a bit of evidence of the budget not quite stretching all the way – the sets wobble a bit, mostly on the moonbase, but I didn’t notice it until the production notes on the DVD told me! The corridor sets are apparently just one or two used over and over again, shot in different ways from different angles, inter-dispersed with halls of mirrors which don’t make a lot of sense, but look rather stylish!
A look at the dubious costume design of the Seeds of Death.

The one thing that really dates the futuristic stories though is the use of old TV sets for monitors. There are a few here. Then we have the costumes. I’m sorry, they are awful! It is the worst costumed story I have seen. The plastic suits with stripes that make it look like people have their underwear on the outside is seriously embarrassing. Then to put it on older actors looks ridiculous. Only the Doctor, his companions and Gia Kelly escaped this awful costumes.

Alan Bennion as Slarr, the Ice Warrior Leader.
And the Ice Warriors of course! These lumbering great beasts are great villains, but I have to admit at times they look far too slow to do anything. Add to the fact that their hands are very impractical, and maybe they don’t stack up as great monsters. They were able to dig out the costumes from the previous appearance which was good, and I think it’s fair to say, with Wendy Padbury apparently pay half the cost of her costume so she could keep it, costumes were done on the serious cheap in this story.
The foam seems to be exactly the same as what was used in ‘Fury from the Deep’ – well if it worked once, why not? For a futuristic story there aren’t a lot of special effects. The exterior shooting seems to fit in quite well with the studio stuff which is good.

Trohgton at his best.
The cast are stellar. Troughton, Hines and Padbury all have some good moments, Troughton takes a holiday during episode four (I think) when he’s replaced, perhaps not too subtly, by an unconscious double. Well, I’m sure he wasn’t actually unconscious. 

Louise Pajo as Gia Kelly.

Louise Pajo is perfect casting for Gia Kelly, a role which was originally to be male, which would have left Zoe as the only female character in the story! Louise Pajo, people may be interested to know, had a role a few years later in the first season of Prisoner, the Australian TV show, not the British!
Terry Scully, whose personality might have been similar to the character he played, Fewsham, was perfectly cast. He appeared in Terry Nation’s ‘Survivors’, but had to be replaced during the shooting for mental health reasons. Then we have Christopher Coll as Mr Phipps, a great character we build sympathy for as an audience only to have him killed in episode four George R.  Martin style. Ronald Leigh-Hunt  as Commander Radnor and Philip Ray as Professor Eldred complete a great ensemble.
It’s a highly enjoyable tale, and was the first black and white story to be released on video. It’s easy to see why.