The Underwater MenaceBookmark and Share

Friday, 16 October 2015 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
The Underwater Menace - DVD cover (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
The Underwater Menace
Written by Geoffrey Orme
Directed by Julia Smith
Released by BBC Worldwide, 26th October 2015 (R2)
Well, it's finally here. After some eighteen months since we originally expected it to be released, The Underwater Menace has finally arrived for everybody to enjoy on shiny DVD. Any boy, has it been a wait, with the story being delayed owing to animation, then effectively being cancelled and then suddenly being announced ahead of time by an accidental listing by the BBC Shop! Then, with features still under wraps, it was a question over how would the missing two episodes be presented ...

 

The Episodes

 

It turns out episodes one and four are telesnap reconstructions in the very strictest sense of the word - they are literally just the telesnaps, shown in progression - including those taken of the opening and closing credits! So, for episode one the opening title music plays over the "Doctor Who" logo, and the closing music plays over an image of a fish-person (plus the producer/director credit telesnaps at the end). The static images also lead to some strange imagery, such as when Zaroff is first introduced you might be led to believe he was a shark!

The reasoning behind why BBC Worldwide decided to present the story in this way is really quite mystifying, especially as their previous effort with The Web of Fear episode three was a much more fluid reconstruction. One can only assume that the budget was so restrictive for this release that they couldn't afford to utilise imagery more appropriate to reflect who/what is on screen, let alone insert the censor clips recovered from Australia, incorporate the standard opening title sequence or recreate the end credits! However, it does mean that you can see the Cura telesnaps in all their glory ...

The soundtrack itself is a clean, un-narrated version. For collectors like myself this is actually quite a good thing, as previously we only have the Anneke Wills-narrated soundtrack version to listen to. However, in terms of presentation the narrated version would probably have made more sense to assist in explaining what is going on, especially with the static telesnap presentation where there are long sequences stuck on a single unreprestative frame.

Overall, I'm not too sure how I feel about the presentation of these episodes; on the one hand it does (just about) serve the purpose of telling the story, but if you are unfamiliar with these episodes then it might well be quite confusing to follow the plot, especially where there is no dialogue - in those cases you might be better off muting the TV and playing the narrated soundtrack alongside the images on screen (or perhaps not even bothering with that as so little is occuring on screen!)

Of course the real reason we're here is the chance to finally see Episode Two in all its glory! With the exception of the lucky attendees at its unveiling at Missing Believed Wiped in December 2011 and a couple of special presentations around the country, the majority of fans have been unable to see the recovered episode for nigh on four years - indeed, we got to see both The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear beforehand! But was the wait actually worth it?

Episode Three has been available to us for many years of course, and perhaps familiarity has bred contempt, often leading to the story being derided for its outlandish characters, madcap chases, not to mention that immortal final line from Zaroff. With all that baggage, the second episode, therefore, was always going to have a fight on its hands to raise the story from being seen as a 'farce' to something more 'sensible'. However, it wasn't much of a fight in the end - from the outset we are presented with a terrifying scene of Polly about to be operated upon, and then to a much calmer, thoughtful, insightful version of the Doctor to the one seen in the latter episode. I woudn't say that this necessarily immediately raises episode three and the overall story into (ahem) 'classic' status, but in context it now makes the latter episode feel like a 'normal' part three as opposed to the extra prominence placed upon it as being the sole representative of the story.

The Underwater Menace DVD: The Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton in episode two (Credit: BBC Worldwide)The problem with a "new" episode is often that there's too much to take in on the first viewing, not to mention the excitement of seeing it that first time. It's the second viewing that normally gives you the chance to better appraise it, and also whether it stands up to the closer scrutiny. Episode two does manage to pass that test, which to me at least means it has been worth the (extended) wait to see it. Though the narrated soundtrack and exisiting telesnaps mean I'm not entirely unfamilar with it, unless we are extremely lucky with when Cura took his shot much of the time little nuances within a scene are lost. Good examples are when we can now see the Doctor's reaction to Zaroff's outrageous claims, or his miming the professor's insanity to Thous, things that weren't evident before. Another one I like is the Doctor hiding in a plain and common wardrobe - in this case there are telesnaps showing this, but they don't quite portray the humour that is present.

I don't think the episode quite meets the hype that has grown up around it being the one remaining episode left to be released for this era of Doctor Who, and it was (justifiably) eclipsed by the two Season Five returns, but all-in-all it isn't a particularly bad episode and probably more representative of the story as a whole. It also now has the 'honour' of being the earliest complete episode of the Troughton era, and means the second Doctor  no longer has an 'embarassing' start to his visible adventures!

As a little bonus, those who sit through the end of the episode four credits can find the telesnap credits featured over video of the story's location, Winspit Quarry, which unfortunately only features in the two missing episodes. Not quite a "Now and Then" feature, and the footage hails from A Fishy Tale, but welcome nonetheless!

 

Special Features

 

Fortunately, one of the revelations of the formal DVD announcement was that, unlike Enemy and Web, it would  (most of) the special features that we are used to on 'classic' series releases. These also included the two (brief) Australian censor clips that weren't incorporated into the reconstructed episodes above, so at least these can still be seen on the DVD.

The Underwater Menace DVD: A Fishy Tale (Credit: BBC Worldwide)A Fishy Tale covers the making of the story, looking into the 'mountainous' production journey undertaken by The Underwater Menace from its original inception as Under The Sea, its rejection as unmakable by its original director Hugh David and a 007 film crewmember(!), its removal and subsequent re-instatement to the production schedule as other scripts fell by the wayside, and its ultimate tackling by the previous year's The Smugglers director Julia Smith. Regular companion Anneke Wills provided the main 'commentary' on how the story was produced, with additional insight from Frazer Hines on his formal arrival as Jamie as new companion (and the script adjustments needed to cater for another TARDIS traveller). Other contributors include Catherine Howe who played Ara, assistant floor manager Gareth Gwenlan, and new series writer Robert Shearman giving his take on viewing the story in 'modern times'. The feature was narrated by Peter Davison, who only really started to get his teeth into the special features range through its director Russell Minton, who also provided another welcome touch in the inclusion of especially shot footage out on the story's original locations at Winspit, featuring 'fish-people' out on the beach and in the quarry.

As with the majority of behind-the-scenes features in the Doctor Who DVD range, A Fishy Tale nicely summarises the making of the story, but sadly the nitty-gritty details of the ins-and-outs provided by production information subtitles are not included with this release. Being that these traditionally carry lots of interesting snippets about how the script progressed and changed, what was happening around and during production, etc., it feels like there's a bit of a vacuum this time around, and we are missing out on the usual 'definitive' story of production. I guess we will need to wait for the eventual release of the relevant edition of The Complete History now for that account.

However, at least we have the commentaries to listen to, which provide traditional behind-the-scenes 'gossip'. As with previous incomplete story releases, the existing episodes have the regular cast/crew reminiscences on production, with the missing episodes used to present contextual interviews, clips, etc. For The Underwater Menace, episode one takes the form of the second part of an interview by moderator Toby Hadoke with Patrick Troughton's son Michael (recorded prior to his own inaugural appearance in Last Christmas), who candidly discusses life growing up with his father, his relationships and attitudes towards the work he undertook. The second episode features Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Catherine Howe, sound composer Brian Hodgson and floor assistant Quention Mann, and as might be expected discussion focussed on the return of this episode after a few decades and how they felt about being able to see it again. Other tidbits along the way include Frazer commenting on how Colin Jeavons aka Damon's eyebrows reminded him of an androgum (with Toby observing no colour photos exist to compare against), and how the opening scenes of the story raised concern over children not wanting flu jabs. Moving onto the third episode, anecdotes included reflections on the challenges faced both for and with director Julia Smith, the 'infamous' way in which Joseph Furst played Zaroff, plus Brian on the difficulties of sound mixing in the early days and Anneke on Troughton's thoughts over 'that' scene with the fish-people ... The last episode is made up of archive recordings, and features Julia Smith and the originally-slated director Hugh David on making (and not making) the story, producer Innes Lloyd on what he liked about producing Doctor Who and the changes of direction he instigated, and a longer interview with the Doctor himself, Patrick Troughton in which he talks about getting and creating the role, costume and "hairy" arrangements, and how important a routine was for making such a frenetic show.

The Underwater Menace DVD: The Television Centre of the Universe: Janet Fielding, Peter Davison, Yvette Fielding and Mark Strickson (Credit: BBC Worldwide)Yvette Fielding is back for the second half of The Television Centre of the Universe - and we also get a "previously" which is quite useful if you haven't watched the first half since it's release on The Visitation in 2013. The "cliff-hanger" is resolved to be cameraman Alec Wheal, and then it's straight into anecdotes between him and the trio of Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson about life in the studio during recording (plus BBC producer/fan Richard Marson chatting about the "fan glitterati" who watched whatever they could studio galleries!). As before, the main conversations were interspersed with anecdotes from other production personnel, such as assistant floor manager Sue Hedden on how props could disappear and exhibitions assistant Bob Richardson admitting he had purloined a terileptil mind control device! Other contributors included production assistant Jane Ashford (who reflected on the challenges of maintaining contunuity during filming) and videotape engineer Simon Anthony (who commented on combatting recording issues from lighting and physical effects). It was also an unexpected bonus to see behind-the-scenes footage from Earthshock to help illustrate the discussion!

As with the previous part, this is a relaxed, light-hearted wander through the production process and a way to 'look' around TVC as-was, before its tragic final closure. And, in tradition, it's off to the BBC Bar to finish off both this production and (possibly) the classic Doctor Who DVD feature range as a whole!

 

Conclusion

 

Overall, the story is quite a jolly romp. We get to see Patrick Troughton portray a more playful and extravagant version before these elements are toned down into the more focussed, enigmatic Doctor we travel alongside in later adventures. We get the over-the-top mad Professor Zaroff played with gusto by Joseph Furst. And of course we get to see the companion triad of Ben, Polly and Jamie in action for the first time. Visually, there are some impressive sets, and I personally think the fish people "showcase" in episode three is quite an effective scene (not to mention giving Dudley Simpson a good run for his money!). However, the story is hardly a memorable classic like many of the era to come - it's certainly not the best story in the world, but then again it is also by no means the worst in the grand history of Doctor Who.

In terms of the DVD itself, it's a shame that the still missing episodes were presented in such a basic form, but to misquote a well-known BBC phrase, "other viewing methods are available!" It's also disappointing that the production subtitles were not included, but on the other hand it is great to finally be able to see the second episode fully restored, the making-of, and the final part of the TV Centre feature.

 

Coming Soon ...

 

Sadly, "Nothing left in the world has stopped us now..."





New Adventures With The Eleventh Doctor #14 - The Comfort Of The Good (Part One)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 12 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Eleventh Doctor #14 (Credit: Titan)

Writers - Al Ewing + Rob Williams

Artist - Simon Fraser

Colorist - Gary Caldwell

Letterer - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Editor  - Andrew James

Assistant Editor - Kirsten Murray

Designer - Rob Farmer

Humour Strip - Marc Ellerby

Released July 8 2015 - Titan Comics

One crisis is averted, but still there is much to do for the self-proclaimed 'Mad Man In A Box', as his ship is now gone and potentially in the hands of malicious forces who could devastate the entire course of galactic history.

The Doctor, with no TARDIS to help out , must somehow save two of his companions from a time-bending fate of potentially eternal nature as the musician and the mysterious ARC creature have embarked on a very drastic merger.  This rescue mission is no easy feat as Jones seemingly wants to go out in a blaze of rock super-power glory, and ARC is determined to resolve the mystery hanging over it. And after so much emotional turmoil will Alice be cut off from her own time and life back in London?

What happens to Jones and ARC over the course of the narrative is gripping and helps pay off much of both the year long arc as well as finding something truly memorable for these fine characters to do. Alice is (and remains) the standout but she has perhaps one of the more traditional roles in this particular release, and allows the confused and overwhelmed Doctor to really show how sensitive he can be - below all the mad-cap bluster and energy he normally has to show.

Ultimately it is the lead man, so well brought to life by Matt Smith for the first half of the televisual decade, who is given the really thought-provoking material. He shows his vulnerability, but also his sense of responsibility. He shows his initiative to look after his friends, but also readily admits he could fail in that assumed duty. He seems every bit an alien with a humanoid exterior, and yet a man who will always pride Earth as his home, especially now the Time Lords are no more.

And his reaction right at the end to who actually is the Gallifreyan who has been following him (unbeknown, despite some potentially revelatory moments) through time and space provides a wonderfully personal cliffhanger, as opposed to the 'big MacGuffin' in the hands of latest 'seemingly undefeatable bad guy'.

Once again the art is wonderfully suitable for living up to the fevered imaginations of the writing team on the Eleventh Doctor line, with this time round both Al Ewing and Rob Williams being involved together in coming up with surprises galore for a more than clued-up readership. Simon Fraser has proven he has the sheer quality needed for big ideas and epic events, so I welcome his presence for this end of year finale. He especially excels with all the material showing Jones in different stages of location, being and the emotions entailed.

Perhaps the aftermath of the Roman adventure is strangely lacking in that there could be a bit of a diversion with a character native to the setting; be they from the previous story or a new person altogether. But ultimately the core of this opening story segment is to get us concerned over the resolution of two major problems, and the reader is unlikely to relinquish holding the issue or clicking through its pages onscreen. 

So it's a been a thrill of a year since I first took up the task of reviewing these exciting new adventures from the Titan juggernaut brand. Furthermore the consistent quality from issue to issue has led me to expect a very strong conclusion to this two-parter and to Year One of the Eleventh Doctor's comic adventures.

 

Bonus Humour Strip: "Timeliney Wimey"

After the head-melting material in the main story this two page piece of smart satire  sees Ellerby once again in fine form both with his punchlines, and the different art techniques used to realise his characters and plot. Be it by luck or design there is a chance to see the Judoon without their helmets in this story, as they manage to track down the Doctor and his 'special friend' River Song.  A cute reference to swinging 60s legend Polly Wright closes off an especially good effort.





Before The FloodBookmark and Share

Saturday, 10 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Before the Flood (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Colin McFarlane,
Sophie Stone, Zaqi Ismail, Morven Christie, Arsher Ali,
Steven Robertson; With Neil Fingleton, Peter Serafinowicz,
      Corey Taylor and Paul Kaye 
Written by: Toby Whithouse 
Directed by: Daniel O'Hara
Transmitted on 10th October 2015

                                            As inhuman as any visitor to Earth

                                            The Fisher King wants to secure its Berth

                                            Until its kind come back for it

                                            And man is its slave-object

                                            With ghosts here and ghost there

                                            The Fell Alien ruins Nature everywhere

 

                                            Maybe a Time Lord of Gallifrey

                                            Who sounds like a Scot

                                            Could dispel the apparition misery.

                                             (That could be some Plot!)

 

After last week's grim cliffhanger, it appears the Twelfth Doctor will be the final iteration of the up-to-now enduring survivor of the Time War. He has travelled back to before the huge flood, that caused an alien spaceship to become shrouded in the depths of water for many many years. The objective? To try and ensure that Clara and the other survivors of the disaster that gripped the underwater base will end up intact, and to try and exorcise those disturbing ghosts once and for all. But some hard adjustments always are needed when drastic time travel is brought to the fore. Even with his vast experience and intellect, the Doctor may be biting off just a bit more than he can chew..

We have two new speaking roles this time round, with the essentially harmless undertaker alien Prentis (Paul Kaye) , and the utterly malevolent Fisher King (physically performed by Neil Fingleton). The latter sees little issue in enslaving humanity as a way of passing the time before he is 'taxied' home.  Despite this, there are split time zones for much of the running time. This results in many more scenes of small groups of people talking, and I do prefer this focus and urgency to the larger group discussions that had to fill out much preliminary character work in the first instalment.

And thus those still alive from the base crew get to do some fine work that mostly improves on their introductions before. Everyone gives a good account of themselves, but this time I actually found Arsher Ali the stand-out guest from those returning speaking roles. Ali really sells the different emotions his introverted character has, be they the amazing time travel experience, his generous prompting of the repressed romance between his two junior colleagues, and most meaningfully of all his dressing down of the Doctor. Despite the eventual victory, we are made to see how the Doctor is sometimes a little sketchy in his approach to overcoming catastrophe, and yet the loss of O'Donnell lies as much with her own determined choice to risk her life by stepping out of the TARDIS.

Much as I had hoped, Peter Capaldi does not just follow an utterly spellbinding turn in 'Under The Lake' but compounds it with every bit of his range and connection to an acting role that was a childhood dream of his. He breaks the 'Fourth Wall' at the start and finish as he talks classical music and the nature of invention. This is not something easy to do convincingly, but boy does it work a treat. And he manages to make the often complicated plot and exposition roll off as fundamentally believable and enticing. Again this was something that even some of the best Doctors of the past could show inconsistency with, excepting Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker (who always rose to the occasion).

 

Before the Flood (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)If not clear enough from the very first paragraph, I am very impressed by the new alien foe who finally arrives on-screen. He has a truly monstrous effect on the people in his surroundings; be it by his own hand  or by his unique powers that render three   dimensional individuals into rather shapeless ghosts.  And the peril for the wider world is confirmed in this conclusion,   making the Doctor's need to overcome the  Fisher King that bit more urgent. With a wonderfully HR Giger-like design and an expressively imposing voice  (Peter Serafinowicz - who also breathed life into Star War's Darth Maul) this monster overshadows his  ghoulish underlings without making them any less effective. And more importantly he functions also as a terrific foil to the Doctor, forcing our veteran do-gooder to come up with one of his very best ways of  solving a complex problem. It matters little at the end when the Doctor said the alien was always going to  die in that time and place, because what matters is that he carries out a damage limitation exercise to the  best of his ability..

The plan and its implementation comes off as remarkably clever without feeling like a cheat. A Time Lord  really should be able 'reverse engineer' events and circumstances, and also make the course of history  flow. The moment he jumps out of the (previously mysterious) casket with his tech-shades in hand and warns Clara not to come near him due to "morning breath", will surely go down as one of the defining moments of the Twelfth Doctor come Capaldi's relinquishment of the title role.

As for how this story itself develops from last time, I am similarly impressed how a very traditional part one is suddenly enriched far more than most would expect. The basic structure is still there but by the closing sequences this two-parter has got an identity and soul all of its own. The complex plot and storytelling is the catalyst for this change. And indeed viewers are really made to piece a bit of the elaborate jigsaw together, but the great thing about this show in today's times is its instant re-accessibility. The adventure is so rich and well-done from start to finish that re-viewings will be an absolute pleasure, rather than a chore, which I cannot always say with my hand on heart.

Also, editing and direction have been rarely bettered in any TARDIS tale this century. The pace is relentless or ponderous as required, and the sum total is perfectly synchronous. We really want to see how these very human people react to the chaos that has resulted from actions of in turn one ineffectual, one heroic and one despicable alien. There are some tough decisions, and even arguably avoidable losses along the way, but come the end, the living-death fate of the ghosts is conclusively avoided. A neat reference to UNIT, who are going strong in the future, is implemented also - just to remind us of the return to present day material with the Doctor's allies later on this series.

And should you go back to episode three, the line referencing a "minuet" suddenly goes from being a throwaway quirk to a smart tie-in to the Fourth Wall framework, that give this two-parter a whole added layer of meaning. The Doctor's almost boyish exuberance at having master-minded Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony could easily be a bit too conceited. However Capaldi pulls off the balance needed for this to be an alien, with many identifiable human qualities making a positive difference. It also enhances a wonderful pay-off taking place in the TARDIS at the episode's close, as his faithful companion has to take in what all the time-wimey actions that she provided for the Doctor were really about. And the slightly different title sequence to the norm (c.f. the Clara face in the credits for Death In Heaven) further signals that Steven Moffat and his associates are still full of ideas. Long may they remain to keep realising them.

Watch this without interruption, on a dark chilly night, and take pride in being part of the Doctor Who journey.





Twelfth Doctor #9 - Gangland (Part One)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 9 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
: The Twelfth Doctor #9 (Credit: Titan)

Writer - Robbie Morrison
Artists - Brian Williamson/ Mariano Laclaustra
Letterer - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Colourist - Hi-Fi, Editor - Andrew James
Assistant Editor - Kirsten Murray, Designer - Rob Farmer
Released July 1st 2015, Titan Comics 

Now with dimensional defects behind them for the time being, the Doctor and Clara can hopefully have a well-earned break in the city that wakes up when many others slumber - Las Vegas!

But they must be prepared for two-bit gangsters, corrupt hotel-casino owners, and an alien creature that is far more dangerous than either of these.

The Doctor is dressed for the occasion...inasmuch as he dons a top hat and carries himself like a regular participant in the high stakes environment

 

Although this is another Twelfth Doctor/Clara story which can be enjoyed perfectly well stand alone, it also manages to keep building on previous stories and carve out its own character development for the heroic duo. It also charmingly has recognisable tributes to real life legends like 'Sonny' Liston and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack.

Somewhat curiously this opener effectively has two 'pre-credit' sequences: one establishing the historic danger of the Cybock Imperium insofar as Rassilon and the Time Lords quested to purge various dangerous races (other than the Hyperions), and one showing what that race can do with its technology against mere Earthlings.

 

Count D'If makes a very memorable character even if he just appears fleetingly. The concept of a Time-Gun fitted with a Time-Bomb is also exciting, and adds yet more substance to the Time War which many of Titan's readers recently saw in the Four Doctors.

 

Mariano Laclustra returns as a supporting artist, and with Brian Williamson as his partner there is another very effective synergy of creative vision. Needless to say at this point Robbie Morrison is an assured master of his storytelling craft and does very well with developing his ambitious but coherent premise.

I myself can connect with the setting, if not the 1960s time zone,  owing to my tour of the West states of America many moons ago as a teenager. I remember Vegas being a town all of its own, with both some terrible gaudiness and some inspired uniqueness. My many viewings of Diamonds Are Forever probably informed some expectations as well.  The use of the setting is as much front and centre for a Doctor Who story as any and the characters feel authentic and identifiable as a result of this care. There is a palpable sense of danger and threat, but also fun, frivolity and betting games galore.

The opening chapter puts many cards on the table that are required for fans to be thrilled and mentally challenged, but holding some back that will surprise and delight... at least until Issue 10 is brought into proceedings. 

 

Bonus Humour Strip

Day of the Tune sees Colin Bell and Neil Slorance team up once again to this time offer a fun musically themed mini-sized-adventure. Set on the planet Karaoke, but mostly consists of banter between Clara and her glowering Gallifreyan friend. Yet, while this functions fine on its own, it promises further exploration of the setting and the musical themes in at least one more instalment. There is a good helping of past versions of the Doctor with a single panel 'flashback', but which ones is best revealed if you get yourself a copy of this fine comic.





The Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic ScrewdriverBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 7 October 2015 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn

So much for that, one might think. For the Doctor, his once-beloved sonic screwdriver seems to be a compromised object, reminding him of failures of ethics and manipulations past. However, Steven Moffat has hinted that this is not the end for the sonic screwdriver; and The Wand Company will be hoping so too as they have launched a new Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver model in time for the Christmas market, a ‘fully-functioning gesture-based universal remote control’ and extendable replica of the most recent sonic screwdriver prop, with which one can control a vast range of gadgets around the home while remembering less conflicted times for the Doctor.

Speaking to a gathering of correspondents from several Doctor Who websites in September, Wand Company co-founder Chris Barnardo explained that although they already had a universal remote control based on this sonic screwdriver on the market, messages from fans since that product’s launch had convinced them to engineer an extendable version which more closely mimicked the action of the prop seemed on television. The old model, marketed as The Eleventh Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, had sold over 55 000 units.

The main difference between old and new models is the extension function, but there has been detailed retooling of other components. Just as the sonic screwdriver prop has become weathered since it was first used on set in 2009, the new commercial model now uses a darker, flecked ivory colouring in the acetyl handle to reflect the original’s greater age. Another challenge was the light, which needs to be part of the extending section. The barrel is too small to accommodate a connecting ribbon to carry electricity and data, so instead the electrics stay put and the sonic’s familiar green light is reflected up the extended barrel. The old ‘steampunk’ horizontal stand has been superseded by a clear plastic ‘Gallifreyan stand for vertical presentation’.

Chris Barnardo and Richard Blakesley, founders of The Wand Company, are both engineers, and Chris’s creative endeavours beyond his design work have included a speculative script submitted to Star Trek: Voyager. Chris was at pains to point out that the licence gives them no initiative in the design of the sonic screwdriver prop used in the series, or developments that may happen on screen, which is firmly the prerogative of Steven Moffat and the other writers. Other ideas which they’d be tempted by would be sonic lipstick, but they are wary of products which might only appeal to one sex; asked about a vortex manipulator model, Chris replied that if enough people wrote in and proved there was demand, they’d consider developing a copy and launching it on to the market.

While Chris chatted with attendees and advised on how to flick the sonic screwdriver in order to change its settings, representatives of BBC Worldwide were also present with various BBC Shop exclusives including Christmas jumpers and canvas bags, and early news – since developed further – on Lego Dimensions and the DVD release of The Underwater Menace. Most of Television Centre may be a building site, but BBC Worldwide in the former News Stage remain a centre of activity and their concern for maintaining the prominence of Doctor Who and communicating with the fan market was amply demonstrated.





Under The LakeBookmark and Share

Saturday, 3 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

 

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Colin McFarlane,
Sophie Stone, Zaqi Ismail, Morven Christie, Arsher Ali,
Steven Robertson, and Paul Kaye 

Written by: Toby Whithouse,
Directed by: Daniel O'Hara
 Transmitted on 3rd October 2015 

This Review Contains Plot Spoilers

"You can get killed or drowned .. but my first priority is to protect my crew"

A group of accomplished scientific researchers investigate a buried spaceship in watery depths somewhere in Scotland. Soon they realise it contains an unusual sarcophagus. In so doing, they find themselves in the middle of a truly terrifying crisis.

Former allies become ghostly cadavers with no eyes; black pits of non-expression. And they mean to do terrible things that threaten the safety of the underwater base and quite possibly the outside world too. The TARDIS lands after this disaster has begun, so idle chat and introductions are not required, but problem solving under the most pressing of time constraints..

 

As a piece of scary, spooky suspense this episode stands up to any of the showrunner's prior output, and is being shown at just the right time of year as the days draw shorter and the clocks go back. A balance is struck between a rollicking pace and allowing images and concepts to sink into the audience's consciousness. The design of the ghosts is inspired, and takes the idea of a dehumanised but recognisable former ally and do effective things with it. The ability of these apparitions to have both traditional 'walk-through-walls' powers and an ability to manipulate objects and devices physically means the group of marines/scientists and the time-travel duo are really made to run for their money. There is an attempted use of a high-tech cage to deal with the ghosts but it may only offer borrowed time, that even a Time Lord cannot make optimum use of.

However as good as they are, having the ghosts silent we have a flat-out monster and no immoral or amoral personality opposing the protagonists. However this might change with part two, as we do not know if an entity in the suspended animation box may be behind the turn of events.

Of course after a typically creative and experimental opening to this new series, most other stories would feel comparatively safe. It has that overall feeling of being a base under siege, or a base breached but with ways to try and escape which may or may not prove effective. And if you are a committed follower of the show, there are plenty of echoes of stories not that long back in time, such as The Rebel Flesh, The Impossible Planet, 42, or The Waters Of Mars.

Any long-running show will most likely play out some of the same story beats and concepts, and a loyal audience almost cherishes elements that play to the show's strengths, provided a new variant is clear enough. Some subtle throwbacks to considerably older stories, such as the Orion system are also sprinkled in, and is another confirmation of the show wanting to please those of any age, background and level of connection with this very British show. Besides, no returning support characters feature and would only confuse things as we have a sizeable enough group to try and get to know.

 

Whereas the last two-parter we just had took its time to involve the Doctor and did not always seem him with the greatest overall agency, this is a much more front-and-centre affair. It is very pleasing to have gravitas from this 'reborn' incarnation, something that perhaps has not been as consistent since the one-series run of the Ninth Doctor. He capably holds the floor as he speaks to those still alive, and does not mince his words but shows his determination to make things right. He also appears to relish the challenges, perhaps due to returning to the country where his accent hails from. Clara has a middling outing in terms of influence but a typically good portrayal from Jenna Coleman, who now shows her character to be seasoned and able to accept that bad things will often happen despite the Doctor's best efforts.

Other acting chops are perhaps not as evidently on display as the previous escapade with the Daleks and Missy. Colin McFarlane's Captain is effectively killed off in the pre-titles and we lack a strong enough presence to rival Peter Capaldi, which was certainly not the case the prior two episodes. However there is still a decent cast of believable humans who all excel in their field, and who possess very authentic strengths and weaknesses. Most are likable with just Pritchard (Steven Robertson), dismissed in hilarious fashion by the Doctor for his monetary outlook. maybe being rather worthy of his watery grave. I would highlight Sophie Stone as the best turn outside of the regulars. Being actually deaf in real life she employs her face and body language to make the audience really care for her individual's plight as much as anyone, and really makes a firm impression as a talented member of the scientific team. Paul Kaye is credited and appears simply as a ghost of a semi-humanoid alien. Given his considerable range, we must expect more from him next week where he should have more to say and do.

Come the cliffhanger and preview for next time, it may turn out that the overall story is a lot more complex and clever than originally presented. Also notable is how the TARDIS is used not as a gateway to a new adventure, but a definite part of what affects going on, and thus the first scene with the doctor caressing his blue box and looking concerned is as integral as any.

The soundtracks for Doctor Who rarely disappoint me, usually being at worst just OK. But this one is a particularly fine effort from the now-veteran Murray Gold so as to fully complement and enhance the on-screen presentation. We never are given a chance to relax and feel that people are just interacting and making small talk. A real emergency has occurred and everyone has to respond if they are to survive.

But ultimately I want to judge the effectiveness of this opening salvo by the efforts of scribe Toby Whithouse. He has come a long way since the days of School Reunion, and his early comedy series No Angels, and is continuing to show initiative and flair as a writer. Now his major breakthrough creation Being Human has come to its close, he has contributed a longer individual story than before for Doctor Who. And while he knows the show very well and opts for tropes that have been used many times, he still has a strong voice and effortlessly mixes laughs with chills. My only quibble is that some of the characters show less depth than others, and those who perished already look unlikely to get a second chance to shine, unless a full 'reset button' is employed (and which often feels a cheat anyway).

As my first bonding with Doctor Who was during classic era repeats and VHS releases, I will always welcome something that takes a page or two out of that book which enabled new TV outings to be around in the first place. The loyal audience, be they streaming on a trusted device or watching the TV, should ideally enjoy a bit more time for the plot to unfold and characters to show different strengths and  flaws. Reserving some judgement till next week's conclusion, I had my expectations met, and feel this holds up as another clear hit in the Capaldi era.