The Pirate Planet - Novelisation/ AudioBookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 January 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Pirate Planet (novel) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written By: James Goss
Based On The TV Serial By: Douglas Adams
Released By BBC Books: 5th January 2017

Audiobook Read By: Jon Culshaw
10 CDS/ Audio Download
Running Time: 11 Hours, 22 Minutes

Once in a blue moon, the hardworking, devout people of Zanak experience a 'new golden age of prosperity'. The stars in the night sky suddenly change position, and the economy skyrockets. The natives are assured by their mysterious leader - The Captain - that all this is part of a grand design.

But there is an outlier group of which the are wary, contemptuous, even scared. The Mourners. Looking decidedly pale and skinny, they always wander together, and can bring only trouble. Luckily, the Captain's many armed guards are there to ensure that there is no breach of the peace.

Now enter three odd individuals, in Zanak's main city, with no warning or announcement. The seeming leader is a toothy, excitable extrovert, with a long scarf and curly hair. With him is a somewhat younger-looking woman, much more smartly dressed, with beautiful looks, and a keen intelligence. And lastly, is a diminutive metallic creature, that has a red visor instead of eyes, a little tail that sways side-to-side, and a rather more impressive nose-laser.

The Doctor, Romana, and K9 - as they call themselves - soon make an alliance with a young couple. The male is Kimus: earnest, dedicated and open-minded. The female is Mula: thoughtful, pragmatic and diligent. This in turn leads to the Mourners becoming more engaged in the future of their world, knowing that suddenly a missing piece of information may be missing no more.

Soon enough, the mystique over the Captain evaporates. He is far more machine than man, and with a decidedly twisted sense of humour. But he has a plan or three in motion, and many cards in his deck to play. Zanak, and the wider universe, may both end up facing a change of cataclysmic proportions..


This joint release of both book and audio release sees the completion of the Fourth Doctor era into novel form. For many years, three stories were outstanding, and the common denominator was that Douglas Adams wrote the scripts. In the case of The Pirate Planet, Adams was still an unknown quantity in the wider world when first pitching his first contribution to Doctor Who. By the time this second story of Season 16 - or 'The Key To Time' arc - was transmitted, Adams' other work for the BBC - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - steadily became a sensation, and eventually a global phenomenon.

Anthony Read was responsible for editing Adams' scripts into a makeable BBC production. He also made it build on The Ribos Operation, in developing new companion Romana. She was only the second Gallifreyan to assist the Doctor, after his own granddaughter Susan. The story also had to present a different kind of mystery over which item was the segment of The Key to Time.

Later on, Adams would take over from Read, and oversee Season 17 (which suffered especially from industrial strikes). Eventually, he realised he could not focus on both primetime TV, and further contributions to his 'baby boomer' Hitchhikers. Such was Adams' disconnect from Doctor Who, that none of his three major stories were adapted until very recently. (However he did introduce close friend, and second Romana, Lalla Ward to her eventual husband Richard Dawkins). Shada was the last of those three, but hit bookshelves first, with the aid of Gareth Roberts. More recently in 2015, the much-loved City Of Death was also converted into a richly detailed novel.

This new effort has the same author as City, in the form of experienced writer James Goss. Although The Pirate Planet was four episodes long, this book comes in at 400 pages plus - which is considerably more. Goss has clearly taken inspiration from Adams over the years, in becoming himself a successful author, and he decides to put as much of the original script (and related notes) as can fit. This means that this is one of the longest works of Who fiction, and it lacks the pace of action-adventure that is found in both the majority of the classic, as well as the modern, TV format.

Yet, most who are familiar with the TV original must concede that whilst great fun, it is not the strongest production, and really could have done with an American TV budget. Pennant Roberts has done great work for other TV shows, but few would call any of his Who work first-rate. The cast were not all stellar in their readings, with Kimus, Mula and the Mentiads being decidedly bland. This production and acting hurdle is removed entirely here.

The book does some excellent work in making the villains even more interesting. It gives them backstory, and motivation, that is rare to find in most Doctor Who books; and I include some of the best original novels in making that statement. The Captain is portrayed as a lot more intimidating, and macabre in design, as well as having a longevity which is mind-boggling. This also makes the subplot involving his subservience to Xanxia that much more emotive and engaging. The Polyphase Avitron becomes a much more intriguing monster, in contrast to the cod pirate parrot of TV. Goss evokes real sense of dread over the Captain's pet, and makes its lethal potential more credible and unpleasant in nature.

Xanxia - otherwise simply known as 'The Nurse' - is expertly introduced into the narrative. She appears to be someone that could help the Doctor and Romana. How wrong their impressions of her turn out to be! When the facade has fully receded, there is one of Kimus' better moments, in terms of showing some steely resolve. Also good, is the use of novel 'budget' (and reader imagination), as the Nurse suddenly is adorned in royal robes, thanks to the unique nature of her existence.

Mr Fibuli is a touch more likable than in the TV original, and there is little evidence of moustache-twirling cruelty, compared to his sneer and chuckle at the end of Episode Three. He has some inner thoughts that are very 'Everyman', and his brilliant engineering skills feel more layman too. Fibuli's constant awareness that he is replaceable - like any of the Captain's underlings - mean readers care for what fate befalls him. As it turns out, there is a heavy does of irony concerning this end-point, in conjunction with the final chapters' foreboding and tense action.

Although my synopsis suggested the guards were respected, even admired, by the (mostly faceless) Zanak citizens, both this novelisation and the TV story frequently take pokes at them for being witless and predictable. All the same, they are not to be taken as completely benign, and do sometimes make a successful capture, or take out a do-gooder with a well-aimed shot.

Of course, Goss seizes the opportunity to do some nice work with getting inside the heads of heroes as well, and that very much includes K9. The Fourth Doctor is relatively easy to write for, but few can really make him truly surprising and electric on page in a manner that the legendary Tom Baker could on-screen. Luckily, Goss is very much in that select group. The much-celebrated clash of "It is not a toy!" / "Then what is it for?!" is lovingly expanded on, and probably is the highlight of the entire book.

The Pirate Planet (audiobook) (Credit: BBC Audio)There is plenty of good material for Romana too, as she shows promise that would make her a long-staying companion, and eventually do great things for both E-Space, and Gallifrey itself. She is quick to learn, proactive, and consistently helpful to the Doctor. This sometimes makes the much older time traveller rather defensive. At one point he convinces her to complete a massive timetable, but barely achieves the delay effect he wanted it to. Nonetheless, she still is made to appreciate the Doctor's genius and quick wits, when he is forced to think of a solution to both the threat facing the universe, as well as the key objective of locating the Segment.  

K9 is of course secondary to the interpersonal drama, but still a personality; one that has emotions concerning tasks, and opinions regarding those he encounters. His one word summations on his 'owners' would be "odd" and "logical" respectively. The metal mutt's inner thoughts are generally the more light-hearted moments of the book/audio-reading.  

And now, time to recognise just how good an audio release this is, for both casual fans, and die-hards alike. Jon Culshaw has never done anything routine, forced, or ordinary to the best of my knowledge, (perhaps with the exception of singing on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy). Even with the weight of ten CDs, or eleven-and-a-half hours of running time, he puts in a wonderful solo performance. There is especially good use of third-person/first-person blending, which means that listeners can be caught out, thinking Culshaw will be talk in his own steady and affable manner, when reading Goss' prose. Much of the music gives this long story clout too. There are subtle strands, and a much more bombastic sense of 'What's Next?' upon the close of another chapter. 
 
I however need to come back to my point on the page count/ running time. This is possibly a case of Goss just slightly getting the balance between quality and detail wrong. The first half of the book, whilst not totally ponderous, does feel slow on several occasions. There are some digressions that display Adams' wit, and thoughtful wonderment at a vast interconnected cosmos, but they do not all feel as organic as in the Hitchhiker's novels (which admittedly used a guide book as the framing device). Thus some passages/moments outstay their welcome. Most odd is the sense of a Season 22 story opening, in that the TARDIS crew take an age to land on Zanak, and get involved.

Nonetheless, the final half of this novelisation  - especially the final third - is so much more urgent and gripping. It particularly delights in improving on the somewhat absurd Episode Three cliffhanger, by having a homage to the modern-day use of TARDIS in-flight to save a falling victim. Also, there is a very funny moment where the Doctor, in deep, deep trouble, thinks how clever it would be to rig a hologram. Thus when he actually does it, it banishes all feelings of indifference over the implausible onscreen execution.

One change I have more mixed feelings over, is the use of the 'Mourners' title, rather than 'Mentiads', which both sounded mysterious and ominous, yet also very funny depending on the particular dialogue context. At least there is much more back-story, and insight into their transformation, and also their "vengeance for the crimes of Zanak". Especially worthwhile is the detail on how Pralix's father was shot down, not long after he transitioned into being one of the select group. This means that the rather dour supporting character is now an angel of retribution, for both the planets and his own lost parent. There also is a change-up in making the Mourners mixed-gender, with at least one of them being female. This elder Mourner is given a few evocative moments in the narrative, helping reinforce how much more progressive Doctor Who was for women in the Graham Williams era, than it had ever been hitherto.


In sum, this is a very important book for anyone trying to get more insight into the Tom Baker period of the show - one which has been analysed and critiqued for many years now. It has a sense of something old, but also something new, and deserves at least being explored in either print or audio reading, if not both. A compression of gems, that is indeed most rich.



Associated Products

Books
Released 13 Sep 2016
54% off
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (TV Soundtrack)
Books
Released 1 Nov 2012
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet
$19.99



City of Death (Novelisation/AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 22 June 2015 -  
 
City of Death (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by James Goss
Based on the script by Douglas Adams
Based on a story by David Fisher
Released by BBC Books, 21 May 2015

City of Death (audio book) (Credit: BBC Audio)
Read by Lalla Ward
Released by BBC Audio, 21 May 2015
Paris, 1979.

For many Doctor Who fans there is only one thing that sentence can possibly mean. For that place and that time are (mostly) the setting for a story from Tom Baker’s penultimate season – and it happens to be a story which is often considered to be one of the all-time greats in the history of the show. Fast-forward (or fast return, it all depends on your point of view) to 2015 and an all-new novelisation of the serial has arrived on bookshelves under the authorship of James Goss. But to see exactly how this came about, we need to step back a little.

2012 saw the release of a novelisation of another Season 17 story, Shada. But there was one big difference: Shada was never finished and thus never transmitted. So that novel, written by Gareth Roberts, actually provides one of our only means of experiencing the story as a complete entity. It was considered a great success, and paved the way for a further book adaptation of another Douglas Adams script which, likewise, had never been novelised.

Enter City of Death.

While these books share a common heritage, then, this latest one has an issue all of its own to contend with. Unlike Shada, City of Death exists in its entirety as a TV serial produced three-and-a-half decades ago. Which raises the question: how far does the book stray from the established path that so many people know and love? Well, the finished novel achieves a brilliant balance.

Perhaps the most important thing to be aware of is that although a considerable amount of the dialogue is recognisable from the story as we know it, Goss has used the original rehearsal scripts as the basis for his novel. This means that while the story is fundamentally unchanged, much of the dialogue and action is either new (deleted from the finished TV show) or different to some extent from how it turned out on screen. The result is quite fascinating. In addition, of course, Goss has embellished and added even further to the story, and this is in evidence almost immediately. To cite an early example, the Doctor and Romana’s first visit to the Louvre is entirely familiar and yet radically different.

The book’s first chapter contains some of its most notable deviations from the televised original (and in this sense you could argue that the first chapter is the book’s most atypical), but this turns out to be a masterstroke. Before we see the Doctor and Romana in Paris (and no, this is no longer their first appearance in the novel) the book does what only a book can: it elaborates substantially on the backstory of almost any character you could care to mention, not just through dialogue but also by transporting the reader into the minds of the characters themselves. For readers familiar with the original material, this makes for a hugely eye-opening introduction to this new interpretation of the story. It has to be said that for those who aren’t as overly acquainted with City of Death, the first chapter could perhaps be a little less effective – not quite so much of a ‘hook’ into the novel, but taking on much more meaning by the time of its conclusion.

As the book progresses and catches up with the narrative of the original TV episodes, that’s where the benefits of the written medium become very clear. Goss’ writing is rich, witty and compelling, not only a superb homage to the late Douglas Adams (indeed, a number of phrases in the book originate from stage directions in the scripts themselves, but except for the examples given in the notes at the back of the book you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the Adams from the Goss – the language is incredibly consistent and harmonious throughout) but also a match made in heaven with the story itself. If there’s any TV serial which particularly suits being made into a novel, it must be this one; one of the most evocative Doctor Who stories becomes one of the most evocative Doctor Who books. It isn’t entirely hyperbolic to say that for a short while, when the pages of this book are open, it’s not too difficult to imagine that you might be in Paris (especially if you have the fortune to actually be in Paris).

Also available is an unabridged audiobook release of City of Death. Read by Lalla Ward (Romana) and running to around nine hours and forty-five minutes, the audiobook is an enjoyable way to experience the story and has a character all of its own. Ward’s reading is sharp, clear and well-performed, and the release also takes the opportunity to spruce up the soundscape via the careful use of sound effects. This definitely improves the overall listening experience while remaining restrained and respectful to the underlying material. But because the audiobook obviously runs at a pre-determined pace, there are a few moments which seem to pass by slightly too quickly – not major plot elements, but some of the subtleties of the writing which don’t have the chance to sink in as well, compared to reading the book at your own pace. Ultimately this comes down to personal preference, but having experienced both the hardback and the audiobook, the former did seem more satisfying overall, even though the audio release is still great fun in its own right.

For more than three decades, City of Death has been (no pun intended) a closed book. Four episodes of a television show which has been on our screens – on and off – for over fifty years. But serendipitously, the fact that the story is among those never to have been originally novelised has opened the door for this tremendous new book; at once a fresh reworking and a faithful retelling of a classic adventure. If there’s one reason to buy it, it’s that once you’ve read the book the story will never be the same again. Frankly, after finishing the book it feels like the TV episodes have lots of bits missing. Bits which, just for a moment, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d actually seen performed by the actors in 1979. Events in the original (some of which don’t really make a great deal of sense, with hindsight) are justified and explored, often without even being changed to any significant extent. City of Death is now an even richer and more satisfying story than ever before, and it’s a sheer delight that Season 16’s The Pirate Planet is set to receive the book treatment (once again from Goss) next year. Who says you can’t improve on perfection?
 




The Three DoctorsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 1 January 2014 - Reviewed by Remy Hagedorn

Last November, Doctor Who aired with its 50th of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, starring alongside his successor Matt Smith, and a previously unheard version of the doctor, played by John Hurt. However, this anniversary special was not the first time multiple versions of the doctor were seen together. 

The year was 1973, and to celebrate the 10th William Hartnell (The First Doctor) and Patrick Troughton (The Second Doctor) joined forces with the Third Doctor, and helped defeat a foe known only as “Omega” (Insert picture of the 3 Doctor’s around this point in the review)The special was a smashing success, and considering the budget that the show had to work with back in the day, nobody could have made a better way to celebrate 10 fabulous years of Doctor Who!

When you watch the special, the way the Second Doctor and the Third Doctor clash is incredible! The two characters have very different personalities, and the way they argue with each other is amazing! In one instance, instead of teaming up to save the universe, the second and third doctor keep on arguing with each other inside the  TARDIS about the importance of finding the Second Doctor’s recorder. The Third  Doctor wants to save the universe, but the Second Doctor refuses to co-operate  until his recorder has been found. The two characters are complete opposites, and  Terrance Dicks couldn’t have made a better script to depict the hatred they feel  towards each other! 

On the other hand though, The Three Doctor’s could have been a lot better if it actually HAD three doctors in it. William Hartnell was very ill at the time, and his  role was reduced considerably down to just a few short cameo appearances. His  absence is definitely noticeable during the duration of the special, and it is a shame we did not get to see more of him. 

On another note, Omega, the main antagonist, was a great villain. Stephen Thorn's performance  was remarkable! So remarkable, that the writers of Doctor Who brought back the  character in the 1980’s story “Ark of Infinity”. The character has a terrible temper,  and wants revenge on the Timelords. His anger is what motivates him, and is what  causes him his near death at the end of the special. 

However, there were definitely some dull moments in the story, and the special  effects were terrible. For example, the anti-matter organism that Omega uses as a  bridge between the two universes, just looks like a giant blob made up of different  colours. It looks like they made this effect by taking the storyboard frames one by  one, and spilling some tropical juice over them.

But despite the minor flaws this story may have, it is definitely worth seeing. For  those fans that have never watched the original series, but want to try, this is for  sure a story you want to start with. Unlike “The Trial of a Timelord” which has 14  parts to it, this is a nice small serial that is made up of only 4. Not too long, not too  short, and is something that the whole family can enjoy, no matter what your age may be!  





Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways at the BFIBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 August 2013 - Reviewed by Anthony Weight
When the British Film Institute announced their series of monthly screenings throughout 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I thought that they sounded like a nice idea, but I wasn’t particularly fussed about attending any of them myself. I hadn’t been to any Doctor Who events for a very long time, and thought that they weren’t necessarily my sort of thing.

However, last month I had the opportunity to attend the Remembrance of the Daleks event, and I absolutely loved it. The chance to watch a great Doctor Who story on the big screen, with a large and enthusiastic audience who love the series just as much as you do, and to hear more from some of the people who made it happen with the interview panel afterwards… I was hooked, and despite having come to these BFI events rather late in the series, was determined to try and get to more of them before the end of the year.

I was very fortunate, then, to be able to pick up a couple of returns on the BFI website in the week leading up to the Ninth Doctor event, and went along with a good friend of mine on Saturday to enjoy that Doctor's grand finale, the two-parter Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. The observant among you will have spotted that this is the Ninth Doctor, but in the eighth month. Presumably due to the availability of guests for the screenings, they’ve got a little out of order now, with the David Tennant event following next month, and Paul McGann finally getting his moment at the beginning of October. At the beginning of this month’s event, compère Justin Johnson announced that both Tennant and McGann will be attending their respective screenings.

Probably to nobody’s great surprise, there was no appearance from Christopher Eccleston at this month’s showing, although he did send along a note for Johnson to read out before Bad Wolf. It was short, but definitely sweet, and although Eccleston doesn’t often make any statements or appearances related to his period with Doctor Who, you do sense that he remains proud of his time on the series and the work that he did to help establish its successful return. In his note, Eccleston joked that if Joe Ahearne – who directed the two episodes being screened – were to return for the 100th anniversary special in 2063, he’d take part and bring his stair-lift, providing the Daleks do not bring theirs!

You do sense that there was a great bond formed between Ahearne and Eccleston during the five episodes of Doctor Who which they made together. Ahearne, remember, wrote to The Guardian to rebuke those who’d criticised Eccleston for his departure from the show after only one year, and he and Eccleston collaborated on the ITV drama Perfect Parents soon after their work on Doctor Who. Ahearne has rightly won many plaudits from fans down the years for his work on the 2005 series, but has oddly never returned to the show. It does make you wonder whether the fact that Eccleston left has anything to do with his not wanting to come back and do more, but sadly during the question-and-answer session which followed the interview panel, nobody put that one to him – and I wasn’t brave enough to ask him myself!

Nonetheless, Ahearne did give many interesting insights, such as his observation that Doctor Who was a pleasure to work on because it was one of the few British television dramas of the time where the camera could help to tell the story, rather than just being pointed at people having conversations in kitchens. And he did dispel the long-standing fan myth about his having been born on November 23rd 1963 – not true, evidently!

Representing the actors of the Ninth Doctor’s era was Bruno Langley, who played short-term companion Adam Mitchell in Dalek and The Long Game. I felt a little sorry for Langley, as there wasn’t a great deal for him to say, given the fact that he wasn’t actually in the two episodes being screened. Nonetheless, he came across as likeable enough, and another person proud to have been associated with Doctor Who.

Also present as a guest was visual effects supremo Dave Houghton, who was interviewed between the two episodes, and it’s odd to hear someone from that side of things talk about how much more can be done these days – we’re used to hearing those who worked on the classic series day that, but these 2005 episodes themselves are now starting to seem old!

There is no question, however, that both the interview panel and the question-and-answer session were dominated by day’s other guest – Phil Collinson, who was the producer of Doctor Who when it returned in 2005. Collinson is, of course, an old-school, dyed-in-the-wool Doctor Who fan, but he was also the sure head and steady hand who made sure that the whole thing didn’t fall to pieces in those early days when nobody had made a series like this in the UK for so very long, schedules were falling behind and elements both inside and outside of the BBC were predicting an embarrassment. It was anything but, of course, as Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways go to show.

Collinson was a witty, informative and hugely enthusiastic guest, proud not just of these two episodes, not even just of his era, but of all of Doctor Who. Even after everything that’s been said and written about the show and how it is made, he still had some fascinating new insights, too – such as the fact that the first cut of Rose, the first episode of the new series, came in at a mere 28 minutes, necessitating some frantic additions and reworking!

On a technical level, while it was very impressive to see the episodes on a film-sized screen, oddly I thought that they didn’t stand up to it quite as well as Remembrance of the Daleks last month. I don’t know if it’s because I was sitting nearer the front this time, or whether it’s an artefact of the field-pairing process used to ‘filmise’ the video, or simply my imagination, but I thought that the jagged edges you’d expect when 625-line video is blown-up to cinema-screen size were more apparent.

Perhaps it was simply the contrast with some of the high definition Matt Smith-era material we’d seen only a few moments before, when we were treated to a sneak preview of a montage from BBC One’s Doctor Who Prom broadcast. On the basis of that, I’d expect An Adventure in Space and Time and whatever 11th Doctor story is chosen to look fabulously lush on their showings here at the BFI.

Such quibbles aside, I can only thank the BFI once again for putting on this series of celebrations for Doctor Who’s anniversary, and repeat my recommendation from my Remembrance of the Daleks review that if you have the chance to attend one of these events, you should grab it with both hands.
Paul Hayes




The Visitation SE (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 May 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Visitation SE
Written by Eric Saward
Directed by Peter Moffatt
Broadcast on BBC1: 15 - 23 Feb 1982
DVD release: 6 May(R2), 14 May (R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

The Visitation falls just a couple of stories before the return of the Cybermen turned me into a fully-fledged fan (as opposed to a regular watcher), but it was certainly a strong enough tale to keep my attention from its opening moments in a cosy Manor House to the destruction of central London at its denouement. Coupled with a striking monster, android, and the flamboyant Richard Mace, it remains one of my favourite stories from that era!

"Well they've certainly let the grass grow since I was last there!"

It's time to take Tegan home, but with the reliability of the TARDIS being what it is, they arrive some 300+ years too early much to the air hostess's irritation. Once everybody's calmed down, a little exploration is called for, but unsurprisingly leads them into trouble with locals, and it is only their meeting with thespian turned highwayman Richard Mace that gets them out of the tricky situation. Mace explains about plague fears, but then the description of a comet seen some months previously and also of alien artefacts found in a barn engages the Doctor's interest ... and as curiousity draws in the cat, the time travellers become embroiled with the desperate attempts by a group of escaped Terileptil prisoners to seize control of the planet through genocide via their own enhanced plague ...

Though fourth broadcast, The Visitation was Peter Davison's second story to be produced. At the time it was reported that the recording order was to enable the new Doctor to settle into his role, but as the production notes point out it was a rather more mundane reason in that the opening story simply wasn't ready! As a result, watching the credits can be a confusing affair with who is responsible for what, with this story seeing the actual first contribution to the series by Eric Saward as a writer before assuming the shackles of script editor even though he's credited as such earlier in the season - I tend to feel that this story is actually one of his greatest triumphs, perhaps because he had yet to be encumbered with overall responsibility for scripts. Here we get a simple, progressive tale that takes us from the initial encounters above through to the eventual besting of the Terileptils and the accidental start of a Great Fire ...

In later years there was to be a lot of criticism over the apparent rampant continuity (and associated errors) within the JNT era, and the first 'biggie' rears its head with the above Fire - though as this clash is with a throwaway line from the Doctor at the tail end of Pyramids of Mars I think it is forgiveable at this stage! However, producer John Nathan-Turner was already attempting to establish a sense of narrative continuity in the series in a way vaguely reminiscent of the early adventures of the First Doctor, though it did have a tendency to feel shoe-horned in rather than natural (something Saward complained about for this story, though he was just as guilty later on!). So here we have the Doctor remonstrating Adric over the TSS machine, and Tegan trying to explain her violation by the Mara in their previous adventure on Deva Loka - though with the out-of-sequence filming of Davison's early stories, Kinda was filmed afterwards (and leading to Janet Fielding pronouncing Mara differently here!). Later, we have the Doctor exclaiming "Not again!" when he's about to have his head chopped off at the end of episode two, a reference to it almost happening to him in Four To Doomsday (though this was added by Davison himself!).

The story introduces the aforementioned Terileptils, and though we only meet a nefarious section of their society they come across as an interesting race, and its a shame they never returned to the show (except via a reference in The Awakening. Also making an appearance is one of their androids, which is a great design (highlighting the Terileptils' eye for beauty), but was revealed way too early in the story in my view. I've always enjoyed plots that seem to start off in one direction and then suddenly take off in another, unexpected one - here, I felt that the story would have been better served had the android not been seen breaking into the Manor at the start and thus revealing the sci-fi origins so quickly (this still annoys me about the film Predator with the spaceship at the start - without that introduction the film would have so much more surprising as the true enemy was revealed). Still, with Doctor Who being well-established as a science-fiction show it isn't so surprising that this element plays its hand so early on - doesn't mean I have to like it though!

Of the main cast members, Michael Robbins brings the flamboyant Richard Mace wonderfully to life, and in a parallel series could have made a fine foil for the Doctor in his travels in much the same way as Jamie complimented the Second Doctor. Mind you, we'd have had to thin out the TARDIS crew quite a bit, though Saward did a reasonable job in giving all of the principals something to do and something to say during The Visitation. Michael Melia does a fair job in bringing the Terileptil leader to life considering being stuck underneath the prosthetics - though Peter van Dissell had even more of a job in the android suit! The rest of the cast is okay, though they didn't really get that much to do, and the accents seem to meander a bit, especially considering the story was set in 17th Century Heathrow!

Other observations:
  • The almost throwaway opening with the family passing time together is quite poignant, and it's shame we lose them after just that single scene.
  • Tegan gets some of the best lines during the early scenes, with her comments over the Doctor's "incomprehensible answers", and how "a broken clock keeps better time than you do!"
  • There are good cliffhangers and bad cliffhangers, and then there are some that almost seem to be just 'cut here' - episode one certainly feels like that!
  • when Adric asks what nectar tastes like, Mace sounds like he's about to turn into Corporal Jones, cut off just as he was going to say "you stupid boy!".
  • It seems quite strange for Nyssa to operate the machine in her bedroom - but then in theory the console room exists in a state of temporal grace and so perhaps it needed to be away from there ... though Earthshock indicated it wasn't working any more - did Nyssa bugger it up, here?!!!
  • Another TARDIS feature to have been 'lost in the continuity 'fog' is the isomorphic control of the TARDIS as mentioned in Pyramids - all of the Doctor's newest companions have had a bash at it by this point - maybe this can be blamed on K9 after The Invasion of Time?

Overall, I found the story to be a straightforward, enjoyable tale, and one of the better stories from the Fifth Doctor's era. It was also quite a memorable story for me back when it was first broadcast, though it wasn't the realisation of the Terileptils or the android so much as the demise of the sonic screwdriver. As with the departure of K9 a year earlier, I can fully understand now the reasoning of removing it from the plot resolution portfolio (and that is ably demonstrated by its over-reliance in the modern series), but at the time I was just as sad to see the departure of "an old friend" as the Doctor was!

The DVD

As a Special Edition, it's the improvement to the sound and picture quality that would attract those who have bought the DVD release, and again it doesn't disappoint in that regard. It's the film sequences that really shine through, as the Restoration Team went back to the original 16mm film negatives and re-scanned the sequences, though the studio sequences also seem much crisper this time around too, as evidenced in these comparisons from the beginning of episode one:

2004/2013 DVD picture comparison: studio footage (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2004/2013 DVD picture comparison: location footage (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

With regard to the film sequences, there had been some controversy over apparent loss of "sharpness", such as the brickwork in the above shot; Steve Roberts noted, however, that: "it looks like the neg is naturally sharp and the older print has had a bit of artificial sharpening added into it, that's all. Also, the presence of grain makes pictures appear to be sharper than they actually are, and the old sequences are definitely grainier!". Personally, I think its only with freeze-frames that the rendering might throw up such a discrepancy, it certainly isn't apparent when watching the action unfold normally!

As with other special editions, the production notes have been completely revised and brought up to date, with Nicholas Pegg guiding us through the production of the story. All the usual intricate details are present, such as the changes from script to screen, character notes, casting, etc., so if you want to know about the historical accuracies within the plot, or what magazine Nyssa happens to be reading in the TARDIS, here's the place to go!

The rest of Disc One contains the features that were included with the original release. In brief, there's the Film Trims, which show some of the retakes and cut bits from the story (and being the original unrestored footage acts as a good comparison against the sterling work on the episodes themselves). Directing Who sees director Peter Moffatt discuss his six engagements on the series from Full Circle through to The Two Doctors. Writing a Final Visitation features Eric Saward chatting about how he went about creating his television debut. Scoring The Visitation delves into the incidental music of The Visitation by Paddy Kingsland (for me, the best composer of this era of the show). Also included are the isolated music track and original highly amusing commentary by Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, with Peter Moffatt, plus the ubiquitous Photo Gallery.

Disc Two contains the new features of this release, with pride of place going to Grim Tales, the behind-the-scenes documentary for The Visitation. This takes the innovative approach of taking Peter, Janet and Sarah back to the locations of the story to reflect on the production of the show - Matthew was unavailable for the shoot, unfortunately, but as with the commentary those present made sure his "memorable moments" were remembered! The trio are instead joined by the anachronous Mark Strickson, who acts as steward as they try to navigate their way around the rather large Black Park - though fortunately also having a rather handy guide from yours truly (grin).

After the forest antics the group then travel by handy TARDIS to the location of the manor house (Tithe Barn), whose current owners discovered they had inherited the Doctor Who legacy when they purchased the property thanks to a copy of The Visitation being left behind. Along with the anecdotes of filming was a rather nice "Visitation Cake" which almost seemed a shame to eat ... not that it stopped them!

The relaxed, informal recollections were interspersed with illustrative clips, plus some more traditional interviews with production team members Eric Saward (writer), Ken Starkey (designer) and Carolyn Perry (make-up), talking about the more technical aspects of making the show. Plus. Michael Melia (the Terileptil leader) added his own anecdotes of being under layers of prosthetics!

All-in-all, this was a very enjoyable approach to the making of the show, ably abetted by the utilisation of the locations which played quite a substantial role in the story. Producer Russell Minton did a superb job in the presentation, and this this easy-going way of presentation is carried on into the producer's next feature on this disc, The Television Centre of the Universe. Here, Peter, Janet and Mark (no Sarah this time) reminisce over what made up a typical day filming Doctor Who at the 'heart' of the BBC as-was, 'supervised' by Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding.

The trio continue to regale with their anecdotes over their time recording the series, which for this feature loosely relate to the area of the BBC they have reached. So, at the car park there are tales of the excitement of watching Ronnie Corbett's attempts to park, how hit-and-miss it could be to actually get into TVC's car park in the first place, and how Mark shamelessly used Blue Peter as his excuse to get his dog Bramble in with him! Then, into Main Reception and the symbolic "handing of the key to the dressing room", followed by actually attempting to find it in the 'maze' of TVC and of course confronting the condition of the room once in! As with Grim Tales, there are anecdotes from others inserted along the way, with people such as AFM Sue Heddon talking about the dressing room 'dungeons' where there could be 30 artistes getting ready!

Next up is make-up, a place to hang-out it seems to get all the latest gossip. The quartet are joined by Carolyn Perry and discussed the happy atmosphere that existed back then - and how some of the senior make-up supervisors were to be avoided where possible! Inserts included fellow make-up artist Joan Stribling talking about the 'uniforms' they had to wear, and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux on how Peter could be naughty with the polaroid camera. Other contributors included production assistant Jane Ashford on the TVC 'industry' and former DWM editor Richard Marson chatting about how you couldn't miss DW when 'in town'; plus, special mention to film traffic supervisor Neville Withers and his Jon Pertwee anecdote.

This was a wonderful feature, and continues the warm feeling about TVC that we've had of late with the 'last night' programming back in March and Marson's wonderful Tales of Television Centre last year. This is very much how I hope TVC will be remembered, and not marred by some of the recent incidents that have come to light and the press gleefully seized upon. Roll on, part two!

Also included on the disc is the next instalment of Doctor Who Forever!, The Apocalypse Element, explores Doctor Who's thriving adventures on audio. Kicking off with the vinyl releases of the original series, Nicholas Briggs unsurprisingly champions Genesis of the Daleks whilst Gary Rusell and Steve Cole discuss their fond memories of original adventure The Pescatons. There's also an honourable mention of that quintessential disco favourite, Doctor Who Sound Effects (injoke for convention-goers of many years ago!) - though from a completist point of view, where's the mention of the original TV Century 21 David Graham narrated release of the end of The Chase!

Of course, the primary focus of the documentary is on how Big Finish has gone from strength to strength over its humble beginnings in 1998 with adaptions of adventures starring Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield, the arrival of Doctor Who proper the following year with Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Peter Davison, then Paul McGann in 2001, and their successes with Dalek Empire, The Lost Stories and finally the arrival of the fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker in 2012. As usual, a variety of contributors chat about the range, including future series writers like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Joseph Lidster, and Rob Shearman. plus the producers Gary Russell, David Richardson and not least the overall 'guardian' Jason Haigh-Ellery. Plus Russell T Davies chats about how the range kept the flame alight in the 'wilderness years' and how he then reciprocated in keeping that BF flame going in the turmoil of the series returning to television.

On the AudioGo side of the fence, Michael Stevens commented on how the narrated soundtracks and then the narrated Target novelisation have also proved popular, and on how they tempted Tom Baker back to Doctor Who with Hornets' Nest.

Overall, the feature is a little more serious than the previous instalments, but still very interesting to watch and a good overview of how the Doctor Who world is enhanced outside of the television series itself.

The disc is rounded off with the PDF files for Radio Times listings and the BBC Enterprises Sales Sheet, plus the Coming Soon which unlike with The Aztecs does introduces the next scheduled release!

Just to round of, I don't usually think about the menus themselves, but one thing I noticed about the clips used was that they seemed to be focussed on some of Matthew Waterhouse's lesser moments in the story ... pure coincidence I'm sure!

Conclusion

This is a fun story, as much of Season Nineteen turned out to be, and for those who aren't familiar with the Davison era is one of the stories that I'd recommend to get stuck in with, as there is little continuity baggage to worry about as the following years started to suffer from. For those who purchased it before, I'd certainly recommend the documentary as a great additional feature, and the enhanced clarity of the film sequences give the story a new lease of life.

Coming Soon...

The Doctor's attempts to regain his mastery over time and space go awry as he instead travels into a parallel universe, where friends become enemies in a world counting down to disaster in Inferno Special Edition




The Ark in Space SEBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 February 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Ark In Space
Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Rodney Bennett
Broadcast on BBC1: 25 Jan - 15 Feb 1975
DVD release: 25 Feb(R2), 12 Mar(R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

After a spate of stories of which I have no real memory, this month finally returns to a period that I can firmly recall from a more youthful time of life. Having become an an avid viewer (translation: my parents were allowing me to watch now), the coming months were to bring great excitement: Sontarans! (remember those last year), Daleks! (remember those last year, too!), and Cybermen! (parents remember those with a Doctor that wasn't Jon Pertwee and assure me they'd be scary too ...). But, after a fun romp with a giant Robot and Sarah being stuck on a roof, this week we were off to a strange Space Station orbiting the Earth ...

The Ark In Space is the adventure that heralds what many of my age think of as the "golden age" of Doctor Who, a period when Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes ruled the show and brought us some of the greatest adventures encountered by the Doctor, accompanied by his best friend (and our favourite companion) Sarah Jane Smith. Though Hinchcliffe and Holmes had inherited the initial set of scripts from their predecessors Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, the falling through of the original storyline by John Lucarotti enabled them to launch their tenure with the kind of story they'd like to tell. And boy were they to do so ...

After a teaser of a strange glowing green thingy apparently attacking its sleeping victim, our heroes arrive some time later to discover an apparently lifeless station. First they have to deal with the lack of air, then a door sealing Sarah off from the others, then a re-activated security system intent on wiping about anything organic it can set its sights on; after that, Sarah has been transmatted off somewhere and the Doctor and Harry have to track her down, whereupon they finally find her amidst a huge "Ark" containing the survivors of the human race.

That, in essence, is episode one, which by description alone might not sound too exciting, but what really brings it to life is the already apparent familiarity and comfortable rapport that the lead actors have together. It isn't often that an episode has just the principal cast performing (computer voices excepted) and be able to pull it off over some twenty-five minutes, but this episode manages just that. It sparkles with clever and witty dialogue, from the repartee between the Doctor and Harry as they undertake each challenge through to the Doctor's soliloquy on homo sapiens. And then there's the surprise cliffhanger as Harry opens a cupboard and a huge monster leaps upon him ...

... okay, so actually it's a dead wirrn and it's simply falling on him, but that wasn't quite so important to this infant!

Putting my adult fan head back on again, if anything with hindsight it is the realisation of the "monster of the week" that lets the story down slightly. The slight glimpse of the larva in the corridor is okay, but its more prominent appearance in later episodes shows just how reliant on bubblewrap it is. The adult wirrn also looks too much like fibreglass in the harsh studio light (something Hinchcliffe laments in the commentary) - plus, the initial stages of Noah's transformation does look a lot like he's simply put a glove on. However, it is the characters' reactions that help sell the threat, and Kenton Moore's rivetting performance as the tormented leader desperately trying to hold onto his own humanity is totally compelling and means his 'appendage' does not cause a distraction, nor do his subsequent appearances as the physical transformation continues apace throughout episode three - it's testament to this on how shocking it is for this episode's finale that we see Noah's tortured visage finally subsumed into the full wirrn form. Of course, the deficiencies apparent now meant nothing back then, and I can still recall how frightening these giant grasshoppers (as my mum called them) were. And, some 35 years later, the single staring eye out of the solar stack at the Doctor in episode two still sends a shiver up my spine!

Besides Noah, we have Vira, the Ark's First Medtech. On the documentary Wendy Williams explains how tricky it was to approach playing a really intelligent person, and on screen this comes across as a seeming aloofness much of the time - meaning that at the moments she does crack are really telling. However, I did think that perhaps the character should have been a little more emotional at the ultimate death of Noah (her bond partner). Out of the other characters that are brought out of cryogenic suspension, there is poor Libri (Christopher Masters) who barely gets to take his breath before he becomes the "possessed" Noah's first victim, Lycett (John Gregg) who gets smothered in bubblewrap - sorry a victim of a larva - but at least Rogin (Richardson Morgan) gets to nobly sacrifice his life to save the Doctor as the transport ship lifts off. To be honest, none of them really engaged me as much as the principal five stars, but Holmes still ensured that none of them were neglected, dialogue-wise.

There are some superb sets on display from designer Roger Murray-Leach (some of which to be seen again when the Doctor, Sarah and Harry return to the space station some time before in Revenge of the Cybermen) - the cryogenic chambers themselves look fantastic (a special mention should be made for Jan Goram, Tina Roach, Barry Summerford, Peter Duke, Richard Archer, Sean Cooney, Roy Brent, Rick Carroll, Lyn Summer and Geoffrey Brighty, all of whom had to stand patiently in the pallets pretending to be frozen through long recording sessions!).

The DVD

The special edition sees a new documentary covering the production of the story; A New Frontier delves into the making of The Ark in Space and the move into a whole new era of Doctor Who, with then-incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe reflecting on the issues he had with the inherited scripts, as mentioned earlier. Director Rodney Bennett and designer Roger Murray-Leach discuss the production itself, with contributions from Wendy Williams and Kenton Moore - the latter explaining the fun of portraying a character disappearing under progressive layers of bubble wrap! Oh, and there's an appearance by an unexpected fan to look out for, too ...

The new production notes written by Martin Wiggins provide the usual in-depth analysis of the story's development; if you want to know which recording of Handel's Concerto Grosso in B Flat Major was used during Sarah's preparation, the original badge colour of the decontamination chamber, which extra ended up in which pallet, what John Lucarotti's original episodic titles are, and how Douglas Adams fits into the grand scheme of things, here's the place to find out!

Doctor Forever! is a new feature to appear on successive(ish) DVDs, looking at how Doctor Who survived in its 'wilderness years'. The first here, Love and War, explores the literary adventures of the Seventh and then Eighth Doctor through Virgin Books (under Peter Darvill-Evans) and then BBC Books (under Steve Cole and Justin Richards). Narrated by Ayesha Antoine, there are contributions from a host of authors including Russell T Davies (who also talked about his novel Damaged Goods contained elements he'd then recycle for the television series), Paul Cornell (whose the only author to date to have a book translated to screen with Human Nature), and the An Adventure in Space and Time writer Mark Gatiss. An interesting summary of how these ranges kept Doctor Who alive until the series return in 2005, and some candid observations over the BBC's abrupt 'seizure' of the book franchise from Virgin in 1997 as well as how they eventually reached their own demise (and the (ahem) novel way the spares went to use in Eastern Europe orphanages ...).

As with Planet of the Spiders in 2011, the omnibus repeat of the story is included on the second disc, which at seventy minutes means pretty much an episode is lost in the condensed version. I must admit I skimmed this a bit (at 1.5x too), being I'd watched the full version recently, but it is interesting to see how some sections get excised along the way - I noticed the Doctor's speech about humanity in episode one had been lost, and little things like Noah initially shooting the Doctor in episode two and the High Minister's speech in episode three disappeared too.

Other new DVD features include the raw footage of Tom Baker's visits to Northern Ireland in Scene Around Six, the clips of which were rediscovered back in 2011, plus 8mm film of location filming for Robot and the PDF files of Radio Times listings and - for those of us who didn't buy every single tie-in merchandise in the mid-eighties - The Doctor Who Technical Manual (so I can finally build my own TARDIS!). Most of the original 2002 features have been carried across to the special edition, with the notable exception of the Wookey Hole interview with Tom Baker that was released again in its 'proper' place on Revenge of The Cybermen in 2010.

Random Observations

  • The "pink" title sequence present for this story is a fun anomaly (as are the other title sequence variants that are included as an extra)
  • Unlike some of the commentaries to come, Tom Baker is quite serious on this one, though he still has time for his own style of random observations with comments such as "four jaunty buttocks"!
  • It's interesting how the role of a women is played around with during the story, with Harry's blissfully ignorant inappropriate comment to Sarah about "the fairer sex being the top of the totem pole" contrasting against the Doctor's deliberate goading of Sarah's deficiencies to get her to move through the pipeline.
  • I wonder if Begonia Pope ever heard that her alias was Madame Nostrodamus ...
  • The Doctor's introduction of Harry's credentials as being "only qualified to work on sailors" is still amusing, though being it is also on the main menu loops of both discs perhaps it has worn out its welcome now...
  • What with the sailor joke earlier in the script and Philip Hinchcliffe's observation of Robert Holmes having fun with the script, Harry then exclaiming "I found the Queen in the cupboard" caused an outbreak of uproarious laughter from both the commentary crew and myself!
  • There's a strong theme of the fear of possession and loss of identity running through the story, with Noah's struggle against his physical transformation, the Doctor's mental struggle with the hive mind, and the lingering thought about what actually happened to the hapless Dune (Brian Jacobs) under the Queen's ministrations ...
  • The way in which the wirrn propogate through 'contagion' is a theme that rears its head again a year later with the Krynoid's reproductive cycle in The Seeds of Doom.
  • It's a shame that the cut scene of Noah's plea for Vira to kill him no longer exists - it might have been a step too far for the audience in 1975 but it would have made a great deleted scene in 2013!
  • The autobiography "All Friends Betrayed" by Judas Baker is something to look forward to (grin)
  • And for those who always turn off before the end titles have finished ... well, you've missed out on a treat!

Conclusion

All-in-all, the story is quite minimal in its presentation but very effective in its execution. Great acting, stunning sets and scintillating dialogue all competently meld together to create a compelling story, and though the creature realisation was perhaps not as effective as some past and future efforts, in combination with the other elements they form a memorable adversary.

And as for the TARDIS team of Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter, they are on fine form, and between them triumphantly launch this "golden age" of Doctor Who!

Coming Soon ...

The Doctor learns the intricacies of cocoa-making and Barbara find out being a god is not all it's cut out to be as the TARDIS travellers touch down in the murky tomb atop a pyramid of The Aztecs ...







DOCTOR WHO NEWS - REVIEW IS COPYRIGHT © 2017 NEWS IN TIME AND SPACE LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
DOCTOR WHO IS COPYRIGHT © BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION (BBC) 1963, 2017.
NO INFRINGEMENT OF THIS COPYRIGHT IS EITHER IMPLIED OR INTENDED.