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 Legacy CollectionBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 January 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
Legacy CollectionThis review is based on a preview of the UK Region 2 DVD, which is released on 7th January 2013.

Of all the DVDs in the classic series collection, this set has perhaps been the most divisive within fandom online before its release than any other. Without dragging this review into the quagmire, much of the discussion surrounds the presentation of the abandoned and never-broadcast Tom Baker adventure Shada and expectations over whether the unrecorded scenes would be 'completed' by animation or other means, and the resulting disappointment from some quarters when it was announced that it would 'simply' be based upon the edit produced for the VHS range in 1992.

Context is everything, though: is this a release of the story Shada with other extras, or is this a collection of bits and pieces that includes Shada? Steve Roberts of the Restoration Team clarified:
The whole point of the 'Legacy' boxset is a mopping up exercise - it's mopping up Shada, MTTYITT and a few other extras that are left over at the end. That's all it was ever supposed to be!
In this context utilising the previous commercially available version in this set alongside More Than Thirty Years makes sense; so, enough of what we didn't get, let's look at the wealth of material we do have in the set!
 

Disc One: Shada

ShadaThere are two versions of the story to choose from on the disc, the 'reconstruction' presentation of the original Tom Baker material from 1979 that was produced by John Nathan-Turner for VHS in 1992, and a revised animated version with Paul McGann that was produced by Big Finish in 2003 for the BBC Doctor Who website. Being a classic series release, it isn't surprising that the primary version on the disc is the 1992 version, whilst space limitations mean that the animated version is consigned to watching on a computer - however, which is actually considered the 'better' presentation of the story will fall to personal taste!

Apart from the necessary adjustments to continuity to introduce why a different Doctor is involved, the main plot remains essentially the same in both. The Doctor answers a message from retired Time Lord Chronotis, now living at St Cedd's college in Cambridge, finding out that his old friend is actually in possession of a 'dangerous' book, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey. However, Doctor Skagra of Think Tank is also after the book, knowing that its pages can reveal the way to the Time Lord prison planet of Shada where a criminal Salyavin has been incarcerated - Skagra wishes to obtain the latter's ability to project his mind into others in order to become the most powerful person in the universe. What ensues is a run around Cambridge and the galaxy as the Doctor, Romana and Chronotis with the aid of students Chris and Clare chase Skagra and his Krarg allies in order to thwart his plans.

And that's essentially it. To be honest there isn't much more to the story and the filmed scenes show that whilst the sparkle of Douglas Adams dialogue is present, there isn't an awful lot of plot to fill the 1hr49m running time of the release, let alone a full six episodes' worth had the story been completed. Adams himself had said that he hadn't thought it very good (and cannibalised elements of the script for other works) - the story had only been released on VHS through him accidentally signing the paperwork.

It's the notoriety of the production that makes the story interesting, and this is documented quite thoroughly through both the production notes that accompany the episodes, and documentaries that can be found on the other discs in the set. Briefly, strikes were quite commonplace within the BBC in the 1970s, and Doctor Who suffered three consecutive years of industrial action for the recording of season finales - 1979 was the year the production team's luck ran out and so Shada was never able to recover the time needed to complete it, much to the chagrin of cast and crew. Nathan-Turner attempted to resurrect the story a number of times (including a potential Colin Baker-narrated version in 1985), but in 1992 was able to convince BBC Enterprises that the story could be produced with new effects and linking narration from its star.

The ensuing release is a brave attempt to tell the story, but the lack of filmed material really becomes noticeable in the latter half the story, where much of the unrecorded studio material was destined. Chronotis's rooms, Skagra's ship brig, and Think Tank scenes were recorded, but TARDIS interiors, Skagra's and the Krarg's ship control rooms, and Shada itself were all lost. Though judicious use of new special effects help bridge some of the gaps, the latter episodes end up very heavily reliant on Tom Baker's narration of what's happening "off-screen", and can lead viewers to wonder what is actually going on! Watching the animated version first can actually help a lot here as, with all the scenes 'present and correct', it means that when watching the original version it is possible to 'visualise' what is going on during those narrated moments.

One thing that grated in 1992 and still does in 2013 is the incidental music, which was written for the release by late 1980s resident composer Keff McCulloch. I'm afraid I've never been a fan of his music in Doctor Who, and the "tinkle tinkle" throughout Shada is quite distracting at times. It's a shame JNT didn't secure Dudley Simpson's services to provide a 'contemporary' score (and a shame the budget for the DVD couldn't stretch that far, either!). I also found K9's voice a little irritating too, but at least David Brierley is contemporary (though John Leeson's interpretation will always be definitive, and very welcome in the animated version).

A few observations on the VHS version:
  • From the outset it feels like the story is being introduced by Professor Geoffrey Hoyt, as Tom struts around the old MOMI Museum Doctor Who exhibits in a suit straight out of Medics. His delivery is also quite OTT, though fortunately the actual narration is delivered in a matter-of-fact way (and as the Doctor).
  • Watch out for Professor Chronotis's magic spectacles in episode two!
  • The major plot point of needing Salyavin's mental agility is perhaps of less importance if you consider the Doctor demonstrated this ability with himselves in The Three Doctors, or more recently with Craig in The Lodger!
  • The one genuine recorded effect of the two TARDISes in the vortex actually looks quite poor in comparison with the 1992 CGI ...
  • ... though the "blocky" effects used in some places feel very dated!
  • Nobody seems to know why Clare's hair changes from severe scientist bundle to a more feminine wavy loose style in episode five - maybe her shock at the sparking console had more of an effect on her than originally thought ...
  • K9 seems to be back under the influence of the Shadow at one point, judging by the Danger, Doctor exclamations as Think Tank explodes.
  • There was a proposal for romantic interest between Chris and Romana ... half-human on his father's side?!?!
  • Christopher Neame spends way too much of his time resembling Julian Glover!
  • If you consider Shada as part of the canon then there's plenty of Time Lord lore here to challenge Robert Holmes! Time Lords are allowed to retire on alien planets so long as they don't have a TARDIS. Time-Tots (an unscripted line by Lalla Ward now often quoted in the never-ending debate over Time Lord procreation). Time Lord bodies fade out of existence in their final death (is that what was potentially happening to the Doctor in The Five Doctors?).

The alternative Eighth Doctor version of Shada is accessed through a computer, and is presented as a flash movie powered by any web browser capable of running the Adobe format. An initial menu gives access to the six episodes, which can then be watched through the browser. The episodes play very smoothly, and as it is local to the machine the occasional annoying net-pauses are of course absent. There are a couple of issues that occur with playback though; firstly, you have to select each episode to watch (there's no "play all"), and when watching the episodes the chapters and running time remain permanently visible at the bottom of the screen - these are a product of the code included on the DVD to play the files, however, and the raw SWF episode files can easily be played through another capable player without such distractions!

There are no special features included on the discs for this version, but related extras can still be found via the BBC website.

Overall, as one might expect, Shada's picture quality has been cleaned up and looks much better on the DVD, especially when compared with scenes included in other features. However, it's the animated version that really benefits from being released in this way, as it is no longer constrained by the lower resolution/bandwidth limitations online. Plug your computer into your HD-TV and enjoy!

Disc Two: Extras

The disc kicks off with a documentary on the making of Shada: Taken Out of Time, filmed in the glorious surrounds around The Backs in Cambridge, saw cast and crew recount their personal experiences of the filming (though incongruously Tom Baker was occasionally seen walking his dog in the woods!). Much of the first half focusses on how much fun everybody had filming in the city, with Tom Baker commenting on how much better it was to be out of a quarry, Daniel Hill on it being the best week filming of his life, and production assistant Ralph Wilton wryly observing on the blossoming relationship between Hill and director's assistant Olivia Bazelgette. Then, as strikes loomed the latter half focusses on how everybody became concerned and ultimately heartbroken with how production was delayed and eventually cancelled by the BBC.

One particular anecdote that sticks out is how Angus Smith of the St John's College Choir recounts how they managed to wrangle their way onto the show through appealing to a rather drunk director Pennant Roberts in the pub, and then their increasing dismay over the next year as they never got to see themselves on air.

Now & Then provides viewers with the usual comparisons between how locations look now with how they appeared during filming - or in this case, how Cambridge has pretty much been stuck in a time bubble over the last three decades! As well as those scenes that were recorded, the documentary also looks at locations that didn't quite make the cut due to time running out when filming, and those abandoned due to the strike's impact on night shooting. (Also, for those interested in such things, the music playing throughout is from the second movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, named Scene at the Brook, which seems quite apt if you think of one scene in particular!)

Strike! Strike! Strike! is a candid review of how industrial action has affected the show over the decades both in production and broadcast. The documentary looks into the well-known cancellation of Shada, the way in which other BBC strikes caused practical problems for production, and on how the 1970s saw a number of problems with broadcast interruptions due to national industry disputes. Amongst the many anecdotes, one that in particular tickled me was how William Hartnell nearly brought the production of the show to a halt with his haughty attitude to a dresser. (Keep your eye out for a cameo by Doctor Who News too!)

Being a Girl is bit of an oddity; the feature's premise seems to be to look at how women are portrayed in the series (both in front of and behind the scenes), but meanders around topics like whether it really matters that the production team seldom featured women, is gender-blind casting a good thing, and are powerful female villains empowering or insulting? Louise Jameson guides us through the documentary, with insights provided by professional women (and confessed fans). The roles of all of the female companions are explored, with particular emphasis in the class series of Susan, Sarah, Tegan and Ace - and how the latter finally saw a move away from cipher to personality, a trait foremost to modern female companions. The question of if it is okay to fancy the Doctor also rears its head, and of course the old chestnut over whether a woman could ever play the Doctor.

The disc is rounded off with a production gallery, accompanied by clean cues of some of Keff McCulloch's music score for those who can tolerate it (using mute or running at x2 more than ably resolves that problem for those who can't!).

Disc Three: More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS

More Than Thirty Years In The TARDISIt is perhaps fitting that the 'definitive' celebration of Doctor Who in the 20th Century is on one of the final of the original releases in the Classic DVD range for the 21st - in many ways it the the forerunner of all we've come to enjoy about the range!

With all the interviews, documentaries, behind-the-scenes clips etc. that we've been treated to for over a decade now - including the wealth of features on this very boxed set - it's hard to imagine how starved we were for such information back then. The preceeding year's Resistance is Useless on television had given us a tongue-in-cheek retrospective of the series, but then in 1993 the BBC indulged us with a wealth of clips, chats with the stars (and celebrity fans like Toyah Wilcox, Ken Livingstone and Mike Gatting - plus not-so fans like Gerry Anderson), and all manner of archive material in the form of an hour long Thirty Years in the TARDIS - and then even more delights with the expanded More Than version presented here when it arrived on video a few months later.

Though much of the archive material may have since appeared in full on the DVDs, there's still a number of bits and pieces that haven't quite made it to digital clarity before and can be enjoyed for the "first time" here (for example the Terry Nation interview conducted on Whicker's World). Regardless of whether I've seen some clips more recently, though, it still generates a little thrill seeing those original tantalising moments from my youth once again - many of which were seen for the very first time in Thirty Years.

The documentary is split into loosely themed sections, with Part One being Doctor Who and the Daleks, Part Two covering Monsters and Companions, and Part Three on Laughter and Tears Behind the Scenes. These "episodes" were linked by Doctor Who adverts like Sky-Ray lollies and The Doctor and Romana interacting with PR1ME computers (something that I was doing myself at the time in my programming job!). The expansion also enabled a number of items that hadn't made it onto TV, including an interview with the originally very poorly represented Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy (I wonder whether Paul McGann would be similarly 'restored' to history if the 40th Anniversary celebration The Story of Doctor Who ever were to be released!).

Perhaps the most memorable innovation of the documentary are the recreations of classic scenes from the show, such as Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge, and of Cybermen marching down from in front of St Paul's Cathedral; as well as these we also have a number of encounters 'drawn from the imagination' of Josh Maguire, the boy representing us the viewers - for those still revelling in the sight of Clara entering the TARDIS through its doors for the first time in The Snowmen, hark back here to where Josh does the very same thing almost two decades earlier!

(One sobering thought arising from the documentary was that, back then, there were 110 missing episodes. Two decades on and just four more episodes have been recovered. Though, of course, you can also say that four more episodes have been recovered! There's still hope ...)


More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS was narrated by the late Nicholas Courtney, and the disc includes a wonderful tribute to the actor. Remembering Nicholas Courtney explores the actor's life, in many cases using his own words from interviews conducted by friend and co-author Michael McManus, who also presents the documentary. Talking candidly about his career, Nick's love of the show and his rich life shine through, and it is easy to understand how so many admired the man who played one of the Doctor's oldest and most trusted friends. Plus, watch out for the special appearance by a very familiar Doctor Who star, one of Nick's oldest friends. (On a personal note, you can also watch out for a "blink-and-you-miss it" appearance by yours-truly, too!)

Having mentioned The Story of Doctor Who earlier, the next two features are extended interviews with Peter Purves and Verity Lambert that were originally recorded for that documentary. Being that these items tend to be cut quite severely to fit their eventual destination, the context of the quotes can be lost, but having said that, the unedited material can sometimes feel quite rambling! Certainly, in Doctor Who Stories - Peter Purves the actor's reflections on his time on Doctor Who, the pittance he was paid, the 'cheapness' of the show, and the effect it had on his career in the immediate aftermath all come across as very negative, yet he speaks highly of how imaginative and innovative the series was, how strong the scripts were, and how its prestige attracted a number of big-name stars. Similarly, in The Lambert Tapes - Part One the producer flits between how excited she was to be offered to produce such an imaginative series having only been a production assistant before, versus the challenges of being the only woman amongst the other producers, and overcoming the then inherent attitudes towards women amongst her own team. Actually, I feel this latter interview does far more to explain the prevailing male-dominated industry than the attempts by Being a Girl on disc two, but then again the former was trying to encompass the whole of Doctor Who's history.

Speaking of girls, the final documentary for the set is entitled Those Deadly Divas, which conjures up images of women in smart attire vamping up the universe ... which in the case of self-confessed diva Kate O'Mara isn't far off the mark! The actress reflects upon how the various portrayals of women characters in Doctor Who bring the show some glamour and pizazz, alongside Camille Coduri, Tracy-Ann Oberman ... plus Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman! The item examines facets of female 'domination' such as enemies like Kate's Rani, Lady Peinforte and Captain Wrack, business-focussed individuals like Tracy's Yvonne Hartman, Krau Timmin and Madame Kara, and those who do it all for misplaced love like Queen Galleia, Lucy Saxon, and Countess Scarlioni. The Doctor's "good" companions also come under scrutiny when they are possessed by evil, such as Sarah by Eldrad in The Hand of Fear. It's quite a light-hearted piece, and to be honest I found the most interesting bits to be the linking titles created by out-takes from Maureen Lipman's Wire!

The disc is rounded off with a Photo Gallery from the Thirty Years shoot - and unlike Shada has a welcome selection of score bites from its respective composer, Mark Ayres - and for computer users there's a PDF file of the Radio Times listing for the transmitted documentary.

Conclusion

All-in-all, I think this set is likely to have quite a mixed reaction. If, like me, you find the documentaries that accompany releases to be a bonus then there is plenty here to keep you occupied - not least More Than Thirty Years itself. If, however, you're more of a fan of just the stories themselves rather than the value-added material that accompanies them, then perhaps the rather bland fragments of Shada won't be to your taste.

Next Time

The Doctor visits his favourite era of history, the French Revolution, but will he, Susan, Barbara and Ian be able to survive The Reign of Terror ...





MeglosBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Anthony Weight

Poor old Meglos always seems to be the overlooked, under appreciated child of season eighteen. Sandwiched between the new-look relaunch story The Leisure Hive and the TARDIS crew-changing trilogy of the E-Space stories, its lack of any particular hook or event which makes it an important part of either the mythos of the show or the nature of its production means it tends to be rather forgotten about.

Which is a great shame, and I hope its turn to be released on DVD sees it getting a little more recognition than it hitherto has. Although it does have some of the po-faced faux-science that runs through all of season eighteen (why not just call it a “Time Loop”, rather than a “Chronic Hysteresis”?), it runs at a much faster pace and has a much more involving story than its immediate predecessor, with John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch doing a good job of creating an interesting story of science versus religion with characters who you actually want to know what happens to them.

Nowhere does their ability to create worthwhile characters come across more than the main villain, Meglos, who is possibly the most interesting villain to turn up anywhere in this season. His first appearance, as the random cactus with the disembodied voice, ought to seem utterly absurd and ridiculous, but somehow the vocal performance lends a genuine air of intellect and menace. As the story moves along, Tom Baker’s performance as Meglos impersonating the Doctor also works well.

Admittedly it does have to be said that Meglos impersonating the Doctor creates one of the weak points of the story, when the Tigellan scientists are so ready to accept that the Doctor has been impersonated, and to believe his story. It’s a shame that in a script where they generally do so well that Flanagan and McCulloch do lapse into some lazy writing every now and again – another case in point being Romana leading the Gaztaks, who hitherto been interesting and funny characters, round and round in circles through the forest like a bunch of space morons. And on another note, why didn’t they recognise her from their watching of the Chronic Hysteresis on Meglos’s screen, anyway...?

Quibbles aside, the aforementioned forest is one of the better ones to have been attempted within the confines of a multi-camera studio on Doctor Who down the years. In fact, the whole of Meglos looks pretty damn good – Terence Dudley having perhaps his finest outing as a director on the programme. He’s able to get the infamous lighting levels down for some of the Gaztak spaceship and Deon worship scenes, and he’s lucky enough to have great support from make-up (the Meglos cactus facial make-up on Christopher Owen and Tom Baker) and the more technical departments (the excellent Scene-Sync work).

There’s a very good guest cast been recruited, too – notably Bill Fraser, Frederick Treves and yes, even Jacqueline Hill coming back to a series that must have been so bamboozingly different from that little programme she left back in Lime Grove all those years ago. She’s let down by Lexa’s death scene, though – which is rushed, pointless and basically thrown away.

If you’ve not seen Meglos before, or if you haven’t given it a look for some time, I’d recommend picking this up if you get the chance. You might be pleasantly surprised – it’s a reminder that even in its uncelebrated instalments, Doctor Who can provide more entertainment than an average piece of television.

Extras

As always, we’re spoiled on Doctor Who, with even a “run of the mill” story such as Meglos receiving a bonus feature package which puts most feature films to shame. The commentary, which features Lalla Ward, John Flanagan, Christopher Owen and Paddy Kingsland, probably doesn’t contain anything startlingly insightful, but is amiable enough, and it’s interesting to note how on occasion Ward seems to slip into a moderator-type role, leading the discussion and asking questions of the others.

My favourite of the bonus features was Meglos Men, an interesting way of looking at the writing of the story. Rather than simply being talking heads in a studio, Flanagan and McCulloch meet up and travel around some of their old London haunts in a very nicely-shot and interesting feature which even sees them pop round Christopher H. Bidmead’s house. I don’t think they’re writers who will be as familiar to most Who fans as some others who have worked on the series, so it’s worth a look to find out a bit more about the background to the writing of the serial.

The Scene Sync Story is an interesting look at the technology behind the innovation which helped make the Zolfa-Thuran scenes of Meglos look so good, locking two cameras of a Chromakey shot together. I am very interested in this sort of behind the scenes, production history nitty-gritty, although I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

The Jacqueline Hill documentary, A Life in Pictures, is very welcome, although I couldn’t help but feel it would have been nice for it to have been longer, and to have included some more clips of her work outside of Doctor Who. I appreciate that this probably would have involved clearance costs, though, and doubtless the money was better spent elsewhere on the release.

I didn’t like Entropy Explained very much – this sort of ‘educational’ type feature may be an interesting idea for a different type of extra, but I just don’t think it works. It’sDoctor Who, after all, not real science, and exploring the real scientific concepts stories may sometimes play with probably only flags up how dodgy the science of the stories often is. Plus it doesn’t seem to be able to decide if it’s trying to be serious or funny, with the presentation style playing it straight, but the captions throwing inHitch-Hiker’s Guide jokes and shampoo advert reference





The Horns of NimonBookmark and Share

Monday, 23 April 2007 - Reviewed by Bob Brodman

The plot is that the Doctor and Romana land on a cargo ship carrying human sacrifices to the minotaur-like Nimon. The Nimon promise whatever the leaders of a world want but con them to consume those worlds. The leader (Soldeed) is played as an over the top leader who only desires military conquest. The victims are not well acted not are their characters well developed. Originally aired during the holiday season 1979-1980 there are a number of laughs and it plays like a pantomime. I hadn't seen this story since the late 80’s and I remember that when I had seen it for the first time it was not one of my favorite stories. 

However I watched this recently with my 8 year old daughter. She was riveted for all four episodes and especially enjoyed K9.

The Nimon costume was a huge bull-like head with yellow horns. The face is not animated in any way so it is not clear if we see the face or if this is a helmet. The body was covered with black nylon and 6-inch platform shoes to suggest a hoof-like foot. These monsters seemed intelligent but they had slow-moving stiff bodies and roared so much (for no apparent reason) that they always warned our heroes before they are about to turn a corner in the labyrinth. I think that they looked hilarious, but my daughter accepted them as proper monsters although she said that they were “weird”. As a species the Nimon just don’t work for me. There is no biological explanation other than comparing them to locusts. However we don’t observe anything resembling a swarm and it’s hard to see anything locust-like in a labyrinth-dwelling minotaur. It is hard to understand how they would be an interplanetary threat. An entire species whose ecology is predicated on the successful con of one space traveling individual doesn’t make sense. It works as a dramatic devise but it seems like nonsense to me.

The plot was not particularly imaginative since human sacrifice, elaborate cons to set up an invasion, and megalomaniac leaders are common Doctor Who plot devises, but the story was sufficiently interesting and paced to carry a four part story. For me it is one of the weaker examples of Doctor Who but a fun camp romp. From the perspective of an 8 year old it works. In her words the story was “cool”.

** out of 4





City of DeathBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

I put off reviewing this story for a while, as I feel so strongly about it it’s difficult to say if I could be objective enough to do it justice. I first saw this story in about 1992, when I was eight. Even at that tender age, I could tell that there was something about this story that set it apart from others, even if I couldn’t necessarily articulate why at the time. Almost a decade and a half later, having got me some learnin’, I feel like I might be able to explain why City Of Death is my candidate for that ever-shifting title: Best Episode Ever.

The opening scene looks rather ordinary at first; although the atmospheric music helps there’s a definite studio-set-and-painted-backdrop to the prehistoric landscape, although Michael Hayes’s classy direction sees a smooth pan to the brilliant model of the Jagaroth ship that makes up for it. Immediately the viewer is thrown into a mystery – all we can gather is that these aliens are in trouble. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they in danger? Why is their future in the hands of a single pilot? We don’t know, and it's a long time before we find out. This story pushes the limits of what the audience would find acceptable in storytelling terms – and by sailing so close to the wind, Doctor Who has never been so successful. To cap it all there’s the marvellous special effect of the ship exploding, followed by one of the series most distinctive pieces of direction: a slow fade from the burning wreckage to the flowers on the Eiffel Tower.

The story of how this story was written is well known, but despite the hectic production Douglas Adams’s style is as distinctive as ever, and the slight self-consciousness of the dialogue is eased through by the breezy naturalism of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. Their conversation is whimsical but always intelligent – the story never patronises the viewer, the jokes never seem gratuitous, and despite talking about their travels the episode never veers into metafictional smugness. The scene on the Tower is just two intellectual equals riffing off each other, which gets round my usual complaint of opening TARDIS scenes where the characters have nothing to say to each other before the plot gets going.

One criticism often levelled at this episode is the number of location scenes that pad out the episodes. I think they’re forgivable given the hurried nature of the scripts, but I think they help the story as much as anything by adding to its sense of easy-going stylishness. Hayes directs them beautifully, keeping shots interesting by filming through leaves for example, and they’re elevated to greatness by the programme’s best ever music score, a lilting, freefalling orchestral piece from Dudley Simpson – nine out of ten of his scores were terrible, but that tenth was a humdinger. Funny though how all the best stories have great music (The Invasion being another example). It makes me wonder if they’re slipping in subliminal messages.

This leaps straight into the laboratory scene with Julian Glover and David Graham. The episode is made out of a jumble of elements, and it’s not immediately clear what the connection between them is; as I said, the story pushes the limits of what’s acceptable to an audience. Graham is theatrical without being really cheesy, and Julian Glover is fantastic as a villain with proper motivations, who doesn’t just want to wipe out a race or take over a planet for its own sake; his suaveness masks his desperation just as his skin masks his true identity (oh, get me). What always makes me laugh though are the banks of computers, with their tape reels that start spinning, stop, and then reverse. It’s an element of the story that hasn’t stood the test of time so well, but in general the set design of this story is extremely good. I love Scarlioni’s casual order to sell a Gutenberg Bible – it’s the kind of line that requires Adams’s total fearlessness to work.

And now, the cafe scene. Much as I like the Doctor’s very in-character skimming of the book (I refuse to use the word “Doctorish”), it’s getting to the point now where I want something to happen, enjoyable as the whimsy is. Fortunately the first time slip occurs and keeps things interesting, with a very simple but effective scene. The only confusing element is the artist, who was apparently a product of David Fisher’s original idea and has little relevance to the final product. It’s still an enigmatic moment, and I can forgive the hurried script editing.

Romana’s complaints about the Mona Lisa I think are pitch-perfect, although I can appreciate why they’re not to everybody’s tastes. I’m not a fan of jokey Doctor Who, but all the humour in this story is strictly in context and for a purpose, which in retrospect is something that maybe should have made clearer earlier in the episode. It’s difficult not to notice Pat Gorman, one of the show’s most-used extras) hanging around in the background (although nothing tops The Monster Of Peladon, where his character gets shot and then a few scenes later he’s back playing a different extra).

Duggan, like Kerensky, is a collage character made up of stock elements of the detective cliché; this is the point of the story, since these are put into stark contrast with the more serious themes that surface later. This story does for clichéd characters what Philip Hinchcliffe did for horror. The alien bracelet stolen from the Countess is another nice dose of mystery, putting the Doctor’s behaviour into context – he isn’t just larking about. It warms my heart to see the Doctor order drinks (water, naturally) with such authority while at gunpoint. His excuse to Duggan that “we’ve only just landed on Earth” is one of my all time favourite quotations, and one I use a lot when small children accusingly tell me that everyone on Earth’s heard of some footballer or other.

The cliffhanger to part one is sensational, although a bit contrived since the only reason Scarlioni takes his mask off is to provide the episode ending. What’s notable though is that this is the first time we see that the opening scene has any relevance whatsoever, although we still don’t know exactly what; if this revelation has been left any later it wouldn’t have worked, but as it is it’s a great twist. I’m willing to overlook how Scaroth fits inside the skin – if the explanation involves him farting like an old farmer then frankly I can live with the dramatic licence. 

Catherine Schell gives a good performance in what is not one of the programme’s more empowering roles; that is the point though, and Schell effectively portrays a character blind to just how powerless she really is. Tom Baker overacts in his first scene with her, but again it’s not gratuitous and the Countess sees right through him. The Doctor’s line of “you’re a beautiful woman, probably” is again perfectly in character and Hermann’s reference to the Doctor’s “boring conversation” could seem like Adams poking fun at himself.

Locked in the cell the Doctor becomes suddenly serious, and we realise what he’s been doing; a quick recap of the plot so far shows us how unobtrusive the exposition has been up to this point. The famous chicken scene is fun (even if it did lead to the strangest DVD special feature of all time), and is validated by the sight of the Jagaroth at the end; all the story’s whimsy requires that kind of serious moment to justify it, and without exception it gets it. Kerensky is a sympathetic, pitiable character – a genuine philanthropist whose genius and good nature is misused. Ironically, he calls Scarlioni the philanthropist.

The old hidden-room schtick is well-worn but serviceable, with only Duggan smashing the wall annoying – polystyrene blocks (“make it look heavy, guys”) are one of my pet hates in this show. The six genuine Mona Lisas present a dazzlingly original set up, and I think what made the episode so unique to me as a child – this is a villain not only with a proper motivation but with thought gone into the logistics of his plan, and it’s a far more original than the standard “take over the planet / get the doomsday weapon / blow up the universe” fare.

It’s odd seeing Scarlioni demonstrate how the bracelet works since we never get to see it in action. Like the knocking out of the Countess, it might be something that was a leftover from the hasty writing process.

The Renaissance is represented by a single set, but it works well and the cliffhanger is a knockout – we go into the credits desperate to learn the answer to the mystery, and to cap it all it’s a well directed shot too. There are nice parallels between the scenes set in 1979 and 1505, showing that despite the odd wobble the story is really very tightly structured. However, in the third episode the exposition cranks up a bit, which jars considering how subtle it’s been up to now. Then again, when the plot’s as interesting as this I’m happy to listen to it be explained.

Perhaps the Polaroid is too indulgent, as it always jars to see modern technology used to defeat the villains in a historical setting. The Doctor writing “this is a fake” under the canvases of the future Mona Lisas, however, is one of the show’s best ever ideas. “The centuries that divide me shall be undone” – now that’s a cool line, and the Doctor’s seriousness towards it makes it seem all the more portentous.

I feel sorry for Kerensky when he realises the true nature of his work – he corrects “what we have been working on” to “what I have been working on” as he realises that the Count has been planning something totally different. Glover meanwhile becomes less controlled and more desperate – his performance is excellent.

Romana and Duggan have been in the cafe all night – what does the owner think when they come in in the morning, since Duggan has clearly broken in? And why do the gendarmes let the Doctor into the Louvre so quickly? The cliffhanger to part three is another good one, although more functional this time as it feels like a reason to write out a character whose usefulness is over.

Episode four contains more exposition, effectively breaking up these necessary scenes without confusing the viewer by withholding essential information. It’s a nice idea having the Doctor copy out the first draft of Hamlet (it harks back to Pertwee’s namedropping), although by this stage the point of these character moments has been made. He shows the Countess how little she really matters, making even her a sympathetic character.

The confrontation with the Count is a devastating scene, with Tom Baker on superb form with some seriously intense dialogue. This is followed by the killing of the Countess; despite the story having a mortality rate of over 44%, they are all the more shocking for occurring all (apart from Kerensky) in the final episode. There is a real sense of what’s a stake, although the story does need to make more of exactly how the ship taking off will affect the human race. Duggan breaks out of the cell so easily that there’s almost no point to it.

The famous John Cleese / Eleanor Bron cameo borders on smug, but it gets away with it because not only is it genuinely funny but it’s accurate too – believe me, this is how those people really talk. Really.

The last confrontation with Scaroth is decent, with more great dialogue, although his final defeat is a bit too quick; the very last scene, however, is just sublime with its “what is art” discussion, long shot of the Doctor and Romana running away, and another beautiful piece of music leading into the credits.

The mark of a classic is the extent to which its flaws can be ignored, and this is never easier than with City Of Death. Nothing anyone has ever made is perfect (the Mona Lisa, for example, no eyebrows), but with its plot, dialogue, characters and design City Of Death is as close as makes no difference.





Nightmare of EdenBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Of all the stories of the notorious Season 17, this is the one I tend to re-watch the most. 

That's right, I even like it better than "City Of Death" (or, at least, seem to if you judge things by my viewing habits alone!). "City of Death" is great, don't get me wrong. But "Nightmare of Eden" is just a lot more fun. 

Okay, bad stuff out of the way right off the bat: Yes, I see all the same problems as everyone else does. Tryst's accent is simply awful and really does ruin what could have been a really great character. The "goofy mad scientist" personae has been used over and over in the series. Sometimes to its advantage (Proffessor Kettlewell in "Robot") and sometimes to its detriment (Proffessor Zaroff in "Underwater Menace"). So it's always a crapshoot for the production team to try to figure out how campy the character should get. Here, they made a bad call. 

Yes, I also see that the whole story looks massively cheap. But,well, which story from the classic series doesn't look cheap? Particularly as we move closer and closer to the end of the season. They're always running out of money with the later stories and this is just to be expected. As a fan, I learnt to understand these things and look past the budget problems. It's for this same reason that the "tinsel time corridor" in "Timelash" never bothered me much either! 

Finally, there's the comedy element. Didn't really irratate me, to be honest. In fact, most of Tom Baker's more OTT stuff never really grated on me. Most of the time, I enjoy it, actually. So many stories that would have really fallen flat, I felt, were enhanced by his re-writes and adlibs. To me, it seems as though he recognised when a script needed a little "extra push" of humour and would add it in to spice up some of the more dull scenes. Bearing all this in mind, this actually means that the much-maligned "Oh my arms! My legs! My everything!" moment was something I actually enjoyed! 

So, there you have it, most of the popular objections to this story don't really bother me. Which means that all the really good stuff about this story shines through all the more brilliantly. 

Firstly, we have a gorgeously tight plot. Possibly one of the tightest the show has ever had. Everything moves at a very nice pace with characters and situations weaving in and out of each other at all the right moments. It really is, in my opinion, a very excellently-plotted script. And this aspect alone of the script makes for some great watching.

Add to it, though, some very fun ideas. Many of which the show hasn't actually come up with before (which is something of a rarity by this point in the series). Yes, true enough, the CET machine is a re-hash of the mini-scope. But we've never really done a Doctor Who "drug smuggling storyline" before. And the whole concept of two ships that have collided but not actually blown each other up makes for some really imaginative storytelling. The sequences where they wander through the unstable zones are very fun and some of them even look quite visually impressive. Most memorable was the moment where Doctor falls to the ground and finds himself at the feet of a Mandrell. Very nice and stylised. 

Aside from Tryst, our supporting cast actually looks pretty good, for the most part. The two police officers from Azure are just there to poke fun at bureaucracy, as far as I'm concerned and they play the roles with the proper level of preposterousness (is that a word?!). The captain of the ship (didn't even recognise him as Irongron until another reviewer mentioned it) is, of course, the strongest of all the supporting cast and turns in some great performances both before and after he's high. Coupled with the performance is, of course, some great dialogue. Not just the "They're only economny class" but I love his whole little speech about "ships eating each other" too. 

The rest of the cast, although coming perilously close to "wooden" in some places, still turn in fairly strong performances. They're, essentially, the "straight men" to all the comedy so they're really just doing what they should be. Which means that, although we have some silly moments in this story, we also have some moments where it's taking itself quite seriously. And the drama is there in equal measures if you're willing to look for it. Which is more than can be said for some of the other stories of this season. 

So, final verdict. I find myself agreeing greatly with some of the other reviewers on this page. "Nightmare Of Eden" is a very underrated story. A plot so tight you can bounce quarters off of it and some really fun and original ideas at work. So what if the set wobbles a bit and the passengers are all wearing overalls and glasses?! If this kind of silliness affects your ability to enjoy the show, then why, in God's name, are you watching Doctor Who? Flip over to Star Trek - their mundane storylines have great sets and costumes!