UtopiaBookmark and Share

Saturday, 12 March 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
John Simm as The Master in Utopia (Credit: BBC)
 Series Three - Episode 11 - "Utopia".

STARRING: David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman
WITH: Derek Jacobi, and John Simm

ALSO STARRING: Chipo Chung, René Zagger, Neil Reidman,
Paul Marc Davis, John Bell,
 Deborah MacLaren,
Abigail Canton, and Robert Forknall

Written by Russell T Davies,

Directed by Graeme Harper

Music - Murray Gold

Produced by Phil Collinson

Executive Producers: Russell T. Davies + Julie Gardner

Originally Transmitted 16th June 2007, BBC 1

The first in a series of retrospective reviews covering stories missing from the Doctor Who News archive.

 

The David Tennant incarnation of everyone's favourite twin-hearted iconoclast was enjoying a second full series on TV in 2007. Back then with Martha Jones as the able and beautiful new companion, played by up-and-coming star Freema Agyeman the show was continuing to provide excellent entertainment and role models for men and women in equal measure.

And overall, the production and writing crew began to combine the emotional weight of Series 1 with the heady hi-jinks of Series 2. At its peak, the Third Series of modern Doctor Who was the show at its very best, but it did still have some notably weaker efforts in places. To my mind, it was only the following year when showrunner Russell T Davies totally perfected the formula and came up with a great TARDIS crew, great one-offs, and a really fulfilling linking arc.

The Tenth Doctor/ Martha collection of travels and timelines, did however keep those viewers, who may still have missed the amazing chemistry that Tennant and Billie Piper shared on screen, engaged in the present. This episode of course, was one of the stand-outs, and did a terrific job of rewarding the loyalty of those too young to have experienced classic Who, but also came up with the return of a pivotal returning character that long-term watchers and committed fans alike were surely expecting to make another return to the fray. (And hopefully in a more traditional manner than the muddled Terminator homage of the TV Movie).

The Master makes his triumphant return in a fast-paced episode, by making the closing few minutes a powerhouse of revelation and dramatic chutzpah. And what a steal in getting none other than Derek Jacobi to guest star. Here he is just credited with the part of Professor Yana, obviously designed to preserve secrecy. It is an admirable '2 for the price of 1' effort, and succeeds in making the viewer remember this story as having a truly kind man succumb to a cruel twist of fate. Just as we could not dismiss the benign John Smith and think of him as a 'placeholder person', so we can never forget the combination of wisdom and boyish excitement that Yana has in this tale.

The 'Y.A.N.A. acronym' was of course one of the story-arc elements so elegantly laid out in prior episodes in Series 3. The other, and more deliberate hook was the 'Saxon' thread, which even stretched back to the preceding Christmas special - The Runaway Bride. The acronym stands for "You Are Not Alone", and could be read as a positive. For most of Utopia, Jacobi plays the most charming and likeable of people, in some ways even more engaging than the Doctor. Perhaps the message from the Face of Boe in Gridlock was meant as an encouragement. It also looks that way in the company Yana keeps. His own female assistant is very well performed by Chipo Chung, and in make-up terms a finely designed semi-humanoid, who employs a speech pattern of "Chan..tho" to bookend her statements. The two syllables form together to denote her name.

But it still is very clear that Utopia is overall a very bleak tale. Like Frontios, and a few other stories from the Who mythos (such as the recent Hell Bent), it is set at the end of time and sees a group of humans trying to proceed despite the odds being against them. A small camp of civilised people are having to guard against regressive beings, and they put all their hope in a great journey to another world. But of course they do not know if that world will have anything for them. And later episodes quickly confirmed the worst feelings of any TV viewer with an ounce of pessimistic suspicion in them.

Enough character development is spent establishing how close Yana and Chantho are together, that when the Master is unleashed by the spate of 'triggers' that lie within his subconscious, and despite the best intentions of the TARDIS crew, it really feels like a blow towards the captivated viewer. The ability to quickly make viewers care about 'supporting characters of the week' was one of Davies' finest assets in all of his TV writing, and not just this one prime time show. The way that Jacobi announces who he is, the sheer venom he hurls at the bewildered lab-coated and loyal ally of his previous persona, before fatally wounding her, is a moment of top notch thespian malice. "I am the ... Master" is a simple line of dialogue, made into something truly resonant.

David Tennant also has his moments of darkness at times in this story, most noticeably when the Doctor shrugs off the attempt of Captain Jack to re-forge their travelling partnership. In the process the former Time Agent makes his friend fully aware of the impact of being abandoned. He wanted some answers for what we were able to see were Rose's Time Vortex powers causing him to have the dubious superpower of being able to die and revive in the most traumatic of fashions. The Doctor's necessary regeneration into his Tenth self was a process that makes such a conversation with a former ally not the easiest of topics.

Ultimately it is a good thing we get Jack back after having all but no proper sign of him in the main show since The Parting of the Ways; the 'Torchwood' name being a verbal reminder over the course of Series 2. Barrowman makes the most of his opportunities in RTD's deft script, and is able to exude the energy of a man who has forged his own life, but still values the Doctor's friendship and mentorship highly. Even if many viewers did not see Torchwood the sister show in the interim, it matters little over the course of this episode and the next two, as enough exposition is made, without it being too obvious an advertisement for another BBC production.

John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness in Utopia (Credit: BBC)

The music from Murray Gold is typically strong in any given TV story, but this tale  introduces one of my absolute favourite musical motifs. It clearly was seen as strong by those around Gold in post-production as it was to be repeated again in the concluding episodes of this third year to even great effect. Most notably featuring when the Doctor and Yana make progress as a team, it combines both the heroic and the melancholic to exquisite effect. There is also some frenetic up-tempo musical accompaniment to the  action, where the heroes are on the run from the regressive outsiders, and this helps breath life into what flirts with being vaguely absurd.

Although the concept of the savages is a sound one, part of me finds their witless  expressions and gnashing teeth somewhat out of synch with the intellectual and  emotional complexity of the overall narrative. But if one was to just view them as a token  monster and plot device then really this is just a tiny drawback.

Back to some praise again: the cliffhanger leading into The Sound of Drums is truly brilliant. We see a final blaze of glory for Jacobi as he defiantly cries "The Master ..Re-born", and then the most dangerously unpredictable and indeed disturbing regeneration yet is on the TV screen. Of course, in recent times Michelle Gomez has made the part her own and benefited from enough good scripts, great co-stars, (and crucially) screen-time to be that bit more nuanced than the John Simm incarnation. But make no mistake, the renowned Life On Mars actor is still fiendishly good and makes any given scene must-see TV. The ultra-confident, happy-chappy Doctor has now met his equal and opposite. However, it will take a journey or two into the past and across the cosmos, before they finally get their face-off in person.

Utopia is a fine piece of prime time TV in its own right, and it underlines the enterprise and craft of the production team in no uncertain terms. The mega-length finale had got off to a great start, and much more character development and high drama was just around the corner.

 





The Massacre - Audio BookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 July 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Massacre (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written by John Lucarotti,
Read by Peter Purves,
Released by BBC Audio, 21 May 2015

This First Doctor historical was amongst the many early Doctor Who tales to be wiped by the BBC, at a time when home video releases were not yet introduced. Fortunately, as with all the other 'lost' stories, a soundtrack copy was retained and this story was the first of a wave of audio CD releases of various First and Second Doctor stories at the turn of the century.

Original viewers of all ages saw a sophisticated but non-preachy historical drama. The Doctor quickly leaves Steven to manage on his own in 1572 Paris; full of political turmoil between the Catholic and Huguenot religious groups. The Catholic Abbot of Amboise catches Steven's eye, and soon this loyal companion wonders if his older friend is playing a very risky game of impersonation. A young girl called Anne Chaplet soon needs Steven's help as she flees the Abbot and attempts to warn the Huguenots of a deadly conspiracy. But history tells of the inevitable Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day, and time cannot be rewritten despite the sheer pointlessness of the violence that ensued...

            A great cast was involved, many going on to be in later colour stories which all are now available. Examples include: The Deadly Assassin's Eric Chitty as Preslyn, Warriors' Gate's David Weston as Nicholas Muss and Arc of Infinity's Leonard Sachs as Admiral De Coligny. There is even a turn from Eric Thompson, father of the world-famous Emma. Also director Paddy Russell debuted here, and was behind later notable stories for the Third and Fourth Doctors.

 

The novelisation was published in the summer of 1987, and saw credited writer John Lucarotti bring to novel form the original scripts he created, after a number of amendments by script-editor Donald Tosh. Ultimately Tosh rewrote the story to be a very different one, but only received a co-author credit in the final episode.

Why Lucarotti did not approve of the final version is of real interest. Upon being promised a third historical story from initial showrunner Verity Lambert, Lucarotti then found the new team of John Wiles and Tosh to be rather less harmonious with his vision of Doctor Who. A rather darker show was being established, with grim endings such as the fate of the Drahvins, the fall of Troy, and the many tragedies in The Dalek Masterplan. This perhaps was for the best as the fledgling Saturday tea-time show made its case for continued existence, long before it was famous globally.  

Even after two other story rejections, and finally getting a green light on using the Huguenot massacre as the backdrop there were still problems. William Hartnell was getting more difficult to work with and had poor health, and the then-showrunners wanted to try and remove him as lead on the show. Lucarotti's proposal of a double role for Hartnell as Abbot and Doctor was not in line with this intended path. This reputable TV writer was ultimately so dismayed that he wanted no on-screen credit. He did not get that wish but was paid for all four instalments and many years later retained the right to adapt his intended story for book form.  The novelisation was enjoyed by both fans and general readers alike and now gets further exposure today as a CD/ Internet Download.

 

This story significantly manages to intertwine historical fact with fiction. Charles IX and Preslyn are real-life figures who are used for plot purpose; the former being a weak willed monarch under the thrall of his mother Catherine De Medici, the latter being a little paranoid but nonetheless a notable scientist of his time.

Notably unique to the novelisation is the framing device of Time Lords putting the Doctor through either an inquiry or another trial, but which future Doctor is not made too clear. More focus emerges as to the morality of his interference in events, and perhaps his eventual abandonment of the various people he meets to their fates.

The plot differs increasingly from Tosh's version after the initial sections that resemble Episode One. The key character difference is the Doctor is far more involved throughout. In theory William Hartnell would have shown his full range and poise (and as much as terrific glimmers of the Abbot did make it to screen).

As we know though, the production team were against the lead, and maybe his ill health would have also been too much also.

The paramount goal for our regulars is to survive, and it is particularly urgent, but we also care for the various Huguenots who try their best to fight a growing tide. Even  some sense of the pressure on the Catholics is generated by Lucarotti, though their ends certainly never justify their means. 

Peter Purves continues to impress, after my prior sampling of his efforts for Big Finish. He uses his theatre roots, which involved considerable variety from one play to the next, to solidly portray a host of players in the story, along with their myriad characteristics. The Doctor's voice again is done well, conveying the essence of Hartnell's rather complex interpretation. What music we do get generates a heightened atmosphere, and there are fine sound effects such as the gallops of hooves, crowd noise and other effects to signify action moments.

Our narrator only stumbles when attempting rage in voices that are markedly different  to Steven. Also while his Anne is passable, there is never any real doubt of this being a male imitation of a female, but then very few can overcome this downside of the solo-contributor format.

 

All the same, we are afforded a chance to experience the book's enticing prose, and how it plays to the mediums' best strengths. There is plenty of Steven's immediate perspective. How this man from the future uses his wits over any of his inbuilt skills or training is gripping, as is his role in partially defanging the Catholic conspiracy. Most fans agree that The Massacre is Steven's peak during his time as a companion.

Along with sterling heroes we need a good set of villains. The Catholics who ultimately win are to be respected as much as reviled. Simon Duvall is built up in the most notable antagonist, demonstrating a suave nature along with having a strong plan. How the Abbot and Duvall's fates are intertwined, not least due to the Doctor's ingenuity, is a payoff that works handsomely.

Of more trivial interest, we are introduced to some minor characters who were not retained for the final TV version, e.g. the bumbling locksmith who understandably is foiled by the TARDIS' secure door.

 

It is to be commended how Lucarotti has no easy answers and does not assume a moral highground. Even the characters we most empathise with such as Gaston, Lerans and Muss are not angelic by any means. The charismatic Admiral De Coligny is helped during the timeframe of Steven and the Doctor being around, but upon their departure he receives no better a fate than assassination. Such is the inevitable course of history. And had he been spared then he likely would have implemented methods little better than his religious enemies.

Praiseworthy also is the 'identical Doctor' aspect, which was repeated in other ways  throughout the TV show's long history. In this novel version the way both the Doctor and the Abbot show initiative and smarts is more exciting than the somewhat clumsy manner the TV Abbot saw himself into trouble. The Doctor is of course the wiser and sharper of the two, and having one of this religious zealot's own allies be manipulated into his downfall is most enjoyable.

A small flaw perhaps, but one most classic Who stories are guilty of, is the sheer lack of notable female characters in comparison to male. At least we do have two solid roles in the form of the ruthless Queen Mother and the young, vulnerable but brave Anne Chaplet.

The manner of how the Doctor manages to avoid the wrath Catherine shows the First Doctor at his typical smart best, and is especially exciting knowing he must convince as a man who only resembles him in appearance. Meanwhile the Steven-Anne dynamic is used very well to evoke real concern for the many innocents caught up between the scheming factions. It is one of the very first instances of a 'pseudo companion', i.e. who may qualify but circumstances finally say otherwise.

 

Catacombs has been a great trope over the years for Who, and they are sadly jettisoned in the TV equivalent. Along with the use of a crypt under Notre Dame, this story really has much to offer in terms of atmosphere.

Indeed, there is much suspense and intrigue, and yet the final sections do lack a touch of the all pervading sense of doom of Tosh's work. The debate between Steven and his mysterious mentor over what they can or cannot do regarding historical events is far less confrontational.

Tosh's rewrite saw potential descendant of Anne, Dodo, take up what initially appeared to be the Frenchwoman's place abroad the TARDIS. Yet I personally prefer the way that Anne is safe thanks to the Doctor's efforts. albeit with the only fleeting reference to Dodo in the epilogue Lucarotti opts for. At the same time, it is a shame that the famous soliloquy by Hartnell is nowhere to be found. It is a key moment  of Who folklore and wonderfully recreated by David Bradley in An Adventure In Time And Space from autumn 2013.

 

This is perhaps not a story to be digested in one sitting as the previous off-air soundtrack can be. It is very ambitious and intricate, and requires a lot of close attention from the listener, but is more than worth it as the foundations are rock solid. Whilst reflecting the deliberate pace of the Hartnell era, it never feels tedious. This pivotal historical is as relevant to our society and its political and religious unrest as it was back when first pieced together under the most fraught of circumstances. 

 





The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 October 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Tenth Planet SE
Written by Kit Pedler
Directed by Derek Martinus
Broadcast on BBC1: 8 - 29 Oct 1966
DVD release: 14 Oct(R2), 19 Nov (R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

This time last week, our world view of Doctor Who was quite different. Last month's Terror of the Zygons represented the end of a DVD era, as the final complete adventure was released and so from The Tenth Planet onwards we'd be looking forward to incomplete stories with animation to fill the gaps ... and then Friday midnight changed that completely! Now, we have another complete story to look forward to (The Enemy of the World), and all the excitement that entails. So, in some ways, the status of this adventure has diminished; however, that can hardly be said of the story itself.

Regardless of above, The Tenth Planet still has its 'firsts': it's the first story in the fourth production block, leading to the first credit on the show for several crew including costume designer Sandra Reid, make-up designer Gillian James, designer Peter Kindred, and production assistant Edwina Verner (and also the first time she met future husband Michael Craze!); it's the first appearance of the Cybermen, it's the first change of the show's key performer - and, of course, the first (fleeting) appearance of Patrick Troughton's Doctor.

But, of course, it is also a story of lasts, with William Hartnell delivering his final starring performance as the Doctor. It's a shame that, then, with his health declining, that it was hardly a "pull-out-all-the-stops" adventure, and Hartnell himself had to pull out of episode three due to bronchitis leading to a rapid rewrite to cover his absence. And to add insult to injury, some bright anonymous spark managed to lose the last episode, so we are almost unable to watch his final performance either (thank goodness for Blue Peter and off-air recordings that at least allow us to see his departure in the closing moments).

His departure is one of those stories of which there are many variations, with Hartnell himself giving two versions as time went on; regardless of whether he was persuaded to leave or otherwise, it is interesting to see him play the role for this final, single story of a new season. As I mentioned above, this wasn't a climatic way to go; Colin Baker famously declined to reprise his role for one final adventure after his removal from the show, but I suspect had he done so his story would have been as 'epic' as, say, Jon Pertwee's or Peter Davison's departure. Of course back then Doctor Who was almost a production line so it would just be one episode after another, with Hartnell coming back off holiday, so in many ways it would have just been 'business as usual' and not such a 'stand out' moment in the same way as Matt Smith's departure at Christmas will be. Another side-effect of this is that the following week's Troughton-led adventure was a natural progression in the series, and not the hugely jarring impact of having a "mid-season change" when The Twin Dilemma followed The Caves of Androzani!

In the scenes that he's in, however, the Doctor continues to be a dominant personality, something he would need to have been against the equally dominant General Cutler at Snowcap base. The production notes indicate that there was a mutual respect between Hartnell and Robert Beatty, and their performances complement one another nicely as a result. It's a shame we lost more of that in episode three, but at least they got to have their confrontation at the start of episode four.

Having those personalities are actually vital to the story as, otherwise, it could have been a very mundane story indeed, in spite of the involvement of the Cybermen. We basically have an attempt to save one space mission (Zeus 4) followed by an attempt to save another space mission (Zeus 5), the fates of both of which were inevitable - the destruction of one and the survival of the other - as Mondas passes through its own inevitable course of destruction as the Doctor foretold. It is Beatty's portrayal of the professional leader abusing his responsibility in order to save his son that maintained my interest, at least.

It is also one of those stories where the overall end result would have been reached without the Doctor being there at all - it is Ben's initiative to help defeat both invading Cyber-forces at the base that is of consequence. To be honest Polly didn't have to be there at all, though she did offer to make coffee - a career that would come to haunt her in future episodes!

Back to the Cybermen. I was a little dismissive of them above, which is a little unfair. They may not have been quite the central threat that they become in future adventures, but The Tenth Planet does a good job of introducing the (apparently) emotionless creatures that evolved from a dying race. Personally, I think the Mondasians look far better than the Telosian we encounter later, the balance between the mechanical and biological works well with the still-human hands and bandaged almost mummified heads - also, though it was probably a production error, the close-ups of them in pristine DVD-a-vision occasionally give the rather disturbing impression of the sunken eye sockets of a cadaverous skull as the actors' eyes were glimpsed within. Vocally, the effect of their mouths opening to emit their syncopated ministrations (thanks to the remarkable performance by Roy Skelton) also accentuates their alien qualities - though post-Rainbow I can't help imagining a cybernetic race of yellow wide-mouthed creatures (which wasn't helped by Zippy popping up in an advert just now too!).

The attempts at giving the International Space Control a truly international feel works quite well (better than in The Moonbase I felt). Earl Cameron commented on his role as a black astronaut as being quite advanced at the time; however, women still hadn't made their way into key technical roles by 1986 it seems. Having said that, there is Ellen Cullen credited as "Geneva Technician", though she managed to pass me by!

A few observations:
  • Was his blasting the Cyberman with its own weapon the first time Ben has taken a life? He certainly was quite cut up about it afterwards.
  • The description of the Z-Bomb's capabilities made me wonder if the Master inadvertently left the Time Lord files on the Uxarian's weapon behind on Earth at some point...
  • Was this the first appearance of an air duct escape in Doctor Who?
  • The Cybermen are depicted as a slow-moving, methodical race throughout - except when they end up under attack, judging by the way the last one scarpers in episode three!
  • Suits that are able to protect against radiation but not poison gas?
  • Why on Mondas do Cybermen ships have prison cells and manacles when they are all logical and wouldn't understand 'crime'?
  • At least in 1986 Mondas would still have been considered a tenth planet in the solar system!
  • "Next Week The Power Of The Daleks" - yeah, we wish!!!

Episode Four

With episode four missing presumed not in Nigeria or other African outpost, this edition presents us with an animated alternative, courtesy of Planet 55 who previously worked on The Reign Of Terror. Their distinctive anime look is still visible, though the quick-cutting points-of-view from their earlier work has been toned down here. There is still a little more inter-cutting between characters that perhaps jars a bit with the more sedately live camera scenes, but this didn't particularly bother me when watching. It was the Cybermen that niggled me slightly, as their expressions were a little more 'dynamic' than I would have expected from their 'mechanical' appearance - certainly more so than their live counterparts in the earlier episodes. I also felt the recreation of the regneration scene didn't flow as well as it could have been (and at first glance I thought it was a re-enactment of the sixth/seventh regeneration with an animated Troughton sporting a Hartnell wig!). However, those are my only reservations, really, overall I felt the animation did the episode justice, and conveys the story better than the original VHS reconstruction (which is also available on the DVD should you wish to watch that way).

The Extras

Commentary for this story are given by Anneke Wills, Gregg Palmer aka Donald Van der Maaten, Christopher Matthews, Earl Cameron, Alan White and from episode three Chris Dunham, plus some inserts with designer Peter Kindred with moderator Toby Hadoke (who continues to display his encyclopaedic knowledge of the acting profession!). The cast and crew reflect on their involvement with the story, its protagonists and of course the departure of William Hartnell. The production notes, compiled by Stephen James Walker supplement the commentaries with plenty more data than you can throw a radiation rod at, pointing out things like a continuity error with the Doctor's glasses thanks to a scene cut, the correspondence between Hartnell and director Derek Martinus, the actor's unexpected way to explain how to be an actor to Kindred, and the various versions of the his departure from the show. However, everything is squeezed into the three existing episodes, with nothing to accompany the animated fourth episode this time around.

A number of pointers from the above also crop up in the making-of feature, Frozen Out, which features anecdotes from Wills, Cameron, Kindred, Cyber-actor Reg Whitehead and vision mixer Shirley Coward. It was quite a poignant discussion of Hartnell's swan-song, and it'll be interesting to see how this is handled in the forthcoming drama An Adventure in Space and Time; however I was a bit surprised to hear Wills say that he "couldn't hack it any more" - very candid! (However, the montage of Doctors at the end was missing Peter Capaldi, reflecting the feature's production some time before Smith's successor was announced.)

Disc Two contains a number of features that are rather companion-oriented. Doctor Who Stories - Anneke Wills is an unsurprising item for this story, featuring the actress talking about her time during the show, including how her audition was against some 150 other potential Pollys and how she originally saw the role as a light-hearted "jolly" on the side as her ambitions were to be a 'serious' actress. Boys! Boys! Boys! (a - ahem - companion piece to Girls Girls! Girls! on The Romans) features a discussion between Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Stickson on how they got their roles, costume decisions, and where a male companion sits within the show against the more popular girls and the Doctor himself. Strickson participated via a screen virtually, and might well have simply been pre-recorded considering the way the interaction flowed as Hines and Purves dominated the feature with their camaraderie. Companion Piece was a more in-depth look at the role of a companion, with contributions from Nicola Bryant, Arthur Darvill, William Russell, writers Joseph Lidster and Nev Fountain, plus psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic - his views on the companions' roles and their behaviour was quite an eyebrow-raiser! Even though it has been about for some nine years now, it is still a nice surprise to see the 21st Century series pop up on the 'classic' range - and especially fun to see the really early pre-return trailer with Rose, too! It was also quite lovely to see a couple of inserts with the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen.

The oddity in this set is The Golden Age, a feature in which Dominic Sandbrook rambles his way through various loosely themed facts and figures about Doctor Who in order to determine when was the best time to be a Doctor Who fan. I'm not entirely sure what this feature was really meant to prove, though it was quite interesting in presenting JNT's then-infamous "memory cheats" comment on Open Air, which is not as outrageous as it seemed some 25+ years ago, plus the equally infamous comments by then youthful writer Chris Chibnall! Ultimately, of course, it is always going to be down to the individual as to what they believe is the Golden Age - the opening quote from Jon Pertwee taken from Invasion of the Dinosaurs sums it up!

Also on the disc is an extract from the Blue Peter feature on Doctor Who's Tenth Anniversary, which is included in its entirety on The Three Doctors but presented here because of its Tenth Planet clip heritage.

Leaving the most intriguing feature til last, this DVD set also includes the only known surviving interview with William Hartnell, captured during his tour of Puss in Boots where he played Buskin the fairy cobbler. The short interview sees the actor discussing his thoughts about Daleks and how he considers the acting roles he undertakes and what he thinks of pantomimes ...


Conclusion

The Tenth Planet is a story that isn't exceptional by any means, but its significance in Doctor Who history cannot be underestimated. It introduces the fundamental mechanism by which the show has kept alive and kicking for some fifty years; it also introduces my favourite Doctor Who monster, too, so that's another positive vote as far as I'm concerned! The circumstances surrounding the missing final episode also serve to enhance its mystique, and with the recoveries this last week fuelling fervent interest in the quest to find these gems once more, you never know we might yet get to see Hartnell's final twenty-four-odd minutes in all its glory (don't hold your breath though!).

Coming Soon

Those pesky Cybermen are back, this time causing mischief for a Moonbase ... or they would have been had Salamander not resurfaced from his Nigerian bunker to be regarded as The Enemy of the World ...




Doctor Who - The Gunfighters (AudioGo Novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 - The Gunfighters, read by Shane Rimmer
Doctor Who - The Gunfighters
Originally starring William Hartnell
Written by Donald Cotton
Narrated by Shane Rimmer
Released by BBC AudioGo, February 2013
The Gunfighters, read by Shane Rimmer
Doctor Who - The Gunfighters
Originally starring William Hartnell
Written by Donald Cotton
Narrated by Shane Rimmer
Released by BBC AudioGo, February 2013

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters is one of the more successful products of an experimental period for the Doctor Who novelization range. The mid-1980s saw W H Allen/Target make increasing recourse to the adventures of the first and second Doctors to fill out their publishing schedule, and where possible sought the authors of the original serials to write the books. This had mixed results, with some titles demonstrating their authors’ unfamiliarity with prose writing and with Doctor Who. Donald Cotton was an exception. Despite the eighteen years between his last televised serial and his first novelization, Donald Cotton demonstrated a clear understanding of who the Doctor was and the conventions of his adventures. In both his books he reinvented for prose his preoccupation with competing interpretations of historical events, the varying motivations of narrators and the needs of audiences. The crises in The Gunfighters derive as much from the problems of storytelling as they do to the perils in which the Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves. The self-consciously convoluted narrative framework offers many opportunities for an imaginative reading. Instead, AudioGo’s edition of the story becomes its second performance to fall through not being sufficiently quick on the draw for Donald Cotton’s sharpshooting.

There's a rationale behind the casting of Shane Rimmer; an authentic North American voice, albeit Canadian and long resident in the United Kingdom as well as one of the few survivors from the cast. His reading at first makes a good impression, grinding out the tones of Cotton's narrator persona, the author's interpretation of the historical journalist and myth-maker of the Old West, Ned Buntline. The listener might wonder whether Rimmer's voice is going to change for the Buntline-as-Holliday main narration, but it doesn’t, despite the theatricality of the conceit. In much of the narration Rimmer sounds unintentionally perplexed and his tone at chapter breaks imply surprise at how long the book is. His handling of the book's raconteurish language is often indistinct, while at the same time too straight for Cotton's archly self-aware style. Buntline-as-Holliday is an unreliable authorial voice, whose pronouncements are full of implausible knowledge which draw attention to how contrived the situations are. Rimmer isn't light enough to present this effectively or consistently. His performance does gain pace and expression on the final disc, in the run-up to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral itself, but it takes a long time to get there.

Given Rimmer's unengaging narration, Simon Power's sound design has little to work with. The decision to punctuate the text with music cues in the spirit of Ennio Morricone are a hint of the playfulness which might have been. Instead, they jar with the prose and pull in a direction which does not run well over Rimmer's boulder-strewn delivery. Though the targets of Cotton's parody for the television version of The Gunfighters were of traditions older and more familiar to young audiences than the Sergio Leone westerns in vogue in cinemas in the mid-60s and which Power references, Leone's films and Morricone's music were at least of the same cultural generation as The Gunfighters and drew if not from the same well but from the same course of western legend.

There is still much to enjoy in the book if one can get past the flaws of the realisation. Johnny Ringo has a knack for apposite brutality but an addiction for Latin tags which lead him to claim the Doctor as his soulmate and to look down on the practical skills of the medically-qualified Holliday. At the mercy of events, Steven and Dodo move from elation at being in the 1960s playground realm of the Wild West, to revulsion at the realities of a society where kidnap and murder are commonplace. Donald Cotton is true to the Doctor as a character rather than a principle of intervention, a fallible traveller whose wisdom is balanced by innocence of the more mercenary details of human relationships. This is, after all, the Doctor Who book which included the term 'cat-house' and noted that Kate Elder knew 'which side her bed was bartered'. Appropriately, the assemblage of 'fancy dress desperados' is a 'finale' to a grand show, the last of its kind. Johnny Ringo is preoccupied by the death of the west, and just as this tale is supposedly related to and by Ned Buntline, the vaudevillean Eddie Foy is keeping the violence at a safe distance while his historical counterpart would later relate his acquaintance with Earp, Holliday and Bat Masterson. Even as bullets fly, some of the participants are already engaged in the process of distancing the Wild West into safe entertainment. The universe breeds the most terrible things, but we deal with them by turning them into monsters larger than life, whether they wield laser guns or Buntline specials. It's worth remembering that some of the historical originals of the characters in The Gunfighters were still alive within Donald Cotton's lifetime, removed from the figures of legend not just by age but by transformed context: Kate Elder died in Arizona in 1940, while Wyatt Earp died in California in 1929, spending his final years advising Hollywood filmmakers on western pictures. Challenging to realise it may be, but in its sideways reflections on how we deal with real-life horror and the passage of time, The Gunfighters shows a deep understanding of the potential and the effectiveness of Doctor Who.

 

 





Galaxy 4: Air LockBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tim Robins

Galaxy 4: Air Lock
Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus
Originally broadcast 25 Sep 1965
Released as part of The Aztecs SE (R2)
I believe Galaxy 4 to be the oldest Doctor Who story that I can remember from when the programme was first broadcast. I can tell that I have a true memory of the story because of the inaccuracies. I recall William Hartnell hitting a Dalek with his cane and the Dalek sort of unfolding. The Doctor chuckled, "It's asleep!" I got lots wrong. It was Jeremy Bentham, former historian of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, who pointed out that it must have been a 'Chumbly', the Doctor's companion Vicki's ridiculous nickname for the robots that serve the hideously ugly, ammonia-breathing Rills. I nearly fell off my chair when episode three opened with the Doctor saying these words, although the robot did not semi-wake up as I remembered. In a long-distant past, I saw the the climax of Westworld at the cinema as a child but recalled the scarred gun fighter as a witch, falling back into a cauldron (which is in the scene). The police have long realised what psychologists have not, that truth and accuracy are two separate things (witnesses recalling events in exactly the same way and with the same words are likely to have conspired with each other).

Episode Three of Galaxy 4 is startlingly good. The story involves the Doctor, Vicki and spaceman-of-the-future Steven Taylor (played by Peter Purves in an ill-advised mismatched ensemble comprising a woolly cardigan, slacks and hush puppies) arriving on a soon-to-blow-apart-world where two races, the all-female Drahvins and the Jabba the Huttish-looking Rills, have crashed and are engaged in a grim battle of survival as they attempt to escape the doomed planet. When the planet does blow apart, you can be sure it's the villains who are left behind, victims of their pre-programmed hatred of others.

The high concepts in the story are that attractive-looking characters can be evil and ugly characters good - a concept that entirely escaped children's animation such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The second twist is that the main antagonists are a race of women, the Drahvins, cloned or bred to fit particular social roles - in this case soldiers. The moral here being that military personnel are (contrary to Star Trek) not the best people to make first contact.

All of this preaching gives the episode the feel of a US TV series such as Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or One Step Beyond. The Doctor and his companions seem thrown into an entirely different TV series. This is emphasised by the way the Doctor misunderstands the entire situation and busies himself trying to kill the 'Evil' Rills until Vicki stops him. He also, in one brilliant scene, abandons his companion to the tender mercies of what he believes to be menacing robots. Classic Hartnell. Not since he tried to kill a caveman with a rock just so he could escape Earth's prehistoric past has the Doctor seemed more calculating.

Of course the production is wonky in places. Vicki is trapped behind a fairly flimsy door. But even the Chumblies - imagine three upturned pudding bowls wobbling along at waist height - have more appeal than the Mechanoids, their big brothers, or the Quarks who are, alas, rubbish on screen. The planet itself is realised by a paint-and-paper landscape that looks bogus even by the standards of Doctor Who at the time. However, it is worth remembering that the team who have lovingly restored this episode have made the picture far clearer and sharper than anyone viewing TV in the Sixties would have seen - woe betide anyone watching an old Doctor Who DVD on a Blu-ray player because the image is automatically upgraded to make the image look worse than any VHS copy. And, for me, the tatty set underlined the experience of Galaxy 4 as a US TV episode, specifically Classic Star Trek with its garishly-lit skylines, glam rocks and randomly-placed twigs.

One thing that lifts Galaxy 4 above rather too much Hartnell 'Doctor Who' is that the supporting acting is tremendous. The Drahvin leader Maaga, played by Stephanie Bidmead, has some brilliant moments of angst in which she curses being given soldiers on her mission to explore space. The direction reminds me of how startling it was to revisit the Sixties' series when given the chance by Jeremy in the late-Seventies. By then Doctor Who's actual direction rarely departed from a linear narrative and a limited range of set-ups. But Galaxy 4 has a great piece to camera and a soliloquy and a flashback. At an art house screening of episode three, media scholars and professionals talked excitedly about it as the first use of a flashback in Doctor Who. Not so, of course. The first-ever episode, An Unearthly Child, is replete with flashbacks.

Sadly, I do find it increasingly hard to enjoy the early seasons of classic Doctor Who. Alas, the audacious The Web Planet - once beloved by me - becomes unbearably embarrassing as the story progresses. But this episode of Galaxy 4 leaves me hoping that the full story might actually be lying in the bottom of someone's cupboard. Who knows?




The Aztecs SEBookmark and Share

Sunday, 10 March 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Aztecs SE
Written by John Lucarotti
Directed by John Crockett
Broadcast on BBC1: 23 May 1964 - 13 Jun 1964
DVD release: 11 Mar(R2), 12 Mar(R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

Back in the mid-1980s, the stories of William Hartnell were something that I knew little about. I'd had the chance to see the original Doctor in action with the wonderful repeat of An Unearthly Child in 1981 - plus the glimpses of him in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors - but other than that all I had to go on was the way in which he was depicted from the Target novelisations. The Aztecs was published in this format in 1984, but a year later you could imagine my excitement when the story about the Doctor's encounter with that ancient culture actually arrived on my lap!

Perhaps this is something those of the Cheques, Lies and Videotapes era will appreciate more, but back then with the VHS range only just finding its feet it wouldn't be until 1989 that the First Doctor was to be finally acknowledged with the release of The Daleks, so perhaps unsurprisingly I immediately fell in love with my first proper experience with old-school Doctor Who. Okay, so the picture wobbled and the sound warbled, but it was Hartnell and Co actually there on my television!

Some years later (and a multitude of Hartnells since), a "proper" VHS arrived to replace this god-knows how many generation copy, and I was able to fall in love with the story once again, as the beautiful sets were now visible in all their glory and the sparkling dialogue delivered without an "anti-autotuning" effect! Flash-forward to the 21st Century and the story is the first Hartnell adventure to receive the DVD treatment - and the 'soft focus' of VHS was banished into the past with a restored print delivered which included some new-fangled process called VidFIRE ... and suddenly the fantastic backgrounds turned into ... erm ... obvious backdrops with even the corners visible. I must admit I was very disappointed with that, as I felt this was taking a step backwards and taking some of the magic away from the story I had first encountered in my youth, and - like "the hand of Sutekh" - once you're aware of it your eye is unerringly drawn to it every time thereafter.

However, even with such production deficiencies now revealed, it wasn't going to diminish my love of this story, and just over a decade later I can fall in love with it once more as BBC Worldwide release the Special Edition ...

You can't change history... not one line!

The TARDIS arrives in a tomb, which history teacher Barbara quickly recognises as being from the Aztec civilisation. Passing into a temple through a secret door, she is captured but mistaken by Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, to be the former high priest and now resurrected god Yetaxa, as indicated by a bracelet she had absent mindedly tried on. The Doctor, Ian and Susan are believed to be the privileged servants of Yetaxa and so any immediate danger is past. However, Barbara is determined that - as a god - she can lead the Aztecs away from their sacrificial beliefs before the arrival of Cortez and tries to stop a sacrifice - but she fails and in so trying is seen to be false by the High Priest of Sacrifice Tlotoxl ... who then sees it his duty to expose her by whatever means possible ...

Episode one sets up the plot nicely for the next three episodes, as Tlotoxl comes up with a variety of schemes to reveal that Barbara is not who Autloc believes her to be, and is not adverse to putting her companions at risk in order to do so. Barbara demonstrates that she is more than capable of countering his attempts, though ultimately the odds are of course weighed in his favour. Jacqueline Hill is able to shine throughout, with her portrayal of Barbara's frustration over the Doctor's continual assertions she will fail and the confrontations with Tlotoxl leading to some of the best scenes in the story.

The ignorance of characters as to what is happening elsewhere is used to others' advantage several times during the course of the tale. Ian's knowledge of pressure points to defeat Ixta embarrasses the warrior leader to quite happily use nefarious means to best his rival in combat - and tricks the Doctor into giving him the means to do by promising his father's plans for the Temple which he doesn't actually have. Then the Doctor is later captured for speaking to Barbara as he didn't know nobody was allowed to approach her. Susan brashly talks about choosing her own husband in contrast to the Aztec way, little knowing that her lack of understanding of the wishes of The Perfect Victim would lead to severe punishment - and Barbara agrees to this not knowing who the punishment is for.

Two characters are above all these schemes, and sadly they are the ones who come out the worst after their encounter with the TARDIS crew. Autloc only wishes his culture to become enlightened, but discovers that his trust and support in Barbara to achieve this is badly misplaced, forcing him to challenge his own beliefs and ultimately turn his back on everything he knew. Meanwhile, Cameca succumbs to the Doctor's charms as he gently manipulates her to help achieve his goal of getting back into the tomb, and then having mistakenly accepted her romantic overtures ultimately has to break her heart.

William Hartnell continues to bring the manipulative nature of the Doctor to life, though steadily becoming more mellow as the first year progresses. His highlight has to be the moment when the Doctor discovers he's just got engaged, and then how he casually remarks upon his new status to Ian a little later on. The final moments in the tomb as the Doctor decides to keep Cameca's brooch are also handled extremely well - it's easy to forget how experienced an actor Hartnell was with all the doddery, Billy-fluff nature that is often associated with his portrayal, but here in The Aztecs he ably demonstrates how to dominate a scene.

William Russell continues to portray Ian as someone who is capable of taking everything in his stride, and here also get to demonstrate an ability to fight in both armed and unarmed combat - I almost expected him to go "Hai!" at one point when he appears to use Venusian aikado! Sadly, Carole Ann Ford doesn't have that much to do, but then it was her turn to have holiday time during production so that isn't so surprising. Of the main guest stars, John Ringham manages to tread that very delicate line just above moustache-twirling villainy to create a convincing zealot in Tlotoxl, whilst Keith Pyott similarly gives Autloc a believable air of naivety. Ian Cullen's Ixta comes across a little 'wet' for someone who is meant to be the best warrior in Aztec society, though - it isn't his fault that of course fight sequences are going to be choreographed carefully to ensure actors aren't hurt, but it's a shame he made it look too 'polished' at times. On the other hand, what can I say about Margot van der Burgh other than she was lovely!

Production-wise, both the costumes (Daphne Dare) and sets (Barry Newbery) look wonderful. It was interesting to find out from the production notes that Newbery referenced a documentary about Mexico from 1960 that featured Aztec buildings in order to make things as authentic as he could - and that its writer/presenter Joan Rodker was brought on as a researcher for The Aztecs itself! No wonder it all looked so good. Writer John Lucarotti was able to bring the culture to life too, with plenty of historical references inserted into dialogue to meet the early education remit of the series - though this being 1964 of course, new evidence has since come to light that wasn't known back then (like the role of the wheel in Aztec society). Mind you, none of the great names were to be heard during the story, with only Tlaloc the rain god getting name-checked - apparently this was so the cast wouldn't keep stumbling over the likes of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli and cause countless retakes (though I thought Tlotoxl was a bit daring!).

Music-wise, the production got a coup with classical composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, with producer Verity Lambert mentioning on the commentary that this was a stroke of luck through him being known by director John Crockett - though apparently Sydney Newman wasn't quite so impressed!

The DVD

The restoration is the main "selling point" for these special editions, and The Aztecs doesn't disappoint in that area. The overall quality has taken another leap forward, with modern restoration bringing an even crisper image than the 2002 innovations had provided; improved contrast has also enabled the foreground characters to stand out further and seem less "in the shadows" than before - though it isn't until you compare the old release with the new one that this sort of thing becomes apparent! Shown here are a few comparisons between the 2002 and 2013 releases:

2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: Episode One climax - Tlotoxl declares Yetaxa a false goddess. Note the scratch on the left side has been removed (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: Episode Two climax - Barbara has to save Ian (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: The Doctor and Cameca share cocoa in Episode Three (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: Doctor with Cameca's brooch in Episode Four (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

There's no new making-of documentary for this release, as the original covered this area quite well with the features Remembering the Aztecs with actors John Ringham (Tlotoxl), Walter Randall (Tonila), and Ian Cullen (Ixta), and Designing The Aztecs with Barry Newbery. (As an aside, both these features and the commentary on the story itself bring home how time moves on, as since those recordings we lost both Ringham and Randall in 2008, Verity Lambert in 2007 and, though not involved in these features, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett last year - sadly, this is going to be even more painfully felt as we reach the forthcoming Pertwee releases this summer.)

There are new production notes for this release, however, which this times sees Matthew Kilburn as our guide as he delves into the story of production and relates fun facts and figures. How did David Whitaker describe time travel? What influences did Richard III and Hamlet have on characterisations? What do we now know of Aztec culture that was unknown in 1964? All this and more and be found within!

Disc one retains the excerpt from a 1970s Blue Peter, which features Valerie Singleton on location amongst the Aztec ruins as she relates the story of the Aztec leader Montezuma and how he mistakenly thought Cortez as the resurrected god Quetzalcoatl until it was too late. This acts as a nice introductionary compliment to a full documentary, The Realms of Gold, that is on disc two. Presented by John Julius Norwich, the 1969 edition from Chronicle examines Cortez's 1519 arrival in Mexico in much greater detail, explaining how the influence, Christian belief and foreign diseases brought by the Spanish conquerors had such a devastating effect upon Aztec culture and civilisation within just a mere couple of years. (It was also great to hear music from Delia Derbyshire. too!)

The second instalment of Doctor Forever! to be released, Celestial Toyroom, delves into the world of Doctor Who toys. Again narrated by Ayesha Antoine, the feature explores the variety of toys from the early days of fresh 1960s Dalekmania (with Richard Hollis of product licensing) through to the ever increasing retro range from Character Options (discussed by product development director Alisdair Dewar), and along the way drops in on the slightly awry 1970s Denys Fisher figures, the 1980s accurate model-work from Sevans, and perhaps the more infamous range of figures from Dapol. Participants include writers Jim Sangster, Rob Shearman, Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Steve Cole, plus BBC AudioGo producer Michael Stevens and former BBC product approver Dave Turbitt all enthusing over toys they have loved past and present. A host of other items are mentioned, which include discussion of the 70s "pleasure products" from Shearman, the Weetabix action cards by Cole (I still have mine!), and Tom Baker underpants (which a friend of mine has dared to take out in public!). Russell T Davies also recalls that he once thought he could own every piece of new series merchandise. Plus, the original Top Trumps make an appearance, including a brief game between Antoine and Ian McNeice - who also chatted about the process of becoming a Character figure of his own! All-in-all this feature was a lot of fun, with some laugh-out-loud moments!

Other new features include Clive Dunn appearing as "Doctor Fotheringown" in what is considered to be Doctor Who's first spoof, from It's A Square World originally broadcast on New Year's Eve 1963; plus, a behind-the scenes look at the second Aaru film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. which also features director Gordon Flemyng talking candidly on taking on making the film. The other original items from the 2002 release are also present, including the various specially recorded introductions to the story that were required for BBFC compliance back in 'the dark ages'!

Galaxy 4

The real "selling point" of this DVD, at least for fans, is not so much the spruced up Aztecs but more about the inclusion of the recently recovered third episode of Galaxy 4 - Air Lock. Other than those lucky enough to attend a handful of screenings (or have very long memories!), the majority of fans will be seeing this episode for the very first time! The original recovered print suffered from a number of problems - not least missing its cliffhanger - so this release presents the fully-restored episode in all it glory, including the recreation of the ending. As a bonus, the story as a whole is included, presented as a condensed reconstruction (originally planned for the DVD release of The Time Meddler) that includes especially shot CGI of various planetary scenes and the Chumblies as well the existing clips that had survived from the opening episode.

This episode is perhaps the best one to have been found, as it is here where the motivations behind the main protagonists are finally revealed, and how initial conclusions from the first half of the story are turned on their head. We can now witness the Doctor and Vicki's encounter with the Rill, and see the exhaustion that Marga feels written across her face - something which is merely hinted from the soundtrack alone. A fair chunk of the episode (and indeed story as a whole) also involves on-screen activity with little or no dialogue - like when Steven executes his attempted escape plan, or the Doctor attempts to sabotage the Rill device - which at least make more sense now that we can see them taking place - not to mention finally knowing what is making all the various beeps, whistles and other sounds!

However, for me, the excitement was more seeing a "brand new" episode of Classic Who rather than the story itself. Unlike The Aztecs, it is actually a pretty mundane tale, and the Peter Purves-narrated soundtrack released back in 1999 reinforces how padded the story was. Indeed, with the tighter, faster pace brought about by the short reconstruation, the complete Air Lock almost brings the tale to a shuddering halt! Okay, this might seem like sacrilege, but I happened to sit down and watch the recreated Crisis and The Urge To Live from Planet of Giants recently and that revealed how much more effective an edit can make to the pace! For those that would prefer watching the full length episodes from which the DVD recon is derived from, however, searching a well-known place for such things should sate that need (grin).

Conclusion

As you might have gathered, this is my favourite Hartnell story, and I'd certainly recommend it to anybody who hasn't bought it before. Whether the picture improvements warrant a re-buy for those who have the original release is a matter of preference, though I suspect the inclusion of Air Lock will sway most fans!

(However, I still feel the restoration reveals the backdrops far too clearly!)

Coming Soon...

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are up against a group of ancient Martians as they are inadvertently released from their icy 'tomb' and discover a world they'd quite like to live upon ... well they might have been had The Ice Warriors been the next release - the DVD schedule currently indicates it'll instead be a trip to 17th Century Heathrow for the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, as they encounter plague, fire, alien prisoners in hiding, and the loss of an old friend in The Visitation Special Edition...







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