The Sound Of DrumsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
John Simm as The Master in The Sound of Drums (Credit: BBC)

Series Three - Episode 12 - "The Sound Of Drums".

STARRING:

David Tennant , Freema Agyeman , John Barrowman, 
WITH John Simm and Alexandra Moen 

ALSO FEATURING: Adjoa Andoh, Trevor Laird,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Reggie Yates, Elize du Toit,
Nichola McAuliffe, Nicholas Gecks, 
Colin Stinton, Olivia Hill, Daniel Ming,
Lachele Carl, Sharon Osbourne. 

ALSO WITH VOICE WORK BY:
Zoe Thorne, Gerard Logan, and Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis 

WITH CAMEOS by McFly, and Ann Widdecombe. 


Written By - Russell T Davies,

Script Editor - Simon Winstone

Directed By - Colin Teague
Music - Murray Gold
Produced By - Phil Collinson

Executive Producers - Russell T. Davies + Julie Gardner

Originally Transmitted 23rd June 2007, BBC 1

This middle component of the storyline that saw out the 2007 run of modern Doctor Who is a dynamic, compelling slice of action and political satire. As good as it had been to have the likes of Autons and Macra come back from days long gone, and especially welcome to see the Who staple monsters that are the Daleks and the Cybermen return with a vengeance, the show badly needed the most masterly of humanoid villains to keep the Doctor on his toes.


John Simm's Master can be best likened to 'The Joker from Batman. He is utterly unhinged, and without remorse for the crimes he commits.  He actively enjoys causing chaos and misery. But such is this prolific performer's calibre of acting, the viewer cannot help but like him on some level. This is a quality inherent in all the more effective Masters – with other notable names being those of Delgado, Ainley, Jacobi (albeit mainly resting on the fake Yana persona), and Gomez.

Of course I will acknowledge the pure villainous qualities of the 'decayed' Master that showed up in the Tom Baker era, and in places also in the 1996 TV Movie. To my mind though, the ideal variant has some level of dark charm, and humorous edginess.

A great idea that makes this episode work, is putting the TARDIS crew firmly on the back foot. They do not even have their magic ship as a 'home base', and arrive late on the scene as the Master Plan has already unfolded to near finality. 'Harold Saxon' has become the British Prime Minister, and virtually the whole population are enthralled by his charisma and decidedly alternate style to politics.

The manner in which he sweeps aside all dissenting voices in his Cabinet through the method of poisonous gas, and tapping his hand on the table to the 'Sound of Drums' is a fine scene. He even gives some warning to his victims, but in such a way that he is comically obtuse, thus catching some of the supposed smartest people in the land completely off-guard.

It is hard to tell which is the more disturbing death in these 10 Downing Street sections: the prolonged suffocation of senior politicians by gas, or the way the Toclafane slice-and-dice Vivien Rook - a reporter rather too bold and determined for her own good.

                                   "I'm taking control, Uncle Sam, starting with you. Kill him!"

By contrast, the execution of the American President is played very much as black comedy. We have a boisterous and self-important world leader, and one perhaps looking down on Britain; no doubt due to the "ass" elected by the population. In this day and age, with such a controversial new president in charge this scene plays out on a different level. Even the very current affairs savvy Davies could not have anticipated this dimension his work would take.

Having a wife by the Master's side is a neat spin on an antagonist that was normally a lone wolf. Whilst he may have temporary stooges to help him (and usually hypnotised ones at that), this is the first time it appears he has a stone cold lover to endorse his villainy. In the Colin Baker portion of the Classic Series, there were tentative alliances with The Rani and Glitz respectively. However, in Lucy the Master has someone who seems to love his unending ambition, ruthlessness and even his sadism. (But of course there are limits to what evil a spouse can put up with, and this is explored effectively in the concluding episode).                                                                                                                                
The Sound of Drums (Credit: {s{LastoftheTimeLords}})The telephone conversation scene gives both Simm and Tennant a chance to share screentime equally. When they finally meet in the same frame the effect is even more marked.  However, whilst the Tenth Doctor swansong The End Of Time is inferior to this Series Three closer, it is ahead in terms of offering decent one-on-one material for two of Britain's most respected screen actors.

The 'Toclafane' - a name from young Gallifreyan fairy tales – essentially act as the Master’s force of marauding assassins. But they are a pretty neat invention, in that they combine a distinct monster look with some semblance of a disturbingly imbalanced personality. Having multiple voices to breathe life into them is also a great production choice. The story behind who these creatures are is kept mysterious for now in this particular outing. If one were to be overly critical, they could be accused of looking somewhat like the confectionary Maltesers - especially when the pulsating Voodoo Child track plays out for a distinctly long stretch. Using a piece of popular chart music was a bold move by Davies and can perhaps be seen as risking dating the production. But taken as a suitably offbeat piece of rhythmical noise, that the Master would choose to celebrate his crowning moment with, it is more than appropriate. Also, this is one of the few moments in the show at the time when composer Murray Gold is not providing persistently stirring backing music to the onscreen drama. 

Series Three did a serviceable job of giving the viewer a clan of relatives to make Martha’s attachment to Earth mean something, and managed to be both similar enough but also distinctly different from the dynamic that Rose Tyler had in terms of her original 'home'. Furthermore, some good groundwork was done in terms of exploring just why Martha eventually chose not to remain by the Doctor's side full time. Adjoa Andoh is probably the best performer out of this family group, and combines steely determination with a subtle sense of really caring for all those closest to her. She would justifiably return in Series Four's closing pair of episodes, as well. Trevor Laird is notably stronger in his acting, than the very tired and ineffectual henchman role that was part of 1986's Mindwarp. He makes for a devoted father figure, and shows some real bravery in helping the Doctor's party evade capture. Reggie Yates is the kind of casting choice that peppered the 1980s under John Nathan-Turner's watch, and is engaging enough. It is a rather generic brother role as Leo, however, and there is virtually no character development that the show normally pulled off so well by now. Also, for whatever reason, Yates barely features in this episode, and contributes even less in the following one. Martha's other sibling Tish, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw is perhaps the best used recurring character in terms of the Saxon Arc itself, and is performed with conviction throughout. Much like Freema Agyeman, Mbatha-Raw has had a very fine career post-Doctor Who.

Martha herself remains a solid companion, with Ageyman really selling the reveal that the Master is the most powerful man in the country. The response to the startling impact of her 'normal' world being so drastically changed is a strong core theme of this multiparter, and plays out with full effect in the ensuing Last Of The Time Lords. As this episode comes to its cliff-hanger ending, the viewer is utterly captivated as to how Dr Jones will cope without her near-immortal mentor. Like Rose she is capable and independent, but has usually needed some superior experience and incredible intellect from the Doctor to overcome the problem at hand. This particular challenge is mountainous to put it mildly.

The Tenth Doctor putting his mind to work (Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/images/S3_12)

Captain Jack perhaps is just more along for the ride after some very good material in the preceding episode where he sought some kind of acknowledgement from the Doctor. Of course, he does helps with the escape back to present day Earth - conveyed in a frenetic flash back - and he also gets to do a (very deliberate) plug for his own spin off Torchwood. Otherwise he is arguably surplus to immediate story requirements, and also suffers yet another helpless 'death' - this time at the hands of the Master, and his upgraded sonic screwdriver. This disconcerting cycle of painful demise and lurching back to life in traumatic fashion has been echoed in more recent times in the Forever TV series. Whilst short-lived at just one season, that particular show had a lead character - Henry Morgan - that has some minor similarities with the Jack Harkness character.

Pacing in this story is mostly good, and the episode packs a lot into its duration (which is slightly longer than the average of most episodes that year). The climax plays out for a good ten minutes, and thus is both truly riveting and furthers the long-running story concerning Harold Saxon, that first was glimpsed back in Love And Monsters. Most of the earlier sections are breathless chasing or exposition, with some detail on the Master's raison d'etre, and what he means to the Doctor. The whole thing could so easily be rushed, but in the hands of the dependable Colin Teague, it all comes together sufficiently well.

One recurring plot point which was a little less welcome was the call-back to The Lazarus Experiment, which many still regard as the weakest story of the run of thirteen episodes. Having the Doctor rendered helpless was a good idea on paper, but the choice here is to make him look like an especially ancient-looking man. Whilst showcasing good make up it never really adds much to the overall story, and would lead to the regrettable 'Harry Potter' CGI imp the following week. Perhaps something different, which rendered our main man immobile and slow of wits, would have worked better. 

Although much of the episode is focused on action, satire or re-establishing the Doctor-Master rivalry, the most moving and powerful portion concerns some exposition and visual display of Gallifrey and its orange skies. This is portrayed so much better on a respectable TV budget, compared to the closest precedent in the six-part 1970s serial The Invasion of Time. The narrated flashback makes use again of the poignant music Gold previously used in Utopia, and this backing track seems even more appropriate, as the key to the scene is making the viewer care for the Master through showing him in the form of a mere innocent child. Some mysterious and anonymous Time Lords also feature, with the scene notably breaking the ethnic onscreen barrier which for so long had been a minus point concerning the Doctors home world TV stories.


SUMMARY :

Whilst a little lacking in fully combining both fun adventure and true depth in terms of themes and moral lessons, this is still a good episode in a generally strong second full season for the Tenth Doctor. In comparison to the prior Utopia, it is a small step down in most respects, but many other stories would also struggle to compare favourably. Taken on its own merits, it is still a great watch, and has stood the test of time well. Back in mid-2007, the season finale was set up with a very dark and intriguing premise, and most regular viewers at the time were left desperate to see how it played out.





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?







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