Classic Who

In the beginning was the curd

First, this.

Doctor_Pun5

I frequent two Facebook Who groups, one of which is devoted exclusively to Classic content (1963-1996, with concessions for Big Finish). It’s a nice, tightly run group with decent moderation and friendly banter, but one thing that occasionally frustrates me is a certain disdain towards negativity. It’s not quite the “everyone’s opinion is equally valid” rubbish that I had to put up with in GCSE RE, but it seems that dumping on the bad stuff is frowned upon. If you mention that Adric was a douche, for example, you’ll frequently get a bunch of people telling you that no, he was good, and it’s wrong to single him out, to which I typically reply that no, he was a douche.

The same thing goes when it comes to discussing individual episodes: a common response is “It was a good story, and I don’t understand the hate”. Frequently these are people who assume that if you dump on stories from 1985 you have a personal vendetta against Colin Baker. It’s as if the concept of quality control is entirely meaningless. I wouldn’t mind, but when this came up the other week the story being discussed was ‘The Twin Dilemma’. After pointing out the disastrous script, the unlikeable Doctor, the narrative-that-goes-nowhere and the dreadful acting from the twins (honestly, my dining table is less wooden), my closing response was “I think there are worse, and these things are always going to be a bit subjective, but if you really can’t understand why so many people hate it so much I might diplomatically suggest you haven’t really watched it properly.”

I mentioned a while back that whenever I’m done watching a Classic story, I’ll email Gareth a list of bullet points. I also mentioned that ‘Warriors of the Deep’ arguably warranted its own entry, and it does, just about. This is not a lengthy discussion – ook, there’s plenty of sensible critique about ‘Warriors’ out on the interweb, and you don’t need another essay from me as to why it’s the worst Silurian story of the lot (and yes, I’m factoring in ‘Cold Blood’). Instead, you may have my bullet points, occasionally embellished with images.

– I love Tegan opening the ‘stuck’ door with no effort at all, particularly as it comes hot on the heels of a documentary I was watching this morning about women in Doctor Who and whether they were portrayed properly. (It features an irritating DW Magazine girl saying “No, I don’t think strong female villains are empowering…”)

– Someone call International Rescue, and tell the Tracy Brothers we’ve found those missing outfits.

Warriors_Costumes

– Stupid guard moment #1: they walk into the chemical lab, purposely looking for intruders, say “Nah, no sign of them here”, and they don’t bother checking behind the shelves. THEY DON’T BOTHER CHECKING BEHIND THE SHELVES.

– When I was a kid I watched an episode of Grange Hill when Jeremy was larking about in the swimming pool, and drowns. There is a reason, I think, why three decades later this is just about the only episode of the programme I can actually remember. The end of episode one of this is a bit like that, without the acne.

– Stupid guard moment #2: two of them, patrolling the perimeter, fail to notice an unconscious crew member left IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CORRIDOR ABOUT SIX FEET AWAY.

– The Manipulator. It’s like one of these:

Adictaball

– Ooh. Stunts. And the Second Doctor’s catchphrase. As long as you ignore the wobbly scenery, this is quite exciting.

– Oh dear God the Myrka.

– “Help! We’re being attacked by a green pantomime horse and I can’t get out from under this polystyrene door!”

– Hang on, did Solow really just try and do kung-fu on the horse? Because I think that’s a contender for ‘most stupid kamikaze move in history’. Almost as silly as attacking a Dalek with a baseball bat.

– They left the TARDIS doors unlocked. They LEFT THE TARDIS DOORS UNLOCKED.

– Unfortunate, really, that the chief sea devil has a name that (in the filtered voice of a Silurian) sounds rather like ‘Cervix’.

When I sent the Davison-does-mail-order image to Gareth, his response was “Surely there should be a Little Miss Moffett somewhere?”

I said “Funny you should mention that…”

LittleMissMoffat

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You said that you’d had only one!

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

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The Hagbourne Invasion

A while back I mentioned that ‘The Android Invasion’ was filmed in East Hagbourne, just up the road from here. In something of an exclusive, here are some photos Emily found in a now defunct Facebook group, including one of Tom Baker holding a cat.

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Baker 3

Baker

I have no idea who any of these people are, but there’s something curiously satisfying about that second image – and the last one is rather sweet, really. “Although,” says Gareth, “a ‘Tom Baker’ sounds like someone to keep away from cats.”

He adds “If you look for ‘tom baker cat’ on Google Images, you find a lot of pictures of Baker with cats. And also this ‘Dr. Who Neo Traditional cat tattoo’.”

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“Neo-traditional…?” we both said. Really, the mind boggles.

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Certain gases in the Praxis range

There will be many of you who, like me, have smirked at the recent news about David Cameron’s Photoshopped poppy. It’s not as bad as shagging a dead pig, but still. All the ‘oversight’ excuses in the world won’t wash.

Except I’ve done a little digging, and it seems everyone’s at it. Even in Doctor Who.

Doctor_Celery

 

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Return to Paradise Towers

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Memory’s a funny thing. It’s literally not what it used to be. You can’t trust it. There are people in my family who will often claim the high ground in any argument with the words “I know what I saw”. To which the obvious answer is, in the words of Steven Novella, “No you don’t. You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.”

For example, fellow blogger Frivolous Monsters once recounted a tale of how a slightly awkward exchange with Jon Pertwee, some two decades previously, was actually far less awkward in reality than it had been in his head. It is a good story, and worth reading. But his point – and mine – is that it’s very easy to look back at a not-so-terrible thing and make it far more terrible for the sake of dramatic emphasis, or perhaps because it somehow defines who you are. On a lesser scale, ‘Paradise Towers’ is thus what I am going to term ‘one of my Pertwee moments’, largely because when I watched it again the other week it was far less terrible than I remembered it.

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1987 was a dark place in Doctor Who’s history. The new theme was plodding and tedious. The Rani – one of the most potentially interesting villains – was reduced to cosplay. The companion was all about stage school theatrics and a lot of screaming. A wig stood in for Colin Baker. Pip and Jane’s script for the series opener was a disaster, and ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ wasn’t much better. Until two weeks ago I used to tell people that ‘Dragonfire’ was the only half-decent story of the lot (and even that lost a lot in translation) but as it turns out, I rather misremembered my childhood. Because it turns out that the Doctor and Mel’s little foray into a derelict block of flats is, in fact, really rather good.

The story – such as it is – concerns a lot of back and forth between one lair and another, with groups of isolated factions locked in a stalemate that goes back decades. The building’s architect turned out to be a twisted maniac whose quest for perfection extended to murdering the people who wanted to live in his buildings, lest they should spoil them; the citizens of Paradise Towers thus banded together and left him trapped in the basement, creating a monster in the process. Meanwhile, the grown-ups have gone to fight a war (with the exception of the cowardly Pex – more on him later) leaving their children to spend adolescence roaming the complex in an extended game of capture-the-flag, while the caretakers clean up the graffiti and the elderly cower behind locked doors, eating the rats and occasionally each other.

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It’s an intriguing premise, and it owes as much to the writer’s experience of council estate London as it does to J.G. Ballard. The lifts never reach the right floors. “Let me tell you,” says Stephen Wyatt in a Doctor Who Magazine interview, “about the lifts. They had no numbers for the floors on them. They were just tin boxes and you got into them. And you pressed a button and went up in them and a door opened and it may or may not have been the floor you wanted. But kids would get in the lift and press at random seven or eight buttons and get out again. So when you got into the lift it had six previous instructions to complete and in the end, in despair, I got out on a floor at random and walked up the rest of the stairs.”

Wandering the corridors are the Kangs, gangs of teenage girls (all the boys, presumably, off fighting the war) whose rivalry is based solely on what colour they do their hair. They have names like Bin Liner and Fire Escape, play games with the secret alleviators (no, that’s not a typographical error) and use the words “Ice hot” at every conceivable opportunity. The one remaining yellow Kang is killed at the start of the story, leaving only two gangs remaining: they’re much of a muchness, but one assumes that at every Doctor Who convention there is at least one argument over whether the Red Kangs or the Blue Kangs were best. (Curiously, the first series of Red Dwarf – which aired the following year – featured an episode wherein red and blue hats were the cause of a devastating religious war between two sects of a race of cat people. I would like to hope this is not a coincidence.)

Of course, when you actually go into one of the flats, you’re not necessarily any safer. The residences in Paradise Towers are occupied by British character actresses, including Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce as the deliciously horrible Tilda and Tabby (so named, apparently, when Wyatt overcame writer’s block by glancing down at his keyboard), and Judy Cornwell (Keeping Up Appearances) as their timid-but-righteous neighbour. It is Tilda and Tabby who are the most fun to watch, particularly in the earlier scenes in which the cannibalistic undertones bubble under the surface like the bubbles in a witch’s cauldron. Pex and Mel even play Hansel and Gretel, after a fashion, although it’s Mel who almost ends up in the oven. This is, as I discovered, a wonderful way to frighten your children, if you show them the story in the evening:

MEL: You are joking, aren’t you? Tilda? Tabby?
TABBY: We don’t see this as a matter for humour, Mel dear. We mean every word.
[Tabby menaces Mel with the toasting fork while Tilda throws a shawl over Mel’s face.]
TILDA: In our experience, Mel dear, it is much better not to struggle too much. It only causes needless distress.
[Mel screams. Roll credits.]
ME: Right, bedtime.

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Sadly Mel doesn’t get eaten. It might have evened up the narrative a bit: her behaviour throughout the story is so irrational it borders on the insane. The rot sets in as early as the first episode, with the irritating fitness freak sitting cosy and snug inside Tilda and Tabby’s apartment, greedily consuming cakes and crumpets by the dozen (this, lest we forget, is the woman who offered to make the Doctor carrot juice and put an exercise bike in the TARDIS). I could live with her dietary slips – although I imagine that next Weight Watchers’ meeting would be rather awkward – but not once does the odd behaviour of her hosts appear to faze her. It is like a scene from an Enid Blyton novel, with optional homicide (including a kitchen knife that would land the BBC in hot water come the following week’s Points of View).

But that’s not the worst of it. Some time later, Mel (in the company of Pex, here to put the world of Paradise Towers to rights) finally reaches her Mecca, which takes the form of the swimming pool on the top floor. It’s where she is supposed to meet the Doctor, but in spite of all that’s happened – homicidal robots, sadistic jobsworth bureaucrats and Twisted Sister’s entire fanbase – Mel’s first priority is to undress and go swimming. “Look, here it is!” she exclaims in delight. “Oh, it’s just how I imagined it.” It is, in fact, a rather run-of-the-mill swimming pool, and Mel’s exuberant enthusiasm is somewhat baffling – I appreciate that locations couldn’t be helped, but surely they could have toned it down? Five minutes later, and Mel’s in the middle of a dip – presumably she was wearing the costume under her clothes, which must have chafed a bit given all the ruffles – only to be attacked by a sinister yellow crab that’s been watching them the whole time and that nobody saw, despite it taking up half the pool. Not long afterwards, the bedraggled computer programmer is looking rather forlorn on a sunlounger. “Pex?” she says, mournfully. “I’m sorry.” So are we, Mel. So are we.

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Most of this is not the fault of Bonnie Langford, even if she plays Mel the way she played just about everything in the 70s and 80s: as if she’s on a stage, rather than in front of a camera. Subtlety goes out of the window, down the road to the shops and then hops on a bus to Frinton. But the fact that the programme was in flux didn’t help matters: “There was a companion,” says Wyatt, “who had no definable character except she was played by Bonnie Langford, and so again the writing was very generic. This is no criticism of Bonnie at all, it’s just that Bonnie wasn’t given anything to do except what she’d always done – which was to scream.” By all accounts (all right, Gareth Robert’s account) she is currently very good in Eastenders. “Just imagine,” Roberts tweeted just the other week, “if she’d been given proper acting to do in Doctor Who“.

It’s not all Mel. Richard Briers’ performance is somewhat ham-fisted in the final episode and annoyingly twitchy in the first three. On the other hand, perhaps this is exactly what the story needs. Certainly his zombie mode is practically Shakespearian. He’s also hindered by poor characterisation: the chief architect, supposedly the mastermind behind the entire scheme, goes to his grave as an almost criminally underdeveloped villain. We know next to nothing about him save the manifestation of bloodlust; as in ‘The Satan Pit’ it’s left to the Doctor to provide all the exposition. This wouldn’t be a problem but the monster has a voice of its own – it just doesn’t say much beyond “HUNGRY!” and “DESTROY ALL HUMANS!”.

This is a shame, because other characters work very well. The Kangs are all basically nondescript clones, but Pex is an unexpected delight. I use the word ‘unexpected’ because in 1987, I absolutely hated Pex (and it’s this, I’m sure, that forms the bulk of my prior aversion towards the story). He struck me as irritating and ridiculous. With the benefit of almost three decades of hindsight, it’s far easier to see him for what he is: a lampoon of 1980s action heroes, brawny but ultimately useless. It’s partly the casting – the DVD documentary reports that several more muscular men were turned down because they looked ridiculous standing next to Bonnie Langford, but Howard Cooke has enough build to pop a seam while simultaneously managing to look (and sound) like someone who’s actually far less capable than he actually is. Pex’s character has a beginning (although that’s mostly backstory), a middle and an end – something comparatively rare in 1980s Who – and there’s something very satisfying about his final, rather uneven redemption. He dies a hero, but a suitably reluctant one, and this makes his journey all the more believable.

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Other things: the Kangs’ tendency to misuse words echoes Orwell, but the mythology constructed from a lifetime of roaming derelict corridors is reasonably solid, and it’s quite fun to listen to them. Certain suspensions of disbelief are required – the adoption of ‘Build high for happiness’ as a greeting seems a little odd, given that the Kangs spend most of their time on the lower levels, and is it really likely that they would know ‘unalive’ but not ‘dead’? And my goodness, the counting. Half the script seems to be a recitation of numbers – rules, floors, Caretaker IDs. ‘Half’ is, of course, something of an exaggeration, but let’s just say we don’t go short. In fact there are so many that I took the liberty of putting them all together.

You see what I mean.

Look, some of it’s a mess. The lighting is all over the place – or rather it isn’t, taking its cue instead from the harsh studio lighting that blights much Classic Who (see ‘The Happiness Patrol’, which would have worked beautifully on film). Lines like “We’ll send the cleaners to the cleaners!” are cloying, and Mel’s spotty outfit is a train wreck. But there’s something infectiously silly about this whole setup – something that makes ‘Paradise Towers’ more, somehow, than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it’s McCoy, who makes the most of a script that could have been written for just about any Doctor, largely because the Seventh Doctor had yet to be fleshed out when Wyatt hit deadline. Perhaps it’s Howard Cooke, who steals most of the scenes he’s in. Or perhaps it’s Clive Merrison, who by turns manages to be menacing and ultimately heroic. In any event, ‘Paradise Towers’ works. You feel, somehow, that it shouldn’t. But it does. Rather like those alleviators.

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The E-Space Trilogy Trilogy: Part Three (Warriors’ Gate)

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Trilogies are a mixed bag. Many have exemplary first installments and then less-than-wonderful denouements, which often happens when a film that was always intended to be standalone – or which would have worked best as standalone – has a couple of sequels tacked onto it years later (Wachowski brothers, I’m looking at you). At other times, a work that is clearly designed to have multiple parts spends the first two hours setting everything up, building to a wondrous (and usually fairly dark) middle segment and then a letdown (colossal or otherwise) of a finale: see The X-Men, and to a lesser extent the Lord of the Rings films, which peaked at Helm’s Deep and never really recovered. You could also group the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films into this category if you wanted, although that perhaps ties the films together with tighter bonds than are perhaps deserved.

Which leads me to my point. Viewed objectively – and within context – the E-Space trilogy, like Raimi’s, was never really a trilogy at all. But it is treated as such by many, including the 2 Entertain folks, and me, at least for the purposes of the three articles I’ve produced this past week or so. (Of course, the 2 Entertain DVD sets are occasionally a little tenuous in terms of their choice of linking material. Chronicling the narratives of Peladon or the Mara is perfectly acceptable, but frequently bad stories are dropped in with good ones – The Bred For War Sontaran Collection springs to mind, as does the combination of ‘Time-Flight’ with ‘Arc of Infinity’, although at least those stories are loosely connected. Most baffling of all is the inexplicably titled Earth Story, which pairs ‘The Gunfighters’ with ‘The Awakening’ – two stories with absolutely nothing in common except that they’re set on Earth, along with about two thirds of the rest of the canon.)

But the advantage of treating these three stories in this manner is that the trilogy closes with its strongest work, one that is stylistically more or less unique to Doctor Who, perhaps to television in general. It is a story that polarises its audience, as (to quote Gareth, who nonetheless loves it as much as I do) “in some ways nothing much happens, and it does it confusingly”. Certainly it is not a story to show to a first-time viewer, or perhaps even a casual viewer, if only because it will either put them off the show forever or unceremoniously dump them into a pit of despair when they subsequently discover that nothing (save perhaps ‘The Mind Robber’) is quite as unusual or distinctive. It is boldly written and even more boldly directed, fusing Oriental mysticism with time travel and blending it with an enigmatic alien race and a crazed, Ahab-like space captain and his crew of nonchalant slavers.

Let’s take that opening. The first two minutes of ‘Warriors’ Gate’ are a mesmerising crawl through a clapped out space freighter of unknown origin or destination. The camera pans out through a cryogenic chamber and up through maintenance decks, harsh lights shining through steel mesh walkways. Graffiti – in ominous red – is smeared across a wall. Peter Howell’s mysterious atonal synth drones in the background, but otherwise the only thing to break the silence is a solitary male voice, counting down.

It is stylish and eerie – the similarity to Alien, released the previous year, is perhaps not a coincidence, and Joyce’s debt to Jean Cocteau is well-established – but you can understand why John Nathan Turner freaked out. His clashes with Paul Joyce are well-documented, with Joyce even being replaced on one occasion when his sense of cinematic ambition clashed with time and budget constraints. He’s filming off set, for goodness’ sake, although you wouldn’t necessarily know unless you were working at the BBC. Even years later, Joyce is fiercely unapologetic in the making of documentary that accompanies ‘Warriors’ Gate’, describing it as “either a partial success or a glorious failure”, and reasoning that he wanted to make the sort of programme that you or I would watch – “you, and my kids, who grew up to love it”.

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Whatever Joyce’s motives and the extent to which he succeeded (or did not, depending on whom you ask), the beginning of ‘Warriors’ Gate’ is, somehow, everything the opening to ‘The Leisure Hive’ should have been, but wasn’t. The heavily cinematic direction extends beyond the opening scenes: late in the story, the Doctor enters a mysterious mirror universe which consists of a series of monochromatic stills (Powys Castle and Oxford’s Rousham Gardens) meant to symbolise the decaying kingdom of the Tharils. Excessive CSO can work against a story – it was arguably the downfall of ‘Underworld’, even though hands were tied – but here the very fact that it looks utterly unreal is all part of the fun. This is to say nothing of the white set that symbolises the intersecting point of E-Space and N-Space, and from which half the TARDIS crew eventually depart. It’s familiar, if you know your Troughton, but it works, even within the context of the narrative: this is null space, steadily contracting, thus giving pace to the narrative. That doesn’t stop the juxtaposition of crumbling ruin and obvious blue green screen from having an apparent influence on the much later Knightmare. You almost expect Rorvik to stop in front of the door, feet together and hands by his sides, and ask “Where am I?”.

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But the direction takes much of its cue from Stephen Gallagher’s script, which manages to stay the right side of quirky, by the skin of its teeth. Metaphor and poetic reflection are abundant; at other times it feels as quirky and sparse as the dialogue in, say, Blade Runner. There are three things going on here: the banter between Ward and Baker, with occasional interruptions from Adric; the detached lamentation of the Tharils, who mourn their past mistakes with the same heavy sense of regret that must have plagued the Israelites in Babylon; and, lastly, the sense of gradual disintegration on board the spacecraft, with a disaffected crew and a captain who wears their casual insubordination almost like a badge of honour.

RORVIK: Well?
PACKARD: It’s a solid object.
RORVIK: Check.
LANE: These readings don’t make sense.
RORVIK: Oh, give me a printout.
LANE: It’s a ship.
PACKARD: What, for midgets?
LANE: Or a coffin for a very large man.
RORVIK: Yes, all right, that’s enough of that. Let’s bust it open.

(All extracts from Chrissie’s Transcript Site.)

A word about Rorvik: Clifford Rose plays him with all the grandiose weariness of the king in a Shakespearian tragedy, or at least an Antigonus or Polonius. A slaver by trade, his downfall is charted through antipathy towards his cargo and obsession with getting home, and is punctuated by poor leadership skills, with the captain pulling a gun on his crew to demand their attention. Capable of utter menace when he is moodily shot from below as the Doctor ascends a ladder, he is then seen – moments later – emerging covered in dust in the aftermath of a failed explosion, in one of the story’s most comic moments, like one of those Laurel and Hardy cartoons where Oliver runs out of the room carrying a bomb, which then explodes offscreen. But the captain is no bumbling-but-lovable fool: he remains, at the last, utterly chilling in his incompetence, his trajectory concluding in fire, and with the words “I’M FINALLY GETTING SOMETHING DONE!”.

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“Do nothing”, indeed, is the mantra for much of the narrative. Rorvik’s determination to take action is his eventual undoing: conversely it is only by stilling themselves and actively doing nothing that the Doctor and Romana, in the company of Biroc, are able to escape the inferno. Those of you who read my reviews will know that I took particular issue with three episodes in the last series (‘Listen‘, ‘Kill The Moon‘, ‘In The Forest of the Night‘) in which inaction turned out to be the only logical course of events, but there’s a difference between jamming a story with decisive action – and then deflating the tension in the closing minutes – and making the idea of inaction central to the narrative, which is what happens here, very early on:

DOCTOR: It’s jammed. I’ve lost control. We’re adrift in E-space.
ROMANA: Come on, Doctor. We’ve got to do something.
DOCTOR: Have we?
ROMANA: What do you mean?
DOCTOR: Maybe that’s it.
ROMANA: What, drifting?
DOCTOR: The way out of E-space.

As much as I like Biroc, sadly, the Tharils do not survive with their dignity intact. Part of the problem is age: the physical resemblance to the beast from Beauty and the Beast is presumably intentional, but would manifest in popular culture in the late 1980s in one particularly memorable form, and it is hard to take the race of hairy time-sensitive creatures seriously after you’ve seen them with their arms round Sarah Connor.

The first real indication we get of Biroc’s general benevolence, of course, is a scene that follows the episode two cliffhanger, in which Romana wears the same headphones we’ve seen in at least three other stories, as the hairy beast stalks through the decks of the ship in a manner that mimics the opening shot. Other times he’s usually seen walking, or standing very still, as if contemplating something important and OH LOOK THERE IT IS AGAIN.

Warriors-Abba

I haven’t mentioned plot, because it plays second fiddle to the atmosphere (and because, candidly, I still don’t entirely understand it). As well-written as it is, a dissection here would somehow miss the point. It’s certainly a nice final story for Romana, whose Chinese-style attire mirrors the Asian philosophy running throughout each episode, and who symbolically uses her full name (Romanadvoratrelundar) for the first time since ‘The Ribos Operation’. Her departure is brief, and to a certain extent foreshadowed throughout the three tales we’ve discussed due to her obvious reluctance to return to Gallifrey – although her reasons for staying in E-Space are rather fudged. It’s no great secret that by this point in proceedings Baker and Ward were congregating at opposite ends of the rehearsal room, barely on speaking terms (shouting is another matter, of course), although the two would go on to marry shortly afterwards, for reasons I’ve never really been able to fathom. Whatever Baker’s feelings on the matter, the Doctor is certainly affected more than he lets on, as is demonstrated by his shortness with Adric, although I suppose it’s relatively easy to be short with Adric, even when (as in part four) he actually does something sensible that helps everyone else.

Certainly it is almost inconceivable to imagine the likes of ‘Warriors’ Gate’ being made today. Perhaps the closest in tone was ‘The Girl Who Waited’, with its minimalist sets, at least in the early parts of the story; or (in the very next episode) ‘The God Complex’, which is as brilliantly directed as anything in New Who. Alas, such bold strokes are few and far between. It’s partly the BBC’s reluctance to meddle with an obvious cash cow, and partly because there is perhaps little new that can be said by television – but it’s also true that much of what we would now term ‘innovation’ was born in the creative fires of constraint. ‘Spearhead From Space’, for example, was shot solely on film because they couldn’t shoot on set, while episode one of ‘The Mind Robber’ exists only because the series was running short and an extra installment was needed at next to no cost. The closest we get to that today is the absence of a key figure, such as the Doctor himself, and it’s worth bearing in mind that were it not for filming schedule clashes we would not have ‘Blink’. (Of course, we also wouldn’t have ‘Love and Monsters’, so go figure.)

But perhaps it’s time. Nick Hurran has already directed some of my favourite stories (and the ones that were dreadful, such as ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, were let down chiefly by poor writing) and he’s the safest pair of hands, but it would be interesting to see what would happen were he (or, indeed, anyone else) to push the boat out a little further. The worst that could happen would be bad Doctor Who, and perhaps that’s better than lacklustre Doctor Who. It’s tempting, when you have a formula that works, to do nothing. But inaction will get you only so far. We saw – in ‘Full Circle’ – the results of years of inaction, and ‘Warriors’ Gate’ shows the opposite end of the spectrum, and the detrimental impact of unnecessary action. Sandwiched in the middle like an elderly relative at someone’s party, ‘State of Decay’ nonetheless continues the theme by briefly debating the idea of action vs. procrastination-masked-as-preparation, as epitomised by Kalmar, and then adds vampires.

Well, how about that. Perhaps they really were a trilogy after all.

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The E-Space Trilogy Trilogy: Part Two (State of Decay)

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‘State of Decay’ is a story I’ve loved since my childhood. It has three menacing villains, all of whom happen to be vampires. It has a cautious message about the dangers of allowing myth and superstition to usurp the use of technology. It also has a genuinely exciting ending, at least on paper. Of all the Doctor Who stories in the Classic run, this is quite possibly the one I remember the most vividly, with the likes of “SEE! THE GREAT ONE RISES!” becoming part of my vocabulary long before I reached puberty, which is when that line took on a whole new meaning. Yes, ‘State of Decay’ has been a favourite for years.

But I only saw it for the first time two weeks ago.

Let me explain. When I was ten I received a set of cassette tapes that contained an audiobook recording of a Doctor Who story I’d never encountered before. The cover featured the head and neck of a weary-looking Fourth Doctor, standing just outside the TARDIS, apparently frowning at something off camera. (It would take me years to discover that this was his default expression.) Tom Baker himself was reading, although I would eventually find out that it was something of an abridged version, and one which took certain liberties – the Doctor’s explanation of consonant shift, for example, is changed from the Brothers Grimm to the concept of Chinese Whispers, for reasons known only to its author. But I listened to it, and then listened to it again, and again, until I knew the thing – text, score and even Baker’s cadencing – more or less by heart.

Last year, to my great delight, I found the thing on YouTube, and here it is:

Sadly, the original version – with its godawful but strangely catchy ‘alternate’ theme, which sounds like something from a 1980s schools programme – seems to have been removed, but this is fine. (Besides, I have the original on MP3, so Thomas can listen to it, even if you can’t.)

If the E-Space trilogy is (as I mentioned last time) a series of contrasting stories with only the loosest of connections, that’s partly down to its production history. ‘State of Decay’ is easily the most conventional narrative of the three, coming across as curiously old-school – something that would have been better suited to the Hinchcliffe era. Which, of course, is exactly where it was supposed to go, with Terrance Dicks originally writing the thing with a view to including it in the Gothic period that now encompasses the likes of ‘Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘The Brain of Morbius’, among others. It’s now common knowledge that the BBC were, at the time, commissioning a new adaptation of Dracula, and wanted Doctor Who to steer clear of vampires on the grounds that they didn’t want them to take the piss.

Whether ‘State of Decay’ would have worked better as a Sarah Jane or Leela story is not for me to decide. Certainly it works fairly well as a Romana story, with Lalla Ward at her most clinical and detached – the sort of performance one might have expected more from Mary Tamm, perhaps. She is clearly still getting to know Adric; ‘Decay’ was filmed before ‘Full Circle’, and it shows. Adric is even more obnoxious here than he was in his previous outing, feigning brainwashing in order to subsequently botch a rescue attempt, when he’s not stealing food (again) or using elementary logic to outsmart K-9. The question of Adric siding with the villains is one that would be addressed again in ‘Four To Doomsday’, but here he’s as brattish as ever, snidely gloating “This is one time the goodies don’t get to win, after all”, and failing to come off either as a decent villain, or a decent hero pretending to be villainous. He’s no more than a pest. In fact I have refused to include him in any of the photos I’ve uploaded, so there.

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If Adric isn’t much cop (again) the supporting characters fare better. Arthur Hewlett (Quatermass and the Pit) excels as Kalmar, the ageing leader of a band of rebels who is using the need to accumulate knowledge as an excuse for not actually doing anything: in the Honey & Mumford questionnaire he would emerge on the far side of Theorist. Kalmar’s occasionally insubordinate deputies are desperate to free the village from the tyranny of the Three Who Rule, but Kalmar would rather watch television. This is, to all intents and purposes, an episode of South Park, with Hewlett playing the role of Eric Cartman. Small wonder that he wants to stay put, given that the computer in his den that contains ship’s manifests is none other than a BBC Micro, staple of school classrooms all over the country (when ‘computer time’ occurred once a term and was usually half an hour on the drawing software or a fruitless session with that wretched LOGO turtle). It all comes right in the closing minutes, naturally, when the Doctor persuades the rebels to mount an attack on the castle with a rousing speech.

Unfortunately, the attack is led by K-9. The incredulous looks from the rebels when the ” very useful tool…armoured…immune to hypnotism…dead shot with a nose laser” casually trundles out of the TARDIS is one of the story’s high points. The rebels’ world-weary scepticism is justified, to a point, because the adrenaline-soaked final attack on the tower consists largely of five or six bearded farmers shuffling along the corridor so they don’t fall over the tin dog. It’s like being stuck behind a pensioner on a staircase. Specifically, it’s like this man being stuck behind this pensioner on this staircase.

Most memorable in ‘State of Decay’ are the three villains. They rarely extend beyond camp and sinister – we are given only the briefest of glimpses into their former lives as officers on the Hydrax, and somehow this is not to the story’s detriment. It’s clear that Aukon is the leader of the trio, while the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ are essentially no more than figureheads, jealous that Aukon won’t share some of his toys. Both Rachel Davies and William Lindsay turn in fine, if functional performances, but Emrys James is a fantastically hammy Aukon, stealing one particular scene by bellowing “YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN! YOU HAVE BOTH BEEN CHOSEN!” with the sort of rapturous joy you saw all over the internet when ‘Night of the Doctor’ was released.

 

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It all looks very polished. Sets are ornate and well-realised (the designer admitting that she ‘nicked bits from other sets’, which was common practice), while location work is sparing but effective. And of course, Peter Moffatt’s direction really is rather good, even if some of his camera angles make me feel like I’m watching a mid-70s Abba video.

The ending of ‘State of Decay’ rather lets it down a bit, alas. In the first instance, it takes the Doctor an interminably long time to work out that the best candidate for a supersized bolt of steel is sitting right under his nose – or, rather, above it, in the scout ship at the top of the tower. It’s safe to say, in fact, that there is an awful lot of filler in those closing episodes, predominantly in the form of lengthy conversations between Baker and Leeson as they search through the TARDIS archives, presumably having a look at the crossword when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Then there’s the ship itself, which looks like an early production design for Thunderbirds but which moves like something from Button Moon, only somehow less convincing. It plunges back down in a straight vertical trajectory directly into the heart of something we can’t even see, except for the huge hand waving from the hole in the floor. “It’s just a bit silly,” as Gareth explains. “That it could be aimed that well, despite being a giant rocket that goes up and down, and despite the Doctor not knowing whereabouts the heart of the Great Vampire is going to be since it’s underground.  That it could pierce the heart, which would require a particular orientation of the Vampire – if it were more upright, then it would need to go in via the top of the head.  That it’s pointy enough, even though it is very pointy.  And that it’s a ‘stake through the heart’.”

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“He’s been down there,” I suggested, “and he felt the heartbeat, so perhaps he could triangulate.”

One of the Past Doctor Adventures, the confusing, unnecessarily convoluted and not entirely satisfying Eye of Heaven, is particularly silly in that regard. Here’s an extract, from the point of view of the Fourth Doctor.

“The fish were a day old, the birds were tern, recently arrived on their yearly migration, the oil needed changing, the smoke was derived from cannabis, the rotting vegetable matter was carrot, the animal matter was dead rat (being eaten by several more live rats), the pitch was cooling upon the hull of a nearby ship, the dog was old, a canny purebreed turned to the wild (rather like myself, I fancied), and the burning wood was laced with human sweat and with teak oil, normally used to seal the decking of a ship.

“All of which told me that somewhere nearby, a sailor had just thrown part of his lunch to a stray dog before grinding a strong toke out beneath his bare heel upon the deck of a ship recently arrived from the Indies, whose hull he was currently engaged in repairing. The Manganese I had detected came, no doubt, from tiny nodules lodged within the damaged section of hull. The nodules definitely originated on the sea bed and could only have been disturbed by a major storm. The fish go without saying, obviously. And the rats? Well… there are rats at the docks in any century.

“Not all of them are animals.

“I compressed my sensory input to human normal. This is something I do from time to time, a little game which keeps me entertained and alert, and I stepped away from the TARDIS.”

I mean honestly. I know he’s good, but he’s not bloody Superman.

Where were we? Oh yes. The ludicrous death of the giant vampire is followed by a slightly more impressive ageing effect, where the vampire lords decompose in a matter of seconds, leaving the Doctor to quip, Bond style, that “they just went to pieces”. It’s not quite Indiana Jones – nor, for that matter, is it ‘Dragonfire’ – but it’s fairly good. Although, as Gareth points out, “it is rather funny how the three of them all wobble together”.

Decay_Decomposition

 

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Despite the structural unevenness and ridiculous ending, this is a cheerful and enjoyable romp. Baker is back to his usual animated self – he hasn’t been this upbeat since ‘The Horns of Nimon’ – and the narrative is full of amusing silliness amidst the bats and the blood and the screaming. Adric is lamentable, but thankfully has comparatively little to do (Dicks was apparently unsure how to write him in, and it shows). Even the filler material is fun, with Dicks both playing loyal tribute to Hammer motifs (Gothic tower / terrified villagers / foolhardy stranger walking into certain death despite being warned off) and seemingly getting his own back on the BBC executives who threw out his script some years previously. When the Doctor asks K-9 for information on vampires, the tin dog remarks “My folklore section contains vampire lore from seventeen inhabited planets. I will begin with Earth, the legend of Count Dracula.”

“No thank you,” interrupts the Doctor, hurriedly. “Not Dracula…”

 

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The E-Space Trilogy Trilogy: Part One (Full Circle)

 

E-Space

I have a lot of correspondence with Gareth, but one regular occurrence in my outgoing mail is a list of bullet points about whatever Doctor Who story I happen to have watched that week. Said lists usually contain all the random things jumped out at me during a viewing – things I knew about in advance, or things that surprised me. Examples include –

  • She turned him into a tree. SHE TURNED HIM INTO A TREE!!!
  • I know you’re a wise pacifist with excellent diplomacy skills. But you’re wearing a dress.
  • Amusing that they had the Doctor run through the same passenger deck four times, and had the extras dressed in identical suits so that no one would notice.
  • WHY IS HE CLIMBING OVER THE LEDGE? WHY? WHY???
  • What on earth was JNT thinking, getting rid of Dudley Simpson?
  • So a sprout priest who lives in a hole, bunkered away from everyone else, is happy to give up his life and destroy an entire species on the word of a man who he’s only met once? I don’t care if he’s a telepath, that’s bloody stupid.
  • Oh, the adjudicator is the Master. Well, I never saw that coming.
  • I love the bit where the ‘You’ve got mail’ noise clangs for the second time and Troughton turns to Wendy Padbury and says “Sounds a bit like a dinner gong”, when you know full well that’s exactly what it was.
  • Oh my gosh, it’s a GIGANTIC NOB!

I will leave it to you to work out which belongs to which story, except to say that none of them are from ‘Warriors of the Deep’, because I’ve determined that the comments from that probably warrant their own post, which I’ll do sometime. (Suffice to say ‘Warriors’ really isn’t one of my favourites, although it does feature a pantomime horse.)

“It amazes me,” Gareth has said on at least one occasion, “just how much Classic Who you haven’t seen.” Which is a fair point, although one I’ve spent the last couple of years rectifying in earnest. Just the other week, for example, I finally got round to watching the E-Space trilogy, in which a twilight Fourth Doctor gets trapped in a parallel universe courtesy of a Charged Vacuum Emboitment (a concept that is eventually explained in ‘Logopolis’). The three stories contained therein are a hodgepodge of different styles and approaches (for reasons we’ll explore over the course of the next week or so) with only the loosest narrative thread connecting them all, but their main narrative purpose is to bring in Adric and, in the process, ditch Romana.

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When you write it down like that, it really seems like an unfair trade, and so it is. Romana is a sophisticated (if unworldly) intellectual with charm, grace and a fashion sense that borders on the iconic. She looks good in jodhpurs but can also outsmart the keenest mathematician. This is no screaming wallflower, and it is small wonder that men and women love her in equal measure, in both incarnations. (I’ve always been firmly in Lalla’s camp, but Mary Tamm was also marvellous, and sadly missed.)

By contrast, Adric is a precocious brat who dresses like he’s in a school play. He thinks largely of his stomach. Self-confidence in his natural ability is manifest in the most aggravating arrogance. Gershwin was a genius and knew he was a genius, but never boasted – he simply avoided the cardinal sin that is false modesty. Adric is like the kid at the top of the class who wants everyone else to know about it. Not all of this is Matthew Waterhouse’s fault. The kid was eighteen and inexperienced. He’s probably lovely in real life – certainly on the Saturday Superstore segment contained on the ‘Warriors’ Gate’ DVD he comes across as modest and good-humoured and entirely affable. (Of unending curiosity, of course, is his decision to write an autobiography, Blue Box Boy, in the third-person.) But character of Adric, and the way in which he’s written, do young Matthew absolutely no favours. It’s also fair to say that a more capable performer might have rendered Adric’s more irritating tendencies with a greater degree of pathos than Waterhouse is able to manage. Usually the only time anyone actually feels sorry for Adric is the final three minutes of ‘Earthshock’. Too little, too late.

You really don't want to know what he's thinking about right now.

You really don’t want to know what he’s thinking about right now.

It also doesn’t help that ‘Full Circle’ sees Adric at his most obnoxious, irritating and useless. It’s established fairly early that Adric is part of the ‘clever’ bunch of colonists (or are they?) that inhabit the planet Alzarius, where the TARDIS has landed. One of the first things we see him do is steal watermelons – badly – in an early attempt to establish the character as a kind of Artful Dodger, a trait that was swiftly and probably wisely abandoned, although the vacuum it left was never filled with any real success. “Of course I’m better than you,” he arrogantly assures a supporting character in the middle of a cave. “I’m an Elite.” This wouldn’t matter so much if Adric didn’t subsequently spend much of the episode fainting, getting involved in rubbish hijack attempts and generally being useless. In the episode two cliffhanger, Romana is being attacked by giant spiders, and Adric’s attempt to open the doors results in dematerialisation. Whereupon the irritating fuckwit glances briefly through the fourth wall before admitting “I think I’ve pulled the wrong lever.”

 

 

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Well. No shit, Sherlock. I’d like to say things improve, but really the only thing he manages to do right in this story is half-inch a McGuffin that the Doctor needs at a crucial moment. The more I see of Adric the more he winds me up – and if this sounds like the musings of a grumpy old man, I’d point out that I absolutely love K-9, even if the production team didn’t. It’s telling that the only reason Adric is in ‘State of Decay’ – which we’ll cover next time – is because he’s hidden on board the TARDIS, and that the Doctor’s first reaction is to want to take him straight home. This is, to be honest, a little cruel: the chap’s just lost his brother, and it is only by viewing ‘Full Circle’ – and the bequeathing of his brother’s belt – that we can fully appreciate the gravitas of that final scene with Adric, some ten stories later.

Adric-belt

Aside from the less-than-enthralling introduction to an almost universally unpopular companion, ‘Full Circle’ manages to be half evolution fable, half base-under-siege narrative. The central concept is that of a group of colonists trapped on Alzarius, led (badly) by a group of inept bureaucrats ironically known as ‘Deciders’. The Deciders have turned the simple task of ship repairs into a kind of religion – or, at the very least, the beginnings of a mythology. This is played out by having James Bree (Nefred) bellow “Continue…the work…of maintenance”, in the sort of tones one usually finds in a Shakespearian soliloquy.

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The running joke in the story is the general inability of the Deciders to actually decide anything, as is epitomised by this scene – running like something from Yes, Minister – in which Login, the newest Decider, tries to convince his superiors that an imminent attack might be a good reason to close the door…

LOGIN: It might be possible to close this substructure.
GARIF: No, it seems as if the marsh creatures are already inside the main hull.
LOGIN: The bulkheads, sir?
NEFRED: One recourse, certainly.
LOGIN: Nefred, Garif, we must close these bulkheads and these, and we must gather the citizens in here at once.
GARIF: Yes, I see the plan has some merit in it.
LOGIN: And we must do it quickly.
NEFRED: We must certainly respond to this crisis on a real time basis, Decider Login, but appropriately.
GARIF: Decider Nefred is right, Decider Login.
NEFRED: I have been constructing the histories of our relationship with the marsh men.
GARIF: While a single defense response has a certain appeal, we must also consider the long-term consequences.
LOGIN: It’s not a defensive response.
NEFRED: We need a holistic approach, I think.
GARIF: I wonder if you’ve had time to consult this manual on the peripheral unit power supplies.

(Transcript, as ever, from Chrissie’s Transcript Site. Thanks again, Chrissie.)

It’s left to the Doctor to uncover the truth: the Deciders have been getting the colonists to take the ship apart and put it back together over and over again, over the course of hundreds of years, simply because no one knows how to fly it. I can sort of relate to this – the very same evening I watched this, Thomas spent fifteen minutes ‘tidying’ the bricks by putting them back in the tub and then taking them out again to build something. But while the concept makes utter sense to the Deciders, the visiting Time Lords find it utterly ludicrous. Or, as Timothy Spall would have put it, it’s like being stuck on the crap version of Rimmer for four years.

“That bit is a nice idea,” says Gareth. “Although it’s a bit silly when the Doctor just pulls away a rack of pigeonholes to reveal the technology beneath. No-one ever noticed?”

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Speaking of the Doctor, he’s arguably the weak link in the story. I love Tom Baker as much as anyone, but on the basis of this performance, he appears to have had enough. It’s a recurring theme of this season (see ‘The Leisure Hive’, in which the Doctor is clearly spent even before he ages a hundred years), but it’s particularly prevalent on Alzarius. Part of the apparent gloominess is almost certainly John Nathan Turner reigning him in, after the excesses of the Graham Williams / Douglas Adams era, but rarely has he been so sombre. Even the jokes lack their usual panache (“Short trips don’t usually work,” he quips to Adric. “Ah well. Here’s hopping”). It’s a shame, because some of the emotional pathos is undermined, and the Doctor’s general gloominess in supposedly upbeat scenes makes for a lesser contrast with the moments when he’s supposed to be genuinely angry. Late in the story, he fends off the approaching Marshmen with the severed head of the robot dog, in a sequence that ought to be comic, but which instead plays out like something from a Greek tragedy, or perhaps Dr. Faustus.

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Suffice to say this is the least interesting – and, ultimately, least worthy – entry in the set, but it was written by a seventeen-year-old, and its failings are as much down to pedestrian direction and thin characterisation as much as they are to anything else. In the end, the Marshmen are revealed as the genetic ancestors of the colonists themselves (who, as it turns out, “cannot return to Terradon”, because they “have never been there”). The Doctor and Romana give them a crash course – pun only half-intended – in how to fly a starship, and then disappear in the TARDIS to work out how they’ve got into this universe that hasn’t really been explained properly. It all comes out in the wash, along with the Doctor’s scarf, which has shrunk a little, although Peter Davison is about to unravel the thing in any case.

Besides, the Doctor’s stuck here now – at least for another couple of stories – so we might as well get used to it. Or I might as well get used to it. I was in Cambridge a few years ago attending a Christmas gathering, and one of the gifts unwrapped was Tom Baker’s autobiography, Who On Earth Is Tom Baker?. “Of course, the title’s wrong,” someone said. “Who on Earth is Jon Pertwee. Who in E-Space is Tom Baker…”

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“Doctor, we’re at Devesham!”

Here’s Eric Pickles. Gareth pointed out the interesting effect rendered by his headgear.

 

He’s obviously a Doctor Who fan. (Eric Pickles, I mean. Gareth can’t stand it. Harrumph.)

One sunny evening last week the six of us jumped in the van and drove out to a village just up the road. East Hagbourne is, for those of you who don’t know your production history, the location for ‘The Android Invasion’, in which the Doctor and Sarah Jane land in a pastoral scene that ostensibly resembles rural Earth but which is, in fact, an alien planet dressed up to look like Earth so that a bunch of murderous androids can have a practice run before they invade the real Earth, which of course looks exactly like East Hagbourne from one end to the other, leaving the androids perfectly equipped to deal with stuff like sand, and traffic, and lifts.

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If I sound a little cynical this morning it’s basically because ‘The Android Invasion’ isn’t really very good, having as it does a nonsensical plot, rubbish monster, an entirely forgettable antagonists and U.N.I.T. without the Brigadier. It does, however, feature some lovely location work, and one of the greatest cliffhangers in the history of Who.

Warrrrghh.

 

Today, the village is a bustling community, and the pub they used is still open (the interior was a set, of course). Emily and I almost lived in Habgbourne when we were house-hunting some twelve years ago, except the only cottage we found was at the end of the sort of overgrown garden that could have been owned by a witch. It also turned out to be smaller on the inside. Nonetheless the place itself is lovely, and the people are immensely creative, although we’re talking about the sort of ‘interesting-stuff-at-the-side-of-the-road ‘creative’ that almost makes you crash the car when you round a bend on your way to a scouting event and come across a model from ‘Terror of the Zygons’.

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I mean, I know it was St. George’s Day. But honestly.

The scarecrow trail – which finishes today – is an annual event, and we always try and drive through there at least once if we possibly can. This year’s event featured a beautifully-constructed Olaf from Frozen, a scene from Sweeney Todd, complete with severed heads and unsavoury pie mixture. Oh, and it’s forty years since ‘The Android Invasion’, so it should have been no great surprise to discover this by the war memorial.

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We were busy snapping photos when the designer, who lives in a nice house nearby, came out to say hello. “I’m told the scarf is wrong,” she said. “The colours are off, apparently.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “There’s no real one way to do a Fourth Doctor scarf. It’s instantly recognisable, whatever the detail. It’s certainly difficult to tell it’s different, unless you’re prepared to Google it.”

“I confess,” she confided in a somewhat conspiratorial manner, “that I couldn’t really watch much of the story they shot here. I found it very boring.”

“Don’t worry,” I admitted. “You’re by no means the only one. I’ve always thought it’s basically rubbish.”

Still, from second-rate Who, a first-rate scarecrow…

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Random things I noticed from watching ‘The Mutants’

There are plenty of essays and articles about the social commentary and technical realisation of ‘The Mutants’, all over the internet. This is not one of them. However.

1. The old man who meets a premature death (but only just) in the opening credits is a dead ringer for – well….

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To be fair, I am really not the first to pick up on the Monty Python’s Flying Circus thing. It’s all over the internet, and Barry Letts spotted it in 1972. It’s kind of hard to miss.

 

2. More subtly, the colonists’ outfits do seem to have had some sort of influence on Steven Kynman’s Robert the Robot costume, as worn in Justin’s House.

Mutants_Robert

Or perhaps I just watch too much CBeebies. Actually I think we could safely say I watch too much CBeebies anyway, irrespective of any influences here, perceived or otherwise.

 

3. Whenever Geoffrey Palmer turns up in Doctor Who, you can guarantee he will last two episodes tops. (That two-episode limit is imposed by ‘And The Silurians’, in which he takes a comparatively long time to die, eventually managing it in style not far from a London railway station. Apart from that, he’s usually dead within twenty minutes.)

Palmer

Actually, looking at that ‘Voyage of the Damned’ image again, it really does look as if he’s fallen asleep at the (ship’s) wheel.

Palmer’s tendency to die on-screen is far from unique, of course. Kevin Stoney meets the Doctor three times and only in ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ does he live to fight another day. And Michael Sheard appears in no fewer than six Classic Who stories, dying on-screen in two of them and left to an uncertain fate in ‘Castrovalva’. But heavily recurring actors is for another day and another blog entry, so watch this space.

 

4. There’s a lovely scene in episode 5 when the execution squad come into the Marshal’s office, ready to kill Jo and the others, and two of them turn on cue, while the other one apparently forgets, then awkwardly shuffles round so he’s facing the same way as the others. Here it is: start at 3:21, if the embed code doesn’t work properly.

(Apologies for the unskippable ads, if you see them first. My hands were cuffed.)

 

5. The story is renowned for its eclectic range of accents and (for 1972) diverse casting. But primarily I noticed John Hollis, playing a (presumably Dutch) scientist who’s a dead ringer for Lex Luthor.

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6. ‘The Mutants’ is two parts social commentary to one part sci-fi: it can’t decide whether it’s mainly about decolonisation or slave labour. By and large it balances in favour of the former, but it’s also interesting that the role of Cotton, a redeemed lackey originally written with a Cockney’s voice in mind, was given to Rick James.

Cotton

Hang on, what’s this? An ACTUAL BLACK MAN cast in 1970s Doctor Who? Well, this is a turn-up for the books. Or it would be, were it not for the fact that Rick James is dreadful. The dialogue doesn’t help. I can imagine lines like “He’s sort of a mate o’ mine” delivered by Barry Jackson in ‘The Armageddon Factor’, but as rendered here it’s simply clunky. James is clearly out of his depth, and is churning up a lot of foam simply trying to stay afloat. I daresay given the right script he’s wonderful. Sadly, this isn’t it.

Still, you can’t entirely blame the casting. Not when you have scenes like this.

(Start at 23:05.)

I know we ranted a lot about series 8, but I do think that Ruby’s panicky exclamation in ‘Forest of the Night’ was a considerable improvement.

Forest_Ruby

Well, I knew that episode would eventually be good for something.

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