Posts Tagged With: elisabeth sladen

Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Companions (Part 2)

Ah, Papa Louie Pals. How do I love thee, and thy sandbox of delights? Let me count the ways. There are twenty-eight of them in this particular edition, mostly taking the form of Classic (pre-2005) companions. The list is extensive but not necessarily exhaustive (Grace, for example, isn’t featured, but I may save her for an odds and ends feature somewhere down the line). Some of these are better than others; a few of them are so generic they could probably be anyone, but if I tell you who they’re supposed to be, and if you squint, then perhaps you might just about manage to make out the superficial resemblances. Others will be fairly obvious from the get-go. None of them is perfect, but some are quite good. And, of course, if you missed the first part of the companion run, or even the Doctors I did a couple of years back, you’re welcome to go and check out both.

Right! Onwards. First, here are two that didn’t make the cut from the previous batch – Doctor Ruth, as I like to call her, and Sacha Dhawan’s Master. One of them looks just a little happier.


In keeping with the ‘newer characters I haven’t done before now’ theme, here’s Wilf. He’s standing next to Susan, who is wearing her classic stripy ensemble, as seen in ‘An Unearthly Child’ (that’s the final broadcast edition, as opposed to the pilot). Fun fact: she also wore stripes in her final story, when her grandfather threatened to smack her on the arse before abandoning her in a toxic wasteland with a man she scarcely knew.


Ian and Barbara next. Barbara’s hair is, I think, not quite right. But Ian’s quiff is right on the money, and the outfits are a reasonable match.


Here’s Victoria Waterfield, in a crudely rendered edition of the explorer’s outfit she wore while hiking around Wales the Himalayas in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’. She’s accompanied by Steven Taylor, who looks like he’s off to a Where’s Wally? convention.


Vicki and Katarina. For some reason I really struggled with these two. They’re both so…I don’t know, nondescript when it comes to outfit choices. I’m still not convinced I really nailed it. (Katarina’s dress is purple because I found an interesting piece of fan art where she was wearing purple, and besides, it’s my wife’s favourite colour…)


Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. That moustache is a little too Air Force for my liking, and the hat is completely wrong, but at least it’s military. For Peri, I went with the pink outfit she wore in ‘Attack of the Cybermen’.


Dodo and Zoe. Dodo’s singlet is so near, and yet so far – what I’d have given for one with a donut! – but other than that it’s a reasonable likeness. Zoe is wearing the silver jumpsuit she wore when splayed over the TARDIS in ‘The Mind Robber’, where the camera lingers over her buttocks for far longer than is necessary. That may be why I picked it.


You couldn’t not put these two together, could you? I wanted a sailor outfit for Ben, but they didn’t have one. As a result he’s a bit nondescript – but stick him next to Polly, and they’re peas and carrots.


You’re spoilt for choice with Jo Grant – so many cracking outfits! – but in the end I plumped for the cowgirl ensemble she wore in ‘Day of the Daleks’, although mercifully you are unable to see up her skirt. I feel like Sarah Jane rather drew the short straw – she was the epitome of working chic for most of her run, right until that last story. But honestly, how could you not use it?!?


It’s a kilt, not a skirt, and I think I got the colours more or less right. Jamie is joined by Liz, who is in her Silurian outfit, and probably just about to run across a weir.


This was an easy one. All you need is the hair and it’s instantly Bonnie Langford, even without the deckchair polo shirt. Next to that, Ace looks positively Goth-like.


Tegan’s top is a little more strappy and a little less abstract than I’d have liked, but it’s a reasonable approximation and it does at least have that 1980s vibe about it. Inevitably, Turlough looks miserable. Well you would too if you went travelling in space and the only clothing you brought was your school uniform.


Both Romanas. Mary Tamm is a little..what’s the word…dull, and I’d have liked to do that rather splendid mauve thing she wore in ‘The Androids of Tara’, but there was nothing that matched, so the white gown won the day. Her later counterpart is dressed for running from Daleks.


Last but not least: Nyssa, wearing something that looks a little bit like a New Romantic cosplay on her ‘Keeper of Traken’ outfit. She’s in the company of Adric, who even has his badge for mathematical excellence, even if it has been placed rather awkwardly around his neck like an Olympic medal. He’s still a dick, anyway.

And that’s your lot. I’d love to do a monsters edition, but I don’t think they do sink plungers…

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Have I Got Whos For You (end of term edition)

It’s the first of August, and I haven’t posted in ages, and I’m about to head up to Staffordshire for a few days, and we really do need a meme dump. So what’s been going on in the hallowed hills of Whovania these past couple of weeks?

 

To honour World Chocolate Day, which happened a few weeks ago, we present this deleted scene from ‘Pyramids of Mars’.

Landing on the moon for the first time in July 1969, Neil Armstrong is disappointed to discover that the Russians have apparently beaten him to it.

“REVERSE! REVERSE! REVERSE!”

There is joy and celebration across the country as it’s announced that swimming pools are ready to re-open.

But some people really don’t take too kindly to being told to wear a mask.

“Man. Woman. Person. Camera. TV.”

Super Saturday, 2264.

Elsewhere, using a relatively new technique allgedly pioneered in Botswana, scientists have been able to determine that the enormous Sarsen stones that make up the bulk of Stonehenge actually came from a forest outside Marlborough, about twenty miles up the road. Of course, the research team has yet to determine precisely how they were moved.

Bristol, and not everyone is impressed with the replacement Edward Colston statue.

“Oh, she doesn’t mind.”

And in a secluded factory somewhere…

“Right. Everyone slowly and carefully back away in the direction of the TARDIS.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Star Wars-tinted interlude)

We open with a deleted scene from ‘Cold War’.

You always wondered why they favoured close-ups for that scene, didn’t you? Well, now we know.

I was up at six this morning scrubbing through the Rise of the Skywalker trailer for stuff to Photoshop. Heaven knows there was no other reason. I was about to say I can’t remember when Star Wars trailers got so dull, but actually I can: it was the moment they released the full trailer for The Last Jedi, which was to all intents and purposes a direct copy of the one they did for The Force Awakens, and the moment that you realised that not only had they decided to emulate the teasers, they were also doing the same for everything else. I know I probably shouldn’t moan about this but there is something very lazy about the whole process: this idea that because something works you do it again, in exactly the same way, purely because people expect it.

So in no particular order, you have…ominous voiceovers! People glaring through the blades of ignited lightsabers! Running through forests / corridors / the snow! Wide shots of battle fleets! Cruise ships! Spacecraft flying through explosions! Ambiguous shots of first generation characters who might be killed off! General tedium! Next time, can we have a little information on the actual story? I’m not suggesting the entire story – the world does not need another Double Jeopardy – but something, anything that the gossip rags can talk about with actual substance, rather than combing Reddit threads for fan theory. God the rumour mill is tedious this time around. If it’s not mind games about Rey’s parentage or the redemption of Kylo Ren, it’s people trying to decide whether C-3PO is going to turn evil or sacrifice himself for the rest of the crew, or possibly both. At the same time.

They also talk about Matt Smith, of course – whom we assume was cast as the Emperor, although there was some fun to be had going back through the trilogy working out who else he might be playing.

What else has been going on? Well, the fallout about whether Doctor Who has become too politically correct continues in earnest, with the Real Fans on one side and the True Whovians (I leave it to you, dear reader, to determine which is which) on the other, and the likes of yours truly in the middle – wondering whether history is destined to repeat itself, wondering when “bad writing” became a cop-out soundbite for describing something you didn’t particularly enjoy without actually making the effort to explain why, and also wondering how it’s possible for a bunch of human beings to be so obnoxious and generally shitty to each other about a wretched television programme.

I mean God almighty. Still, on the upside, it’s something to read while you’re trying to circumnavigate Occupied London.

“How are we supposed to get through that lot?”

I’m not sure how I feel about Extinction Rebellion. I’m not sure how I feel about Greta Thunberg either, to be honest, but I suppose that’s the point – just as E.R. wouldn’t exactly be doing anything of consequence if we didn’t find them a nuisance and a pain. They’re getting out there and doing stuff, and perhaps that’s better than not doing anything, which is what I do. There are conversations to be had about their use of Starbucks and McDonalds, rather than the home-grown organic fair trade produce I presume people expected them to be carrying in those cotton rucksacks – either you can criticise them for double standards, or you can applaud them for doing what they can and acknowledge that everybody’s human, with the possible exception of some residents of South Dakota. I tend to veer between one extreme and the other, according to how generous I’m feeling. Still, it’s better than the Mercedes van-driving idiot who appeared on Good Morning Britain dressed as a vegetable – and who then, having already crossed the line between effective parody and preposterous nonsense while most of us were still in bed, proceeded to drag out a banana from his pocket and pretend it was a phone, in a scene worthy of Bert and Ernie. Now there’s a Rubbish Monster waiting to happen.

“Yeah, the red one next to the – hold on a second. Ah, Doctor. We meet again.”

To take our minds off all this, Emily and I elected to catch up on Holby City – we’d watched the episode where the plucky Scottish nurse was trapped in the holiday cottage with baited breath, and then lost interest when it sputtered out in a disappointed sigh as things failed to resolve the way we hoped (i.e. with a corpse). Here’s a fun fact: if you unravel the small intestine in any adult male, it will stretch to precisely the same length as this ludicrous Chloe and Evan story arc, where the locum doctor followed the predictable path from ex-boyfriend to current squeeze to husband to demented abuser within the space of a few weeks, before finally meeting his death when the respitory machine malfunctioned and Kate Stewart’s son left it just a little too late before telling anybody. Suffice it to say the bastard had it coming – he was a slippery customer and would almost certainly have weaseled his way out of things, as we were told in a clumsy monologue that reinforced, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to a walnut, precisely how justified Cameron had been in his breaking of the Hippocratic oath. Evan was a nasty piece of work – a plot device used for issue highlighting, which is always Holby at its most annoying – and he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling kid.

Things are back to normal now, except Sacha Levy appears to have gained the ability to teleport across from the hospital entrance to the taxi rank, completely unobserved, as long as the cameras aren’t on him. Weeping Angel, anyone?

It was Emily wot noticed. That should probably go on record, because she gets huffy when I don’t acknowledge her as the source for these things. (It reminds me of a paper that arrived in the proofreading pile some years ago: the first draft read “Professor ____ also acknowledges his wife, H.C. _____, who read through the original submission”. When the corrected proof came back from the authors, the final paragraph read “Professor ____ also acknowledges his wife, H.C. _____, who read through the original submission and provided many helpful amendments”.)

And she has been brilliant these past months: has that been written down yet? She is so much better than she realises: the rock and the anchor and the port in the storm and all the other cliches you can think of – but a cliche doesn’t invalidate truth. She is the best of both of us, and in a world where everything is hazy and grey and mad, she will carry you home.

Seriously. I could do this all day.

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Have I Got Whos For You (We Sure Picked A Creepy Night For A Drive Edition)

Boring Doctor Who episodes, #47.

It’s Scooby Doo’s birthday. The cowardly canine is a whole half-century (that’s an oxymoron, surely?): five decades of running up along corridors avoiding the portraits with living eyes and hiding behind lampshades and suits of armour, before discovering the larder and constructing geometrically implausible sandwiches. I just finished playing a mobile game called Agent A – one of those episodic adventure / puzzle type things that was actually quite good – and you spend five chapters exploring the villainess’s lair and its surroundings and NOT ONCE DO YOU ENCOUNTER ANYTHING THAT MIGHT REASONABLY PASS FOR A KITCHEN. I mean honestly. I know the woman is stick thin, but surely she must down the odd protein shake? Sushi? Bit of salad?

Perhaps it’s all fine dining and drive-throughs. You’d think it would show on her figure, except Shaggy manages to eat the monthly food allowance for a small Peruvian mountain village and still fit into size 32 trousers, so I guess these things don’t have to make sense.

“IT’S, LIKE, BIGGER ON THE INSIDE!”

In the news this week: rumblings in Scottish lakes, or lack thereof.

The Loch Ness Monster is rather like a no-deal Brexit. Everyone has their own idea of what it’ll be like, we’re all probably wrong, views from experts are being largely ignored in favour of populist trash and there’s considerable doubt as to whether the thing will ever actually surface, and so at the moment it’s mostly a marketing opportunity.

It was also Roald Dahl’s birthday yesterday, which led to the usual moaning on Twitter about how he was problematic, owing to some unsanctionable views on the Holocaust, some rather unfortunate stereotyping in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and the fact that when it came to family the guy was a bit of a nob. It’s ironic when you consider that Danny The Champion of the World contains one of the most beautifully rendered portraits of fatherhood I’ve ever encountered. David Walliams, on the other hand, is being touted as ‘the new Roald Dahl’, despite being a much nicer person (at least ostensibly) who possesses only a small portion of Dahl’s talent; I do enjoy The Boy In The Dress but is this really the pinnacle of contemporary children’s writing? Or can we do better? Because I can’t help feeling we can.

Anyway, I’m not getting into whether or not you’re allowed to read Dahl’s books or even celebrate his existence on the grounds of his personal life and political allegiance; if you’ve been around here long enough you’ll know my views on the matter, so I will leave it to grumpy Spectator columnists and millennial hacks writing for trashy, overly Woke online publications to have that particular argument. Instead, you can have a deleted scene from 2005.

And poor little Charlie Bucket was never seen again.

Oh, while we’re on mashups (I can’t believe I actually wrote that; mashups is all we ever do around here), perhaps now’s a good time to put that irritating Reddit meme to bed, albeit with a different image than the one that’s currently doing the rounds.

I leave you with the news that Fireman Sam has been dumped. No, not by Penny (with whom, I suspect, he’s been having a long-standing relationship, complete with fumblings behind the lockers during the evening shift and all sorts of innuendo about hoses and poles), but by Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service, who deem him inappropriately male for their contemporary inclusive image. I suspect that as the epitome of white male privilege (yes, I had a bit of racist abuse at school for my Hebrew ancestry, but nothing to write home about) I should have no views on this whatsover, and thus will refrain from stating one.

Anyway, Sam needs to find a new gig, so accordingly:

“It’s all right, don’t panic! I’m ‘ere!”

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The Doctor Who Public Information Films: Quarries

So here’s what I was doing last night.

If you’re of the wrong generation for Public Information Films, let’s just say you had a comparatively sheltered childhood. I have a deep envy for anyone who didn’t spend their youth exposed to horrible videos that showcased the dangers of wandering along railway tracks, or fetching frisbees from electrical substations, or playing near dangerous farm equipment. You probably managed to hold on to a sense of innocence that the rest of us lost the first time we saw little Katie get run over by that Volvo Estate, or the moment Julie had a close encounter with a firework. Bonfire night is somehow never quite the same after something like that.

I’ve written about Public Information Films before, and if you require any sort of education you’re welcome to go and have a look (if only to watch ‘Apaches’ again, or at the very least judge for yourselves as to whether or not I got the style right). It’s not the first foray into the sinister realms of 1970s PIFs I’ve attempted, but it’s also fair to say that ‘Don’t Splink‘ is more of a silly thing (Gareth’s silly thing, actually, minus the tacked-on ending), whereas this is a full-on pastiche.

When it came to selecting relevant stories, there was only one choice. ‘The Hand of Fear‘ is never going to be my favourite Fourth Doctor story (that honour goes to ‘Pyramids of Mars’ or ‘The Ribos Operation’, depending on what mood I’m in), but it is just about the only time I can remember the TARDIS landing in a quarry that was actually supposed to be a quarry, rather than a quarry that was supposed to be an alien planet, with varying degrees of effectiveness depending on where they managed to film it. (I have blanked the bad ones from my memory, but see ‘Colony in Space’ for an example of how to do this particularly well.)

But if ‘Hand of Fear’ features a slightly damp squib of a plot, a thoroughly ridiculous fight in a power plant and the silliest costume Elisabeth Sladen ever wore, it does at least have a convincing explosion in that first episode. In the story the Doctor manages to dig Sarah Jane out of the rubble only to find her clutching Eldrad’s hand, and then he takes her to the hospital before all hell breaks loose. In this, things don’t end so well, but that’s all part of the fun.

The voiceover was done by an old friend and former work colleague who we’ll call David, largely because that’s his name. Three facts about David: he hails from the same Kentish town as my mother; he is the only person I’ve ever met who managed to quote the theme from ‘The Littlest Hobo‘ in his leaving speech; he is, at times, in possession of a smashing beard. David and I would often while away the hours at the office talking about this or that, in between dealing with disgruntled authors and laughing at unusual article titles, and when it came to recalling those unpleasant Public Information Films, it must be said that both his memory and his impressions were particularly good. He did a superb job at this as well.

Once I’d got David’s narration, it was simply a question of condensing the narrative – events happen in this more or less in the same order they appear on screen, but a fair bit of editing was needed in order to maintain a decent pace. I had to work with the limitations of the source material, including an occasionally intrusive score, but all things considered it’s fairly punchy. And that slogan at the end? I wrote that. I’m claiming copyright. Don’t even try stealing it.

There will, I hope, be more of these. Keep a look out for Jon Pertwee in the dangers of working with dangerous chemicals, coming soon to a TV screen near you. In the meantime, be careful crossing the road, don’t tamper with electrical connections, don’t wander off, and if a strange man wearing a mac approaches you in the street and asks you to get into a police box with him, for God’s sake, tell a grown-up.

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Eldrad must live

When Rose Tyler left Doctor Who, it was announced with a three-month build-up, a flurry of trumpets, a blitzkrieg of press releases, a cacophony of  strings (scored by Murray Gold) and a bucketful of mournful looks from The Doctor, along with assorted sobbing from Billie Piper. There was a reference to Face/Off as both characters stand on opposite sides of a wall that’s a universe thick. Then there is a scene on a beach (Southerndown, passing for Norway) that makes me retch. Then there is a lot of mourning and anguish and then a period of denial, and then an inexplicable return (with incredible teeth) which basically undermines the pathos of the entire departure.

When Sarah Jane left Doctor Who, thirty years earlier, there was a thirty second monologue and then the Doctor drops her off in Aberdeen. And that’s it. In the next story (which I’ll explore another day) he’s on his own. Things were simpler in those days and we were allowed to move on, a luxury that is seemingly missing from much of New Who (at least until Moffat’s mini-reboot, which required that we move on quickly from the Davies era but simultaneously memorise absolutely everything that the new chief writer chose to tell us, because even the presence or absence of the Doctor’s jacket was important). These days, we are forced to acknowledge, with an undercurrent of tinkling piano, that these departures are A BIG DEAL FOR THE DOCTOR AND THEY HURT HIM. AND IF HE IS UPSET, WE SHOULD BE. ARE YOU SAD YET? ARE YOU? I SAID ARE YOU?

(I was about to write “For a departure story, especially one that features the loss of such an established character, ‘The Hand of Fear’ is surprisingly low key”. Then I thought better of it, simply because in those days, things generally were. Heavy sigh.)

The BBC re-screened ‘The Hand of Fear’ last spring, in the wake of Elisabeth Sladen’s death. Given that it’s her final Classic Who story (until ‘The Five Doctors’, which doesn’t really count) it was, I suppose, an obvious choice, but it’s a strange and slightly uneven four-part narrative that jumps about from place to place and never quite finds its footing – ‘The Time Warrior’ or ‘Pyramids of Mars’ are better tales (and both are trumped, of course, by ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, but that’s really more about Michael Wisher). ‘The Hand of Fear’ does, however, feature some of the most outlandish Sarah Jane moments in the original canon, which we’ll get to later, so whatever its flaws it’s never less than interesting.

We open with a shot of a paperweight sitting in a Blue Peter volcano.

The arctic base on Kastria (as it is known) is inhabited by a couple of mysterious hooded figures facilitating the execution of treacherous war criminal Eldrad. Eldrad has been blasted into space and his rocket is due to be detonated, but conditions on the planet are getting worse, and the hooded figures are forced to do this before they’re ready. The looks on their faces say it all.

I’m Bobbin. Are you my mother?

There is a risk that a part of Eldrad may survive. You’ll never guess which part.

Cut to Earth, some time later, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane emerging from the TARDIS.

It’s traditional for classic Doctor Who to be set on rocky alien surfaces that happen to look like quarries, but this time – believe it or not – they’ve landed in an actual quarry, as Baker takes great delight in telling Sarah Jane (with more than a slight wink to the audience). The pair haven’t much time to sightsee, however, before they’re caught up in an explosion. The Doctor escapes with minor injuries, but they have to dig poor Sarah out of the rubble. When they recover her, she’s clutching Thing from The Addams Family.

Creepy. Kooky. Altogether ooky.

Unfortunately, possession of the hand has some dastardly side effects, and when Sarah wakes up, she’s turned into Andy Pandy.

Seriously, woman, what the hell are you wearing?

In her autobiography, Sladen notes that the increasingly ridiculous costumes were her way of putting a stamp on the character: Sarah Jane starts out relatively straight, but travelling with the Doctor has made her dress sense almost as erratic as his own. This is known throughout the Whoniverse and fan base in general as ‘The Andy Pandy outfit’, and indeed that’s how one of the scientists refers to her, just after she’s knocked him out and legged it out of the hospital with the hand.

“Back up a minute”, I can hear you saying. “Did you say ‘knocked him out’? Has she let herself get hypnotised again?” To which I’d respond “Well, yes. It’s Sarah Jane. What did you expect?”. I make this the fourteenth, at last count. What’s special about this one, of course (aside from the fact that it’s her last) is the oft-quoted “Eldrad must live”, which became the line Sladen was most frequently asked to repeat over the years. If the internet had been around in those days, it would have become a meme. These days – well, actually, it’s a meme. Presumably there’s a t-shirt somewhere on Ebay.

The hypnotised Sarah’s destination of choice is a local nuclear power station, which she enters with frightening ease, despite her newfound ability to knock people out by raising her hand.

The Abba ‘You Can Dance’ Wii marathon wasn’t going Sarah’s way.

Yes, I know it’s silly, but bear in mind that nearly three decades later the Doctor fixed a nano-virus by raising his hands and waving them around a bit. Recurring themes are important.

The Doctor has been busy in the lab, but sets off in hot pursuit as soon as he finds out about Sarah. Unfortunately he doesn’t get there in time to stop her hiding in the reactor, and he’s forced to try and negotiate over the intercom. This is unsuccessful, because Sarah’s preoccupied with a colour wheel.

Presumably it’s another side effect of the Andy Pandy thing.

While all this is going on, the plant has entered meltdown, and it’s left to Professor Watson – who runs the place – to try and keep order. He chiefly does this by addressing the workers over the PA in the manner of a union boss.

Glyn Houston. He stayed at his post when the trainees ran.

I’ve not yet mentioned any of the story’s guest performers, so now would be a good time. Houston himself is probably the most watchable, taking the mandatory role of human-who-thinks-guns-would-be-a-good-idea, but for all his reliance on nuclear technology he’s rational, measured and brave, assisting the Doctor as much as he can and remaining in the complex even when it’s seemingly about to explode. He is assisted in his endeavours by Miss Jackson (Frances Pidgeon, who’d previously played a handmaiden in ‘The Monster of Peladon’). A romantic relationship is implied, but never really confirmed, and we like it that way.

The other main human of note is Dr Carter, who initially works with the Doctor to find out the secrets of Eldrad’s hand, but who – like Sarah – winds up possessed by it. This gives the writers an excuse to screen what is possibly the most unconvincing fake spanner in living history.

It’s cardboard, I tell you. It’s bloody cardboard.

This, in turn, is followed by a fall from a metal staircase that actually looks more like an acrobatic flip.

News of the local hosepipe ban brought the Olympic diving event to a premature end, but it was too late to inform the first of the competitors.

Despite such setbacks the Doctor manages to get to the reactor, but Sarah isn’t coming out to play.

Ooh, look at that face. It’s a face of pure deviousness.

Suffice to say that Sarah is restored to normal, but not before events are set in motion to also bring back Eldrad. The military men outside take the conventional step of ordering a nuclear strike (which allows Baker the opportunity to swagger on the back of a truck, completely unconcerned about the radiation in one of those “You humans!” moments he did so well). Radiation, of course, is exactly what Eldrad needs to regenerate, although when he appears from his chamber, he’s apparently turned into Mystique.

“That’s remarkable, Mr. Henderson. You died at six o’clock this morning and you’ve changed sex.”

I am loathe, to be honest, to tell you any more. Suffice to say there are a couple of interesting twists, a drastic change in setting, and an innovative use of Baker’s scarf. Oh, and Roy Skelton, who’s always great. Perhaps part of the problem of the story is that you never really feel the world is under threat, because comparatively few of the characters take it seriously – Sladen, for example, is aware it’s her final role and hams it up mercilessly at every opportunity, never more so than when she’s under hypnosis. Baker, meanwhile, is laid-back and good-humoured – “Stop making a fuss, Sarah. You’re from South Croydon” – dashing to and fro round the power station and watching Eldrad melt through the door of the reactor before remarking “This is intensely interesting, don’t you think?”.

But if the finale is somewhat low-key, the resolution is worth waiting for. It all ends well, and the Earth is saved once again, but it’s been too much for Sarah. “I must be mad,” she says, slumped on the floor of the TARDIS as the Doctor – busy with his work – completely ignores her. “I’m sick of being cold and wet, and hypnotised left right and centre. I’m sick of being shot at, savaged by bug-eyed monsters, never knowing if I’m coming or going or been. I want a bath. I want my hair washed. I just want to feel human again.”

Simultaneously the Doctor gets a summons to Gallifrey, and he can’t take Sarah with him, so he has no choice but to return her to London. And Sarah tells us she’s bluffing – she doesn’t really want to go, she says. And at the same time somehow we know she’s had enough. And it’s this ambivalence which makes for the best scene in the story, touching in its brevity and in what it doesn’t say, as much as what it does. There is no tinkling piano, no mournful alto, no close-up of soulful eyes, no rain. There is, instead, a strained, slightly anxious parting in the TARDIS control room. Suitcase in hand, Sarah lingers near the door, knowing she has to face the inevitable, with the Doctor half turned away, and it is at this point that you realise both leads are no longer acting. There is a silence, with neither willing to actually make the jump, until Sladen remarks “Don’t forget me”, to which Baker responds “Oh, Sarah. Don’t you forget me.” And, of course, she never did.

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One year on

We miss you, Lis. The Whoniverse is just that little bit less colourful without you.

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Go figure

There are many, many reasons why I love my wife. The one I’m going to talk about tonight is her ability to spot a bargain. We live about ten minutes’ walk from the town centre (our immediate neighbours are a funeral director and a curry house, which I’ve always found slightly bizarre) and she’ll often stroll down the high street with Daniel after the school run. The town in which we live is peppered with charity shops, of varying degrees of interest and friendliness: the ones I like seem to be constantly closed, while our nearest Shaw Trust will say it’s open until five and then lock the doors at quarter to so they can vacuum. Conversely the nearby Cancer Research is open until half past and sometimes beyond. The chap who used to be in Action For Children on a Saturday looked and behaved like a nightclub bouncer, but the elderly ladies in Oxfam are a delight.I am in these places quite a lot, because the joy behind charity shops – besides picking up the odd slightly guilty bargain when you get something that you know should have been priced higher, because you know it’s more valuable than the person who priced it thought it was – is that you never know what you’re going to find in there. The contents of the shelves morph and shift on a daily basis as stock comes in and out. I can see piles of cluttered donations in the back rooms whenever I’m in there, as two or three middle-aged W.I. stalwarts go through the boxes and bags of mugs and books and old clothes, occasionally nipping out to the front to serve the person who’s buying a barely-thumbed copy of The Lost Symbol and a freezer bag full of Lego. Sometimes things stay out on the racks for weeks: Peculiar Adventures of Hector DVDs (God there are a lot of those), Spice Girl albums and Michael Palin books are the chief offenders, although you would be amazed at how many copies of Dina Carroll’s So Close I’ve found on the shelves next to whatever X-Factor runner-up has been dumped there recently.

My charity shop browsing usually involves a look round the toy racks, a quick examination of the trinkets shelves in search of kitsch mugs (it’s a long story, and you would find it dull) and a look through whatever CDs / DVDs / games they have that I’d not spotted weeks before. I am always on the lookout for Doctor Who items, but they usually manifest in the form of those tedious Tenth Doctor novels (typically the ones with Martha, which were a low point) or jigsaws that I won’t do and that Joshua has no patience for, or the DVDs I happen to own anyway. I’d love to come across a few of the Classic Who two-disc sets, or perhaps a vintage annual, but the people who own such things have, I suspect, sensibly realised that these items are worth a few bob and that they’d be much better off trying to shift them on Ebay or Amazon.

Then one day, a couple of weeks ago, Emily found the figures.

There were a lot. A box of Daleks and Cybermen sat by the shop door, and a whole load more festooned the shelves. Such items are never there for long, because other people grab them quickly, so my wife got in quick. At this point she was very sensible and bought only the ones that she thought we’d really want. Then she brought them back and showed them to me.

This is the first lot.

And I asked her if there were any more, and she cocked her head and then said “Yes…oh, I suppose it’s for a good cause”, which is the nearest you get to actual permission to go out and spend half your month’s paycheque on a bunch of (very reasonably priced) plastic.

So anyway, on my way back to work…

The second batch. (If this looks like a rather creepy wedding photo, that was deliberate.)

By the time I got round to photographing this lot (before the boys got to play with them and the inevitable scratches and breakages started happening) an impromptu convention was in the works, on the plastic dining table out on the patio.

“Are you my – no, forget it.”

By this time I was on a roll.

“Yeah, I’m down to do the shipping forecast next Sunday.”

“All right, ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ was shit. But did you see ‘Waters of Mars’?”

It was, at this point, essential to get a group shot before this lot got completely out of control. So I grabbed the stuff we already owned and put it all together. Note the positioning of the couples.

The whole gang, minus the Sycorax, who was out of the office, and it was too much of a faff to set it all up again.

Unfortunately, the table is flimsy and wobbly, and five seconds after I snapped the above, this happened.

I was mortified, and called proceedings to a swift halt. Fun while it lasted, anyway.

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The weighted companion, cubed

“Have you seen Men in Black?”

Emily stretched, yawned, reached for her tea mug and downed another sip. “I think so. Years ago. Not with you.”
“How about Men in Black II?”
“Probably not.”
“They’ve made a third film. It looks dire.”
Men in Black was, I seem to remember, not bad, if silly.”
“The sequel has some inspired set pieces, and it stars Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna Noble in Twin Peaks.”
“Oh, I see.”
“No, wait. Did I say Donna Noble? I meant Donna Hayward.”
“I know you did.”
“Although. Thinking about it. In Twin Peaks Donna’s father was Doc Hayward. So you had the Doctor-Donna. Coincidence???”
“Yes dear,” said Emily, “it is.”

This afternoon I had a meeting with Sarah Jane Smith. Honestly. And then on the way to said meeting, I found this on the table.

It’s been one of those days.

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Alas, poor Yorick

In which the Doctor and Sarah encounter the Mandragora Helix, but sadly not Patrick McGoohan. Spoilers below.

One of the things I love about classic Doctor Who is the way it rips off the classics without ever actually saying it’s ripping off the classics. ‘The Brain of Morbius’ is an obvious example: it’s Frankenstein, and all the trademarks are there, but they never really talk about it on camera. The viewer is allowed to draw their own conclusions. The same may be said of ‘Planet of Evil’, which has obvious Jekyll / Hyde parallels that are never overtly dealt with or even mentioned. There’s a quiet sense of self-assurance about this, as if they weren’t afraid to dip in and out of great stories, and didn’t feel the need to point it out or justify themselves.

Post-2005, such literary comparisons must be signposted and pointed out with painstaking obviousness, typically by a companion. For example, look at this scene from ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’:

Donna: Yeah but think about it. There’s a murder, a mystery, and Agatha Christie.

The Doctor: So? Happens to me all the time.

Donna: No, but isn’t that a bit weird? Agatha Christie didn’t walk around surrounded by murders, not really. I mean that’s like meeting Charles Dickens, and he’s surrounded by ghosts, at Christmas.

The Doctor: Well…

Donna: Oh come on! It’s not like we could drive across country and find Enid Blyton having tea with Noddy. Could we? Noddy’s not real. Is he? Tell me there’s no Noddy!

The Doctor: [leans in close to her] There’s no Noddy.

You see what I mean. It’s a decent episode, and the Noddy gag (primarily thanks to Tennant’s delivery) is one of the highlights, but the whole scene jars. It’s the sort of self-conscious idiocy that is paramount these days, where the fourth wall is not so much broken as made momentarily transparent, in one of those shimmering, flickering effects. Followed by a few comments in a Confidential, and a paragraph of blurb in the ‘making of’ pages on the BBC website.

Back to Baker. ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ is Hamlet. With aliens. It’s not much of a spoiler to note that come the end of the story, the Doctor has acquired an enormous salami.

I know for a fact that Tom Baker's not a vegetarian. Don't ask me how I know. It's a boring story.

I mean look at it. Magnificent, isn’t it? It’s not even remotely phallic. I will, henceforth, be disappointed with all subsequent Doctor Who adaptations I watch that do not see him clutching oversized food. (That’s probably most of them.)

The story opens with Sarah and the Doctor exploring the TARDIS’s secondary control room (including a lovely moment where Sarah picks up Troughton’s recorder). After a gratuitous blue screen interlude, and a ‘psychic attack’  – psychic attacks are easy to do, you just have the afflicted characters put their hands to their heads, shut their eyes and grimace in agony, and then zoom in and out repeatedly – the narrative begins proper when the two travellers land in fifteenth century Italy, which looks suspiciously like Portmerion (known, of course, as the principal shooting location for The Prisoner). It all looks very pretty, but the peasants are revolting. Literally. Fortunately, the local military man, the violent Count Federico, is on hand with his iron fist and bad temper. We don’t get to see that much of him, of course, before the first spooky sci-fi thing happens, resulting in a mutilated corpse.

All things considered, the Blue Man gig could've gone better.

Besides the no-it’s-not-the-plague death, Federico has another reason to be grumpy: his brother’s the local Duke, and he’s not. Thankfully, the Duke is just about to suffer an untimely death, which was spookily predicted by Hieronymous, an astrologer who is revealed to be in league with Federico. Having disposed of his brother, Federico plans to seize the throne from its rightful heir, his nephew Giuliano. Is all this starting to sound familiar yet?

Giuliano is a self-assured, likeable hero – one whom you dearly hope will make it to the end of episode four. Open-minded to a fault, he welcomes the Doctor and the scientific field of enquiry that he represents, but he’s grounded and harbours no delusions about the danger he is in. He clearly has an unreciprocated crush on Sarah (along with most of the TV-watching public, I’d suspect), but he never allows that to get in the way of the work he has to do. Giuliano is assisted in his endeavours by Marco (Tim Pigott-Smith, looking here like the lovechild of Phil Davis and Chris Evans).

Giuliani. Something very wistful about that faraway look.

Marco. You see what I mean.

It’s nice to have a supporting character to root for, but as is customary, it’s the villains who are the most fun. Foremost amongst these is Hieronymous, who assumes the mantle of principal antagonist once he’s possessed by the invading Helix. He also has the most incredible beard in the history of the Fourth Doctor (and no, ‘The Leisure Hive’ doesn’t count).

Oh, facial hair of loveliness.

Hieronymous is scheming and gloating, while Claudius Federico takes the role of Brash Villain Whose Overconfidence Will Be His Undoing. He stomps and swaggers, and grabs all the best lines: he scoffs to Hieronymous that “You can no more tell the stars than you can tell my chamber pot,” announces that “before sunrise, I want to see Giuliano’s liver fed to the dogs”, and positively wallows in metaphors when giving orders to his second-in-command:

[Int. Federico’s chamber. A servant is putting Federico’s boots on him.]

Federico: Well?

Rossini: Nothing, sire.

Federico: Inept clod. What were my orders?

Rossini: We have searched everywhere.

Federico: Get out. [He kicks the servant.] I warn you, Rossini, fail me and you will breakfast on burning coals.

Rossini: Sire, we can only think that he has taken to the catacombs.

Federico: Catacombs.

Rossini: A thousand men might search those galleries for a month, sire, and still find nothing. They say there are places where the bat droppings are twice the height of a man.

Federico: They say. They say! The truth of the matter, Rossini, is that you have no stomach for the task.

Rossini: If it is your wish, sire, I will take the entire guard down there and begin the search immediately.

Federico: No. No, it is true. If he’s gone down into the warren, he’ll be harder to find than a flea in a beggar’s robes. But he must come out or die like a sewer rat.

Rossini: And when he does, we must be ready for him.

Federico: Of course you will, dung head.

They just don’t write Who like this anymore. They really should.

Federico, flanked by his flunky.

Elsewhere: Sarah gets hypnotised. Again. It’s no wonder that ‘The Hand of Fear’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In this instance, she’s instructed to kill the Doctor, who is one step ahead of her – he guesses she’s not herself when, prior to the attempted assassination, she asks why she can understand 15th century Italian, something she’s never asked before. (Never mind that; I’d like to know why the TARDIS translation circuits make the local guards sound like London cockneys. The scene where two of them have a conversation is like something out of Mary Poppins. It’s hysterical.)

Having rescued his best friend from the jaws of the eternal blank-eyed stare, the Doctor sets about putting things right. It’s not the first time he’s had to rescue Sarah; there is an earlier, mildly ludicrous scene in which he sneaks up to a sacrificial altar and grabs her just before the knife goes in, and NOT ONE OF THE MONKS IN THE CHAMBER NOTICES HE’S THERE. I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but seriously. It’s beyond stupid. I don’t care how deep your meditative trances go, you’d notice a six foot two man with wild hair and an enormous scarf. Particularly if he looked like Tom Baker, which the Fourth Doctor does. It is superseded in recent silliness only by the rescue sequence from ‘The Brain of Morbius’, which I have mentioned before.

Stupidest. Cult. Ever.

The monks are part of the Brotherhood of Demnos, a robe-wearing cult who absorb the power of the Helix, thus gaining the ability to shoot force lightning. Mostly off-camera. (Which is fair enough; they had no money, and there’s a nice big lot of it come the finale.) There’s double-dealing and double-crossing in the palace, various scenes in a dungeon, and the eponymous masque, which Giuliani debates cancelling, only to have the Doctor insist that it goes ahead – “Save me a costume; I love a knees-up!”. Meanwhile, down in the cave, Hieronymous quite literally loses face.

I'm Bobbin. Are you my mother?

It doesn’t all work. The ending is mildly confusing and slightly anti-climactic – it’s all over very quickly, with a quick denouement and no particularly concrete explanation, largely because most of the Doctor’s exposition takes the form of barely-heard mutterings to himself. The twist was effective, but the science behind it was initially impenetrable. Emily and I had no idea what was going on. I had to look it up. Perhaps we’re just thick. To save me having to try and explain it now, here’s a distracting picture of Stuart Fell dancing.

Apparently, Stuart Fell has a coat he borrowed from James Dean.

Despite structural flaws, it’s a fun, light-hearted story with a refreshingly low body count – one that can be watched in an evening and leave you wanting more. Good triumphs with minimal fuss, and the wicked are appropriately punished. Sladen doesn’t have much to do except sit around and wait to be rescued, but Baker is clearly having fun leaping on and off horses, laughing at the quaintness of fifteenth century astrophysics and wandering round Portmerion. And waving his sausage about, of course.

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