Posts Tagged With: fourth doctor

The Nimon, the Witch and the Wardrobe

There’s acting, and then there’s acting. And there are sandwiches, and then there are peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

One of my favourite performances in Doctor Who is that of Peter Barkworth in ‘The Ice Warriors’. He plays Clent, the obstinate leader of the base under siege (I use those words quite deliberately), a man with an agenda, a performance target and a serious problem. Clent’s journey encompasses the usual suspicion and paranoia but, like most surviving supporting characters, he’s sensible enough to listen to those who know what they’re doing before it’s too late. In the story’s conclusion, Clent is finally reconciled with the excommunicated Penley (played to perfection by a bearded Peter Sallis). “You are,” he says, “the most insufferably irritating and infuriating person I’ve ever been privileged to work with. Can’t write a report though, can you?”

It’s a marvellous moment. There’s something joyously reassuring about it. You instinctively like these men and you are glad that they have come through unscathed. It’s a scene in which supporting characters cease to be people who bounce off the Doctor and become people in their own right. It’s understated and beautifully performed. It seems, in a way, an odd scene to rank among one’s personal highlight reel, given that it does not consist of bombastic speeches, dazzling plot twists or epic moments of self-sacrifice. But there it is nonetheless, squarely placed in mine.

‘Understated’ is not, perhaps, a word that one might apply to the character of Soldeed. Doctor Who villains are known for being twisted and a bit mad, but Soldeed is off the scale. It’s partly the eyes – Graham Crowden is a master of the unfocussed stare, taking clear lessons, perhaps, from John Laurie in Dad’s Army. It culminates in a gratuitously tortured mental collapse as Soldeed realises the extent to which he has been duped, before dying in a shower of sparks and the bitterest of cackles. It’s the sort of scene you do at parties. Or maybe that’s just our house.

Soldeed

My feelings on ‘The Horns of Nimon’ are well-documented, at least on this blog. It is – for reasons that will become obvious if you read the thing – one of my favourite stories, precisely because it is so uproariously flamboyant. I have attended hog roasts with less ham. It’s very easy to be critical of this period of Who, coming as it does hot on the heels of some of the best stories in the show’s history, but there is a place for silliness. There’s nothing wrong with having a story that knows its own identity and bears no shame in it, unless that story happens to be ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’. As far as I’m concerned there’s only one person who’s allowed to hate ‘The Horns of Nimon’, and that’s Anthony Read.

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days talking about animatronic lions and Michael Aldridge – but when we watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the other week, it was Barbara Kellerman who lit up the screen. I hadn’t seen it in well over twenty years but I had forgotten (no, strike that, I had never even noticed) what a thoroughly melodramatic performance it is. Her temper is as brittle as the ice. There are sentences teased out to snapping point. She does this thing with her wand. And when she gesticulates, it’s with her whole body. It’s as if Kellerman was in a drama workshop demonstrating the principles of over-acting, and her switch got stuck.

Jadis

This isn’t a bad thing. The role demands it, after all, at least it does in this particular rendition, which demands that actors chew up the scenery so that you can’t see the holes. Tilda Swinton is all the more subtle, which suits the mood (and production values) of the film. Kellerman is as subtle as a house brick through an immigrant’s window. She is clearly having tremendous fun – indeed, there are times when, rather like Hugo Weaving in The Matrix, she looks like the only one who’s having any fun. It’s hard to single out a particular scene where she is, perhaps, being even more ridiculous than in the rest of the story – her “How many Nimons?” moment – but if I had to pick one, it would be the moment Edmund arrives in her throne room. “ASLAN?!?” she bellows, in a deep, throaty voice that makes her sound rather like a furious Margaret Thatcher. “HERE??? IS THIS TRUE?!?”

You can see quite a bit of that in the video. It was Joshua who suggested that the White Witch was “A bit like Soldeed”, and I had to agree. So I put them together, and found that of the two, the Witch comes out on top. For the most part she wipes the floor with him. Only in his final scene does Crowden come anywhere near the theatrical pomp of his castle-dwelling, wand-packing rival, but it was fun finding out. There was only one musical choice for this sequence, and it was Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets – better known, perhaps, as the theme from The Apprentice – for no reason other than it fit. There is even a loose narrative of sorts, or at least a simulacrum of interaction between them. I do not pretend that it makes any sense at all. But it’s like peanut butter and banana sandwiches. You really don’t think it’s going to work. And yet somehow, it does.

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The Talons of Weng-Jack Chiang: Father Ted Meets Doctor Who

It’s 1995. Channel Four – once subversive and edgy, these days a bloated, shockingly mainstream effigy of its former self – has launched a new sitcom about three Catholic priests living in a shared parochial house on a remote island. One is young and stupid. Another is old and mad (and seemingly in a state of constant intoxication). The titular Ted is middle-aged, secretly ambitious and has the unenviable job of being the straight man to three comic foils (I missed out the housekeeper, but we’ll get to her). Dropping in occasionally are rowing shopkeepers, grumpy bishops, and Graham Norton. It’s a foul-mouthed Last of the Summer Wine, without the scenery.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Father Ted has (at least on this side of the Atlantic) achieved legendary status, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. T-shirts emblazoned with “DRINK! FECK! ARSE!” are all over Ebay. The phrase “Down with this sort of thing” is a surefire way of poking fun at any online argument. And ‘My Lovely Horse’ is the best Eurovision entry that Ireland never had. It’s lovely that the show has endured for so long and become so popular, but it’s hard to express how rebellious it felt back when it was first aired. I loved how it poked fun at the church without ever quite making up its mind about religion and faith (the show, indeed, contains almost as many examples of apparently genuine divine intervention as any mainstream religious novel). I remember the difficulty of trying to explain the small / far away gag to my friends and family, and was gratified to discover some years later that it’s now one of the best-remembered gags in the show. And most of all, I can still remember the unanticipated thrill of that very first episode, not least the moment when I fell off my sofa at the sight of The Spinning Cat.

The great thing about Father Ted was how it combined surrealism with observational comedy. The rumour that Ireland had deliberately toned down the quality of its Eurovision entries in order to avoid the bankruptcy it faced by having to continually hosting the event is explored to great effect in ‘A Song For Europe’. The third series story ‘The Mainland’ pokes fun at fandom, with Richard Wilson gleefully sending himself up and providing, in a way, an early template for Ricky Gervais’ Extras. And I have an old friend who lived next door to an Irish family who, he insisted, were “just like Mrs Doyle. Seriously. You put your head round the door returning a drill and they’re shoving a teacup in your face.”

Lineham and Matthews had already decided to hang up Ted’s cassock for the last time when Dermot Morgan died of a heart attack the very day after he’d filmed the show’s final episode. Said episode included a dance sequence that required multiple retakes and which, according to Tommy Tiernan, might have exacerbated an existing heart condition, but we’ll probably never know. I remember shots of Frank Kelly – who played Jack – on the news, and reflected that it was the first time I’d seen him out of costume. I was struck by his eloquence and gentleness, a world away from the fiery Jack, but the very best actors excel (and frequently revel) in playing complete opposites of themselves.

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Kelly himself died just the other week, at the age of 77, eighteen years to the day after Morgan. My capacity for mourning an actor I never met who lived to a decent old age is, I’m afraid, a little limited, and I won’t line the walls with platitudes about his death being a ‘tragedy’, because it isn’t. Simultaneously, Kelly was a much loved and respected man whose CV, I later learned, ran deeper than I realised, extending to a prominent role in Emmerdale, among other things. And it really was time, I realised, that I got that Father Ted / Doctor Who mashup done.

I’ve dabbled with Mrs Doyle before, of course. If you want to completely destroy a children’s animated series, get one of the main characters swearing. But Jack himself seemed the obvious candidate for some sort of redub. It helps that it’s comparatively virgin territory: the YouTube content for Ted / Who juxtapositions is smaller than you’d think, consisting of a couple of title sequences and some stuff that almost works, along with stuff that doesn’t.

The trickiest part of this, ironically, was deciding on which villain to use. Sutekh was a strong possibility. So, too, was Mestor, the giant slug in ‘The Twin Dilemma’, and about the only thing in it worth watching. Omega was favourite for about ten minutes, until I remembered that I’m actually working on something else for him that I plan to do later in the year. In the end, for various dialogue-related reasons (some of which will become entirely transparent if you’ve watched it) Magnus Greel won out. Remove the dialogue from ‘Weng-Chiang’ and the first thing you notice is what a physical performance it is, with heaps of gesticulation. And he delivers practically every line from behind a mask, which makes dubbing that much easier.

This was fiddly, but a joy to put together. It’s cut almost as tight as I can (get in quick, get out quick seems to be the way I do things these days) which means you can fit more in – I didn’t, as my brother observed, use “every single thing he ever said”, but it was a close run thing. The punch line at the very end will probably confuse you unless you know your Ted, but it just about works. Just about. As for me, I shall, when I get the house straight, sit down with a bottle of whiskey and the box set that adorns our shelves, and raise a glass to the most hot-tempered – but eminently quotable – priest the Church has ever seen.

Anyway. Finish on a song, right?

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MY INHIBITION IS IMPAIRED

Today in Brian of Morbius: Autons get broody.

There is trouble afoot on the set of ‘Logopolis’.

And chaos ensues during the Dalek Star Wars marathon.

Happy Monday!

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Christmas, Doctor Who style (part one)

This? Well, I just think it’s a better title.

[Coughs]

It’s late December, which means the usual selection of Doctored Christmas images. I did a little Photoshopping yesterday and came up with this.

Capaldi_ChristmasCarol

I don’t know, there are only so many times you can stick a Santa hat on top of Michelle Gomez, aren’t there? It sort of works, except that the three ‘ghosts’ are all from the Doctor’s past. And while I like the juxtaposition of the Twelfth Doctor with Sarah Jane, the Pirate Captain and the deformed Master, it doesn’t fit the Doctor’s timeline – they were just the most appropriate choices I could think of. So I did this instead, which works a little better.

But I really like that Twelfth Doctor photo. So imagine, if you will, that it’s Christmas 2014, whereupon this makes sense. Pick your favourite.

Coming next time: hybrids…

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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’.”

tom-baker-inspired-customer-dr-who-neo-traditional-cat-tattoo-by-chessie-at-pride--glory-tattoo-studio-leigh-on-sea-essex-1

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

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Doctor Who and the Misplaced Consonants (Part Three)

While I put off writing anything that actually has any substance, here are some memes to keep everybody ticking along. The Misplaced Consonants started well and then sort of stopped, so after a six-month hiatus, we’re back with round three. Clicking the category tag for this post will show you the other stuff I’ve done in this thoroughly pointless series.

 

9. The Warm Machines

 

10. Statue of Decay

 

11. The Nice Warriors

 

 

 

12. The Creature from the Spit

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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!”.

Warriors_04 Warriors_03

“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”.

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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.

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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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