Posts Tagged With: lalla ward

Jinx! Jinx again!

I finally got round to seeing Frozen Fever last week. And this was what immediately sprang to mind.

frozen_adipose

(If you’ve seen it, you’ll know why. If you’ve not seen it, I’m not going to explain. But it’s worth investigating, if you like that sort of thing, and can put up with the general…cuteness of the thing, which is something I could rarely say about, say, Pixar.)

Elsewhere, the fallout from the latest how-dare-you-write-this-sexist-rubbish-aren’t-we-supposed-to-be-living-in-the-21st-century-blog-gone-viral-for-all-the-wrong-reasons continues.

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Incidentally, I was reading a Facebook conversation this week about annoying companions. Responses tended to be in the Rose / Martha / Clara / Mel line (you will be pleased to note that I pointed anyone who voted for Bonnie Langford in the direction of Big Finish, because she’s far less irritating in the audio stories). Curiously, one vote was for “Romana II, always peeking over the doctor, almost spell checking the doctor. It’s like the Doctor would put your and she’d be the one to comment *you’re.”

As much as I love Romana, I think this may be the best description of her I’ve ever heard. She’s certainly aloof, and that’s why we love her. “I recommend talking to her like this,” said Gareth.

phones

I’ve often wondered what was Romana’s particular choice of in-flight music during that scene. I’m guessing it was something neo-classical, or perhaps some light opera sung in the original Gallifreyan. I’d peg her as a Vivaldi fan, or perhaps something in the lute line.

Or, I don’t know…

lytton_pear

Well, everyone else was doing it.

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Waterloo

This week’s news roundup.

In science, noted Professor Eric Stahlman makes a public statement on a controversial drilling procedure.

Fracking

In Doctor Who news, previously unseen footage emerges of 1968 classic ‘The Mind Robber’.

 

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And also in entertainment, controversy is running high at the Eurovision offices.

Romana_Eurovision

 

Happy Saturday!

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

Warriors_01

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 One (Full Circle)

 

E-Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Adric-belt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Nimon be praised

Ah, how do I love thee, ‘Horns of Nimon’? Let me count the ways.

For starters, this is one of the silliest stories in the canon. The premise is fairly sound: it’s Theseus and the Minotaur, half a universe adrift. It has a labyrinth, a bull-like monster and a batch of unnecessary sacrifices. Even Theseus himself makes a token appearance in the form of the partially anagrammed Seth, who has feigned nobility in order to impress girls, and has wound up being hero-worshipped by a Blue Peter presenter. Somewhat disappointingly, this is not Peter Purves.

The Doctor and Romana arrive in the TARDIS – Romana wearing a bright red coat that turns out to be something of a mistake when she’s cornered by the titular bull. There is a lot of running and shouting and some frantic mugging from Baker, who buries his head in K-9’s neck with a gasp of horror when the pair are about to crash into a planet (not long after giving him the kiss of life). It’s partly the excesses of a performer about to enter his twilight, ‘needs to be reigned in’ phase, and partly Kenny McBain’s direction, which allows for moments like this.

(“Simultaneously the best Tom Baker moment,” says YouTube user Cybjon, “and the worst. It’s like the show jumped the shark, got eaten by the shark, only for the show to eat its way out of the shark triumphant. Also, the shark has the face of Graham Crowden on acid.”)

We can’t single out Baker. Lalla Ward is also clearly having fun, whether it’s sparring with the aforementioned Crowden, sneering at the bullying co-pilot (whose role is largely to shout “WEAKLING SCUM!” at his prisoners) or leading an escape attempt by running halfway across the room, crying “GO! GO!”, and throwing her arm over her shoulder in the sort of theatrical manner that you’d expect from a stage school graduate. Indeed, the whole story is borderline pantomime in places, before crossing the border completely and acquiring a visa, and then applying for citizenship. It’s no secret that Anthony Read was less than happy with the interpretation of his script, which is relatively straight-laced until it wound up in the hands of a cast who play it mostly for its comic potential. Small wonder, then, that this story divides fans as much as it does.

But I enjoyed ‘The Horns of Nimon’ so much I watched it twice in the same day. Once by myself, with Edward to keep me company in between clambering up on the table and emptying out the cat food (this is him, you understand, rather than me) and once with Joshua and Daniel, both of whom were thoroughly gripped. We particularly enjoyed Soldeed’s final comeuppance, where the power-crazed fanatic comes to the unmistakable conclusion that he’s been duped:

Somewhere in the creative ether there is a dramatic, serious version of this scene which would make Anthony Read a happy man. I have no interest in seeing it. I confess I love this with a passion. Crowden goes through all five stages of Lear’s madness in the space of a couple of minutes. In contrast, Lalla plays it comparatively seriously, even if she delivers her lines with perhaps more resonance than is strictly necessary. It calls to mind the Doctor / Pirate Captain face-off in ‘The Pirate Planet’, in that you have a normally flippant and detached character being the serious one, because the gravity of the situation calls for it. Crowden hams it up like a loon, building his entire performance to this one moment, but somehow it fits.

There are many ways to skin a cat. But here, exclusive to this blog (because nobody else would be quite so silly) is a line-by-line breakdown with appropriate stage directions, showing how you – yes, YOU! – can reconstruct this scene, as it originally played, within the privacy of your own home / school / club / whatever. (Transcript by Chakoteya.net; annotations by me.)

INT. NIMON’S LARDER

[Teka has joined her friends in suspended animation.]

SETH: Teka!

[Romana goes to the controls.]

SOLDEED [out-of-control public schoolteacher]: You…you meddlesome hussy. Do not touch the sacrifices!

ROMANA [curiously straight]: It’s all over, Soldeed. You’re finished.

SOLDEED [evangelical street preacher]: No, the Nimon will fulfil his great promise! The Nimon be praised!

ROMANA [chiding parent]: The Nimon be praised? How many Nimons have you seen today?

SOLDEED [eyes glued open]: Don’t dare blaspheme the Nimon.

ROMANA [mother asking child about biscuit consumption]: How many!

SOLDEED [hand in cookie jar]: Skonnos will-

ROMANA [as above]: How many Nimons?

SOLDEED [King Lear]: Three. I have seen three.

ROMANA [angry committee meeting]: Well, I’ve just seen a whole lot more rampaging down the corridor. Face it, Soldeed, you’re being invaded.

SOLDEED [Billy Bones]: He said he was the only one. The last survivor of his race.

ROMANA [chewing out a drunken teenager]: He told you what you wanted to hear, promised you what you wanted to have.

SOLDEED [Sylvester McCoy, eight years early]: So this is the great journey of life?

ROMANA [“Yes, this was my favourite line”]: They’re parasitic nomads who’ve been feeding off your selfishness and gullibility.

SOLDEED [Johnny the Painter]: My dreams of conquest. [Lairy drunk] You have brought this calamity upon me!

ROMANA [Angry headmistress]: You’ve brought it on yourself!

SOLDEED [Richard III]: You will die for your interference!

[Soldeed runs through to the furnace and pulls the lever.]

ROMANA: Stop him!

[Seth shoots Soldeed as the alarm starts to sound.]

SOLDEED [Private Frazer from Dad’s Army]: You fools. You are all doomed. Doomed.

[Soldeed dies with a manic laugh.]

DISCLAIMER: Please note that Brian of Morbius is by no means liable for death caused by bad exposure to over-acting, or indeed over-exposure to bad acting.

There is also this.

In any event, I was struck throughout that the story’s title is only one letter shy of ‘The Horns of Nimoy’, so –

You pronounce it differently, of course. A closer homophonic parallel is ‘The Horns of Simon’, which automatically made my children think of a certain grumpy millionaire, known for his weekly pantomime theatrics.

20165_1

(For years now, every time the boys want to dress up, at least one of them will do nothing more than pull their trousers up to the armpit and shout “Hey, I’m Simon Cowell!”.)

I did not produce this image. I will possibly be producing a video mashup of the Nimon making derisive remarks, using MP3s I found on the internet.

But I think that’s for another day, don’t you?

Categories: Classic Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dalek Zippy

I always iron in front of the TV. This is because ironing is a therapeutic but monotonous task and I need some sort of stimulus. We don’t watch much of the tube (I really should stop calling it that; it seems hideously out of date, even though we still own a CRT TV) in our household, at least not in terms of collapsing in front of it of an evening; we’re more likely to play a game or chat over a takeaway. Exceptions are made for 24, The X-Files (or any other boxed serial we happen to be watching) and Doctor Who – and, for a few horrifying years, The X-Factor.

One evening last spring I was working my way through the extras for ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. The DVD bonus features for the 2 Entertain sets are generally great – whimsical, nostalgic and insightful, lacking the self-congratulatory air of the more recent stuff and pulling relatively few punches about the sort of problems the team would routinely encounter when producing episodes, whether it was Hinchcliffe coming under fire from Mary Whitehouse or Baker upstaging Louise Jameson. They’re fun and snappy and clever. (I recommend, in particular, the in-character interview with Sutekh the Destroyer in ‘Pyramids of Mars’, which someone has thoughtfully uploaded to YouTube.)

One of the extras in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is a potted history of the eponymous monstrosities, from design to execution to evolution, along with occasional dialogue masterclasses led by Roy Skelton. Skelton became synonymous with the Nation’s finest (you see what I did there?) in the 1970s and 80s, but anyone who watched children’s TV during this time will also recognise his name from the credit crawl for Rainbow, a show which catalogued the adventures of three anthropomorphic animals (a hippo, a bear, and a…whatever) who seemed to have taken on the role of foster children with obviously troubled backgrounds, now living with a patient father substitute with ridiculous dress sense. Throughout Rainbows long and memorable run, Skelton managed to voice both George and Zippy, often more or less at the same time, in a staggering feat of almost schizophrenic voicing, by turns making himself sound wet and effeminate, and then immediately brash and boastful depending on who he was doing at the time.

The funny thing about the ‘Genesis’ interviews is that when Skelton is doing his Dalek voice, minus the filters and the sound effects and the omnipresent hum that seems to pervade the ships and lunar bases that housed them in the TV series, he really does sound exactly like Zippy. Specifically Zippy when he’s playing a character in some fanciful game he may have invented – like the memorable episode where he dressed up as Zipman (with George playing Bobbin, the Boy Blunder), fighting against the evil Joker Geoffrey. (Watch it after you’ve watched this one, though, otherwise it’ll spoil one of the punch lines.) The Dalek voice is tinged with monotone, lacking some of Zippy’s rising and falling cadences – nonetheless, the raspy extrovert is there for all to hear and it’s quite apparent that he modelled the Zippy voice on the Dalek voice, or perhaps the other way around; we may never know.

So this set me thinking: what would the Daleks sound like if we took out their voices and dubbed them over with Zippy’s dialogue? Fortunately I had a lot of it. I will make no apology for the fact that the purchase of every single one of our numerous Rainbow DVDs pre-dates the birth of all three of my children. I got very nostalgic for old TV just after the millennium turned and all the shows that I watched in the afternoons after school or on lunch breaks during the holidays started coming out on DVD. Sometimes when you delve into these things again you find they’re not as good as they are in your head (as I recently experienced when I picked up a copy of The Family Ness in our local 99p shop, and found it a bit of a disappointment), but Rainbow – trust me on this – was every bit as good as I remembered it, with a formulaic approach that left plenty of breathing space for occasional variation.

There was only one obvious candidate for the Zippy re-dub, and that was ‘Destiny of the Daleks’. As Dalek stories go, it’s distinctly sub-par. Lalla Ward is as watchable as she ever was, particularly as it was her first story in the Romana role, and Tim Barlow lends decent support as Tyssan, but the Movellan robots are laughably camp, the story is inconsequential and the revived Davros is a huge let-down. The bad taste in the mouth was perhaps almost inevitable when you consider that the last time we saw Daleks was ‘Genesis’, which is arguably the finest Doctor Who story of them all, and certainly the best Dalek one – but really, Terry had five years to come up with something new, and you’d really think he could have done better than this (even if Douglas Adams, script editor at the time, rewrote most of it and may arguably have been more responsible for the mess we saw on screen). For all that, there are a couple of memorable moments – Romana’s interrogation at the hands of the Daleks in the second episode is chilling (despite the fact that all they actually say when they capture her is “DO NOT MOVE”, repeated for about a minute and a half) and despite all its flaws, the serial is arguably worth watching in its entirety purely for the scene in which the Doctor hoists himself up into a vent and mocks the approaching Dalek with the words “If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”.

The longest job I had was going through every single Rainbow episode to lift appropriate soundbites. Zippy is forever spouting obnoxious boasts and singing ridiculous songs and there was an abundance of suitable material, but chopping out the .wav files took ages (although I did manage to rip out the Rod, Jane and Freddy songs at the same time for an iPod playlist). After that, I dumped them all in over some appropriate moments in ‘Destiny’, added a little ambient noise where it was needed, re-edited the thing (there’s no narrative progression, it was just a question of sequencing for pace and variety) and threw together a patchy reproduction of the Rainbow credit sequence to finish it off. I basically threw the whole thing together in an evening, although it was rather a late one. I uploaded in May 2011, and that was that.

Then Roy Skelton died.

I wouldn’t say it went viral. ‘Going viral’ is one of those terms that gets bounded about far too often and in the wrong contexts, much like iconic (which I’ve whined about before). But the hit counter went from a couple of hundred to over five thousand more or less overnight, and I got all manner of positive comments and a brief mention in the August WhoTube listings in Doctor Who Magazine. And then things settled down again, although it remains one of my most viewed concoctions, and perhaps rightly so – I really am quite proud of it. Someone even added a ring mod filter to make Zippy sound more Dalek-like (something I’d experimented with, but without much success), and it’s quite clever, but I suppose I’m always going to prefer the original – it’s the juxtaposition of Zippy and the Daleks that makes it work, I think, and I do think they sound even more frightening now. I’d never intended this to be a tribute to Skelton but that’s basically what it’s become, and perhaps it’s better that way – the man was a genius and we really ought to recognise that. I don’t expect for a moment that he saw this before his death, but I hope he would have approved.

Categories: Crossovers, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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