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71 Doctor Who – Revenge of the Cybermen

We tried and tried but, somehow, defying all our valiant attempts, we failed completely to find anything funny to say about this story. And I was always brought up to think that if you can’t find anything nice to say, better not say anything at all. So, I’ll stick to the basics. This is the final story of Season 12. It has Cybermen in it.

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70 Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks

Spring-time for Davros!

A disabled electrician with a massive ego invents a wheelchair with a bad attitude and a passion for unblocking toilets. Unable to leave the house, he orders his weekly shop online but the Thal supermarket delivers some bad clams so he blows them all to shit. Meanwhile two doctors fight over the dullest piece of jewellery ever seen, whilst Sarah climbs to the top of a giant phallic structure and throws herself off it.

That’s women’s lib for you.

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Biggles – Adventures in Time

Brilliant and awful, wrapped up in an indescribably mid-Eighties package, I present you with:

Biggles: Adventures In Time 

I make no apologies, right at the start of this article, for saying that I love this film. I really, genuinely love it. It is far from perfect but it has so much going for it that, despite it’s failings, there is still something genuinely loveable about it.

In a nutshell, this is the story: Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White), an ordinary catering business owner from New York falls through a time hole to 1917 where he saves the life of dashing Royal Flying Corps pilot James “Biggles” Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson) after his photo recon mission is shot down. Before he can work out what has happened, Jim is transported back to the 1980s. With assistance from Biggles’ former commanding officer William Raymond (Peter Cushing) who lives inside Tower Bridge in London, Jim learns that he and Biggles are “time twins”, spontaneously travelling through time when one or the other is in mortal danger. Together, he and Biggles fight across time and against the odds to stop the Germans changing the course of history by destroying a “Sound Weapon” with a Metropolitan police helicopter stolen by Biggles while escaping a SWAT Team in 1986 London.

The cast has classic cult credentials. Alex Hyde-White, son of acclaimed British actor Wilfrid Hyde-White, is in an early role but is perfectly believable as the ordinary man flung into madness. He’d later appear in Babylon 5, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Spielberg’s Tintin movie;

Neil Dickson, a British actor who shot to fame opposite James Mason, Susan Sarandon and Ava Gardner in NBC’s A.D. and would go on to appear in I, Claudius, Secret Army, Blake’s 7, Boon, Rockliffe’s Babies, She-Wolf of London, Dynasty, Baywatch, Sliders, Iron Man, Diagnosis: Murder, Alias, and Mad Men;

Peter Cushing – need I explain this man’s tremendous body of work? (In fact, this was his last film before his death);

William Hootkins, a well known ex-pat American who has appeared in Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark,  Flash Gordon, Haunted Honeymoon, Batman, The Pope Must Die, Bergerac, Remington Steele, Taxi, Blackadder II, Poirot, Young Indiana Jones and The West Wing… as well as several other actors well known to British TV and RSC fans, such as Marcus Gilbert, Francesca Gonshaw, Michael Siberry, James Saxon and Daniel Flynn.

Then there’s the director. John Hough, a veteran director of The Avengers, The Protectors, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, Twins of Evil (in which he directed Peter Cushing), The Watcher in the Woods, Escape from Witch Mountain (the original, not the recent remake)… and the cinematographer is Ernest Vincze (A Very British Coup, Jeeves and Wooster, Sea of Souls and the first four seasons (plus specials) of the revived Doctor Who)

All of these people give it their all. The film looks absolutely amazing. The trenches of the First World War are exactly what you’d expect to see: mud, corpses, mutilation, explosions, pain and misery. Shot mostly on location in London and in the Home Counties they used Beckton Gas Works just before Full Metal Jacket moved in for shooting. The acting is exemplary, the historical sets and costumes are perfect, the fight scenes are believable, the aerial sequences excellent and the direction and cinematography is of a really high standard.

The original script called for an adventure film in the mould of Raiders of the Lost Ark and would have been much more faithful to W.E. Johns’ original novels. However (there’s always a ‘however’ isn’t there?), during scriptwriting, Back to the Future was released and became a major hit, so the script was duly altered to follow this trend, in the hopes of riding out the popularity. So… with all the positive elements in place we then have the script turned into a time-travel adventure, complete with a ghastly soundtrack that favours songs instead of dramatic scoring (leaving the actually-rather-good-score to languish where it should have thrived), the contemporary settings and clothes all look VERY Eighties, and the plot holes are filled with the standard Doctor Who cliche of “I’ll explain later”

Sounds completely mad, right? You’re right, it is. Nuts. Crackers. Mad as a box of frogs. All the elements are wrong: a beloved character from British literary fiction who should never be involved in this kind of story; time travel; fast food; punks; modern soundtrack = disaster. And it was. Two story ideas that should never have met are mashed together, providing a commercial and critical clunker.

And yet… I kind of wished there was a sequel.

The TARDIS Library – Volume 1

I was asked, some time ago now, to comment on what I thought were the best Doctor Who reference books. Obviously, the term ‘best’ is subjective but if I’ve bought it, then generally I think it’s worth having. There are a couple I may take issue with in places, but I’ll get to those eventually…

So, here’s the first shelf from my collection

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Starting from right to left we have The Handbook, by David Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker. These three writers were responsible for the excellent fanzine The Frame, and have written many books on this subject! Originally released in seven volumes by Virgin, each book was divided into three major sections. The first presents a series of snippets from interviews with principles involved in the creation of the persona of the respective Doctor; the second gives detailed notes about every televised adventure of this Doctor; and the last concerns itself with behind-the-scenes developments during this Doctor’s era. The enormous, 800+ page Telos edition (David Howe’s publishing company) brings together all these volumes plus extra material cut from the Virgin editions for reasons of space. Quite honestly, this is a book every fan should have on their shelf. The Handbook and The Television Companion together provide just about everything you need to know about the show, its stars, its background, its stories, its monsters and its successes and failures. Superb.

In 1965, two Americans took Doctor Who to the cinema. Starring Peter Cushing, Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150AD brought a colourful world of Dalek invaders and a time-travelling Police Box to the big screen for the very first time. In the decades that followed, many others have tried and failed to replicate the success of those two movies. Barely a year passes without someone, somewhere, trying to make a new film based around Doctor Who. Through new interviews with those involved and never before published paperwork from the BBFC, Now On The Big Screen by Charles Norton is the complete story of the few Doctor Who films that were made and the many more that were not. An exciting adventure of Scarecrows, Yeti and the deadly game of Cricket, it’s also a cautionary tale of ‘development hell’ and the many lost motion-pictures that have ended up there.

Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes by Richard Molesworth is astonishingly good. As we all know, in the 1960s the BBC screened 253 episodes of Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Yet by 1975, the Corporation had wiped the master tapes of every single one of these episodes. Of the 124 episodes starring Jon Pertwee shown between 1970 and 1974, the BBC destroyed over half of the original transmission tapes within two years of their original broadcast. In the years that followed, the BBC, along with dedicated fans of the series, began the arduous task of trying to track down copies of as many missing Doctor Who episodes as possible. The search covered BBC sales vaults, foreign television stations, overseas archives, and numerous networks of private film collectors, until the tally of missing programmes was reduced to just 106 episodes. This book looks in detail at how the episodes came to be missing in the first place, and examines how material subsequently came to be returned to the BBC. Along the way, the people involved in the recovery of lost slices of Doctor Who‘s past tell their stories in candid detail, many for the very first time. This second edition updates the story with details of the episode discoveries from Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace as well as general updates, corrections and revisions throughout. Unfortunately for them the discovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear happened just too late for them to add a new chapter, so expect a third volume in the not too distant future!

What can I say about The Television Companion? Possibly the best episode guide you will ever buy? That doesn’t do it justice really. Some of us grew up with Jean-Marc L’Officier’s Programme Guide but this…? Well, it’s everything you ever wanted to know about what is now called the Classic era of Doctor Who (1963-1996). Every story is covered in depth in all aspects of production, including plot details, cast and crew lists, episode endings, transmission dates, memorable quotes and popular myths. In addition there is a comprehensive analysis of every adventure, utilising reviews from contemporary and retrospective sources. First published by the BBC in 1998, then revised and re-issued in a much longer version by Telos in 2002, it’s received a 50th anniversary sprucing up spanning two volumes which, in my opinion, remains the definitive guide to Doctor Who on TV. Pair it with The Handbook and you’ve got one amazing read!

Okay, this next one is a bit geeky I suppose, but then in the world of Doctor Who fandom – what isn’t? Howe’s Transcendental Toybox is the definitive (only) collector’s guide to Doctor Who merchandise. From activity books to wallpaper, everything is covered. From the rare and obscure to the commonplace and disposable, every facet of merchandise is covered. Including factual material, descriptions, photographs and a guide to current prices it also helps the beginner in what to get, what to ignore and what to look out for. The book covers Doctor Who merchandise around the world, including items released in America, France, Portugal, Canada, Hungary and Australia as well as the many UK-produced items. Fully revised and updated from the first edition, this edition covers all items released up to the end of 2002. There are volumes covering the New Series but I have less interest in those, so I haven’t bought those!

The next three books are pretty easy to describe. The TalkBack trilogy is a collection of interviews (some extremely rare) with the people behind the Classic years of Doctor Who. Directors, designers, producers, story editors, writers and cast are all featured, providing a fascinating view of the show from behind the scenes. Wonderful stuff from Howe, Stammers and Walker (again).

Doctor Who On Location by Richard Bignell is now out of print and can be tricky to find at a reasonable price. However if locations are your thing then you really should try and hunt it down. It’s an informative and entertaining look at the various trials, tribulations and joys of taking a complex television programme out of the studio and into the great and unpredictable outdoors of the United Kingdom, Europe and (once) Canada. The most comprehensive listing of Doctor Who filming locations ever produced together with a full scene-by-scene breakdown of how they were used in the transmitted programmes. It contains coverage of all the BBC-produced stories that featured location work from 1964 to 1989 together with sections on the 1996 TV Movie, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD, K9 and Company, Dimensions in Time, Shada and the unproduced adventures, The Nightmare Fair and The Dark Dimension.

Last but not least is the somewhat controversial About Time series by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles. I can’t say much about these as I haven’t read them yet! People have gone on about them for ages but I just haven’t had the time to read them. Clearly I left getting them for too long though, as I can’t get hold of a reasonably priced Volume 3 anywhere. Oh well, it’ll turn up eventually. It’s not as though I’m going to get through them any time soon…

Volume 2 coming soon…

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69 Doctor Who – The Sontaran Experiment

You say Sontaran, I say Sontaran….

Harry sets a bad example to youngsters everywhere by going spelunking and rock climbing without any safety equipment whatsoever; that’s no way for a medical professional to behave!

Sarah sets a good example to youngsters everywhere by proving that you can be a successful, strong, independent, modern woman capable of writing wrongs and fighting evil monsters as long as you face your fears, which now include snakes, heights, mud, golf balls and potatoes. Honestly, when you add those to the already unusual list of badgers, spiders, Nazi’s, plumbing equipment and giant cocks, she’ll soon have the single biggest collection of extreme phobias the world has ever known.

The Doctor, meanwhile, isn’t afraid of anything. He’s quite happy just to crouch down in a field and fiddle with someone else’s balls….

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Cast, In Order of Disappearance…

Throughout history there have, of course, been many great fictional characters but one of my absolute favourites first appeared in a series of crime novels by Simon Brett when I was two years old.

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A former department store Father Christmas, BBC radio and ITV television producer, Simon Brett has been a full-time writer for over thirty years. He has published more than eighty books, including the Charles Paris, Mrs Pargeter, Fethering and Blotto & Twinks series of crime novels. His stand-alone psychological thriller A Shock to the System was made into a feature film starring Michael Caine, Dead Romantic was filmed for BBC2 and he wrote both radio and television versions of his popular sitcom After Henry. He lives in West Sussex, is a former Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Society of Authors; and currently President of the Detection Club.

Charles Paris was created by Brett for his first published novel; Cast, In Order of Disappearance, whilst working for BBC Radio (famously green-lighting The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and producing and directing the first episode). It was while working on Lord Peter Wimsey he had the idea for an actor-detective and his BBC background gave that character the perfect environment.

He’s an unhappily separated (but not divorced more than thirty years on), moderately successful actor with a slight drinking problem, who gets entangled in all sorts of crimes and finds himself in the role of unwilling amateur detective. With an off and on supporting cast of his estranged wife Frances, grown-up daughter Judith and agent, Maurice Skellern, there is a familiarity to these books that is at once warm but given an edge by expertly witty dialogue and inventive plots. One of the things I find most fascinating about the CP novels is the cynical, yet highly believable insight they give into the workings of not just the BBC but the whole stage, television and radio industry. Charles’ world-weary journeys through the somewhat murky echelons of Television Centre, Broadcasting House and theatre are witty, clever and thrilling.

Charles features in eighteen novels (the majority of which have been out of print for some time, albeit recently reissued in a not-very-nice print on demand capacity) and it’s surprising, given how popular the author is, with another continuing series proving to be regular bestsellers, that they haven’t seen a proper re-issue – although they are on Kindle if you’re into that sort of thing…

Cast, in Order of Disappearance (1975), So Much Blood (1976), Star Trap (1977), An Amateur Corpse (1978), A Comedian Dies (1979), The Dead Side of the Mike (1980), Situation Tragedy (1981), Murder Unprompted (1982), Murder in the Title (1983), Not Dead, Only Resting (1984), Dead Giveaway (1985), What Bloody Man is That? (1987), A Series of Murders (1989), Corporate Bodies (1991), A Reconstructed Corpse (1993), Sicken and So Die (1995), Dead Room Farce (1997) and a splendid return after a long absence in 2012′s A Decent Interval.

I first discovered Charles in 1983, when I was ten. My Dad had been reading the first novel, borrowed from the local library and when he finished it, I sneaked it away to read, as I’d heard him chuckling throughout. Although much of the humour passed me by, I had started reading Agatha Christie so was getting into murder-mysteries. As I grew older, I was able to appreciate them so much more. Since then barely has a year gone by without me revisiting this series at some point and it saddened me to think that people were missing out on these wonderful books, especially as the last regular novel - Dead Room Farce - was published as far back as 1997. I’d longed for his return for years and, in a 2010 interview, Brett acknowledged: “I get attached to my characters. I really feel I should go back to Charles Paris at some point. I get a lot of letters and e-mails encouraging me to do so . . . and, of course, I owe it to him—I’m the only person who ever gives him any work. So that’s a plan for the future.”

Over the last fifteen years he has been brought to life on Radio 4 by Bill Nighy and scriptwriter Jeremy Front. The first adaptation, 1999′s So Much Blood, was recorded at the Edinburgh Festival, where the story is set. This has been followed by A Series of Murders, Sicken and So Die, Murder Unprompted, The Dead Side of the Mike, Cast In Order of Disappearance, Murder in the Title, A Reconstructed Corpse, An Amateur Corpse and Corporate Bodies. Although the stories have been modernised (the novels were mostly written in the 1970s and 80s), Nighy is probably one of the very few people who could realistically carry him off and he does so brilliantly.

And then in 2011 Simon Brett announced that the publication of the eighteenth entry in the Charles Paris canon, A Decent Interval, wasn’t too far away. Charles had been ‘resting’ for far too long and his return was most welcome. In fact, it appears to have been the catalyst for even more mysteries, as book nineteen is published in May 2014. Charles Paris has landed a minor role in the Empire Theatre Eastbourne’s Christmas production of Cinderella. But rehearsals descend into chaos when a member of the cast is discovered shot dead beneath Eastbourne Pier. Charles must put his renowned sleuthing skills to the test to find out who killed his co-star – and why.

I’m thrilled by this, because I live in Eastbourne – and it’s about time Charles paid us a visit!

~

If you’re already a fan of Charles Paris, I can highly recommend Nev Fountain‘s excellent Mervyn Stone trilogy

Illustration by Roger Langridge

R01b Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child (Pilot Episode Commentary)

As a surprise treat (?) we’ve done a commentary on the pilot episode. However, before we get started, some explanation may be required…

The first episode, “An Unearthly Child”, was originally recorded a month before full recording on the series began. However, the initial recording was plagued with technical problems and errors made during the performance. A particular problem occurred with the doors leading into the TARDIS control room, which would not close properly, instead randomly opening and closing through the early part of the scene. Two versions of the scene set in the TARDIS were recorded, along with an aborted first attempt to start the second version.

Sydney Newman, after viewing the episode, met producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein. He indicated the many faults he found with the episode and ordered that it be mounted again; a consequence of this was the delay of the show’s planned 16 November 1963 premiere date. This initial episode is now known as the unaired “pilot episode”, although it was never intended as such, since the practice of producing pilot episodes did not exist in Britain in the 1960s.

During the weeks between the two tapings, changes were made to costuming, effects, performances, and the script (which had originally featured a more callous and threatening Doctor). Changes made before the final version were filmed include a thunderclap sound effect being deleted from the opening theme music; Susan’s dress being changed to make her look more like a schoolgirl than the original costume, which made her appear more alien and sensual; the Doctor’s costume being changed from a contemporary jacket and tie to his familiar Edwardian clothing; a reference to the Doctor and Susan being from the 49th century was replaced with the line “[from] another time, another world”; the TARDIS door being repaired so that it closed properly; and a refinement of the TARDIS sound effect.

The original episode was not broadcast until 26 August 1991, when the BBC aired a version that edited together the first half of the taping with one of the two completed second halves. As it happened, the version chosen was the one in which the TARDIS doors would not close; Carole Ann Ford fluffing a line of dialogue, Jacqueline Hill getting caught in a doorway, a camera banging into a piece of scenery during one of the scrapyard sequences, and William Russell accidentally knocking over a mannequin in the scrapyard. Earlier, in June 1991, a version with the first half edited together with the other take of the second half of the pilot was released on the VHS compilation The Hartnell Years; later, in 2000, the complete version (including both takes) was released in a remastered form on VHS, along with The Edge of Destruction.

In 2006, the Doctor Who: The Beginning DVD set contained two versions of the episode: an unedited studio recording including all takes of the second part of the show, and a newly created version of the pilot that uses the best footage from the original recording, with additional editing and digital adjustments to remove blown lines, technical problems, and reduce studio noise. Like the other episodes from this serial, both versions of the “pilot” were remastered for DVD release, using VidFIRE technology that simulated the original video look of the 1963 production. This is the version we have used, as if they’d had the opportunity, we’re sure the original production team would have compiled the best bits themselves and it’s as close to what they originally wanted as we’re ever going to see.

Clear as mud..? Excellent!

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