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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Tenth Planet

Four months ago, I had the bright idea of going back to the genesis of one of my favourite childhood tv programmes and seeing how it all started. 28 stories, 86 episodes and 30 odd reconstructions later I arrive at the final William Hartnell story, the second fourth season story, The Tenth Planet.

It's just been released on DVD, with the ambitious fourth episode animated, due to its continued loss from the BBC archives. So the timing of me reaching this point couldn't have been better.

I decide to make an event of the screening and put it on right bang in the heart of prime time Treadwell viewing, Saturday night just after tea time. Joining me on the sofa, my nearly five year old Doctor Who obsessed son Max, and my couldn't give a toss about DW wife.

The story takes place in 1986 at the South Pole Snowcap base, the control centre for the Zeus IV space mission ,which is placing a probe into Earth's atmosphere.

Power losses on the spaceship and unusual readings lead scientists to believe they have discovered a new planet which is getting closer and closer to the earth.

The Doctor reveals that he knows about this Tenth planet but no one wants to listen to him. How dare they.

Even when he rightly predicts what the planet looks like they still don't listen, putting the whole thing down to a cheap trick.

However, people start listening when, in through the hatch march a group of Cybermen. This is the first meeting of the Doctor and the robot cyborgs, and their design and look is a far cry from what we know today. They wear Silver foil like suits, with a big computerised box breast plate, a sock on their head with cut outs for eyes and mouth, a silver cap on their head with the distinctive handle bar design encompassing a super million candles power type torch. I think they've been down to my local B & Q.

If they weren't sold on conquering the Earth they could have got a very pleasant job as light house replacements!

I don't quite know what those light torches contain but they'll certainly blind you before killing you stone dead.

Now to the voice. The early edition Cybermen have a kind of singing drone voice, effectively slowing down the pronouncement of certain words and sounds so that they appear to be computer synthesised. What they actually sound like are very bad rappers. And with their blinging suits they even almost look the part.

The Cybermen explain that Earth once had a twin planet, called Mondas, that this planet evolved differently,
the humans on it gradually replacing their bodies with mechanical parts until completely made of machine, eliminating the need for the weakness of emotions.

Unfortunately Mondas is dying and the Cybermen need to sap the energy of the Earth in order to survive. And that's not all, unfortunately for the earthlings, the Cybermen will need to take them back to Mondas for conversion into, yes, you guessed it.

With the situation dire for humans, base commander Cutler, whose son is co-pilot of the orbiting space ship, takes full control, opting to fight the Cybermen and use the Z bomb (an atomic bomb) to destroy Mondas.

It's a cruel twist of fate that in his last adventure as the Doctor, a part he had made his own, Hartnell is taken ill with bronchitis and collapses during filming. He has to rest up while the rest of the cast take his lines as their own. His absence is felt during the next couple of episodes, as his illness isn't really explained in the story, instead he's laid up with some mysterious condition, seeming to be a side effect of the surprise conclusion coming at the end of the story.

Meanwhile, Ben and Polly are left perplexed and confused while the Cybermen go head to head with Cutler and the rest of the world.

Ben tries to sabotage the bomb but is discovered by Culter, who really is your typical all American gung-ho soldier. Luckily, when the countdown reaches zero, the bomb fails to launch.

By the time the Doctor arrives back on the scene Cutler is almost out of control and wants to kill the Doctor for preventing his sons rescue.

The Cybermen return to the station and kill Cutler. They demand the dismantling of the rocket with the bomb and take Polly as insurance that this is done. The Doctor goes with her.

The Doctor rightly surmises that the Cybermen intend to use the Z Bomb to destroy the Earth. Ben reaches a helpful conclusion that the Cybetmen can not survive in the radioactive atmosphere so refuse to work on the bomb.

Some radioactive reactor rods are used to expose the Cybermen to lethal doses of Radioactivity, therefore killing them and allowing Ben and the rest of the control room staff to retake the station.

More Cyberman arrive at the base but just then Mondas, weak and dying explodes, instantly killing them all.

Ben rushes to the Cyber ship and rescues Polly. The Doctor is acting strangely and when Ben tells him it's all over he mutters something about it being, far from over. As Hartnell delivers this line with great weight, we know something big is coming.

The Doctor rushes back to the TARDIS and by the time Ben and Polly get to the console room he is out for the count.

The transition from Hartnell to Troughton is seemless, and probably couldn't have been done better using modern technology. I wish I were one of those viewers back in the day watching this completely blind to what was coming. It must have been a magical surprise.

Worth mentioning here, the sets in this story are pretty impressive. The mock up exterior of the pole complete with fake snow, which according to the info in the DVD extras was a major pain in the arse and got just about everywhere. The interior of the base complete with computer screens, flashing thingy bobs and twisty knobs is fairly convincing too.

All in all you have to pay homage to this final story for its first introduction of a foe that keep on coming back time and time again. OK, so the these Cybermen are a little bit wishy washy than their present day counter parts, I mean, they even offer to give Ben a second chance when he fails to answer their ultimatum. And, let's be honest they sound a little bit gay when they open their sock covered mouths. But, their iconic relentless drive to delete, convert and duplicate has it origins in this very story.

Of course, the first regeneration is hugely significant as well, and seals the fate of Doctor Who's timelessness. It was a brave move, that paid off big time.

I remember that my Dad had told me a number of times that Hartnell was the best Doctor, but of course he would say that, as Hartnell was his first Doctor.

And now, having experienced, these first episodes, albeit in a restored cleaned up print, I can see why my Dad and the rest of the nation were so taken with his performance in this brave new tea time programme which burst onto the screens in 63, with such a strange character whom little was known about at the time.

I imagine that I too, if i'd been born then, would have been mesmerised by those grainy black and white images coming back through my tv screen, making me come back again and again.

And with a new younger active Doctor at the helm things were to go from strength to strengh. Yes, it's far from over.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, the second Doctor meets an old acquaintance.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Smugglers

Kicking off the fourth season, circa 1966, a Cornish romp with much skulduggery and piracy. Unfortunately long lost from the BBC archives, I have again been firing up youtube and viewing the Loose Cannon reconstructions in the very twilight of the small hours. I think I have a problem!

I must admit, I found this story a bit hard going, partly due to watching stills (with the odd surviving 5 second clip very neatly patched in every now and again) and audio over the top. But mostly though, down to its very talky nature, with not enough action.

We are in seventeenth century Cornwall, the Doctor, Polly and Ben are rapped up in a plot to find the gold treasure of diseased pirate captain Avery by his former crew, Joseph Longfoot, Cherub and captain Samuel Pike.

Along the way, Ben And Polly are charged with murder by the local Squire , the Doctor is kidnapped and a smuggling ring is in-covered.

As I said, there's an awful lot of plot to this episode, the only trouble is I didn't find it particularly exciting or engaging. I think to really appreciate this involving story it really needs to be seen as it was originally broadcast. Pictures and sound alone only seem to confuse the plot. After episode two I had no idea who was who, who was good, who was bad. Or for that matter, who I was.

It's a wonder that I made it through to the end, and only by limping, bruised, battered and scarred by tele-snaps and enough dialogue to fill a Death Star did I make it through.

The new companions Ben and Polly seem an adequate double act for the Doctor in this story, but their willing acceptance of the fact they are now travelling on a time ship is just a bit to much to swallow, considering they have just stepped out of the swinging sixties.

I look forward to re-reviewing this story when it is found in some far flung corner of the world. Until then I'm afraid, onward and upward.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, it's the end of the road for the first Doctor, but it's by no means the end for me when we visit The Tenth Planet.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The War Machines

It's the old old problem. Man invents computer. Computer out smarts man and builds a mechanised army. Man, completely out of his depth, enlists the help of a man who transverses time and space in a blue police box. Computer, getting all befuddled beckons the man calling him Doctor Who. Man steps back and let's the man in the funny hat and cloak do his thing...yes it Doctor Who meets Robot Wars.

The first thing that grabs you in this story is the episode tile screen, the letters flashing up in black and white computer type font one at a time until the entire screen is filled. It's something so different from the normal titles, and, does give the whole thing a contemporary feel.

We are in the swinging sixties, and while the rest of the country is partying and having a wild time, something sinister is going on at the top of the new Post Office Tower.

A new super computer, called WOTAN - (Will Operating Thought ANalogue) has been switched on by Proff Brett and his team of white coated bods.

On C day, in just four days time, WOTAN is to be joined with several other super computers around the globe.

When the TARDIS lands, Doctor and Dodo go to investigate the newly opened tower, which in itself, was a major achievement in modern architecture. Somehow, without the aid of any psychic paper they get through to WOTAN, and ask it a series of taxing questions. Unfortunately, "Are you planning to take over the world?", isn't one of them! Somehow though, the clever cloggs knows what the TARDIS is. How so?

Unfortunately WOTAN thinks its better than his creators and starts thinking for itself, hypnotising young Brett, to make him do its bidding.

Afterward, Dodo has a bit of a swing in the Inferno, London's hottest night spot with Brett's secretary Polly. There, they say, "hello sailor" to Ben Jackson, whose on shore leave. While, there though, Dodo is compromised by WOTAN, through a telephone
call from the tower and some spooky wavy effects on screen.

Meanwhile Hartnell has gate crashed a meeting of the Royal Scientific Club about WOTAN, chaired by Sir Charles Summer, a large imposing gentlemen played by William Mervyn.

The first episode of this four parter ends with Dodo summoned to WOTAN who then orders, in a whispery almost possessed voice, that, "Doc-tor Who Issss Rec-quired."

Just in case we missed it, WOTAN gives it to us again. Doctor Who, yes Doctor Who is most definitely required.

WOTAN, the menacing computerised collection of circuits and flashing lights, is up to no good. It wants to build an army of twelve super strong mechanical robots who will wreak havoc across London. That'll put a stop to those pesky swinging youngsters.

So then, to WOTAN's army. Essentially they look like giant versions of the DIY robots that, became popular on such programmes as Robot Wars. They are big one armed bandits which can drop a heavy weight down onto any unsuspecting target. They have laboured wheeled movement and emit some kind of deadly steam jet.

In an abandoned warehouse in Covent Garden, a tramp who looks suspiciously like Fagan out of Oliver, is looking for a place to stay for the night. He soon discovers he is not alone and WOTANS robot clobbers him good.

The Doctor suspects that Dodo has been compromised after she sets up a phone call from Brett to him. The Doctor nearly becomes possessed by the super computer but manages to escape. After breaking Dodo's programming he sends her away to stay with Sir Charles's wife in the country.

This is the last we see of Dodo alas, as she never does return. Her time on DW has been pretty brief, she has acted and carried herself well, but just hasn't had any chance to develop as a character over the past few weeks.

With Polly also under the influence of WOTAN, the Doctor dispatches Ben to her side. Ben is captured but is saved from death by Polly who tells WOTAN's followers that the computer needs all the slaves it can get. He later learns of the plan for twelve machines and manages to escape to warn the Doctor.

Sir Charles hastily was assembles a task force (a kind of forerunner to UNIT) to deal with the machine vermin. They attack the warehouse but Sergeant Bash (the Robot) is too powerful for them. They all run away, but the Doctor, striking one of many heroic posses during this story, stands firm as the robot approaches him.

The machine stops, due to its programming be in-complete and the Doctor takes the opportunity to have a mooch inside. He discovers that it, and the other robots are to attack from noon that very day.

Acting fast the Doctor has an idea to capture another machine using a crude electro magnetic force field. This renders the machine helpless, and the Doctor re-programmes the machine to attack WOTAN.

How the machine gets to the top if the Post Office tower is anyone's guess, but having done so it has a few stern words with WOTAN before killing it.

Polly escapes with Ben's help and they meet the Doctor at the suspicious blue box.

They tell the Doctor that Dodo isn't coming back and he thanks them. Having picked up the TARDIS key earlier, when Hartnell lost it, they decide to take action and enter the TARDIS anyway as it is de-materialising.

Yes, Polly and Ben are the Doctors new companions, and he's going to be proper pissed at their behavior.

All in all this story has many merits, as a forerunner to classic sci-fi films like War Games, and Demon Seed, it raises concerns over the place that computers have in our society, and what might happen if things get out if hand. And, it won't be the last time that this theme pops up in a Doctor Who story.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind everyone starts speaking in a Cornish accent and talking in riddles about caves and other skulduggery.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Savages

They've been tracking the Doctors travels for centuries, and they live in an idyllic civilisation set in the distant future. But under the surface of their placid nature is a cruel and dark secret, and there is only one man who can expose it. Yes, it's the completely missing story DW story, The Savages.

This story is essentially one of division and exploitation. The Elders, whom the TARDIS crew meet first, have been secretly conducting hideous experiments on the so called wild savages who live out beyond the city. The experiments involve draining the life force of the captured savages and using it to power their elaborate and high living life style.

For some reason the Elders, led by their charismatic leader Jano, all have pretty intense sun tans. It's not just that the black and white picture bringing out the contrast more, they really do look like they have been baked on gas mark 6 for a couple of days. Whether the decision to have them so tanned was to make the distinction between the two peoples more pronounced, or to show how better well off they are than the tribal savages is really anyone's guess.

What the Elders have in store for the Doctor though, when he finds out their horrible secret, is to subject him to a bit of a personality transfusion. The life force of the Doctor is transferred into Jano, whose mannerisms take on the Doctors, while the Doctors body is reduced to a grunting zombified looney.

Eventually, the Doctors magnetic personality is too much for Jano to cope with and he soon realises the errors of his ways, and that he must help the savages.

Stephen plays a big role in this story and ultimately when asked by leaders of the new and improved civilisation, to stay on and help rebuild, agrees. The Doctor supports him his decision, and touchingly tells him how proud he is of him. There's even a surviving clip, which was beautifully inserted into the Loose Cannon recon I watched, that shows Peter Purves final moments with the Doctor.

I must say, I've enjoyed Steven's quarrelling character over the episodes he's been in, and the sparring between him and the Doctor has been a joy.

This story, on the whole, was well conceived and executed. It could have resulted in a predictable bloodbath between the two fractions, but thanks to the Doctor, a non violent resolution, and refreshing positive message of goodwill and harmony resulted.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind 1960's London and a computer with big ideas!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Gunslingers

Doctor Who Rewind
The Gunslingers

After the disappointing Celestial Toymaker, we find ourselves in Tombstone Arizona, and a western with a twist. The twist being that all four episodes not only survive the BBC's butter fingers, but are also extremely watchable.

The Doctor initially less enthusiastic about being in cowboy country than Steven and Dodo, who really throw themselves into the era with costumes and all, probably because he's got a tooth problem. Yes, unfortunately the Doctors teeth don't regenerate and he visits a local dentist of sorts. This being the infamous outlaw Doc Holiday, who is being sought by the Clanton brothers over the settling of an old score.

Cunningly, Holiday, after extracting the offending tooth, gives the Doctor a gun and let's him wonder into the Last Chance Saloon, taking his place when the Clantons come looking for him, inviting him for a slug of sipping whisky.

Fortunately, Kate, Holiday's lover rescues the Doctor and local marshal, non other than Wyatt Earp, places him in the safety of the jailhouse.

Steven and Dodo encounter the Clanton's in the bar, who insist on having them entertain them with a ditty. It's "The Last Chance Saloon" song that we here right at the top of the story and consequently before each new scene. It's a novelty scene watching Perves trying to sing a rootin' tootin' verse or two, but having the song repeated every several minutes is a little bit of an overkill to be honest.

Dodo gets embroiled with Doc Holiday when he splits town with Kate to avoid capture by Earp and has no chance but to leave with them.

The enigmatic Johnny Ringo rides into Tombstone and promptly shoots the barman of The Last Chance. He's looking for Holiday himself and gets Steven to ride out with him to find him.

Steven and Kate end up being taken by Ringo to the Clanton ranch where the Clantons recamp and tell their father, Pa Clanton, that they have killed an Earp. Wyatt Earp swears vengeance and starts to build a posse of lawmen to deal with the Clantons once and for all. Doc Holliday returns to Tombstone with Dodo, and offers his services to his old friend Earp too. Attempts by the Doctor to defuse the situation amount to little: there will be a gunfight at the O.K. Corral. On the one side are the three Clanton brothers and Johnny Ringo; on the other, the two Earps and Doc Holliday. At the end of the gunfight Ringo and the three Clantons are shot dead. Shortly thereafter, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo slip away in the TARDIS.

Of note in this story are the wonderfully detailed sets, even for early Doctor Who these add to the setting of the story and really add authenticity. One is reminded of those old black and white cowboy films we all watched when we were kids.

The acting throughout is solid, but the American accents are hit and miss. Ranging from Mid Western to East Endin'.

There are some great lines in the script too, real comical moments and it's nice to see Hartnell embracing the spirit of the story despite coming to the end of his time as the Doctor.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, the distant future and discover a dark secret.

Doctor Who Rewind - The Celestial Toymaker

This has such potential to be a fantastic story, a mad external being, a master magician with illusions of grandeur traps the Doctor and friends, and forces them to play a series of fiendish games...

The reality I'm afraid was just a tad disappointing.

The plot then is pretty simple, in order to regain possession of the TARDIS the Doctor has to play the Trilogic game, a ten piece Tower of Hanoi puzzle whose pieces must all be moved and remounted in a precisely correct 1023 move sequence to ensure success at the game.

To prevent the Doctor from interacting with Steven and Dodo, who have been given their own set of puzzles and games to work through, he has been made all but invisible, except for his hand which moves the pieces relentlessly around the board.

So then, for much of this story the Doctor is absent, and whether this is down to another holiday or his failing ill health i don't know.

Meanwhile, poor Steven and Dodo have to make do with a really desperate script that lacks imagination, is boring, and difficult to get excited about.

The Toymakers toys challenge the two companions to deadly games involving electrified chairs and playing cards, clowns playing blind mans bluff, and a naughty school boy - all whom are trying to prevent Steven and Dodo from finding the real TARDIS among a host of facsimiles.

Eventually the Doctor finished his game and beats the Toymaker at his own game.

This is not the first time he and the Toymaker have met either according to what he alludes to at the start of the story - but I do hope it's the last time however, as I've had better times eating my own vomit.

It really is that bad. Even the actors seem disinterested with a plot that doesn't seem to go any where. The scenes and dialogue seem to waffle on for what seems like an endless amount of time.

Even getting to view the moving images of the fourth and only surviving episode of this story didn't make it any better.

To be honest, I'm glad the BBC didn't announce that this was part of the recent haul of found episodes.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, the Doctor ventures to the Wild West and we get to grips with some very suspect American accents.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Ark

It's full speed ahead now as I approach the final stories of Harntell's three year stint as the Doctor. And, for extra support on this four parter, I'm joined on the sofa by my four year old son, who is already completely potty about DW and has watched all the post 2005 episodes, the McGann TV Movie, a Davidson, a Tom Baker and Pertwee (in a Pear tree). Sorry, couldn't help myself.

In the very first scene we see the back of what appears to be Opra Winfrey on a particularly bad hair day. But wait, as it turns to face the camera it appears to be someone dressed in a badly fitting bear costume, wearing a very dodgy wig. Oh, and they appear to have misplaced an eye. Probably came off in the wash I should imagine.

This hideous creature then is a Monoid. I look over to Small Treadwell to see if there is any reaction to the monster. None. Mmmmmm.

We have travelled ten million years into the future to a space ship which contains a living zoo. A kind of Ark which contains examples of various life forms and plants from Earth. Humans (called Guardians) have fled Earth as it is about to be destroyed by the expanding sun.

These Guardians, live peacefully on the ship with the Monoids, who are their slaves. The Monoids have no mouth and only communicate via a weird set of hand signals. Half the time they look like they are doing hand motions to some kind of 1970's disco dance, and if they could only get their legs and feet doing the same, they would surely win dance off's around the galaxy.

The ship is on the way to a planet called Refusis II, which will be the humans new home. Many billions of humans have been miniaturised and put into storage until arrival on the planet. In fact at the start of the episode a sorry young fellow is sentenced to miniaturisation for having an inappropriate relationship.

Also, very importantly, the humans a erecting a giant statue on the ship, just for kicks apparently, of a human being. What they quite plan to do with this statue is anyone's guess.

Thrown into all this, the TARDIS crew are soon captured and taken to the control room for questioning. Dodo, the newest Doctor companion, has ransacked the TARDIS wardrobe and is wearing a medieval knights outfit and looks totally out of place. She has also come down with a cold and is sneezing all over the place.

The inevitable happens and the humans and Monoids start dropping down like flies from the virus, from which they have little immunity. When the commander is taken ill, Zentos, his deputy, who is highly suspicious of the Doctor, has them imprisoned.

After some persuasion, the Doctor is released and allowed to cure the virus from taking any more victims. The humans, being extremely glad about this, allow the Doctor and friends to leave and the TARDIS dematerialises.

It certainly seems, at this point, that things have gone a bit too well for the Doctor, and given we are only two episodes into a four parter we know there is more to come. When first shown in 1966 it must have been a bit confusing then to see the TARDIS landing in the same jungle as it had just left.

Time has moved on however and seven hundred years have paced. Things have changed on the ship. The Monoids are no longer mute slaves, due to a second strain of the cold virus affecting the humans enough to make them genetically inferior.

The tables have turned, the Monoids are now the masters of the humans, they are able to speak using a device placed around their neck, and to boot, they have mastered basic counting, as every Monoid is assigned a number of rank, with one as the leader.

The Doctor and co are sent to the security kitchen to work. No!!! Not the security kitchen I hear you cry!! Yes, they will make pies and pastries!!! Soups and salads! What a terrible existence.

The replacement Earth planet Refusis II is nearing, and the Doctor and Dodo are chosen as a first landing party to check out if there are any hostile inhabitants.

Turns out that Refusis II is home to invisible creatures with huge strength, who are only willing to share the planet with peace keeping beings. They are however, willing to help the Doctor.

Meanwhile Monoid number one has fallen out with Monoid number four about what to do with the humans after settling on Refusis II. One wants to kill them and has planted a bomb inside the huge statue on the space ship, which if you remember, was going to be a humanoid, but has in fact become a Monoid.

While civil breaks out between the two fractions of the Monoids as they land on Refusis II. Monoids go mono on mono with Monoids and there's plenty of casualties.

Steven manages to break out of the Kitchen and joins the search for the bomb, however a Refusian has snuck aboard a Monoid ship and has found the bomb itself, it is thrown out the air lock and into space before it explodes.

The story concludes with the humans and remaining Monoids agreeing to live on equal terms with the Refusians.

Back on the TARDIS after dematerialisation, the Doctor starts fading in and out strangely?

Despite this classic story being over 45 years old, the restoration team have again done a fine job of cleaning it up. And the scenes on film look pretty atmospheric and cinematic. The sets are good too with the forest and animals, even including an elephant.

The only thing that let's this story down is the Monoids themselves who just end up looking like men in hairy suits with wigs on.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind we enter the realm of The Celestial Toymaker.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve

Surviving The Dalek Masterplan, I feel like I can tackle anything, so when this four part completely missing historical gets underway I breath a sigh of relief...but alas, it's short lived.

This is really one of those stories you need to pay close attention to. Not only that but a degree in 15th century French history is advisable.

On landing in Paris in 1572, the Doctor and Steven go for a welcoming drink in a nearby tavern. Soon after, the Doctor announces to Steven that he's going to visit the apothecary Charles Preslin and swiftly leaves. Leaving poor old Steven alone and confused, and it's not long before he's caught up in tensions between the Protestants and Catholics.

There is a lot of dialogue in this story which is all well and good, but as far as action goes, not much going on until the final episode. The clue being in the title.

There's not much Doctor action either, and I did begin to think he might have popped over to the continent for a quick break at one point. When he does show his face, it's not even him. It's Hartnell playing the Abbot of Amboise. Confused? You will be.

Steven again puts in a solid performance, and is as fidgety and quarrelsome as ever. There's great support as well from the rest of the cast, but this story didn't really do much for me until it reached its final scenes.

Steven and the Doctor split just before all hell breaks lose in Paris, and Steven isn't happy that the Doctor leaves Ann (a servant who he has befriended) behind. When the TARDIS lands on Wimbledon Common in 1966, Steven storms out vowing never to return.

The Doctor is left on his own for the first time, and sadly remembers all the companions that he has left behind. He considers going back to his own planet but then realises that he can't!

It's a wonderfully poignant scene by Hartnell, and we really see the vulnerability of the Doctor. It's broken by a young girl wondering in through the open TARDIS doors. The Doctor is taken by surprise and asks her if she's lost. She answers that she wanted to call the police as a boy has been knocked down. Just then Steven returns claiming the Police are heading for the TARDIS and the Doctor, panicking, hastily closes the doors and dematerialises toward their next adventure.

The name of the girl is Dodo Chaplet, she's an orphan who lives with her great aunt. She claims no one will miss her and she doesn't seem fazed that she's just entered a ship that can traverse time and space. The Doctor, remembering his granddaughter Susan, manages a wry smile (despite the fact that he's just kidnapped another young girl, you can get arrested for that you know).

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, the new companion comes down with a cold that wreaks havoc in the distant future.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Doctor Who Rewind - The Dalek Masterplan

When Doctor Who fanatic Neil Perryman, author of my only guide along this long and winding road, "Adventures With The Wife In Space", (in which he subjects his wife to every single DW episode), reached the daunting totally missing twelve part Dalek Masterplan he described it as, "...the Mount Kilimanjaro of Doctor Who stories…" And he's right. The journey to the summit will be fraught with all manner of plot twists, unnecessary diversions and shocks. Yes, buckle up, this one could cause internal haemorrhaging.

The Dalek Masterplan follows six months on from the events of Mission To The Unknown on planet Kembel. The devious Daleks have formed an alliance with the leaders of several other galaxies in order conquer our own solar system. Their closest alley being Mavec Chen, guardian of the solar system, who fiendishly tells his people he's going on a break, in order that he can nip off to Kembel and brown nose with the Daleks.

In order for the Daleks plan to succeed they need to acquire a rare mineral called
taranium, which powers a weapon they have devised called The Time Destructor. Chen has a sample of this material and is using it to bargain his way into a partnership with the Daleks.

The whole crux of the story then is the acquisition of this taranium. And the Doctors mission to keep it from falling into Dalek hands.

Only three episodes of this story have survived in the BBC archives, so like many before me, I'm watching the excellent Loose Cannon reconstructions, all of which can be found on youtube.

You can really split the story into two parts, before 7th episode, which was broadcast on Christmas Day 1965, and after. Once you've got past that Feast Of Steven, it's all down hill.

So, some highlights and low lights to mention. First of all the sound FX by the Radiophonic Workshop are superb throughout, otherworldly, atmospheric, lucid, machine like. I can't imagine watching the stills provided by the recons without hearing the background fx and bedding.

You may remember from that coming into this story Steven was injured by the Trojans. Well he receives medical help from Space Agent Brett Vyon who is on the run from the Daleks after his mate was exterminated by them when they were both investigating the disappearance of Marc Corey. He of Mission To The Unknown fame.

The Doctor manages to incapacitate one of the alliance, Zephon, and disguise himself enough to attend a meeting with the Daleks in which Chen proudly displays the taranium. Unfortunately the real Zephon raises the alarm and amid confusion the Doctor swipes the taranium for himself.

The Doctor, Brett, Katarina and Steven, nick Chen's ship and set course for the nearest planet, a convict prison world called Desperus, with the Daleks hot in pursuit. After touching down, a group of inmates try to force entry, so a speedy take off is organised. Unfortunately one of the men has broken into the airlock and holds Katarina hostage. Threatening to kill her if the ship doesn't take him to Kembel. Reluctantly the Doctor agrees but Katarina forces the air lock open and herself and the prisoner get sucked out into space.

It's a bit of a shock when this happens as carrying Katarina over from the previous story kind of gives you a false sense that she's going to be travelling with the Doctor for a while, but to have her killed off four episodes later while harsh, really gives a sense of the unpredictability of the story line, and that the writers were not afraid to take some drastic measures for the sake of the drama.

The replacement for Katarina comes in the shape of Sara Kingdom, she is part of Chen's security force who pursue the Doctor and crew on Earth when they go to visit Brett's friend Daxtar, who has sided with Chen. Brett kills Daxtar, and throws himself at Sara so that the Doctor and Steven can escape. Sara kills Brett and gives chase to the Doctor. Meanwhile her colleague, a bald Putin look alike takes great pleasure in looking moody and posing for the camera.

It's at this point that things start going a bit surreal. Stumbling into a laboratory setting the three of them get caught up in a Molecular Dissemination experiment with some mice. As you do.

They are all transported, with some pretty hilariously dodgy effects involving a trampoline and slow motion, to the planet Myra. There they are attacked by invisible beasts. Chen, his head swelling, claims this was all his plan and dispatches the Daleks to the planet, who surrounded the three fugitives. But, there are red faces all round as the Doctor and co escape and take the Dalek ship when the unseen creatures attack again.

The doctors next bright idea is to build a fake taranium core, yes it's the old fake taranium trick. He's so predictable. Steven, unable to keep still, decides to charge the core with gravitic energy, and ends up nearly killing himself. Neatly though, he is enclosed in a force field that not even the Dalek death ray can penetrate. This surprisingly comes in handy when Chen, instigates the hand over of the taranium and Steven is saved from a death ray as he scarpers with the rest back into the TARDIS and away.

So, 7 episodes in, only two being moving images and we reach Christmas Day 1965. When I put the recon on I am amazed that the TARDIS lands in 1960s England, outside a police station. After a lot of bickering between Steven and the Doctor about the polluted atmosphere, the Doctor gets himself arrested and taken away. One of the police men commenting that maybe the white haired old fellow is actually Father Christmas. Steven, in a very silly little sequence, tries to go in and rescue the doctor. Eventually they escape and materialise on the set of a silent film.

At this point I'd suspected something was up. No Daleks? No Chen strutting around full if himself?

The idea then of this episode was to provide a little light relief for Christmas. I mean, you can't go terrifying kids with Daleks on the big day can you? Well, I wish they had had. Cause anything would be better than this frankly embarrassing twenty five minute caper.

All hell breaks lose on the silent film set and after several attempts at humour akin to Carry On films, a slanging match ensues and I honesty have no idea what is going on as the shouting is much louder in the mix than the dialogue.

Eventually the TARDIS crew slip back into the ship and the episode ends with the Doctor raising a toast for Christmas to not only his crew mates but to us at home!

With the forth wall well and truly shattered, not to mention my brain, the madness ends and we can rejoin the Daleks again.

Chen, god bless him is having it large from the Daleks when they test the Time Destructor on Trantis (a representative of one of the galaxy's) and nothing happens. The fake taranium is discovered and Chen is really up to his neck in it.

A Dalek time ship is despatched to pursue the doctor and retrieve the taranium once again. This time the TARDIS lands on a volcanic planet and has been followed by none other than the meddling monk from a couple of stories back, who wants revenge on the Doctor.

After trying to destroy the lock on the TARDIS the monk follows it to ancient Egypt, where the Daleks and Chen have also descended to look for the taranium.

The monk bumps into the Daleks and Chen, and is left with no choice but to offer his services to them in capturing the Doctor. However, while snooping around, he's attacked by the Doctor, who throws him in a Egyptian box.

Sara and Steven find the monk, but are captured by Chen and the Daleks, who hold them as hostages, using them to bargain back the taranium from the Doctor, who has been fumbling around in the Monks TARDIS removing something.

With little choice the Doctor hands over the taranium, the Egyptians attack, and in the ensuing sequence render a Dalek useless by sticking a few well placed stones around it's base. The Doctor, Steven and Sara escape back to the TARDIS, while Chen and the remaining Daleks flee to there ship.

The Doctor reveals that he's taken the directional controller from the Monks TARDIS, who, after taking off, materialises on an icy world.

With the monks directional controller installed in the TARDIS, the three head for Kembel and barely make it before the circuit completely burns itself out.

Chen meanwhile has illusions of grandeur, with his plan to out whit the Daleks and become the ultimate supreme ruler of the universe. He kills another representative, and has the rest put in prison.

Arriving on Kembel the Doctor gets separated from Steven and Sara in the jungle. They press on to the Dalek city and find the prisoned council members who plead for their release in exchange for turning on the Daleks. Steven releases them and they all flee the planet back to their respective systems.

Back in the jungle Sara and Steven discover the entrance to a second underground city, and Chen who has followed them orders then to enter at gunpoint.

Chen, who by this time believes himself some kind of immortal superman orders the Dalek leader to obey him. But, the Dalek remains silent and resolved that their partnership is well and truly over. Chen fires at the leader but the shot does no damage. Daleks surround Chen and lead him outside where they exterminate him. Ha, about time.

At this moment the Doctor rushes into the control room and half inches the Time Destructor, which he activates. The Daleks, unable to retaliate, for fear of hitting the machine, retreat, and the Doctor orders Sara and Steven return to the TARDIS.

He himself backs out into the corridor and makes his way out into the jungle. Sara, wanting to help, rejoins him.

With the Time Destructor on full power, there follows a sequence which really does bring the whole story to a gloriously gloomy and dark ending. It's fantastically achieved to, as we see Sara and the Doctor battling their way to the TARDIS, while growing increasingly old and wrinkled, the Doctor much slower than Sara.

This would have been a fitting end to the first Doctor, and would have lent itself to a great regeneration, but Hartnell, the old boy, has life in him yet for a few more adventures.

The same can not be said for poor Sara, who has reduced to a skeleton and falls to the floor along side the Doctor.

At this point Steven rushes out from the TARDIS and tries to deactivate the Time Destructor, but what he does though, is put it into reverse, so that himself and the doctor revert to their previous ages.

The Daleks arrive and fire on the Doctor but their weapons have been affected by the machine and implode on themselves. All that is left of the Daleks then are small embryos lying on the ground.

The Doctor, remembering the names of the fallen, Katarina, Brett and Sara, takes Steven inside the TARDIS, which dematerialises.

This last 12th episode should have been the Christmas one without a doubt.

Overall then, some really patchy moments over the 12 parts. Some meanderings that shouldn't have ever been. Some episodes were definitely padding in a story that could have easily have been a six parter.

Kudos to Denis Spooner too, who turned Terry Nation's sketched scripts into something more substantial, but even so, sometimes that just wasn't enough.

Also some real flashes of brilliance in the direction and special fx. The impact of that final scene on Kembel, of Sara ageing to her death must be one of the most affecting images of early Doctor Who.

So then, with Masterplan all wrapped up, it's onto the next, a little adventure in which Steven and the Doctor get dangerously between Protestants and Catholics in 15th Century Paris. Mmmm.