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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The War Games

It really is the end of an era. It's lasted eight months, has encompassed 253 episodes, including 97 reconstructions (missing episodes loving restored using recovered audio and Tele-snaps), has introduced signature monsters and aliens, historical farces and dramas, and, has given me two very different versions of the rouge Time Lord we've all come to love, The Doctor.

With the final story of the second Doctor, the epic War Games, the black and white era of the programme closes, just six months after this story airs, a new Doctor, in an entirely different situation, would crash down to earth in glorious technicolor.

To give you a blow by blow account of the War Games would take far to long, so I'm going to give you a flavour of the story.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves on an Earth like planet, seemingly in the middle of No Mans Land during the War. They soon discover that all is not what it seems however. Soldiers fighting the war appear to have lost their long term memory, and when they question any aspect of the official story, they are mind controlled by the ruthless General Smythe (played by Noel Coleman) who is, in turn, in contact with the mysterious HQ.

The Doctor finds out that there are a number of time zones, in which are running a number of simulated wars from history - Roman, Greek, Crimean War, First World War, Peninsular War, American Civil War, Mexican Civil War, English Civil War, Thirty-Years War, Boer War, Russo-Japanese War.

Each of these zones is controlled via technology and a high ranking officer who is in contact with a central HQ zone. Eventually, the Doctor and co, make it to the central HQ zone, in a time space craft which is bigger on the inside than the out, mmmm sounds familiar? It even makes a noise not to dissimilar to that of the TARDIS!!

Once at HQ the Doctor discovers that troops of displaced soldiers from many of Earths historical wars are under going some kind of mind control to make them believe they are fighting in a real war. The Doctor discovers that one of the men in control, the War Lord (played by Edward Brayshaw) is in fact one of his own race, a Time Lord, who knows who he is.

There are so many wonderful performances in this story by some really great British actors. The cast is huge, and it's an ambitious script which twists and turns, never leaving you feeling bored or fatigued, but wanting to forge ahead and watch it all in one sitting.

The set up, in the first episode, which misleads you to thinking we are on Earth, is really well executed. And the first cliff hanger, when the Doctor, is seemingly executed, really does bed the episode down in the time and place of war time Earth.

When the TARDIS like SIDRATs turn up depositing more troops etc we know that something is up. And when the wonderfully mysterious War Lord turns up it's pretty obvious where he comes from.

Despite some really great characters, turns and performances, and being supported very admirably by both Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines (Zoe and Jamie), this story belongs to Patrick Troughton. His performance is the central driving force behind the entire story, and despite being captured and recaptured he never gives up in his quest to free the soldiers and return them to their own time. Even at the expense of his own demise, as we see at the finale, when he is left with no choice but to call in his own people to help with the mess the War Chief and War Lord have made.

So for the first time we learn of the Doctors own kind, that he ran away from his home world, and that Time Lords love to make speeches. The Doctors anger at being put on trial for interfering in the affairs of countless societies is really powerful as he defends his choice to take action instead of remaining impartial and on the side lines where his people say he must remain. We even get a curtain call of his best bits as he shows the Time Lords that he really did make a difference by fighting the likes of the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors.

We feel his frustration as he desperately tries to pick his next incarnation from a line up of photo misfits displayed on a screen, too fat, too small etc, and when the Time Lords run out of patience with him they make the decision for him, banishing him to the one place he feels more familiar with, (after his own planet of course), Earth in the 20th century. 1970 to be precise.

The scene where Troughton, Padbury, and Hines bid each other farewell genuinely has a somber feel, as it really was goodbye for all three actors, who were ending their time on Doctor Who together. When Jamie shakes the Doctors hand and tells him, "I'll never forget you" it's with a heavy heart. From watching the many interviews and extras supplied with the Doctor Who DVDs, I gather Troughton and Hines were inseparable and shared a similar sense of humour.

When I first started watching Troughton's Doctor I really wasn't sure I was going to like him, but somewhere in the middle of his run, I really grew to like his very lived in, scruffy, Chaplin esque friend to the end nature. And as companions go, Jamie, is going to take some beating - he might have been easy going but was always ready to fight for the cause at a moments notice. The two of them, Troughton and Hines, made a great team together.

I've found watching the black and white era of Who completely fascinating, like stepping back through time itself, and into another existence way before my own. It's been so good to see the programmes origins, and to see how many iconic figures made there debut. B & W really lends itself to that early pioneering atmosphere of Who. Adding a creepy cinematic quality to many of the early stories, which look as good or if not better, than when they originally went out, thanks to the restoration process.

So, with the 1960s all nicely wrapped up, and with baby Nic Treadwell firmly on Earth (I was born between the gap of The War Games and Spearhead From Space), it's time for Doctor Who to do what it does best, to reinvent itself.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, the new Doctor encounters some rather scary shop window accessories.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The Space Pirates

A few days ago I passed a huge milestone in my Doctor Who marathon, a project where I am watching every single classic story...

Can it really be? Yes it bloody can, The Space Pirates marks the very last partly or completely missing story (only one episode remains in the archives). Which means this is the last story which requires the viewing of a Recon. After I'm done with this it's the bonifide genuine article all the way through to McGann's 1996 TV movie.

I binge watch almost the entire Space Pirates story (episodes 2-6) one afternoon lying in bed sick with flue, somehow the lethargic nature of my illness compliments the viewing and I storm my way through it. I fire up youtube and find all the Loose Cannon reconstructions.

The first thing you notice about the serial is the unearthly warbling female vocal theme (similar to that classic Star Trek theme) which starts every episode. It really doesn't conjure up pirates, more like spectres and ghouls.

It's all very haunting, and I realise that it may not be completely unknown to me. Back between March & April 1969 when this was first broadcast, i was three or four months away from being born, and if mum had been near a TV on a Saturday evening, I could well have caught an earful of that strange lament - it could explain quite a lot actually!!

So, in a nutshell, what we have in the story is thus. A gang of ruthless criminals (headed up by Cavern) are going around blowing up space beacons and plundering them for their precious argonite. They are being pursued for this by The Earth Space Corps cruiser V41 with
General Hermack and Major Warne in charge.

After what seems an eternity, the TARDIS materialises on one these beacons, just before (as it happens) the pirates are due to take it out themselves. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe get trapped in one of the exploded parts of the beacon. With oxygen levels falling, and the Doctor unable to get back to the TARDIS. Fortunately they are rescued by eccentric space pioneer, Milo Clancy (pictured above), who is suspected to be a Space Pirate by General Hermack.

The Doctor doesn't quite know how to react to Clancy, and if he can be trusted. He takes them to the nearest planet, called Ta, which is home to the Issigri Mining Corporation, whose leader is Madeleine Issigri. Clancy has been suspected of murdering Madeleine's father Dom who has been missing.

General Hermack visits Madeleine as he suspects Clancy to be a pirate and will make for the planet. Clancy does just that putting his old ship down near the mines. After requesting them to stay put, Clancy goes off by himself, growing nervous the TARDIS crew soon venture out through the mines. They soon stumble on the pirates, who are using the mines as their HQ. They are momentarily captured but released and saved again by Clancy.

Meanwhile Cavern orders some of the beacon pieces to be rerouted to Lobos, the world where Clancy is based, in order to further convince the Space Corp that he is one of the pirates. Hermack sees through this ruse, but it takes some time.

The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe and Clancy meet with Madeleine and realise she has teamed up with Cavern. They are locked in the study of Dom Issigri who is still alive after being kept captive by Cavern for years.

When Madeleine learns her father is still alive she tells Cavern she no longer wants to help him, but he threatens to kill her father. She contacts Hermack and tells him to get to Ta as quick as possible.

The Doctor and co break out of the study and make for Clancy's ship, which has been adapted to automatically take off by the resourceful Cavern. With only Clancy and Dom aboard, the ship takes off leaving the rest on the planet. When in orbit, Cavern orders the Oxygen supply cut. With only minutes of oxygen left the Doctor manages to stop the remote device which controls the ship and re-engage the oxygen.

Desperate, Cavern threatens to blow up the Ta base, as he escapes in his ship. With time counting down the Doctor must stop the triggering device in time for the arrival of Clancy's ship which is on its way back down to the planet.

This story has a reputation as a bit of a stinker but it's by no means the worst recon I've had to sit through. Some of the characters are a bit one dimensional though, like General Hermack who could do with an injection of enthusiasm.

I think I read somewhere that there was a lack Tele-snaps for this story so most of the stills for the recon are used from the existing second episode. This limits things slightly, for instance every time Cavern is on screen we get the same shot of him looking slightly gormless, with a silly smile plastered across his face.

Milo Clancy's character (played by New Zealand actor Gordon Gostelow looks like he's just walked off the set of some old Weston, it's like he doesn't even belong in this time, and, for that reason I found him highly watchable, his humour and energy really brought a bit of life to the whole thing.

So no more missing episodes, and I feel I should commend Loose Cannon's efforts at filling the gaps with their wonderful reconstructions, which really have helped me to appreciate those stories which hopefully, one day, may be found.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind we reach another major milestone with the end of the black and white era, but before that it's the mammoth ten part War Games to contend with.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Homegrown Programme 214

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate & Entertain
James Holt - Whatever Happened To John
The Meditation Singers - Getting High On The Lord
Arlo Gurthrie & Pete Seeger - 66 Highway Blues
The Stray Birds - Loretta
Sam Page - Release Me
The Pocket Gods - UFO Man
James Tristan Redding - A Girl Named Elizabeth
Stahlburste Darling - Blup Blip
Jules Weir - Car Park 6
Methyl Ethel - Tillted
Work O The Weavers - Which Side Are You On
Scott Wilk - Time On His Hands
Alan Toussaint - It's Raining
Luke Jackson - Father And Son
Dirt Music - Starlight Club
Blue Acid - A Lie
Natasha North - Relapse
John Wort Hannam - Requim For A Small Town
Steve Kirkman - I've Got To Know

Yard Dutty - Cost Benefit Analysis
Hillman Lighthouse - Change Your Mind
Henry Priestman - Valentine Song

Spoken Word:
Pete Seeger - Pete Remembers Woody / My Big Education /
How To Sing In Saloons / Rambling The Appalachains /
Last Time I Heard Woody Sing 

Please sign the Andy Kershaw peitition @ http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bringbackkershaw/
Subscribe to Homegrown at itunes @ http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/homegrown/id93403497
Join the Homegrown Facebook community @ http://www.facebook.com/Homegrownpodcast
For more great music check out  http://www.mikehardingfolkshow.com/
Contribute : nic@homegrownpodcast.co.uk

Check out this episode!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The Seeds Of Death

Doctor Who Rewind
The Seeds Of Death

This one's been on small Treadwell's horizion for quite a while, in fact for several months since my friend lent me the DVD at the start of our Troughton run. Nearly every story since then I get asked, "Is this the seeds of death Dad?"

Well, yes Max. This is the Seeds Of Death, can it measure up to such anticipated hype and pre-discussion between Max and my friends son, Robin?

We are at the end of the twenty first century and a new form of instantaneous teleportation travel has been invented called T-Mat. This makes the need for all other forms of travel on earth obsolete. Even space travel is no longer necessary due to the ease of life on earth that T-mat has brought about.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, put down inside an Earth based space travel museum. The Doctor drools over several models of rockets which have allowed humans to travel into space. We meet the curator of the museum, a man called professor Eldred, who has been building a old rocket as a side line, in the hopes that one day he may see it in action.

Rather conveniently, that day has arrived, due to a mysterious error with the T-mat relay station on the moon. Commander Radnor and his assistant appear to ask for the profs help. They want to utilise his rocket to get to the moon and find out what in earth is going on. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe volunteer to man the rocket without even slightest idea of the dangers.

Meanwhile, on the moon, things are looking pretty grim at the relay station. Ice warriors have taken over, and are forcing the remaining crew (several have been killed by the Warriors energy weapon which literally makes whoever is in its sights go all wibbly wobbly) to assist the Warriors in their plan, which is to T-mat strange seed pods filled with a substance which sucks oxygen from the air, to the four corners of the world, wiping every living thing off the face of the planet.

After a rather bumpy journey to the moon in the rocket, in which incidentally, the TARDIS crew do not even don space suits or receive any training what-so-ever, and in which the brace for landing position is just sitting back in normal chairs without the aid of even straps; they arrive at the relay station, sneak in and find the Ice Warriors moving, rather slowly about the place carrying our their evil plan.

The Doctor must find a way to render the seed pods harmless, which, after initially inflating just like a balloon (for that is what they are!) they expel huge amounts of guess what, yes, that Doctor Who staple, foam!! Where would we be without it, with several stories utilising it during this season alone. This foam allows, rather conveniently, the spread of the oxygen sucking fungus.

The Doctors antidote to this fungus is a simple solution, water! Though the Ice Warriors have dispatched a team down to an earth weather control station, to ensure good growing conditions for the pods, i.e without any rainfall.

All the Doctor needs to do then is re-take the weather station and programme a light shower. Plus there's the little problem of the fleet of Ice Warrior ships that's advancing on the earth as well.

This then, is at least a better story than the awful Krotons, but the problem I have with it is that it doesn't really make the Warriors the menacing cold blooded race of killers that they are portrayed to be. Chase scenes through corridors become ludicrously Laurel and Hardy like slap stick pastiches, with Ice Warriors lumbering and plodding along, waving their pincer like arms hopelessly, with Jamie or Zoe or whoever, running circles around them. And in other scenes to, in which they enter the action, it's almost as if the whole story goes into slow motion so they can meander into shot to strike a suitably terrorising pose before things can resume.

I didn't have this problem with them in their debut story as it just wasn't as noticeable, with less scenes involving the need for action.

It's a shame, as I do like the warriors as monsters and I'm sure they will get a chance to show how utterly ruthless they can be in later stories. In fact we know that they certainly do in the Matt Smith episode, Cold War.

Next time in Doctor Who Rewind, it's time to breath a sigh of relief as i complete the last Doctor Who Recon, in the partly missing Space Pirates.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The Krotons

Perhaps the ultimate mistake this four part story makes is revealing who and what the Krotons are, because up until that point I was intrigued enough to keep watching.

After landing on an un-named planet, which looks very much like an abandoned quarry, the Doctor and co discover the inhabitants (the Gonds) are locked in a disastrous long term relationship with entities who arrived in a space ship many hundreds of years before, and who demand regular sacrifices of their most most intelligent people.

The Krotons are never seen by the Gonds, they communicate by way of announcements made over a public PA. The Gonds intelligence is tested by plugging themselves into a computer and solving IQ type tests.

The lucky winner of a date with the Krotons gets to enter into their realm through a door in the city. The Gonds never see them again, but we, the viewer see that they eventually exit the Krotons space (outside of the city) and are murdered by a jet of poisonous gas.

One of the Gonds is hell bent on rebelling against these Krotons fellers. He gets his chance now that the Doctor has arrived because the Doctor decides to take the Kroton test and be selected for some quality time with the Krotons. Unfortunately, Zoe also takes the test and gets selected as well.

When they go into the Dynotrope, which is the very un-inspiring name that the Krotons have named their ship, the Doctor and us, see just just what he is up against.

Unfortunately the Krotons turn out to be Robby The Robots distant relatives, with diamond shaped heads and crude, very un-manoeuvrable arms and legs which make them look clumsy and well, very silly. It's just the kind of thing that gives ammunition to those who want to take the piss out of Doctor Who.

There are some interesting ideas here about slavery, sacrifice and rebellion, but
ultimately this story is let down by poor writing, poor characterisation, and poor design. The only good thing here is that it's only four parts, but three of those are surplus to requirements.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind it's the return of those cold blooded warriors themselves, the Ice Warriors.

Doctor Who Rewind - The Invasion


Yes, this is the epic eight part Cybermen story that pretty much has everything going for it.

There's a ruthless power crazed villain, the threat of alien invasion, and, a crack team of specially assembled soldiers.

After coming under fire from a ship on the moon the TARDIS is damaged and has to set down on Earth. After finding their way to London, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover that an electronics company called International Electronics (IE), headed by one Tobias Vaughan, has been up to all kinds of no good.

After visiting Tobias at IE the Doctor is suspicious that all is not what it seems. And it soon becomes apparent, with the help of the newly promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the United Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), that Mr Vaughan is in cahoots with a force from outside of this Earth. Not only that but the silly blighter wants to use his new off world allies, to become all powerful and then, destroy them. The cheek of it.

What isn't there to like about this eight parter? Great characters. For instance you've got the dastardly duo in Vaughan and his side kick Packer. Vaughan (played by Kevin Stoney) is so twisted by his ambition to become ruler of the world he's installed a Cyber control communication thingie behind a secret panel in his office. He's got a funny eyebrow and a cheeky smirk that almost breaks out into a full smile when he's enjoying interrogating someone or inflicting pain. He's an absolute joy to watch and has such charisma that you kinda forget your watching Doctor Who.

Then there's his long suffering henchman, Packer. Poor old Packer,I do feel for for him. Just when he's on the verge of giving someone a good clobbering or successfully carrying out one of Vaughan's sadistic plots there always seems to be a bit of a hiccup. Through out the story, these build until Vaughan's madness erupts into a frenzy of anger and it's a wonder he doesn't spontaneously combust.

Of course we also have the return of the very dapper Nicholas Courtney as the newly promoted Brigadier in the newly created UNIT, the task force that has been set up to deal with the alien presence on earth. UNIT's reach and capability is supported fully by the MOD but there is one small problem, in that Leftbridge- Stewart's boss has been got at by Vaughan, which makes matters a little more complicated. Certainly having UNIT incorporated in this story gives it a sense of drive and some great action scenes.

Also, having the back drop of London to set this story against gives some great chances to get some memorable sequences involving the Cyberman. Who can forget the incredibly iconic scene of a marching army of Cyberman descend on the capitals streets, with St Paul's Cathedral standing proud in the background.

The scope of this story, stretching from London, with the blind ambition of one mans lust for power, out into space, and the great threat of a Cyber army that is about to wreak havoc on the planet, gives it a scope that really has a lot to live up to on the screen. Of course, with the Doctor Who budget it would always be a difficult job, but they give it a bloody good go. With Helicopter rescues, Cybermen in the sewers, space rocket shoot outs and lots more.

There's even a chance for the very likeable Vaughan to redeem himself by the end of the story and it's a lovely little twist to see the an enemy of the Doctor team up together against a bigger common threat.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, we meet The Croutons, sorry that's The Krotons.