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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - Inferno

Those blasted scientists are at it again with there infernal experiments. This time it's a project to drill down into the centre of the earth and tap something called Stahlman's Gas, which is supposed to be able to provide endless amounts of cheap energy.

It's a bloody good job that UNIT are there overseeing security as things are about to get very very hot, especially as the Doctor is using the nuclear reactor from the project to perform experiments on the TARDIS console, in hope that he might end his exile on Earth.

Prof Stahlman is a cantankerous old sod who wants everything his own way and doesn't like it when the Doctor starts sticking his nose in, when things turn a tad odd.

A green gooey toxic substance leaks out of the drill pipe and poisons a worker to such an extent that he turns into a primitive subhuman monster who terrorises the rest of the workers. Even Stahlman himself gets infected and takes to trying to hide the transformation he is undergoing, by wearing a pair of gloves to conceal his green fingers!

If all that isn't enough, the Doctors TARDIS experiments go horribly wrong and he ends up sliding sideways in time into a parallel universe.

In this universe (a fascist regime has been allowed to take power in Earth, the royal family having long been executed) the project has been allowed to progress quite a bit and things have turned dire. Plus, due to a different course of history, characters have turned out very different than in the Universe the Doctor came from. The Brigadier is now the Brigade Leader, a ruthless tyrant who wears an eye patch. Liz Shaw has become the Brigade leaders Section Leader, a shadow of the person she is in the other reality. Both Liz and the Brigade leader work for Director Stahlman.

Despite trying to convince these alternative versions of his friends that he has come from a parallel time, they do not believe him. Things go from bad to worse and before you can say Green Snot, Earth tremors caused by the deep drilling of the project, are destroying the planet and green slime is infecting everyone and turning them into primordial zombies.

It's then a race against time for the Doctor to get his "other friends" to help him with their only option of escape, to use the nuclear reactor to send him back to his proper dimension and stop the catastrophe from ever happening.

At seven episodes, this story is one of the longer ones and it definitely needed a twist in order to get the viewer safely to the conclusion without having to perform a lobotomy on themselves. Luckily it delivers, and the alternative timeframe really shakes things up.

From the very first time we see brigade Leader Leftbridge Stewart turn to face the camera in close up, with his hideous looking scar covered by a pirate sized patch, we know this is going to be a lot of fun.

I'm sue there must be realms out takes of the cast rolling about in fits of laughter, realising how preposterous the whole thing is, but boy it's great TV. And both Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John rise to the challenge of sending themselves up and becoming their anti-selves.

The effects are of course cheesy by todays standards but you kind of forget that as you are watching. The zombie primordial wolf-like creatures are reminiscent of the apes in planet of, and you kind of feel sorry for them as they lumber about hopelessly while the Doctor runs circles around them.

I think truthfully an episode or two could have fallen by the wayside in order to tighten things up a bit, but beyond that, this is a real gem of a period piece of vintage Doctor Who.

Next time on Doctor Who rewind Its double trouble as we get two enemies for the price of one.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The Ambassadors Of Death

The British Space Programme (don't laugh), has run into a spot of trouble. On route to Mars, several astronaughts have mysteriously gone missing, and a new probe, Recovery Seven,has been sent into Earth orbit to try and figure out what happened.

The pilot of Recovery Seven makes contact with the missing probe but is then silenced by a strange unearthly sound. The Doctor and Unit head over to the space centre to investigate. Analysis of the sound reveals that it is a message of some kind and that a reply was sent from an abandoned warehouse on earth?

There then follows a stand off in the warehouse, involving Unit men and the troops of General Charles Carrington. I understand from watching the extras on the disk that this sequence took a couple of days to film and was organised by members of a members of a crack team of stunt men, especially pulled together to work on shows like Doctor Who. The name of this in house A Team? Simply, Havoc.

Havoc put on a good show and things quickly turn very nasty with broken glass and wood and bullets whizzing around all over the place. The poor brigadier is spoiled for choice in his targets.

Then, Recovery Seven returns to Earth and while Unit are transporting it, Carrington's men stage an ambush. The Doctor manages to pull off a little trick of his own involving his car Bessie becoming trapped by a force field when he gets two of Carrington's men, who are driving the transporter, to help him when he feigns his car being broken down. The Doctor nabs the transporter and drives it to safety.

When communication with the astronaughts inside the pod fails, Unit cuts open the space ship to find nothing inside. Carrington has already taken the space men out of the capsule and kept them alive by feeding the radiation.

The Doctor is spoken to by the head of space security, who tells him the astronaughts have been exposed to radiation and are being kept safe, the public were not informed with this information in order to avoid a panic.

The Doctor is taken to see the astronaughts but a criminal named Reegan has already abducted them. The Doctor and Liz Shaw work out that there is no way the astronaughts could have survived such a lethal dose of radiation, meaning the space suits must instead be housing some kind of alien.

Liz is abducted by Reegan, in order to look after the needs of the aliens, by monitoring there radiation levels. Together with Reegan's scientist, Lennox, they build a crude communications device so messages can be sent to the beings. The aliens are then instructed to go and kill various members of Space Control.

Another mission to Mars is launched, this time with the Doctor volunteering to man a solo trip, and despite an attempted sabotage by Reegan, eventually the ship rendezvous with an enormous craft orbiting the red planet. Inside the Doctor finds the missing astronaughts, seemingly oblivious to there surroundings, they think they are back on earth undertaking some king of decompression after the mission.

The Doctor discovers that the aliens had made a deal with Earth to exchange the crew for the ambassadors, but this agreement was now broken due to their kin being held against their will. The Doctor promises to help get the aliens back, and to avoid a war between the aliens and Earth.

When the Doctor returns to Earth he is kidnapped by Reegan, who takes him to see Liz and sets them to work on an improved communications device. General Carrington appears and reveals he is behind the attempt to lure the ambassadors to earth in order to expose their plot to invade, on national TV.

Carrington it seems is driven in his fiendish plot by an encounter he had with the beings some years ago. His co-pilot being killed on contact with one of the aliens.

The Doctor is rescued by the brigadier. With Carrington about to go live on TV with the aliens, Unit soldiers force their way into the base and the Doctor and Leftbridge Stewart apprehend Carrington just in time.

The Doctor then arrangers the return of the ambassadors in return for the missing astronaughts.

At seven episodes this is a bit of a long haul. But, in its favour it does have some very good action set pieces thanks to the resource that Havoc supply.

A lot of the exterior shots of the rocket launch area were recorded at Southall Gas Works in Middlesex, so there's lots of pipes, smoke, and things to climb on, and of course fall off!!

There's some very nice use of narration in some of the episodes to explain the plot exposition, this is done by setting up a fictitious tv programme about the launch and have the presenter tell the audience what is going on.

Again, Pertwee is his usual suave self throughout and never gets riled by anything that is thrown at him.

The finale does come a bit quick and seems a bit like an after thought, it's almost as if the Doctor's in a rush to sort things out so he can get on with the next adventure, he doesn't even have time to stick around and tidy up a bit, just walking off after politely telling the brigadier and the control centre captain to send the ambassadors back.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind we get a little hot under the collar as the world is threatened by something at the Earths core.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - Doctor Who & The Silurians

So, apart from natural disasters, human error and blind stupidity, when else could a Nuclear Power Plant be a bad idea? Well, when you've got a race of pre human reptilians from the Silurian era of Earths history living directly under it, that's bloody when.

What you have here is a story about a race of beings that have been lying dormant, in hibernation, for thousands of years, who have revived themselves from sleep upon detecting the Nuclear Power Plant and have attacked a number of its engineers in self defence of the caves where they live under the earth.

The Doctor and the brigadier are called in to investigate, despite some resistance from the plants deputy director, who it later turns out is in league with the creatures. They have promised him advanced scientific knowledge. One of these creatures, who has been wounded, and is at large, is taken in by him and is held captive against its will.

When the Doctor discovers the creature at the then dead deputy directors home, he tries to reason with it, just as you would imagine he would, but it runs away in fear. Eventually the Doctor meets the creatures in their cave lair underground and again tries to forge a peaceful resolution. The creatures have captured the security chief from the plant and despite the Doctors attempts to reason with them for his release they infect the Deputy Director with a virus and send him back up to the surface.

Another Silurian who is older,and perhaps wiser than his younger counterpart, releases the Doctor and gives him a canister of the virus so that he can try to come up with a cure.

The DD travels to London and nearly infects the entire populous.The younger Silurian decides the Doc must be destroyed before he finds a cure. Just in time, the Djctor discovers a cure and gives the formula to Liz,but just then, the Silurian's break into the base and abduct him back to their own lair.

Liz Shaw finally gets the cure distributed but the Silurians have another plan, to destroy the Van Allen Belt and make the Earth a hostile environment to live on.

The younger Silurian takes the Doctor to the reactor control room along with Liz and the Brigadier. The Doctor, however, overloads the reactor and tells the younger Silurian that the area will be irradiated for at least 25 years. The Silurians disengage from the battle with UNIT and re-enter the caves to hibernate until the danger has passed.

In the final scene the Doctor tells Liz he is going to revive the creatures and try to reason with them, but, acting on orders from the top, the brigadier blows up the caves, seemingly wiping out an entire species of Silurians.

So, for the first time Doctor Who is acknowledged in the story title and it seems oddly weird. Not only that but Mr Who calls his car Bessie and has a registration number WHO 1, which kind of hints other vehicles will be coming later on.

There's a couple of good cameo roles from future stars in this story. We have future Blake's Seven star, Paul Darrow (Avon) turn up in this as Captain Hawkins, looking impossibly young. Blake's Seven obtains a cult status to this very day.

Then we have Geoffrey Palmer from future comedy hit Butterflies turn up as the permanent undersecretary , Masters.

One of the best sequences in this story comes when Masters is infected with the deadly virus and takes himself off to London. When he arrives he looks like death warmed up and proceeds to pass on the illness to everyone he comes into contact with. As there was little budget Geoffrey Palmer had to walk through real streets of real people and what you get are some genuinely shocked and confused reactions from members of the public who don't know they are appearing in a Doctor Who, as the camera is so far back from the main action, they can't see it's just acting. It's very effective.

The Silurians themselves do look rather dated compared to their updated counterparts. With their large bulbous heads and sticky out ears. But still, as a youngster of the early 70's I can imagine they would put the willies right up you.

Another highlight moment is when actor Peter Miles as Doctor Lawrence, gets infected and launches himself with great enthusiasm at Nicholas Courtney aka The Brigadier. He's like a caged animal and really gets in touch with his inner beast. I think he must have had spinach for lunch from the canteen that day.

All in all this is a really well told story, and despite the long episode count, which draws things out a tad, it finishes up really well, setting up the respected, but fraught early relationship between the Doctor and Brigadier with that rather sad ending.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, we meet some rather strange astronughts.