Time Lord Tees

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4 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 550: Shada, Episode Four

Dear diary,

As has often been the case during six-part serials up to now, the fourth episode ends up being little more than filler material to keep the story going. Much of today involves people just padding out the running time, while the only real advancement to the plot is Skagra discovering how to use the book as a key. That’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying this episode, though, because even when it’s simply trying to bulk up 25 minutes of story, Shada is keeping me entertained.

I think the thing I enjoy most about this episode is the introduction of the Krargs, which is a design that I’ve always quite liked. One appears (briefly) on a screen at the end of Episode One, but today we get them en masse and even creating new versions of themselves in some of the most impressive bits of animation in this story so far - a lovely mix of the 3-dimensional effect and great work on the character animation of the creature itself. I couldn’t remember if you actually got to see one of the Kraags in the live-action footage, so it was a nice surprise at the end of the episode when one of them shows up. It’s a bit of a shame that the ones in the animated footage are simply… grey, though. The thing I’ve always liked the most about the design is the fact that they use CSO rather well to give it a kind of ‘molten’ effect across the scales, and it’s a shame not to see that continued over in to the animated segments, too.

There’s also a lot of lovely bits of Gallifreyan mythology cropping up in this one, too. The idea of the Professor’s rooms being a TARDIS in disguise is fantastic, and I wonder if his description of the way Clare has ‘tangled with [his] Time Fields’ could be reconciled with the kind of ‘remains’ we see of the Doctor during The Name of the Doctor? Could Chronotis’ rooms at Cambridge have ended up housing his time line, with undergraduates popping in to take a trip back through history by touching it?

Aside from that, there’s the workings of this mysterious book. This is the thing that always used to fascinate me about Shada - the idea of the book being imbued with a great deal of power, and the realisation that turning the pages of it inside a TARDIS would automatically unlock the secret and take the occupants to a hidden location. The description of the ‘Ancient Time Prison of the Time Lords’ used to fascinate me, too, and I can’t wait to see how it’s realised in the animation.

I have to also admit that I’m warming to the voice of the Doctor in the animation here. I still don’t think it’s quite close enough to the genuine article to really work for me, but I’m certainly not noticing it sticking out as much now. I think this may well be down to the fact that there’s a great deal more ‘animated Doctor’ in this episode than there is of the actual man himself! The animation is also becoming so much the major format for this tale that there were a few shots (mostly the inside of Skagra’s ship, or the initial shots on his Command Vessel) where I even had to stop for a moment to work out if we were looking at the animation or the real footage - it has to be said that the set design on this project is simply brilliant.

4 July 2014

A third teaser trailer for Series 8 of Doctor Who has aired.

The trailer kicks off inside the TARDIS with explosions around the console, whilst a voice, very similar to Davros is heard stating:

"I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty, divinity, hatred..."

As the line is spoken it changes from the Davros sounding voice into that of a Dalek.

Watch the trailer in the player, below:


Below is DWO's guide to the confirmed and rumoured titles for Series 8:

8.1: Deep Breath - written by Steven Moffat
8.2: Into The Dalek* - written by Phil Ford
8.3: Robots Of Sherwood*
 - written by Mark Gatiss
8.4: Listen*
 - written by Steven Moffat
8.5: Time Heist*
 - written by Stephen Thompson
8.6: [Untitled] - written by Gareth Roberts
8.7: Kill The Moon*
8.8: Mummy On The Orient Express*
8.9: Flatline*
8.10: [Untitled]
8.11: [Untitled]
8.12: [Untitled]

* Unconfirmed

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the UK on 23rd August 2014, on BBC One.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the USA on 23rd August 2014, on BBC America.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Canada on 23rd August 2014, on SPACE.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Australia on 24th August 2014, on ABC1

[Source: BBC]

3 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 549: Shada, Episode Three

Dear diary,

We’ve hit the tipping point with this episode, and suddenly a lot more of the story is being represented through animation rather than live action. I’ve been worrying about this a little bit, if I’m honest. Not because I’ve a problem with the animation, but because my over-riding memory of watching Shada for the first time on the BBC VHS was just how quickly it all zipped along. It wasn’t until starting out on the story this time around that I suddenly realised - it ‘zipped along’ because so much was being boiled down to some linking lines from Tom Baker! I’ve been worrying a bit that I’d not find it quite as fast-moving or exciting when having to watch it at the regular speed.

The bonus to having a higher proportion of the story in animated form is that I can really start to enjoy watching it this way. My biggest concern about the way the tale is presented for this version is that it intercuts between the live action footage and the animated sequences. When I was first told that, I really thought that it would be an odd experience, and perhaps not an entirely pleasant one, having to adjust every few scenes to something new. In actual fact, you don’t really notice it at all!

In this episode, for example, the TARDIS appears in an alleyway, and the Doctor hurries inside, slamming the door so fast behind him that his scarf gets caught in it. The next scene - in the TARDIS console room - is all animation, but it doesn’t feel out of place to be so. The only time I did sit up and take a moment to process events was when we cut to Romana and Chris trapped in a cell aboard Skagra’s ship. It only felt so out of place, though, because up to that point, every scene aboard the ship had been rendered as animation, and I assumed they’d never managed to build any of those sets!

I think it also helps that I’m just too busy enjoying the story to worry too much about the chopping and changing of formats. Today’s episode contains the only scene that I can remember fully from a previous watch (although I actually remember the version from the Big Finish audio), in which the Doctor manages to confuse a computer into thinking that he’s dead, and can therefore operate it despite an order to the contrary. It leads in to the cliffhanger for this episode, with the computer deciding that if the Doctor is dead, then he won’t need any oxygen, and so it’s been switched off to preserve power. I wonder, though, why that hadn’t happened before this point, since the computer was expecting the Doctor to be dead anyway…

The scariest bit of this episode, though, isn’t to do with the Doctor suffocating: it’s actually Skagra heading to the TARDIS with Romana. Not to worry, our favourite Time Lady has promised that she’ll never give Skagra the key, so he can’t get in to the ship anyway. That doesn’t matter, though, because he’s already taken the Doctor’s copy from his ‘lifeless’ body. Still, Romana and the Doctor are the only people around here who can even fly the TARDIS, so we’ve still got the upper hand. Ah, but Skagra has a copy of the Doctor’s mind - so if the Doctor could fly the TARDIS, then so can he… The ship is usually a place of safety, so when something like this happens (and through such a sinister character, too), it feels genuinely unsettling.

While I’m here, I need to take a moment just to sing the praises of K9. John Leeson is providing the voice for this animation, and it’s so nice to have him back. I’ve really missed K9 having this particular ‘personality’. There’s a sketch from a BBC Christmas Tape, made at the end of Season Sixteen, in which K9 cannot provide the Doctor with the information that he requires, and the Doctor responds… less than positively to the metal mutt. This episode seems to be hinged around the same joke - with K9 shooting at walls when Romana exclaims ‘blast it!’ in exasperation, and repeatedly telling Chris Parsons that he has ‘insufficient data’ to answer the man’s rhetorical questions! I’ve missed K9 being such an annoying little thing, and it’s good to have him back like this again!

 


2 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 548: Shada, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We get to see a fair bit more of the animation in this episode (though it’s still less than the filmed footage at this stage), and I have to admit that I’m quite enjoying it! It mixes somewhat 3-dimensional backgrounds with 2-dimensional characters, and that looks rather good, giving the shots a depth that could otherwise be lost. The characters themselves are spot on, too, with great likenesses captured for everyone so far. The only one who doesn’t quite work for me is Claire, but I think that may simply be because I’ve yet to see her real-life counterpart, so I have nothing to compare her to! As it stands, she just feels a little less… finished than the others do.

There’s only one thing that’s letting the animated segments down for me, and that’s the Tom Baker impersonation that’s used for them. I think Tom is the only surviving cast member who didn’t take part in the recording for this animated version, so it probably makes him stand out even more because everyone around him feels so authentic. It feels more like someone trying and not quite managing to capture Tom’s voice - almost trying too hard. Still, I may get used to it yet, because there’ll be plenty of opportunity to hear it over the next few days!

Animation aside, there’s an awful lot that I’m enjoying in this episode. People always talk of Shada as being a lost ‘classic’, and I usually dismiss it as a product of being lost that gives it such a reputation (in the same way that both The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Web of Fear took a bit of a knock from their ‘untouchable’ status once they were back in the archive and available for all to see). Despite enjoying the story the last time I saw it, I’m pleasantly surprised by just how much there is to love in this one, and I’m smiling along with much of the story as it progresses.

Of particular note today is the Doctor’s chase through the streets of Cambridge (not so gratuitous as the running through Paris scenes from a few stories back, but possibly because there’s less looking at local landmarks here), and I found myself watching the entire sequence simply wondering… why wasn’t this used for the Time Scoop scene in The Five Doctors? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the ‘vanishing from the punt’ scene that we actually ended up with, but this feels like it would be a great opportunity! For a start, the Doctor is actually being chased by something that could very easily be replaced with a black shape!

Aside from that, there’s lots to enjoy back in the professor’s study. The more I look at it, the more I find myself realising just what a beautiful set it is - yet another example of the BBC being better at doing the down-to-earth settings over any of the far-flung space age stuff. Maybe it’s a good job that the scenes inside Skagra’s ship are reduced to being on animation - because that set looks rather good there, too, freed from a BBC budget!

I’m surprised to see the Professor shuffling off this mortal coil quite so easily here, and I’m sure there must be a way around it, because I’m vaguely recalling other plot twists still to come. Denis Carey continues to be an absolute delight, making the Professor another character from this season that I’d love to see bumbling around time and space with the Doctor and Romana. It’s a part (and a performance) that I can easily imagine Patrick Troughton in, had he not been cast as the Doctor.

1 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 547: Shada, Episode One

Dear diary,

SHHHAAAADDDDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Sorry, it’s a force of habit, that. A bit like shouting back when someone fondly recalls Crackerjack. Oh, but everyone knows about Shada. The jewel in the crown of ‘lost’ Doctor Who stories. The tale that got a fair way into production - filming, even! - before being hit by strike action and never managing to be completed (despite numerous attempts by John Nathan-Turner once he’d taken over the producer’s chair for the following season). All along, I’ve planned to simply skip this story. It never made it to broadcast, so why should I include it as a part of the 50 Year Diary? But then I went and did Farewell, Great Macedon, which didn’t make it even this far through the production process, and the closer I’ve gotten to reaching this point of the programme’s history, the more I’ve been thinking that I probably should cover it in some way.

The question: how? Ironically, for the only story in Doctor Who history which made it part way through filming and never got completed, there are more completed versions of this tale out there than many other stories! The first, as for many ‘definitive’ version of the story comes from the BBC Video tape, realised in the early 1990s. About seven or eight years ago, copies of this tape used to go for silly money on eBay, but I was lucky enough to get one for a fairly reasonable price. I recall watching it and enjoying it on the whole, even if I can’t remember a great deal about it. Then it was remade by Big Finish, but this time starring the Eighth Doctor alongside Romana and K9! This version made it out as an animated webcast, and also as an extended CD version, which I listened to with Nick Mellish when we wrote a book about all of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures on audio. Again, I seem to recall enjoying it.

Back in the day, Shada was one of the very few Doctor Who stories which didn’t get novelised for Target books. Again, somewhat ironically, there are now multiple versions of the novelisation in existence! There’s one produced by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society by Jonathan V Way, another by the New Zealand Fan Club written by Paul Scoones, and more recently a version officially published by BBC Books written by Gareth Roberts, which was then released as an audiobook read by Lalla Ward.

Ward must be sick to death of Shada by now, because she’s recorded it four times over! In addition to the original recording, the Big Finish version and the BBC audiobook, she also returned to voice Romana in a fan-made animated version of the story made a few years ago. It’s this version that I’ll be watching for the next six days, since someone kindly sent me a copy when enquiring if I’d actually be doing Shada in some form for the marathon. I did briefly consider doing a different format for the story each day, but that seemed to be a little bit too much!

The first few episodes of the story (this one in particular) don’t suffer massively from the loss of recording, and so there’s only a few brief clips of animation at this stage. I’ll hold back discussing any of that for a day or two, until I’ve had a better chance to see what it’s like when there’s a lot more of it. As for the story itself… well, it’s just as much fun as I remember it being. It’s very much in the same humorous style that’s pervaded a few of the stories this season, and it’s great seeing the Doctor and Romana interacting with Professor Chronotis. With the way I’ve been enjoying our regulars’ relationship this season, this simply feels like they’ve brought in a doddery uncle to meet the newlyweds!

The thing that struck me the most about this episode is how oddly it’s structured. We don’t have any dialogue for the first two-and-a-half minutes, and even then it’s simply a recorded computer message being played out over loudspeaker. The first actual, proper, line of the story is ‘excuse me’, coming four-and-a-half minutes in. The episode doesn’t suffer because if it - if anything it works all the better as a result, because it makes that early scene with Skagra and the Sphere all the more unusual and un-nerving.

After that, the Doctor and Romana don’t actually appear until almost nine minutes in, but their involvement isn’t missed all that much, because frankly I’m loving the Professor enough to simply watch his antics! When the pair do appear, the feel of their lolling about Cambridge on the punt is reminiscent of the early parts of City of Death, with them simply enjoying each other’s company together in beautiful surroundings. Even once they get caught up in the story proper, visiting Chronotis and searching for the book there’s plenty of humour to be found between them, and it’s just fun to watch them together! 

30 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 546: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This episode marks a number of important moments for the history of Doctor Who. I’m artificially extending out Season Seventeen over the next six days with the inclusion of Shada, but since that story never made it to broadcast, this episode is officially the final appearance of several key things. It’s the last appearance of this particular title sequence, which has been in place since Tom Baker’s first season, and is an adaptation of the one used in Pertwee’s final one.

Along with the titles goes the ‘diamond’ logo for the programme, which has come to be such an emblem of the ‘classic’ series. It’s also the last time in the original BBC run that a story isn’t produced by John Nathan-Turner, who’ll be taking over from the next (broadcast) story, and then sticking around until shortly after the programme finishes in 1989. That said, the next story I’ll be watching didn’t make it out of the BBC until the early 1990s, with an edit produced by JN-T, so this really is the end of an era before he takes on the job.

Alongside those things, we also see the Doctor’s multi-coloured scarf for the final time. I’ve always thought of him as having several different scarves throughout his era - which he does - but when you watch through an episode a day like this, you start to lose track of them. The scarf he dons in this story may as well be the same one he emerges from the TARDIS wearing in Robot, for all the notice I’d have taken! This is also the final appearance of David Brierley as K9, with John Leeson taking back over again for the final days of the metal mutt in Season Eighteen (Leeson also voices K9 in the version of Shada I’ll be watching, so this really is the end for Brierley).

Despite this episode being such an important ‘tipping point’ for the programme, there’s no sense of that at all. Because The Horns of Nimon was never intended to close Season Seventeen, it has none of the scale, or grandeur that - say - The Invasion of Time or The Armageddon Factor had. In many ways, this is just a run-of-the-mill episode of Doctor Who, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s by far my favourite episode of this serial.

As a story, The Horns of Nimon has felt a bit fractured. We start on the spaceship, move (briefly) through the planet before the Doctor, Romana, and all the supporting cast are trapped in the labyrinth. It’s never really felt like it’s managed to get going, but I think there’s a bit of energy injected with this part. Having the ability to show us more than one Nimon (it seems like a great expense to have them really only for this last episode), adds a little more threat to the story. Having one solitary creature stalking around the place wasn’t making much of an impact - now they’re en masse, they feel like more of a problem. Kenny McBain’s direction does a decent job of making it feel like there’s more of them, too, though I’m sorry to say that I’ve noticed in this episode that they walk as though they desperately need the loo… and once you’ve seen that, you can’t forget about it!

I’ve also found that the idea of them hopping from world to world, destroying them as they go, is an idea that really chimes with me. I’m fascinated by the idea that Romana can effectively meet Soldeed’s counterpart on another world that’s further along the ‘Journey of Life’ than Skonnos is. I almost wish that they’d made more of this fact through the story - moving back and forth between the worlds to really hammer home the threat that’s facing these people. I also wonder if I’d have liked Soldeed to come fact-to-face with his ‘other’, and really see the error of his ways.

While I’m on the subject of Soldeed… During each episode of this story, I’ve made note to mention him. When I’ve sat down to actually write the entries, though, I’ve never really been able to find the right words. It has to be said that Graham Crowden is really going for it (whatever it may be) with his performance in this story, and it feels almost like the last of the Williams-era eccentricities, sending this phase of the programme out on a high. Even though it’s such an over-the-top performance, I think it actually works! I’ve certain enjoyed watching him, and it’s not harmed the story for me. Crowden was on the short list of people to play the part of the Fourth Doctor back in 1974, and I think this episode may give us an indication of where he may have taken the series if he’d been cast!

30 June 2014

Michelle Gomez (Bad Education, Green Wing) will join the cast of Doctor Who, playing The Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere when the series returns on 23rd August.

Speaking about the role, Michelle Gomez said:

"Well of course Peter Capaldi is our next Doctor, which makes complete sense. I'm thrilled to join him. Well, you would be wouldn't you?"

Lead writer and executive producer, Steven Moffat, added:

“I've known Michelle for years, and I'm thrilled to welcome her to Doctor Who. She's everything we need - brilliant, Scottish, and a tiny bit satanic.”

Filming is well underway for Series 8 of Doctor Who. Guest stars confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in the new series, which will air on BBC One this Autumn include Frank Skinner, Ben Miller, Tom Riley, Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris.

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the UK on 23rd August 2014, on BBC One.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the USA on 23rd August 2014, on BBC America.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Canada on 23rd August 2014, on SPACE.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Australia on 24th August 2014, on ABC1

[Source: BBC]

29 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 545: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I still can’t really tell how I feel about the design of the Nimon creatures, even though we’ve now got three of them to admire. In some ways, it’s quite a striking look, resembling enough the minotaur from legend, while also giving it enough of a contemporary update. On the other hand, though, it real is a man-in-a-monster-suit, isn’t it? When stood upright, the mask sits quite nicely, running relatively far down the actor’s back, but there’s several shots today where the creature is given cause to move its head… and you watch as the mask comes away from the rest of the costume, which really amounts to a body-stocking. Then there’s the way they walk around with their hands out awkwardly… Actually, I think that typing about it has made up my mind - I don’t really care for the creatures, sadly. At least they have rather interesting effects applied to their voices, which is a nice touch.

There’s a number of things about this story which are reminding me of the Big Finish audio Seasons of Fear, with the Eighth Doctor. The Nimon arrive as the villains of the piece in that story, and there’s lots of symbols arriving here which I can’t claim to have fully appreciated when listening to that CD a few years ago. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten much of it, but I’m suddenly getting flashbacks as this episode progresses. The main one was the egg-shaped spaceship, which I suddenly remembered the existence of just before it began to materialise - and I always get a nice smug feeling when I piece things together like that! I didn’t much enjoy Seasons of Fear at the time… I wonder if I might enjoy it more now that I’ve properly watched this serial?

Thankfully, the design work on the sets is faring much better with me. There’s lots of areas that I really like, including the labyrinth itself, but I’m enjoying again the cluttered feel of the ‘control room’ set at the heart of the Nimon’s empire here. In much the same way as the space ship bridge from the first two episodes of this story, it has a kind of ‘real’ feel to everything, with lots of cables, and slightly dodgy-looking equipment. I’m ale enjoying the neat parallel between the Doctor tinkering with the TARDIS back at the start of the story, and what the Nimon is up to here.

Something that’s been troubling me over the last few episodes… the characters of Teka and Seth don’t have a whole lot to do so far, do they? They serve their purpose in Episode One, giving the Doctor and Romana another reason to get involved with the spaceship, but in tho episode, they’re continually reduced to simply standing guard in the corridor until something happens, sending them running for the Doctor. I’m rather hoping that they’ll be given some great scene in the final episode (in which either Set defeats the Nimon single-handed - or, rather, the Doctor and Romana make it look as though he has - or dying while trying to take on the Nimon), because I’m slightly disappointed in them right now. For all I’ve been saying how much I enjoy the Doctor/Romana pairing, they’ve worked best this season when paired up with a great supporting cast, and this pair are no Duggan or Organon!

28 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 544: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It’s becoming quite a theme in this series to have the Doctor and Romana separated for long periods of time. In this episode, they don’t even get to stand in the same room together, or speak to each other. They’re close enough in the closing moments that I assume they’ll be colliding mere minutes into the next episode, but they spend much of the story quite far from each other. It strikes me that were this the 1960s, it’s the kind of trick they’d use to give the Doctor a week off - following Romana and the tributes all the way to Skonnos, and not touching on the Doctor and K9, drifting off somewhere in the TARDIS.

I can’t say that I’d have minded that situation too much. While there’s a lot to enjoy between the Doctor and K9 in this one (and I’m loving the beating that the console prop is taking - if I didn’t know better, I’d assume that they were planning to build a new one next season, so sending this one out in style first!), it’s really Romana that I’m finding the most interesting to watch. I said yesterday that I’d grown to love the pair of them being at a similar intelligence level, and it means that the Doctor’s absence isn’t felt all that strongly here when he’s not around. There’s even the problem of a Sonic Screwdriver being left behind, and he’s not even needed for that!

All of Romana’s sequences benefit from being slightly more interesting than the Doctor’s. Especially while on the spaceship, it’s nice to see her given a villain to face in the form of Malcolm Terris’ Co-Pilot. He’s one of those great breeds of Doctor Who villains - someone who’s nasty just for the sake of it. Yes, he’s keen to get back to Skonnos with the tributes so that they can begin a new war with the universe and take control again, but it really wouldn’t kill him to wait a few moments for the Doctor to return to the ship. Later, once they’re facing Soldeed, it’s great to see him lying so openly about the way in which the ship was repaired… and then getting caught out, and sent to his death. Right to the end, he’s willing to be a murderer just to gain the upper hand, and he’s even great when lying to the Nimon about his reasons for being in his labyrinth.

Ah, yes, the labyrinth. That’s the only thing about The Horns of Nimon that I knew before starting out on the story: it’s based loosely on the legend of the minotaur and the labyrinth (which made the reference to such an adventure during The Creature from the Pit all the more bizarre!) I didn’t know that it was a king of high-tech futuristic labyrinth, though, in which the walls move suddenly behind our characters, and new routes open up when they’re just not looking. It’s actually very well realised on screen, with lots lingering shots in which a character walks past a blank wall, then doubles back to find it gone. It’s always nice to be impressed by things like this.

When it comes to the NImon itself… well, it’s always been considered one of the weaker Doctor Who monsters, and it’s very clearly a man with an over-sized mask placed over his head. I’m not entirely sure if the design works for me (though I do like the way it’s echoed in the model work of the buildings - a nice touch), but I’ll reserve judgement for now until we’ve seen a bit more of the creature in action. If nothing else, I love that the horns light up when he’s attacking, and I realised that they would about three seconds before it happened - though I’ll admit that I was expecting (and hoping for, honestly) the ‘moving’ lights like those in the Gel Guard’s claws from The Three Doctors! 

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Nyssa to a vast pyramid, floating in space. A tomb ship – the last resting place of the God-King of the Arrit, an incredibly advanced and incredibly ancient civilisation, long since extinct.

They’re not alone, however. Another old dynasty walks its twisted, trap-ridden passages – a family of tomb raiders led by a fanatical matriarch, whose many sons and daughters have been tutored in tales of the God-King’s lost treasure.

But those who seek the God-King will find death in their shadow. Death from below. Death from above. Death moving them back and forward, turning their own hearts against them.

Because only the dead will survive.”

Have you ever read The Ultimate Treasure? You’ll love it.  It was the first Past Doctor Adventure novel from BBC Books to feature the Fifth Doctor.  It had him alone with a female companion (Peri), was peppered with references to other stories (Kamelion here, hinting at a forthcoming explanation about celery-wearing there) and involved a group of less-than-morally-pure people trying to seek out an incredible reward, that perhaps isn’t quite the treasure they originally supposed it to be, by going through a series of quests that not everyone will survive.

On a completely different note, have you ever listened to Tomb Ship? You’ll love it.  It was the second main range release in a 2014 trilogy of stories to feature the Fifth Doctor.  It had him alone with a female companion (Nyssa), was peppered with references to other stories (Wirrn here, the HADS there) and involved a group of less-than-morally-pure people trying to seek out an incredible reward, that perhaps isn’t quite the treasure they originally supposed it to be, by going through a series of quests that not everyone will survive.

Pity the Fifth Doctor: he obviously stumbles upon these sort of set-ups.  He is fortunate though in that they are both good stories with just about enough differences to elevate it above the repetitive and continual comparisons.  I was expecting something enjoyable as I’ve liked all of Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby’s releases before, and in that respect, I was not disappointed.  Nor was I upset by developments that took place from last month’s release, Moonflesh, which perhaps flies in the face of my claim that having standalone adventure was refreshing! The developments here, however, do not feel crowbarred in or forced, and I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of resolution we get next month in Masquerade.

Where I felt this release was perhaps not as good as The Ultimate Treasure (he said, comparing again) is that the characters weren’t as stand-out, nor were the perils as well-drawn or interesting.  I don’t feel you ever get invested in any of the characters there, or feel any real threat or tension for them, which makes the central premise diluted somewhat and lacking the edge it should have.

Where this release scores major points is in good, solid writing for the three regulars (he said, not wanting to give too much away) and a very fun ending.  And, sure, we may have been in this territory before, but Tomb Ship is enjoyable enough to keep you listening and engaged across its four episodes.  I hesitate to describe it as another ‘good, solid episode of Doctor Who’, as repeating that mantra over and over raises questions of it own: namely, what makes a good, solid episode of this most eclectic of shows, and I’ll readily confess that I didn’t enjoy it as much as others, nor as much as what Rennie and Beeby have written before, but it was fun enough all the same.  Even if we have enjoyed it before elsewhere.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“One wouldn't normally expect to find elephants, gorillas and rhinoceroses roaming free in Suffolk in the year 1911. One wouldn't normally expect to find an extra-dimensional police box at the same time/space location either. Two aliens, named the Doctor and Nyssa, exit said box, only to find themselves pursued by a hungry lioness – for they've landed in the private hunting grounds of the famous explorer Nathaniel Whitlock, who's brought together a motley group of friends and acquaintances for a weekend's shooting.

But one of Whitlock's guests isn't all they seem. One of them wants the secrets of the Moonflesh, the mystic mineral looked after by Whitlock's retainer, a Native American known as Silver Crow. Because the Moonflesh is reputed to have the power to call down spirits from another realm…

…and soon, the hunters will become the hunted.”

For whatever reason, I was put off listening to this play for quite a while.  Have I been busy? Yes, but not enough to justify the delay.  Do I like the Doctor/Companion combination? Very much so: Davison is one of the best doctors we’ve ever had.  So, what was it? I couldn’t say.  The slightly drab cover art? The premise, which did little for me? The fact it followed the events of last month’s Flip finale, which so… irked me? Maybe a bit of everything.

I do know, though, that I enjoyed Moonflesh a lot, perhaps because it stood in such contrast to some of Big Finish’s recent trilogies.  It feels completely standalone and devoid of the shackles and gimmickry of recent times, which is oddly refreshing.  It feels strange to say that, as historically Doctor Who does standalone more often than not, but with Big Finish increasingly linking releases and the wide and sweeping arcs we see on screen more often than not nowadays, having a standalone adventure is something that really pleased me.

The story concerns a big-game hunt, as mysterious stone, and a whole host of characters plucked from days of yore, extras in Black Orchid and adventure novels.  Things move along at a cracking pace, and true to form, everything that seems to be being set-up in the opening instalment of this tale is turned on its head by the cliffhanger and leads us into new territory.  Whether you prefer what comes next is a matter of personal preference, but for my money, it was a pretty solid adventure.  There is a lot going on here, from the rise of Feminism to the morality of hunting, from spiritualism to alien goings on, but Mark Morris balances it all rather well, with none of the elements becoming overbearing.

I was especially impressed with his supporting characters in the main.  The play stumbles slightly when dealing with Silver Crow, a character that comes perilously close to being a bit too stock-friendly-and-wise-native for my liking, but punches high with everyone else, especially Hannah Bartholomew, who feels like an older and wiser Charley Pollard in some ways but with a darker sense of morality, and the Whitlocks, who are very well drawn.

Morris has good form with regards to writing for Big Finish, with House of Blue Fire standing out especially strong, and also tackled Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor before in Stockbridge with Plague of the Daleks, and this is a stronger affair than the latter, whilst being not quite as good as the former.  What it is though is a very strong start to the trilogy and hopefully the sign of some more standalone and largely arc-free releases.  I do like the arcs when done well, but as I said in my review of Scavenger, they can at times lend themselves to having their cake and eating it.  There is none of that on display here, and the play is all the better for it.  Is it the greatest story ever told? No, but it’s a solid slice of adventure and, accordingly, I can’t imagine I’ll be holding off listening to Tomb Ship when it arrives for as long as I held off listening to this.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“Thursday 28 May 2071: the day the Anglo-Indian Salvage 2 rocket launches. Its mission: to clean up space; to remove from Earth’s orbit over a century’s worth of man-made junk…

From the viewing window of a nearby space station, the Doctor and Flip have a unique view of Salvage 2 as it sets about its essential task – and of the disaster that unfolds when Salvage 2 encounters something it’s not been programmed to deal with. Something not of human manufacture…

Back on Earth, the Doctor fights to save Flip from becoming part of a 500-year tragedy being played out in orbit, hundreds of miles above. And millions will die if he fails.”

****

So, here we are: the end of this current run of adventures for the Sixth Doctor and Flip, and what better way to end things by blasting off into space?

Inevitably, a lot of the previews of this play have muttered about the similarities to Gravity, which has had the downright cheek to do rather well in the Oscars around the same time this play has been released.  Both stories are set in space and involve missions going awry, but the similarities end there and the two stand very much alone after this. (Oh, and for the record, Gravity is the better of the two. Sorry, Scavenger.)

There are some things definitely worth highlighting about this play.  To begin with, it is by a long shot William Gallagher’s best script for Big Finish yet.  I was extremely impressed by the way he manages to take two characters at the start (Salim and Jessica Allaway) and transform them steadily over the course of four episodes from being very, very irritating and speaking almost entirely in soundbites with no hint of natural dialogue, to two very intriguing characters with a lot of heart behind them and added dimension.  In many ways, they represent the very best this tale has to offer: two characters starting out bland and developing well as the story carries on.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a rare Doctor Who story indeed that pulls that off successfully.

On a similar note, the story has a truly brilliant Part Two, improving a lot on the opening instalment and really giving us a lot of energy, tension and plot.  It’s the best half an hour this story has, but that’s no bad thing given how strong it is.

It sadly falls down a little after this, relying on a few slightly old and familiar tropes and steadily wasting the character of Jyoti Cutler, a character so integral to the opening, played with a slightly variable accent by Anjli Monhindra (the rather wonderful Rani from the rather wonderful Sarah Jane Adventures).  However, its main problems lie not with the story itself but in the wider arc and plans that Big Finish apparently have afoot.  I should stress here that major spoilers are coming up, not just for this story but others from Big Finish’s main range of plays, so read on at your peril and don’t complain that you were not warned.

So.

Anyone keeping abreast of the ongoing Hex saga will be aware that Big Finish are increasingly reluctant to finish a character’s story, which is sadly to the detriment of the character themselves.  In short, it’s hard to invest in the build-up to a character’s farewell when the rug is continually pulled from under one’s feet.  Big Finish just about– just about– got away with it with Charley Pollard, but with Hex and now, in a way, Flip, it’s starting to get silly.  Because a lot of this trilogy has been building up to her departure, really, and setting up the start of a new trilogy of adventures with the Sixth Doctor and Peri, but at the last minute... we get none of this.  Instead, we are left with a cliffhanger ending, which is fun in some ways, but frustratingly in others.  Is Flip dead? No.  I mean, it’s not stated, but let’s face it, she won’t be, because that’s an ending and Big Finish aren’t so keen on those at present.  What it means is that we are going to have to twiddle our thumbs somewhat and wait for at least a year before anything is resolved, and in the meantime, the Sixth Doctor and Peri trilogy that has been built up will come and go (probably with a lack of definite resolution there, too) and then have another trilogy of adventures with Sixie and Flip and have to hope for a conclusion there, and if not that, then no hint that such a conclusion will be forthcoming.  Have it like Mary Shelley, where we know things come to an end, but there is no sign of that any time soon and an open ending looking to the future instead.  Do not build up to a departure and then not do it at the very last minute.  It’s just frustrating.

As for the play itself? It suffers from increasingly relying on cliché, but has enough sparkle about it and some good and, contrary to the plot, increasingly well-written supporting characters to recommend it.  Mainly though, it suffers from being part of this wider problem with lack of resolution, and in the end, that has dragged my rating of it down somewhat, which is unfortunate.

There’s teasing, there’s misdirection, there’s twists, and then there is having your cake and eating it, and I’m sorry Big Finish, I really am, but I for one am stuffed.

27 June 2014

At last! After what seems like an age, we are thrilled to unveil some more New Series News in the form of a cracking new promo image for the first episode of Series 8; 'Deep Breath'.

The image (which can be viewed in full, in the right-hand features column) features The Doctor and Clara in what seems to be a tweaked TARDIS interior.

To tie-in with today's promo image, the BBC have also released a teaser trailer (which you can view below), that includes some rather interesting dialogue: 

The Doctor: "Clara, be my pal, tell me, am I a good man?"
Clara: "I don't think I know who The Doctor is anymore..."


Below is DWO's guide to the confirmed and rumoured titles for Series 8:

8.1: Deep Breath - written by Steven Moffat
8.2: [Untitled] - written by Phil Ford
8.3: Robots Of Sherwood*
 - written by Mark Gatiss
8.4: Listen*
 - written by Steven Moffat
8.5: Time Heist*
 - written by Stephen Thompson
8.6: [Untitled] - written by Gareth Roberts
8.7: Kill The Moon*
8.8: Mummy On The Orient Express*
8.9: Flatline*
8.10: [Untitled]
8.11: [Untitled]
8.12: [Untitled]

* Unconfirmed

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the UK on 23rd August 2014, on BBC One.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in the USA on 23rd August 2014, on BBC America.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Canada on 23rd August 2014, on SPACE.
+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Australia on 24th August 2014, on ABC1

[Source: BBC]

27 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 543: The Horns of Nimon, Episode One

Dear diary,

You’ll need to brace yourself, because this story marks something of a milestone for The 50 Year Diary, and for myself as a fan… because The Horns of Nimon is, I’ve just worked out, the only Doctor Who story left that I’ve never experienced in some way. Obviously, I’ve watched every episode that leads up to this story - you can click back through the blog entries here on Doctor Who Online and read them all (with, in fairness, the exemption of The Highlanders, Episode Four. Though I listened to the Target novel reading of that one, so I’ve still experienced it, he argued). Every story that comes after this one, I’ve seen all or some of.

Now, it has to be said that I’ve still got stories coming up which I’ve sort-of seen, but can’t really claim to have watched - Meglos, for instance. I have the DVD. The story played out in the background when I first bought it, but I was doing something else at the time. Aside from there being something with a cactus, I don’t really know what happens. The same could be said for Terminus. I’ve seen up to the bit where a door (or something) appears in the TARDIS (or something) and that’s all I know. Not sure I’ve ever made it past that bit. The same goes of Warrior’s Gate, which I know I’ve seen, but for all I remember of it, I may as well not have. Still! For all intents and purposes, The Horns of Nimon is officially my last ‘new/old’ Doctor Who story. It should feel momentous! It has to be the single greatest slice of Doctor Who ever produced! It needs to be a fitting capstone for my marathon! So far it’s… Well, it’s alright.

That sounds like I’m being negative, but I’m really not. I genuinely mean it when I describe this story as being ‘all right’. There’s several things in here that I’m enjoying (more on which in a moment), but it’s not exactly the greatest episode that I’ve ever watched of the programme. It’s simply a fairly solid slice of Doctor Who - it’s never going to be anyone’s favourite story, but I doubt that it’s anyone’s least favourite,m either (go on, prove me wrong! There must be someone, somewhere, who can fill both those rolls!)

So: things that I’ve liked about this episode. Well, for a start, there’s the Doctor tinkering with the TARDIS console, and Romana building her own Sonic Screwdriver. During City of Death I mused that I’d never been keen on the Doctor/Romana pairing as an idea. I worried that they’d have the problem Barry Letts always spoke of in regards to Liz - The Doctor needs someone who’s not on his level, so he can explain things. I worried that having Romana around would simply result in two very intelligent people swanning around the universe. Actually, that’s exactly what we’ve got, but it works! I’ve enjoyed them solving problems in a slightly different way (as, for example, in the previous story, where the Doctor is able to leave Romana to do complex things with bits of machinery while he goes off to do other important things).

I love the idea that in the middle of all these adventures, the pair are able to take some time off and have a lazy Sunday afternoon inside the TARDIS just getting on with their hobbies. The Doctor gets to mess around with the workings of his ship, while Romana becomes increasingly used to his way of life, and creates her own Sonic Screwdriver because she’s become accustomed to how useful it can be. It also makes her ‘I’ll need a screwdriver’ line in Nightmare of Eden all the more pertinent! You might remember that during the Second Doctor’s era, I used to track the evolution of the Sonic in the Doctor’s mind before it finally turned up in Fury from the Deep. There’s none of that journey to be had here - Romana realises how much she could do with one, so she builds it. Simple!

Away from the TARDIS, I’m quite keen on the spaceship set. It’s perhaps the greatest over-use of that typical BBC ‘science fiction’ panel that we’ve seen since probably the Pertwee years, but the actual bridge of the ship feels very real to me. Whereas Nightmare of Eden gave us your typical 70s spaceship with lots of flashing buttons and ‘futuristic’ controls, the bridge in this episode is barely held together. It’s a mass of cables, and wires, and it can possibly be best compared to the Ninth Doctor’s TARDIS - where the occupant has had to make modifications and patch things up as he goes, just to keep the ship running. The crew even complain about the dated, failing equipment not being up to task, and it feels so very much like conversations I used to have ten times a week back in my old workplace.

Then, once the ship comes under power failure, we get that familiar ‘camera shake’ while the actors throw themselves around a bit… but the set itself is moving, too! Wires and cables all get thrown around! Things fall off! When it finally goes up in smoke at the end, it genuinely feels as though it’s coming from real equipment finally giving up after years of service. This is closer in style to the types of set we’ll see in the new series - a future that’s far more rooted in reality than the sterile while and chrome visions of years gone by. I always love getting designs like this, so it’s certainly a thumbs up from me!

26 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 542: Nightmare of Eden, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I have to admit that I didn’t guess who the drug runners were before the reveal came. I’d suspected both Tryst and Dymond at separate points throughout the story, but I don’t think that I’d guessed they were in it together. I’m glad that it makes sense, though, and that you can go back through the narrative and see various hints in different places. Despite the mystery, and the fact that it wrong-footed me (always quite fun to find that you’ve been wrong!), I’m sad to say that Nightmare of Eden didn’t really grab me at any point right through to the end.

Oh, sure, this episode is similar to the other three from this story in that there’s things I’ve enjoyed about it, but it’s just not really come together for me successfully. I’ve delayed writing today’s entry for as long as I can, trying to think of a better way to explain that fact, but I’ve simply drawn a blank - this is just one of those stories which has not been up my street for one reason or another.

While I’ve been putting off the writing of the story, I’ve been looking in to the somewhat troubled production of the tale. Lots of Doctor Who, especially at this point in the programme’s history, has troubled behind-the-scenes stories, but this one seems to have been a particularly turbulent one. The special features on the DVD cover most of the reasons in quite a bit of detail - from the production of the model shots having to be done on video instead of film (as one commentator points out, they were able to shoot five day’s worth of model shots in two and a half hours… but they look like they were shot in two and a half hours!), and the costume department instead of the special effects team having to make the monsters, which everyone seems to agree is the reason that the Mandrels don’t really work. Despite all this, I’m still convinced that they’re a rather nice design, so there.

And then there’s the whole situation with Alan Bromley taking on the director’s role for the story, and then either resigning or being fired from his post, following multiple delays and cast criticism. Stories are often passed around of Tom Baker being difficult with some directors, and by the sounds of it, bromley was just the type of person to get on Baker’s bad side. Thinking back to his previous work on the programme, in The Time Warrior, I couldn’t recall it being especially bad (though my friend Nick did remind me of that exploding castle shot at the end), but there’s a fair amount in this story which has struck me as being a bit of a let down - chief among them the way that the Mandrels are so often shot in harshly-lit corridors!

I think, in the end, I’m simply going to have to file Nightmare of Eden away with stories like The Dominators as ones which don’t really work for me for some reason or another. Thankfully, I don’t think that this one hits the lows of that story, but it’s certainly not one that I’m going to be rushing to re-watch once the marathon is over.

25 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 541: Nightmare of Eden, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Of course there had to be some kind of clever, Doctor Who twist on the way - it couldn’t simply be something as relatively mainstream as a tale of drug smuggling (even if it does have some ‘crashed’ spaceships involved). I really rather love the idea that the new source of the drugs is the monsters stalking their way around the ship - and that when they die they turn into the drug (which, in fairness, seems a bit odd even by Doctor Who standards. I’m assuming that they simply turn into perhaps a key part of the drug?), it spins things off into a slightly more unique direction, and that’s perked up my interest in the tale somewhat.

Also keeping me involved is the fact that at this stage, I simply don’t know for sure who the drug smuggler is. I’ve been through more or less every character at some point throughout the last few episodes, and there always seems to be something crop up which manages to change my mind about it! To begin with, I was entirely sure that it was simply Secker trying to make a bit of money on the side, and leading the ship off course to try and make a delivery. Before long, though, he was dead and there was still a drug problem developing. On top of that, I also can’t decide now if the ship was purposely off course, or simply slipping because of his lack of interest caused by the drugs?

I’ve also gone through various members of Tryst’s team, including the trapped-in-the-projection Stott. He was lurking in the shadows, supposedly dead… it all seemed to point in his direction, especially when the evidence that the source of the drugs was the projector itself. But, no, it now turns out that he’s on the side of good, trying himself to uncover the smuggler! Ok, then, maybe it’s Della? There’s certainly plenty of evidence pointing in her direction. Or maybe it’s even Tryst himself? He’d certainly have the opportunity, knows the machine, and is funny about anyone else getting to touch it… That’s not even mentioning the captain of the other spaceship, or perhaps the captain of this ship, who’s simply hidden it very well… It’s certainly the part of the story which has been most enjoyable to me.

I’m also pleased to see that the Mandrels are given more of a chance in this episode. When they’ve been milling around in various brightly-lit corridors up to now, they’ve not really had any mystery about them. The epitome of ‘man in a monster costume’. Here, though, show in the dark and moody jungle of Eden, they come across as far more effective - especially during their initial appearance where we just see the great big luminous eyes moving through the shadows. It’s a shame in some ways that they couldn’t have been seen like this throughout the whole story - green eyes glaring through the smoke in the corridors, or just seen in small snatches here and there. They’ve suffered early - whereas this would have been a much better introduction to them! 

25 June 2014

One of the biggest requests we get here on DWO is from fans looking to buy a wide range of SciFi related clothing.

We recently came into contact with the awesome team over at Eyesore Merch; a Music and Entertainment merchandise company based in the UK.

Eyesore Merch stock a huge range of T-Shirts, hoodies, jackets, hats and bags from your favourite bands, Movies, TV shows, Comics and Video Games, and we’re thrilled to announce we have teamed up with them to introduce their range of Star Wars and Star Trek merchandise.

Whether you are looking for an 'Empire Strikes Back' or ‘Yoda' T-Shirt or perhaps an official Star Trek ‘Command', ‘Sciences' or ‘Ops’ uniform then you can be sure to find something that you’ll love within their extensive range.

Head over to the Eyesore Merch store now to check out the full ranges:

+  STAR WARS: http://eyesoremerch.com/film-tshirts/s/star-wars-tshirts
+  STAR TREK: http://eyesoremerch.com/tv-show-tshirts/s/star-trek-tshirts

[Source: Eyesore Merch]

25 June 2014

From now until the morning of 4th July, Cecily's Fund is auctioning 17 unique and exclusive mock school reports written by major celebrities through eBay for charity.

The celebrities - each recalled the real reports they received as schoolchildren and recreated them for this special auction. 

One of the celebrities is none other than The 12th Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi - you can bid on his report, here. You can also view the report in the features column to the right-hand-side of this news article.

All proceeds from the auction will go to Cecily's Fund, to support their work enabling orphaned and vulnerable children in Zambia to access education.

[Source: Cecily's Fund]

24 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 540: Nightmare of Eden, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I came in to today’s episode ready for a fight. I was looking to defend the Mandrel costumes to the hilt, but… oh dear. They’re not really given much of a chance, are they? After the slightly odd reveal of one at the end of yesterday’s episode, the poor creature is left to hang out of a hole in the wall, flailing its arms about while K9 shoots at it. The level of lighting on the set is giving us plenty of opportunities to get a good look at the design, and it’s not a great first impression.

That said, I do still really like the look of the creatures, and I’m still willing to say that they’re one of the better, more unique, creatures we’ve been given in the programme. We even get that ‘emerging from the smoke’ shot today that I was so expectant of during the last episode, and while it’s perhaps not quite as dramatic as I’d envisioned, it gives a much better idea of the monster than the earlier, swinging arms shot did!

I’m sorry to report, though, that Nightmare of Eden simply isn’t grabbing me in the way that many of the other recent stories have done. I’m not entirely sure what that might be, because there’s certainly a lot of great ideas on display, and it’s a story in many ways very far removed from your standard Doctor Who fare. I love that this programme can go from stories in which all of reality is threatened, then scale it back to a single planet, or here a single incident. Oh, sure, we’re told how much destruction this drug could cause if it’s allowed to get back out into the supply chain, but the whole story feels like its on a far smaller scale, and it’s nice to have that change of pace once in a while.

It’s strange, considering that there’s so many things to like about this one, that I’ve ended up with so little to say about it! Somewhat in desperation, I found myself casting around for people’s opinions on the story, and they all seemed to be generally positive! People all praised different elements of the story - from the fact that it’s not the kind of thing any other Doctor Who tale gives you, to the ‘genuinely funny script’, the ‘great characters’, and even that accent. And yet, there’s something about Nightmare of Eden which has simply failed to connect with me at all!

The one thing that most people seem to agree on is that the Mandrels aren’t really all that great - so maybe everyone has a different part of this story that they like, and mine just happens to be the slightly ropey monsters? 

23 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 539: Nightmare of Eden, Episode One

Dear diary,

For as long as I can remember, Nightmare of Eden has been interchangeable in my mind with both Underworld from Season Fifteen, and the next story in transmission order, The Horns of Nimon. All three represent stories that don’t really know a great deal about, and although they were broadcast over a period of a few years, they always sort of merged into one in my head. Looking at this episode, I think I’ve figured out why at least this one and Underworld have been so linked to me - this looks and feels more like a Season Fifteen story than anything we’ve had in a long time.

The design of the spaceship models (and the way that it opens with a shot of a spaceship flying ‘overhead’ reminiscent for Star Wars) is very in keeping with the kinds of model work we had in stories like The Invisible Enemy and, yes, Underworld, and the set design has something about it which feels as though it comes from that earlier period, too. In a slightly more subtle way, I think the Doctor changing his coat from that beige one that I so associate with this period of the programme means that even he seems to fit in with his earlier self.

While I’m on the subject of costumes, I’ve got to mention Romana’s. She’s one of those companions whose dress sense is quite often discussed within fandom, so I’m familiar with several of her ’styles’. The pink ‘negative’ to the Doctor’s outfit from Destiny of the Daleks (still, I think, my favourite costume), the schoolgirl look from City of Death, the flowing white gown under the last story, the riding gear from the next, the bathing suit from The Leisure Hive… Essentially, the list really found go on. She’s got a wardrobe that makes her instantly stand out among the companions. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a photo of the costume she’s wearing in this story! A pity, really, because it suits her rather nicely, and I like it a lot!

As for the story itself… I don’t really know what too make of it yet. I’m surprised to find that it’s a story about drug smuggling, because that’s not a topic I expected Doctor Who to be covering, but that’s another example of the show being able to surprise me somewhat. On the whole, though, it’s not really gripping me yet. There’s certainly not as much humour as I’ve been used to for the last week or so (though that’s not to say that the story is completely devoid of humour - it seems to be coming mostly from the Doctor himself), and everything so far feels a bit like it’s setting everything up. Hopefully now that we’ve got the traditional ‘end of Episode One’ monster reveal out of the way, I’ll find myself caught up a lot more.

I have to confess that I’m a bit disappointed by the reveal of the creature here. For some reason, with a nice smoke-filled doorway being built into the script, I was all set to see the monsters come walking out of the smoke, and I thought it was going to look pretty good! I even had that shot planned out in my head because I was so convinced that it’s the way they’d do it. To find the reveal coming simply by having the creature lean out of a hole in the wall… it was a bit of a let down, it has to be said! 

22 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 538: The Creature from the Pit, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I mused to a friend yesterday that I was really enjoying this story, and they commented that while - yes - they also found The Creature from the Pit to be something of a guilty pleasure among their Doctor Who favourites, they felt that it all fell apart during the final episode. As the opening titles began to roll today, I wished that they hadn’t told me that, because all the goodwill I’d been building up over the other three episodes had suddenly been punctured, and I’d somewhat lost my enthusiasm for the story. I’m thrilled to say, therefore, that I’ve loved today’s episode! Haha! It didn’t fall apart for me at all, and I’ve hooted my way through this episode, enjoying the story and simply having a great time watching 25 minutes of very good Doctor Who.

Let’s get the standard stuff out of the way first - the things that I seem contracted to say at the moment. Tom Baker is very good again in this episode, lending a subtly different performance his voice work for Erato, almost to the point where you forget it’s him voicing the creature at times. Elsewhere, the comedy in the episode really works for me again, with C̶a̶t̶w̶e̶a̶z̶l̶e̶ Organon still proving to be a real highlight. Words can’t express how happy i am that he’s managed to survive through the story - I really though he was earmarked for death, and thought it had finally reached him during this episode. i guess it really was his lucky day!

I think what I’ve enjoyed the most about this episode is that it kept me guessing right through. Even from the cliff-hanger yesterday (one of those rare examples where it’s not one of our regulars in peril, or the reveal of a monster) leaves you wondering more about what is going to happen, rather than how the characters are going to overcome it. It’s not until today’s episode that we discover the shield to be a communicator, and there’s previously been hints that it could even be a kind of weapon - and there’ll be more on that in a moment.

But then you get the revelation of who, and what, the ‘creature’ really is very early on in the episode, and before you know it, Adrasta’s dead! I’m really pleased to see her being overpowered by the Wolf Weeds. They haven’t really featured since Episode One, and I didn’t really discuss them there (I was too busy admiring that jungle set!), but they’re actually brilliant little creations, and the props come across very well. I can imagine them working quite well as a threat in modern Doctor Who - they’re certainly the kind of thing that I can imagine creating a striking image! Once Adrasta’s been taken out of the picture, I did wonder exactly what was going to fill up the rest of the episode, but I wasn’t disappointed with what we got.

A lot of the stuff with the neutron star was fairly standard padding, although it’s nicely done. It’s also a ridiculous notion that I could only expect to find in Doctor Who (the alien turns out to be friendly, and able to spin an aluminium web around an approaching star!), and because I’m enjoying the story so much as a whole, I’m happy to just go along with all the nonsense and smile right the way through - it’s fun! It’s also not really the point of this episode, or really this story.

The main message to come through in this episode is that of greed, and how power can corrupt. We’ve been fed the image of Adrasta being hoarding of her precious metals right the way through the story, and the revelation of just how far she’d go to retain control has come out today, with the revelation of what she’d done to Erato when he came to the world with an offer of trade which would help the majority of the planet’s populace… but destabilise her from her ‘throne’. We’ve also had the barbarians, who have felt until now like filler material - really only there to provide some danger to Romana in Episode One, and to give us something to cut away to when needed.

Suddenly, though, they’re the ones in power! The corrupt leader is dead, they hold a large stock of precious metal, and they’re plotting to trap the creature here further so that they can remain in power as the new overlords of the planet! There’s a great parable about greed contained in this final episode, and it’s probably given just enough time to make the point, without it going on too long and becoming a bit overbearing.

I’ve mentioned above that the translator device is hinted as being a weapon in earlier episodes of this story, even if it’s only a throwaway thought from the Doctor. It’s interesting, though, because this is the first time in a while that it’s really felt like the Doctor’s greatest weapon is words. It’s a big point in the new series, and it’s something that I’ve touched on before in this marathon, but here we’ve got the Doctor’s prattling managing to convince people to hear him out, and he effectively leads the revolution just by talking sense. It’s always nice to see him wielding this kind of power, and it acts as a nice counterpoint to the last story, where the solution was brought about by someone getting punched! So, that leads us into Nightmare of Eden, and me wondering wether the solution will come from brains or brawn…!

21 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 537: The Creature from the Pit, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I seem to be saying, and realising, this a lot at the moment: but Tom Baker is really very good at being the Doctor, isn’t he? In today’s episode, we have a sequence lasting several minutes in which all the action is carried by Baker. He’s essentially left alone in the studio communicating with some green bin bags, and yet it’s absolutely captivating. Another thing I seem to be saying lately: it’s the best that he’s been in the role for absolutely ages. It really does feel of late as though he’s found his interest in Doctor Who again and has started putting the effort back in.

From about Season Fourteen onwards (certainly parts of Season Fifteen), it felt as though he was bored and just doing whatever the hell he fancied once the cameras started rolling, whereas here it feels like every action has been considered in a split second to suit the moment. People say that he’s the actor who is most ‘like’ the Doctor in real life, and I think we’ve gotten back to a stage here where I can really see that - and I’m honestly very pleased about it. I’ve had the opportunity to be quite down on his performance a fair bit over the last couple of months, so I’m glad that he’s found his stride and is hitting the high notes again, because it’s certainly helping to reinvigorate my interest in the programme again.

It also helps that this ‘version’ of the programme really seems to chime with everything that I enjoy in Doctor Who. People talk about the Graham Williams era being the ‘comedy’ years of the programme, and that’s never more in evidence than here in Season Seventeen, possibly stemming from the influence of Douglas Adams in the Script Editor’s chair. I’ve seen that description of this ‘comedy’ period used as something of a stick to beat the show with - I’ve said before that there’s a subset of Who fandom which doesn’t like the show being too silly about itself. But everything we’re getting at the moment just seems to work for me! It’s pitching the comedy just right for me to enjoy it, and I’ve found myself again laughing rather too loudly at a number of moments in this instalment. My notes are brimming with snatches of dialogue from all the characters, and I’m simply being swept along with the story, instead of stopping to worry too much about it.

Before it sounds like I’m falling a little too much in love with this story, I have to report that it’s not all good news. K9 is really starting to irritate again. It’s not so much the character himself - he’s given lots of things to do again, today, even if many are fairly run-of-the-mill (‘K9 - blast that wall/creature/mirror/person’) - but rather his new voice box which just isn’t working for me. The metal mutt is being more sarcastic than ever, which I’m really enjoying, but I just can’t take to David Brierley’s performance in the role. I’m sure there’s nothing all that wrong with what he’s doing, but I’ve been spoiled by being so familiar with John Leeson’s version of the tin dog.

It feels almost as though Brierley is trying to imitate what Leeson did while also taking it slightly in his own direction, but I’m simply left longing to hear our original K9 back again! I’m surprised, all these years on, that no one seems to have had Leeson record the lines and create an edited version of the stories featuring K9’s more familiar voice - there’s certainly nothing in the dialogue to indicate that he’s switched his settings (though it’s been pointed out to me today that it’s explained away by the ‘laryngitis’ comment during Destiny of the Daleks. That was over a week ago for me, and frankly I’d forgotten it, so I’m not sure it causes that much of an issue!) Someone call John Leeson, I’ll meet him at the recording studio! 

20 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 536: The Creature from the Pit, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Despite my mountain of praise yesterday for the jungle set in this story, I haven’t really missed it all that much in today’s episode. It certainly appears a lot less (I’m not sure we actually see much new footage there after the first few minutes), but everything else is being shot in such a way that I’m distracted by lots of other nice sets! Let’s start with the obvious - the titular ‘pit’. It’s shot on both film and video at various stages throughout the episode, but I’m pleased to say that it fares well under both formats. Obviously, the film sequences have a depth and texture to them that’s lacking later on, but all the parts of the episode set in this area are lit beautifully, which bridges the gap somewhat nicely. It’s another one of those instances where you get the feeling that it really is dark here, and that simply adds to the mood of the whole piece.

While I’m at it, I feel as though I should also mention the creature that lives in this pit. All I’ve previously seen of this story is the infamous scene where Tom Baker tries to communicate with the creature by talking into one of its appendages. From that sequence, I’d drawn the conclusion that it was a large creature, but nothing quite in line with, say, Kroll. I found myself rolling my eyes, therefore, when it starts being described as being ‘huge’. Then, we get to the final scene, and it turns out that the creature really is huge! How brilliant! I love that even after all these years, there’s still things about Doctor Who that can surprise me. I’ve managed to make it this far assuming that the creature wasn’t overly large, so I really got the full impact of the reveal. Every time something like this happens during the marathon, I worry that it will be the last time - but I always hope it isn’t!

Out of the pit, and up on the surface of the planet (for most of the running time, anyway), Romana is holding a lot of the action. I don’t think you’d necessarily realise that this is Lalla Ward’s first stab at playing Romana if you didn’t already know. There’s one or two little moments where she doesn’t seem to have quite worked out what she’s doing with the part, but I’m wondering if these are simply standing out to me because - subconsciously, at least - I’m looking out for them? On the whole, she’s really hit the ground running, and the character doesn’t feel out of place with anything we’ve seen in the previous two stories. I’m also loving the way that she gets to interact with K9 - picking him up to use as a gun is a great moment, and it’s always nice to see them finding new things to do with him. We’ve settled, lately, into a pattern of him sitting in the TARDIS until the Doctor or Romana get someone to blow the dog whistle and summon him. That exact formula comes into play during the first episode of this story, but he seems to be getting a bit more to do now that he’s joined the action. There’s another thing I can hope to continue.

I think on the whole, I’m mostly enjoying the humour of this story. Geoffrey Bayldon as Organon has to be chief of the supporting characters who are bringing comedy to proceedings, and I laughed heartily at his introduction (‘The future foretold, the past explained, the present… apologised for’). He seems to be filling the companion to the Doctor role in this one, while Romana is off doing her own thing, and I’m not really looking forward to his inevitable death as the story progresses! It’s another thing we seem to be seeing a trend forming for - supporting comedy characters who really help to make the story for me!

20 June 2014

Our friends over at Ultra Records are pleased to announce the release of Frontload’s newest track, appropriately titled ‘Dr. Who’.

Their latest beat combines the group’s signature electronic sound while modernising the popular Doctor Who theme song from the long running British television series, which is currently in its 51st year worldwide.

The owners to the publishing rights of the Doctor Who intro theme gave their stamp of approval by clearing the theme part of the track.

Dr. Who’ is a follow up to the group’s previous popular track titled Rebels (Wake Up).

Hear the listening track for 'Dr Who' via Ultra Music's YouTube channel, below:

+  Download Frontload’s ‘Dr. Who’ on iTunes, here.
+  Stream Frontload’s 'Dr. Who', here.

[Source: Elaine Karlsson Management]

19 June 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 535: The Creature from the Pit, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’m not entirely sure if Creature from the Pit is a story that’s generally frowned upon by fandom, or one that’s simply caught in that ‘no man’s land’, where things are neither good or bad, they just… exist. Certainly, it’s not a story that get’s talked about very often. It seems a shame, in a way, because this story contains a number of notable things in the history of Doctor Who.

It’s the last story of the series proper to be directed by old hand Christopher Barry, who’s been turning up intermittently since The Daleks way back in 1963 (I’ve never noticed before the odd coincidence that both Chris Barry and Terry Nation joined the series with the same story, have input across each of the first four Doctor’s era’s, and then bow out from the series just a few stories apart here). It’s also the first story filmed by Lalla Ward as Romana, as opposed to Princess Astra. We also get to hear K9’s new voice box for the first time, with John Leeson sitting this season out, and David Brierley stepping in to the role. Less noticeably, it’s also the last story to feature Terry Walsh, who’s been turning up in (mostly action) sequences for a while now, too.

Quite aside from all that… this is a very good opening episode! It conforms in some ways to the same ‘Doctor and companion arrive and explore for a bit’ format that Destiny of the Daleks did, but it does something interesting with it, and has them caught up in the local action at just the right time. Indeed, this is one of those episodes where the cliff-hanger comes and it feels like you’ve had two episode’s worth of action packed into one. We move from the TARDIS, to exploring the landscape, to capture, through fights and scenes with barbarians, the Doctor meeting the local ruler, being taken to the pit, and then the Doctor’s jumped down it… the story stops for breath when it’s needed (there’s some lovely lingering shots of the Doctor examining the ‘egg’), but there’s an awful lot going on in these first 25 minutes.

It also helps that whereas Destiny of the Daleks saw the Doctor and Romana exploring a familiar quarry, we’ve got a gorgeous setting here. People rave about the jungle set from Planet of Evil (and, in fairness, that’s a very good jungle), but I’m completely captivated by this one! It feels so very real, clearly based more on Earth jungles than the one in Planet of Evil was, but with just enough alien items, such as the egg and the wolf weeds to keep it interesting. We’ve also got an awful lot of ‘fog’ going on in the background, and I can’t help but think back to my comments during Planet of the Daleks that the jungle simply wasn’t foggy enough to create any mystery. I’d love to see a Dalek shot on this set.

Because of the scale of the set, and the fact that lots of this episode is set out in the jungle, large chunks of this one are shot on film, which really does help. Every few weeks I bring up my wish that all 20th century Doctor Who could have been produced on film, and it’s episodes like this one which really make me think about it. I worry that as the story goes on, we’ll be seeing more and more scenes set away from this lovely setting, and moved to the various studio-bound locations, which would be a shame. Still, if Christopher Barry can keep this kind of style up for the remaining three episodes… what a way to part from the programme! 

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