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11 March 2014

Episode #316 of the DWO WhoCast, Doctor Who Podcast is Out Now!

In this week's episode of the DWO WhoCast...

Thomas and Dave look at The Monster Collection books and Thomas has a natter with Stephen Cole, author of Sting Of The Zygons.

Listen to Episode #316 of the DWO WhoCast in the player below:

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[Source: DWO]

10 March 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th March 2014

“Space travellers are warned to keep away from the area of the planet Asphya and its unremarkable moon Erys. Not the best place to materialise the TARDIS, then – as the Doctor discovers when his ship is raided by the imp-like Drachee, and his companion Flip is carried away…

But the TARDIS isn’t the only stricken vessel in the region. Aboard a nearby space yacht, the Doctor encounters a woman who holds in her head the secret of Erys – a secret suppressed by amnesia, or worse.

Flip, too, is about to learn Erys’ secret. But once you know Erys’ secret, you can never escape.”

* * *
Andrew Smith and Big Finish are rapidly becoming closely associated with one another, and it is easy enough to see why with a play like The Brood of Erys.  It has a colourful cast with some pleasingly odd voices, a solid pace and ending which sets up things to come, a story which is at once nice and evocative of past stories whilst also being firmly grounded in ‘the now’, and lots of action set pieces which place the companion in the centre of things: DWM would have had a field day drawing Flip plummeting through space back when they used to paint previews of the monthly releases.

Despite all this though, the adventure lacked a certain spark for me.  It’s certainly a world away from the heights of The First Sontarans and the imagination of Vengeance of the Stones, Smith’s contributions to The Lost Stories and Destiny of the Doctors ranges respectively.  Perhaps oddly, given his first script for Big Finish was set in E-Space, this feels more like Full Circle than any of his post-TV scripts have so far.  Now, that’s not a bad thing at all: Full Circle is not a bad story or script at all, and if you ever get the chance to read Smith’s novelisation of it, then I recommend you do so: it’s lovingly written and oozes imagination, wonder at even getting to write it, and genuine enthusiasm.  I had that feeling when listening to The First Sontarans, too, but there was something about The Brood of Erys which missed the spot for me.  Perhaps it’s because a lot of it felt very... familiar.  Not just to other scripts Smith has written, but in general.  It doesn’t break any new ground, and whilst not every Doctor Who script has to of course, it would have been nice to see it done so here all the same.  It feels like there is a better story hidden in there somewhere.

It feels like I am being rather down on The Brood of Erys and I do not wish to be.  There are other stories out there which deserve that sort of derision, and this story most definitely is not one.  Let’s focus on positives instead, namely the leads.  Colin Baker is forever brilliant as The Doctor (twelve times now they’ve cast the lead role - well, thirteen if we want to throw in John Hurt, and seeing how great he was, I reckon we should– and twelve/thirteen times now they’ve got it so very, very right) and here is no exception.  He sounds like he’s having fun throughout, which in turn makes for a more enjoyable listen, even if the material isn’t the greatest he’s ever had.  Likewise, Lisa Greenwood as Flip is strong.  As a companion, I don’t think she’s ever going to make a real dent for me as Flip is a bit too... generic to really do much.  Greenwood, however, is a different story.  As with Baker, you get the sense that she really wants to be there, acting and playing along.  It makes a real difference and helps Flip stand a bit stronger.  She is a far better actor than her character, though.

All the signs are pointing to an end of an era though, not just for the trilogy but in a wider sense, so it’ll be interesting to see what the third main range release of 2014 has in store for The Sixth Doctor and Flip, and whilst this was definitely better than the rather tedious Antidote to Oblivion, which committed the cardinal sin for any Doctor Who story in that it was really rather boring, I hope that it ends with a tale a little less serviceable than The Brood of Erys was at times.  All that said though, a script by Andrew Smith is always well worth listening to, so I do genuinely look forward to what he comes up with next.

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th March 2014

After last month’s slightly disappointing Antidote to Oblivion, The Sixth Doctor triliogy picks up with the rather enjoyable The Brood Of Erys.

Andrew Smith is a familiar name to Doctor Who fans having penned the first part of the E-Space Trilogy Full Circle. In The Brood of Erys, Smith deals with some very interesting science fiction ideas but the story towards the end does tend to delve somewhat into sentimentality.

The story deals with the concept of a sentient planet, breeding its own offspring to not only protect it but to follow it’s every command. This is very interesting and is one of the plot lines which keep your attention throughout. The story builds up its mysteries rather strongly throughout the first three episodes but it is only in the last half of episode four that it turns into more of a dysfunctional family drama. I will not give away what happens but for me it was too much of a sudden change of direction in what had been a fascinating and rather dark story.

The cast is one of the strongest aspects of this release with Colin Baker charging full steam ahead in a superb performance as The Doctor. Despite my misgivings about the sentimental ending of the story, Baker brings great subtlety to the dialogue. He truly is a masterful actor, and he has made his Doctor something very special over the years at Big Finish.

Lisa Greenwood gets a lot more to do as Flip in this story, and Greenwood goes for it with gusto. Flip is certainly one of the best foils The Sixth Doctor has had and it remains to be seen if the character’s recklessness in dangerous situations will have dire consequences in the future.

 With a brilliant supporting cast that includes Nicola Sian, better known to us as Clara’s mother and Brian Shelley as Erys, this play has a lot of great talent throughout.

At times comical and serious The Brood of Erys is a very interesting slice of Doctor Who and worth checking out.

10 March 2014

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

Day 434: The Android Invasion, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no… I can’t think of anything worse. This may actually be the most nightmarish thing to have ever happened in Doctor Who. People talk about the Hinchcliffe years as being dark, but… this? An entire village, trapped eternally on a single day. July 6th… the day before my birthday. If I lived in Devesham, I’d wake up every singe day, and my birthday would never arrive. Boo. Course, it would also mean that I’d be an android duplicate, having undergone a painful process aboard the spaceship of an evil alien, but still… I’d never get my presents!

The Android Invasion is blowing a bit hot and cold for me at the moment. On the one hand, there’s loads that I’m loving. This episode continues with some of the strange mystery that we started building up in yesterday’s episode, and I’m finding it more and more like something out of The Avengers (the Doctor’s reaction to finding that calendar would surely give us the title of the story, too: The Village Without a Future), and that’s no bad thing. It’s nice, sometimes, to get away from the usual Doctor Who fodder and have something a bit different.

But then, on the other hand, this episode isn’t getting away from being generic Doctor Who at all - in fact, I think it may be the epitome of it in places! What I actually mean is that this story seems to be drawing inspiration in places from the programme’s past. Specifically, the past of just a few stories ago, because there’s an awful lot in here which feels like a sub-par Terror of the Zygons. I don’t know if that’s intentional, or simply a coincidence, but both Terry Nation on writing duties and Barry Letts as director seem to be aping elements of the season opener throughout this episode.

On the writing side, the local pub (well… the local inn) is being used to spy on the operations of the outsiders to the village. In Zygons, the hidden camera was in the eyes of the deer head, whereas here it’s in the centre of the dartboard (it’s a good job the Doctor didn’t damage it with his triple bullseye!). This then sort of leads into the similarities in direction, where a shot of the Doctor looking down the camera lens and being watched on a monitor in the Kraal’s spaceship is almost identical to a shot of Benton doing the same with the Zygon spying device. Then, while I’m glad that they’re trying to conceal the look of the aliens for as long as possible, we seem to follow the same process as in that earlier tale. Our first glimpse is a close up of the face (In Zygons it was a more extreme close up on the eyes, whereas here you get the full face peering through a hole in the cliffhanger to Episode One), this is then followed by a shot of the creature’s hand on the controls of the ship. At least the reveal is done well, again, with the face of the creature appearing as Sarah undergoes her processing.

That’s not to mention the fact that this is a story about a species of aliens we’ve never seen before, who are able to create perfect facsimiles of human characters, and have created a version of Harry who’s hostile towards the Doctor and (especially) Sarah. It’s not just minor similarities - there’s whole ideas which are shared between the two stories. It seems odd that the production team have let this happen so close together (only eight episodes between the end of Zygons and the start of this one), but I wonder if that’s a peculiarity of Zygons being held over from Season Twelve? Had it been shown earlier in the year, as planned, this story may not have come as such a close resemblance.

Of course the big moment today is the cliffhanger. Sarah Jane falls down a slope… and her face falls off! She’s an android! It’s another one of those moments that you just know about when you’re a Doctor Who fan, and I’ve probably seen it a thousand times. But I’d always assumed that it was supposed to be a shock to the viewer more than it actually is. Earlier on in today’s episode, Sarah trips and falls, spraining her ankle. I’d always figured that a similar thing would happen at the end of this episode. She’d stumble, fall to the ground… and then when the face pops off, it’s a huge surprise! I didn’t realise that by the time this cliffhanger rolls around, we’re supposed to know that she’s a duplicate.

I wonder if I prefer the version of events that I’ve had in my head for all these years? By the time of this scene, we know that they’re making android duplicates of people, we know that Sarah has gone through the process, and they’ve laid more enough hints to the fact that this isn’t the real Sarah. It suddenly makes sense of the Doctor’s new obsession with ginger pop (in yesterday’s episode, when he steps out of the TARDIS, offers some to Sarah, and she makes a point of saying how much she hates it I wondered if they were just trying to pad out some time - the whole exchange felt odd!), and seeing Sarah accept it is all the indication we need that she’s not herself.

But then they also add in the fact that she can make a phone call. The Doctor makes a point of checking several phones to make sure we know that they’re not working, and even highlights it as being odd that Sarah can manage to phone in to him. It’s made clear that her story doesn’t quite add up about her escape from the aliens. And then the Doctor’s main deduction is that the duplicate is wearing a scarf… when he’s got Sarah’s scarf in his pocket still from earlier. Actually, that last one is the cleverest idea (and, I have to admit, I didn’t spot it!), but it feels like overkill to add yet another clue.

That said, it’s nice how neatly that ties in. As I say, I didn’t spot the scarf thing, but it’s nicely woven in daly on when the Doctor takes it from her to lead the sniffer dogs off her trail. That chase also gives us a chance to look at the Doctor’s new clothes (the second coat to be introduced in as many stories!), which is quite nice. I much admit that I’d forgotten just how soon this grey coat is introduced. I knew he wore it in this story, and the next, and the one after that, but in my mind I’d never realised just how quickly he started adding these new bits to his costume. To my mind it had always been the corduroy jacket, the brown frock coat introduced in Pyramids of Mars, which then evolved into this one, before heading back to a different brown one, a new grey/beige one for Season Seventeen, and his Season Eighteen look. I rather prefer the way it’s actually turning out, with the Doctor able to swap his coats around on a whim - it gives the impression far more of him choosing clothes as opposed to a costume, and that’s a nice touch.


9 March 2014

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

Day 433: The Android Invasion, Episode One

Dear diary,

It’s always a nice transition to go from such an acclaimed story to one which I really have no clue about when it comes to other people’s opinions. I don’t know if I hear so little about The Android Invasion because it’s considered to be a bad story, or if it’s simply by chance. I know about as much about this tale as I did Planet of Evil last week, and that turned out to be a real highlight for me, so fingers crossed…!

If this first episode is anything to go by, I may well have another hidden gem on my hands. Once again, we get to spend a lot of time in the company of just the Doctor and Sarah (Right the way through this marathon, I’d assumed that the ‘Doctor and his companion(s) explore the new location without much interference from guest characters’ was something exclusive to the early years of the programme, but it seem increasingly common at the moment for me to refer back to ‘this thing from the early 1960’s’ cropping up - it seems to be just as common in the mid-70s), and the more time we spend with this pair, the more I can understand the love for them.

It also helps that they’ve got an interesting mystery to solve. It feels more like the plot from an episode of The Avengers than it does one from Doctor Who. An entire town has suddenly become deserted? A soldier throws himself from a cliff top? All the money in his wallet (and in the till of the local pub) is freshly minted? The lanes are patrolled by mysterious figures in a kind of radiation suit who fire bullets from their fingers at anyone who trespasses? Mrs Peel, we’re needed!

The Doctor comes up with quite a good explanation for it all. A radiation leak, meaning that everyone’s been evacuated in a hurry. Makes sense. The soldier could be infected, meaning he’s not of sound mind. Makes sense. All the money has to be changed because of the high radiation levels in the area naturally, so it can’t be allowed to circulate far. Makes sense. And yet, it’s interesting to watch the deduction while knowing that he’s completely wrong. I don’t know a great deal about the plot to this story, but what little I do know tells me that it’s got something to do with androids (the clue’s in the title), and they don’t feature in the Doctor’s analysis.

But just when you start to think he’s piecing together a coherent explanation for everything, they go and make it even more mysterious, by bringing in a group of people to populate the pub with. There’s something eerie about the way they all come in silently and resume their positions (it’s a shame that one extra is forced to move his chair to sit down - there’s something creepier about the people before him who just slide down into their pre-placed seats), and when Sarah bursts into the room and they all turn to stare at her with a look of anger… oh, yes, it’s all very effective.

So it’s almost a shame when we follow the Doctor off to the Space Centre, and we’re caught up in boring old action sequences. Chasing, evading, running around… even Tom Baker flipping over a desk can’t make this part of the story as interesting as that initial mystery. It’s telling, perhaps, that all my notes for today’s episode end with Sarah at the pub. After that, I’m just not as engaged.

Something I did notice, and it’s been brought up in a few other recent stories, too, is the fact that Sarah doesn’t seem to have her own TARDIS key. We’re only a few stories away from the Doctor’s claim that she’s his ‘best friend’, and they’ve been travelling together for absolutely ages now, so it does seem a little odd that she’s not allowed her own access to the ship. But then she goes and does something silly, like put the key in the lock and wanter away from it! No wonder the TARDIS has taken off of its own accord - it’s probably trying to teach her a lesson!


9 March 2014

The man who put The Doctor aboard a cursed pirate ship and took us to parts of the TARDIS we’d never seen before has been confirmed as a writer on the forthcoming 8th series of Doctor Who.

Steve Thompson will write the as-yet-unnamed fifth episode of the series to be shown later this year (which DWO believe *could* be titled Time Heist).

It’s the third time the writer has penned a Doctor Who story, following last year’s Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS and 2011’s pirate adventure The Curse of the Black Spot.

Steve Thompson has also provided scripts for BBC1’s Sherlock such as The Blind Banker, series two finale The Reichenbach Fall and The Sign of Three which was broadcast in January.

Filming is underway on Peter Capaldi’s first series as The Doctor. He’ll be joined by Jenna Coleman as Clara and a new recurring character, Danny Pink played by Samuel Anderson

The new series, to be screened on BBC1, will also feature episodes by lead writer and series producer Steven Moffat.

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in August / Early September 2014.

[Source: BBC Doctor Who Website]

8 March 2014

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

Day 432: Pyramids of Mars, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I think the issue that I’m having with this story is that I don’t really believe in Sutekh’s power. Ever since the Doctor realised what they’re fighting against, he’s spent time telling us how many millions will die if they don’t succeed in stopping this ancient god. We see the future, ravaged and destroyed. Five men are already dead - some quite brutally killed - and they’re only the first of millions once Sutekh has broken free of his restraints. But that’s all we get - a lot of talk about the fact that he’s all-powerful, and that he leaves desolation in his wake. Because he doesn’t get to stand up until the end of this episode, and then finds himself immediately trapped in a time corridor, the threat of this creature feels less potent than, say, the anti-matter force from the last story. Or the Daleks last season. Or… well, you get the picture.

It’s a pity, really, because the opening few minutes of today’s episode consists almost exclusively of the Doctor being tortured by Sutekh’s mental powers. In some ways, these scenes are the ones which come closest to showing you just how powerful this god really is, because he’s reduced our hero to being his plaything, but they feel as though they’re lacking impact having come after Planet of the Spiders. The mental torture inflicted on the Doctor here is far greater than the ‘walking round in circles’ that the Great One caused, but it’s less shocking because we’ve already had that earlier example.

The one thing that really does work for me about Sutekh, though, is his voice. I remember there being quite a bit of excitement back in 2006 when it was announced that Gabriel Woolf would be returning to the world of Doctor Who to voice the creature in The Satan Pit, and I can see now why people were so thrilled. He manages a tone that is at once scary and playful, and the way he laughs as he speaks some of the lines can be genuinely chilling. It’s by far the best thing about the entire story, but it still doesn’t really make me fear him.

Even when - following the Doctor’s protests that he will never help the god - Sutekh takes control of the Doctor’s mind and starts using him as a puppet, I just don’t believe it. I don’t know if it’s something in Baker’s performance, or if it’s just the way that I’m reading into the events, but I was convinced that the Doctor was faking possession. I kept waiting for him to turn to Sarah and give her a wink, a signal to both her and us that things were really ok. After a while, it turns out that - no - he wan’t faking it, and he really was under the control of an outside influence, a puppet for Sutekh… but it comes too late!

Oh, I know, I’m simply having a moan. I think this is another one of those instances, like The Evil of the Daleks, where I’m looking at a story’s high standing within fandom and thinking ‘go on, then. Impress me…’ There’s lots to love about this story, but I just can’t understand why it’s quite so loved. At times, today’s episode feels a bit like a rehash of Death to the Daleks, with logic puzzles standing between the Doctor and his goal (even Sarah comments that it reminds her of the city on Exxilon. A lovely, and unexpected, surprise… although Sarah didn’t actually get to go in to the city. Presumably, the Doctor must have told her all about it…), but at least they’re livened up with some funky moving backgrounds throughout the set.

On the whole, I think the story just lost some of the atmosphere once the action was shifted mainly to Mars. Suddenly, that great mansion set, or the woodlands, was gone and replaced with a fairly generic location for the final showdown. Although the moving segments are a nice idea, they don’t always work well, so I found them more distracting than anything. I think, no matter how I try, I’m just not going to get the love for this one. A good story? Yes, undoubtably. A great story? Not for me, I’m afraid.


7 March 2014

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

Day 431: Pyramids of Mars, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Whenever we have a historical story, I always catch myself being terribly nice about the set design, and quite often the location work, too, but I rarely seem to talk all that much about the costumes. I think this is a fitting place to do so, because all the outfits in this particular story are fantastic. Elisabeth Sladen really suits the white dress she wears (and it’s a marked change from the type of outfit that Sarah was wearing in the programme for the last few seasons. I hate to use an anecdote from Sladen’s autobiography again, but she talks of loosening up Sarah’s wardrobe the longer she travels with the Doctor, and you can clearly see that in motion here), the fact that it’s mentioned as having been Victoria’s is a nice little nod to the past, too.

Then you’ve got the Scarman brothers. Marcus’ outfit is interesting enough without being too overbearing, but it’s Lawrence’s togs which appeal the most to me. I think most Doctor Who fans have their own ‘Doctor outfit’ - the type of clothes you would wear if you were the Doctor. I think Lawrence’s ones here are pretty much my ideal costume. Indeed, I own a similar three-piece suit (though in a more modern cut, and with a smaller pattern), so there’s no wonder that I’m so keen on his style!

And then you’ve got the real Doctor’s outfit. It’s been evolving for a little while, now, and we’ve settled on the look that - in various guises - will define much of the programme’s next five years. The hat, the scarf, the frock coat, the waistcoat, the ‘chequered’ trousers… There’s a moment in today’s episode, when the Doctor rounds a corner and we see a full-length shot of him and all I could think was how close it looked to the action figure of the Doctor from this story! It seems obvious (this is the tale they based it on, so it would look similar), but it’s a spot on capture of this costume that they’ve produced. In terms of the figures, this was always my favourite version of Tom, but often alternated with the Season 18 variant on the shelf when I couldn’t make my mind up! I think that all things considered, this is my favourite look for the Fourth Doctor - he just fits the style so well.

We’re also seeing just how different this incarnation of the Doctor can be from his predecessors. People talk of Tom Baker as being the first actor who really understood how alien the Doctor was, and it’s perfectly showcased today with his utter lack of concern for the dead Lawrence Scarman. Early in the story, once they’ve escaped the mummy attack he asks if the man is ok. Receiving a positive answer, he barks ‘You don’t deserve to be! You nearly got us all killed!’ It’s not a line that I can imagine as being unique to Tom’s Doctor (I can picture Pertwee saying something similar, and probably Hartnell, too), but the delivery only carries the weight like this when it comes from Tom Baker’s mouth. And then you’ve got a later exchange between the Doctor and Sarah, once they’ve found the man dead:

He was so concerned about his brother…

Well I told him not to be. I told him it was too late.

Oh! Sometimes you don’t seem… (she catches the next word in her throat, but the Doctor finishes the sentence for her anyway.)


From there, he just carries on with his deductions of what’s happening. Sarah tries to protest that a man has just been murdered, but the Doctor simply replies that four men have been killed. Five, if you include Professor Scarman himself. It’s wonderful to see the Doctor as detached as this, and it really does serve as a reminder that he’s not like us. He sees death all the time, so this is just another corpse to him. Even with everything else that the Doctor has had to do through this story, all the fun and laughing with his companion that I love so much, I think this may be his best moment of the story.

I told myself that I’d try not to mention the sets in this story all that much, which is one of the reasons that I’ve chosen to look at the costumes above. That said, I do need to draw attention to one of the set dressings - the Osirian rocket. It looks massive in the courtyard, which really helps to make the whole thing look impressive. I knew that it took this form somewhere in the story (again, from the action figures. I don’t own the set, but one of the Pyramids of Mars releases comes with a model of this missile), but I had no idea that it was so large! When it blows up at the end, the effect if pretty impressive, too. According to the ‘Now and Then’ feature on this DVD, the prop was given to a local school to keep once it was finished for filming… how come nothing that exciting ever happened in my schooldays?


7 March 2014

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear is the biggest selling classic Doctor Who title in its first week of sales in the UK, BBC Worldwide confirmed today. Approximately 15,000 copies were sold in that period, as The Web of Fear replaced Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World at the top of the week one classic Doctor Who charts. 

Both of the top two titles were believed lost forever but were returned to the BBC in 2013 sparking celebration among fans of the world’s longest-running sci-fi drama and global media interest. Unseen in the UK for over 45 years, they were discovered in a relay station in Jos, Nigeria by TV archive specialist Phillip Morris, before being lovingly restored by the Doctor Who restoration team in the UK.

They were subsequently released on iTunes, and The Web of Fear was released on DVD on Monday 24th February 2014. 300 fans gathered to enjoy a marathon screening of the two stories at the Prince Charles Cinema in London to celebrate the release of The Web Of Fear on 22nd February

Fiona Eastwood, Director of Consumer Products at BBC Worldwide said:

“We knew that The Web of Fear would be a popular release; Yetis on the London Underground – need I say more? There’s a real appetite for exploring the extensive back-catalogue of classic stories, particularly following the 50th anniversary last year, and we’re committed to continuing that exploration for Doctor Who fans in the future.”

These figures continue a successful year for Doctor Who DVDs, with strong sales across the classic range and contemporary releases alike. The 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor achieved the biggest ever week one sales for a Doctor Who title when it was released in December 2013.

+  Doctor Who: The Web of Fear is available to buy now at BBC Shop

[Source: BBC Worldwide]

7 March 2014

Our friends over at ResinSparkles would like to invite you to check out their handmade, SciFi inspired resin jewellery.

With items ranging from mini potions, fandom items and heart pendants, there will be something special for you to choose as a gift for someone else or even for yourself! Why not treat yourself to a cute K9 pendant or pair of earrings?

Pick up something special today. New items being added all the time so be sure to have a look. 

+  Visit the ResinSparkles Etsy store at: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ResinSparkles

[Source: ResinSparkles]

6 March 2014

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

Day 430: Pyramids of Mars, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh, Sarah Jane, you don’t make it easy for me, do you? Right the way through the Pertwee years, I managed to mostly avoid discussing the whole ‘dating’ issue, but this is one of the most glaring errors at the heart of it all - I simply can’t ignore this one! The last time I touched briefly on the whole dating issue was during Invasion of the Dinosaurs, where I commented that I was going to ignore Sarah’s ‘I’m from 1980’ comment in this story, and only really worry about the dating issues when I reached Mawdryn Undead… but I had no idea that the whole 1980 date was such a pivotal part of this story.

I knew that the Doctor took Sarah into the future to see what would happen to the Earth were they to leave now and not stop Sutekh, but I didn’t realise that they repeated that 1980 date over and over. Sarah says it. The Doctor says it. They open the doors and we look right out in to it. Frankly, the reason I’ve been choosing to ignore the whole subject is because it can’t be reconciled. I’ve seen fans claiming that Sarah is simply rounding up from 1975 to 1980 (which is ludicrous), or that there’s a time slip which moves the UNIT stories around between the 1970s and the 1980s… nothing really works for me. I just have to accept that this is a programme being made by several different production teams over several decades, and that things won’t always line up neatly. It’s a shame, but the 1980 comment is always going to stand out! Now, if only they’d recored as few new bits of dialogue for the DVD, to change the date they all keep saying?

Still, aside from the headaches that it’s given to fans over the years, that whole sequence when they skip forward to see what would happen if they left now is very nicely done. We’ve had a similar idea given to us before in dialogue, but to actually see it is far more powerful. They did a similar thing in The Sarah Jane Adventures, where Sarah Jane emerges back through a time fissure and into the ‘present’ day, to find that her actions in the past have allowed the Trickster to take control of the world, and turn it into a desolate husk. Modern budgets (even the comparatively small one for the spin off) mean that we get to spend a bit more time in this new world, but the core of the idea is the same between both stories.

But back in the world of 1911… well I’m just not sure what to make of the story. There’s nothing wrong with it, I’m certainly enjoying it and being swept along with it, but I can’t quite see how it’s always made it into such high spots on lists of ‘the best ever episodes’. Oh, sure, there’s a great deal of tension - the scene where Ernie Clements is chased by mummies is a great example of this. For ages, he’s way in the lead, with the mummies lumbering along far behind him. After a while, you start to think that he’ll always be able to out-run them, but in that moment, he hits back into the forcefield running through the woods. The same character was used to introduce us to the device earlier in this episode, in a bit of a comedy sequence, but now it turns out to be his downfall. The mummies close in closer and closer…

But then when they do actually catch up with him and crush him to death… People have always hailed this as one of the darkest bits of the story, and in a way it is. The mummy design is beautiful, but the fact that their protruded chest cavity is at just the right height to break his neck is a lovely touch. I don’t know if it was intentional or just a nice coincidence, but it works all the same. That said… I found it more funny than scary. It’s the two mummies cuddling him to death! Much more effective in the closing moments, as one stretches their hands out toward Sarah Jane’s neck, or early on in the episode when we hear the attack, but we don’t actually see it…


5 March 2014

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

Day 429: Pyramids of Mars, Episode One

Dear diary,

Pyramids of Mars is another one of those stories which usually finds itself placing quite high on fans’ lists of favourite episodes. Indeed, in our recent poll, it came in at number 6 out of 239, which makes it one of the stories that people rate among the best that Doctor Who has ever produced. As usual, I’m slightly sceptical about such high praise, but considering how fan ‘wisdom’ on stories like Genesis of the Daleks and Terror of the Zygons has seemed to chime pretty well with my own feelings lately, I’m intrigued to see if things will continue their current good trend with this one.

This is one of those stories that I’ve seen before, and actually I’ve seen it a couple of times. When I first started out collecting the Doctor Who DVDs, I picked it up simply because of its high regard among other fans… and I have to say I recall being a bit bored by it! That’s all I can recall – no specific scenes or bits of dialogue at all – but it meant that I then spent years thinking of it as a bit of a duff story, one which I could never understand the love for.

I’m not completely alone in this. Nick Mellish – who I mention a lot during my Diary posts, but he’s usually fairly spot on with his assessments of Who stories, by which I mean that we’re usually in tune with our opinions! – pointed out to me when we released our poll results that he could never get his head around why this story always graced the tops of lists.

But a few years ago, when Elisabeth Sladen died, they included all four episodes of this story as a tribute to her on the DVD and Blu Ray release of The Sarah Jane Adventures Series Four. I love The Sarah Jane Adventures, so I was quick to re-watch the entire series when the discs arrived. Having exhausted the supply of episodes, I found myself popping this story on. I didn’t watch the full thing, but I can remember getting to the end of Episode One and being surprised by just how much I’d enjoyed it.

Thankfully, I’m pleased to say that the second viewing of the episode is the one which most closely resembles my thoughts on it today. It may not be an instantly perfect episode like some people would have you believe, but it’s a good strong start to the story, and it’s absolute dripping in atmosphere. I think the highlight for me comes a little over half-way through, when we’ve spent several (largely dialogue-free) minutes watching the Doctor, Sarah, and Dr Warlock being chased by Ibrahim Namin and his mummies. There’s lots of stalking about in the woods, hiding behind fallen trees and in bushes… and then the scene is cut through by the sound of the organ blaring up again from the house. It takes you completely by surprise every time, and it really is a wonderful moment.

Lots of what comes afterwards is very good, too. Namin seems to be set up as the villain of the piece throughout the episode. He’s the one who appears to be covering up Scarman’s absence. He’s the one occupying the house and performing weird rituals with the Egyptian artefacts. He’s the one who pulls a gun on anyone who dares to get in his way… so it’s a real shock to see him killed during the cliffhanger. It serves so well as a demonstration of Sutekh’s power, and that great line ‘I am the servant of Sutekh. He needs no other.’ is really rather wonderful.

And then there’s a multitude of little things that all come together to make this simply an enjoyable episode. Opening with stock footage of Egypt was a real delight (I had a vague memory that they’d used a still image of the pyramids - no idea there that thought came from!), and is actually quite impressive. It means that when we step into a BBC studio set for the Egyptian tomb, it feels exotic and remote - you really get the impression that you’re somewhere very new again.

And then we’re back to somewhere very… familiar. Almost, anyway. Large country houses always feel like a staple of the programme in the 1970s, and I love the idea of visiting the location of UNIT HQ many decades before it’s used by UNIT. In some ways, I find it a shame that we’re in a previous house, not the one they actually use for UNIT, but then their HQ changed so much throughout the Pertwee years that I’m not sure I’d notice them simply redressing the set that became more common towards the end of the run.

But for me, the highlight is in the Doctor and Sarah Jane. I mused during Planet of Evil that I was starting to see the ‘best friends’ aspect of their relationship coming out, but it’s even more obvious here. From the way she playfully teases him in the TARDIS (‘you’ll soon be middle-aged!’) to the way they laugh and joke during their initial exploration of the house, there’s just so much to love in this pair. it’s clearly two people (The Doctor and Sarah and Tom Baker and Lis Sladen) who really love spending time together, and are just having fun. If this is what their relationship is like for the rest of their time together, then I’m in for a real treat.

Hm? Sorry? What? Oh, yes. That. I managed to successfully avoid the whole UNIT dating topic for most of the Pertwee years, but then today we’ve got one of the elements which makes it such a contentious issue.

We travel in time, Mr Scarman. I'm really from 1980…

I suppose I’d better finally start thinking properly about the whole UNIT time line issue…Well… Um… I guess that… Wait. Hold on. Was that the doorbell? Yes, I rather think it was…


5 March 2014

It's something DWO has been championing for years, but could the tide be turning to finally allow official Doctor Who Lego?

According to a recent update on the official Lego Cuusoo 'License Conflicts and Resolutions' page, it seems that the doors are now open for Doctor Who related projects. The update, posted yesterday, states: 

"If your project was previously turned down, archived, or deleted due to a licensing conflict that is now resolved, you may re-submit it as a new project. Supporters from past projects cannot be applied to a future project.

Resolved Past Licensing Conflicts

We now welcome projects based on the following licenses that used to have conflicts:

Doctor Who - February 2014"

Following the news, DWO caught up with Lego PR & Promotions Manager, Emma Owen, who simply stated:

"We cannot answer any Doctor Who related questions"

It's clearly a no-go subject for the company to discuss further at this point in time, but should any of the Doctor Who Lego Cuusoo projects get more than 10,000+ votes (and we very well expect them to), then the project goes to the consideration for production phase. As this would be a Doctor Who product with Doctor Who branding, Lego would therefore need a license to distribute the product.

There are some truly fantastic Doctor Who Lego Cuusoo projects up for consideration at the moment, and one of our favourites is Andrew Clark's 'Doctor Who And Companions' project. It currently has 1700+ votes and needs 10,000+ to be considered for production, so get your votes in here!

Back at the 2013 Toy Fair, however, Lego's position on Doctor Who was clear:

"Obviously we realise the popularity is massive in the UK for Doctor Who and as I've heard as well it's popular overseas but it doesn't have that complete global appeal, which obviously we have to have when developing a product. We don't develop products that are just one country specific. It has to have mass appeal because obviously the investment that goes behind a product business-wise, we're operating on a complete business sense"

Listen to DWO's 2013 Toy Fair interview with Lego's Emma Owen, below:

We then got in touch with Character Options regarding the future of their Character Building range and were told that the company cannot confirm anything past their projected releases (seen at Toy Fair 2014).

Either way, it seems there is a delicate situation in place where Lego have thrown their hat in the ring, and are in a position to allow products for consideration. It is unlikely that the market will allow for two lines of Doctor Who brick related construction toys, but without a solid confirmation from either company we have to play the waiting game for now.

More news as we get it... 

[Sources: DWO; Lego]

4 March 2014

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

Day 428: Planet of Evil, Episode Four

Dear diary,

There’s always a risk built into stumbling upon stories that you didn’t realise were very much up your street. That risk, put simply, is that they might fall apart on you. Over the last few days, I’ve been growing more-and-more impressed by Planet of Evil, a hidden gem amongst the early Tom Baker era that I’d never before given a second thought. Everything seemed to be holding together really rather well - from the sets, to the performances, and the effects. The one thing that had been letting it down for me was the story, but even that had started to draw me in by yesterday.

But then today, I’ve just found myself… I won’t say ‘bored’ with it, but I certainly didn’t feel as engaged with the episode today as I have over the last few. It’s a shame, because everything I’ve loved about the story is still in evidence here, but it feels like a case of diminishing returns. Seeing the outline of the monster rising from the pit towards the end is great - it still may be one of my favourite effects in the series - but the versions of Sorenson as an outline that stalk the ship for much of the episode just don’t quite work for me. I think it’s simply because the costume of the regular monster is designed specifically to give the best version of the effect, while they have to make do with Frederick Jaeger in a werewolf costume this time around.

While I’m on the subject, it’s nice to see Jaeger back in the series - I was rather fond of his performance during The Savages, so it’s good to actually see him this time around. He’ll be back in a few season’s time again, too. In fact, Planet of Evil is a bit of a dumping ground for people who’ve appeared elsewhere in Doctor Who, including Ewen Solon - who was also in The Savages: it’s like having a reunion - Prentis Hancock, Louis Mahoney, and in his last appearance in the programme, Michael Wisher.

I’ve spent a lot of time during this story making notes about just how fantastic the direction is, so it came as no surprise that it’s David Maloney back in the hot seat again. He really has become one of the programme’s most reliable creative personnel. Paired with Roger Murray-Leach on the design side, it’s a truly winning combination. The pair will work together on two further stories (The Deadly Assassin and The Talons of Weng-Chiang) which are both considered to be proper ‘classics’, so I can’t wait to see their work some more.

Now that Season Thirteen is under way properly, with scripts wholly commissioned under Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, and in a new recording block, it feels like Doctor Who has really hit its stride once more. The tone of the programme has been shifting ever since Pertwee left, but we now feel far more rooted in the ‘horror’ phase of the programme. I can’t imagine him starring in this story, but it feels so right for the programme. We’re starting to see the Doctor’s costume changing, too (with the addition of his orange cravat, and today marks the last appearance of his ‘Season Twelve’ jacket), so it feels like we’re a million miles away from the programme as we knew it not all that long ago.

I’m now deep into what fans seem to think of as a ‘Golden Age’, and I’m really starting to see why. I’ve never been sure that any era would come close to rivalling my love for the late 1960s, but I’m beginning to wonder if this may well be a contender. The next story is yet another one that fans praise very highly, so I’m hoping that the winning streak can continue from here…


3 March 2014

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

Day 427: Planet of Evil, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Someone asked me today how I was finding the marathon at the moment, and I told them that I felt the show had gained back some of its momentum, and that Tom coming into the role had sparked up a renewed interest from me. I went on to say that I was mid-Planet of Evil, and that while I was loving the sets, and the performances, the story was leaving me cold. The truth is, though, that I’m not sure who I’m kidding when I say that. I finished today’s episode with a vague sense of not really caring about the plot… but I spent the 23 minutes before that completely wrapped up in the story. I always know that something is going right when I find myself thinking ‘I should really make a note about something’, but I don’t want to miss a second of what’s happening on the screen.

Today, I’ve found myself interested really by the various effects in the story. It’s like the first time I watched The Ark (oh, so long ago now!), and it was throwing in all manner of special effect shots as if they were just a matter of course. The same seems to be true here – there’s all manner of various effects being thrown around in this story, and they’re all being pulled off extremely well. When I brought up this story earlier today, someone joked that it was ‘the one with the string monster’, and while that is a fairly good description of the anti-matter guardian, it was said with a tone to suggest that it wasn’t a very good creature, when it is!

I think what impresses me the most about it is that while I have a vague idea of how they’ve created the effect, I can’t really be entirely sure. I like that! No, I love that! It’s so easy to become jaded when watching through Doctor Who at such a consistent pace and seeing the same old tricks being used over and over again. When the programme pulls something like this out of the bag it’s genuinely pleasing. I’m also very impressed by the way they have the creature rise up out of the big anti-matter pit at the close of yesterday’s episode (and covered here in the episode recap), because it really does look like it’s rising out of the set, even when it’s just camera trickery.

It’s even impressive against a simple black background, where it does risk loosing some of its uniqueness. I think it’s helped by having such an enormous scale next to the Doctor, and coming after we’ve just witnessed some really surreal scenes of the Doctor falling through the darkness. To start with, those shots reminded me of The Three Doctors, and Pertwee preparing to square off with Omega’s mind, but the more that I think about it, the more I realise they remind me of The Krotons - all those slightly unusual angles and actions, with our hero in genuine pain. It’s really quite a striking sequence.

Then you’ve got all the various bits of model work, too. The spaceship exteriors are nicely done, and the way the ‘coffin’ is ejected while the ship carries on with its journey is especially well done (we’re at a point in the history of the show now where spaceship models are simply becoming par-for-the-course). Then you’ve also got the flying CCTV camera. It’s mostly prominent in Episode Two, but it looks really good whizzing through the jungle, and it gets some lovely high-angled shots to go along with it. There’s a particularly nice one (again, from yesterday’s cliffhanger) that follows the Doctor as he makes his way through the jungle. Although I’m not sure this is one of the better quality prints we’ve had for a story, I can’t say that I saw any wires or anything supporting the device, which all helps to add to the effect.

This is one of those wonderful and somewhat rare things for me – a Doctor Who story which I know very little about suddenly turning out to be really right up my street. Thinking back, I seem to recall that Lis Sladen cites it as being one of her favourites in her autobiography, and I’m starting to see why. And yet, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my mind that I’ve seen it all before…

It started yesterday, when the Doctor explained why they wouldn’t be able to leave this planet. A slight twinge, somewhere in my memory that said ‘this feels familiar’. The moment from today’s episode, when Sorenson looks into the mirror and sees his eyes glowing with a bright light simply confirmed it – this story is very much an inspiration of the Tenth Doctor’s adventure in 42. A group of humans exploiting a celestial body (here, it’s the planet, while in 42 it’s the living sun), trying to steal parts of it to take back for their own uses. Their victim is then able to take control of them and turn them into killers.

In the more recent story, the sun is specifically said to be taking possession of the humans (and the Doctor), whereas in this story that’s left down much more to the pull of the anti-matter stopping them from getting any further away while it corrupts Sorenson. Still, I can’t judge them for taking elements of this story to use again – I’m completely loving it.

The only downside – and this is a criticism of this period of the show, rather than the story itself – is the way that Sarah Jane reacts any time the Doctor gets hurt. Here, they watch the feed from their flying CCTV camera as our hero falls into the anti-matter pit, and Sarah screams out ‘No! Not the Doctor! He can’t be dead!’ You think she’d be used to this by now. She thought he was dead twice in The Monster of Peladon, saw him die and be reborn during Planet of the Spiders, and has spent time in both The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks assuming that he’s dead, too. She’s a bit too quick to jump to this conclusion every time, and watching all the episodes so quickly in succession means that I’m noticing it more and more… and it is starting to grate a bit. That’s nothing against Lis Sladen’s performance, though, because she sells it particularly well on this occasion. Mind you, it’s no wonder that when she encounters the Tenth Doctor for the first time, having not seen her friend for decades, she tells him that she thought he’d died, it seems to be a recurring trend!


2 March 2014

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

Day 426: Planet of Evil, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’ve been praising Tom Baker’s portrayal, and the way that he just ‘gets’ the Doctor since he first appeared in Robot, and it’s true to say that he’s been nothing short of wonderfully confident in the role through all his other stories. But here, today, in this episode, I’ve suddenly completely understood what people mean when they say that he’s the best Doctor ever.

It comes as he’s started to work out exactly what’s happening here, and while he’s under trial for his life, accused of murdering seven people. Every time he’s tried to interject - either seriously or with that typically ‘Doctor’ sense of humour - he’s been cut off, and told that he’ll have his chance… eventually. In the end, he gets sick of waiting, and uses an opportunity to answer a simple question to turn the situation in his favour.

Here on Zeta Minor is the boundary between existence as you know it and the other universe which you just don't understand. From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe. Each is the antithesis of the other. You call it “nothing”, a word to cover ignorance. And centuries ago scientists invented another word for it. “Antimatter”, they called it. And you, by coming here, have crossed the boundary into that other universe to plunder it. Dangerous.

The speech is given while the camera mostly focusses in on Baker, moving slowly towards him. Moments later, when Sorenson confirms that all his mineral samples are aboard, the Doctor continues…

Sorenson, you can’t take
any part of this planet with you. Sorenson… if you don’t listen to me, you’ll never leave this planet!

As he says that final sentence, he’s dragged away by guards to be locked back up in a cell. Right the way through this sequence, I found myself completely captivated by Baker’s performance. It is, put simply, the best I’ve ever seen from one of the Doctors to date. He completely sells the threat of the situation to me, and he manages to make it scary. He’s got a very distinctive voice, and here it’s used to its best effect as he drops down into a solemn tone to deliver his deadly warning.

It contrasts so nicely with his attitude earlier in the episode, because I think that this is also the first time I’ve seen a hint of that whole ‘best friends’ thing between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah. She had such a great rapport with the Third Doctor, and although they share their moments (that scene in Robot, where she successfully convinces him not to just fly off in his TARDIS, for example, or the famous ventilation shaft sequence from The Ark in Space), I feel as though her relationship with this new incarnation has been overshadowed by his friendship with Harry.

But as they make their way through the jungle, even though they know they’re being followed and accused of murder, they’re nothing short of good friends. They laugh and joke about Shakespeare, and you can just as easily imagine Baker and Sladen making it up on the spot - it’s not particularly vital dialogue, and it’s not even focussed on, it’s just chatter as they make their way into the background. I’m completely caught up by his performance, and I’m genuinely thrilled by it. During his serious speech today, I actually had goosebumps; it’s not often that Doctor Who has moved me like that.

And yet it’s all the more apparent to me that I’m not really all that bothered by the story to this one. There’s some interesting concepts going on, but it’s not grabbing me in the way I’d like. I’m far more distracted by the performances, or the sets, or the direction. Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing to focus on, so the storey itself ends up fading into the background somewhere. Still - what a complaint to have!


1 March 2014

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

Day 425: Planet of Evil, Episode One

Dear diary,

I thought that reaching the end of the Jon Pertwee years meant that I’d gone past that phase of the programme where I simply didn’t know all that much about certain stories. With this season for example, I could have told you some of the plot to Terror of the Zygons, I know a fair amount about Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion, and The Brain of Morbius, and while I don’t know a huge amount about The Seeds of Doom, I know it features a trip to a snowcap, and a plant that grows to the size of a country house. I even know how they defeat that story’s alien menace.

But then, amongst all of those, we’ve got Planet of Evil. I can tell you that it’s set in a jungle, and that the Doctor takes off his scarf for a fairly long stretch of the story. That’s it. Truth be told, I’d sort of forgotten that it even existed. Certainly, I had to go back and edit an earlier entry for the Diary where I mentioned not seeing Tom Baker in the TARDIS console room until Pyramids, because I thought that story would be following on directly from Terror of the Zygons! Oh, but that’s good, because I like it when Doctor Who can surprise me, and here it’s done so with an entire four-part serial I’d all but forgotten!

As I say, I know that this story is set in a jungle. And I know that because it’s supposed to be one of the best sets that the series ever had. For years afterwards, it graced the pages (and, I think, the cover) of the BBC’s set design manuals as an example of just how to do the job right. It’s not hard to see why - the jungle set in this story is simply beautiful. This is Season Thirteen’s entirely studio-bound story, but that doesn’t really matter, because we’ve got a set here which I can’t stop looking at - even right into the distance there seems to be something to focus on.

This feels like the moment that I should trot out my frequently used ‘I wish all of Doctor Who had been shot on film’ comment, because there’s a few film sequences with this set which do look stunning. They allow you to get some water onto the floor and give the impression that we’re in a proper swamp (who needs to go out on location to film, when you can make a jungle this convincing in the studio?), but in all honesty, even the video sequences make this set look good - it simply is a brilliant design.

It doesn’t even stop with the jungle. I groaned a little when the entrance to one spaceship was a simple pair of doors, with the rest of the ship off-camera, but then once we see inside Salamar’s control room it’s huge! I always tend to praise sets which use different levels to their advantage (The Seeds of Death is still the one that sticks best in the memory), but here you’re on really different levels. It’s almost like having a big two-story room on the screen, and you don’t often get something this size in Doctor Who. I’d assume that it’s because there’s relatively few sets in the story, but I’m finding it hard to feel - that jungle feels as though it stretches on for miles, and I can’t get any idea on just how big the set really was. You can barely imagine how excited I was when a set of steps is lowered so that they can disembark the ship. It seems like such a little thing, but when you’re watching through in order, you really do notice the little things like this.

And speaking of watching through in order, I think I’m right n saying that this is the first time the Doctor has been actively drawn to an adventure by following a distress signal. It becomes pretty ubiquitous as a plot device as the programme goes on, but I can’t remember it ever really happening before now. I suppose it ties in with the TARDIS now becoming a bit more reliable.

Had the First or Second Doctors picked up a distress call, they would have had a fair amount of difficulty answering it, and the Third Doctor was only set off Earth as a Time Lord missionary for a while, before we started to see him getting better control as time went by. His best bit of piloting is Planet of the Spiders, where he arrives mere feet from his companion - though I suppose the TARDIS had someone familiar to home in on! It feels like we’re entering a period now where the Doctor has more control over where he’s going (even if the ship is still somewhat erratic), and I’m looking forward to seeing how that develops as we move forward.

I suppose it’s another sign of the times - Planet of Evil is the first Philip Hinchcliffe story to go out without any kind of input from Barry Letts. While Zygons opened the season, it was commissioned by Barry. We’re now entering a period of the programme entirely separate from the previous production team, and that’s an exciting prospect after so long…


1 March 2014

Doctor Who Director, Douglas Mackinnon has paid to Sarah Jones, a camera assistant who was tragically killed on the set of Midnight Rider on 20th February.

Jones, who grew up in West Columbia, S.C., began her career interning on the TV show Army Wives, and later went on to work on The Vampire Diaries.

It is understood that she was killed when a freight train struck and killed her on set filming the Greg Allman biopic, Midnight Rider. The crew were filming a dream sequence on a railroad trestle when a train unexpectedly crossed the bridge. Four other people were injured in the accident.

Whilst filming the new series of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi, Mackinnon tweeted a tribute picture from the set, featuring a clapperboard with the words “In memory of Sarah Jones”.

When reports broke, there was some initial confusion as to whether it was the same Sarah Jones who worked on The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, with online news sources and IMDB providing conflicting confirmation. Peter Davison (The 5th Doctor), got in touch with DWO to confirm it is not the same Sarah who worked with him:

"Hi. Thought I should log on and say no, it is not the same Sarah Jones who worked with me on The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. Have checked this with the production co-ordinator, who spoke to her on the 27th of Feb." 

[Sources: Variety; Twitter; Peter Davison]

28 February 2014

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

Day 424: Terror of the Zygons, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Yesterday, I spent a bit of time complaining (well, not so much complaining... ‘musing’, maybe) about the fact that although the spaceship taking off and heading away from Scotland was a fairly good effect, any sense of scale was lost, and that I simply couldn’t get a handle on it. It’s almost as if the story is trying to prove a point, now, by using a few very well done forced perspective shots to show people looking tiny in comparison! I have to admit that I was completely taken by surprise the first time it happened, and even had to wind the episode back a few seconds just to check I hadn’t imagined it.

The extreme close-up means that we get a good look at the model of the Zygon ship - it really is quite a lovely design, isn’t it? There are some spaceship designs in Doctor Who - such as the Jagaroth ship from City of Death, the Sontaran pods, the modern-series Dalek saucers, or even the TARDIS itself - which are pretty well known, and I’m surprised that I’ve not encountered this Zygon one before. My only slight gripe is that it doesn’t match up as neatly with the inside of the ship, and it’s the only weak link in the cohesive ‘organic’design right across Zygon technology. A minor complaint, though, because it’s a beautiful ship all of its own!

While I’m on the subject of model work, I need to bring up the Skarasen. I’ve been swinging slightly between loving it and being less sure right the way through the story, but this episode contains perhaps its most infamous moment. Fans often bring up ‘the Skarasen in the Thames’ when making a list of those effects where the series hasn’t quite got it right, but when it appeared in shot, CSO’d in behind Tom Baker, I was actually quite impressed. I was ready to say that people were complaining over nothing!

And then we cut away to a shot of a hand-puppet Skarasen, sticking its head up above the side of the river, and everything falls to pieces. While something in the design of the creature hasn’t really worked for me all along (it’s still something to do with the face. I wonder if it’s too similar to the dinosaur from Doctor Who and the Silurians?), the model work up to now has been pulled off rather well. This effect just feels a bit cheap right at the end - it does let things down somewhat.

At one point today, when the Doctor has blown up the Zygon ship (in perhaps the serial’s best effect. You see little sections of the ship blow up first, before the whole thing finally goes. It’s very well done...), he turns to the Brigadier and asks if it was a big enough ‘bang’ for him. I was all prepared to make a point about them blowing something big up every time a new incarnation of the Doctor has a second adventure with the Brig, citing this as the example for Tom Baker, the Silurian base as the Jon Pertwee incident (setting up a long tradition throughout that era of simply blowing up the main location at the end), and for Troughton’s second adventure with the Brig, in The Invasion... ah. They don’t really blow anything big up. Darn, I thought I was on to an interesting and never-before- noticed point there. Still, as if on cue to make me feel better, we get a lovely establishing shot of the river, before the camera pans around to show us a shot of the World Energy Conference building... and it’s the former headquarters of International Electromatics! I like to imagine that the government have converted the building since the attempted Cyberman invasion.

Ah, but all of this is simply me dodging a point that I need to make... because it’s the last we’ll be seeing of the Brigadier for a long time in this marathon. It’ll be about another six months of so until I see him again, and for viewers at the time, it was around seven years until his next appearance. I was waiting for there to be some kind of fantastic final line for him, some send-off after so many years of loyal service to the programme (he’s been popping up for well over half of Doctor Who’s life by now, which makes him a pretty important and recognisable element), but it doesn’t really come. Of course, at the time, they didn’t know that this was the end for the character in the short-term - heck, UNIT will be back later this seasonwithout him - so I suppose they didn’t feel any need for him to be given a send off.

I’ve been wondering throughout this story if it’ll feel odd to not have Nick Courtney around for so long... but I don’t think it will, really. Both he and UNIT were far less integral to the Pertwee years than I’d ever realised (even by Season Nine they only really turn up to top- and-tail the seasons), and watching through Season Twelve, in which they only appear for a fifth of the stories didn’t feel particularly as though they were missing. Still, it marks yet another step in the programme’s evolution, as it finally outgrows the boys’ action adventure serial format, and continues its shift into more gothic areas.


27 February 2014

Acclaimed British screenwriter, producer and actor Mark Gatiss will be visiting Brazil in March in a special publicity tour for BBC Worldwide to talk about British drama including international TV sensation Sherlock and his work on global hit Doctor Who, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year.

Gatiss, who is the co-creator and executive producer of Sherlock which has sold to over 200 territories across the world, has been invited to speak at the prestigious Rio Content Market – an annual industry event for producers, TV content buyers and commissioners in Latin America. At the conference, he will be giving a presentation on his career in British drama with a focus on Sherlock and also An Adventure in Space and Time – the drama about the genesis of Doctor Who which he wrote and produced last year as part of the brand’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. He will also talk about his work writing for and acting in various episodes of the sci-fi series. The event will be hosted by TV journalist Liv Brandao and Brazilian stage director Claudio Botelho.

As part of the tour, Mark will also be meeting fans at two events specially organised by BBC Worldwide. The first will be a screening of The Empty Hearse – the opening episode of the latest series of Sherlock, written by Gatiss and in which he stars alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes. The screening will take place at Livraria Cultura (Cine Victoria) in Rio de Janeiro on Friday 14th March at 7pm. As part of the event, Mark will take part in a Q and A and signing session with fans.

The second event will take place at Livraria Cultura (Shopping Iguatemi) in Sao Paulo at 7pm on Saturday 15th March. Fans will have the opportunity to ask questions about Mark’s work Doctor Who, Sherlock and the recent drama An Adventure in Space and Time.  He will also take part in a limited signing of Sherlock and Doctor Who merchandise. Further details of both events and how to obtain tickets will be released soon on www.doctorwho.tv/events. Details of the venues can be found at http://www.livrariacultura.com.br/

Commenting on the forthcoming tour Mark Gatiss says:

“It’s fantastic that British TV is being enjoyed all across the world and I’m really looking forward to meeting Brazilian Doctor Who and Sherlock fans!”

Sherlock and Doctor Who have both seen notable growth in Latin America in the last year, with a huge number of fans engaging with both shows on social media. The official Sherlock Facebook page has seen an 80% increase in the number of Brazilian fans in the last year and the Doctor Who page a 54% increase – the highest for any country in the world. Both series air on BBC HD and BBC Entertianment in Brazil which are pay-TV channel wholly owned and operated by BBC Worldwide. They are also both available on Netflix Latin America.

+  Download DWO's 'iWho' Doctor Who App for iOS
+  Download DWO's 'iSherlockApp for iOS 

[Sources: BBC Worldwide; DWO]

27 February 2014

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

Day 423: Terror of the Zygons, Episode Three

Dear diary,

This story just keeps on being dark, doesn’t it? I was going to make a point a few days ago about the sinister nurse: she’s so obviously a Zygon, and I was going to say that it was another example of Doctor Who taking a figure that’s usually respected and trusted by children, and turning them into something sinister and frightening (as with the policeman during Terror of the Autons). What I wasn’t prepared for was the sequence in todays story, where shortly after being chased through the woods in its natural form, a Zygon takes back on the shape of the nurse, and then clubs a soldier round the head with a large rock to make her escape.

You don’t see anything, really, and the actual impact is rather muted. It’s not stated whether the soldier was killed in the attack (although, in my mind, being hit round the back of the head with a rock that size wouldn’t leave you much chance), but it’s still pretty sinister. For all my moaning yesterday about the pitchfork scene being a bit too much for Saturday tea times, I must admit to rather enjoying this darker tone for the programme. It’s fantastically watchable, and once again Camfield’s direction is helping to push things that extra mile.

I’m perhaps most impressed by his work with the model spaceship at the end of the episode. It looks good enough in shots at the bottom of the lake, and I love the way the sand kicks up around the base of the vessel as it prepares to take off, but then I did that natural Doctor Who fan thing of preparing myself for the worst. I assumed that one of two things would happen: either we’d not actually see the ship emerging from the loch, or we’d see it and it would look rubbish. In actual fact, it’s... well, I’m not going to lie and say that it was great, because it wasn’t. It was a lot better than I was expecting, and i have to admit that I was really impressed by it, but the longer we spend looking at it, there more I couldn’t get any real sense of scale, so it just ended up looking like a model being pulled out of water. As it flies off, then, it still looks quite impressive, but having already lost my sense of scale, it did bring things down a bit for me.

And I’m still not all that sire about the Skarasen. We get another shotof it lifting a claw, today, which works quite well, and then as it walks away we get to see the tail swishing about from side to side - an unexpected treat and one which works incredibly well. There’s just something about the face of the creature that’s throwing me off, and I don’t know what it is.

Elsewhere, all the human characters are continuing to impress me. I love all of the stuff up at the castle, and the sinister way in which the Duke behaves. He complains that Sarah Jane is smarter than she looks when she stumbles into the secret passage behind the bookcase, but you do have to wonder why he left her alone in the room if there was even the tiniest chance that this could happen! Do the Zygons underestimate us that much?

That same tunnel also provides me with my favourite moment from today’s episode, where the Doctor excitedly heads off into the passageway to see what he can find. We linger on the darkness of the opening, as he’s warned to be careful... and then we simply hear hims scream. Perhaps the most effective part is that we then don’t get to see what’s happened to him - simply that two Zygons emerge into the room. We’re left to speculate as to what situation the Doctor is left in, and I’m wondering if we might get some doubts as to how ‘real’ he may be, when he emerges in the next episode...


26 February 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th February 2014

A close encounter with a stray missile leads the Doctor to materialise his TARDIS on a planet that hangs in the dark at the edge of the known universe. A planet so dark that it exists in near-permanent night. A planet that enjoys just a single day’s light once every thousand years…

Exactly what happens on the planet in its rare daylight hours – that’s what a geographical survey headed by Senior Tutor Bengel is stationed here to establish. They, the Doctor and Leela are about to discover that when daylight comes, the White Ghosts rise…

* * *
At the conclusion of last month’s The King of Sontar, The Doctor and Leela had reached a crisis in their relationship. Shocked by her actions, The Doctor felt that it may be time he and Leela were to go their separate ways. Thankfully this does not happen and their adventures continue in this second release for the third season of The Fourth Doctor Adventures.

White Ghosts is that classic of Doctor Who scenarios; the base under siege story, and while there are lovely ideas throughout, it feels let down by its slightly rushed ending.

The main character in this particular story to me is more Leela than The Doctor. The falling out between The Doctor and Leela in The King of Sontar is resolved rather quickly, which is disappointing as I would’ve liked to have seen it continue a bit longer in future stories. Thankfully though the ramifications are not so quickly swept under the carpet and it does inform our two main characters throughout the story.

I like how writer Alan Barnes continues to show the development of Leela, as she has now taught herself to read and uses a book - in this case, one of English fairy tales to make comparisons between it and the events around her. It makes for some lovely metaphors when Leela assesses the danger of the situation the characters in the story are in.

Leela is at the centre of an inspired moment in the story, where we get to see inside her head as she goes into battle. The moment feels like it is from a Companion Chronicle but it helps the scene not only from an audio drama point of view but lets us more inside the character of Leela. It is a stand out moment and one I hope Big Finish use again in future stories.

The cast is very good, especially guest star Virginia Hey (of Farscape fame) putting in an excellent performance as Senior Tutor Bengal. Tom Baker is still as delightfully eccentric as The Doctor and there are some nice supporting characters played by Bethan Walker, James Joyce and Gbemisola Ikumelo respectively.

I like the idea of the Time Lords still using The Doctor to do their dirty work and his dilemma at the end of the story echoes Leela’s previous actions in The King of Sontar. This may prove to be one of the season’s running plot arcs and I hope we see it reappear again.

The story does have an excellent build up but the ending feels rushed especially with the sudden addition of another antagonist from out of nowhere. It makes sense as a creepy addition to the story, but with the constraints of two episodes it feels tacked on somewhat.

I put this down less to the writing but more to the constraints of the two part format, as this story could’ve used at least one more episode to make that conclusion more believable.

White Ghosts is still an entertaining story with some excellent development for our two heroes.

26 February 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Ian Potter

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th February 2014

After travelling with the Doctor through time and space, Ian Chesterton is back in his own time. But the mystery of how he and Barbara Wright disappeared in the year 1963 has alerted the authorities – and both are suspected of being enemy agents in the Cold War.

Ian protests his innocence. He has a story to tell about travelling through time and space.

And one adventure in particular – a visit to the city of Hisk…

* * *
A Companion Chronicle with William Russell is always going to be worth my attention but this time around I found the experience to be an underwhelming affair.

At first The Sleeping City feels like it is going to be an exclusively two hand piece performed by William Russell and guest star John Banks. Sadly it only turns out to be a framework for the main story narrated by Russell.

The strongest part of the audio is the framework element as I found the idea of Ian and Barbara being interrogated about their disappearance and the whereabouts of Susan to be far more interesting than the actual story. The audio then cuts at certain moments for the two main characters to comment upon what is happening, and once again these exchanges are by far the most interesting thing about it.

That is not to say main story is bad, not at all, The Sleeping City has some intriguing ideas and is certainly a nice piece of nostalgia for lovers of the Hartnell era. William Russell gives a very good reading but I found the tale personally not very engaging.

The Sleeping City is an intriguing premise but it ultimately feels let down by its ending. Understated though it is, it plays with the notion that John Banks' character Gerrard knows a lot more than he is letting on but the reveal is still a little disappointing.

It does have its moments but overall The Sleeping City is not one of the strongest stories in the Companion Chronicles range.

26 February 2014

Speaking at the recent BBC Worldwide Showcase in Liverpool, Steven Moffat talks about the “insane” idea of remaking Doctor Who for international audiences.

When asked if any foreign TV channels had ever enquired about making their own version of Doctor Who, Moffat replied:

"If anyone were to ask me, I'd say it's an absolutely insane idea. You couldn't have more than one Doctor Who in the world. It would just be dreadful."

Despite events like the BBC Worldwide Showcase and the sums of money to be made from selling programmes to foreign channels, Moffat says he does not write shows with overseas sales in mind.

"I don't think creatively it makes any sense at all to try to imagine selling your show to the rest of the world. You'd get it wrong anyway. Sherlock and Doctor Who are both doing rather well but they couldn't be more definitively British. They're obtusely British. They're about as British as it gets. You shouldn't be afraid of being British because that's what you're selling."

[Source: BBC News]

26 February 2014

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

Day 422: Terror of the Zygons, Episode Two 

Dear diary,

One of the things that the Philip Hinchcliffe years of Doctor Who are known for is the interest television campaigner Mary Whitehouse took in the programme. I’d imagine that many of my readers will be familiar with Mrs Whitehouse, but for the benefit of those who aren’t: Durung the 1960s, 70s, and 80s (and to a lesser extent, the 90s), Mary Whitehouse fronted a number of organisations who companied for better moral standards on British TV. She took a particular interest in things which she felt were unsuitable for broadcast, and at this point in the programme’s history, Doctor Who became one of her highest profile targets.

She described Genesis of the Daleks as ‘teatime brutality for tots’, and took especial dislike of the cliffhanger to The Deadly Assassin where the Doctor’s head is being held in water. In her autobiography, Elisabeth Sladen jokes that when Mary Whitehouse took an interest in your programme, you knew that you’d made the big time. Generally, Who fans mock her criticisms of the programme these days, but the BBC at the time did take note, and her complaints were part of the reason that Graham Williams was brought in to produce the series from Season 15, being asked specifically to tone down the violence.

And, it has to be said when watching episodes like this one, she did have a point! There’s a sequence in today’s instalment where the Zygon-Harry hides in a barn while being pursued by Sarah Jane. Once she’s close enough to spot him, he gently picks up a pitchfork... and then starts launching it at her, trying to impale her! The subject matter itself is already quite dark for a programme going out in this time slot, but Camfield’s directing really takes it up to the next level. During the attack, every shot of Harry is taken from Sarah’s point of view, so we watch as Ian Marter gives perhaps hisbest ever performance, sneering towards us while forcing the weapon forward.

Even the shots leading up to this one, where Harry peers out from between bails of hay, are laced with a kind of sinister feeling that I’m just not used to from Doctor Who. I’ve been commenting since The Ark in Space that the programme is taking on a darker, more frightening tone, but this is perhaps the best example that we’ve seen of that. Don’t get me wrong - it’s very well directed and acted, and it wouldn’t be out of place in an adult drama or a horror film, but it does feel very wrong to place in a programme going out early on a Saturday evening. As my friend Nick put it; you wouldn’t get away with that sequence on television today!

Something that I do approve of, though, is the design of the Zygons and their ship. In yesterday’s episode, we were treated to several close ups of their eyes and their hands, but today we get to see them in full as they move around their spaceship. I spent so much time during The Ark in Space talking about how well everything worked together on the design side, but I think that the work they’ve put into all the Zygon elements trumps even that. They look right in this setting, and even in those tight close-up shots, the costumes work very well.

Purely by chance, a few weeks ago I watched the episode of Doctor Who Confidential where David Tennant takes control and interviews people about their relationship with the series. At one point, his question is turned back on him and he’s asked which is his favourite Doctor Who monster:

”The one that I loved - and they've never been seen since - is the Zygons. The organic sliminess of them. It just didn't look like a person. This incredible design with a face that's all little and scrunched up, and this huge domed head, and these suckers... It's just a brilliant design.”

It’s hard not to simply repeat that over and over while I talk about the creatures, because he’s right - it is a brilliant design. I’m really pleased that he’s actually been able to work with them now, too, during The Day of the Doctor, because after he’d said this (the episode of Confidential was from Series Three), it seemed a shame that he’d never had the chance. My first experience of the Zygons came with a Tenth Doctor novel (The Sting of the Zygons), and I always thought that would be the closest he ever got to them!

One thing I’m less sure about, sadly, is the Zygons’ pet Skarasen. It’s always been considered the weak link in this story, and I’m not sure yet what to make of it. When it first appeared, swimming past their space ship, I was willing to say that it didn’t look too bad, but then as the story goes on and we get gradually more and more shots of the creature close up... something just doesn’t work about it. I’m not even entirely sure what I’m not liking, but there’s something in there.

We get a few lovely moments (at one stage, we see a shot of the creature move its foot forward, and it’s quite unexpected!), but then sometimes... oh, I don’t know. I’m hoping that as the story goes on, appearances of the creature will be kept to a minimum, with only the very best shots being used. With everything else doing so well, it would be a real shame for this to drag it down.


25 February 2014

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

Day 421: Terror of the Zygons, Episode One 

Dear diary,

It’s somewhat fitting that for this, the last of the UNIT stories, we should have Douglas Camfield back in the director’s chair. Camfield was the man responsible for The Web of Fear and The Invasion, so it feels only right that he should be here again at the end of it all*. To tell the truth, I had no idea he was the director of this one. I knew he came back for The Seeds of Death at the end of the year, but not that he’d been part of the series again here, too. It’s so plain to see as you’re watching through, though. Emma was about while I was watching, and I think she was getting somewhat sick of me constantly stating that it simply ‘has to be Camfield’, because no other Doctor Who director of the classic era ever produced anything this polished!

It’s helped by the fact that we’re in such a stunning landscape. There’s several beautiful shots in this episode, where you can really see for miles and miles across land or sea, and it really does open up the story. Genesis of the Daleks gave us some stunning shots of the Doctor and his companions as tiny specs against a larger landscape, but they’re set in quarries and in barren landscape. We’ve never before seen the series take us to such a wide open location, and coming so soon after stories like The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen, it’s great to see so much space

Oh! And do you know, as I’m typing that I’ve suddenly realised there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s piping up to remind me that The Sontaran Experiment took us right to the middle of Dartmoor, and I only watched it a few weeks ago! I’ve somehow decided to completely forget about the vistas on display in that story, and I think it might be because this one is proving my point - shooting locations like this on film rather than video really does make a difference. I’ve watched today’s episode at Emma’s on a Blu- Ray player, so I don’t know if it’s the work of upscaling, but the film sequences have never looked better.

I decided to treat myself during this one, so stuck on the ‘director’scut’ of the episode. It only adds in a couple of extra minutes at the start, where the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry arrive in Scotland, but they’re really rather lovely. They’ve also been restored so beautifully. We’ve got more colourisation from Stuart Humphryes to help tie everything together, and the work on the film elements is nothing short of stunning. Disc Two of this release contains the un-restored footage as an easter egg and it shows just how much love and attention has gone into it. It’s not such a big deal to me - this story, plus Revenge of the Cybermen and the upcoming The Android Invasion are all ‘new’ Doctor/Sarah/Harry adventures to me, but there’s something a little bit magical about finding a few extra minutes of this team together after so long.

They’ve never been finer than they are here. There’s a certain comedic element to the Doctor stepping back out of the police box dressed in his Socttish gear, but the real charm is that we get to see his companions tailing him dressed in his regular outfit. Harry rather suits having the scarf draped around his neck, and there’s something about the hat being that bit too big for Sarah Jane which is rather wonderful. These really are three best friends enjoying their time together, and I love that the Doctor gets angry at the Brigadier for calling him back to Earth and interrupting their fun.

That said... they must be shattered! I made a similar observation about Ian and Barbara right back at the start of the programme, but the return to a serial format for Season Twelve and into this story means that the TARDIS crew haven’t had a break since fighting the SRS and that giant robot! From there to the Ark. From the Ark to post-solar-flares Earth. From there to Skaro. From there back to the Ark, and immediately into a tussle with the Cybermen. From there back to Earth of sort out the mystery of the vanishing oil rigs... it’s no wonder Harry leaves at the end of this adventure - he must be dying for a lie down!

I know I spent an awful lot of time during Revenge of the Cybermen complaining about the way that their return to the programme was handled, but it does bear drawing attention to agains here. We don’t know what the Zygons are yet (or, at least, we wouldn’t have on initial broadcast), but since their name is in the title, it’s a given that we’ll be seeing one appear for the cliffhanger. Just as in Revenge, we cut to the creatures in their own base about half way through the episode... but this time it’s all being directed much better.

I don’t know if it’s down to Camfield’s influence, or if the script specifies it, but these moments are all shot in tight close ups. Images of the hands on the organic controls. Close up shots of the eyes staring at their screens. There’s one long scene in which two of the creatures communicate with each other, and we’re basically expected to watch the close ups of them working their machines for a few minutes, but even this is given a brilliant kind of life by being so nicely directed. We take slow fades from one shot to the next,back and forth while those whispery, raspy voices sound out. If you want to build up excitement about the reveal of your alien menace, this is a perfect masterclass in how to do it.

 *Yeah, yeah, some of the UNIT guys will be back later this season in The Android Invasion, but this is the last of the real UNIT stories, for pretty much the rest of the classic series. There’s an attempt to create a ‘modern’ version of them at the end of the 1980s (in Battlefield), but this story marks the end of the format we’ve been so used to for the last half of the programme’s life.

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