Tag Archives: mel

Pip, Jane and Time and the Rani (1987)


These days, it’s all about “plain English”. We’re all so desperate to be understood, we insist that language must be crisp and concise. It wasn’t like this in the 1980s, when things were louder, bolder and altogether more colourful. Back then, there was less plain English about, and more Pip ‘n’ Jane English. And it was altogether more fun.

Regular readers (bless you) will recall my unofficial guide to Sawardese, and are no doubt using it to spice up your everyday conversations. But let’s not stop there. Let’s take a lesson in how to speak in Pip ‘n’ Jane English. So that, no matter how antediluvian the vocabulary of the Bakers may be, there will be no times in our relationship when an interpreter wouldn’t come amiss.

  1. Vivid adjective, descriptive noun

In Time and the Rani, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is a “meddling presence.” He’s in danger of joining an “abysmal parade.” Someone else has “puerile opinions”. So, to master Pin ‘n’ Jane English, always spice up any given noun with an extravagant adjective. This way we get monstrous experiments, obscene murders, diabolical schemes, devious traps, painful conclusions, interfering maniacs and so on.

Sometimes, they can form their own punchy sentence, like “A devastating force!” Or alternatively, combine a couple into one mega sentence, “Your past is littered with the mutilated results of your unethical experiments!” or my personal favourite “The bumbling fool’s ready made as a sacrificial lamb!”

(Or when Tetrap 2IC Urak (Richard Gauntlett) says, “The mistress has profound insight, but I think she is mistaken to rely on any of your worthless race!” P&J like chatty monsters. Remember when the Vervoids used to stand around talking about how great they were? “We are doing splendidly!” was their opening line! Surprisingly articulate for a walking aubergine.)

  1. Take a word from one sentence and feature it in the next sentence.

Looking to link lots of ideas in one exchange of dialogue? Try taking a word from one sentence and making a feature of it in the next! That won’t get annoying!

In Time and the Rani, there’s this memorable conversation:

DOCTOR: I can’t say I share the Rani’s taste in pets.

BEYUS: The Tetraps are nobody’s pets and you’d be wise not to forget it.

DOCTOR: This is what I’ll never forget.

It also helps punctuate Time Lord trash talk in TheMark of the Rani:

MASTER: I believe your modern expression is “snuff the candle”.

DOCTOR: “Snuff the candle”? You always did lack style.

MASTER: Style is hardly the prime characteristic of your new regeneration.

The Mark of the Rani, as far as I can tell, holds the current record for this little quirk,  with a mighty quadra-line exchange.

PERI: You haven’t a clue what’s going on.DOCTOR: Oh, I know what’s going on. We’re being manoeuvred off course.PERI: Manoeuvred off course? You mean it isn’t the Tardis malfunctioning again?

DOCTOR: Malfunctioning? Malfunctioning? Malfunctioning?!!!

  1. Forget, spare me and never mind

Want to dismiss some cockamamie idea? You’ve got a choice of “forget,” “spare me” or “never mind.”

“Spare me the lecture,” pleads Peri in The Mark of the Rani. “Spare me the dubious pragmatism,” demands Lord Ravensworth. “Forget playing the detective,” advises Doland. “Forget the questions,” suggests Mel in the same story.

Mel though tends to prefer to Never Mind things. And the list gets increasingly elaborate: “Never mind the guard!” she starts with but quickly moves on to “Never mind the Just So stories!” and “Never mind the Sydney Carton heroics!” I know, right? How often have you found yourself needing to use that zinger? There’s never a good Dickensian comeback when you need one.

  1. I’ve got a better word

“A little portentous, perhaps, Mel?” says the Doctor, as he briefly wonders whether to adorn his seventh persona in a cod Napoleon outfit, to which the Rani wearily replies, “pretentious is the word.”

A neat trick! Have one of your characters deliberately use the wrong word so you can have another character correct them. Like a helpful know-it-all.

DOCTOR: Beyus, why have you assisted?

BEYUS: Collaborated is the word that you are avoiding, Doctor.

After all, it gives you the chance to use multiple adjectives.

RAVENSWORTH: The violence has been horrendous.

PERI: Murderous would be more apt.

Careful not to tie yourself up in knots, though:

DOLAND: The experimental nature of our work entails some calculated risks.

DOCTOR: Calculated risks? Are you telling me that sad travesty is a statistical possibility?

MEL: The word should be “criminal”.

And if you get bored of saying “There’s a better word for it,” just hit the thesaurus.

RANI: The aggression is an unfortunate side effect.

MASTER: Unfortunate? Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet.

(Man, that last line is classic P&J. It also works for rules 1 and 6. So versatile!)

  1. And that better word is “astute”

The astute among you will have noted how astute many things are in Pip ‘n’ Jane land.

The Doctor tells Peri she makes “an astute observation” and Mel that she asks “an astute question.” The Master thinks Sabalom Glitz is “very astute,” but Glitz thinks the Doctor is also “very astute”, as does the Valeyard. But murderous old Doland isn’t as impressed and says the Doctor’s not as astute as he thought.

It’s all very… astute, I suppose.

  1. Question? Rebuke!

Pip ‘n’ Jane ‘glish allows you to streamline your sentences into pithy little dismissals of someone else’s specious assertion. (“Specious assertion.” See how easily you too can become fluent in Pip ‘n’ Jane?).

For instance, in Time and the Rani, our crimson clad villainess (Kate O’Mara) is accused of hatred of the lizardy Lakertyans, to which she responds: “Hatred? Another fantasy!” Once you’ve clocked this one, you’ll spot it all over the fabulous Baker couple’s stories.

RANI: Cooperation? I want nothing to do with you.

DOCTOR: Destroyed? Let’s not be hasty.

RANI: Pride? I’m a scientist.

MASTER: Capricious? Turning mice into monsters.

DOCTOR: University? You remind me of someone.

DOCTOR: Triumph? There’s no cause for celebration.

Irritating? You bet.

  1. Smart people use big words because they’re smart.

The key to mastering Pip ‘n’ Jane? Verbosity. Essential if you want to stop people sounding like asinine cretins, appalling dunderheads or blundering imbeciles.

It’s all based on one simple idea: that if you’re a genius, and most Time Lords are, then you’d speak in a way which shows off your mighty intelligence. If the side effect is no one can understand you, that’s just the price you pay for being so galactically clever.

Time and the Rani is actually mild in this regard, but there are still plenty of examples:

RANI: Guilt by association. I warned you of the consequences of subversion!

RANI: Selective retribution will bring any dissidents to heel.

DOCTOR: Have to be a cosmic breakthrough for a neurochemist of her stature to come storming the barricades.

DOCTOR: Before I thought you were a psychopath without murderous intent. I withdraw the qualification.

It’s in the prolix sixth Doctor’s era that Pip ‘n’ Jane English finds its most elaborate expression.

DOCTOR: To be complete, the syllogism only requires its grim conclusion.

DOCTOR: Leave me to my static and solitary peregrinations.

DOCTOR: You’re letting arrogance blinker you, Professor. It may not be your intention, but you are in danger of joining an extensive roll of dishonour. Misguided scientists who claim the pursuit of truth as an excuse for immoral experiments.

His malevolent alter ego is no different:

VALEYARD: The cavalier manner in which the Doctor permitted his young companion to be destroyed militates against this charade of concern.

VALEYARD: But for the caprice of chance, the victim would have been your companion, Mel. Your culpability is beyond question.

VALEYARD: The mortality rate that attends your meddling is appalling… Can you nominate a single incident where your presence has stemmed the tide of disaster?

It reaches its inevitable apotheosis in this infamous example:

VALEYARD: You are elevating futility to a high art. There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!

So now you should have everything you need to write dialogue like P&J. But what about the plot, I hear you cry? Forget, spare me and never mind your concerns! Just add a lady scientist perverting the course of nature, a bevy of geniuses, plumes of deadly gases and Time Lords disguising themselves at every opportunity and you’ll be fine.

Fine? An inadequate assessment! As one Vervoid once said to another, you’ll be doing splendidly.

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: The Doctor accuses Mel (who he thinks is the Rani) of being a “wretched woman.” But the subtitles say, “You washer woman!”

LINK TO Marco Polo: In the Bakers’ determination to teach the viewing children of the world a new and obscure words every episode, they hark back to the show’s original educational remit, which Marco Polo was completely into as well.

NEXT TIME: We make a pile of good things and bad things and meet Vincent and the Doctor.



High density, high anxiety and Paradise Towers (1987)


Anyone who’s ever lived in a block of apartments will recognise the anxiety about high-density living which Paradise Towers taps into. Life in a flat is compact and convenient, but you share very close quarters with your neighbours. You witness each other’s faintly embarrassing domestic incidents; the hanging out of underwear, the clink of multiple wine bottles in a wheely bin, the muffled arguments audible through walls. There are often undercurrents of tension and resentment which build up over pointless rules and rituals. There’s gossip and goings on. It’s a perfect setting for a Doctor Who story, and one which (for the first time, surprisingly) reflected the living arrangements of many watching at home.

It’s one of Doctor Who‘s many attempts to portray a future dystopia. Those type of stories usually feature an authoritarian regime in place, stifling the basic humanity of the common person. So in Doctor Who terms Nineteen Eightyfour becomes The Sun Makers (kind of). Paradise Towers, however, gives us a world where authority is missing – the folks in charge have gone off to fight a war – and society is left to decay and the Tower’s inhabitants to fend for themselves. Not that I’ve read High-Rise from which this story is famously descended, but I have read Lord of the Flies, so I know the score.

But dystopian fiction is actually not a great match for Doctor Who. The structure of those stories usually involves the eventual corruption of the main character as he (it’s always a he) succumbs to the savagery around him. That can’t happen to the Doctor. Besides that, dystopian stories are just too grim for Doctor Who. The show’s solution is to accentuate the comedy, soften the violence and have the Doctor put the place to rights at story’s end. So stories like The Sun Makers and The Happiness Patrol, and even darker variations like Vengeance on Varos and Frontios create a variety of “safe” dystopias, in which the Doctor can engineer regime change in a few quick episodes.

So it is with Paradise Towers, which despite its serious themes, is a colourful, jokey affair covered by a plasticky, synth pop soundtrack. Its lightness of tone helps take the sting out of the story’s more disturbing implications. By way of example, mumsy residents Tilda (Brenda Bruce) and Tabby (Elizabeth Spriggs) are cartoony cannibals, wanting to eat companion Mel (Bonnie Langford). Their outlandish costumes and exaggerated cutesy way of talking take the edge of the nasty undertone; that the Tower’s most vulnerable inhabitants are starving, and are resorting to killing and eating rats and even people in order to survive. By way of another example, the Kangs are brightly dressed, slang spouting runaway children, with big hair. But the flip side is these are abandoned kids, left to fend for themselves, fighting among themselves and scavenging for food. You don’t have to scratch very far beneath the jolly surface of Paradise Towers to find a very bleak world view.

This seems to me to reflect a modern fear of the effects of poverty on social cohesion. This is a world where young people have no employment, and so form gangs, graffiti walls and perform random acts of vandalism. Old people have no pension, and so are left to go hungry and eke out their days. High-density housing is presented as the arena these polar ends of society co-inhabit and where the impacts of poverty are most clearly shown. Government is absent.

In its place is pointless bureaucracy, another trope of dystopian fiction. This is represented by the Caretakers, sad middle-aged men, slaves to a seemingly never ending cavalcade of rules. They speak in officialese and are janitors at heart, but in the power vacuum of the Towers they’ve been elevated to the kind of mid-weight authority that everyone ignores. Their Chief (Richard Briers) is a mustachioed, permanently outraged figure of fun. He’s crucial to undercutting the nihilism implied by the story’s premise, so is a welcome ingredient of comic villainy. (Although Briers’ outrageous piss take performance as the possessed Chief in Part Four – against the expressed wishes of both director and producer – has been rightly criticised. Had he played it with a Sutekh-like whisper, and a Taren Capel-like calm, this story may now be held in higher fan esteem.)

The Towers are also divided along gender lines. The Caretakers – impotent, drab authority figures – are all men. The Rezzies and the Kangs – colourful, anarchic rule breakers – are all women. We get very few scenes of these groups interacting but a little snippet in Part Three gives an indication of how it works. The Chief has come to inspect the aftermath of Tilda and Tabby’s demise at the hand (well, claw) of something in the disposal chute. There he meets another Rezzie, Maddy (Judy Cornwall) and seeks to buy her silence about the incident:

CHIEF: I would urge you for the moment to keep the matter quiet. We don’t want to alarm people unduly, do we?

MADDY: Well, I’m not really sure I ought to.

CHIEF: Not that I would wish to bribe you to hold your tongue in any way but rules can be made flexible, and it could be arranged for you to move into this flat instead of your own. (His voice becomes a seductive purr) It is substantially larger.

Here in a few sentences, we see the true nature of life in Paradise Towers: making deals and compromising morals, presided over by a corrupt regime. It’s probably not worth contemplating the sex lives of any of the Towers’ inhabitants (male or female) but if we dared, we could come to the conclusion that this is how such arrangements would be made.

Into this male/female divide slips Pex (Howard Cooke), the little boy who stayed behind from the war and grew up into a muscle bound misfit. Much has been made on how Cooke didn’t have the Schwarzenegger-like physique which seems obvious for the character. But making him a slighter, woosier kind of guy actually plays to the story’s theme of the impotence of masculinity. The Chief, for instance, is a fawning, twee Daddy figure his pet monster in the basement. And his Deputy (Clive Merrison), an ineffectual drip, rudderless without his rulebook. These men are hopeless. And even though Pex redeems himself at story’s end with a SACRIFICIAL BLAM! he’s only forced into it because he loses his nerve and stuffs up the Doctor’s (tricky Sylvester McCoy) plan.

In fact, the Doctor is the only competent man in the Towers. He sees and articulates the problem clearly; the various groups within this society won’t face up to its problems. His challenge is to unite the factions and get them to work together to confront their oppressor. In this sense, it’s not so different from the rabble rousing he’s pulled off on Pluto, Peladon and all the rest.

Except here he has also created a community, the element which was missing from Paradise Towers. It’s a neat ending because it’s not just about defeating the villain but also about healing this world’s fundamental wound. This Doctor stands for community, in the face of heartless authority and social division. Because as much as high-density living can be about sniping about clothes lines and complaining about noisy neighbours, it’s also about people living closely, looking out for each other, sharing a laugh and cooperating. Not high anxiety, but high fidelity, to the idea of living together.

LINK TO Terminus. Mark Strickson, who is in Terminus, and Julie Brennan, who is in Paradise Towers, were once married.

NEXT TIME… Now this is really a bit strange. Sit up straight, it’s time to Listen.

Perdition, permission and Terror of the Vervoids (1986)


On trial for his many lives, the Doctor (Colin Baker) is, by Part Nine of the epic The Trial of a Time Lord, allowed to deliver his defence. This is his chance to show himself in the very best light, to showcase his intelligence, bravery and ingenuity. He has access to every adventure he’s every embarked upon, past and future. Which will he choose? Which is the story so compelling it will convince these stuffed shirts and half eaten biscuit collars to acquit him unreservedly and send him on his way? Surely one of the all-time classics? Androzani? Tomb? Genesis of the Daleks?

The answer, apparently, is Terror of the Vervoids. That’s the clincher. That’s the one which will do the trick. Well, if nothing else, it’s a bold and colourful choice, so it does seem appropriate for our vibrant Sixth Doctor.

Throughout his trial, the Doctor claims that the evidence has been tampered with; that someone with access to the key to the Matrix and a bootleg version of Final Cut Pro has distorted the evidence, making him appear more culpable than he is. But to be fair, the Doctor’s made some questionable editing choices himself. Why, for instance, include the unflattering spectacle of himself labouring on an exercise bike, while being harangued by new and energetic companion Melanie (Bonnie Langford)? Why include being nagged into denying himself a chocolate biscuit? How do those little moments help his case?

But to be fair, this is the one segment of The Trial of a Time Lord that feels the most independent from its story arc. The Mysterious Planet uses the trial to gently critique Doctor Who itself, and Mindwarp interweaves the trial and its own story to dramatic effect. Terror of the Vervoids feels the most like its own story, with the trial being secondary to proceedings aboard this space version of the Orient Express. Japes with exercise bikes and chocolate biscuits are indicative of this lack of concern with matters judicial, which are just getting in the way of the murder mystery writers Pip & Jane Baker are trying to tell.

They do include some justification for this being the story to “improve the Doctor’s defence”, although it’s far from convincing. The Doctor, you’ll no doubt recall, is accused with meddling in the affairs of other peoples and planets. P&J’s defence is a little arcane and quibblesome.

It comes late in the story when Commodore Tonka Travers (Michael Craig) asks for the Doctor’s commitment to helping him rid his ship of the murderous Vervoids. This allows the Doctor to play his big legal card; he stands up proudly in court and says he wasn’t meddling, he was asked to help! Well that’s OK then. Play havoc with as many alien cultures as you like, as long as someone gives you a permission slip.

It’s a nonsense excuse anyway, because it pretends that the Doctor’s been refusing to involve himself in the mystery for the last three episodes. Travers’ request is, the Doctor says, “the reason he could no longer stay on the sidelines.” Except he’s been anything but staying on the sidelines. He’s been investigating and snooping and deducting and setting off fire alarms with the best of them. He’s embroiled. Sidelines, my spat covered foot.

But let’s give up trying to make sense of the trial scenes; there’s not much sense to be made and besides, they are all the same. Except for a cute section in Part Ten, when the Bakers indulge in a little audience participation. Onscreen, we’ve seen three masked aliens, the Mogarians, talk with old Tonka about a nearby black hole. Court prosecutor the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) gets bored and interrupts, causing the Doctor to rebuke him, saying a vital clue had just been revealed and someone is about to die. And in a shout out to those of us playing along at home, he points out:

DOCTOR: If you had been watching, you would know who was the intended victim!

Suddenly, it’s like we’re watching Blue Peter. I can see everyone in the trial room holding their poses awkwardly while one of the presenters strolls on.

JANET ELLIS: Well the plot thickens! I do hope you were watching carefully. Do you know which member of the passengers is next to bite the dust? I wonder if you spotted the clue Doctor Who was referring to. Let’s go back and have another look.

It turns out one of the Mogarians is bogus and did not turn on his translator, as the Doctor demonstrates through an action replay. For a moment, it’s like we’re watching an adaptation of Doctor Who Brain Teasers and Mind Benders. Spot the ten differences between these two pictures! Look at these three Mogarians; can you tell which is actually a human in disguise?

And we get a sense that this story embodies Pip & Jane’s vision for Doctor Who, untempered by the influence of script editor Eric Saward, who’d recently quit the show. And that vision is of a children’s program with pretensions towards education. In their next story, they’d attempt to include a section retelling the story of King Solomon, only for new script editor Andrew Cartmel to point out its tangential relevance to the story.

But still, this story, bright, strange and spangly, has the feel of something traditional about it. It’s no mistake that its plot is reminiscent of The Robots of Death. This is, at least in part, an attempt to recreate some of Doctor Who’s classic old scares. Or as Steven Moffat would say, to Hinchcliffe the shit out of it. And in the story’s latter stages, as the Vervoids rampage through the ship, killing indiscriminately, director Chris Clough does manage to evoke some of that creeping menace of old.

The problem is it’s too often undercut by tinkly music, convoluted dialogue and garish design, making the whole thing an inconsistent experience. This tendency to mix the creepy with the silly extends to the genitally faced Vervoids (which gender’s genitals have always been the subject of debate). They start off as a shadowy, silent presence, but then suddenly they begin to talk. And talk floridly. “We are doing splendidly!” one of them crows. “Congratulations must be delayed!” another responds.

With dialogue like this, it’s no wonder the Doctor’s driven to wipe them all out. But in a hastily contrived plot twist, he finds that this action lands him in even greater strife, with his charge upgraded to genocide. Terror of the Vervoids turns out not to be hero story he needed after all. If only someone had just asked him to commit genocide. All in all, he really should have chosen Genesis of the Daleks.

LINK TO: Sleep No More. Misguided scientists creating monsters running amok in spaceships.

NEXT TIME… Demons run when A Good Man Goes to War.

Kane, Belazs and Dragonfire (1987)

dragonfire 1

Doctor Who is often at its best when brilliant actors get to do their thing together on screen. In Dragonfire, there are two of the best: Edward Peel as Kane and Patricia Quinn as Belazs.

Kane is an icy, vampiric despot. Belazs is an underling, who signed up to Kane’s service as a youngster. Once they were lovers, but now they are simply master and servant.

Peel and Quinn are terrific actors, but even they can’t save a poorly written scene. This clunker is from Part One, and is the first time they meet on screen.

BELAZS: He says he lost the money in a game of cards.

KANE: I know he lost the money in a game of cards. The game was fixed. What about the map?

BELAZS: He’s convinced it’s genuine.

KANE: Excellent. He’ll soon realise if he wants to see his spacecraft again he has no alternative but to go after the treasure. And when he does, I shall be with him every step of the way.

There’s not a line in that scene which isn’t inelegant exposition. It’s a case study in how not to write a scene. Characters telling each other things they already know. Sentences twisted into shape to include plot details. And it gets worse as it goes along:

BELAZS: He appears to have two colleagues.

KANE: Colleagues? I thought he sold his entire crew.

BELAZS: They’re not from his crew, sir. Space travellers. A man and a girl. Do you want them eliminated?

KANE: Not for the moment, I think. There’s no reason for them to suspect that the seal on the treasure map contains a tracking device.

I just had to italicise that last one because it is so awful. It’s so awful it’s almost beautiful. No-one talks like that. Surely not even if they’re ancient space villains turned grocery centre owners.

But then, the very next scene Kane and Belazs have together, is brilliant. Not awful brilliant, just brilliant.

BELAZS: It’s Glitz’s spacecraft.

KANE: What of it?

BELAZS: It’s just that…

KANE: Yes?

BELAZS: Well, if Glitz and the Doctor are as good as dead, I’d like the spacecraft.

KANE: Oh, you’d like the spacecraft, would you? (He creeps towards her impassively) When you first came here you had nothing. You were willing enough to take my payment then. But now you want to leave. Perhaps you have memories of a home you can return to? Perhaps I should have put you into cryosleep along with all the others and erased your memories.

(He grabs her hand, which bears the burnt imprint of a coin.)

Perhaps you need reminding. As long as you bear my mark, I own you.

(Kane flicks a switch on the console.)

MAN [V/O]: Yes, sir?

KANE: (doesn’t take his eyes of Belazs) Glitz’s spacecraft. Have it destroyed.

I just had to italicise that last one because it is so brilliant, and y’know, out of fairness because I paid out the last scene.

The spacecraft means much more to Belazs than just transport. It represents freedom. Kane orders it destroyed for no other reason but to keep Belazs in her place. And he does it to her face because he wants her to know she’s in her place. Stylishly performed and directed, it’s an astonishing turnaround from just two scenes before. I’ve written before about Who‘s tendency to mix brilliance with rubbish, but rarely does it happen so quickly.

Belazs goes behind Kane’s back and rescinds his order to destroy Glitz’s spacecraft, the gothicly named Nosferatu. She runs into the Doctor and Glitz while attempting to abscond and there’s another snippet of handsome dialogue.

BELAZS: Only one of us can leave Iceworld aboard the Nosferatu, and one way or the other, it’s going to be me.

GLITZ: What about the boss, Mister Kane? Does he know of your little enterprise?

BELAZS: Kane doesn’t own me.

DOCTOR: Oh, I think he does. I think he bought you like he buys everything in Iceworld.

BELAZS: What would you know about it?

DOCTOR: I think he bought you a long time ago. He paid seventeen crowns for each of Glitz’s crew. How much did he pay for you? Was it worth it? Were you worth it?

BELAZS: (she brandishes her burnt hand) That’s what I sold myself for, Kane’s mark. I ought to cut my hand off for doing it.

With her path to freedom blocked, Belazs’ thoughts turn to murder. She conspires with fellow grunt Kracauer.

BELAZS: Do you see this?

KRACAUER: Yes, the mark of the sovereign.

BELAZS: You’d have thought it would begin to disappear after twenty years.

KRACAUER: We sold ourselves. We knew what we were doing. We had a choice.

BELAZS: I was sixteen.

KRACAUER: Even at sixteen we had a choice.

BELAZS: He’ll kill us. He’ll find someone younger and he’ll kill us unless we kill him first.

KRACAUER: How do you propose to do that?

BELAZS: With heat. Even here in Iceworld it’s too warm for him. I’ve seen inside the restricted zone. That’s where he keeps his refrigeration unit. He has to return there whenever his body temperature rises too high.

I just had to italicise that last bit because it’s the point where a perfectly lovely scene turns to awkward exposition.

Off screen, Belazs somehow convinces Kracauer that he’s the one who has to turn off Kane’s air conditioning and let him roast. (How exactly did she do that, hmmm?) But he’s too slow and Kane kills him with his trademark icy face palms. But Kane realises that Kracauer doesn’t have the gumption to dream up this scheme. He know that the true architect is:

KANE: (whispers) Belazs!

Her number’s up. The next time we see him, he’s charm itself.

KANE: Ah, my dear Belazs. You know, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking of your request to leave. You’ve been with me a long time now. I’ve grown very fond of you, but I’ve been thinking it over carefully and I’ve decided. You may leave me.

BELAZS: Leave?

KANE: Whenever you wish. Go in fortune and happiness. (Then he turns on her. He grabs her by the face) You traitor! I’ve been planning my revenge for three thousand years. How can you stand in my way now I am so close?

I love that first bit – I’ve grown very fond of you – cloying words to an old flame, to draw her in before he kills her without mercy. But then that unnecessary and melodramatic addition – How can you stand in my way blah blah – when all that’s needed is that brilliant two word accusation: You traitor. It’s so typical of Dragonfire; smart and spot on one minute, overwritten the next.

That’s where the ballad of Kane and Belazs ends. She doesn’t even make it to Part Three. There’s much more to this story, in all its comic, gothic, plastic grandeur. It’s got colour and monsters and smart arse humour and synth crashes and unlikely plot twists and inexplicable stunts all wrapped up in a film theory text book. It’s dizzying.

But amongst it all, Belazs’ story shows us just what a bastard Kane is. It’s importance to the plot is tangential; at best it shows us what might become of young tearaway Ace (Sophie Aldred) if she grasps that blistering coin. And even with its on again off again dialogue, it’s far and away the best thing about Dragonfire.

LINK to Destiny of the Daleks. Both star Tony Osoba! How about that? Wouldn’t it be great if our next story is Kill the Moon?

NEXT TIME… But no, it’s Flatline. Argh! So close!

Crisis, chaos and The Ultimate Foe (1986)

ultimate foe 1


It’s a Monday morning in 1986. Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner, aged 38, sits restlessly in his office, smoking not-his-first cigarette of the day. Also in his office, a lawyer who’s been seconded from some dry and dusty corner of the BBC to witness the forthcoming meeting. The lawyer looks around JN-T’s office, filled with Doctor Who paraphernalia and wallpapered with showbizzy photos, and imagines that this is not going to be an ordinary day at the office. An awkward silence ensues as they wait for the meeting’s other attendees to arrive.

JN-T has been producing Doctor Who for six seasons, and he’s used to crises. He’s pulled stories out of oblivion, he’s saved doomed shoots, he’s made the unworkable work. Last year when his series was effectively cancelled, he resorted to leaking torrentially to the newspapers and whipping up a media outrage to force his bosses to back down and reinstate the show. But nothing compares to the mess he finds himself in as the last episodes of Season 23 loom.

His script editor, Eric Saward – the only other ongoing staffer on the program – has resigned in acrimony. JN-T is now doing his job as well as his own. Over the last year, he and Saward have been supervising the making of the longest Doctor Who story in history; fourteen episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord. But the two have clashed over the story’s climax and Saward, who was writing the final episode, has withdrawn permission for its use.

JN-T needs a new script which concludes the longest and most complicated narrative the show has ever seen, at a time when its survival has never been more precarious. And he needs it in a week.

As he stubs out one fag and lights another, perhaps he wonders how he got to this predicament. The show’s hiatus was a blow, but at least it offered the production team time, a luxury they rarely had in the past. Plus they had 12 fewer episodes to produce this year. Where had all that time gone? How had it all fallen apart?

(And perhaps the lawyer wonders how soon this will be over so he can get to morning tea.)

In this sort of crisis, a producer usually turns to his script editor. But that’s no longer an option. What JN-T needs is someone who can work fast, who knows the program, who knows the Trial and who’s crazy enough to take the brief. Writers are few and far between. The great Robert Holmes who wrote Parts 1-4, has died. Philip Martin, writer of Parts 5-8, could be around. After that, the ranks are thin. But JN-T has a writer in mind. In fact he has two.

‘John, are you there…?’

A knock at the door!

The meeting’s hitherto absent participants had at last arrived. The producer’s face flushed, matching his Hawaiian shirt.

He rushed to answer the door.

There stood an elderly looking couple.

Pip and Jane Baker!

‘Where the hell have you been?’ John cried. ‘I need a script!’

From Doctor Who: A Script in Time (unpublished), Target books, 1987.

So JN-T explains the situation to the Baker Twins. Part 13 is written and ready to go, but he can’t use Saward’s Part 14. In fact they can’t even discuss it for fear of being accused of plagiarism, hence the presence of the lawyer. Locations are secured, cast are booked. Shooting starts next week. Can they write a new Part 14?

To their merit, Pip and Jane don’t run from the room. Nor do they refuse what sounds like an impossible task. They say yes. And off they scurry to do the work. The lawyer heads off for a coffee and a cake. JN-T allows himself a brief sigh of relief, lights another ciggie and starts script editing Parts 9-12. Written by Pip and Jane Baker.

And as far away as Australia, news of the production debacle is spreading. Young Spandrell reads an issue of fanzine Data Extract with a lyrical headline: Holmes dies, Saward quits, Brigadier returns. Like most fan news of the time, it proves to be partially correct.


Born out of chaos, The Ultimate Foe feels chaotic. How could it not? This 55 minutes of television has a total of four writers between it. Holmes wrote the first half of Part 13, and it’s solid enough, delivering the season’s two big revelations: that the Time Lords destroyed Earth and that the Valeyard’s a future version of the Doctor. Saward wrote the rest of that episode, plunging the Doctor into the nightmare world of the Matrix. And it’s good stuff, producing some of the most memorable images of Colin Baker’s tenure, such as the set piece where he’s sucked into a beach.

P&J attack Part 14 with gusto. Their solution to the problem presented is incident. Part 14 has its characters embroiled in incident after incident before it ends with the Valeyard attempting to let off a big bomb. Inspired it’s not. What’s most obviously missing is a big confrontation between Doctor and Valeyard, with all those future regenerations at stake. Perhaps it ends with a moment of ruthlessness from the Doctor which shows us that his journey towards becoming the Valeyard has begun. But anyway, Pip and Jane delivered an episode which has never ranked among the series’ worst (they saved that for their next story), nor its best. But sadly that’s what the series really needed at this point.

Still completing that episode with all its predetermined strictures in record time, is a considerable achievement, one the Bakers are rarely given credit for. Years ago, someone interviewed them for DWM and in a smarmy little trick to end his piece with, asked the bemused pair was a ‘megabyte modem’ was, throwing a particularly lame piece of dialogue from this episode back at them. The elderly couple of course, had no idea what he was talking about, having no doubt long forgotten the exact wording they misused in a script decades ago. What a cheap, rude way to treat these people. Yes, they indulged in awkwardly pretentious dialogue and preposterous concepts, but on this occasion they saved the show’s bacon and produced, I think, their best work on the show. So credit where it’s due, and come back with your cheap jibes when you can write your way out of a mess like Trial.

Saward wanted a cliffhanger ending to their epic serial, where the Doctor and his dark alter ego the Valeyard fell struggling into a time vent. JN-T, it is said, wanted a happy ending to lessen the chance of his bosses taking the show off air again. This could be true, but on the making of documentary on the DVD of this story, he gives a slightly different reason that makes more sense. He said that after 14 weeks of this story he wanted a definitive conclusion. An end to the story, which the Bakers delivered. JN-T was often accused of not understanding stories, but on this occasion he was spot on. Imagine getting to the end Part 14 of The Trial and thinking, ‘Blimey, it’s still not finished!’

LINK to Robot: Holmes worked on both, script editing one and co-writing the other. That works for our next story too.

NEXT TIME… It will be the end of everything, even your pension! We germinate The Seeds of Doom.

Reproduction, romance and Delta and the Bannermen (1987)

delta 1

Who’s sorry now?

Mysterious creatures, Bannermen. They’re infamously ruthless warriors who carry banners on their backs wherever they go. Awkward, unwieldy banners, which wobble precariously when racing into battle. Well, I say ‘racing’. Most of the Bannermen are ageing, pudgy extras and a slight trot is about as much as they can muster. I agree with Agent Weismuller (Stubby Kaye): they’re the sorriest bunch of Bannermen I’ve ever seen.

And for terrifying mercenaries they’re not exactly what you’d call bright. They can be confused by tying one of their tracking devices around the neck of a goat. And they insist on standing around while shelves of honey slowly fall all over them. And I don’t want to be prurient, but they ought to spend a bit more time finding some Bannerwomen if they want this race of theirs to survive.

Also, they’re genocidal. Yes, that’s a surprise isn’t it? Given they seem to the untrained eye to be ineffectual buffoons, who’d have thought that true villainy lay hidden under those baggy flight suits? And they’ve been surprisingly successful at it, having hunted down all but one of their targets, the Chimerons.

And while the Bannerfellows have remembered to pack some useful equipment like their banners (natch) and a dual neck yoke thing for entrapping hapless Americans, they seem to have forgotten that their key weakness is a susceptibility to the song of their Chimeron target. So presumably they should have packed some ear muffs. C’mon Bannermen, it’s step one.

Chimeron Queens, it seems, are hot blondes while the males of the species have faces covered in green play dough. We can see who got the rough end of the evolutionary stick there. Still, they seem like an inoffensive enough race, which makes you wonder why the Bannermen hate them so much. We never find out. They just do.

Why do fools fall in love?

As drone bees are attracted to their queen, so dream boat mechanic Billy (David Kinder) is irresistibly drawn to fugitive Chimeron Delta (Belinda Mayne). He’s been messing about with valley girl Ray (Sara Griffiths), but one look at Delta and that’s all over. Like most blokes, he looks a bit shellshocked when he realises his new squeeze has a baby, and as this one’s green and covered in goo he’s got more cause than most.

Billy’s a bit prone to making impulsive decisions. Having dumped Ray at the first swish of a blonde ponytail, he very quickly decides he’s in it for the long haul. He’s not at all phased when the baby grows into a teenager within hours, and as any stepfather will tell him, he should be. But even more drastic is his decision to start ingesting some of Delta’s transformative green gunge and mutate into a Chimeron, so that he and Delta can fly off into the sky together and start work on rebuilding that species. If ya know what I mean. Bannermen, take note.

Just to recap, Billy’s decided to experiment on his own body, with the hope of turning himself into an alien and wants to leave Earth for a new life in outer space with a woman he met yesterday. Even by Who romance standards, that’s quick. Perhaps he’s not thinking straight. After all, he talks to Delta all through the night and then takes her picnicking the next day, which means he can’t have slept for about 36 hours. I reckon he’s fast asleep once that spaceship he leaves in escapes Earth’s atmosphere, and he wakes with a start somewhere in the Oort Cloud and shouts, ‘what the hell was I thinking? I’m not a space bee!’

Singing the blues.

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy, in his first season and at this stage still playing the part as 90% goofball) and companion Mel (Bonnie Langford, the apex of perkiness) meet Delta and the Bannerblokes when they tag along with a party of vacationing aliens, the Navarinos. They are purple blobby types who like travel and like a bit of cosplay. They feel like creations of Douglas Adams. They’re not particularly phased when their spaceship (disguised as an old bus to fit in with its late 1950s surroundings; better make sure that chameleon circuit doesn’t get stuck) crash lands in Wales not Disneyland. They’re up for a dance and sing-a-long. They seem like loads of fun.

So it comes as a shock when they’re all blown up half way through Part Two.

Juxtaposition is what Doctor Who does, but this is surprisingly jarring. Delta’s tone immediately before and very shortly after the bus explosion is bright and breezy, all sunshine, nostalgia and happy days. The killing of the Navarinos might feel like a sudden, brutal lurch in the opposite direction to the one the story’s taking. Or it might feel like a brilliant inversion against expectations, a sudden reminder that this is serious stuff.

It’s a common tactic used throughout Season 24. A similar stunt is pulled in Dragonfire, when a shuttleload of escaping shoppers explodes. Paradise Towers is at times played for laughs but it is actually a story of systemic murder. And Delta is about genocide, played out like light entertainment. Rarely in Doctor Who‘s history has the darkness of its themes been so far removed from the lightness of its tone (The Myth Makers maybe? Or The Gunfighters?) But it’s the inclusion of a specific, violent incident mid story which wrong foots the viewer. It’s like if City of Death included a scene where Scarlioni massacred dozens of onlookers in the Louvre, but stayed in all other aspects the same. Unsettling.

Happy days are here again.

“Take a look at this butterfly,” lilts Garonwy (Hugh Lloyd), a dotty old beekeeper and one of Delta’s legion of supporting characters. “Arguably one of the most beautiful creatures in the whole of nature. Yet if you were to see a pupae, you’d think it was the ugliest sight you’ve ever seen. But you can’t have one without the other.” That little speech articulates the story’s main theme; that change is an inevitable and essential part of life. Many of Delta‘s diverse elements reflect that theme.

But surely it’s also a commentary on Who itself, at this stage still responding to a new Doctor, a new Script Editor and a new creative energy. Delta and Season 24 have never been particularly popular with fans. In fact they’ve been spectacularly unpopular. But maybe even this story’s critics would recognise that the best of the McCoy era came after this wildly experimental first year, and perhaps we wouldn’t have had one without the other.

LINK to The Sea Devils. Both are about non-human races fighting for survival. And both have um… distinctive incidental scores!

NEXT TIME…   By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes and it’s The Robots of Death.