Tag Archives: season 3

Commentary, conscience and The Savages (1966)

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Ah, Season 3. The season of politically incorrect inversion. It started with Galaxy 4, which imagined a world where beauty was bad and ugly was good, and in doing so created a race of evil women up to no good. Then there’s The Ark, where the repressed underclass outfox their human overlords but prove to be a bunch of nogoodniks when they do. Then there’s The Savages (working title: The White Savages) which suggests that blacked up people as masters and white people as oppressed primitives is such a reversal of the natural order of things that it’s a sufficiently novel idea to hang a Doctor Who story on.

The origins of The Savages are so obscure that we can only guess at the true intent of the production team. Although The Fact of Fiction in DWM505 does a good job of demonstrating that it’s a critique of apartheid era South Africa. How far we can stretch this rubber band is hard to say. But it’s interesting that the story’s Elders don’t just imprison and repress the savages, they vampirically suck the very life essence out of them.

If writer Ian Stuart Black is saying something about apartheid, he isn’t just saying, “ooh, isn’t it awful?” He’s saying there’s a deliberate pillaging of all that’s good from one race and to enrich the fortunes of another. It could be a metaphor for cultural appropriation.

But I think The Savages is too slight a piece of work to attribute too much lofty ambition to. Instead it’s fairly standard sci-fi material, presenting the familiar trope of a society full of beautiful civilized people which seems idyllic but is harbouring a terrible secret. Any claims it has to social commentary are shouted down by the sheer cliche of it all.

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It’s interesting how far William Hartnell’s cantankerous old Doctor has come by the time of The Savages, one of his final clutch of stories. Once he was a figure of mystery. Now, his fame precedes him. The Elders know of him “light years” before he touches down on their nameless planet. They have tracked his journeys through time and space, a feat only the Daleks had previously managed.

It’s a tangential point, skipped over within the story, but the Doctor has been noticed. Since the show began, he’s been a cosmic nobody, landing in places by chance, nameless, homeless and unheard of. Yes, the Monk knew him, but they were of the same race. The Elders know of him by his travels and travails. The Doctor even acknowledges it himself, when he asks to know the secret  behind the Elders’ scientific advances, before he endorses their society. “After all,” he says “there’s my reputation to think about.” Last episode, he didn’t even have a reputation.

All this started back at The Dalek Invasion of Earth, when, as we noted, the Doctor stopped being a wandering traveller getting himself into random scrapes, and became a hero. Since then, his adventures have been a mixed bag. In the futuristic stories, he tends to be a righter of wrongs and a fixer of things. But in the historicals, he’s still being swept along by the tides of time, striving only for his and his companions’ escape.

From The Savages on, however, he’s all hero, righting wrongs wherever he goes. Even the remaining historicals are variations on the norm. In The Smugglers, he makes a conscious decision to eschew escape in the TARDIS and prevent the murder of the local villagers. And in The Highlanders, he sets about rescuing the enslaved men aboard Trask’s ship. Under the guidance of new producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davies, Doctor Who becomes a show about a good man going to war with the bad guys, every week.

He even has a battle cry:

DOCTOR: Indeed I am going to oppose you, just in the same way that I oppose the Daleks or any other menace to common humanity!

So that’s his mission statement now: to oppose menaces to common humanity. He’s conveniently failing to mention that time he once threatened to brain a savage himself, when fleeing from the Tribe of Gum. The sly old fox.

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Incidentally, the Elders are surprised when the Doctor condemns their exploitation of the Savages as protracted murder, but I don’t know how they thought this was going to go down.

EDAL: Jano, you’re sure the Traveller from Beyond Time won’t have a problem with us extracting the life force from the Savages and leaving them for dead?

JANO: Of course not, Edal! We have followed his travels across the universe! (I particularly liked the one about the Sea Beggar. That was educational as well as entertaining.) He’s never resisted anything like this before! No, I can’t see why he’d object to our oppression and slaughter of our fellow men and one scantily clad girl.

(Pause)

EDAL: Maybe best not mention it, though. Just in case.

JANO: Perhaps it won’t come up?

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The additional element of novelty in The Savages is when Jano (Frederick Jaeger) absorbs the life energy of the Doctor, goes the full Jon Culshaw and delivers no mean impression of him. The vocals alone are impressive, but I bet the body language was full of lapel grabs and imperious stares down the nose too. Let’s hope the episodes rematerialise one day and we can see it in full.

With a slug or two of Doctor in him, Jano’s a changed man, and not just because he can out Hartnell Hartnell (he even gets his lines right). Suddenly, he’s on the side of the angels. “It’s all very simple,” gloats the Doctor. “You wanted my intellect. You got it, and along with it, you received a little conscience.” Which is certainly a change from the Doctor we met in Totters Lane, who didn’t seem to have a conscience… at least not until he nearly killed himself and his companions by pressing the wrong button.

The Savages tells us something quite different. It unequivocally says the Doctor has a conscience and that it’s an essential element of him, as is a determination to rail against injustice and persecution. It’s part of his life force, indivisible from him. So strong it can influence others.

This, then, is the Doctor as Lloyd and Davis sees him: a force for good in the universe, and one who’s renowned for it.  A hero in a frock coat. It doesn’t start here, but it’s confirmed here and that’s how it has stayed ever since.

LINK TO The Dæmons. Both directed by Christopher Barry.

NEXT TIME… Your train awaits! We have a date with a Mummy on the Orient Express.

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Eclecticism, endurance and The Celestial Toymaker (1966)

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I expect whether or not you enjoy The Celestial Toymaker is down to how tolerant you are of being shown the same episode four times.

The pattern goes like this: the Doctor (a partially absent William Hartnell) is off playing an elaborate board game with the Toymaker (Michael Gough), sometimes without form and/or voice. Meanwhile Steven (bolshie Peter Purves) and Dodo (chirpy Jackie Lane) play out a twisted version of a children’s game against opponents pulled from the Toymaker’s eclectic collection. The opponents prove to be cheats, our friends win through and on to the next episode. It’s only brought to an end in the fourth episode because it’s got to end sometime. If they could have convinced Hartnell to go on six weeks holiday they probably would have kept going.

Repetition aside, there are a few other problems with this structure. Firstly, the games themselves are inherently undramatic. Deadly tricks and conniving opponents have to be enlisted to ramp the drama up. Judging by the surviving fourth episode, The Final Test, it’s also a challenge to direct them with any flair or tension. Also, the rules of each of the games have to be explained again and again, to, it must be said, tedious effect.

Then there are the limitations it sets on character. With nothing to do but play the games, and explain the rules to each other, and bicker between themselves and their opponents, Steven and Dodo quickly become tiresome company. Steven is irritatingly truculent with everyone he meets and Dodo is so gullible and naive as to make you wonder if anyone checked the script for internal consistency before sending it to the rehearsal room. By the time you get to the fourth episode and she’s in the middle of a deadly game of hopscotch, she’s still getting lines like “I think I’m going to enjoy this game” – despite the last three almost killing her and Steven – you start to think none of this story’s many writers were paying attention by this late stage.

So although there’s little to enjoy about the games themselves, there is some interest generated by the miscellany of characters the Toymaker sends into bat. The most noisome is Cyril (Peter Stephens), who the Toymaker says is the most deadly because he seems so innocent. Nothing about a middle aged man dressed as a schoolboy says innocent to me, but there you go. He appears late in the story, and being such a snide little oik, the viewer finally does want Steven and Dodo to kick his arse and win their latest pointless game.

The most successful of the episodes is the second, The Hall of Dolls. In this instalment, Steven and Dodo are confronted with the Heart family, plucked from a deck of playing cards. Together, they play a game of deducing which one of seven chairs is safe, by testing the other six firstly with lifeless dolls and then when they run out, with themselves.

Apart from the interest generated by discovering if the chair is going to stab you, freeze you or whatever, there’s also the hint that the games might be corrupting Steven and Dodo. When they find a few extra dolls to use as chair fodder, Steven is keen to keep this information from the Hearts. Sadly, though this potentially interesting plotline goes nowhere. Still, the King and Queen of Hearts (Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera) are the most intriguing of the Toymaker’s playthings and there’s something approaching poignancy when they decide to sit in the last possible, but deadly, chair together, in a last gambit for victory.

As for the Toymaker himself, well, he’s an odd fish. He dresses like a Chinese mandarin, for reasons never explained, but he’s played by plummy Michael Gough, with a voice that can cut glass. Unusually for Doctor Who, he’s a comic book super villain, complete with elaborate costume and a title for a name. If he made an appearance on Batman (Holy playtime!), it wouldn’t surprise. He spends a lot of time talking to the mute, disembodied Doctor; that’s about two episodes of one sided conversation which is difficult to sustain. Particularly when all the conversation is about is haranguing the Doctor for not playing his game fast enough and running a commentary on the sedate adventures of Steven and Dodo.

Despite its various problems though, The Celestial Toymaker has stuck in our collective memory. Perhaps because it’s the most unusual of adventure of Season Three, which is some feat when you consider that eclectic collection of stories. Perhaps it’s the most unusual of Doctor Who’s first five years, only to be outdone for weirdness when that pesky Mind Robber came along. But where the stories around this one, The Ark and The Gunfighters, are playful with narrative structure, The Celestial Toymaker is playful only with character and setting; the actual storytelling it employs is pretty standard.

Even so, the Toymaker has proved an enduring creation, very nearly returning to the series in 1986, and making return appearances in books, audios and comic strips. We’re not done with him, it seems. And I often think he’s a ready made candidate for a starring role modern day Christmas special (although no doubt they’d do away with questionable appropriation of dated oriental motifs, as skewered so expertly by Phil Sandifer). Though lord only knows what sort of modern day games they’d be able to drag Bill and Nardole through. A deadly Pokemon Go, I suppose. Or a real life Crossy Frog. While Capaldi and the Toymaker (Miriam Margoyles, if I had any say) duel it out on Guitar Hero.

If a return visit from the Toymaker seems overdue, or even if it doesn’t, we should remember that there’s an alternative universe in which he’s a much more important figure in Whodom. The original plan was for the Doctor to become invisible and then reappear as a new actor. We can all be grateful the production team went in another direction and found a more generic renewal to subject the Doctor to. For one thing, it would have been a shameful way to treat William Hartnell. But for another, surely every subsequent change of lead actor would have required return visits to the Celestial Toyroom? Not just the same episode four times, but presumably the same story again and again. A game we’d tire of playing pretty fast.

LINK TO The Doctor’s Daughter: both feature the Doctor’s disembodied hand.

NEXT TIME: Jurassic emergency! The Doctor frowns himself a new face and we take a Deep Breath.

Monster acting, aspirational directing and The Ark (1966)

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Let’s put ourselves, for a moment, in the flappy latex flippers of the actors who played The Ark’s resident aliens, the mop haired Monoids.

Imagine climbing into that costume for the first time and realising the limitations being imposed on your performance. Firstly, your vision’s severely impeded by the formidable fringe of a mighty, mushroomed shaped wig. Then, in a strong challenge to personal hygiene, you have to manipulate the costume’s only eye with your tongue.

At this point, you might have been forgiven for tearing up your equity card and pursuing a career in something more rewarding like animal husbandry. But only once you try to walk do you realise that even this simple movement is restricted by the costume’s mermaid-like monoleg, and you’ll have to be content with an urgent shuffle. Running’s right out. That’s why they drive buggies, I suppose.

And that’s just in The Ark’s first two episodes, when the action for our alien friends is rather sedate. In the story’s second half, the Monoids have become the dominant species on the Ark. Which is all well and good, but in the 700 years between those two halves there have been a number of innovations which make the actors’ lives not easier, but harder.

For one thing, they have developed speech. Which is fine if you’re the one delivering the dialogue, but as your tongue’s occupied making a fake eye swivel, someone across the other side of the studio’s doing the actual talking. And you have to move your arms in declamatory gestures to indicate that you’re speaking. AND you have to place a hand on your newly acquired collars to further indicate that you’re speaking. AND, as the Monoids are now armed, you also have to carry and unfeasibly long cattle prod device.

I feel particularly sorry for whichever poor sod had to inhabit Monoid One’s sweaty rubber outfit. As chief bad guy, his gestures have to be particularly aggressive: hands raised in command, arms sweeping aside imaginary enemies like chess pieces. All this, plus touching your collar, holding a prod, waggling your tongue, walking with your legs tied together and doing it all with next to no eyesight. No one ever mentioned this at RADA, I’ll bet.

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Pity also director Michael Imison. As he explains in the ‘making of’ documentary on The Ark DVD, while making this story his contract was coming to an end. He reasoned that if he made a brilliant job of this story, they might be convinced to renew it. And I bet that when he started talking about the production team it sounded like the sort of story that might have scope for some directorial grandstanding: a spaceship the size of a city, the destruction of the Earth, a story pivoting moment with the Monoid-headed statue, a new companion and a promising new race of monsters.

All those big ideas are great. But The Ark‘s big ideas aren’t matched by its execution. Its characters are one-note. The supporting cast’s performances are uninspiring. Production standards are high in the first episode (look! An elephant!) but gradually diminish until the final episode is set on a bargain basement alien planet furnished with invisible aliens and an assortment of tables, chairs and buffets dragged out from stock. The Monoids costumes we’ve canvassed, but the Guardians’ costumes – ribbony togas over sensible underwear – are also unedifying. And the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. Particularly when the wicked Monoids find their voices and start to starkly say whatever’s on their minds, just so the audience can understand their plans.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to see how The Ark – brilliant in conception, but tacky in realisation – was ever going to save Imison’s BBC career. Just before starting recording on the final episode, Imison got the axe. That he didn’t walk off the production then and there speaks to a level  of professionalism, but all the same, he must have been kicking himself that he wasn’t assigned to The Massacre.

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Then there’s new companion Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane). Producer John Wiles and story editor Donald Tosh had had several attempts to break the mold of the female companion with a number of high concept creations. When they sacked Maureen O’Brien for being a bit uppity about the scripts, they tried in quick succession a Trojan handmaiden and a spage age security agent before flirting with the idea of Anne Chaplet, a Hugenot serving girl. The introduction of Dodo, a typical teenager girl ala Susan and Vicki, seems to be an admission of defeat.

Dodo’s the very picture of teenage enthusiasm. She runs out of the TARDIS, eager to start her adventuring and her first instinct when she sees the partially completed giant statue is to climb it. She’s also a Londoner from the 1960s (and she’s at pains to say that things are ‘fab’ and ‘gear’), the first contemporary companion since Ian and Barbara left; an earthly child, so to speak. She dresses playfully, having raided the TARDIS wardrobe to indulge in some historical cosplay. She’s a clear signal that the show is getting an element of fun.

She doesn’t last, of course, because producer Innes Lloyd took over, and his famously ruthless attitude to recasting would eventually lead to a complete change in the series leads, including the Doctor. And even during her brief tenure, Dodo is toned down, her accent modified, her perkiness blunted. That’s a shame because it gives the sense of Doctor Who being unable to incorporate difference, forcing its more radical elements to conform to an accepted idea of what the show should be. Homogenization is what happens to Dodo and that’s surely what eventually leads to her departure from the show. When you take an idiosyncratic character and make her just like any other girl, then why not change her when you get bored?

Though apparently years later, Jackie Lane became an agent and got to turn down Innes Lloyd for a job. Which must have been just a little bit satisfying. The poorly treated employee had become the boss! Hmm, sounds a bit like The Ark.

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The Ark mini-quiz! Answers in the comments, if you please.

  1. Why is there a cave painting of a two headed Zebra on the Ark?
  2. Why does Steven – from a far less distant future than the Guardians – nearly die from Dodo’s cold?
  3. Why does the Commander refer to the TARDIS as a black box?
  4. Why does Guardian fashion not change at all in 700 years?

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: In the second episode, “the Doctor and his friends” becomes “the Doctor and his fiends”. Change one letter and change the meaning of the word!

LINK to Inferno: both show the destruction of Earth.

NEXT TIME… We visit the eight-legs on the Planet of the Spiders. All praise to the great one!

The Good, the Ballad and The Gunfighters (1966)

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Perhaps it would be easier for all of us if The Gunfighters was a musical. In 1966, the relatively modern idea that a drama series might, for an episode, abandon its format and take up the trappings of a movie musical was as far fetched as science fiction. But if it had, then maybe it would all make a bit more sense to us, viewing it nearly 50 years later.

But The Gunfighters is not a musical, it’s a comic Doctor Who historical which features a song. It’s a song which exists in the internal narrative, but also functions as a storytelling tool of its own and as an external commentary on the narrative itself. It’s mind bendingly complex. And it doesn’t help that the song is used to excess and is chirpily irritating.

Perhaps the song would be easier to take if the story was set in a time and place related to the musical genre. If say, the Doctor and co landed on the set of a 1930s broadway show, or a Doris Day film. But The Gunfighters is set in the blood soaked surrounds of the OK Corral. Even if we reason that this story pays more attention to Hollywood’s depiction of the Wild West than its unglamorous reality, it’s still in a genre mainly known for high drama and unflinching violence, rather than jaunty singalongs.

But here it is anyway, a spoof Western with a dramatic sting in its tail, a song and visitors from outer space. Never mind that this is the strangest Doctor Who story ever produced. It’s the strangest piece of television I’ve ever seen. And I’ve watched every episode of Twin Peaks.

It was always designed to be wacky – you don’t recommission Donald Cotton, writer of The Myth Makers so you can remake The Massacre. Cotton had apparently included the song – the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, as it’s known – in the story as background colour, but it was director Rex Tucker who allegedly decided to feature it heavily and integrate it into the narrative. It’s hard to imagine the state of mind that led to this decision. Even if you dislike the script of The Gunfighters (which, save for a few too many convenient plot twists, I don’t at all), what made him think “this would be better with more of the song. Pour it all over it! Lashings and lashings of it!”?

For the first episode, the Ballad is acceptable, if shrill, incidental music. And really, what other sort of incidental music would you have used? It’s hard to imagine Dudley Simpson’s standard electronic buzzs and clicks over the top of this. But then at the end of the episode, Steven (a stoic Peter Purves) is forced to sing it (while Dodo plays a mean piano) and he serenades us into the end credits. Now Season Three of Doctor Who is a rollercoaster ride of genre and quality, but this must have left even the most dedicated of watchers bemused.

In the third episode, the song starts to comment on the narrative, when Wyatt Earp (John, Alderson) knocks Phineas Clanton (Maurice Good) unconscious. “So pick him up gentle and carry him slow, He’s gone kind of mental under Earp’s heavy blow” it croons, and so the song explains to us what we’ve just seen happen on TV. If that wasn’t strange enough, when Charlie the Barman (David Graham) is shot, the verse dedicated to commemorating this act is sung three times. We get it! He’s dead!

But in the fourth episode, the Ballad changes function again. Bad guy Johnny Ringo (Lawrence Payne, who I can’t look at without recalling his appearance in The Two Doctors, where he was dressed like a disco version on The Thunderbirds‘ Brains) has followed Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs) and his girlfriend Kate Fisher (Sheena Marsh) to a nearby but strangely unnamed town.

So Johnny’s outside a hotel. He’s the only person in shot, looking off camera when the song starts again: “Johnny Ringo has found her. Johnny Ringo’s found Kate. The gunslinger’s got her, Now what is her fate?” Now note that this is before we can see Kate, but we can see the look of dangerous satisfaction on Ringo’s face.

More song: “Johnny Ringo has seen her, She’s coming his way. Johnny Ringo and Katie were lovers, they say.” And only now does Kate enter the shot, and we can see that the Ballad has been telling us the story for once, instead of retelling it. And for that moment, it’s intriguing and you can see how it might have worked throughout the whole story.

Meanwhile, Doc Holliday has struck up an unlikely friendship with Dodo (Jackie Lane). When he and Kate flee Tombstone, he insists on taking Dodo, for no discernible reason. So Dodo ends up being an unwilling gooseberry throughout Holliday and Kate’s sojourn to a town called nothing. And although Dodo forces Holliday at gunpoint to return to Tombstone, she’s oddly devoted to him. In the middle of the climactic Gunfight at the OK Corral, bullets flying everywhere, she runs out into it to join him. For no other reason than to be briefly captured by Ringo. Honestly, it’s a contender for dumbest move by a companion ever. This is clearly a Dodo with a death wish.

But this is a black comedy, so black it mightn’t have entirely surprised if Dodo had bitten the dust, followed by a hammy punchline, and perhaps another verse of the Ballad. (“She’s as dead as a Dodo, and it’s all gone to ruin! Vacant room in the TARDIS and the Last Chance Saloon!”). Doc Holliday shoots some folk offscreen while fetching dinner and the other Doctor (Hartnell, having fun throughout) rests his hand absentmindedly on poor old dead Charlie. Grim laughs indeed.

It’s often mentioned that The Gunfighters was the story that really did for the historicals. But it also meant the end for comedy stories for a long time until, what…City of Death? Sure, there were plenty of stories with lighter moments, but outright comedies were no more. And they had been semi-regular in Doctor Who up until this point: The Romans, The Myth Makers and then this. And musical stories? The next story which could make a claim to that would be Delta and the Bannermen 21 years later.

There can’t be many stories that have scared Doctor Who off three genres: historical, musical and comedy. And on top of all that, the director took his name off the last episode, apparently over a disagreement about editing. Another inexplicable decision from Rex Tucker. Of the myriad of weird things going on in The Gunfighters, the thing which really got his goat was the editing? The editing?!

LINK TO The Rings of Akhaten: Songs.

NEXT TIME… AHHHIMMM in charge! Bring out your dead, it’s Dark Water/Death in Heaven

Numbers, popularity and Galaxy 4 (1965)

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Fans who like scoring, ranking and evaluating Doctor Who stories in minute detail (or in other words, fans) must love Doctor Who Magazine‘s irregular surveys of every story ever. The last one (Issue 474, July 2014) is of course already out of date but is still a thing of great geeky beauty.

I suspect I am like you and that we both react similarly to these lists. I get outraged when my favourite stories are deemed lowly. I am stunned when stories I hate get elevated. But the rest of the time, I just love the nerdy, numbery permutations it offers; stories rise, stories fall, some stories say resolutely loved or unloved.

As you may know, the DWM survey asks respondents to award a score out of 10 for each story from which an average percentage score is calculated. Let’s consider Hartnell entry Galaxy 4. In 2009, DWM readers scored it as 55.51% on average and ranked it as 172/200 (not as good as Colony in Space, but better than Four to Doomsday). That placed it in the bottom 14% of stories.

5 years later, its score had nudged up to 57.88%, but its ranking was now 210/241(not as good as Terminus, but better than The Creature from the Pit). It’s now in the bottom 12.8% of stories. So we rate it a little higher than we used to, but when we compare it to the whole of Doctor Who (including the 41 stories added between 2009 and 2013), it’s slipped a bit.

Let’s compare it to The Underwater Menace, which like Galaxy 4, has a missing episode turn up in 2011. In the 2009 poll, it scored 47.44% and ranked 194/200 (not as good as Paradise Towers but better than The Space Pirates). It was in the bottom 3% of stories and the 7th least liked story of all. We hated it.

5 years later though, we don’t hate it as much. Its score jumped to 55.53% and its rank to 224/241 (not as good as The Horns of Nimon but better than The Sensorites). It’s now ‘only’ in the bottom 7% of stories. But that’s quite a feat considering there were an extra 41 stories to compete with.

Clearly we still like Galaxy 4 better than The Underwater Menace. But if the recovery of a missing episode between surveys is their common factor, why does one get a boost in popularity and the other one not? It’s particularly odd when you consider that Galaxy 4‘s episode got a DVD release and The Underwater Menace‘s hasn’t yet (drums fingers).

Here’s a few theories why our taste for fish people is increasing while our Chumbley love flounders:

The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is a better episode than Air Lock. It’s terrific to have it back, but Galaxy 4’s third installment is fairly basic stuff. Nice to see the hideous Rills at last, but their spaceship looks like a temporary trade exposition stand. Their Chumbley robot servants are charming enough for Dalek stand-ins, but they move comically slowly and bump into things a bit. Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead) has been rightly praised for her fourth wall breaking monologue, but later she and Steven (Peter Purves) spend a long time in an impasse over the titular airlock. It feels like a waste of both their talents. As for the rest of the Drahvins, it’s pretty hard to believe they’re a crack force of elite killers when they have a habit of falling asleep on the job and can be overcome by an old man and a teenage girl.

Now The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is never going to win a Hugo, but it’s a more madcap joyride of an adventure, enlivened by an energised Patrick Troughton. It’s all together more fun.

Expectations were higher for Air Lock than for The Underwater Menace Episode 2. Because we’d already had an ep of The Underwater Menace, we had the telesnaps, we’d already ranked the thing 7th last and no-one expected an extra ep would suddenly turn it into The Caves of Androzani. But before Air Lock surfaced we only had 6 mins of Galaxy 4. Air Lock could have been evidence of a long forgotten classic, and had us reevaluating the whole story. But it wasn’t really.

The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is better than The Underwater Menace Episode 3, but Air Lock is not that much better than the scraps of Galaxy 4 we already had. Perhaps it’s worse. Even if it’s not, there’s a bigger jump in quality between the two Troughton episodes.

There’s a greater level of familiarity with The Underwater Menace generally. Perhaps. There’s no way to measure it, so it’s impossible to prove. But I suspect that between its long held surviving episode, the telesnaps and its memorably b-movie elements such as Professor Zaroff and the fish people, we just know The Underwater Menace a bit better than Galaxy 4. I suspect it’s just that little bit more accessible too, as its story – mad scientist, public rebellion – fits Doctor Who‘s standard template a little better.

There’s a backlash from fans who had to buy a second copy of The Aztecs to watch Air Lock. Going out on a limb here. But could the lack of a standalone DVD release have alienated fans a little, making them less predisposed to the episode? And if we assume that most fans have now seen The Underwater Menace 2 (and how else can we explain its sudden rise in popularity?), then it’s a safe bet they got it for free. Hmmm. Something you got for free versus something you had to buy bundled with something you’d already bought once. Perhaps even subconsciously, we like one more than the other.

But Galaxy 4 didn’t always inspire such indifference. It averaged 9.9 million viewers on broadcast in the UK in 1965. Air Lock alone garnered an incredible 11.3 million. That’s the entire population of Australia in 1965. It’s very difficult to compare given today’s far more fragmented media landscape, but those are figures Doctor Who only dreams of these days. Maybe they should make a sequel. Galaxy 5 anyone?

Nah, I can’t go another round of leggy blonds, walrus heads and burbling roombas. Best go for An Even Deeper Underwater Menace.

LINK to The Doctor’s Wife: doomed worlds and aliens with disembodied voices. Scant, but there it is.

NEXT TIME: Ooh he’s tough, isn’t he? It’s time to play The Long Game.

Plotting, obliqueness and The Massacre of St. Bartholemew’s Eve (1966)

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What a crazy rollercoaster ride watching Season Three on transmission must have been. Only the week before the first episode of The Massacre of St. Bartholemew’s Eve (hereafter The Massacre) went out, the series was disintegrating Daleks for us on exotic alien planets. In the coming months there’ll be the high concept sci-fi of The Ark, the surreal fantasy of The Celestial Toymaker and a musical Western in The Gunfighters. And in the middle, the dry old history book of The Massacre. Blimey, who on earth is this show’s target audience?

Last time, I pointed out The Power of Threes failure to explain a few crucial plot points, and promised there was a howler of an example coming up in this post. Given that hint, I doubt if many people would have guessed I was talking about The Massacre. Partly because this story’s a particularly obscure one, and partly because it’s garnered a surprisingly strong reputation for a story nobody’s seen since 1966. Surely The Massacre‘s a quality story? It wouldn’t play us false.

The thing about The Massacre is that it seems worthy. It’s Doctor Who‘s costume drama, it’s Armchair Theatre. It must be good. And it is, but it’s by no means perfect. And it’s a bit of a stretch to call it ‘arguably the best ever Doctor Who story’, as Cornell et al did in The Discontinuity Guide. There’s a tendency to be a bit too kind to The Massacre, because it feels so different to the rest of the series and because it’s more cerebral than most. This is the thinking fan’s story.

But to the howler. In the first episode, the Doctor visits apothecary Charles Preslin (Erik Chitty) where he learns of the recent arrival in Paris of the Catholic Abbot of Amboise. Preslin is a Huguenot, and fears that the arrival of the hawkish Abbot spells bad news for his kind. So much so, that he’s shutting up shop and moving out. The Doctor is intrigued and wonders about visiting the Abbot.

The next we hear, the Doctor has gone on a mysterious mission, as Preslin outlines to a young boy.

PRESLIN: You showed the old man the way? Good. I only hope he succeeds. You were not seen? Let’s hope not. You’ve done well. Good luck, old man. Good luck.

So the Doctor’s off on a mysterious mission. And he doesn’t come back until the final episode. Until then, Hartnell plays the Abbot, because this is a doppelgänger story and he is a dead ringer for the Doctor. This causes no end of grief for companion Steven (the ever reliable Peter Purves) who bounces between Huguenot and Catholic protagonists, and earns the suspicion of both as he tries to work out if the Doctor is impersonating the Abbot.

At the end of the third episode, the Abbot has botched an assassination attempt, fallen foul of scheming Marshal Tavannes (Andre Morrell, he of Quatermass and the mellifluous voice) and is murdered. Thus Steven believes the Doctor to be dead, and early in the fourth episode returns to Preslin’s shop to look for the TARDIS key.

But then, the Doctor shows up! Hooray! Time, you would think, for the answers to a couple of important questions, such as:

Was the Doctor impersonating the Abbot?

Frustratingly, we never hear Steven ask this of the Doctor so we never get a straight answer. But it seems not, because Steven saw the Abbot dead and the Doctor is fighting fit. And there’s this short exchange:

DOCTOR: I told you not to get involved.

STEVEN: Look, I tried not to, but the Abbot did look like you.

And that’s all we get. So although it’s far from clear, it looks like this is a case of a purely coincidental exact resemblance (see also The Enemy of the World, The Androids of Tara and Black Orchid). This leads to the next question:

If he wasn’t impersonating the Abbot, then where was he and what was he doing?

And to this there is just no answer. The closest we get is the Doctor saying he was ‘unavoidably delayed’ and you’d think Steven deserves a better explanation that that. So what was this mission that Preslin said he was on? Was it simply finding his way back to the TARDIS?

(I prefer the explanation in John Lucarotti’s novelisation, in which he actually does impersonate the Abbot under duress from the Huguenots. Has a novelisation ever deviated so much from a TV story? Worth tracking down, eBayers.)

Anyway, it would be unthinkable for a modern Who story to drop its lead character without explanation for half the story. But in The Massacre‘s case, it makes a difficult-to-penetrate story even harder to fathom. If you’re not familiar with the tensions between the ruling Catholic elite and the Protestant Huguenots in the 1570s (and I wonder how many schoolkids watching this on transmission in 1966 would have been), The Massacre doesn’t go out of its way to help you out. Other historicals like The Aztecs and The Crusade at least give us a villain to side against with our heroes. But here, Steven is equally alienated both from the Catholics and the Huguenots. In its quest to demonstrate the complexities of religious conflict, The Massacre gives us no one to barrack for and against, at least not until the final episode, when Tavannes and Queen Mother Catherine de Medici (Joan Young) launch the massacre itself.

Then there’s the complexities of its ideas. What would young viewers have made of its Doctor-less second episode, in which Steven learns of the Catholics’ plot to kill ‘the sea beggar’. After various debate between factions, the episode ends with Huguenot leader Admiral de Coligny (Leonard Sachs) revealing that due to his sympathies to the Dutch in their conflict of Spain, he has become known as ‘the sea beggar’. Which means, it’s him! He’s the target! And um, what does that mean again? It’s hard to imagine the young’uns on the edge of their seat for that lot. As cliffhangers go, it’s hardly a Dalek emerging from the Thames.

If I could have one episode on this story back from the dead, I’d choose the third, Priest of Death. It’s the episode which features Hartnell as the Abbot the most, but it also has what sounds like a brilliant performance from Barry Justice as Charles IX. He’s so bored he can’t even face talking about his own nation’s impending war with Spain, something which might have warranted some attention you’d think. But spoilt King Charles would rather play tennis. He’s the one Catholic  who’s sympathetic to Huguenot de Coligny, so you’d expect him to be outraged when he hears of his murder. And so he is, but he has to be dragged from tennis court to royal court to hear the news. His reaction is deliciously petulant: “Will I never have any peace?!” Tennis players. They’re notoriously touchy.

But if we’re playing the ‘rescue one episode’ game, there’s also the fourth episode, Bell of Doom to consider. It contains the famous scene where Steven, sickened by the Doctor’s decision to leave serving girl Anne Chaplet (Annette Robertson, who plays Anne with a Somerset accent so we all know she’s working class. French accents being optional throughout the story.) behind amidst the massacre, angrily quits the TARDIS. It’s a groundbreaking scene; never before has a companion so roundly criticised the Doctor and backed it up by leaving him. It’s influential too; we can see the modern day equivalent in Kill the Moon and the same argument played out to a different result in The Fires of Pompeii. But ultimately, the praise heaped upon that scene is another example of us being a little too kind to The Massacre. Because the outcome of that scene is… nothing. Steven reboards the TARDIS minutes later, and the dispute given no more air time. It was an empty threat for sure.

But there is a nice touch at the end where the TARDIS materialises in 1966 specifically to pick up Anne’s maybe descendant, Dodo (Jackie Lane, debuting here). Given the erratic nature of the TARDIS’s navigation, surely this is one coincidence too many. Perhaps the destination was chosen by the TARDIS in response to the argument between Steven and the Doctor, in order to settle the quarrel. How random to find in this history lesson of a story an early indication of the time machine’s sentience.

LINK to The Power of Three: both feature ancestors of companions.

NEXT TIME: Slag, ash and clinker. They are the fruits of The Mutants.

 

Mystery, Speculation and The Myth Makers (1965)

myth makers

There are few stories more mysterious than The Myth Makers, the first Doctor’s tragi-comic excursion to ancient Troy. Long lost from the BBC’s archives, we have very little visual evidence left of it. A handful of photos and a few seconds of 8mm footage. We have the soundtrack of course, and it’s a terrifically engaging listen. But that audio is all we have, and of course, it will never be enough for fans. To really assess this story, we need the episodes and the day when those old film cans are found in some remote TV relay station in Asia Minor can’t come quickly enough.

But in the meantime, all we’ve got is speculation as to what these episodes looked like. It’s as much as we can manage, but thankfully, it’s fascinating in itself for a fan. And it starts with the very opening moments of this story, with Achilles and Hector fighting on location at Frencham Ponds. What shots did one-time Who director Michael Leeston-Smith choose? Was it cut with pace and vigour? Did one-time Who composer Humphrey Searle’s bold with brass score help or hinder it?  We have no other examples of these gentlemen’s work to help us guess how they handled Who.

In this opening scene, it seems there’s a interesting entrance for the TARDIS. According to the BBC audio release, Achilles and Hector are mid battle as we follow their fight, the TARDIS stands unnoticed in the background. If that’s right, it’s an unusally low key and beguiling start to a story, signalling to the audience that the story has begun without them. It sounds like there’s a clear visual cue that this is a story trying to play against the audience’s expectations.

Soon enough, the Doctor (crusty William Hartnell, reportedly injured and bereaved while making this story) intervenes in the battle and is mistaken by Achilles for Greek god Zeus. Mistaken identity is something of a recurring motif in 60s historicals, whether divine as in The Aztecs, comic as in The Romans, deliberate as in The Reign of Terror, or sinister as in The Massacre. Here, it gives Hartnell a chance to be haughty amongst the Greeks of ancient myth and strike up something of a verbal sparring match with Odysseus (Ivor Salter).

There are only one or two photos of Salter as Odysseus and no moving footage. But he is the story’s main protagonist and the Doctor’s rougish foil throughout. The soundtrack indicates a full blooded turn, more than matching up to the formidable Hartnell. He gets some great dialogue too. When hearing of Hector’s death, he takes pleasure in baiting Achilles.

ODYSSEUS: But what a year is this for plague. Even the strongest might fall. Prince Hector, ha, that he should come to this. You met him here, you say, as he lay dying?
ACHILLES: I met him, Odysseus, in single combat.
DOCTOR: Oh yes, it’s true.
ODYSSEUS: And raced him round the walls till down he fell exhausted. A famous victory.

Salter’s performance is hugely enjoyable on audio, but it makes me ponder a question I asked myself several times when listening to The Myth Makers: would this work as well if I could see the pictures? Because it’s a BIG performance. Would it be too big onscreen?  Would all that bluster detract rather than enhance?

It’s a similar story with Barrie Ingham’s portrayal of Paris, of whom I think not one photo is known to exist. Paris is written as cowardly, camp and ineffectual, and it sounds like Ingham has launched his performance from there. In the second episode, he’s creeping around whispering Achilles’ name when he’s meant to be shouting it out in challenge. When he defends his decision to drag the TARDIS into Troy, he splutters and stumbles in classic sitcom cadence. Again, too much or pitched just right? It’s comic sure, but is there any other way to play dialogue like this:

PARIS: And I will not tolerate interference from a fortune-teller of notorious unreliability!
CASSANDRA: How dare you! I am High Priestess of Troy!
PARIS: All right then, get back to your temple before you give us all galloping religious mania. Oh really, Father. I can’t tolerate another of her tedious tirades at the moment.

It’s clearly not meant to be played with great seriousness. Someone who is playing it seriously, though no less exuberantly, is Frances White as Cassandra. If she’s not shrieking, she’s spitting verbal venom and White never misses an opportunity to turn it up to 11. Photos of her have only come to light in recent years and show her as dressed quite simply, and looking rather mild mannered. This wasn’t how I pictured her at all. In my mind she was tall and fierce with banshee wild hair. How does the image match up with the vocal performance? Let’s hope we find out.

And this question – how did this story balance its audio and visual elements – echoes another: how did it balance the comedy and the tragedy?  The story is famous for its sudden u-turn in tone in its final episode. From the sounds of it, the deaths of funny old Priam, Paris and Cassandra, discovered when the audience see their corpses lying on the palace floor, are as stark as they are bleak. What on earth did audiences make of it? Did they stick with it, or turn off in confusion?

Then there’s the story’s unusually adult approach to talking about sex. It’s odd enough hearing Hartnell’s Doctor tell Agamemnon “your wife is unfaithful to you”. But then there’s Odysseus asking the Doctor to tell “a tale or two of Aphrodite” (“I refuse to enter into any kind of vulgar bawdry,” he retorts). Cassandra calls Vicki “some drab of Agamemnon’s” and probably the less said about the matter of fact way in which a 16 year old girl is left to marry a 17 year old soldier the better.

As the story goes on, it gets more and more ambitious. I can just about imagine what scenes set in Agamemnon’s tent or Priam’s palace or the Trojan dungeons looked like. But what about that horse being dragged into Troy? What did that look like? What about the inside of the horse itself, with the Doctor and Odysseus trading barbs like an old married couple? The audio release contains a line of explanatory dialogue which describes the Doctor’s exit from the horse as “the Doctor climbs awkwardly down the rope”. I bet he doesn’t though. I can’t imagine Hartnell climbing down any rope, no matter how awkwardly.

The sacking of Troy in the final episode, is particularly mysterious. It sounds like a grand affair, but I’m sure, knowing Doctor Who’s budget, it’s just hurriedly costumed extras fighting unconvincingly in studio sets. But, more hopefully perhaps we can imagine that it’s an exercise in being economic about what the story actually shows. After all The Myth Makers does a lot of this.

For instance, we never meet Helen, who, along with Paris indulged in the vulgar bawdry that was the catalyst for the war. Vicki is gushing about Troilus before he’s even seen on screen (as far as I can tell, despite being a pivotal character, we don’t see his face until the third episode). And her departure gives this story one last chance to wrongfoot the viewer.

When she’s finally reunited with the Doctor, amid the chaos of Troy falling, she bundles him into the TARDIS and sends new girl Katarina to get Steven. The next thing we know the Doctor is bidding Odysseus a not so fond farewell and the Ship dematerialises (this gives Odyssues a nice character note to end on as he wonders if Zeus really has walked amongst them), for all we know, with Vicki onboard as usual. It’s not until after the TARDIS leaves that we discover she has stayed behind in Troy, to be with her love, Troilus. It’s crafty misdirection, and like so much in The Myth Makers, unexpected.

Does it work? Were viewers fooled? Or was Vicki’s romance too clearly signposted, leaving no surprise? Or another possibility – does the whole thing leave us feeling shortchanged, with not even a farewell scene between Vicki and the Doctor?

Just another of The Myth Makers’ mysteries. And if the missing films turned up tomorrow, I’d be overjoyed. But we’d lose something too – with all our questions answered we’d have nothing left to speculate on. All this story’s mysteries solved, the way we view it changed forever.

Still, it’s a trade I’d make in an instant.

LINK to Smith and Jones. Both are new companion stories. And each has a slightly self-aware comic tone about them, which marks them as similar despite the decades that separate them.

NEXT TIME: The moment has been prepared for Logopolis.