19 – The Invasion

As covered in last week’s blog, Doctor Who was headed towards an uncertain future in 1969. The show’s popularity had been waning over time, and lead actor Patrick Troughton was giving firm indications that he had little desire to stay on board for a fourth season as the Doctor. Into this mix, the decision was taken to trial a style of adventure that was to shape the next five seasons of Doctor Who; an adventure set not in the far reaches of space, the past, or the future, but on contemporary earth.

The TARDIS lands in 1960s England, broken down and in need of repair. As the Doctor seeks a technician who can aid him in repairing the broken TARDIS circuits, he is delighted to encounter his old friend Colonel Leighbridge-Stewart, last encountered in The Web of Fear, now promoted to Brigadier, and the leader of a new taskforce called U.N.I.T. The Brigadier reveals that U.N.I.T. are investigating a series of unusual disturbances centred around the world’s foremost supplier of electrical goods, International Electromatics. Forced into investigating the organisation when Zoe is kidnapped by their sinister security team, the Doctor discovers that their head, the mecurial Tobias Vaughan, is colluding with an unnamed alien menace, proposing to invade and take over the world. It is only halfway through this eight part adventure that the Doctor and Jamie learn that “some old friends” are Vaughan’s allies: the Cybermen!

This adventure was to provide one of Doctor Who’s most iconic moments, as the invading Cybermen use the London sewers to position themselves all over London, bursting out as the invasion begins. The sight of the Cybermen advancing from St Paul’s Cathedral has to go down as one of Doctor Who’s most memorable cliffhangers; sufficiently so that Steven Moffat would re-use the scene in Peter Capaldi’s debut season as the cliffhanger to Dark Water.

Even above this, The Invasion is eight episodes of excellence, principally due to the utter brilliance of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, and Kevin Stoney as arch-villain Tobias Vaughan. While very long by Doctor Who’s usual standards, the story never feels padded, and proceeds at an enjoyable pace. The regular crew are supported by a very able supporting cast, while Nicholas Courtney very firmly seized his opportunity to stake a claim for reappearing in future. If this adventure was his audition piece, he passed with flying colours.

The Invasion is sensational in its own right; but is also significant for the groundwork it established for the future. The entire basis of the U.N.I.T. era was gestated in The Web of Fear and The Invasion, before being properly birthed in Spearhead from Space. Here lies the catalyst for U.N.I.T. (and the Brigadier) as season regulars; for earth based adventures; and for the longer stories of Season 7. As I observed in another blog piece, while the U.N.I.T. era is properly associated with Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor, The Invasion is not at all out of place from that era; indeed a colourised version of this adventure would fit very well indeed into the Pertwee collection!

A special mention is also due to this adventure for what it has contributed to the DVD collection. Two of The Invasion‘s eight episodes are missing, giving more than enough material for a viable release, but leaving an obvious gap. It was for this reason that this was the very first adventure to experiment with animation to fill these gaps; and arguably the work is among the very best ever done. The subsequent release of The Moonbase, The Ice Warriors, The Reign of Terror, and especially The Power of the Daleks only happened thanks to the BBC having the courage to gamble on animations for this adventure. For that alone, we should be thankful for this adventure … while still hoping we someday get episodes 1 and 4 back!

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You can buy the DVD of The Invasion on Amazon for £5.99

Next Time: Visit the genesis of the great U.N.I.T. dating scandal, as the Black Guardian decides that the Doctor is better off dead …

20 – Spearhead from Space

And so we come to the top twenty! From this point on there is nothing but controversy – every story from this point on is utterly excellent, and almost impossible to choose between. And so it is with the first we come to – Jon Pertwee’s superb debut in Spearhead from Space. There is not a bad word to say about this story – and yet it is not in my top ten. As I have said in previous reviews, often a story has been given what seems a very low number for no other reason that the fantastic quality of Doctor Who as a whole.

Your appetite suitably whetted (I hope!) let me share about the story itself. Faced with financial pressures at the end of Season Six, the BBC decided to cut the costs of Doctor Who so that it could remain on the air. The show was slashed from the 40-odd episodes of the first six seasons (the number varied) to 25; the season would feature four stories, of which three would be seven parters; and the Doctor would be ‘exiled’ to Earth – all of which were intended to reduce the costs to sets. As if all of this change were not enough, Patrick Troughton had also resolved to leave his role as the Second Doctor, determined that his career as a character actor would not be jeopardised by being typecast. His departure indirectly led to his companions, portrayed by Fraser Hines and Wendy Padbury, to also leave the series. Oh, and just for good measure, the BBC decided to broadcast the show in colour.

Bearing all of these background details in mind, and Spearhead from Space is very easily understood as a ‘re-Boot’ from the first six seasons. Perhaps this is what makes it such a good story; there is a definite feel of introduction to it. Nicholas Courtney returns as Brigadier Leighbridge-Stewart, now in a permanent recurring capacity as the head of U.N.I.T., while the lovely Caroline John makes her debut as U.N.I.T.’s resident scientific advisor Liz Shaw – a role that deserved better than Dr Shaw was ultimately to get. For the first two episodes at least, we very much view the story through their eyes – a mysterious meteorite shower in the south of England leading the Brigadier to bring in Liz to investigate. Their investigation is then confounded as an unknown force begins stealing the meteorites; and confused as they find an unknown man next to a familiar blue Police Box. He claims to recognise the Brigadier … but no-one recognises him.

Which brings us neatly to Pertwee. In contrast to Patrick Troughton’s all action debut in Power of the Daleks, Pertwee spends most of episode one unconscious, and only really begins to get his mojo back in episode two. But when he does – he is absolutely scintillating. As far removed as you can imagine from the austere Hartnell or the comical Troughton, Pertwee is a debonair gentleman who charms every scene he walks into. While viewers had now become used to the idea that the Doctor could change, the transition to the U.N.I.T. Era owes much to Pertwee taking hold of the role so brilliantly, and building an instant rapport with John and Courtney.

It doesn’t hurt that the story is brilliant, and features some of the show’s most iconic moments. I guarantee that even if you haven’t heard of the story, you will have seen somewhere the dramatic moment in the final episode when all over Britain, shop window dummies come to life. In a story full of firsts, this story also features the debut of the Nestenes, a plastic based lifeform able to animate all plastic. The ingenious use of a common, everyday item to induce terror in the imagination was a master stroke – so it was entirely understandable that Russell T Davies would re-use the imagery in 2005 for the revival of Doctor ho. Iconic, classic, and brilliant – Spearhead from Space summarised in three words!

Fans wishing to enjoy this adventure have an even more special treat in store. Owing to strike action by BBC engineers (this was the 1970s …) the producers were not able to shoot any scenes in the BBC’s studios. It means that, uniquely in the back catalogue of classic Doctor Who, this is the only episode to be exclusively recorded on film rather than video tape (brief note – the show used video tape in studio as an easier editing medium, and used limited location film inserts where needed). The retention of these film originals enabled the BBC to produce this adventure in glorious high-definition; having sampled both SD and HD I can testify that the colour and sound of the HD version is absolutely gorgeous and the perfect complement for an already stunning adventure. If you do wish to enjoy Spearhead from Space I encourage you to invest in the BluRay – it is very much worth the investment.

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You can buy the Spearhead from Space Blu Ray on Amazon for a bargain £7.00!

Next Time: We investigate the origins of Spearhead from Space, as the nascent U.N.I.T. Organisation repels an invasion from the sewers of London.

21 – Carnival of Monsters

I know several readers will be surprised to see this Jon Pertwee classic so high, above such notable classics as The Enemy of the World or Terror of the Zygons. This is less due to the challenge that you get with the best of Doctor Who (That it’s all brilliant, and it’s like being asked which of your children you like best …) and more due to the fact that it’s a bit, well, crazy! Bright, garish, and very much a product of the 1970s, I didn’t expect to enjoy this adventure at all, which is why I didn’t bother watching the VHS version my dad had recorded off UK Gold back in the early 90s.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I found it free to view on the BBC’s channel on You Tube (sadly no longer the case), and even more surprised to find that I hugely enjoyed it! Having been pardoned by the Time Lords in the previous adventure and granted the ability to travel through space and time again, the Doctor and Jo take the TARDIS for a test drive, and supposedly land on a old steam-ship making its way to India in the interwar years. When the passengers and crew forget about their presence, then proceed to re-enact the scene they had just witnessed, the Doctor suspects that all is not well.

His suspicions are well grounded. On the planet of Inter Minor, showman and confidence trickster Vorg has brought a device called a miniscope to entertain the inhabitants. The scope contains a number of entrapped creatures, including the humans supposedly sailing the Indian Ocean. With the highly xenophobic inhabitants of Inter Minor determined to destroy the miniscope for fear it will contaminate their planet, the Doctor must find a way to escape the miniscope and return the entrapped species to their rightful homes before the miniscope is destroyed … or before the deadly Drashigs entrapped in the scope manage to consume everything they encounter!

The story is played out over three wonderful locations – the steam ship SS Bernice, the plaza of Inter Minor, and the interior of Vorg’s miniscope. The production crew manage astonishingly well for the poor budget, and while Vorg and his assistant Shirna may be dressed in the most hideously outlandish attire one could choose, it weirdly works in the context of the story. The relationship between Vorg and Shirna is one of the real highlights of the story, as the huckster Vorg tries to weasel his way to a profit, much to the cynical Shirna’s despair. Special mentions are also due to three actors who regularly appear in Doctor Who; to Michael Wisher, best known for portraying Davros, who appears in a comparably brilliant role as the Machiavellian and scheming Kalik; then Peter Halliday portrays the bumbling and officious Pletrac, a character almost as incompetent as dear Packer from The Invasion; but not least, this story is the Doctor Who debut for Ian Marter, best known for portraying companion Harry Sullivan in Season 12. All three put in excellent performances.

And that’s really why I enjoy Carnival of Monsters so much. It’s really good fun, really well acted, and reasonably clever in its storytelling. Rather like The Androids of Tara, this is a story I rate rather highly for no other reason than the sheer enjoyment I get from sitting down to watch it.

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The special edition of Carnival of Monsters can be bought in the ‘Revisitations 2’ boxset – highly recommended!

Next Time: One of Doctor Who’s most iconic moments, as shop window dummies spring to life …

22 – The Green Death

Roundly pilloried for its ambitious use of CGI, The Green Death is one of the finest adventures to feature in the U.N.I.T era of Doctor Who, and in many ways marks the beginning of the end of that era. As with many of the Doctor’s adventures of that time, the focus is on an earthbound activity that has potentially catastrophic implications for the planet. Interestingly, this story is very akin to Season 7 finale Inferno, in that there is no alien menace in this adventure, only the ‘enemy’ of human greed and ambition.

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23 – The Enemy of the World

I must begin this review with a frank admission. My original list of classic Doctor Who episodes did not contain either The Web of Fear nor The Enemy of the World, which in the summer of 2013 were still (officially) missing, presumed lost forever. To my very great shame, I concede that not only was The Enemy of the World not high on the list of stories I wanted recovered, I was distinctly underwhelmed when it was announced as one of two lost adventures recovered by Philip Morris in Nigeria. It had simply never registered on my radar.

Nevertheless, I bought the DVD as soon as it came out, wanting to enjoy the same experience that my dad must have enjoyed in 1993 when he bought Tomb of the Cybermen on VHS. I didn’t have high expectations, but was utterly blown away by an acting masterclass from Patrick Troughton, playing not one but two roles in this action packed adventure.

The story itself is entirely straightforward – the TARDIS crew arrive in Australia 2068, only to be attacked by armed security men. Rescued by the glamorous all-action Astrid, they discover that the Doctor strongly resembles Ramon Salamander, prominent leader in the United Zones, and a man determined to seize control of the world. They are reluctantly draw into a scheme to discover how Salamander proposes to take control of the earth, along the way encountering spies, assassinations, blackmail, and a hidden scheme to terrorise the world into submission. Not only must the Doctor stop Salamander, he must discover for himself whom he can, and cannot trust…

Astonishingly, the story plays out beautifully across six episodes, never once dragging, and filled with a stellar supporting cast. Whether it is the ingenious Astrid, the devious Zone Administrator Giles Kent, the gruff Security Chief Donald Bruce, the weaselly Bennick, or even the minor characters like Fariah, Denes, and Fedorin, The Enemy of the World has a richness of thoroughly enjoyable characters, each superbly realised. Even Victoria gets to play a more proactive role compared to her usual task of getting into trouble and screaming – perhaps reflecting that this story is rather unique in Season 5. Rather than being a base-under-siege adventure featuring a ‘Monster of the week’, The Enemy of the World is much more akin to a spy thriller.

But the standout feature of this adventure is the unbelievable performances by Patrick Troughton. Prior to watching this adventure I’d never really understood why certain fans were so enthusiastic about him. Over the two and a half hours of watching this adventure that all changed. Troughton displays the full range of his acting ability in this story, and is delightfully evil in his portrayal of the villainous Salamander. Adding value to every scene he appears in, it is worth having the story just for his performance alone. That the story also happens to be gripping and superbly acted is a wonderful bonus!

One cannot conclude this review however without appreciating that but for Philip Morris reaching the TV station in Jos, we wouldn’t be able to talk about these performances. I had observed in an earlier blog that you cannot judge a missing story by its orphaned episode. This is certainly true of The Enemy of the World. It was not a story anyone would have wanted back ahead of the Cybermen or Dalek adventures. It would have been very difficult to have animated the story and captured the charm of it. And yet it is one of the very best examples of Doctor Who you can enjoy on DVD today. One can only ponder what other adventures might earn a more favourable impression if only they could be recovered!

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The Enemy of the World is well worth investing in – and you can purchase it on Amazon for £7.99

Next Time: The poor Brigadier is reduced to shooting at maggots in Wales …

24 – Day of the Daleks

I was six years old when I discovered Doctor Who. Like most six year olds who discover Doctor Who, my first thought after discovering there were MORE stories was to want to see every possible Dalek adventure. So when I saw that the Day of the Daleks VHS cover was plastered with Daleks, I simply had to see it! I recall being disappointed at the time at how little the titular Daleks featured in the adventure, but still really enjoying the adventure. 25 years on, it’s still a firm favourite with many reasons to enjoy this four part story.

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To begin with, despite the name, this isn’t really a Dalek story. Author Louis Marks originally wrote the story imagining a completely different alien race as the foe, before the BBC publicity machine had the great idea to bring back the Daleks to arouse interest in the brand new Season 9. While the Daleks have a disappointingly short amount of screen time, this is more than compensated by the quality of the story itself.

Still trapped on earth, the Doctor is summoned by the Brigadier to Auderly House, home to top British diplomat Sir Reginald Styles. The world is on the brink of a nuclear war, and Styles has been disturbed by an unusual armed apparition, who attempted to murder him before vanishing into thin air. While Styles jets off to try and arrange a peace summit, the Doctor discovers that the apparition was a guerrilla from earth’s future, sent in the belief that Styles caused a nuclear war that left Earth devastated, and unable to repel a Dalek invasion.

The story rises to a thrilling climax as the Doctor and Jo are transported into earth’s future to discover mankind living in slavery. Meeting with the guerrillas they realise that the war began due to a bomb blast as Sir Reginald’s peace summit – but that the bomb was detonated by one of the guerrillas! The Doctor is forced to race the Daleks back to the 1970s to save the peace conference, and prevent a global catastrophe.

The plot is stunning in its simplicity and its brilliance, exploring creatively the classic time travel paradox of past actions impacting the future. Not only do the regular cast put in a superb turn, they are complemented by outstanding performances by the guest cast also. If one ignores the Dalek focus, the story works exceedingly well – it’s a bad “Dalek” story, but superb  science fiction.

There is however one  but. The story was rather let down by some production decisions – not least the poor quality of the Dalek voices. You do have to get past that – or embrace a crazy alternative option. The BBC Restoration Team took the unusual step when preparing the DVD to create a Special Edition of the story, replacing the Dalek voices and improving many of the special effects. The results were so good that this story could pass muster in contemporary Doctor Who – and that is high praise indeed! I know fans are very much divided on changing anything about the original stories; Day of the Daleks is unusual for the near universal praise for the Special Edition. It is very much worth the price of the DVD.

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You can watch both the original and Special Edition of Day of the Daleks in this DVD release, available on Amazon

Next time: You resemble very closely a man determined to be dictator of the world …

Stand by for … #missingepisodes May?

It has been a while since my last post on missing episodes, principally because there has been little by way of substantive rumour to report. Earlier this year there were rumblings that a number of William Hartnell episodes from Season 3 had been recovered, but nothing more substantive than rumour, and absolutely nothing relating to the supposed activities (or lack thereof) of Philip Morris.

Indeed, while there has been a lot of speculation about an event on 27th May put on by Fantom Films celebrating Doctor Who’s lost episodes, there has been a surprising lack of the sort of concrete rumour that ought to precede a pre-event announcement of more found episodes. Despite that, the guest list, which includes Mr Morris among other notables, has led sections of Doctor Who’s fans to conclude that there must be something happening; whether it is the presence of William Russell and Waris Hussein leading to speculation that Marco Polo must be recovered, to Deborah Watling’s presence being a sign that Evil of the Daleks is at least about to be animated, if not actually released as a full recovery.

Which means that this photo, posted on to the Facebook page of Philip Morris’s archive organisation Television International Enterprises Archives (T.I.E.A.) was inevitably going to raise eyebrows:

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Photo of film canisters from T.I.E.A. Facebook page – click picture to follow link

Shrewd observers will have already spotted similarities between the photo above, and the picture Philip Morris shared on the Doctor Who Missing Episodes Facebook Discussion Group of the complete Web of Fear in Jos. The similarities are of course giving rise to one obvious question: “What is in the film cans?”

Long term readers of this blog will know that I am convinced more material has been recovered, and also what material I think has been recovered. Rather than revisit that speculation, I will venture my own thoughts on whether the Fantom Film event is the precursor to a full or partial revelation of what missing Doctor Who Philip Morris has recovered.

I think in the very least we are about to get new information. Posting such a tantalising image as the one above could only ever have one impact on Doctor Who fans – to prompt renewed speculation. I firmly believe one does not knowingly enter a lions’ den having taken away the lions’ dinner! I therefore think that Philip Morris is in the position to share at least some new information, almost certainly related in some way to the posted photograph.

Secondly, if it is true that there is new information being shared, I think it is also possible that we will soon find out the results of his search. To date Morris has been exceedingly discreet regarding his search, emphasising that too much publicity makes it harder for him to track down material, and puts existing material at risk. There has also been speculation that regular teases on social media are Phil’s way of trying to get around Non Disclosure Agreements which prohibit him from revealing which commercially sensitive content he has returned to the BBC.

I do also think however that we won’t find out everything. I have previously speculated that the return of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear may have been influenced by these two stories proving a relatively isolated part of his overall search. Let’s assume that for each companion attending the event we have one returned story – say Marco Polo for William Russell, The Savages for Peter Purves, and The Abominable Snowmen for Deborah Watling. It may be that these stories also came from one small isolated station, allowing Morris to hold back from revealing if he had found anything else.

To put it another way: if there is not a conclusive statement on the search, we can presume that there is more material in the pipeline – either that Morris is still meticulously tracking down, or that he has tracked down and is seeking to repatriate to the BBC, or that is caught up in BBC negotiations. Conversely, a “that’s it” statement from Phil probably does mean the end of any hopes that the Doctor Who back catalogue survives somewhere in Africa …

That said, we should pay attention to whatever Paul Venezis has to say. Philip Morris has not been the only person tracking down material, and Paul Venezis has been one of the key men for co-ordinating the return of missing material from all sources, of which Phil’s worldwide hunt is just one. He is notoriously adept at using denials and carefully worded replies to give misleading impressions – saying for example “The entirety of Season 5 has not been found in Africa” while being aware that Enemy of the World and Web of Fear had been recovered – truthful, but not completely truthful! But if we are approaching the end game of Phil’s search, perhaps he will be more chatty.

That’s my realistic appraisal. I now hope that readers will forgive me if I indulge in a little daydreaming! Let’s suppose that somehow, incredibly, the BBC succeeded in keeping the biggest possible secret completely secret – a mass recovery of missing Doctor Who (ie. more than forty episodes, at least four completely recovered stories). I am inclined to agree with comments I have read elsewhere that the BBC would not permit an external organisation to claim the publicity benefit of such a major news story, so such an announcement would certainly not be made on the day.

Let’s suppose that there is a mass recovery announcement to be made – I rather suspect that the release of the animated Power of the Daleks gives us some indication what this might look like in practice. Assuming that they can control the news agenda (both Power of the Daleks and the Web/Enemy releases were plagued by pre-release leaks) then there will be a BBC press conference held before the Fantom event, not later (most probably) than Wednesday 24th. It is highly improbable that they will announce the release of every recovered episode – let’s face it, if all 96 episodes were recovered and released instantly, the likes of The Space Pirates would never sell in good numbers!

What is more likely is that they will repeat some of the promotional tricks used in Power of the Daleks – that is, a special incentive for fans to buy a complete story in advance; perhaps a discount for buying multiple adventures. The release of the story in a daily episodic format seemed to be extremely popular, and I could see that being repeated – it gained a massive amount of social media publicity and that would only increase for an actual episode recovery.

The trick question however would be which episode or episodes to release, assuming that the BBC have choice? Given that it has been rumoured for so long, and given the attendance of William Russell and Waris Hussein, I’d be amazed if Marco Polo is not a prime candidate for the first tranche of releases. We would then need to consider how the BBC would handle the recovery of multiple stories; would they perhaps release them in tranches of two or three stories at a time? Given that the BBC typically aimed to release one classic Doctor Who DVD per month, one presumes they could release the 20 missing adventures within two years if they so wished, and faster if the delay has been partially due to taking the time to restore the material.

My instinct is that the BBC would announce which stories they had recovered, and confirm which stories would be available ‘immediately.’ I think three is the absolute maximum they could release on BBC Store, which brings us neatly back to three confirmed companions – Ian (most probably Marco Polo), Steven (something from Season 3) and Victoria (most probably The Abominable Snowmen).

So I will finish with my wishful thinking prophecy: that even as we speak, BBC staff are making preparations to load Marco Polo, The Savages, and The Abominable Snowmen on to the BBC Store, ready to download at an episode per day. And if my unending optimism proves right, these downloads are only a taste of what may then follow!

As ever … all this is speculation. I am joining thousands of other Doctor Who fans in hoping that on this occasion, the speculation proves accurate!