Plugging the gaps – Living post #omnirumour

Periodically I will dip into Twitter and look up the #missingepisodes hashtag, in the hitherto vain hope that somehow the key players have sorted out the horrible misunderstanding and I can look forward to explaining away the Doctor’s dubious highland accent to my wife. If you’re looking for medicinal disappointment, I can recommend no better!

I think it is time to face the situation in all its full gravity – to all intents and purposes the omnirumour is dead. And for the dedicated Doctor Who fan, that leaves around 20 empty DVD cases on the shelf placeholding where the DVDs ought to be. At present the only plan is to release The Underwater Menace, presumably with two animated episodes alongside the two recovered episodes. Aside of this, the BBC may consider upscaling the current stock for a bluray release – and we the fans will do our usual protests about being fleeced before resetting to type and crying “Just take my money already!” And … that (if true) … is that. No more. Finito. The end. The moment not prepared for.

But I refuse to believe that this is it. Below are just a few thoughts of what the BBC should consider doing post-omnirumour:

1. Release The Crusades with animated episodes
One of the few things that may keep the omnirumour alive is the complete lack of movement on this Hartnell adventure. Given that other stories have been animated with two missing episodes (longer adventures The Invasion, The Ice Warriors, and The Reign of Terror, and shorter adventures The Moonbase and The Underwater Menace) there is actually no good reason that I can see not to release this story – unless there is a real possibility they’ve found the lost episodes. But given that now seems unlikely – give us what we’ve got!

2. Animate the missing episodes
Loose Cannon is all very well, but we now have the technology to recreate many of these missing episodes – certainly creating computer models for the main TARDIS cast ought to be re-usable across several adventures! If we can’t have the real thing, then this would be a palatable second best. Perhaps with motion capture technology (think the Tin Tin movies, or Keifer Sutherland appearing in the new Metal Gear Solid) we may even get to the point where we could get David Bradley back as the CGI basis for the First Doctor’s missing episodes. Massive legal hurdles of course, to say nothing of cost – but better than nothing?

3. Colourise select episodes
I opined earlier that The Invasion would be an excellent candidate for colourisation – after they tidy up other colourised episodes like Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Mind of Evil and The Ambassadors of Death. Once we have a complete set to watch through, I think many fans would enjoy certain stories colourised as a fresh interpretation of the show’s history. I personally think The Daleks would be another prime candidate – and of course if the BBC were animating from scratch entirely missing stories (like Marco Polo) they could exercise the luxury of initially animating in colour …

4. Animate certain Big Finish productions
Now this one will have howls of protest! I must confess that I have not listened to a single Big Finish production nor read much of the Missing Adventures literature – partly because it is unclear how it fits into the canon of the show. But there are certain adventures I think it would be great to bring in to plug the gaps – I would love to see the original Season 23 (featuring The Nightmare Fair for example), or a series of McCoy adventures linking between Survival and The Movie. Of course the BBC insist that there can only ever be one Doctor – hence they torpedoed Paul McGann returning for a mini-series, or a series of adventures jointly starring the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. But where there’s money …

What do you think dear readers? In the absence of a full set of Doctor Who adventures, what would you like to plug the gap?

77 – Mindwarp (The Trial of a Timelord episodes 5 – 8)

As I opined in the reviews of The Ultimate Foe and The Mysterious Planet, I think that The Trial of a Timelord gets a pretty rough ride from fans. I cannot help but feel that if the show had continued in the vein of Season 23, rather than take the direction it did in Season 24, then perhaps the show would have been better ready to survive into the 1990s – although I also opined today that any Doctor Who that survived to the nineties could have featured a guest appearance by the Spice Girls – so perhaps we should count our blessings!

As with most of this season there are two story levels – the ongoing trial of the Doctor for ‘Actions unbecoming a Timelord’ – and the presented evidence of one of the Doctor’s adventures, in this case on the planet Thoros Beta. A lot of the problems with this story result from the fact that as part of his overarching scheme to frame the Doctor, the Valeyard has tampered the evidence. At the same time, a key feature of this story was to be that the Doctor loses his mind following the episode 1 cliffhanger of having mental experiments performed upon him, voluntarily helping the villains and only regaining his mind by the last episode. Both are great ideas – combining the two together not only confused the viewers, it left poor Colin Baker unsure how he was meant to be portraying the Doctor in any given scene – and it very sadly shows!

For all of the flaws, the story features a triumphant return by Nibil Shaban as the villainous Sil after his memorable debut in Vengeance on Varos, and a very interesting ethical question as warped scientist Crozier looks to prolong the life of the Mentor ruler Lord Kiv by transplanting his brain into another living being. In theory it also was intended to provide the shock to end all shocks – and I am not referring to Brian Blessed’s unforgettable interpretation of the warrior King Ycarnos! With all due spoiler warnings – at the end of the final episode, Crozier has succeeded in transplanting Kiv’s mind into Peri’s brain – effectively killing Peri. What is shown is the Timelords pulling the Doctor out of proceedings (leading directly into the start of The Mysterious Planet) and taking control of Ycarnos to assassinate everyone in the room – including Peri/Kiv. The story finishes on the stunned cliffhanger of the Doctor coming to terms with Peri’s apparent death – apparent because this did not sit well with the test viewers, so they later decided to make it a part of the Valeyard’s fabrication!

Mindwarp is therefore another example of a good story that is too clever for it’s own good. Let me put it this way – if Season 21 had finished with Caves of Androzani, and Season 22 had instead begun with Vengeance on Varos and concluded with Mindwarp (killing off in the process the utterly useless Timelash and Twin Dilemma) I think the entire Trial season would not have been needed, and Baker would have gotten the full Season 23 and 24 he deserved. Instead of which … we can only wonder …

78 – The Curse of Fenric

As I typed the story title in for this review, I had a vivid sense of fans of the Seventh Doctor reaching for their cutlasses and crying for my blood – evidence (if need more be presented) that I have it in for poor Sylvester McCoy! So let me unashamedly begin by saying that I really enjoy The Curse of Fenric, and as with all stories I am currently reviewing the problem is not that it is a poor story, but simply that I get more enjoyment from the stories above it! And that, really, comes down to personal taste as much as anything else – you will have already noted by the absence of large numbers of Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker stories, that their eras are the ones I hold in the highest esteem.

You have probably heard of the anecdote that Peter Davison would have stayed for a fourth season as the Doctor if he’d been given more scripts like The Caves of Androzani in Season 20. In much the same way that I earlier argued for a full length Season 23 (in which Colin Baker would have received the send-off he deserved), I think Doctor Who would have survived beyond 1989 if Season 25 if it had contained more stories likeĀ The Curse of Fenric. I confess that it took me a while to warm to – partially because my mum, noting the vampirish elements of the story, strongly encouraged my dad not to let me watch it until I was a little older, and even then I found the VHS hard to follow. Even though it is a slow burner, once you get your head around the narrative it doesn’t disappoint – the Doctor is at his literal chess playing best in facing the baddy of the piece, an ancient being known as Fenric.

As with most McCoy stories, there are several stories going on at once – notionally set at a naval base during the Second World War, the base commander is trying to achieve three things at once – intercept German communications using their decoding machine; deceive their Soviet allies into stealing a booby-trapped decoder that will devastate Moscow when used; and to discover the power of Fenric that is alluded to at a nearby Viking encampment. Of course, as with all humans who dabble in higher powers that they do not actually understand, Fenric overpowers the base scientist to reanimate himself, and possesses many of the base population to be his slave army.

Rather than explain the convoluted resolution of the tale, I would simply advise watching the DVD – then watching it again a day or two later when you have had time to digest it! Half of the enjoyment comes from not understanding what the Doctor is up to, but also the resolution of certain aspects of Ace’s backstory – there is the very poignant moment where Ace helps a young mother on the base to escape with her baby – to realise later that the baby is in fact her much hated mother. The story undoubtedly paves the way for the exploration of companion backstory that would become a staple of Nu Who – it is a fine example of what the show could have done with the budget and opportunity to evolve from the 80s into the 90s. In that regard, Curse of Fenric is also a rather tragic piece – a lump-in-the-throat inducing ‘What if?’ in the history of Doctor Who

79 – Destiny of the Daleks

“If you’re the supreme beings of all the universe, then why don’t you come up after us? Bye bye!”

Thus the seeds are sown in this adventure for the producers to demonstrate (ineffectually in Revelation of the Daleks, and with much better effect in Remembrance of the Daleks and Rose) that stairs need not be an obstacle to Dalek domination. For now however, under the stewardship of Douglas Adams, Baker’s fourth Doctor takes a fiendish delight in taunting the inability of his ancient foes to climb up after him and his escaping party of friends.

Destiny of the Daleks is an intriguing idea, but perhaps not best executed – so we should begin by explaining the plot in brief. The Daleks are engaged in a long standoff between another race, the Movellans. It transpires that both races are essentially robotic and utterly logical, and neither side dares strike first because their respective battle computers can never find the optimum moment. Both races return to Skaro – the Movellans because they sense the Daleks hunting for some secret weapon; the Daleks because they are seeking a secret weapon – their creator Davros! Their intent is that Davros would improve their instincts in order to help them beat the Movellans. Into the midst of this stumble the Doctor and the newly regenerated Romana – not initially planning to get involved, but inevitably left with no choice in the matter.

Let’s acknowledge some of the problems. The late and wonderful Mary Tamm deserved a much better sendoff as Romana, but it is understandable that with the role regressing to ‘get into trouble, scream, and be rescued’ she wasn’t keen to continue. The regeneration scene, with Romana appearing to try on different bodies is of course a little silly – but is also rather charming in its own way. While I loved Tamm as Romana, there is an undeniable chemistry between Baker and Lalla Ward, which reflected well on screen and resulted in a brief off-screen marriage in the early eighties. Having already filmed The Creature from the Pit, Ward is much more comfortable as Romana, which means that for all of the other flaws, the regular cast do not let us down.

But now we come to the biggest question. Davros was supposedly exterminated by his own creations at the end of Genesis of the Daleks. Certain factions of fandom still insist that Davros should have stayed dead. I do not quite incline to that view, but I do think it would have been kinder to David Gooderson to have had a new mask made for him, as the BBC would do for Terry Molloy and Julian Bleach. Michael Wisher’s mask quite clearly not fitting him at all. As it is, you don’t quite get the same sense of continuity that Molloy would later bring.

For all of that – Destiny of the Daleks ticks over at an enjoyable pace and leaves the viewer suitably pleased by journey’s end. As the writers acknowledge, there is something very intriguing about the Daleks returning to Genesis and looking to find their way anew, and equally intriguing in them facing an equally robotic race – even if it doesn’t quite live up to the showdown between the Daleks and the Cybermen in Doomsday. My view on this story had fluctuated from loving it, to resenting it, to being uncertain. On the whole, I’m now inclined to appreciate it for what it is, and enjoy it for what it aspired to be, rather than pick holes in what it failed to be!

80 – Planet of Giants

Rather unusually for the Hartnell era, this story is a three parter – although it was not originally intended to be so! Instead, the producers decided to re-edit episodes 3 and 4 into one, much faster paced episode, feeling that the original cut was too pedestrian. Does it work? Well, I must confess that at some stage I need to watch the reconstructed four part version to compare it properly – but I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by this three part adventure!

Filmed during Season 1 and shown as the first story in Season 2, this was originally planned to be the first ever story of Doctor Who, until it was wisely pointed out that the technical challenges of miniaturising the TARDIS crew would be somewhat ambitious for a new television programme. By this stage it is more than evident that the crew are completely confident and relaxed around each other – each plays their part, and Hartnell has very much settled into the paternal figure TV audiences had grown to love, whilst still remaining an irrascible old rascal!

The plot, as I have already alluded to, sees the TARDIS crew shrunk to a tiny size after the TARDIS doors accidently open during materialisation. But the adventure is not simply to return to normal size – they find themselves in a laboratory where a corrupt scientist is attempting to manufacture and licence a very lethal form of insect killer – one which in turn begins to impact Barbara, whose resistance is made much lower due to her reduced size. The story plays out with the crew having to foil the scientist despite their size, while somehow surviving, getting back to the TARDIS, and returning to their full size.

In three parts, I found the DVD highly watchable and a great addition to my collection. When I have the time, I will have to see if the original episodes 3 and 4 are worthy of as much lament for their loss as other missing episodes – while appreciating the reconstruction the BBC have kindly provided us with!

81 – Planet of Fire

It’s always been a poorly kept secret that the female companion on Doctor Who was intended to be a bit of a looker, in order to keep elder male viewers interested. This story doesn’t even pretend to treat it as a secret – Nicola Bryant’s first appearance as Peri features her in a bright pink bikini that is so abbreviated it must have had Mary Whitehouse hurrumping into her cup of tea! By his own admission, showrunner John Nathan Turner cast Peri with the view to make Doctor Who more accessible to more mature audiences, and to the American market – and with the same flamboyance of one of his Hawaiian shirts, he proudly unveils Peri as the new companion.

Having acknowledged the one aspect of the story that is impossible to ignore, let’s now remember that it makes a very small part of what is quite a clever overall story. From the moment Turlough stepped into the TARDIS in Mawdryn Undead you’re wondering what his backstory is, and Planet of Fire brings his story to a very pleasing conclusion. Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who unless several different story threads were happening at once. So we have three distinct threads – the Doctor and Turlough picking up a distress call in Lanzarote (this being the next overseas production after Arc of Infinity) where they find an alien artefact, and also Peri – who unfortunately plays damsel in distress from the start by having to be rescued from drowning! Meanwhile a group of colonists on the planet Sarn are troubled by earthquakes – a sign in fact that their planet is breaking up. They are beholden to their high priest who insists faithfulness to their god, Logar. Oh, and just for good measure, Kamelion makes his first appearance since The Kings Demons, spending most of the story in the appearance of the menace controlling him – the Master! It transpires that his miniturising gun hit him by mistake, and he is relying on the restorative powers of Sarn’s volcano to return him to full size and health – only to burn when the flames change and then seemingly vanish to nothing.

If you’re confused, you will get a good idea of the health warning for this story – it is so complicated that you need to watch it twice to get your head around it! When you do however, it is more than satisfying. Davison gives a superb show, making one wish (with no disrespect intended to Colin Baker) that he had given at least another season as the Doctor – his line to Turlough “If you are withholding any information that prevents me from defeating the Master, then our friendship is at an end,” is utterly compelling. Turlough too enjoys a triumphant farewell, rounding off his story, and seeing some form of redemption – not least in being returned to his homeland of Trion, no longer a disgraced criminal. Peri’s debut is sadly less impressive, spending most of it imprisoned by the Master, who is camped up to the maximum by Anthony Ainley. But for all that, it is one of the better stories to grace the 1980s and is thoroughly enjoyable.

Talking about my (re)generation

Do forgive my shameless use of the most overused pun in Doctor Who, as I take a break from my reviews to ponder a hypothetical question – albeit one that I hope should not have to arise for some years yet! In time the fateful day will come when Peter Capaldi decides to retire his attack eyebrows and surrender the TARDIS console to someone new – and I would give my eye teeth to avoid the dreadful show the BBC put on to reveal the new Doctor.

So I would like to propose an idea that Steven Moffat is almost certainly not going to read, but I shall feel better for having said it. I do not believe that we could have an unscheduled regeneration where the Doctor is not revealed in advance – the potential for spoilers and leaks is simply too great. But I do believe we could produce a shock of the first order with the following scene.

The background – Peter Capaldi confirms that his last appearance in Doctor Who will be the Christmas special of a given year. The series ends with some sort of peril taking place elsewhere … which knowing the BBC will almost certainly involve some sort of Mexican standoff between the Doctor and the Inter-planetary pepperpots. The Doctor leaves his companion (hopefully before then the BBC will have found some way to irreversibly strand Clara in E-Space or something …) on earth, promising to come back soon. In earth time, several months pass, and no sign of the Doctor – and no indication of the resolution of the Mexican standoff. Finally the companion receives a note: “25th December – be ready” – which of course is an obvious reference to the Christmas episode. As the companion ponders why the Doctor did not deliver it in person, the camera pans to a pair of boots walking – which arrive at a familiar bright blue box. The door opens, and the camera pans up to a new face, and the text appears:

INTRODUCING ROWAN ATKINSON
as THE DOCTOR

Now for Rowan Atkinson you could of course have any other actor (personally I’d love to see Sean Pertwee given a go!) – but I think this would be a much better way to unveil the new Doctor than the rubbish announcement programmes the BBC have done before now, and would be sensational for the shock value – unlike Ms Kardishan I suspect it probably WOULD break the internet! Suffice to say, Capaldi would get his farewell at Christmas, but with the tension of when the regeneration was going to happen and Atkinson would first appear as the Doctor.

So what do you think readers – would this work?

(Incidently, if they are looking for a new Doctor soon, I have no acting ability whatsoever but do a mean regional accent!)