51 – The Seeds of Doom

There had to be one story that just missed out on it’s place in the top 50 – and this Tom Baker adventure which concluded his second season as the Fourth Doctor earns that dubious honour. Which is an unfair accolade, because The Seeds of Doom really is a sensational story.

Set towards the end of the UNIT era, the Doctor is summoned back after a research team in the Antarctic discover a seed hidden in the snow. It opens, and infects one of the researchers in the station, who begins to transform into a plant-like organism. The emergency would be contained, but for the intervention of the wealthy Harrison Chase, an individual with a disturbing affinity for plant life. He sends his hired muscle, a resourceful chap named Scorby, to recover the seed for examination in his laboratory. While the original seed is now empty, it transpires that there was a second seed hidden in the snow.

The plant creature in the Antarctic is killed after Scorby rigs the base with explosives, and so the Doctor and Sarah chase him to Chase’s estate in England. It is discovered that the seeds are in fact alien lifeforms – Krynoids – who are completely inimical to all flesh creatures. After the Krynoid infects another human and begins the transformation process anew, the Doctor has to quickly figure out how to stop the Krynoid from turning all plant life against humanity.

As I say – this is a superb Doctor Who adventure. The plot is intelligent and well paced. Every cast appearance is well weighted – whether the eerily dispassionate Chase; the amoral adventurer Scorby; or the delightfully dotty Mrs Ducat. Baker himself is at the very height of his powers, and Season 12 deservedly has a reputation as one of the very best in the show’s history. Scorby in particular deserves praise, sitting alongside Regan (from The Ambassadors of Death) as a highly successful villain – intelligent, enterprising, resourceful, and with a clear idea of what he wants to get in life and how he’s going to get it.

Why then is it no higher? Well, as with several other adventures (Remembrance of the Daleks is a prime example) it suffers from no other crime than the generally outstanding quality of Doctor Who in general. It is no worse than many of the stories above it, and would sit comfortably alongside stories in the top ten.

The reason it sits so low then, is that the story is unrelentingly grim. Brilliant, yes. But you do feel afterwards like you want to spend the afternoon in a sunny garden with a puppy. Parts of the story are quite edgy – Harrison Chase for example cheerfully feeds anyone opposed to him into a grinder that is used to feed his compost heaps. Even the odd mirthful moment provided by Mrs Ducat cannot balance the hard edge of the story. It doesn’t make it a bad story … just one that I think I would have enjoyed better if there had been a few lighter moments.

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The Five Faces of Doctor Who … revisited?

Much entertainment was caused by blogger Kippy Woo when the following question was asked on Twitter:

Five_Faces

This had been a question I had been pondering myself from the distinct angle of introducing a new generation of Doctor Who fans to some of the best stories of the classic era – so it was nice to see other fans thinking along similar lines, and interesting to note that the BBC were potentially contemplating it. Merely filler until we get Series 10 … or did they have more in mind …? (I return to this question shortly!)

I posted my own choices (and actually misremembered my choice for Colin Baker in my reply tweet):

  1. The Dalek Invasion of Earth
  2. Tomb of the Cybermen
  3. The Daemons
  4. Pyramids of Mars
  5. The Caves of Androzani
  6. Vengeance on Varos (I had posted Mark of the Rani for some odd reason …)
  7. Remembrance of the Daleks
  8. The Movie
  9. Dalek
  10. Waters of Mars
  11. Flesh and Stone/The Time of Angels
  12. Under the Lake/Before the Flood

Let’s suppose however there was a different focus – let’s say (for example) we deliberately restricted ourselves to four part adventures, edited into a 45 minute format to fit with the contemporary style. If they really wanted to push the boat out, they could even edit the title sequence to match today’s credits, and colourise the Black and White episodes. Then the classic stories might look like this:

  1. The War Machines
  2. Tomb of the Cybermen
  3. The Time Warrior
  4. Pyramids of Mars (or City of Death; or Robots of Death; take your pick really!)
  5. The Caves of Androzani
  6. Vengeance on Varos
  7. Remembrance of the Daleks (or The Curse of Fenric)

I have, however, one final and very mischievous suggestion, which answers the following question: “Why would the BBC repeat classic material now of all times?” As everyone knows, the Daleks are an integral part of Doctor Who. So surely the obvious thing to do would be reprise the best Dalek stories for each Doctor from the original series run. That would look like this:

  1. The Daleks
  2. CURRENTLY MISSSING
  3. Day of the Daleks (the Special Edition from the DVD, which is frankly awesome)
  4. Genesis of the Daleks
  5. Resurrection of the Daleks
  6. Revelation of the Daleks
  7. Remembrance of the Daleks

“Aha!” you may well say – we cannot do this, because the nearest we have to a Patrick Troughton Dalek adventure is episode 2 of The Evil of the Daleks. Which leads to my mischievous thought: “What if the BBC knew they had a complete Dalek story for each Doctor?”

Absolutely rabble rousing, surely speculation, and definitely not grounded on any kind of fact, inside knowledge, or certain anticipation. But still quite fun to imagine that a classic series re-run might be an excuse to launch DVD sales for Power of the Daleks

52 – Planet of the Daleks

As readers of my earlier post on Frontier in Space will note, I am not entirely persuaded that the Season 10 effort to produce a 12 part epic to rival The Daleks Master Plan really worked. For all that however, Planet of the Daleks is an entirely enjoyable Dalek adventure in its own right.

We join the fray with the TARDIS arriving on the planet Spiridon, the Doctor unconscious following his encounter with the Master in the previous adventure, having used the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to request the assistance of the Timelords. It transpires that somewhere on the planet Spiridon there is a Dalek taskforce of 10,000 Daleks just waiting to be revived and led to assault the galaxy. The Timelords, in their usual cheerful manner, decide that the best thing to do is to send the Doctor to solve the problem!

The story sees the Doctor and Jo team up with an expeditionary team of Thals (making their first appearance since the Daleks’ first appearance in the eponymous William Hartnell story) to defeat the Dalek force. An added twist is the presence of the Spiridons themselves, an entirely invisible alien species, who are being threatened into helping the Daleks to learn their art of invisibility. Most collaborate, but Jo is helped in her adventures by a friendly Spiridon named Weston who ensures she survives in the jungle.

This is by no means a complicated story, and is best enjoyed if you sit back and enjoy the ride. Undoubtedly it would have benefited had it been a faster paced four parter that stood alone, rather than the second part of an epic twelve part adventure. But it still makes for thoroughly enjoyable viewing, and as ever the Daleks fail to disappoint.

A very poignant note from this story is that for most of it the Doctor and Jo spend the adventure apart from one another, each convinced that the other has been killed. Their relief in finding the other alive is very genuine, and paves the way for the pathos of Jo’s farewell in the next serial The Green Death. It was another important marker towards the end of Pertwee’s time in the role.

53 – The Invasion of Time

I was horrified to see that it’s been more than two months since my last review in the episode countdown! And so I resume with a story that is definitely going to raise eyebrows. For a variety of reasons this story is not well perceived in Doctor Who fandom. Several factors are given, whether it’s the low-grade special effects, the buffoonery of the Timelords, the evident sense that the budget had run out, or indeed the sneaking suspicion that there wasn’t quite enough material to stretch across six episodes.

I think that the criticism is a tad unfair, and really enjoyed discovering the serial on VHS. In truth, this adventure is best understood as a two part story, in which the Doctor faces off against one alien threat in the first four episodes, and a second alien threat in the final two. Tom Baker is simply sensational throughout, as he gives the appearance of co-operating with a race known as the Vardans to effect an invasion of his home planet, Gallifrey. He begins by seizing the role of Lord President of the High Council of Timelords – having conveniently put himself up for election last time he was on Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin.

It is not until after part 3, by which time the Vardans have invaded Gallifrey, that we discover that the Doctor is secretly trying to identify their home planet and put it into a time loop. As the Vardans are capable of travelling on any wavelength, including thought, they are able to read people’s minds, and appear next to people instantly – hence the Doctor is required to resort to subterfuge to achieve his aims. Thwarting the Vardans is only the beginning however – to win their trust, he is forced to lower the shields of Gallifrey, which allows a Sontaran battle fleet to enter the Capitol. The Doctor then spends the last two episodes ensuring that the Sontarans do not get their hands on the Timelords’ ultimate weapon – the Demat gun.

It has to be said – I think The Invasion of Time is a thoroughly enjoyable and non-demanding adventure. Yes, one must look past the occasionally laughable special effects (especially the cellophane Vardans), and it does stretch a little at six episodes – but it never feels pedestrian, and even the minor roles of Andred, captain of the Chancellery Guards, and Rodan the technician add distinct flavour to the story. We also get to see more of Gallifrey than at any point until then in the show’s history – including the wilderness outside the Capitol. And the episode four cliffhanger, the dramatic revelation of the Sontarans after you believe the Doctor has won the day, has to go down as one of the greatest and best executed cliffhangers in Doctor Who history.

The story also marks the farewell for Leela, and the original K9 prop. While I enjoyed Leela as a companion, she never really had the opportunity to develop as a character as the producers had originally intended. When the Doctor says fondly “I’ll miss you too, savage,” it rather captures the contrast between Leela, still instinctive and violent by the end of her travels, and Jamie MacCrimmon, who had changed substantively by the time of The War Games. I’m sorry to say I don’t feel sad when Leela stays behind on Gallifrey; although that could be because the lovely Mary Tamm is only five minutes away in the next episode …

Doctor Who meets Life on Mars

It was probably a matter of time before I managed to sneak a David Bowie reference into the blog, and I do so by referring to the song that gave rise to one of the BBC’s most ingenious drama creations: Life of Mars.

The catalyst for this post comes from this tweet featuring the new Big Finish adventure to feature Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, reprising their roles as the Fourth Doctor and Romana.  I was struck by the incongruous appearance of the modern day actor alongside the 80s attire of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, and it gave me to pondering – what about a Doctor Who episode that specifically played up how anachronistic the past is? We know that the formula works – it was a big reason (alongside the frankly excellent John Simm and Philip Glennister) for the success of Life on Mars – arguably it contributed in part to the success of the Back to the Future movie trilogy.

What might it look like? Well, for that I will revisit a poll I put out last week on Twitter that was ultimately lost in the excitement over the missing episodes reply from the BBC. The poll showed an astonishing 80% of respondents agreeing that they would like to see someone take on the role of Roger Delgado’s Master in the event that Sean Pertwee were to portray his father’s role of the Third Doctor.

Master

I ruminated on this a little, and this is the idea I have landed on. The story would feature Capaldi’s Doctor (plus we presume a new companion) crossing over with Pertwee’s Doctor – in the Third Doctor’s timeline it would take place between The Green Death and The Time Warrior, conveniently allowing the producers to allocate a new UNIT companion as a one-off for the production. It would see the two Doctors stuck in the ‘wrong’ timelines, and the majority of entertainment would come from the clash of cultures – whether Capaldi’s companion appalled at what the 70s were like, to Pertwee’s companion astonished at the wonders of 21st Century Britain (imagine the fun of a scientist from the 1970s encountering an iPad!)

The bigger draw however would be that the villain of the piece would be Delgado’s Master – and I personally would love to see one of two Bens portraying him; either Ben Miller (who I actually really enjoyed as the Sheriff of Nottingham) or Sir Ben Kingsley. Not only would it be a fitting tribute to the Pertwee era, but it could potentially tie up one of the oldest loose threads in Doctor Who history. That is to say – that the BBC could then bring back Geoffrey Beevers, who has been having something of a renaissance in Big Finish productions as the decayed Master. It would not be hard given the make up required to make him resemble the Peter Pratt Master, or his own version from The Keeper of Traken. And thus the story could give a much more satisfying conclusion to the Delgado era than his disappointing exit in Frontier in Space.

I grant you that the idea set out above is very much a classic series’ fan’s wildest fantasy. But oh what a story it could be!

What have the BBC got up their sleeves?

It didn’t take long for the BBC Enquiry Team to get back on my Monday email asking whether the animation of currently missing Dad’s Army episode A Stripe For Frazer was an indication that more missing episodes of Doctor Who were due to be animated. Their reply reads:

Thanks again Daniel – the PR department are hoping to make further announcements concerning CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO titles later in the year but cannot comment at this precise moment in time. I’m a big fan myself so am keeping fingers crossed!
Best wishes
DVD Enquiry Line

At first glance this seems no different to the non-answers and prevarication we have had thus far, but I am oddly encouraged by the warmth, enthusiasm and expectancy of this reply. It is clear that the range is not yet dead, but not as clear what the BBC plan to do next.

I’ll briefly address the pertinent suggestion that the DVD Enquiry Line team are alluding to the release of existing material in new special editions, or as complete season boxsets. I don’t doubt that the BBC will indeed be planning this if their past form is anything to judge by – witness the many releases of Spearhead from Space in its multi-varied forms. I would say that while they undoubtedly have this in mind, it doesn’t quite seem to quite scan with their evasiveness thus far. So I think the question remains: “What have the BBC got up their sleeves?”

There are 97 gaps to fill (less if you count those already animated), and while the BBC have demonstrated their willingness to animate a lost Dad’s Army episode, they showed remarkable reticence with The Underwater Menace, and distinct taciturnity with regard to future releases. The question begs – why the secrecy? Although we can only speculate in the absence of concrete information, I am inclined to be hopeful rather than pessimistic and disinclined to believe that the absence of a firm rebuttal is simply bad expectations management by the BBC.

My prediction (which is just that – I have no special insights or sources!) is that either new material is in hand, but it is not certain whether it can be used, or that there is a good lead on material but it is not certain that it can be recovered. I would additionally predict that the BBC are warm to the idea of reconstructing the currently missing episodes, and will eventually fill the gaps in the back catalogue … but until they know the extent of Philip Morris’s search, they dare not take the risk of animating a story that may then show up again.

So … we continue to wait. But for the first time in a while, I am actually feeling more hopeful than despondent. Hopeful that maybe, just maybe, we will get to see something new in the next 12 months …

Doomed! We’re all doomed!

The ongoing saga of missing BBC archive material took a fresh twist this weekend, when the BBC Store announced on Twitter that a currently missing episode of Dad’s Army (“A Stripe for Frazer”) was to be animated alongside the re-discovered soundtrack, and released online in early February.

This significant development raises rather more questions than it answers. It was Dad’s Army that led Bleeding Cool to suggest in August 2013 that a large amount of lost archived material had been recovered. Does the animation of this episode mean that they have written off the recovery the currently missing three episodes of Series 2? If so, can we conclude that the ‘omnirumour’ – that not just Doctor Who but many other classic series had been found in bulk – is dead? Are we (as Frazer himself would frequently cry) “all doomed!”

As I say, it does not seem so straightforward. We can equally ask (and indeed, I have asked BBC Worldwide) why animate this episode of Dad’s Army, but not the missing episodes for The Underwater Menace or The Crusades? Why not animate the other two stories from Series 2 of Dad’s Army?

There are some striking lessons to learn however. Top of the list – this story is due to be released less than four weeks after it was announced on Twitter. You cannot do an animation that quickly, which means that this has been on the cards for a long time, but has been kept secret with remarkable ease. It perhaps encourages us that other material (whether animated or recovered) could well be on the BBC’s books – but just as hidden as this episode had been until recently.

Secondly, it is evident that the trial of launching The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear on iTunes was an enormous success. While I grant you that the BBC Store was probably going to happen anyway (due to the popularity of BBC iPlayer, and the rise of other VoD services), it demonstrated that new titles could be launched exclusively online and turn a profit. I suspect that this fresh venture could well be to assess whether recreating lost material would prove as profitable as releasing recovered material. Bizarrely enough, future releases of Doctor Who could depend upon how well Dad’s Army sells on the BBC Store.

My final conclusion is entirely a balance of probabilities and comes back to the question (most) readers will be asking: “What does this mean for Doctor Who?”

Oddly enough, I think this is very encouraging news for Doctor Who fans, and for those who hope there is more material out there. While it seems the omnirumour is indeed dead (by which I mean, I cannot see 97 episodes recovered barring a miracle of Biblical proportions), I do think that Philip Morris has found more missing material, and either has yet to recover all of the material, or has recovered some, but has a good lead on further material. In fact, I take him at his word that the search is ongoing, and that he has to tread carefully.

My reasoning centres largely around the long-running campaign to release The Underwater Menace, and the incredible reluctance of BBC Worldwide to comment on what they mean when they say they have plans to release more classic Doctor Who. In the very least, I suspect secret animations may well be at an infant stage – if so, let’s rejoice that we get to enjoy some form of these lost classics! But I think their taciturnity also reflects uncertainty as to what material is truly lost. Sales of The Moonbase and The Tenth Planet were badly hit because of the rumours that the missing episodes had been found – fans (understandably) did not want to buy twice. The BBC’s reluctance to announce fresh animations only makes sense if they believe there is a reasonable chance of material being recovered.

Which makes it good news and bad news. The great news is that it looks like the BBC will eventually give the fans what they want – the complete Doctor Who classic run. The bad news is that it seems the ongoing search for missing episodes has put animating the gaps on indefinite hold.