35 – The Mind of Evil

By 2014 I was tantalisingly close to completing my Doctor Who DVD collection. Notwithstanding the agonising over whether to buy the DVDs with currently missing material (The Moonbase for example) a few stories remained, not least this one. And while it was kept until last, it was certainly one of the best!

First of all, let me share why such an excellent adventure was off the shelves for so long. Not only did the BBC get rid of the original broadcast tapes for the Hartnell and Troughton eras, Jon Pertwee’s era was also badly affected. While his entire era survives, certain of his stories only survived in broadcast quality in black and white – examples including Terror of the Autons, The Daemons, and The Ambassadors of Death. For most, they were able to procure low grade colour versions, which could be combined with the high resolution black and white prints to produce something approximating the original broadcast tape – the Destruction of Time website has a good account of this process.

The Mind of Evil is somewhat unique however, in that no colour footage at all survives of the story. To recover the original colour, the BBC had to use an ingenious process called “Chroma Dot Recovery.” In short – when the BBC converted the original broadcast tapes to black and white film to sell overseas, little dots (the aforementioned chroma dots) were included, indicating what the original colour had been. Using this information, the producers were able (at length and great expense) to recreate the original colour, as they had done for the Ambassadors of Death – a video showing how this process was used for Dad’s Army can be watched here.

So far so good. Except episode one doesn’t have any chroma dots! As Richard Molesworth would explain in Wiped! the dots were due to a mistake in the process of creating the film, and for the first episode the BBC technicians had processed the film properly – leaving no dots! For us in the 21st century, the only way we are now able to enjoy this episode in colour is thanks to the reconstruction team who painstakingly coloured in EVERY SINGLE FRAME of the 25 minute episode. With that in view, the greatest miracle is that they were able to produce the DVD at all!

Once complete and colourised however, the story is far from a disappointment, and is a real highlight of the U.N.I.T. Era of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Jo travel to Stangmoor Prison to watch a ruthless criminal be processed by the ‘Keller Machine’, a device supposedly able to deprive individuals of their most evil impulses. The Doctor suspects all is not well, and he is right to do so – for his old enemy the Master is at work in the background. The machine is in fact an alien creature that targets the worst impulses of those who come into contact with it and imbibes them. The Master proposes using the device to seize control of the prison, then to use the inmates to steal a highly destructive weapon from U.N.I.T (it must be acknowledged that this story is not Captain Yates or Sergeant Benton’s finest hour …)

Convoluted though the plot perhaps is, as ever it is the principle stars that make the story a joy. Delgado and Pertwee shine in every scene, especially where they face one another, and Katy Manning very quickly shakes off the damsel in distress stereotype of Terror of the Autons, being active and assertive. And of course, who can forget the wonderful moment in episode five where the Brigadier infiltrates the prison, dressed in civvies and affecting a Cockney accent …

You may reach the end and ask one pertinent questions: why is the Master trying to start World War 3? Why seize control of the prison in such a convoluted manner? How come Benton and Yates are the only people not murdered by the convicts? To pick on these quibbles however is to rob yourself of the enjoyment of an excellent, gripping, and entertaining drama. It may have been the Pertwee story I waited longest for, but the wait was certainly worth it!

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The Mind of Evil is available to download on the BBC Store for £9.99

Next Time: Set your multi-loop stabiliser for Douglas Adams’ first Doctor Who adventure

50 – The Sea Devils

We have reached the heady echelons of the top 50 in the countdown! Along the way we have already reviewed some superb stories, all worthy of challenging for the top 50. By now, we are getting into some of my best enjoyed stories, and kick off with a classic Jon Pertwee adventure. As regular readers will recall, Roger Delgado’s Master appeared in every story of Season 8 – a decision I am not entirely persuaded was the best, especially for The Claws of Axos and Colony in Space. So it was something of a relief to discover that Delgado did not make his return until the middle of Season 9 – and oh what a return!

After their last encounter in Season 8 finale The Daemons, the Master was sent to a high security prison. We find the Doctor and Jo visiting the Master in prison, to discover that nearby oil rigs have been attacked by a presence unknown. Investing the disturbance, they discover that the Master has hoodwinked the Prison Warden into believing he can prevent an incursion by enemy agents. Meanwhile, the Master has made contact with the titular ‘Sea Devils’ – ocean based cousins of the Silurians from the eponymous episode who bear a distinct resemblance to sea-turtles in humanoid form. His plan is very simple – to escape his imprisonment, and in so doing to help the Sea Devils destroy humankind.

Compared to their later appearance in Warriors of the Deep, the Sea Devils make for a very effective foil – certainly untrustworthy and prepared to be vicious, but also (as with their Silurian cousins) displaying the distinct impression of being an intelligent and civilised race, no worse than humanity in their viciousness. Other guest characters put in a very respectable showing, not least Naval Captain Hart who plays the equivalent role of the Brigadier in this story. A special mention also goes to the submarine crew for their scenes spent kidnapped by the Sea Devils – but especially to the BBC effects’ crew, who mistakenly managed to recreate a British nuclear submarine propeller by sheer co-incidence, and had a call from British intelligence asking where they had received the information from!

But the reason this serial is so high, as with many of Pertwee’s stories, is the personal interaction between Pertwee and Delgado. Whether their sword fight in the episode 2 cliffhanger, or the moment when Pertwee cheerfully informs Delgado “It may interest you to know, that I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” (“You’ve done what?!“) – every moment they spend jousting on the screen is absolutely wonderful. Couple that to a genuinely good story, and you have vintage and enjoyable Doctor Who. Highly commended!

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!

58 – The Movie

No review of the classic series can be complete without referencing the Doctor who deserves his time in the sun, and a story that is only second in his era to a story that is jaw droppingly brilliant. Which is unusual, because I hated the TV Movie when it was first shown!

This in fact was the first Doctor Who story I watched that was not a repeat or on VHS – and from the moment I heard they were bringing it back I simply could not wait to watch it. Until this point, my Doctor Who enthusiasm was enjoyed through the medium of VHS, and the occasional reminisces of my dad. Now it was back (and as the BBC said, it’s about time!) through a special one-off television movie featuring Paul McGann as the new 8th Doctor.

Let’s begin by acknowledging the elephant in the room. It was produced by an American television company, and therefore is much closer to Macgyver in production values than spaceship-suspended-from-a-string courtesy of Auntie Beeb. It contains that kiss between the Doctor and his companion, Dr. Grace Holloway, which prompted the following reaction (inspired by classic murder-mystery spoof Murder by Death) from me:

Kissing

All that said – if you suspend disbelief and ignore some of the obvious plot holes and continuity errors, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story. McGann is superb as the Doctor, beginning a reputation that would grow through Big Finish audio stories, and finally flourish through a stellar six minutes in Night of the Doctor. The supporting cast play their roles with aplomb, even if Eric Roberts does grate somewhat as the Master. And while the production values are undoubtedly American (big, loud and dramatic) you cannot fault their professional edge. Poor Sylvester McCoy, who was brought back pretty much to be shot, suffer a botched heart operation and then regenerate, surely would have given his eye teeth to have the production budget this story had during his era.

The story itself is straightforward (ish …) – while transporting the Master’s remains back to Gallifrey, the TARDIS is knocked off course and lands in San Francisco on the eve of the new millennium. The doctor is shot in a gang shooting, and regenerates after surgeons attempt to correct his anomaly of two hearts. The Master meanwhile escapes, takes over the body of a hospital worker, and enlists a gang member who has stolen the key to the TARDIS to help find the Doctor. The Master’s aim is simple – to use the power of the TARDIS to steal the Doctor’s remaining lives. The Doctor meanwhile, rescued by Dr. Holloway, is trying to remember who he is, and fix the TARDIS before the Master’s abuse of it ends the world.

Compared to the hormone fest of the Eleventh Doctor and River Song, this is comparatively tame fare – I have grown to love this story with time and appreciate it for what it is – in no small part as the novelisation embellishes many of the details and explains the plot far more satisfactorily. I remember once watching it on a big screen projector and thinking that it would have been spectacular in the cinema – while Day of the Doctor was undoubtedly the better story, I think the BBC could take a better queue from Paul McGann’s first outing as the Doctor if they were to ever produce another adventure for the big screen.

If I have come to appreciate the story even more with age, the other thing that has increased over time is my regret that Paul McGann did not get at least one full season as the Eighth Doctor – a regret that has only increased after Night of the Doctor. What adventures we would have enjoyed … this story therefore belongs in the same category as as tales like The Time Meddler and The War Machines – a thrilling glimpse of what could have been … an allusion to an era of the story that we fans can only imagine.

Nevertheless, I am thankful not just that this story was made, but that the BBC have woven it into the history of the show so well. It deserves its place in the classic era of the show.

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62 – Frontier in Space

The producers of Doctor Who really decided to push the boat out in the show’s 10th season. After featuring all three doctors in the eponymous serial, and giving the Doctor back complete control of his TARDIS, they commissioned what effectively comprised a twelve part space epic to rival The Daleks’ Master Plan. The second six episodes would form the next serial, Planet of the Daleks, while the first six formed Frontier in Space.

Depending upon your viewpoint, this was either a bold and courageous move, or lunacy. The problem it leaves for viewers like myself, born a decade after the original airdate, is that it is (just) possible to enjoy Planet of the Daleks as a standalone episode. Frontier in Space however does not end satisfactorily without then moving on to the next serial – making it a very long stretch to commit to!

That said, this story has all of the charm that I most enjoy and appreciate in the Pertwee era. Six episodes gives you the time to learn to appreciate the characters and to immerse yourself in the story. In this case, the Doctor arrives in the future to discover that someone is trying to manipulate two galactic empires, those of Earth and Draconia, into commencing a war. Strong parallels of course to the mistrust at that time caused by the Cold War, all of which are evident in the production values, and Pertwee’s Doctor does a marvellous job of acting as the would-be peacemaker between the two factions to highlight their true enemies.

And ‘enemies’ is indeed the appropriate word – because although the Doctor’s best enemy the Master is directly responsible for using Ogrons (returning after their previous appearance in Day of the Daleks, and a brief cameo in Carnival of Monsters) to impersonate attacks by humans and Draconians, he is in fact in league with the Ogrons’ true masters – the Daleks. Their reveal in episode 6 is indeed one of the stellar reveals in the whole of the classic series.

Along the way, there is all of the action, confusion, and general mayhem you come to expect from a six-part Pertwee adventure, and as ever it is impossible not to enjoy any scene featuring Roger Delgado and Jon Pertwee. It is therefore the greatest pity that the last we see of Delgado as the Master before his untimely death, is for him to shoot the Doctor with a stun bolt and disappear into the background. As I lamented in my review for Planet of the Spiders, Delgado deserved a much more appropriate swansong to his time in the role.

Frontier in Space is a great story, with plenty of action, and lots of ambiguous moral choices for the discerning viewer to chew over. It is only a pity that to properly enjoy it you need to set aside the time to watch the following serial soon afterwards.

63 – Colony in Space

This, I confess, was a story for which I had no prior assumptions when I bought the DVD. Rather like The Enemy of the World, I thought I’d just watch it and see how it went. As you are about to discover, there are rather a lot of Jon Pertwee’s adventures high up my ranking, because I thoroughly enjoyed his time in the TARDIS. Colony in Space is one such example – a story for which a significant amount of its charm is derived from the recurring cast of Pertwee, Manning and Delgado.

Script Editor Terrance Dicks had very quickly worked out that the end of Season 6 solution to strand the Doctor on earth with a broken TARDIS simply wasn’t going to work – it restricted the producers to stories featuring either alien invasions or mad scientists. Having successfully ditched the requirement for fewer stories with more episodes, in Season 8 he came up with the ingenious solution of sending the Doctor off on missions for the Timelords any time he wanted him to escape from earth – a trick he would later re-use in Season 9 episodes The Curse of Peladon, The Mutants and The Time Monster. Colony in Space was therefore a crucial test case to persuade the BBC longer-term to end the Doctor’s (budget imposed) exile on earth.

Sent by the Timelords to the colony planet of Uxarieus in the year 2472 (leaving the Brigadier to make the briefest of brief cameos in episodes 1 and 6) the Doctor and Jo discover the earth colonists living peacefully, if distrustfully, with the natives of the planet – 1970s social commentary in full swing! Proceedings are then interupted, firstly by a mining corporation determined to ruin the colony so that the planet can be mined, and then by the appearance of season-long adversary the Master. It makes entertaining viewing for us to watch the Doctor try to work out why he’s been sent to the planet, and to negotiate his way through the different interested parties – as ever trying his usual combination of charm, bombast and Venusian karate. It transpires that the Master’s agenda is to seize a doomsday weapon of great power hidden on the planet – a planet that used to host a great civilization until the power of the weapon caused their race to decay.

This is a typical example of a six part adventure from the Pertwee era. In the Baker era one suspects the Master would have appeared much earlier, perhaps at the end of Part 2 rather than in Part 4 as in this adventure. While it does make for a longer viewing experience I really don’t mind in the least – the performances of the cast, and especially from Pertwee and Manning, are such a delight to behold that you don’t mind watching the story unfold slowly. Yes, there are some glaring plot-holes, and it could be debated whether the story needed the Master to feature at all (see also The Claws of Axos) but Colony in Space is a fascinating and highly enjoyable adventure.

Is it Missy … or is it the writing?

I’ve had my necessary 48 hour cooling period after watching a Doctor Who episode, by which time I am able to give a calmer reflection on proceedings! Rather predictably, fandom has split right down the middle on The Magician’s Apprentice – many fans euphoric after that opening bombshell and so many different references and plot twists; others despairing of what Steve Moffat has done with their show (lest we be lulled into forgetting that there is an eternal Doctor Who audience to be appeased).

I’m reserving judgement on the story until I see the 2nd part … or to be more exact, I will allow for the possibility that my initially harsh judgement might soften in light of The Witch’s Familiar. But I will briefly extemporise on fandom’s latest love-affair – the inestimable Michelle Gomez as Missy. A lot of fans love her, and she certainly carries a commanding presence. Pitched as a new character, I would probably admire her. Pitched as the Master …

Ay, there’s the rub …

Tying words that I never thought I’d find myself typing, I’m getting over the gender-change regeneration aspect (while not at all feeling happy with the socio-liberal agenda being pushed in the background … I might be in a minority on that one). I’m still not persuaded that gender changes can work and maintain character continuity, simply because gender is such a big part of character, personality and identity – but put someone like Dame Maggie Smith as the Doctor and I’d be willing to be proven wrong.

So why isn’t Missy working? I suspect it isn’t actually Gomez herself, or the way she realises the Character … I suspect it’s the material she’s been given to work with. The crazy ‘killing people for the fun of it’ psycho-lady just doesn’t work for me. There was a pertinent remark by Geoffrey Beevers (derelict of former companion Caroline John, and one of the lesser known actors to portray the Master) in the extras for the Keeper of Traken DVD. When he portrayed the decayed Master, he noticed that he and the former actor to portray this version of the Master, Peter Pratt, where much more nakedly evil and malicious in their realisation of the character. In contrast, Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley with their suave looks were able to use charm and guile, and only needed to resort to brute force where necessary.

So arguably the problem isn’t Missy – the radical change with Master becoming Mistress has highlighted a change that had already occured with John Simm – the conscious choice to portray the Master as an insane psychopath. While this may be true of his character, I think it misses the fundamental point that his psychotic insanity was very much an iron fist in a velvet glove – witness Delgado’s Master in Terror of the Autons ALMOST allowing his temper to snap when Farrell Sr resists his hypnosis – you see in that instant the supressed fury that is now displayed open, but it is hidden at once beneath the iron self-control of the Master.

So my plea … please give Michelle Gomez a chance! Allow her to be the cold, calculating, controlling Master that Derek Jakobi surely would have been, and that John Simm never got the chance to be.