Monday, June 27, 2011

Kinda



I suspect Kinda might be one of those stories that some people dislike intensely. It's not packed with action. It's metaphysical and intellectual. The Doctor's peripheral. All in all it's a bit of an oddity.

Especially as the script was initially approved by Christopher H Bidmead who is better known normally for his more rigidly scientific approach to the series. It feels like a fairy tale, despite a handful of machines. Or a parable.

Whilst it is clearly influenced by Buddhism this is one of those stories that has many possible readings, which is one of the reasons I like it. It is the kind of story DVDs were designed for. So that each watch reveals a little more. I suspect a lot of the theories you could come up with would be tenuous in the extreme but it is fun trying.

What most people complain about with Kinda is that its production values don't match its ambitions. The jungle set is fine if you can ignore its obviously flat camera friendly flooring, the Kinda look like refugees from a 70s Festival and then there's that bloody snake. Trust Doctor Who to build up to a massive end of story climax that features a blow up plastic snake. Except that's a lazy criticism.


I don't remember the snake as a let down when I watched it at the time and I was 11. And when I watched it this time I was carried along by the story enough to ignore it (although decades of fan mockery makes me aware of what I'm looking at. It just doesn't matter.) On the DVD we can replace Puff the Magic Adder with an all bells & whistles CGI version, which is pleasant enough but affected my enjoy by precisely not at all.

What makes this story really great though is a series of wonderful performances from the guest cast (and Peter Davison).

Simon Rouse as Hindle normally gets most of the praise. Hindle's fear drives him insane and Rouse is genuinely uncomfortable to watch at some points (for the right reasons). The moment where - after the Doctor has stood on one of his cardboard people - he shouts "But you can't mend people" has stuck with me since I watched it at the age of 11.

However Rouse isn't the only good performance. Nerys Hughes, operating at the other end of the sanity (and acting) scale is calm, restrained and "right". There's a real chemistry between her and the Fifth Doctor to and a part of me wishes he'd dumped the kids & taken her off as a Companion.

Then there's Richard Todd as Saunders. Richard Todd is a British film legend and he could be forgiven for slacking off for four episodes of 'mere' Doctor Who. After all there's a number of actors of lesser pedigree that do but he pitches a great performance. The change between the pre-box Saunders & the (sorry) post-box one is great. His casting is almost short-hand for a different type of England to: a black & white stiff upper lipped England; the England of Empire, which makes sense in a story that is about colonialism as much as it is about anything else.

Mary Morris as Panna, the 'wise woman' of the Kinda is wonderful to, with a fine mix of gravitas, spookiness & sarcasm.


Mention should also be made of Jeff Stewart, Anna Wing & Roger Milner as the suitably creepy figures in Tegan's dream. I still find those sequences are filled with dread and menace.


Janet Fielding is great in the first two episodes, when she gets to do different stuff than usual but she then gets sidelined for a while before some scenes in the final episode, including an argument with Adric that unfortunately marks the start of the 'age of bickering' for Doctor Who.

This though is the story where two things become obvious: first there are too many companions to deal with (so Sarah Sutton left behind in the TARDIS for pretty much the whole story) and second the limitations of Matthew Waterhouse's acting. I haven't dwelt on this too much before because Waterhouse gets enough of a kicking from Doctor Who fans to last a lifetime but in a story like this, surrounded by excellent performances he looks adrift.

But let's not end on a low note for me Kinda is a great story. It's limitations irrelevent because of a strong - if unusual script - and some fine acting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Four To Doomsday


It's an OK-ish story this, which I'd almost wiped from my mind after I'd watched it last time. Even now I can feel it slipping slowly away leaving just fleeting images: the Manopticons floating CSOly about the place, Stratford Johns frogged up as a real-life Baron von Greenback: Monarch; Tegan's skillful drawings coming to life as the de-frogged Persuasion (Paul Shelley) & Enlightenment (Annie Lambert); the odd moment when Bigon (Philip Locke) lifts up his...well...face to display the android underneath; Adric's gullibility (or stupidity); Nyssa's trick with the Sonic Screwdriver & a pencil...

All these moments will be lost, like tears in the rain.

It's not that any of the performances I have mentioned in passing are bad. Quite the contrary. I like Stratford John's Monarch. It is nice to have a Doctor Who villain who values his urbanity (or should that be urbunkanty [Sorry]) & hardly ever raises his voice. He might over-estimate his own abilities & under-estimate the Doctor but at least he is polite. The only downside is - like many a Doctor Who monster - when he has to waddle about. On his throne Monarch has a certain class but standing in front of the Doctor waving a gun he just looks bathetic. Perhaps that was the point. In the end all Monarch's civilized repartee was a front, underneath he was just a gangster.

Enlightenment & Persuasion make a fine pair to. A touch Sapphire & Steel with a dash of Roxy Music they look pretty enough, but once again beneath the surface they're just thugs. Polite, dry & quite sophisticated but thugs nonetheless.

Bigon's an android Greek philosopher, kidnapped by Monarch on one of his previous visits to Earth. He's not human but is. A walking, talking illustration that a man is the sum of his memories. An Athenian democrat he has rejected Monarch's offer of power. The fact that he's still alive is an illustration of Monarch's self-confidence. It takes the Doctor's arrival to give Bigon his opportunity & he takes it. He almost loses but perhaps the desire to keep fighting is what makes him human.

Bigon's the consistent good guy but the other humans - collected on Monarch's previous visits - seem to have been bought off by Monarch. The legend that is Bert Kwouk plays Lin Futu who goes from grass to resistent after a discussion with the Doctor.

More memories: there's the silly stuff around the cricket ball space walk; the odd ability of Tegan to speak a aboriginal dialect spoken 35,000 years ago but the TARDIS not to translate it; poor old Nyssa getting hypnotized & Adric getting knocked down & out by an angry Tegan.

Ah...Tegan. She's an angry young thing. Sod travelling through space & time she wants to get to Heathrow Airport. She's the first companion who seems to genuinely dislike being on board the TARDIS. She's also dangerously stupid on occassions, like when she tries to pilot the TARDIS here. She is almost - but not quite - as annoying as Dodo. It's not Janet Fielding's fault. She does a fine job in this story. She's a real master at showing the full range of frustration until she's weeeping with rage. It just isn't an attractive quality in a companion.

Add Adric and the multiple companions are a danerously irritating bunch. Peter Davison's explanation cum telling off of Adric for falling for Monarch's blandishments is a nice combination of resignation & frustration. These seem the right responses to a smart person's niaivety. It's well-played by Davison to who is general good in this.

And there we have it. An unmemorable but entertaining story with some excellent lines, a bit to think about & one or two irritations. Next up...Kinda.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Castrovalva


Castrovalva is - of course - Peter Davison's first story. Like in Legopolis JNT & the Bidmead twist the regeneration concept. In Legopolis the Watcher adds a new thread, in Castrovalva the whole process of post-regeneration confusion is the excuse for what follows.

It also sows the seeds for an even more dramatic take on post-regeneration trauma in The Twin Dilemma, but once again I get ahead of myself.

The basic plot of Castrovalva is another one of The Master's fiendishly complicated attempts to kill the Doctor by first trying to push him and the TARDIS into a 'hydrogen in-rush' and then by using the kidnapped & suspended Adric to create a cunning trap into which the Doctor must fall. (Insert Ainley laugh here).

Castrovalva is a product of Adric's amazing mathematical skills. It's a fiction populated by people who think they're real. It's quite a Philip K Dick concept. The population of Castrovalva are real. They have personalities but they are The Master & Adric's creation, which indicates that the Master has got quite a good sideline available as a fiction writer should he get bored with tiresomely complex attempts to take over the Universe.

In fact you might argue that this is a story about free will. The Master's plan is revealed by the Doctor but it is Shardovan, the Librarian who gives his - fictional - life to stop the Master. Shardovan )played wonderfully by Derek Waring btw) has had his suspicions. Perhaps being a fictional librarian contributes to those suspicions. It is his line: "You made us man of evil but we are free" that represents one of the most optimistic & courageous lines in Doctor Who history. Free will is not an illusion. Even the creations of the Master can make up their own minds.

The main supporting cast are all worthy of praise. Derek Waring I've already mentioned but Michael Sheard's Murgrave and Frank Wylie's Ruther are also both wonderful: sweet, innocent but finally stronger than the Master, even if Ruther does get 'disappeared'. The scene where Murgrave plots his pharmacies location on a map of Castrovalva and realises the confused state of the geography of the place and starts to understand what is happening is in particular quite lovely.

This is Ainley's second full stint as the Master and he's less OTT in this one. He does get to do a bit of non-Master acting by getting to flit about for a bit in disguise as [SPOILER - if you haven't seen this story before & can't spot him) The Portreave. Why the Master does this is anyone's guess. The only vaguely plausible explaination is that he wants to gloat at the Doctor shortly before he dies.

Oh the scene where the Master tries to break into the Doctor's Zero Cabinet is awful. The moment he picks up a poker to try & get into it is the moment the Master looks like the total muppet he actually is. Then he picks up the Zero Cabinet, gently taps it on the floor & it shatters. Sorry but that's the worst bit of the story.

The 'collapse' of Castrovalva is great & it is a shame 80s technology isn't quite up to the stories ambition, although I'd be interested to see how they'd do it now even with CGI.

Janet Fielding & Sarah Sutton get to move a lot of the story along & are the better for it, although it seems obvious to me that this TARDIS is too crowded. Also there's a danger that Tegan's bloody-mindedness might get a bit irritating. I'm almost inclined to wonder how much improved Davison's Doctor would have been with just Nyssa but alas it was not to be.

Matthew Waterhouse spends most of this story suspended in some odd web like structure & arguing with the Master. He's not the best actor in the world is he? But he gives it a go. In fact I ideally toyed with the thought that it would have been quite amusing to see Adric and the Master team up properly as a 'bad' companion and Timelord. It might have given an interesting spin to future series, especially as back in 'State of Decay' Adric had been tempted by the prospect of Vampiric power.

But what of Peter Davison I hear you cry. It's his first story, surely you have something to say about him. Well I do.

It's a strong-ish start. I'm not as entirely convinced as others that his impressions of previous Doctors was a good idea but his Doctor's personality starts to emerge as the story goes on. I like his uncertainty, which is a nice change from Tom's absoluteness. It's early days yet though but it is a more than acceptable debut (although even Davison struggles with the rather melodramatic lines he's given at the end of Episode Three).

Oh two other little additions: the last moments of the Master as he's being held back by the Castrovalvan's is very creepy. As the Master's in white - for a change - it almost looks like an angel being pulled down into hell in some renaissance painting. And the last is a mere quibble. That miraculous appearance of an electric wheelchair. It's bloody silly. That's all.

Next up, Four to Doomsday....

Friday, June 17, 2011

Logopolis

It is the end. After seven seasons & forty-two episodes (if you include Shada) Tom Baker's era of Doctor Who comes to an end with a wonderfully atmospheric final story: Logopolis.

The Doctor is determined to do something about the TARDIS chameleon circuit, influenced perhaps by the way the Master had used his properly working TARDIS to hide on Traken. This means going to Earth to measure up a real police box so he can trot the statistics off to Logopolis where they will use so super-duper mathematics to...actually none of this really matters.

This story is all about the regeneration & all the Bidmeadish 'real' science & plot is spectacularly unimportant. Christopher H Bidmead would probably disagree but the only important thing is to get Tom to the end in style.

This Logopolis does, just.

The Doctor starts the story with just Adric aboard but by the end he's encumbered with Adric, Nyssa & new shouty Australian Air Hostess & companion Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding). That means that by the end it all feels too crowded, especially with the Master (Anthony Ainley) added to equation. There's a rush to it that the slow atmospheric first episode didn't have. Whether you could have four episodes with that same atmosphere without it all getting mawkish is a moot point but in the end the final moments are wonderfully handled from that shot (with twiddly-twiddly music) down to the Doctor.

So as Tom leaves we meet a new Master. He's taken over Tremas's body, which Nyssa doesn't realise until it is almost too late. He's also played by Anthony Ainley.

Now I've already expressed my preference for Roger Delgardo & this story illustrates why. I don't think it is Ainley's fault. I think he's doing what he's asked to do but this version of the Master - whilst inheriting the Master's total stupidity - is much less subtle.

That Ainley laugh, which features in some scenes like the audio equivalent of the Cheshire Cat's smile, is a bit too gimmicky. The new Master feels more pantomime villain that the old one. He's less charming certainly.

That scene where he responds to Nyssa with the line 'But his body still proves useful' is so coldly & casually delivered as to be possibly one of the series most horrific moments. Poor old Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). She loses her step-mum, her Dad & her entire home planet in this story as a result of the Master. It's a wonder she doesn't go mad with rage. Sarah Sutton still hasn't had much to do except ask questions so far but does get one or two nice little scenes. Her & Adric seem to work well together.

Alas poor Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). It's from this point on that the character (& the actor's) limitations become more obvious. He works quite well with Tom Baker's Doctor, but once you start throwing in all these extra characters he just seems to look a bit...wet.

Tegan (Janet Fielding) is also something of a shock. She's Australian, loud & just wants to go home. This is the first time we're presented with a companion that seems totally uninterested in anything but getting home, which makes you wonder what the point is. However Janet Fielding does a great job, especially with her fears & frustrations as she gets lost in the TARDIS.

But in the end this is the last of the Tom Baker show & he's excellent from start to finish. The way he plays the scene when he tells Tegan her Aunt Vanessa is dead conveys both the Doctor's concern, his alienness & his preoccupation with the bigger picture. The air of sadness that he manages to carry throughout this story, aware of his impending mortality is wonderful. The regeneration is nicely underplayed to. It is genuinely quite emotional.

It was even more so at the time. This was the first regeneration I ever saw 'live' & my first change of Doctor. I can remember being quite excited to see what this new bloke was like but Tom Baker was THE Doctor to me. Even now, after all this time & all the other Doctor Who stories I've watched, he is still THE Doctor.

If nothing else this exercise in regular orderly Doctor Who watching has reminded me how wonderful Tom Baker was. Even in bad stories he lifts things up with his energy & commitment. He might not always be the subtlest of actors but he was perfect for the Doctor.

So...it is the end. But the moment has been prepared for.

Castrovalva here we come.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Keeper of Traken


You know I was enjoying this story but there was a nagging irritation at the stupidity of a number of characters of whom Kassia (Shiela Ruskin); Nemon (Roland Oliver); Katura (Margot van der Burgh) & Luvic (Robin Soans) stand out for their dumb acceptence of bizarre behaviour from Melkur & each other.

Why does Kassia develop such affection for Melkur? Why does she go along with its plan so unquestioningly when Traken - apparently the centre of an Empire where everyone's spent thousands of years being nice to each other - starts piling up corpses killed by Melkur? And the whole blessed point about Melkur is that it is a calcifying evil thing in the first place, yet Kassia seems to ignore that because she's a bit miserable?

Katura & Luvic then seem to accept Kassia's actions almost without question. Traken's supposed to be peaceful & serene isn't it & yet Kassia starts making accusations left, right & bloody centre. These people are supposed to be bright enough to be Consul's & yet act like credulous children. Only Seron (played by the ever excellent John Woodnutt) seems to behave with the right level of intelligence.

Forgive my ranting but any story that relies on almost half its cast to behave like bloody idiots is on shaky ground in my opinion. That nagging irritation meant that I started getting picky. So other things I might not have dwelt on began to attract my attention.

There's the Melkur. It's the Master's TARDIS. It doesn't have a bloody door for a start. How does that work?

And finally in this rant but the fact that irritates me more than any other. In fact it makes me want to grab Christopher H Bidmead by the throat & ask what the hell they were doing is the Master's second TARDIS. Previously it has been established that putting a TARDIS inside a TARDIS creates problems but apparently the Master can store one inside another without any issues at all. So this might have been forgotten. It's been a while since we've seen a story where it features as a plot point. All forgiveable except that a TARDIS inside a TARDIS IS A MAJOR PLOT POINT OF THE VERY NEXT BLOODY STORY, Legopolis. THE NEXT STORY. It features a TARDIS inside a TARDIS.

And breathe....

Right apart from that the Keeper of Traken is OK. It looks great. The costume & set design is lovely & all very Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast, despite their character's stupidity, put in good solid performances.

I should mention that Antony Ainley does a fine job playing Tremas (the one Consul with some brains) before he gets turned into the Master. The scene where the Master makes Tremas kill Neman whilst the Doctor looks on is played magnificently, almost as casually horrible. And yes the Tremas/Master anagram is also incredibly stupid. It implies that the Master wasn't just hanging around Traken for access to the source but also for the wordplay.

I should compliment Geoffrey Beevers for doing excellent voice & Master work as the 'rotting' Master & Denis Carey as The (old) Keeper to.

Sarah Sutton makes her first appearance as Nyssa but doesn't really get a huge amount to do, although her TARDIS scenes with Adric work well.

The last time I watched it I really enjoyed it but this time one little thing - the TARDIS inside the TARDIS - got me picking at the story. I feel like one of those cartoon characters who pulls at a lose thread on a jumper & ends up with nothing but a pile of wool.

I wish I hadn't let my irritation get the better of me because I did like this story & perhaps the next time I watch it I'll be able to let myself drift along without dwelling on its flaws quite so much. It might be that I've misunderstood something, somewhere. We shall see.

Next up Legopolis. Tom Baker's last story.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Warriors' Gate


Warriors' Gate is directed by Paul Joyce, the nearest thing to an auteur Doctor Who has ever had. The fact that he worked with Christopher H Bidmead (the script editor) to knock Stephen Gallagher's original script into shape adds to that.

It draws on Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, Rosencrantz & Gildenstern Are Dead & Waiting For Godot to produce something with real atmosphere & power.

Almost every shot seems to be carefully thought out. The lighting, the sets, the black & white landscapes & the weird off-white void all contribute to this story feeling so different to most other Doctor Who. Oddly it reminds me of both The Web Planet & The Mind Robber. But there's not much else like this in the Doctor Who canon & that's down to Paul Joyce's vision.

In some respects it is a mirror image of Full Circle, the first of the E-Space Trilogy. In that story the Deciders don't decide anything. They procrastinate until finally they have to act. In Warriors' Gate on the other hand Rorvik (Clifford Rose) is desperate to act but can't & when he does destruction follows. His mad cry of 'I'm finally getting something done" is from the edge of madness whilst Biroc (David Weston) tells the Doctor to "Do nothing. It is done." Which alongside references to the I-Ching makes this very Zen & the Art of Time Travel.

The story is pretty brutal as well. Rorvik's crew - slave traders pimping time sensitive Tharils across the Universe - treat the Tharil's with thoughtless violence but this we discover turns out to be a mirror of how the Tharil's used to treat human beings when they had power. The Tharil's once held a great Empire enslaving humans but eventually the humans rose up, using Gundan robots to destroy the Tharils. The Empire gone the Tharils are now slaves to the humans. It's kharma.

All of this comes out over the four episodes as the Doctor stumbles through a mirror into the past. This timey-whimey element of the story gives it a surprisingly modern feel. You could slot this into Moffat's Doctor Who with a few minor changes & some CGI.

Joyce's concept creates the atmosphere & it really feels like he's trying to make something bigger than a Doctor Who story. But these foundations are added to by some excellent performances across the board: Kenneth Cope as Packard & Freddie Earle as Aldo should get a mention for excellence in a supporting role but almost all of Rorvik's crew, brutal thugs though they are to some degree, are interesting. They're not just 2D ciphers. They're grumpy. They whinge, they moan & they skive off.

Clifford Rose himself as Rorvik is superb. He's playing an sf version of Captain Mainwaring really: a slightly useless leader with ideas above his abilities. It's a blackly comic role played dead straight. He's one of my favourite Doctor Who villains ever.

Tom Baker is up to his usual standards but feels coldly distant throughout, as if he's contemplating his impending departure. Or the actual departure of Lalla Ward.

This is Romana's last story & Lalla Ward gets much more to do than usual. She drives much of the story whilst the Doctor is on the other side of the mirror. Despite that though her actual departure feels sudden & rushed. Like Leela's but without the silly love interest. It does feel 'right' though. Romana has changed travelling with the Doctor & she has no interest in returning to Gallifrey so when the opportunity arises to stay in E-Space & help Biroc free his people she grabs it with both hands. It's a shame really as I think the Doctor & Romana are a fine partnership (Yes, I have a bit of a crush on Lalla Ward)

K9 also departs. JNT never liked the poor little bugger & Warriors' Gate gives him a chance to get rid of him once & for all. Damaged by the Time Winds K9 gets left in E-Space with Romana where he can help her build a new TARDIS.

It's a story about nothing & about everything. It's about causes & consequences. It's about slavery & freedom. It looks wonderful & a real effort has been made to make it something special. It might not all work but I adore Warriors' Gate.

State of Decay



Doctor Who does Hammer except with a lot less cleavage.

The Doctor, Romana & K9 are still stuck in E-Space but find themselves arriving on a strange planet where a big, spiky castle stands surrounded by a gaggle of little huts. But behind this peaceful looking mediaeval scene hides a nasty secret...

Adric.

Sorry...I couldn't resist. Adric is here though. He stowed away on board the TARDIS, something the Doctor & Romana won't find out until later.

I'm going to be fair to Matthew Waterhouse.

Well, fairish.

He's not to bad in this story, which doesn't exactly push the envelope in terms of what he's asked to do. He does smart-arse quite well. He doesn't deal quite so well with moving & acting.

His best work seems to come when he's still: for example the little two-hander between him & Romana after they've been captured is quite nicely played & paced, which implies a sympathetic Director to.

You do get the impression though that Lalla Ward is not his biggest fan.

However the story as a whole, written by the great Terrance Dicks - who if honours meant anything would have been knighted by now for services to childhood literacy & fun - who clearly knows his Doctor Who onions. He's also a master at "borrowing" stuff from film & literature & morphing it into something that works in a Doctor Who context. So the Vampires are more school of Hammer than of Bram Stoker.

All the cliches are present: a mysterious castle (check), fearful & superstitious villagers (check), warnings to avoid the castle & its inhabitants (check), bats (check) etc. But the clich├ęs work even if sometimes, such as with the hairy, ragged peasants who dwell in the village, they almost border on the comedic.

There's a lot of hair amongst the budding resistance to, stuck in a cave with technology & trying to work out when to act but not doing so. It takes the Doctor's arrival to push things along.

In fact you might argue that an over-arching theme of Season Eighteen is that eventually the procrastination has to end. The Doctor's often (as ever) the catalyst.

There are some nice scenes between Tom Baker & Lalla Ward, for example the little chat in their cell about a Gallifreyan hermit, which feels like a facetious echo of the "dasiest daisy" moment in Day of the Daleks.

The Three Who Rule are magnificent made up, arch & more operatic than you'd expect on a BBC family programme. They move in a rather odd way as if they've developed a series of dance moves to pass the time. They're slow, sibilant & sinister. Aukon (Emrys James) in particular is excellent proving that it is possible to play something (un)dead serious without being "real". It's very theatrical but it works because of that.

As is often the case with Doctor Who the reveal of a main monster is a wee bit of a let down. The Great Vampire consists of an enormous wavy hand emerging from a crack in the ground through a veil of cigarette smoke. The effect seems less that of a terrifying creature released from beneath the Earth than someone trying to attract our attention in a very smokey pub.

However as it seems to be a badge of honour for some of my favourite Doctor Who stories to try & nobble themselves with one crap monster: Chubby, cuddly giant rats in Talons of Weng-Chiang; the big inflatable snake in Kinda; Magma Beast in Caves of Androzani I'm looking at you in particular.

But that doesn't ruin a damn fine story, probably my favourite of Season Eighteen so far. A season that's turning out to have real consistency of quality with even Meglos being better than I expected.

Next up one of my favourite stories: Warrior's Gate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Big Finish Day

I went to 'Big Finish Day' on Saturday in Barking & had a thoroughly enjoyable time.


A fine turn out of Big Finish folks ranging across the whole 'family' of those involved, from Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nick Briggs downwards/upwards/acrosswards.


I got to spend some money - to much for my bank balance & probably not enough from Big Finish's point of view - & get some bits & bobs signed. It was nice to be reminded that a lot of the people involved in Big Finish (& Doctor Who itself) are actually quite nice & friendly.


Colin Baker was on fine form & helped Lisa Jackson (aka Flip Big Finish's new 6th Doctor Companion) settle in. It must be somethin of a culture shock for an actor to be confronted with the realisation of what even a small scale Doctor Who event is like.


I bought Nev Fountain's "Geek Tragedy". The first of the Mervyn Stone Mysteries, which is a comedy muder-mystery set in & around the world of a science-fiction convention. I've just finished it this evening & enjoyed it - even if I occassionally wince with pained recollection at the description of fandom. I shall be buying the two subsequent books as & when I have some cash.


I'd also recommend 'Love Songs For The Shy & Cynical', which is Rob Shearman's second volume of short stories. They're often quite dark but well-written, thoughtful & make you thinkable. Rob Shearman is a friendly chap & like a few others I'm now geekily proud to have a little Dalek sketch autograph from him.


It did dawn on me that as geeks go I'm shockingly disorganised. I was surrounded by people with their CD & DVD covers pre-removed, labelled & ready for signing. All impressively prepared. I suspect these are people who go to more conventions/events than me. I don't mock this. Worryingly I'd have done something similar if I'd thought of it.

They also seemed to feel less guilty than me about flitting from room to room like an autograph collecting butterfly. I know that's one of the purposes of these events but I always feel mildly guilty just asking for an autograph & having nothing to say. At least I did get to tell Marc Platt how much I liked Ghostlight.


Andrew Smith was another nice chap to talk to & didn't seem to mind me waffling on a bit; Miles Richardson - owner of a fine moustache for the purposes of a part - was not impressed with facial hair in general; Sophie Aldred bought out late-teenage geek flashbacks in me; Beth Chalmers ws very patient as I ineptly fished out CD covers for her to sign; Gary Russell convinced me that 'Blue Box Boy' by Matthew Waterhouse might be more than just a long sulk & Colin Baker is convinced Wycombe Wanderers will stay up next season.


There's not much more to add really. I did speak to Luke aka the Two Minute Doctor Who Podcast*(both on & off microphone) who seems a friendly chap & we talked about the profusion of Doctor Who podcasts. He has recommeded the Ood Cast, which I've been umming and ahhing about listening to recently as it seems to be much recommended. I shall give it a spin.


A good day & if Big Finish do another I shall probably come along. This time with all my CDs & DVD covers ready prepared & my old Sophie Aldred signed photo, which has faded over time, so I can get her to re-sign it.

After a long time being a solo geek my Doctor Who fandom is starting to become a social thing again, which is nice. I've missed being able to have discussions with people about my theories on The Master (he's rubbish, it's a game with the Doctor etc), why I love certain stories & other conversations that no one but the 'we' wish to have & that - as much as the hob-nobbing with the great & the good - was a nice part of the day.

*http://www.tmdwp.co.uk/TMDWP/Podcast/Podcast.html

Friday, June 10, 2011

Full Circle



Welcome to Azarius: land of mists & melon fruitfulness. Home of Deciders that can't decide on a Starliner that's perpetually preparing to leave but never does, like Waiting For Godot with control panels & flashing lights.


It's a nice little story with no out & out villains because although there are spiders, that bite. There are also Marshmen, that hit & Terradonian colonists that experiment on baby Marshmen, painfully. In fact the scene where Dexeter (Tony Calvin) is about to cut open the head of the poor little Marshman, which is intercut with the post-spider bit Romana screaming in agony is mildly uncomfortable to watch.


This piece of experimentation gives Tom Baker an excellent chance to roll out his righteous indignation & anger at the three Deciders who he holds responsible. It's a good solid scene.


Full Circle is - as you all know - the first of the E-Space Trilogy. The TARDIS stumbles through a CVE (a Charged Vacuum Em...Em...something) & finds itself in a different universe instead of Gallifrey, which is where the Doctor & Romana were supposed to be going. The Timelord's want Romana back.


Instead they find themselves on Alzarius whose pastel-coloured clothed natives seem to have a reasonably idyllic life swimming, fruit picking & constantly repairing their damaged Starliner so that they can return to Terradon. Unfortunately it turns out once every fifty years comes Mist Time. This involves mist, clearly & the emergeance of nasty spiders who bite gives you Mike Tysonesque tattoos.


The bite also links you to the Marshmen mentally in some way & makes you behave in a rather primitive fashion. Or at least that's what happened to Romana. The same marks seemed to show up on Tylos (Bernard Padden) & Varsh (Richard Willis) after the were killed by the Marshmen, for reasons that were a wee bit unclear but I think were to do with the genetic link between the spiders, the Marshmen & the Terradonians.


Tylos & Varsh are two of the Outlers who seem to be a gang of bored teenagers who've (understandly) fled the dullness of the Starliner for a cave. Varsh leads them. He's a cynical bugger with a distrust of what he's told by the Deciders. He has a brother. That brother is Adric (Matthew Waterhouse).


This is Adric's first story & it is hard to review it without being weighed down by the baggage & general fan hostility aimed at Adric/Matthew Waterhouse. He's one of the more unpopular Doctor Who companions but to be honest I never found him that annoying at the time. No one likes a smart arse though & having a teenage male smart arse - & a maths geek to - was probably not the best choice for a new companion. Waterhouse isn't too bad in this story but he's clearly not the world's greatest actor, especially when he has to combine movement & emotion at the same time such as when he has to try & save Varsh. I'll undoubtedly talk about Adric more as we go on.


The best performances though come from the three Deciders: Nefred (James Bree); Garif (Alan Rowe) & Login (George Baker). They do a fine job of combining authority with total ineptness & leadership with quite epic levels of procrastination. They also take what they are doing seriously, which is key to guest parts in Doctor Who. The minute an actor decides that it is only Doctor Who so why be serious is the moment it all falls apart.


Actually Lalla Ward gets to do slightly more than usual to after the spider bite, which is nice to see, especially in the scene where she attacks the Doctor & he talks her down a little.


The realisation that the Terradonians aren't in fact Terradonians at all but decendents of the super-speedy evolving Marshmen is fed gradually in. There's an awareness that there's a secret there somewhere that no one wants to talk about (or knows) & the clues are fed in until we know almost before the Doctor does, which makes a change.


The exterior scenes are also nicely done, interestingly lit & sun-bleached it does a good job of aliening up a home counties pond & park.


So a nice little story & this feels like a Season Eighteen story: lots of science & seriousness unlike Meglos. So we bid farewell to Alzarius & get ready for some hot Vampire action. Yep, it's State of Decay next.


Meglos



After the new broom fest that was The Leisure Hive we move on to Meglos. In a way it feels like a step back. This story would slot quite nicely into Season Seventeen. Partly because it doesn't look quite as expensive as The Leisure Hive but mainly because it retains some of the silliness of that season. In fact Tom Baker actually looks like he's having fun for almost the only time in Season Eighteen.

What are General Grugger (Bill Fraser) & Lieutenant Brontadac (Frederick Treves) but the bastard cousins of the bandits from the Creature from the Pit. Yes, they're better acted but they aren't really the most convincing or threatening army the universe has ever seen. It's a couple of grumpy old men in stupid hats. However they're good value.

One problem with Meglos though is that the main villain is...well...a Cactus. In the first episode he's an inanimate Cactus, in the last episode he gets to fly across the floor in unconvincing style. Why anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me but fortunately for most of the time Meglos is transformed into Tom Baker (sometimes with spikes, sometimes not) using so total embarrassment is avoided but like our prawn friend from the Invisible Enemy it does damage the credibility of the story a wee bit.

Tom's great as a villain though. He's got a certain coldness of manner when playing bad that makes him seem genuinely unpleasent & it gives him a bit more to do than usual so I suspect that might be one of the reasons why he seems to be enjoying himself a bit more.

The story basically revolves around a macguffin called The Dodecohedron. This gives the people of Tigella the power to run their city but it isn't quite working properly, which is worrying. Repairing it isn't easy though for Tigella is divided. There's the Savants: blonde wigs, white jackets & black leggings whose faith is in science but they can't study the Dodecohedron because the Deons believe it is a gift from the God Ti.

This science v religion subplot runs through the story & allows the cast to deliver vast quantities of exposition through various debating scenes. The Savants are led by Deedrix (Crawford Langan) & Caris (Colette Gleeson) whilst the Deons - who sound like an 60s barbershop quartet - are led by Lexa (Jacqueline Hill). Jacqueline Hill is excellent as Lexa, her first return to Doctor Who since she stopped playing Barbara back in 1965. She has a real authority, which puts to shame the proper leader of Tigella, Zastor (Edward Underdown) whose performance is so flat it could be put up as part of the set.

It's annoying to because Underdown gets one of the great little speeches describing the Doctor - up there with 'he's fire & ice' - but it's delivered without any real oomph at all. It's a wasted opportunity.



It is fortunate at this time of challenge that the Doctor is nearby & having visited Tigella before gets in touch with Zastor. The Doctor, an ideal compromise between Deon & Savant for Zastor, is asked to help. Unfortunately Meglos intercepts the signal & using a body template provided by an unnamed, kidnapped Earthling (Christopher Owen), disguises himself as the Doctor. Meglos then - in an unspecified manner - traps the Doctor & Romana in a 'chronic hysteric loop'.



Now...calling something a chronic hysteric loop (a touch of the Bidmead's I feel) instead of simply a TIME LOOP is the sort of unnecessary pompousification that really gets on my nerves. Just call it a Time Loop. It's not scrabble scriptwriting. There's no bonus points for long words.



Sorry.



Anyway Meglos arrives with General Grugger & co, steals the Dodecohedron & does a runner back to Zulfa-Thuru. The Doctor avoids being sacrificed by Lexa & Co. Fortunately the Deon's chose a ridiculous silly way of sacrificing their victims involving large polysterene rocks, ropes & candles. This gives everyone a chance to get to the Doctor, explain the Meglos doppleganger & dash off to Zulfa-Thuru to stop Meglos by turning his own doppleganger trick on him.



The End.



This might make Meglos sound terrible. Certainly when I watched it six months ago (on my 40th birthday, totally wasted) I thought it was rubbish but actually it's an entertaining enough romp if you don't take it too seriously. Apart from Underdown & one or two of the minor parts the performances are good. Lalla Ward gets a bit wasted as Romana in this story though as she's turned into a bog standard Doctor Who companion for most of it, which is a shame.



Not every story can be epic, portentous or brilliant. Sometimes just plain dumb fun is enough & that's Meglos in a nutshell.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Leisure Hive


And wham...we're in the 1980s. In comes a new producer, John Nathan-Turner (henchforth & hereafter JNT) & a new serious script editor, Christopher H Bidmead. Together they take their new broom & give Doctor Who a good going over.

There's a new title sequence & a new version of the theme tune. There's a new feel to the series to. Out goes the undergraduate silliness of the Graham Williams era & in comes serious sciencey stuff. Proper sf. Words like tachyonics get bandied about without due care & attention.

Tom's got a new costume to. And a new attitude. He looks thinner and older. There's an air of melencholy about him. It is as if the realisation that his time as the Doctor is coming to an end has hit him hard & all these new, serious people are interfering with his Doctor-ish vibe. The 'old Doctor' scenes in particular feel really heavy & elegiac. No, that's not quite the right word.

Lalla Ward continues to give stalwart support as Romana II dressed in an Edwardian bathing outfitty thing. I do like Romana II but apparently the incoming JNT thought the TARDIS crew was too clever by half & plans are afoot. Hinted at by K9's rather unfortunate encounter with the English Channel. Things are changing.

The story itself is OK. The Leisure Hive itself is a fun facility on the planet Argolis. Argolis has been ravaged by a twenty minute war against the Foamasi. The Argolins are all greens & yellows with seeds that pop off to mark their impending deaths. The Foamasi are insects. Big insects. Director Lovett Bickford does a fine job of allowing us to see them only a hint at a time because when finally revealed they look nice but just a bit too obviously costumeish.

The Doctor & Romana get caught up in events as usual. Blamed for a murder here, aged by a tachyonics cock-up there whilst the plot slowly unravals: there's sabotage, fraud & a rather unpleasent priggish young - too young? - Argolin called Pangol (David Haig).

The Doctor & Romana are able to get to the bottom of things in a rather rushed final episode involving one of the most rubbish get outs from a difficult situation in Doctor Who history - the destruction of the Foamasi Ambassador's ship. Watch it. Talk about deus ex machina.

The spoilt & slightly mad Pangol gets regressed to a baby & his rejuvenated mother Mena (Adrienne Cory) vows to bring him up better this time around before dumping the little baby in the arms of the Doctor. Who then palms him off on Hardin (Nigel Lambert). Pangol's not going to be much better the second time around is he?

It's got some nice moments. The main guest stars all do sterling serious work, David Haig in prticular but the thing you'll notice most is how different this feels to Season 17 as JNT & co turn the 80s amp up to 11.