Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Gunfighters

In my blog on The Celestial Toymaker I mentioned that fan consensus on that story had changed since I was a wee Doctor Who fan. Where once it was considered a creepy classic. Now it was seen as boring, studio bound and racist.  On the other hand The Gunfighters has been making the opposite journey.

Once upon a time when Doctor Who fans didn't have access to so much material we relied on the wisdom of others to tell us what we were supposed to think of Doctor Who stories and one of those wise old men, who will remain nameless, called The Gunfighters the worst Doctor Who story ever made. This was clearly bollocks then. It's even more bollocks when you re-watch it.

The problem with The Gunfighters is that it is The Doctor being dropped into a parody and your tolerance of this story will probably be affected by three things: how much you like comedy in Doctor Who, how much you like Westerns and how much you like songs. If you're a serious-minded Western disliking music-a-phobe chances this is not for you.

The key thing to remember about The Gunfighters is that it is a parody of the Western genre, which was in the late-fifties and early-sixties a mainstay not just of American television but also British television. Even into the seventies and eighties I remember visiting my Nan and there was almost always a Western on the television. I remember Nan loved Westerns. This was a time when there were only three mainstream channels and they filled a large chunk of their time with old films or repeats of programmes like Bonanza

The real 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' or as it is referred to more realistically in a history book that I can't remember the name of 'The Fiasco on Fremont Street' is - possibly - the founding story of the Western myth. Those involved in it (and the later murder of Morgan Earp & the Vendetta Ride that followed) were to become central to film and American Westerns perhaps helped by the fact that Wyatt Earp himself lived to be advisor to Tom Mix, an early Hollywood cowboy star.

There were television series called Bat Masterson (1958-61), Johnny Ringo (1959-60), The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-61) and Tombstone Territory (1957-1959) to name but four.

These names were familiar to TV audience in the UK as well as the US. It's one of the reasons I suspect the Sheriff in The Gunfighters was Bat Masterson and not Johnny Behan as was the case in real life. After all Behan had no TV series of his own and Masterson was the more familiar figure. The same applies to Johnny Ringo who took no part in the actual Gunfight at the OK Corral itself but is a suitably well-known figure to add to the story.

Television wasn't the only influence. There's films too. Films such as My Darling Clementine (1946) and Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) being the two that clearly had the most influence, which brings me to the song.

Throughout The Gunfighters the action is chorused by a song, The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. It irritates a lot of people and seems out of place in a Doctor Who episode. I thought, first of all, that this was the result of Donald Cotton having seen Cat Ballou (1965), where Stubby Kaye* and Nat King Cole appear as 'shouters' who sing the 'Ballad of Cat Ballou', almost like a velvet voiced Greek Chorus. And there might be an element of truth in that but most obviously the same approach was used in Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) where Frankie Lane song Gunfight at the OK Corral guided us through the film. It's worth watching to see how they used it (and also because it is an excellent film in the first place) and how The Gunfighters echoes it.

So the song might be out of place in a Doctor Who story but it isn't in a Western for which reason I'm happy to give it a pass.

The Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves in Tombstone on the eve of the Gunfight. It's bad timing and the main cast are totally oblivious to what's going on initially. The Doctor, whose toothache has kick started proceedings, goes to see a dentist. That dentist turns out to be Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs) who utterly bamboozles the Doctor and gets him to wander off to the saloon where Steven and Dodo are being bullied into singing by the Clanton brothers.  It's worth noting that there's a not disimilar scene involving the bullying of a drunken Shakespearean actor in My Darling Clementine. Anthony Jacobs is superb as Doc Holliday, who really was - possibly - a gentleman from Georgia and dentist.

The Doctor's been set-up by Holliday who knows that the Clanton's are waiting for him at the Last Chance Saloon. Everyone now seems to think the Doctor is Doc Holliday and not Doctor Caligari as he himself told Wyatt Earp (John Alderson) and Bat Masterson (Richard Beale).  The confusion lasts for two and a half episodes as Wyatt Earp plays along with the Doctor/Doc Holliday ruse as does Holliday's 'girl' Kate (Sheena Marshe) Although it is blown when Clanton ally Seth Harper (Shane Rimmer) gets gunned down by Holliday in front of Charlie the Barman (David Graham). Charlie can't keep a secret, which will alas cost him dearly when Johnny Ringo (Laurence Payne) arrives.

It's all nicely comedic until Johnny Ringo arrives when it takes a much darker tone as did The Myth Makers

Hartnell seems to revel in the chance to do some comedy and his moment of glory is his "People keep giving me guns. I wish they wouldn't." In fact this story is pack full of nice bits around guns being pointed at people who don't want to have guns pointed at them. And Jackie Lane gets to actually do stuff as Dodo for the first time. The scene where she gets the jump on Doc Holliday is marvellous. Meanwhile Peter Purves gets to be his usually excellent self, even when singing badly in a ridiculous shirt.

O, I should point out that the American accents in this story are rubbish. Mostly. It's a contractual obligation when reviewing The Gunfighters.  The only one who is really consistent is John Alderson's Wyatt Earp. Perhaps it is no surprise then that Alderson was to go on and have a pretty extensive career in US television, including more Westerns.

The Clanton brothers though have a set of accents so variable you'd demand a DNA test**.  Meanwhile the Doctor is locked up for a bit, released and replaced in jail by a pistol-whipped***Phineas Clanton (Maurice Good) who is then sprung by his brothers who kill Warren Earp.****

We're leading up to the Gunfight but not before the Doctor tries to stop it by talking to Pa Clanton (Reed De Rouen). (Again there is a similar scene in My Darling Clementine) so the gunfight is doomed to take place.

I haven't got the space in this blog to outline the actual history of the Gunfight - I'm going to do that in another blog - but in reality the fight lasted less than a minute. It was - fundamentally - an arrest gone wrong. It's main cause a drunken, belligerent Ike Clanton but like almost every event in history one with longer, broader causes. In reality it was Wyatt, Virgil (who was the Marshall not Wyatt) and Morgan Earp with their 'friend' Doc Holliday who faced off against Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Claiborne. Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton would die. There would be a trial but that would not be the end of it. Who was at fault and who fired the first shot are still argued about to this day. Different newspapers of different political leanings took up cudgels for each side. But as I said that's for another blog, which is coming. Honest.

The Gunfight being over the Doctor, Steven and Dodo leave.

It's been fun. There are genuinely lots of laughs in this story, even as it takes a very, very dark turn towards the end. Hartnell is my personal highlight but the whole story is rather brilliant if you ask me and I'm inclined to ignore some dodgy accents in order to see it play out.

Is it Doctor Who's first proper parody? Or does that nod go to The Myth Makers? Also written by Donald Cotton it should be noted who can certainly turn his hand to comedy.  It's one of my favourite Doctor Who stories of all time and I suggest if you've not seen it you do. You might not agree with me but I'm old enough and ugly enough to cope with that.

*Stubby Kaye who would later crop up in Delta & The Bannermen. The poor man.
**I know DNA has nothing to do with accents and I don't care.
***Gunfights were actually very rare in the West. Tombstone had strict rules on guns for example, which meant a lot of arrests were done by the officers of law & order using the butt of the gun without needing to fire it.
****O and Warren Earp didn't die then. He would make it to 1900 before being killed in an argument.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Celestial Toymaker

Fan consensus is a funny thing. Once upon a long time ago The Celestial Toymaker was regarded as something of a Doctor Who Classic but now - and with accusations of racism* hung about its neck - it is somewhat unloved.

The truth is I think this is a story that needs to exist in visual form to judge it properly. It's missing episodes hint at a weird and creepy tone - like The Mind Robber but without the laughs - but fundamentally nothing much actually happens. No one in this story really gets to do anything. Steven and Dodo play games against a series of odd opponents but even though there is supposed to be a threat here it never feels that threatening. The Celestial Toymaker could feel terrifying and the idea that losing to the Toymaker gets you turned into a toy for him to use in his new games is the stuff of genuine horror but is always danced around and never quite properly considered.

But the final episode, which is the one that survives, is lacking in any kind of real tension at all. Everyone is playing games. Everyone is going through the motions. Even Cyril (Peter Stephens) the Billy Bunter rip-off is more a petty annoyance than a ruthless villain.

And there's so much stupidity going on in this story. Cyril effectively stupids himself to death. Dodo is constantly doing things that are utterly dumb.

It also looks very studioy in the final episode. And small studioy too.

But actually that's not the reason I dislike this story. I dislike this story because it's an insult to William Hartnell. I'm not sure by this point how difficult Hartnell was but this story - like The Massacre - effectively writes the Doctor out of things for whole episodes. He's reduced to invisibility and then silence. I've heard that they considered writing out Hartnell in this story so obviously the production team, headed up by Innes Lloyd. had had enough but it just seems damn rude to treat the star of your show like this.

It wouldn't matter so much if the Steven and Dodo had an intresting story (or acted in an interesting way) but they're just not well-used. Even Peter Purves struggles here. And poor Jackie Lane is given a character with the brains of a goldfish. Creepy atmosphere on its own does not a good story make. You need something at the core of it and this has...nothing.

There's potential here. Potential for something truly dark and surreal but in the end its just a series of dull set pieces revolving around games that no one wants to play. The Doctor and The Toymaker have met before in some unseen adventure and there's a fascination about what the Toymaker is, which is explored in other media.

I have also glossed over the racial aspects of this story (or reduced them to a footnote below.) Philip Sandifer puts the case across far better than I could but once you start to have an awareness of the problems with this story then it becomes less likeable. I'll admit I watched the surviving episode the first couple of times without noticing the problems but now it is hard not to see that this story has issues. And they're not good ones.

So I'm afraid The Celestial Toymaker doesn't do it for me. It's never quite lives up to its potential but as I said I think to judge it properly and fairly you'd need to see the whole thing. Based on three audio episodes and the one surviving video episode it'll be a while before I bother to watch this again. As Dodo herself says, "...this is really a very sad place,"

I'd be interested to hear anyone defend this story so feel free to add to the comments below.

*Read Philip Sandifer's blog The Most Totally Closed Mind for a genuinely angry and interesting take on the story's issues with race. I think I didn't see it quite as clear cut as he does but there's certainly something not quite right here and the use of the unacceptable or Top Gear version of Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe is edited out of the BBC CD version of the story isn't a good sign. As Sandifer points out by 1966 we were already aware that it was unacceptable. Using it seems to indicate that the people making this didn't care, which isn't good.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Ark

The story involves the Doctor, Dodo (Jackie Lane) and Steven(Peter Purves) landing in what initially appears to be a jungle on Earth but TARDIS readings, the mix 'n' match nature of the wildlife and a steel sky make it obvious that we aren't on Earth itself. Dodo has a cold. This will become important.

It turns out that we are on a ship containing a handful of humans, known as The Guardians and their Monoid 'friends'. Both groups are fleeing the final destruction of Earth and making for the planet Refusis, which is seemingly uninhabited and suitable for colonisation. It will be another 700 years before the ship reaches Refusis. To while away the time the Ark's inhabitants are building a massive statue of a human being. No, it doesn't make much sense to me either. They've just started and it should be completed by the time the Ark reaches Refusis.

The Monoids appear to have turned up on Earth after the destruction of their own planet and asked to join The Guardians in their flight. I have to say that the Monoids aren't the best realised of monsters with their Beatle wigs and waddle. They don't appear to be able to speak and have almost become slaves to the Guardians.

The TARDIS crew are initially welcomed by the Guardians, except by Zentos (Inigo Jackson) the deputy-commander. Jackson's acting is symptomatic of the disease that afflicts a number of guest actors in early Doctor Who, which I'm going to call 'Rep Syndrome'. It results in a performance lacking subtlety because an actor hasn't adapted to television and feels he needs to read every line as if he is doing Richard III. It isn't necessarily the actor's fault, it's as much a symptom of the time as anything else but when you compare Jackson's performance with Michael Sheard's as Rhos (brief though it is) you can see what benefits come from bring less theatrical.

Dodo's cold strikes both Monoids and Guardians and they have no immunity to it. This leads Zentos to turn on the TARDIS crew and have them put on trial as spies from Refusis. Steven tries to defend himself but is struck down by the illness himself. The Doctor's offer to help is initially turned down by Zentos, who wants them dead. But the Commander (Eric Elliot), although ill himself intervenes. The Doctor develops a cure and everyone seems happy. The TARDIS leaves...

And re-materialises back in the jungle. The ship is all quiet and a little dirty. Then Dodo turns a corner and sees the statue. It looks pretty impressive but instead of a human being it is the statue of a Monoid. Cue end titles.

It turns out that there has been a Monoid Revolution. They now come with voices and heat guns. They are led by One. No names, just numbers for the Monoids. They have arrived at Refusis and One has a cunning plan to seize Refusis for the Monoids and destroy mankind completely. The Doctor and team are locked in 'The Security Kitchen'. Yes, it is silly.

Then the Doctor and Dodo are sent, along with Monoid Two to check out Refusis. It is inhabited by an invisible race. It is one of my made-up rules of Doctor Who that stories featuring invisible aliens are almost always rubbish: The ChaseThe Ark and Planet of the Daleks.

In the final episode the Monoids fall out amongst themselves and the humans start their own revolution. The full circle has turned full circle. To quote Joni Mitchell, "We're captive in the carousel of time/We can't return from where we came/And go round and round and round/In the circle game."

Whilst the story has some good moments it is ultimately a little disappointing. The Monoids are a rubbish, the humans suffer from the problem of being both a bit wet and having abandoned trousers in favour of clothes made out of ribbons and the Refusians are just invisible. It passes the time but never really lives up to its potential, although at points director Michael Imison gets some really interesting shots.

There are interesting ideas that just don't quite come off.

I should award points for the decision to have an adventure that is set in the same location in different time zones that shows the impact of the Doctor's actions have - intentionally or unintentionally. It reminds me of how RTD shows the Doctor's actions in The Long Game leads to the world of Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, although I wouldn't claim that this would be an influence on those stories but who knows.

It's also the only story to ever really address the risks of time travel to the health of both the travellers and those they meet. There's a lot of diseases lurking about in the universe but the TARDIS crew never seem to get ill nor do they give other people illnesses, which is probably sensible because you can't really bog the series down with a series of medical checks pre-and post-every adventure. Perhaps the TARDIS does the job on the sly.

Hartnell's good but hardly stretched; Peter Purves does his usual quality job as Steven and Jackie Lane does her best with Dodo. This is Dodo's first proper story and the production team seem to decide that after episode one she's too northern for Saturday night on BBC 1 and her Mancunian accent gradually fades away, which is a shame. She gets to use 'dodgy', 'OK' and 'grotty', which riles the Doctor who gives her a patronising lecture on how he'll teach her to talk properly.

Anyway it is at least reasonable entertaining and I wonder if it suffers a bit because I watched it straight after the admirable The Massacre? But I'd say worth watching for the interesting ideas and imaginative direction even if it never quite works as well as I would like it to.

The Massacre

Well, that was an interesting story. In some respects possibly the most serious of the historical Hartnell's and therefore the most serious Doctor Who story ever, possibly. It's a story devoid of humour (almost) and packed full of actual human beings preparing to do horrible things to other human beings or trying to stop horrible things being done to other human beings.

This is almost not even a Doctor Who story. Yes, Steven and the Doctor are in it but The Doctor is hardly in it at all. Most of our time we spend with Steven or with the 'real' historical figures. The TARDIS crew split up in Part One, in usual style, but then we don't see The Doctor until almost the end of Part Four.

What we do see is the Abbott of Amboise, played by Hartnell himself. Steven thinks the Abbott is The Doctor in disguise. Why he would be in disguise Steven isn't sure but suspects it is some plan to foil some crime or another. It's easy for us as the audience to go along with this. It's not a thing The Doctor's is unlikely to try. So the end of Part Three must have been genuinely as much a shock for the audience as it was for Steven. It's a fine moment.

Because this is a historical everyone in it is acting like they're in something serious and not 'just' an episode of Doctor Who. There are fine performances from Barry Justice (Charles IX), Joan Young (as a dark and nasty Catherine de Medici), Michael Bilton (as Teligny), Erik Chitty (as Preslin), John Tillinger (Simon Duvall), Eric Thompson* (Gaston) and David Weston (as Nicholas) but the highlights for me are Leonard Sachs as Admiral de Coligny and Andre Morell (as Marshall Tavennes).

Coligny and Tavennes are opposed to each other: one a protestant, the other a Catholic; on in favour of war with Spain, the other not; one an enemy of the Catherine de Medici, the other an ally. They argue a lot but neither of them is portrayed as two-dimensional. Indeed in Part Four it is Tavennes that gets some of the strongest stuff in the script as he realises what Catherine de Medici is about to unleash and his role in it and Andre Morell is delivers a superb performance. It's only regrettable that it can't be seen.

Yes, The Massacre is another story that is entirely missing from the archives. I watched this via a very fine Loose Canon reconstruction, which can be found on YouTube (except the first half of Part Four, which has been blocked by BBC Worldwide because the demand for reconstructions of Hartnell historicals is so high the BBC will go bankrupt if it is allowed.) That really helped me to 'see' this story in a way I hadn't the last time I listened to it on audio only and the story benefited as a result. This, along with The Myth Makers, is high on my list of stories I'd like recovered.

Truth is I'm love learning about history & I have a love for Doctor Who historicals in general. This also is the nearest I think to serious historical drama than any other story in Doctor Who's run as Steven gets caught up in the plotting that is leading us to The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve.

Steven's constantly blundering into things that make him look suspicious to everyone, particularly because at this point everyone is incredibly suspicious anyway but we get, in Anne Chaplette (Annette Robinson) an ordinary person to sympathise with. Anne is a servant of  the Abbott of Amboise that overhears something that terrifies her and might be the key to a plot aimed at French protestants. Steven is - mostly - nice to her and she likes him. She's not the most proactive of characters being (rightly) afraid but we get to sympathise with her and when in Part Four the Doctor rushes her away and seems to abandon her to the Massacre it is easy to side with Steven regarding the Doctor's coldness.

You can't imagine any Doctor but the First doing that. He's still talking about not changing history with a seriousness that the series will give up on soon. Steven is so disgusted he leaves the Doctor, which gives Hartnell a chance to do a nice bit of quiet and contemplative acting as the Doctor thinks about what he's done and is doing. It's one of Hartnell's finest moments and would have made a bleak ending to the story had not the last five minutes been spent introducing us to Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane) who stumbles into the TARDIS thinking it is a proper police box. Her appearance is followed up by Steven's return. When the Doctor and Steven find out Dodo's name they wonder if she is a descendent of Anne's who must of survived. It gives the story and oddly upbeat ending (and is surely grasping at straws a bit.)

I don't know much about the real history of the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve (or how this works as a telling of the tale with accuracy) so I will be reading James Cooray Smith's book The Massacre, which is going to go into far more detail far more interestingly than I will do. Suffice it to say it thousands of Protestants were murdered - the numbers are disputed - and many Huguenots fled France, including to Britain where many of them settled in the East End of London so it is possible that Dodo is a Anne's relative. It helps us feel better to think so,

I'll talk more about Dodo later but her arrival doesn't bode well. She seems shockingly dim or - if we want to be nice - shocked into dimness as she fails to react in any convincing way to being inside the TARDIS. No a word of 'but it is bigger on the inside.' She's also pretty northern with Jackie Lane playing her with - what I assume is - her own Manchunian tone. It's a bit of a surprise after all the received pronunciation but it is 1966 and time are a-changin'.

So I really enjoyed this story. It's packed full of excellent performances. Oh. I should actually pause here to applaud Peter Purves who does a brilliant job of being the star of the show for most of the four episodes. His ability to reflect the angry bafflement of a man out of time is under-appreciated. Steven is another of the Hartnell companions that gets too often forgotten when we talk about great Doctor Who companions.

It's full of speeches and lacking in action, although I'd argue that the words of political speeches are action as much as physical violence is action. The talking is the action. But I think the speechiness of it might put some people off but I liked it.

*Emma Thompson's Dad. It's the first time I've ever seen what he actually looked like. Up until this I've only ever know him as a voice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

It's Been a While


It's been a while since I updated this blog - or its little brother The Audio Centurion. It's been eight months. EIGHT BLOODY MONTHS since we left off at The Dalek's Master Plan.

I'd like to pretend that there were terrible reasons for that: too much work or some debilitating (but harmless) illness. Alas I can only come clean and admit to be lazy and distracted with my attention elsewhere.

However I'm back.

Long term readers of this blog - if there are any of you left - will have remembered that my individual story blogs only started once I'd reached Season 8.  So the plan still remains that I will, firstly, close the gap between where we are now - The Dalek's Master Plan - and Inferno. Once that's done I'll blog the Capaldi era. The plan is to get all that done in time for the next bit of 'new' Doctor Who, which will be the - as yet unnamed - 2016 Christmas Special.

Then the new Capaldi season - whenever that appears in 2017 - will be blog as soon as possible after the episodes have gone out. Or at least when I've seen them as I can't always promise to be home in time.

Also we're approaching the 30th Anniversary of The Trial of a Time Lord so I'm going to re-watch that and re-visit my blog. The plan - as it now stands - is to watch each episode at some point on the day they were broadcast but thirty years later (obviously) starting on 6th September 2016 and finishing - with luck and a good wind - on 6th December 2016. I may, if inclined, live tweet the re-watch. But we'll believe this when we see it.

After that the focus will shift to The Audio Centurion and we'll get back on track with the Big Finish listen. Currently there we left the Main Range at Project Twilight, which is the 23rd release in a main range that is now reached 215 so that'll take a while. Although you'll find reviews of all the McGann Big Finish stories (up to Dark Eyes 2) tucked away either here or in The Audio Centurion should you be so inclined. I'm going to migrate those in this blog across to The Audio Centurion as and when I can be bothered or have the energy.

That should keep me occupied for a while.

I'm also planning to pop in the occassional book review too. I'm currently re-reading the first of the Virgin New Adventures: Timewyrm-Gensys and a review should go up before the end of August. If I can be bothered etc. There may also be the other odd review of books as and when I find something suitable.

So there you go. The plan.

Burns pointed out that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray and as these aren't even the best laid plans of either man or mouse let's see how it pans out shall we.

And if you're still reading this, "Be seeing you."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Dalek's Master Plan

The Dalek's Master Plan is a twelve part story that picks up from the events of Mission To The Unknown. It was written by Terry Nation (1-5 and 7) and Dennis Spooner (6, 8-12) and it is a tale of The Dalek's attempts to conquer the 'universe'.

The Daleks have gathered a gaggle of allies from both the Outer Galaxies (whose appearance isn't quite the same as those we see in Mission To The Unknown, which provides a puzzle for Doctor Who fans to solve. If they want to) and Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), the Guardian of the Solar System.

Their plan is to 'invade the Universe' using the forces of their allies and the Time Destructor, which is powered by Taranium. We learn almost nothing about what the Time Destructor does until the Doctor turns it on in Episode 12. We just know it needs a core of Taranium, the rarest element in the universe. It is found only on Uranus and Chen's role to provide the Taranium Core for the Daleks and bring it to Kembel.

Into this conspiracy stumble the Doctor, Katarina and Steven.

First of all they're almost shanghaied by Space Security Service agent Brett Vyon (Nicholas Courtney) and then once everyone realises they have enemies in common they start to work together. Stealing Mavic Chen's ship and the Taranium Core they attempt to make for Earth but find themselves diverted to the planet Desperus*, which is the prison planet of the Solar System.

It is whilst escaping from Desperus that Katarina dies. Kirksen (Douglas Sheldon) , a prisoner who snuck aboard the ship in an attempt to escape grabs Katarina and drags her into the airlock. He tries to use her as a hostage to bargain his way to freedom. It looks like he's going to get his way but Katarina opens the airlock and both she and Kirksen die.

The whole sequence is played with an intensity that makes the situation seem all the more real. Steven's desperate cry as Katarina dies is heart-breaking. It's difficult to be sure if Katarina meant to do what she did. It seems more heroic and hopeful to think that she did. The Doctor's heartfelt line about hoping she's found her place in paradise - which isn't the exact wording - is nicely played by Hartnell.

Hartnell's on top form throughout this story. His performance matches the pitch of the story. He's cunning, clever and angry. He's determined to stop the Daleks at any cost. It's almost as if this is the story where the Doctor becomes the Doctor proper. Interfering to defeat the Daleks because, to steal a line from his successor, there are corners of the Universe that have bred the most terrible things. They must be fought. And the Doctor is going to fight them.

Katarina is the first companion to die in Doctor Who. She won't be the last.

The Doctor, Steven and Brett manage to get to Earth, where Mavic Chen and his oily ally Karlton (Maurice Browning) have set them up. They've brief Space Security Service agent Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh) that the TARDIS team and Brett are traitors and that the Taranium is necessary for peace.

What that means is that Brett is the next to die. Shot down by Sara Kingdom. Who, as she is about to kill the Doctor and Steven, gets transported to the planet Mira as part of a weird experiment involving teleporting mice from Earth to Mira.

On Mira Sara is filled in on Chen's treachery and what the Daleks are up to. Steven is angrily lecturing her on - basically - 'only obeying orders'. It turns out Vyon is Kingdom's brother, which is a an unnecessary twist as it makes little difference to her story except to add to her guilt. And why no mention of it in the run up to his death. Why didn't Brett mention it? It almost seems like a throwaway thought of Nations.

The Daleks arrive on Mira and begin by exterminating the mice. Mira is also home to some large, aggressive and invisible beasties that help provide enough of a distraction to the Daleks that the Doctor, Sara and Steven can escape by stealing the Dalek's craft. At some point The Doctor builds a fake Taranium Core, which he manages to palm off on the Daleks after he gets back to Kembel and gets back to his TARDIS.

Are you still with me?

We have now reached Episode Seven aka The Feast of Steven. This episode went out on Christmas Day 1965 and so it is basically twenty-five minutes of comic faffing about. The TARDIS lands in an episode of a thinly disguised Z-Cars and then a silent film studio. The first bit is actually quite funny and well-played. The second less so. On the audio Peter Purves's narration plays up to the mood. Then the Doctor wishes everyone - including us at home - a very Merry Christmas.

Then we're back - a brief visit to a cricket match and Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve aside. The next couple of episodes have a slightly different tone. It is reminiscent of The Chase as someone is following the Doctor's TARDIS. Everyone assumes that it is the Daleks but it turns out to be The Meddling Monk (Peter Butterworth) who has repaired his TARDIS and is looking for some petty revenge.

There's some diddling about on a newly formed planet where the Monk tries to stop the Doctor getting into his TARDIS but fails to take into account The Doctor's 'sonic' ring and then Ancient Egypt. Here the Daleks run riot in a building site - for the Great Pyramids - whilst the Monk also attempts to make things difficult for the Doctor and friends. The Doctor manages to escape but only at the cost of giving the Taranium Core back to the Daleks.

The Doctor cannibalises the Monk's direction control and luckily manages to use it to get everyone back to Kembel in time for the final battle.

By this point Mavic Chen has gone completely mad. His character was always arrogant but now his arrogance has reached such levels that he believes himself to be the greatest power in the universe. He isn't helping the Daleks. They are serving him. He'd fit in perfectly on the Apprentice at this point. There's a lovely moment where he tells off a Dalek and bats its eye-stalk away. If he wasn't already doomed to extermination: he is now.

Episode Eleven puts Steven and Sara front and centre because the Doctor disappears. As have The Daleks apparently. Steven and Sara search the Dalek base but can't find the Doctor. Instead they find the imprisoned Dalek delegates, including Mavic Chen. The delegates flee returning to their 'galaxies' to try and get a force together against the Daleks (and I suspect to be punished for their treachery.) Chen, after a bit of a pointless bit of red herringy, decides to hand over Steven and Sara to the Daleks. He expects this will help him to be received with open arms.

In the final episode Chen goes right off the deep end. His attempt to shot the Supreme Dalek and get the Daleks to obey him goes as well as one would expect, i.e. he dies. At this point the Doctor reappears and starts the Time Destructor. He sends Sara and Steven back to the TARDIS for their own safety but Sara turns around to find him. This is the moment she is doomed.

The Time Destructor starts its work. It is destroying the Kembel jungle turning it to sand and wave after wave of Time Energy ages and weakens the Doctor and Sara. Sara dies. Aging to death and then blown away as dust on the wind. The Doctor survives pulled aboard the TARDIS by Steven.

The Daleks are defeated. But Steven and the Doctor are left to contemplate the cost: Katarina, Brett and Sara.

The Dalek's Master Plan is an epic Doctor Who story. It's tone is variable but it does prevent you getting too used to it and therefore too bored over the course of twelve weeks. The arrival of the Meddling Monk - with Butterworth on fine form again - helps freshen things up, even if he's brings with him tonal issues, especially whilst ancient Egyptians are being massacred by the Daleks.

It also feels epic too because the Doctor pays a price for his victory. Yes, none of those that die are long serving companions but Katarina's death is horribly real, Brett is gunned down by his sister and Sara's death is drawn out and horrible.

Douglas Camfield does an mighty job as director to keep everything together, especially through the various tonal shifts that The Dalek's Master Plan goes through. Nation's script isn't bad and a spoon full of Spooner definitely helps the medicine go down.

I've mentioned Hartnell's excellent performance but Peter Purves is also on good form throughout. Steven often seems like an angry young man but his response to both Katarina and Sara's deaths seem absolutely genuine. Adrienne Hill doesn't get much of a chance to show what she can do as Katarina ,who is lost from the moment she steps aboard the TARDIS. However she conveys a genuine innocence and acceptance of her circumstances from what one can tell based on surviving audio and footage.

It's odd seeing Nicholas Courtney in Doctor Who as anyone but the Brigadier. Vyon's is more ruthless than the Brigadier will be [most of the time] and suitably staunch. He's not a character with much depth but Courtney does what needs to be done.

Jean Marsh gives Sara Kingdom an initial ruthlessness too but her discovery of Chen's treachery and her gullibility changes her. It's funny how similar her performance is to Courtney's in terms of reactions. Alas she too is doomed.

I can't praise Kevin Stoney's performance as Mavic Chen enough.

It's slightly awkward that he appears to be 'blacked/yellowed-up' for reasons that I'm a bit baffled by. Chen's name does indicate Asian roots so now I suspect you'd cast an Asian actor in the part but it still doesn't explain the skin colour. For a modern television viewer it is uncomfortable but Stoney makes Chen genuinely disturbing. Chen's arrogance is obvious from the start but the ups and downs of this story distills that arrogance into a delusional belief in his own importance and power. He's always going to die.

The Daleks are fabulous in this, although I'm never quite sure why the Daleks bother with alliances when they always end up butchering their allies anyway. More importantly after the Daleks murder the first of the delegates I'm not quite sure why any of the other delegates think the Daleks aren't going to do the same to them.

There are no Daleks a-stumblin' and a-mumblin' as there are in The Chase. They're played straight. They are not dragged into The Feast of Steven so we have no scenes as awful as The Daleks meet Morton Dill thankfully.

That's because this story is meant to be big and dark. Go back to Episode One and see how bleak the death of Vyon's comrade, Gantry (Brian Cant) is. He dies terrified and on his knees. The Daleks feel like a genuine, large scale threat here. Even as the Doctor runs rings around them.

Only three episodes of this twelve part story exist in the archive - 2, 5 and 10 - so there's so much we don't see. I listened to the official BBC audio release with Peter Purves's narration for the rest of the story. There are clips too, including Katarina's death. So it is difficult to say how this story would stand up if it was all recovered.** I'd like to think its recovery would improve its reputation.

This is the second time I've listened/watched this story and I enjoyed it a lot more this time. It's entertaining for the most part, bleak and ambitious. It's the best Dalek story so far (and makes The Chase look even more terrible.) It helps that it is directed by Douglas Camfield who knows how to direct Doctor Who and how to direct Daleks.

I think it helped that I broke it up and watched it over the course of three days. The first time I think I force fed myself on it and got the television equivalent of indigestion.

So after all this waffling on I'd say if you've not listened/seen it I'd definitely recommend you do but take it slow. It'll reward you as a result.

* We should be thankful it wasn't the planet Prisonus based on Terry Nation's previous naming conventions.
**The Feast of Steven is probably the one episode of Doctor Who that will never be recovered. It wasn't sold abroad at all. So at best we'll get 11 of the 12 but that's fine. Every and any new Doctor Who episode is a glorious thing. 

Friday, January 1, 2016


Vicki, played by Maureen O'Brien, lasted 38 episodes. She made her first appearance in The Rescue and her final appearance in The Myth Makers.

The first actor to be asked to step in and replace a regular character following the departure of Carol Anne Ford's Susan it is obvious that O'Brien, like Ford, is a better actress than the character allows her to be.

Vicki is an orphan who, it turns out, has been surviving on the planet Dido with the murderer of her father. Once that little situation is sorted out in The Rescue she is all alone and takes the opportunity to flee with the TARDIS crew. And although she's initially just an obvious Susan replacement - for both the audience and the First Doctor - she gradually gets to carve out a character of her own. However the seeds for her departure are sown (accidentally, I'm sure) from the off.

She doesn't want to be treated like a child but alas that is exactly how the Doctor, Ian and Barbara treat her even as it becomes clear that she's intelligent and resourceful enough to look after herself. If anything it is Vicki that keeps The Doctor safe. She certainly keeps him calm, which is a task O'Brien found herself doing with William Hartnell too in the real world. The relationship between Vicki and the First Doctor is obviously a close one but he is not as affected by her decision to leave as he was by Susan, Ian and Barbara's choice. Perhaps he is already getting used to the fact that his fellow travellers will come and go.

Or the production team is getting used to the idea. After all Vicki's explanation of her departure happens off screen in The Myth Makers. The Doctor and she pop into the TARDIS for a chat and when they come out she's off to find Troilus. To be honest I don't think it is a particularly convincing reason to leave. Troilus is a bit wet and Vicki never struck me as the sort of character that would jump into the arms of the first man she felt for like a drowning woman clinging onto a lifebelt. Perhaps she's just grown up enough not to need a father/grandfather figure anymore? And with Steven aboard the TARDIS she won't be leaving the Doctor on his own. Still it never quite feels right to me (and Vicki won't be the last companions to be written out in a half-baked way.)

O'Brien's brilliant though in making Vicki more than just a cipher. She's got energy to burn. It is Vicki that effectively starts the revolution on Xeros by making sure that arms fall into Xeron hands. She's bored by all the sitting around and talking.

In modern Doctor Who O'Brien would have been allowed to keep her Liverpudlian* accent (which slips out in a nice throwaway line in The Crusades.) and I think with a tweak here and there should would have fitted right in.

Vicki's not often just a peril monkey. Usually she's teamed up with The Doctor, as in The Romans and The Web Planet and helping to keep him from harm. She's not a character without get up and go but there's probably not enough there to stop her from not being the most exciting part for an actor to play. In an interview from 1990 that I found here O'Brien makes it clear that Doctor Who "...was pretty unrewarding from an acting point of view...the scripts were so predictable." [Which is a bit harsh on some of the stories she worked on I think but perhaps not from her point of view.] I will take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a short interview with Maureen O'Brien done as part of Toby Hadoke's Who's Round, which can be downloaded from here

O'Brien has done a couple of Big Finish Companion Chronicles as Vicki, including the rather marvelous Frostfire, which is worth a listen if you get a chance.

Alas then Vicki is not a companion that will set Doctor Who alight, which isn't O'Brien's fault. She's very good and given the right scripts (and perhaps a little more freedom) Vicki could have been a great companion. Instead she is - like a lot of Hartnell's companions - lost in the mists of black and white history, which is a shame as she's likeable, well-played and (until the final story) having fun just having adventures with the Doctor.

Like us.

*There's a few Liverpudlians in Doctor Who who've lost - or toned down - their accents: O'Brien, Liz Sladen, Tom Baker and Paul McGann spring to mind. If every planet has a north it seems that this north isn't a Scouse one.