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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Myth Makers

The Myth Makers is basically Doctor Who does Troilus and Cressida (with a half-happy ending.) The Doctor and crew find themselves landing on the plains of Troy during the final days of the ten year long siege of Troy by the assorted Greek* forces.

The TARDIS's arrival in the middle of a fight between Hector (Alan Haywood) and Achilles (Cavan Kendall) helps Achilles secure victory. The Doctor steps out alone and is immediately mistaken for Zeus by Achilles. After some badinage Achilles insists on taking the Doctor to meet Agamemnon (Francis de Wolf) who leads the Greeks. From there everything spirals out of control in Doctor Who style.

Steven pursues the Doctor. The TARDIS gets stolen by Paris (Barrie Ingham) and bought into Troy and from which steps Vicki. It's a dry run for the horse in a way and Cassandra (Frances White) warns of the impending destruction of the city. Alas no one listens to Cassandra and her doom is to be a prophet who knows the truth but is never believed. The result, if some tales are believed, of her refusal to let Apollo have his way with her.

The Myth Makers is one of Doctor Who's funnier scripts. Hovering close to The City of Death in terms of comedy, but with a little less subtly. The humour is driven by both script and performances. With the exception of James Lynn's rather wet Troilus almost every actor in it is giving the script its due. Hartnell thrives to on being surrounded by good actors doing good work.

It's a bloody shame then that none of The Myth Makers exists on video. I had to resort to a reconstruction that I found online. What that means is that I think we're missing out on a great piece of Doctor Who because it is pretty good as an audio/reconstruction but I suspect if we could see as well as hear the performances it would be one of the highlights of the Hartnell era (and of Doctor Who in general.)

There is also a massive tonal shift between the first three episodes and the final one. There's a lot of comedy in Paris being a vain coward, in Menelaus (Jack Melford) just wanting to go home bored with ten years of trying to get his wife back, of the Doctor's attempts to find a way to get into Troy without inventing the Trojan Horse before being forced to invent it after realising his flight plan won't work and in Cassandra's constant dismissal at the hands of her family even as she rightly predicts the doom of Troy.

And we the audience know it is coming. Or at least should do. This is one of the best known stories in literature, although unless you've read the Iliad, the Odyssey and/or the Aeneid the bloody nature of those tales might have passed you by. Homer** does not skimp on the bloody details of the death of warriors.  When Troy falls it will be bloody. Many of those nice people we've met, especially Priam (Max Adrian) are doomed to die.

There are hints at this in Ivor Salter's performance as Odysseus. Odysseus is a loud-mouth and a bully. He threatens the Doctor with death if he doesn't come up with a way to get inside Troy. It is Odysseus more than any other character in this that represents the dark and bloody truth. Odysseus is the only one of these characters who you believe is capable of cold-blooded murder. The rest of them seem too nice, too civilised and too trusting. Nowhere do you really feel the angry bloodlust that Achilles felt when he went out to kill Hector that comes from the original texts. Achilles is raging at the death of his friends (and lover?) Patroclus. He doesn't just kill Hector. He drags his dead body around the City of Troy in a rage until an utterly broken Priam comes to beg for his sons body back. There is none of that tone about The Myth Makers apart from what is hinted at by Odysseus and Cassandra.

The other problem with The Myth Makers is that once again a female companion falls in love with someone. Once again they choose to leave the TARDIS and go off in a time they don't belong. Vicki, who has taken up the name Cressida, has fallen for Troilus. This is, of course, one of the main plot threads in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida but the play has Cressida and Troilus meet before Hector's death. The play has a much darker fate for the lovers than Doctor Who, which pairs them off and gets them to head off with Troilus's cousin Aeneas (and a whole different set of adventures courtesy of Virgil's Aeneid.)  It's all rather nice but Troilus is as wet as a bag of rotting apples and Vicki never seemed the sort of woman who would just fall in love with the first handsome chap that was nice to her. So it all seems a bit sudden. But that might turn out to be a perennial Doctor Who problem.

So Vicki leaves. Steven, wounded in the final battle, is carried into the TARDIS by The Doctor and one of Cassandra's handmaidens, Katarina (Adrienne Hill) and the Doctor takes off before Odysseus can get his hands on the TARDIS. Steven is seriously ill and the Doctor needs medical supplies. So we leave the episode with a dying Steven, a worried Doctor and a confused Katarina (who thinks she is in Limbo with the Zeus.)

The thing is despite some of my criticism above I still think this is one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made. It's funny and witty. It's superbly acted by pretty much everyone involved including the main cast. It plays around with great literature and puts Doctor Who smack bang in the middle of it. So you should give this a listen. It is magnificent.

You should also read the Iliad and the Odyssey btw because they too are rather brilliant.

*They would almost certainly not refered to themselves as Greeks but we'll keep to that for the moment. This is a Doctor Who blog after all not a history one. Or at least not yet.
**Homer may or may not be a single person. It's likely that 'he' is just a name given to tales handed down from generation to generation orally until someone finally decided to write them down. The stories are probably older than the Greeks themselves reflecting their descent from horse riding warriors from Eastern European steppes, which Priam (Max Adrian) actually mentions in the episode. If you'd like to know more I recommend The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson.

Mission To The Unknown

Mission to the Unknown was broadcast on 9 October 1965. It's written by Terry Nation and directed by Derek Martinus. It is a single episode story featuring none of the main Doctor Who cast. It doesn't even feature the TARDIS. This is a Doctor-lite episode before these things existed. What the viewing public made of it at the time I don't know. I would have been waiting for the Doctor to appear all the way through and then...he doesn't.

To add to the weird floating nature of this episode the next story The Myth Makers makes no reference to it. The TARDIS crew find themselves outside the walls of Troy at this point and involved in the Trojan War for four episodes. It is only then that they stumble into the epic Dalek's Master Plan for which Mission to the Unknown is the taster.

We had been led into Mission to the Unknown at the end of Galaxy 4 when Vicki wondering what was happening on the planet below and we find ourselves there, looking at Garvey (Barry Jackson) who has woken up with a desire to kill.

It will turn out that this is the planet Kembel where Marc Cory (Edward de Souza) of the Space Security Service has been following up rumours of a Dalek build-up. Kembel appears to be a planet in the arse end of nowhere. It's unpleasant enough already but it turns out Cory is right and that the Daleks are here finalising a conspiracy to conquer the Solar System. In fact Kembel is the location of the conspiracy's meeting place and we get to meet the delegates from the Outer Galaxies who have joined in. It is a production mystery who each delegate actually is so I won't dwell on them for now but there's an attempt to make them look as alien as possible for a set of blokes in costumes. The picture above shows some of them. Enjoy.

Alas Kembel is also home to the Varga plant. This unpleasant piece of flora/fauna is only found of Skaro so its appearance on Kembel is a dead giveaway that the Daleks are here. The Varga plant is surrounded by thorns that if they penetrate the skin slowly turn the thorned into a Varga plant whose only desire is to kill. It's what had happened to Garvey, who Cory kills.

As the Daleks fan out into the forest to seek out Cory and his colleague, Lowery (Jeremy Young) the tension tightens effectively. There are Varga plants and Daleks hunting the two men as they look to launch a rescue beacon explaining what was happening on Kembel. This is one of those stories when you know that the 'good guys' aren't going to make it. Their sacrifice is so obvious they might as well have best before dates on their uniforms.

Lowery gets Vargaed and then killed by Cory. Cory is just about to launch the beacon when the Daleks find him and....

Meanwhile back in the meeting room the delegates finalise their plans. It's all rather impressive and hints at the epic scale of what is to come. You also get the impression that Terry Nation has got one eye on a spin-off series for the Daleks and the Space Security Service. Based on this it might well have worked, although as this episode is missing from the archives it is hard to make an absolute judgment. It certainly sets up a fictional universe that could be further explored outside - as well as inside - Doctor Who.

As a one-off it works well. The performances are good, especially Edward de Souza as Cory and I never really found myself wishing for the regular TARDIS crew to turn up, although I might have felt differently after a couple of episodes without them. We've become so used to the odd regular cast member disappearing for an episode here or there whilst they go on holiday that it doesn't feel as out of place as it might later in Doctor Who's history.

So it works for me as the one-off. There's a definite tension here and then it finishes at a point that leaves you intrigued about what is going to happen next, which oddly isn't the first part of The Dalek's Master Plan. O no. Bizarrely our next story is The Myth Makers. That's the decision that I find most odd in this process. I'm sure someone, somewhere has explained the thinking behind it but to jump from this to Troy for four weeks and then back to The Dalek's Master Plan seems weird to me.

I decided to do a separate blog on Mission to the Unknown after some thought because I wanted to keep it in its rightful place in broadcast order. I think it deserves a separate blog because it isn't part of The Dalek's Master Plan. It is a stand alone story connected to what follows but it also stands alone.

I might be wrong about that but it is my blog. So my rules.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Barbara and Ian

One thing that re-watching the Hartnell years teaches you is that Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell) are one of the series finest companion partnerships. They last from An Unearthly Child to The Chase. Sixteen stories and - roughly - seventy-seven episodes. A not insignificant chunk of Doctor Who that.

Ian and Barbara are teachers at Coal Hill School. Barbara teaches history and Ian 'science'. It is Barbara's curiosity about their pupil Susan, who seems to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma, that leads them to a junkyard. It is from there that they are kidnapped by the Doctor and whisked off into time and space.

Initially the relationship between the Doctor and his 'hostages' is naturally a prickly one. The Hartnell Doctor is a particularly grumpy take on the part, especially early on. Indeed even as late as The Reign of Terror The Doctor is capable of throwing a childish tantrum that leads to him threatening to dump Ian and Barbara at their next landing place.

In the end though it is the Doctor's relationship with Barbara and Ian that 'humanises' him. They're there when he leaves Susan behind and when Vicki joins the team and their decision to leave in The Chase seems to make him genuinely upset and angry.

The Chase ends with a lovely little montage and scene of Ian and Barbara back in London. It is 1965, so they've got some explaining to do about their two year absence. After all in 1963 they disappeared and Ian's abandoned car will be found outside Totter's Lane. Now they're going to reappear.

Barbara and Ian are also - in my head canon - the first couple to travel in the TARDIS. Whilst they might not be together at the beginning it says something about their relationship that Barbara is willing to present Ian with her Susan issues and that Ian will support her. But by the time we get to the start of The Romans there is no way they are not an item. Perhaps it is wishful thinking but when they return to Earth in The Chase I think they're settling down together to a life of teaching and travelling. With some special project work with UNIT or Countermeasures under the watchful eye of Torchwood probably too.

Ian is played by William Russell, who had been the lead in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot back in 1956-57. Ian's initially more baffled by the TARDIS and the Doctor than Barbara. Perhaps his 'science' background makes it harder for him to face up to the TARDIS mucking up his long held theories and knowledge.

If Ian's the same age as William Russell he's almost 40 when they stumble into the TARDIS, which means he might well have served in the armed forces during World War Two. If he's a little younger then whilst he might have missed World War Two he would definitely have done National Service, which could have meant front line service in one of Britain's handful of end of Empire conflicts. It would certainly explain his comfort with hand-to-hand combat and, as seen in The Aztecs, his ability to render a man unconscious with only this thumb.

Ian carries the main weight of the fighting - with the lovely exception of The Romans - during his time in the series and most of his stories feature a fight for Ian to get involved in. A lot of the time they aren't particularly well-choreographed until The Romans.

He's often asked to do little more than be stolid, heroic and determined and it is to William Russell's credit that he manages to make Ian seem like a real human being. On occasion he gets to be the voice of reason and he's almost trustworthiness in human form. People - aliens or not - seem to trust Ian. He's sometimes the moral centre of the story, particular before The Doctor starts behaving like the Doctor we know now.

If Ian is solid it is Barbara that really shines. Jacqueline Hill is magnificent as Barbara right from the off. It is Barbara that calls out the Doctor most often and in The Aztecs gets the chance to challenge the Doctor's view of time. Barbara tries to save the Aztecs from themselves but fails. It gives Jacqueline Hill a real chance to shine as she goes head-to-head with the Doctor and Tlotoxl. It is Barbara that challenges the Doctor in Edge of Destruction and who makes him apologise.

Barbara does suffer from being on the receiving end of the unwanted attentions of people like Vasor in The Keys of Marinus but she is rarely simply a peril monkey. Even in stories where she spends her time being captured and threatened there is always a strength to Barbara that makes her a model for other companions, particularly Sarah Jane. Barbara can be afraid and brave at the same time. She rarely backs down. Her attempt to bluff the Daleks in The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one of my favourite Barbara scenes.

I think both Ian and Barbara deserve to be better remembered by Doctor Who fans as wonderful companions. It helps that both are fine actors who take every decent opportunity they get to show what they are capable of and can help raise more average material to a higher level but for me Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) is one of the great Doctor Who companions. I mean what is Clara if not Barbara with less cardigans and a little more 'mystery'.

I'd recommend The Aztecs to see Barbara at her best and The Crusade to see Ian doing his thang but for the story that shows both of them at their best and shows the strength of their relationship than I'd go for The Romans. But I'd pick The Romans as one of the highlights of the Hartnell era full stop.

The TARDIS won't be the same without them.

Galaxy 4

Galaxy 4 , directed by Derek Martinus and written by William Emms, is a thing of averageness. It's plot is pretty straightforward.

The TARDIS lands on a planet that - it turns out - is dying. On that planet are two crashed ships. Aboard one are the Drahvins, led by Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead), a race of warrior women. On the other are the Rills, accompanied by their cute metallic servants named 'Chumblies' by Vicki. The Drahvins and Rills are at loggerheads. The Drahvins claim that the Rills shot them down and then killed one of them. But, for most of the first two epsiodes, we only hear the story of what happen from Maaga.

The problem with Galaxy 4 is that Maaga's nastiness becomes a bit too obvious a bit too quickly and as we find out more about the Rills the story falls into a pretty obvious parable about how the beautiful are not necessarily the good and the ugly are not necessarily the bad. I suppose the main crime of Galaxy 4 is that it is just all a little obvious.

And that there's a lot of walking backwards and forwards. It's a story that longs for corridors for people to wonder up and down.

Again though it is hard to fairly judge Galaxy 4 as three of its four episodes are missing from the archive. It was four but episode three aka Airlock was found in December 2011.

Having that one episode did change my opinion of the story compared with my last 're-listen'. It certainly makes Stephanie Bidmead's performance as Maaga more three-dimensional than the audio only might make you think. She gets a good speech, delivered almost down the barrel of the camera, which twists into something dark and sadistic. It does make me want to see more of the performances and again hammers home how hard it is to get a genuine view on a Doctor Who story when it is either entirely or mostly missing.

I flag this up now as we're heading into the parts of Doctor Who where there is more missing than exists. The re-discovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear is a case in point. Seeing The Enemy of the World made me love it far more than I ever did hearing it on audio only and not just because Patrick Troughton's performances are a glorious thing to see.

We finally also get to see what a Rill looks like. Sort of. But if we could find Episode 4 too so we can see them in their full glory because what is hinted at is a sort of be-fanged Jabba the Hutt, which is pretty good on a Doctor Who budget.

The Chumblies on the other hand are too cute and too slow for their own good. They are, at points, supposed to be threatening but it feels like being threatened by a passive-aggressive marshmallow as opposed to a 'new Dalek', which is what one fears was being aimed for here.

I don't think any of the main cast set the screen on fire at any point. Vicki isn't at her best here, Stephen is forced into the solid and stuanch role vacated by Ian. The Doctor gets one or two moments but there's a bit too much aimless standing around for my liking, although I do love the fact that he completely and utterly fails to sabotage the Rill breathing apparatus despite a lot of semi-convincing faffing about.

So I'm going to stop here. There's not much else I can think of to say about this story, which is already evaporating from my memory. In its current state it is neither bad nor good but the existing episode three hints at a bit more depth, at least in performance, than I had previously noted.

Note: As @thejimsmith reminded me on Twitter just now one piece of excellence in Airlock is the flashback as the Rills tell their story of what happened on landing. It's done POV, which is unusual and effective. Particularly as we see Maaga's ruthless dispatching of one of her own soldiers.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Time Meddler

The Time Meddler is the final story of the second series of Doctor Who. Broadcast between the 3rd and 24th July 1965 it sees the full debut of Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) as a member of the TARDIS crew. It's not quite clear how he made it aboard but somehow, before the TARDIS dematerialised, Steven and Hi-Fi managed to get in, past Vicki and the Doctor.

Steven's a little cynical about the TARDIS to begin with. Refusing to believe it is a time machine, even whilst confessing it is 'a little unusual'. Hartnell's interaction with Steven is refreshingly sarcastic. The little speech that ends '...that is a chair with a panda on it. Shear poetry dear boy." is a lovely bit of stuff from Hartnell. Hartnell's pretty good throughout this story actually bouncing off the various guest actors well, particularly Peter Butterworth's Monk. Although he blatantly gets a week off as in episode two we only hear the First Doctor but we never see him.

The TARDIS appears to have landed in 10th century Britain, although Steven remains cynical. Particular when, after the Doctor conveniently arranges splitting up his party, he finds a wrist-watch on the floor. How can you get a wrist-watch in 10th century Britain. And who is the mysterious Monk watching from the clifftop and then lurking about in a comically sinister manner.

This story gets two mightily fine cliffhangers. The first is at the end of episode one when the Doctor reveals the phonograph & gets captured. There are modern appliances here. In 11th century Britain. And the Monk seems to be in charge of them.

It becomes clear that the Monk is up to no good over the course of the story and that he is some kind of time traveller, perhaps one known to - or who knows of - The Doctor. It is the cliffhanger to Episode Three that is the best though. When Vicki and Steven enter a sarcophagus and find themselves aboard another TARDIS. Not only is the Monk a time-traveller. He has a TARDIS. This Monk is from the Doctor's home. A home that is still unnamed here. Nor are his race named. But still that moment when they step aboard another TARDIS opens whole new vistas for the series and - perhaps? - takes the first little chip out of the question mark in Doctor Who?

The Monk is trying to change history. He seems to have a history of minor temporal crimes. Stealing art here. Playing little tricks there. Stirring the pot without trying to destroy the universe. In that sense The Monk is no prototype Master. He's more the Doctor himself let off the leash. His plan in this story, which we shouldn't forget would involve the mass murder of Vikings, sounds like the biggest thing he's ever attempted. The first step in a plan designed to advance Earth history so that Hamlet can be written by Shakespeare for television not the stage. Although I think there's more too it than that. The Doctor calls him a 'Time Meddler', almost as if that is actually the title of a particular type of criminal from his home planet.

Peter Butterworth is excellent as The Monk. He's perfectly cast for mischief rather than nastiness. With The Master/Missy dominating the Doctor Who bad Time Lord list in New Doctor Who you do wonder whether the series could find a place for the (Meddling) Monk now. After all The Doctor is more like the (Meddling) Monk now than he was in Hartnell's day. Big Finish have bought him back, played by Graeme Garden, and I recommend you give them a listen if you get a moment. But alas I suspect the (Meddling) Monk has gone along with The Rani drowned in the Master/Missy shadow. But I digress.

The odd thing about this story is its tone. It is mainly pretty comedic but there's violence here. And then there's the rape of Edith (Aletha Charlton). Yes, the rape doesn't happen on screen. Obviously. But that is what is implied both just before and afterwards. It's all a bit Game of Thrones. As if we need to establish that we're in a dark past by showing the horror that lurked there in England's green and pleasant land. It's really strangely out of place in the story, particularly as Aletha Charlton and Michael Miller, playing her husband Wulnoth play it really straight. When we see Edith afterwards for the first time she is in genuine shock, although this being Doctor Who she seems to recover from her ordeal pretty quickly. It should be noted though that she is keen to be part of hunting down and killing the Vikings that did this too her.

The Vikings in this story have horned helmets. So I'm saying horned helmets for Viking is historically accurate in the Doctor Who universe modern historical belief be damned. This is Doctor Who. When the legend becomes fact. Show the legend.* Except the two Vikings -Ulf (Norman Hartley) and Sven (Donald Anderson - are a particularly cowardly pair by Viking standards.

Vicki and Steven get stuck together for most of the story and there's some nice material for Maureen O'Brien and Peter Purves to play off. It's a good first story for Purves but I do miss Ian and Barbara.

Hartnell is wonderful in this too. It's one of the best stories of the Hartnell era. You could definitely drop this in for people to watch who aren't fans and they'd probably enjoy it, despite the Edith issue so if you haven't watched it yet give it a go.

*To bend a quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallence