Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Combat - Torchwood 1.11

In which Captain Jack is pursuing a Weevil through the streets of Cardiff. Gwen is on a dinner date with Rhys and sees him. She runs to join him, much to Rhys' annoyance.  They are just on the point of capturing it when they see it being bundled into the back of a van and driven off. Tosh traces the van to a warehouse. When they arrive, they find a dead man - his body exhibiting wounds consistent with being savaged by a Weevil. His phone rings, and a man's voice warns them from investigating further. Another Weevil victim turns up at the hospital, but he refuses to say how he came to injured. The warehouse is found to belong to a local estate agency, run by a young man named Mark Lynch.
Owen has been depressed since the departure of Diane Holmes, and Gwen has now ended their relationship. He is talked into going undercover as a businessman seeking warehouse properties in Cardiff, in order to find out more about Lynch.

Gwen tells Rhys about her affair, only to then Retcon him. Jack decides to release their captured Weevil, which they have named Janet, in the hope that it will lead them to the abductors. The creature is captured, but they fail to trace the people who have taken it. Owen and Lynch have a drink together, and the estate agent invites him back to his flat once he realises that Owen is looking for some new excitement in his life. Owen has a look round the flat, and comes across Janet chained up in one of the rooms. Lynch takes Owen to a warehouse where a number of people are gathering. A large cage has been set up, and Owen discovers that men are paying to fight Weevils. Everyone puts down £1000, and whoever survives their fight wins the pot. Lynch explains that he and others like him who have wealth and influence are in need of more heightened experiences in their lives. The Weevil fights provide the ultimate thrill.

Owen refuses to join in, and is goaded by Lynch. He relents and enters the cage, at first refusing to fight the creature. It attacks him, but his colleagues have traced his location and arrive in time to rescue him. They break up the fight club, but Lynch enters the cage to show he has no fear. The Weevil attacks and kills him. Jack stands back and allows this to happen.
Owen recuperates in hospital, where Jack suspects that he was trying to kill himself in the cage. Back at work the next day, Owen goes to the cells and watches the captured Weevils held there. When they hiss at him he responds in kind - and finds that the creatures cower before him.

Combat was written by Noel Clarke, and was first broadcast on 24th December, 2006. Clarke was, of course, best known for playing Rose Tyler's boyfriend Mickey Smith in Doctor Who at the time, but he was already an accomplished screenwriter as well as an actor. Kidulthood had been one of the big British hits of 2006.
This is hardly the most original episode of Torchwood, as it shows its influence all too clearly. 1996 saw the publication of the novel Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, which was filmed by David Fincher and released in cinemas in 1999. This also features a depressed individual meeting someone who draws him into a fight club whose participants are men seeking vicarious thrills in their lives.
The Weevils had featured in the very first episode of Torchwood, and publicity had suggested they would be that series' recurring monsters, but in reality they had rarely featured until this episode.
They will have a bit more to do in the second season, and the incident in the cells which forms the coda to this episode does prefigure Owen's apparent power over them after he has been brought back from the dead.

There's only one real guest artist this week, and that's Alex Hassell as Mark Lynch. Hassell is better known as a theatre performer, having played Caliban alongside Mark Rylance at the Globe, and Prince Hal / Henry V with the RSC. He played opposite Anthony Sher in the Henriad (Sher was Falstaff), and acted alongside him again in Death of a Salesman.
Overall, it is an exciting enough episode, designed mainly to set Owen up for the final section of the series. Gwen and Rhys get a couple of good scenes as well, moving them on a little, whilst Jack gets to demonstrate a real ruthless streak - first of all by allowing Janet to be used as bait, then allowing her to maul Lynch to death.
Things you might like to know:

  • Mark's company is called LynchFrost. This is a homage to Lynch / Frost Productions, the company behind Twin Peaks
  • Torchwood's low key story arc is in evidence as Lynch tells Owen about the darkness and something moving in it.
  • We never do learn anything about the Weevils and their origins. They are presented as a form of bipedal rat, of very limited intelligence, and yet they wear clothes - the exact same clothes, as though they were bred and maintained by some higher power.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

C is for... Cooper, Geraint & Mary

Parents of Torchwood operative Gwen Cooper. We first met them on the occasion of Gwen's marriage to long-suffering fiance Rhys. It was clear that they did not get on with his mother, Brenda. Both were shocked to see that Gwen was pregnant, as she had not informed them she was expecting a child. She was really carrying an alien Nostrovite, having only been impregnated through a bite the night before. Gwen told her parents all about her work with Torchwood after the ceremony - only for Jack to later Retcon the entire wedding party so they would not remember any of the strange events of the day.

Some time later, the surviving members of Torchwood found themselves under attack following the events of "Miracle Day", when people suddenly stopped dying. Going on the run, Gwen and Rhys left their baby Anwen with Geraint and Mary. By this point, Gwen had finally revealed the true nature of her work with Torchwood.
Geraint had suffered a couple of heart attacks prior to Miracle Day, but on suffering a third after it took place he fell into a coma. His condition meant that he was one of those who were to be cremated alive. Gwen arranged for him to be smuggled out of the hospital and he was hidden at home by Mary and Rhys. A Government official investigated and found him - and he was sent to one of the holding areas awaiting cremation. When the Miracle was overturned, Rhys was at Geraint's bedside and was able to allow him to speak to Mary by phone before he died.

Played by: William Thomas (Geraint), and Sharon Morgan (Mary). Appearances: TW 2.9 Something Borrowed (2008), TW 4: Miracle Day.

  • Thomas had previously appeared in Doctor Who twice - as the funeral parlour assistant in Remembrance of the Daleks, and as Mr Cleaver in Boom Town. He was the first actor to appear in the programme in both its classic era and the new version.

C is for... Cook, Captain

The famed interplanetary explorer, whom the Doctor and Ace encountered on the planet Segonax. He and his companion Mags had come to visit the Psychic Circus, but had stopped to excavate a buried robot on the way. The Doctor and Ace found him to be a bit of a bore, but another visitor - Whizzkid - proved to be a big fan of the Captain's travels. The Captain later exploited this to make sure Whizzkid when into the circus ring to entertain the Gods of Ragnarok before himself. He also maneuvered the Doctor and Mags into going ahead of him.
Cook had found Mags on the planet Vulpana, and knew that she was a lycanthrope. Moonlight - even artificial moonlight - would trigger her transformation and the Captain used a theatrical light to create a moon effect. He hoped that Mags would kill the Doctor, and so please the Gods, but she turned on him instead. The Gods reanimated his corpse in order to stop Ace and Kingpin from getting a powerful amulet to the Doctor. He failed, his body falling into a deep chasm.

Played by: T P McKenna. Appearances: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1988).

  • Producer John Nathan-Turner had been trying to get McKenna into the programme for a number of years. In the previous season he had been considered for both the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers and Kane in Dragonfire.

C is for... Control

A female creature who travelled with the alien entity Light. Light was cataloguing all known life in the galaxy. When he arrived on a new planet, he would send one of his creatures out to interact with the native species, whilst the other would remain on his ship to act as a control comparison. Light would hibernate until the experiment was completed. In Victorian Perivale, Control found herself imprisoned as her colleague had taken on the role of Josiah Smith, and he intended to evolve into what he saw as the ultimate human being - the head of the British Empire. Control succeeded in escaping, and began evolving herself, turning into a Victorian lady.

She freed Light, so that he could put a stop to Smith's schemes. After the Doctor had defeated Light, and Smith had been locked away, Control elected to travel the universe in Light's ship with the explorer Redvers Fenn-Cooper and the Neanderthal Nimrod.

Played by: Sharon Duce. Appearances: Ghostlight (1989).

  • Duce is married to Dominic Guard, who had played Olvir in Terminus in 1983.

C is for... Constantine, Dr.

Dr Constantine was a physician at the Royal Hope Hospital in East London during the Blitz. He helped tend to a young boy named Jamie who was brought in, badly wounded by a falling bomb. The boy survived, miraculously, and Constantine studied him in Room 802 of the hospital. Soon, everyone who had come into contact with the boy fell into a coma and began to exhibit the same physical conditions as Jamie - even down to the gas mask which seemed fused to his head. Constantine stayed on alone at the hospital to care for those affected, but he too had caught the affliction. The Doctor saw him transform into a gas masked zombified being.
Later, Jamie called upon all the affected staff and patients of the hospital when the Doctor, Rose and Jack went to the Chula ambulance ship, whose nanogenes had caused his condition. Constantine had earlier indicated that Jamie's sister, Nancy, knew more about the boy than she was saying. She was, in fact, his mother. When the nanogenes recognised the relationship and worked out the correct genetic pattern, Constantine, Jamie and all the others were returned to normal.
Constantine had lost his family in the war, and he would have looked after Nancy and Jamie after the time-travellers had departed.

Played by: Richard Wilson. Appearances: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005).

  • Wilson is best known for playing grumpy pensioner Victor Meldrew in the BBC sitcom One Foot In The Grave - catchphrase: "I don't believe it!".

C is for... Connolly, Tommy

Teenage son of Eddie and Rita Connolly, who lived on Florizel Street in North London. He talked his father into getting a TV set, as the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was due. He was horrified when his grandmother was struck down by a mysterious condition - her face rendered smooth and featureless. Many neighbours were also afflicted. Tommy worked out that his father was reporting these victims to the police, who would turn up in the middle of the night and take them away. Tommy warned the Doctor and Rose about what was happening. Later, he rebelled against his father and joined the Doctor in his investigations, accompanying him and Inspector Bishop to the electrical store belonging to Mr Magpie, from where Eddie had bought their TV. He witnessed the Wire removing Bishop's features, and saw the creature's victims trapped in TV screens. He then accompanied the Doctor to the BBC transmitter at Alexandra Palace, and helped him trap the Wire onto a video tape.
The Doctor gifted him his scooter, and also advised him not to judge his father too harshly. Tommy helped his father move out of the family home.

Played by: Rory Jennings. Appearances: The Idiot's Lantern (2006).

  • Jennings was actually in his early 20's when he played Tommy. His youthful looks often had him playing younger roles. He now presents a Chelsea FC cable show alongside his acting.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Inspirations - The Underwater Menace

By Geoffrey Orme - his only contribution to the programme. This adventure had a troubled gestation - something which we will see happening a lot over the Patrick Troughton era of the show.
Initially known as "Doctor Who Under the Sea" or "In Atlantis" or "The Fish People", it was originally going to be the new Doctor's second story. Pencilled in to direct was Hugh David. These four episodes were going to get a larger budget as well. The production team decided that the script might be too ambitious to realise, so it was shelved in favour of a story by William Emms - "The Imps". This also proved to be rather over ambitious, and so the underwater story came back to the table. David contacted a friend of his who was then working out at Pinewood on the latest Bond movie, Thunderball - the one with the all the underwater action. The friend informed David that it was impossible to achieve by Doctor Who's usual production methods, even with an increased budget. David managed to get transferred onto The Highlanders, and its scheduled director - Julia Smith - was assigned The Underwater Menace.
The production was as troubled as the script development, with the cast openly deriding the story, and the director being reduced to tears. Michael Craze was unhappy that some of his part had to be apportioned to Frazer Hines, who had just joined late in the day with the previous adventure.

The story is set in the very near future. We have references to the Mexico Olympic Games - which were scheduled to take place the year after broadcast - as Polly finds a piece of souvenir ware on the coast of the rocky volcanic island on which the TARDIS has landed. This turns out to be the remains of the lost civilisation of Atlantis, the survivors of which are dwelling in a city deep beneath the surface.
Now, every Doctor Who fan is aware that a series that has lasted more than 50 years, with nearly a dozen producers / showrunners, and with more than a dozen script / story editors, is going to have some continuity problems. Some of these continuity problems have become the stuff of legend, such as the UNIT dating conundrum, and we have always loved to debate them. Recent writers have played with these, offering off hand comments that try to plug gaps or resolve the seemingly unresolveable. The authors of the Virgin New Adventures novels apparently laboured under the delusion that they were contractually obliged to address these issues, and write entire novels that might explain why Warriors of the Deep bears no relation whatsoever to either The Silurians or The Sea Devils (to give but one example). To be honest, we'd rather these continuity glitches were left alone. If anything, we miss them when they're gone.
One of the continuity arguments used to be about Atlantis. It looked at first glance like there were three mutually exclusive versions of its destruction - two of them by the same writers exactly a year apart. (That's how bad continuity can be in Doctor Who).
This story doesn't actually pose a problem, as it doesn't really say categorically how Atlantis came to be destroyed. We're simply seeing the aftermath centuries later. In The Magician's Apprentice, however, Steven Moffat has Clara and UNIT searching for the Doctor, and so they look to see where in history he is making the most "noise". There's a line - purely for the fans - about a triple paradox with Atlantis. As I've said, the Atlantis we see here comes much later, and could be the kingdom destroyed either by Kronos or by the Daemons - or both.
(When I reviewed this story many moons ago, I came up with the idea that Atlantis could be the name of a country / continent as well as that of a city on that country / continent. Kronos could have wiped out the city, and then the Daemons came along and destroyed the wider kingdom, or vice versa).

Enough of continuity squabbles. There's another 200 odd of these Inspirations posts to go, so we won't have heard the last of them.
The Underwater Menace has a real B-Movie feel to it, with its mad scientist villain. Had this been a movie, it would have been directed by Ed Wood, and Bela Lugosi would have played Professor Zaroff. If unavailable in rehab, George Zucco would have sufficed. A movie would probably have had some kind of giant monster - probably an octopus or dinosaur. The only octopus here is an ordinary sized one - pet to Zaroff. We do get some stock footage of sharks in Part One, as the Doctor and his companions are going to be sacrificed by being dropped into a shark-infested pool.
The only "monsters" here are the Fish Workers. The publicity might have highlighted them as the monster of the week, but they only feature briefly at the close of Part One, and then have their bizarre underwater ballet sequence in Part Three. They're really quite benign creatures.
The scene mentioned above about the sharks is reminiscent of something out of one of the old adventure serials they used to show at the cinema on Saturday mornings (or indeed on BBC TV on school holiday mornings) - most famous of which is Flash Gordon.
However, it's to another adventure serial of the same era that we need to look for inspiration for this story. The Undersea Kingdom was Republic's answer to Flash, back in 1936. The star is Ray "Crash" Corrigan. He's a navy lieutenant who just happens to be a sporting hero, who joins a mission in an atomic submarine to investigate the source of a spate of earthquakes. They're being caused by the villainous Unga Khan. Unlike Zaroff, who claims to want to raise Atlantis, Khan wants to sink the rest of the planet. You can see how well he fares just by going to You Tube, where they have the entire serial. Don't watch the episodes back to back, however. Play the game, and spend a week trying to work out how he's going to get out of that one...

If you are a fan of publications such as Fortean Times, you'll be aware that the legend of Atlantis is linked to all manner of yet-to-be explained phenomena. It has been written about since the time of Plato. If UFO's don't come from outer space then they originate from Atlantis. Its citizens were the ones who gave the ancients the knowledge to build the pyramids and other monumental structures, and people who have ESP are descended from them. Evidence for it has been (allegedly) found in the West Indies, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean. (The Pacific region has its own lost continent). Less fanciful theories look to the Minoan civilisation, and the cataclysmic eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (which returns us to The Time Monster). The Atlantis myth may be a garbled version of a real event, but it was a powerful local state that was laid low rather than a flying saucer-building super-race.

Now we have to talk about Professor Zaroff. Sorry, but we do. Cinema's earliest most famous mad scientist is probably Henry Frankenstein, as played by Colin Clive in the classic 1931 Universal movie. Technically, he only comes across as mad to his friends and family, as he is utterly obsessed with his work - which just happens to be trying to put God out of a job. He wants to create something (life from dead tissue), and will go to any lengths to achieve this. Sadly, Hollywood took him as a template, twisted it, and came up with decades of similarly obsessed scientists who instead want to destroy. This is where Zaroff comes from. Certainly, after the first A-Bomb, the public started to become wary of scientists, and thought that they were prepared do anything they liked just because they could. We fell out of trust with them. They no longer strove to help us, but experimented with things that could ultimately destroy us. Note how many of the 1950's monster movies revolve around mutation due to exposure to atomic testing - many of which feature a scientist who has brought things about due to his (and they were always men) obsession. Scientists in these movies are often portrayed as having good intentions, but care little for the consequences. They're sociopaths who want to benefit Mankind.
The problem with Zaroff is that he is simply Bonkers. That's the technical term - with a capital B. The Doctor thinks so too. Just look at the way he tries to describe Zaroff's state of mind to King Thous in Part Two. No deep psychological analysis needed. Zaroff has no good intentions whatsoever. You can't even excuse him as being "misguided". He plans to blow up the planet, just to see what it is like to blow up the planet. In a way Joseph Furst plays him the only way he can. A bit of background that existed in the earlier drafts had him grieving for his dead wife and child, killed in a car crash, and thus making him suicidal - damning the world along with himself. Unfortunately, there is no such motivation on view in the finished programme.

The inspiration looks like it comes from those old Saturday morning serials, but Ming the Merciless had a plan - to conquer the Earth / Universe - and Unga Khan wanted to make Atlantis great again by dragging down the rest of the world to his level. If any of them had intended to destroy the planet they were actually standing on, then there would have been a handy escape capsule hidden nearby.
Is it just a coincidence that Zaroff's name is just one letter out from that proto-hipster prof who appeared in all three of the Flash Gordon serials?
Some other potential inspirations before we sign off. In the 1950's & '60's there was as much excitement about us all living in underwater cities as there was about us living on the Moon or on Mars. The hugely popular TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau began its 10 year run in 1966, so we were all marveling at what went on beneath the waves then pretty much as we are at the moment watching Blue Planet II.
We also have the Cornish myth of Lyonesse - another sunken kingdom which has Arthurian connections, and which featured in a poem by Walter de la Mare (Sunk Lyonesse, 1922). 1965 had seen the release of the Vincent Price film City Beneath The Sea, inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe tale The City In The Sea. Note the film's Gill Men. It was made by the same team behind the Aaru Dalek movies, and featured dialogue written by one David Whitaker.
Next time: Brexit hasn't happened, or by 2070 we're back in, as the UK is bossing a load of Europeans about on the Moon. No-one's worrying about climate change, because we can control the weather now. Polly devises a new cocktail, Jamie has a lie-in, and Ben suddenly knows all about nuclear reactors. The Cybermen spot the similarities between this and an earlier story, so logic dictates that they have to make their return...