Sunday, 25 June 2017

World Enough And Time - Review

Let's get that pre-credits regeneration scene out of the way. Mr Capaldi had a particularly bouffant head of hair in comparison to the subsequent episode, so I suspect that what we were seeing was actually a throw forward to the Christmas episode - the Twelfth Doctor's last hurrah. Note the wintry setting. There has been a rumour kicking around that David Bradley might be playing the First Doctor at Christmas - rather than the actor who played him. The Doctor is absent from the third episode of The Tenth Planet. Could he have sneaked off and had an adventure with his later self?
Our thoughts are obviously with that first Cyberman story from 1966, as World Enough And Time sees the return of the Mondasian Cybermen.
Lately, the Doctor has been attempting to rehabilitate Missy, and this story opens with him allowing her to play his role. She is "Doctor Who". Back when The Tenth Planet was made, Gerry Davis was story editor on the show (as well as co-creator of the Cybermen). During his tenure, it is frequently implied that this is the Doctor's real name. The computer WOTAN states that "Dr Who is required...". The Doctor then calls himself Dr Von Wer in The Highlanders, and signs a note to Professor Zaroff as "Dr W" in the subsequent story. This only happens during Davis' tenure, and is never revisited by any of his successors. Presumably Steven Moffat included these scenes as an homage to the Davis era.

As soon as blue-skinned alien Jorj appears brandishing a gun, the Doctor can no longer sit back and observe. Nine minutes in, and Bill has a hole in her chest where her heart should be. This, naturally, came as a great shock. It is one thing to build towards a life threatening situation for a companion - but this just comes out of nowhere.
Her "death" allows her to go off to take the lead in the main part of the episode. The creepy patients come and take her away, claiming that they can repair her, but she won't be able to come back. We know, from the voices and from the bandaged heads, that these are proto-Cybermen - and this is the fate in store for Bill.
The Doctor, Missy and Nardole are sidetracked - stuck at the front of the spaceship where time is going much slower than the lower levels, thanks to the gravity well of the nearby Black Hole. They only set off to find Bill towards the end of the episode. It's only been a couple of minutes for them, but for Bill, trapped in the hospital, many, many months have passed. She has a cybernetic heart now, and has been befriended by Mr Razor, the caretaker. I'm afraid that, despite a wonderful make-up job and vaguely Eastern European accent, I could tell that this was John Simm.
The only real frustration I had with this episode was the foreknowledge that the Mondasian Cybermen, and John Simm's Master, were to return. Such a pity that both things were spoilered by the production team themselves.
It meant that we weren't waiting to see what would happen - only when it would happen. At least Bill's shooting, and subsequent conversion in to a full Cyberman, weren't flagged up in advance - though publicity materials did state that the Doctor would lose someone he was pledged to protect.

Who would have thought that the images of the Doctor with the Cyberman were really images of the Doctor and his companion?
This story pushes the boundary when it comes to body-horror. We have always known that the Cybermen were once human - their bodies replaced with plastic and metal, and their emotions removed. Only the Colin Baker story Attack of the Cybermen dared to give us a glimpse of what this actually looked like. The scenes in the hospital of the bandaged patients in pain and longing for death were disturbing to say the least.
Two big questions - beyond that regeneration scene.
First of all, how does this fit in with what we already know of the Genesis of the Cybermen? The planet Mondas was Earth's twin, and at some point in the ancient past it left its orbit and went travelling through space. The humanoid inhabitants had to adapt to this peripatetic lifestyle and so gradually, over time, replaced limbs and organs with artificial ones. They then started removing those other weaknesses that we call emotions. The implication was that this was born out of necessity, and the Cybermen went through the process willingly. Only later did they forcibly convert others to join their ranks.
In this episode, the spaceship has been constructed to take colonists from Mondas - humanoid ones. Mondas can't be run by the Cybermen at this point, as the ship clearly has cultivated zones, and a city designed for flesh and blood people. These Cybermen are the descendants of the 20 crew members who went down to the lower levels - so seem to have evolved on their own, irrespective of what will eventually happen on Mondas. We don't know what will happen next week, but these Cybermen might survive to reach Mondas and be the impetus to start the planet's conversion. Then  again, the Doctor might simply crash the ship into the Black Hole. A complicating factor is the appearance of those more advanced Cybermen. How can they evolve if they come from a higher level, where time is going more slowly? They have to come from lower down. All slightly confusing for now.
And talking of confusion, my other big question?

What on Earth is the Master up to, and how is he even there? Having him in disguise for no discernible reason is clearly an homage to the sort of thing the Anthony Ainley version got up to. No-one on the ship knows who he is. They won't know who Harold Saxon was, as in Earth terms this has to be before 1986 - when Mondas returned to the Solar System. Why spend years impersonating Mr Razor? If he wants to take over the Cybermen, then why not push their development along and adopt a position of authority?
He doesn't recognise Missy, but does work it out after a while - or so he tells her. How, though, if all he has to go on is very slow moving images on his TV set? There's no mention that Bill has told him about her, though you would think that she would tell her new friend who these three people she arrived with are.
The last time we saw this incarnation of the Master, he was being dragged back into the Time War in David Tennant's last episode. There never was any explanation of how and when he regenerated into Missy. There might even have been an incarnation or two in between them. How did the Simm Master end up here? Why does Missy not remember any of this? Hopefully events next week will answer some of these questions.
It was a bit of a swizz, the BBC releasing images we thought were from this episode, when they're actually from the next - namely the different Cybermen in the streets. The trailer for next week doesn't show us anything of substance, being composed mostly of battle sequences.
The beginning of the end for Moffat, Capaldi and Gomez. Is it also the end for Mackie? Can't wait to see how this is all resolved next week, and leads into the Christmas episode.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Inspirations - The Space Museum

This story has never been known as anything other than The Space Museum. That's because it is set in a museum, which is in space. Or at least on another planet. Which is in space.
The fact that the travellers have arrived in a museum seems relevant in the first episode, but matters less as the story progresses.
It is really a conventional revolution / alien invasion plot. A planet - in this case Xeros - has been invaded by aliens - the Moroks - and the Xerons rise up and win their world back.
Now if you've listened to the DVD commentary you'll know that story editor Dennis Spooner rewrote large chunks of this script, which the credited writer - Glyn Jones - was not happy about. Unusually, Spooner actually removed some of the humour. He tended to add jokes.
Talking of jokes, there is an old one amongst fans regarding this story - namely that The Space Museum has three things wrong with it: episodes two, three and four...

The first episode is intriguing, and is certainly the better of the four. For the first time in the series, time travel plays a crucial part. For a series about a time machine, the mechanics of time travel are rarely used dramatically throughout the classic era of the show.
The TARDIS crew, at the end of the previous story, still dressed in their Crusading clothes, suddenly become frozen where they stand as the ship's lights dim. As this story opens, they wake to find themselves standing in their modern outfits. The historical gear is stowed away in the closet. Time has jumped forward. The Doctor shrugs this off - it's what happens when you travel through time - but the companions are obviously baffled. Vicki drops a glass of water, and it suddenly reconstitutes itself and jumps back into her hand. The ship then lands on the planet Xeros, where they see the museum on the scanner. Venturing outside they find it to be a dry, dusty world. The planet name derives from the Greek word for "dry". The travellers find that they are not making any footprints in the dust.
They go to the museum and find that the Morok guards, and later some of the young Xerons, cannot see or hear them. Nor can they hear what the Moroks or Xerons say. Vicki then finds that she can pass her hand through a solid museum display. Eventually the crew find a room in which they see themselves on show as exhibits - along with the TARDIS.
The Doctor realises that they have jumped a time track. They have arrived too early in their own time stream. They must wait for time to catch up with them, and when it does they will be seen and heard - leading to them ultimately being turned into exhibits.

That's all just the first episode, and it's wonderful stuff. We then get the boring and bored Moroks, led by Governor Lobos. Jones got the names from "morons" and "lobotomy". These guys are supposed to be stupid hulking brutes. The Xerons, meanwhile, are all trendy jazz-age teenage boys, dressed in cool black. There's a battle of the generations behind the battle to win back the planet. The hipsters want to kick out the boring trad old dads.
The concept of the teenager was a post-war phenomenon. Before the war, children went to bed one night and woke up the next day as young adults. The war led to a fracturing of family life, with many children growing up without an adult role model - mainly boys not having seen their fathers for many years, assuming they made it back at all. Youngsters had more disposable income once we got into the 1950's, and so lots of people wanted them to spend it on them. Venues opened that catered for younger people - such as the coffee bars - and new music was developed that was geared towards them. Young people themselves began to make the music.
Adults did not know how to react to this new phenomenon, and so there was much social conflict between them and the older generation. Church and State, and the Sunday papers, predicted the breakdown of society. Every time the oldies pushed, the teenagers just pushed back.
Observing the zombies today staring at their mobile phones, the oldies might have had a point...

One of the museum exhibits is a Dalek, of the type seen in their very first story. This gives Hartnell the chance to impersonate one, when he hides in the empty casing. Ian thinks it unlikely they will encounter them again - a production in-joke as the next story will see them return, and the closing sequence trails this.
If there is one Greek legend that Doctor Who has touched upon more than any other over the decades, it is that of the Minotaur. Ian decides to dismantle Barbara's cardigan and use the wool to guide them through the labyrinth of the museum.
The word "Museum" derives from a place sacred to the Muses. They were the nine daughters of Zeus. A couple of their names will be familiar to Doctor Who fans, as they were used for characters - e.g. Erato and Thalia (a big green blob and a Member of the High Council of Time Lords). They represented various artistic forms - different forms of poetry, dance, and so forth. A Macedonian king had nine daughters and decided to name them after the Muses. He thought them more gifted than the goddesses, and they were all turned into magpies. Fickle lot, the Greek pantheon.
There was a museum in Alexandria in the 3rd Century BC, but the modern concept of a museum begins with the Ashmolean in Oxford, which opened its doors in 1683. It was designed to house the bequest to the university from Elias Ashmole. Rome's Capitoline Museum was the first art collection to be owned by the public (1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection).

Back to the time mechanics. the idea of people coming across alternative versions of themselves is an old one. There's a 1963 Twilight Zone episode starring Jack Klugman called "Death Ship", where a group of astronauts arrive on a planet and find a crashed spaceship identical to their own - containing their own dead bodies. Space: 1999 did something similar much later.
Much of this Doctor Who story is taken up with the Doctor and friends debating predestination and free will. What do they have to do to stop themselves ending up as exhibits? Each action they take is debated - is it taking them closer to the glass cases, or away from them? The Doctor is sure that what they have seen is one possible future, and need not come to pass. Their interactions with the Xerons and the Moroks will have had an impact - throwing many variables into the mix. As it is, it is Vicki - the one who doesn't see the point in worrying about consequences - who helps with the rebellion, breaking into the armoury, and so leading to the downfall of Lobos and his men.
The explanation for the time track jump turns out to be a prosaic one. Jones had it that it was the Morok equipment which caused the problem, whereas Spooner makes it yet another TARDIS fault - another stuck switch (as with Edge of Destruction the year before).
Next time - a works outing for the Daleks. Ian dad-dances, Barbara loses another cardigan, Vicki discovers that the Beatles played classical music, and the Doctor beats himself up...

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

World Enough And Time Images

The BBC have released a number of photographs for this week's forthcoming episode. Three different lots of Cybermen, and our first proper look at John Simm as the Master.

I believe "Squeeee!!!" would be an apposite epithet.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

June's Figurines

Three figurines this month, as we have the latest of the larger Special Editions released. Now before you wonder why Azal the Daemon is sporting a blue bracelet and finger ring, my figurine arrived in a damaged state. The right hand was off, and two of the fingers. I have had to make a temporary running repair with a bit of blu-tac, pending the purchase tomorrow of some super-glue. (Sending it back for a new one is just more hassle than it's worth). I have had other damaged figurines in the past - usually Daleks minus an eye-stalk or utility arm.
The two regular releases this month include the Roger Delgado Master, as seen in Terror of the Autons. The resemblance is a bit more caricature than realistic. He is posed brandishing his TCE weapon.
With him is a Tetrap, from Sylvester McCoy's debut Time and the Rani.

I'm not at all sure I like the Azal figure. The hair seems all wrong. I think they've used as a source an image of him where the hair has been cropped. The face should be rounder, with the hair shaggier. I dislike the colour difference between the chest / arms and the legs as well. Again, the source photographs may be to blame for this.
Next time - one of the alien Voord.

Eaters of Light - Review

Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudenim faciunt, pacem appellant.
So Tacitus claimed that a Caledonian chieftain - Calgacus - said of the Romans, but writer Rona Munro gave part of this quote to young Pict Kar in Eaters of Light. Roughly it means: to ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert they call it peace.
For those not in the know, Munro wrote the last ever story of the classic period of Doctor Who - 1989's Survival. This makes her the only person to have written for both eras of the show - and 12 years in, it's unlikely anyone else will be invited to do so, unless Chris Chibnall is busy trying to coax Terrance Dicks out of retirement.
The inspiration for this story is the mystery of the Roman 9th Legion - IX Hispana - which disappeared. The last record of them was in York in 108 AD, and it is believed that they met their doom fighting local tribes in Northern Scotland. Bill mentions reading "the book" - presumably Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth. It was adapted as a movie in 2011 - The Eagle.

Like her other story, Munro makes a group of young people her protagonists - in this case two rival bands. First we have the mostly young Picts, led by Gatekeeper Kar and her brother; then we have the young deserters from the 9th Legion, led by Lucius. Being Rona Munro, she has strong female characters - in Survival all of the stronger characters were the female ones, whilst the male characters included the easily manipulated Midge, the evil Master, and the bullying Paterson. I'm going to assume that the similarity in names with Kar and Kara (the principal Cheetah person in Survival) is just coincidence, to tie in with the crow motif. That was a nice touch - that the crows talked and were remembering these events.
In case you hadn't worked it out from her name, Munro is Scottish, so it was only natural that she might look to her homeland for a story idea. It allowed for a number of jokes at the expense of my native land - mainly weather-related. Of all the places a light-eating creature could have turned up. The Doctor only had to wait for the August Bank Holiday and the monster would have been done for. (The chief jokers about the Scottish weather are the Scots themselves).
Talking of the monster, it did look like it was a bit of a bolt on, like the series has to have a monster of the week. Munro clearly wanted the story to be about the two groups of young people coming together. I couldn't quite get the monster's MO. It fed on light, yet seemed to be most active at night.

The young cast acquitted themselves admirably - especially Rebecca Benson (Kar) and Brian Vernel (Lucius). Vernel is no stranger to Sci-Fi, having had a role in the last Star Wars movie. The regulars were all well served. I enjoyed the banter between the Doctor and Nardole. I'm glad that we've been getting to see a bit more of the latter, him having to take a back seat whilst Bill was being established. Now, just before the series began, it was stated that Bill was going to be an out and proud lesbian. Pearl Mackie and Steven Moffat were at great pains to say that this was no big deal. Indeed, it shouldn't be. So why is it being made such a big deal of? It's nice to see that the average Roman teenager was quite open minded about sexual mores, but did the story have to stop dead whilst Bill reminded us yet again that she prefers girls?
And so we come to one other strong female character - yet another appearance by Missy. There she was sitting in the TARDIS, which she now seems to have the run of. She's even been doing a bit of engine maintenance. The Doctor clearly feels that the time is coming to trust her, that they might actually become friends once more as they once were as children. From the trailer for the next episode - the first half of the series finale - we see the Doctor is sitting it out in the ship whilst Missy gets to be him, at least for a bit. Interesting that the Doctor calls them Mondasian Cybermen, rather than just Cybermen. All Cybermen originated on Mondas, apart from the parallel Earth ones. It will be interesting to see how they explain two Masters. From the latest issue of DWM we know that the spaceship is 400 miles long and is on the edge of a Black Hole, and that time runs differently at one end from the other. Might this temporal differential be the answer?
Expectations for the next two weeks are running high.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

B is for... Buckingham, Lady Jennifer

An aristocratic woman who joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1917. She went to France where she worked as an ambulance driver. She was one of thousands who were abducted from Earth and set down on an alien world, mentally conditioned to believe that she was still in the midst of the First World War. Finding herself in No Man's Land, she gave a lift to the Doctor and his companions - Jamie and Zoe. The ambulance was captured by German troops, then liberated by British soldiers under the command of Lt. Carstairs. At the British HQ, in a requisitioned chateau, Lady Buckingham was called upon to act as a witness at the court martial of the time travellers, who had been accused of being German spies. She and Carstairs were concerned at the way the tribunal was conducted, as their conditioning was starting to break down. Together they helped the Doctor and his friends escape and made off in the ambulance. They passed through a strange mist and found themselves confronted by Roman soldiers. Back at the chateau, Lady Buckingham and Carstairs learned the truth of where they were. They moved on to the American Civil War zone, where Lady Buckingham was captured first by Union soldiers, and then by a rebel group. She stayed on to help tend to the wounded.
She would have been returned to Earth after the Doctor had called upon the Time Lords for assistance. Carstairs was last seen hoping to find her again.

Played by: Jane Sherwin. Appearances: The War Games (1969).

  • Sherwin was the wife of the then current producer of Doctor Who, Derrick Sherwin.
  • It would be nice to think that Lady Buckingham and Lt Carstairs found each other and lived happily ever after. However, the Time Lords would certainly have wiped their memories when they sent them home. Then again - both had an aptitude for overcoming mental conditioning.

B is for... Bucket, Lorna

A young woman who was a Cleric in the army of the Papal Mainframe. She came from the Gamma Forests, and had met the Doctor when she was a child. Her colleagues were convinced she only joined the army in order to meet him again. Stationed on the asteroid Demons Run, she tried to be friendly to Amy Pond, who was held captive there after giving birth to her daughter Melody. Lorna gave Amy a prayer leaf - a piece of cloth embroidered with the baby's name. When the Doctor and his friends turned up to rescue Amy, Lorna elected to join them. She was able to warn the Doctor that a trap had been set for him. She was fatally wounded in the subsequent battle. The Doctor told her he remembered her, but then admitted this was not the case after she had passed away. River Song's true identity was revealed when the TARDIS tried to translate the name on the prayer leaf.

Played by: Christina Chong. Appearances: A Good Man Goes To War (2011).