Random Musings: “The Power of the Daleks”, a key part of Doctor Who history

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Power of the Daleks

In November 1966, during the fourth season of the original run of Doctor Who, the BBC aired “The Power of the Daleks.” This episode did more than bring back those popular villainous antagonists, last seen in late 1965/early 1966; it gave us Daleks who were cunning and devious, rather than direct about their intentions. In this story, a Dalek proclaims, “I am your servant” rather than the usual “hello” of “Exterminate.”

Discovered in an ancient space capsule that had crashed on the Earth colony planet of Vulcan (no, not that Vulcan), the Daleks are revived by an ambitious scientist named Lesterson (Robert James), who convinces the governor (Peter Bathurst) that these self-proclaimed servants can be useful in the colony’s mining operations. All these “servants” need to fulfill their duties are access to power supplies and some technology.

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, argues a new arrival to Vulcan, a man carrying the credentials of the Earth examiner and calling himself the Doctor. He offers no proof to substantiate his warnings about these “Daleks”, and his own companions, Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze), seem uneasy around him.

Encountering the Daleks

The Doctor introduces Polly and Ben to the Daleks.

Amid all this, a group of rebels is active within the colony and a killer— the murderer of the real examiner— lurks somewhere about. The killer also knows that should the real examiner’s body be found, the Doctor would be the prime suspect.

In addition to presenting viewers with “friendly” Daleks, a murder mystery and political intrigue, “The Power of the Daleks” also gave them another twist— a new Doctor. “The Power of the Daleks” was Doctor Who’s first post-regeneration story (though the term “regeneration” wouldn’t be used for several more years). It marked the debut of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, taking over for the ailing William Hartnell.

In later years regeneration would become an established part of the program, but in 1966 replacing the popular Hartnell was a risk. Keep in mind, also, that viewers still knew almost nothing about the Doctor at this point. The terms “Time Lords” and “Gallifrey” wouldn’t even be coined until 1969 and 1974, respectively, and there had been no on screen evidence that the Doctor wasn’t a human being. There was nothing to suggest the Doctor could change his appearance, but the production team decided to make that risky move.

“What a reckless and brilliant piece of television inventiveness that was,” current producer Steven Moffat said about the Doctor’s first regeneration in the 2013 documentary The Doctors revisited: The Second Doctor. “It would have been so easy, if you think about it, for them [the producers] to say ‘his face will change slightly. We’ll put another bloke in a white wig and we’ll have explained his slightly different features and he’ll carry on playing it roughly the same way.’ They didn’t do that at all. And I still don’t know how they came to this conclusion and how they knew it would work to say ‘we’ll make him completely different.’”

Moffat is right. It would have been more “sensible” to replace Hartnell with an actor who looked somewhat like him and keep on going (and maybe future generations would have made comparisons with Darrin Stevens), but the producers avoided the “safe” choice.

In interviews, Troughton said he was initially reluctant to accept the part, believing Doctor Who wouldn’t last more than six weeks with him. He was wrong, of course, but it might only have lasted that long with a Hartnell look-alike.

It certainly wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has. “The Power of the Daleks” didn’t just introduce Patrick Troughton as the Doctor; it introduced Doctor Who as the series is presently understood.

“I think Patrick Troughton created the Doctor as he is now,” David Tennant (the 10th Doctor) said in that same documentary. “William Hartnell created something that was unique and brilliant, but actually, the Doctor we recognize today is much more Patrick Troughton’s Doctor… If Patrick Troughton hadn’t done what he did so confidently and with such charm and so brilliantly, then I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

The Hartnell era gave us the Doctor, the TARDIS and travels through time and space with companions. Every other significant aspect of Doctor Who can be traced— directly or indirectly— to Troughton.

A few years ago, Doctor Who Magazine featured a debate regarding whether Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker was more influential. When you think about it, the obvious answer is Troughton. Yes, Baker, who played the part for seven years (the longest on-screen tenure), brought Doctor Who into the U.S. market (through PBS), but if Troughton hadn’t succeeded in making the part his own, Doctor Who might have been a little-remembered television curiosity.

Despite its historic significance, “The Power of the Daleks” was once only available for viewing by those who happened to have access to a time machine. It only aired once and was one of the many programs the BBC wiped from its videotape archives in the early 1970s.

Fortunately, the audio survives. That, along with images from the broadcast, allowed a team of animators to revive this 50-year-old classic on DVD.

“The Power of the Daleks” is a worthwhile addition to your video library; not just because of its historic significance, but also because it’s an engaging story of mystery and suspense.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

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Random Musings: Revisiting the Doctor Who episode “Hide.”

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doctor-who-hide

On a stormy night in 1974, at Caliburn House, Major Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), a psychic, are conducting an experiment to communicate with the spirit inhabiting the house, when there’s a knock on the door.

It’s the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). The doctor says he’s looking for a ghost. He also lets Palmer, who specialized in espionage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines in World War II, believe he’s with military intelligence.

A reluctant Palmer tells the Doctor and Clara that while Caliburn House has been around more than 400 years, the “Caliburn Gast” has been around much longer, having been mentioned in local Saxon poetry and parish folk tales.

caliburn-gast

The Caliburn Gast.

He shows them a board of photographs depicting a translucent figure in various locales throughout the house.

Clara asks why the figure, who screams, according to various reports over the years, is always in the same position, regardless of the angle or the framing of a particular photo.

“We don’t know,” Palmer says. “She’s an objective phenomenon, but objective recording equipment can’t detect her.”

“Without the presence of a powerful psychic,” the Doctor interjects.

“Absolutely,” Palmer confirms.

For her part, Grayling says she can feel the ghost, who knows she’s there, calling out to her, saying, “Help me.”

As they talk, a figure flits past them.

the-doctor-and-major-palmer

The Doctor and Major Palmer.

When the Doctor asks if she’s coming to find the ghost, Clara replies with the very sensible, “Why would I want to do that?”

But she goes off to investigate, anyway, especially when the Doctor agrees to dare her.

Palmer recognizes the Doctor as a liar, though he doesn’t know if he’s lying about being from the ministry.

“But, you know, that’s often the way that it is when someone’s seen a thing or two,” he tells Grayling.

During their investigations, the Doctor and Clara hear a loud thudding sound, which the Doctor, not-so-helpfully, identifies as, “a very loud noise.”

In a scene reminiscent of The Haunting, when Clara tells the Doctor that while she’s a tiny bit terrified, there’s no need for him to hold her hand, he shows her that he’s not. A flash of lightning reveals something and they run.

They rejoin Palmer and Grayling, where they see both a spinning disc and a woman shouting, “Help me.” The words subsequently appear on the wall.

The Doctor borrows Palmer’s camera and uses the TARDIS to take a series of pictures from throughout the history of the Earth.

Returning to 1974, he shows the slides he’s taken, asking what if the Caliburn Gast isn’t trapped in a moment of fear and torment, but just trapped somewhere where time runs more slowly?

“What if a second to her was 100,000 years to us?” he asks.

The Doctor reveals that the Caliburn Gast isn’t a ghost, though she is a lost soul; she’s a time traveler named Hila Tacorian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs).

He also says Tacorian crash landed three minutes ago, from her perspective, in a rapidly collapsing pocket universe and tells Grayling that she’s a lantern, shining across the dimensions and guiding Tacorian back to the land of the living.

The slides also reveal that Tacorian is running from a creature of some sort.

One of the names for the Caliburn Gast is “The Witch of the Well”, though Palmer said there’s no well on the property, so far as they know. Once he knows the truth about the “ghost”, the Doctor realizes the “well” is a wormhole, “a door to the echo universe.”

the-doctor-and-emma

The Doctor and Emma Grayling.

With help from equipment cobbled together from the TARDIS, Emma Grayling opens a portal and the Doctor goes into the pocket universe to retrieve Hila Tacorian. She gets back safely, but the Doctor isn’t so lucky. It’s now up to Clara to convince the TARDIS, which apparently doesn’t like her, to travel into the pocket universe while an exhausted Grayling tries to open the portal again.

The Doctor, successfully retrieved, explains why the psychic link was so powerful: Hila Tacorian is Emma Grayling’s many times great granddaughter.

But if Hila Tacorian was a time traveler running for her life in a pocket universe, who or what held Clara’s hand inside the house? The penny drops as the Doctor realizes the full truth about the creature and the episode reveals its second twist.

Although “Hide” is not a Halloween story, per se (it takes place in late November), I thought it apropos for discussion today. It is a ghost story, after all.

Speaking of ghosts, I particularly liked a scene in the TARDIS, after the Doctor has taken the final picture at the end of the Earth’s life. When he confirms that he and Clara have just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death, she asks if he’s okay with that.

“Yes.”

“How can you be?” she asks, adding that one minute they’re in 1974, looking for ghosts. “But all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you, I haven’t been born yet. And to you, I’ve been dead 100 billion years.”

She asks if her body’s out there somewhere, in the ground.

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“But here we are, talking. So, I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you.”

“Hide” is an enjoyable Doctor Who episode, suitable for Halloween viewing. The revelation about the Caliburn Gast probably explains every ghost story out there. Oh, those pesky time travelers, always causing mischief. 🙂

Seriously, though, the idea that a “ghost” seen for centuries is, in fact, a living woman who’s only experienced three minutes is pretty cool.

All things being equal, I like the truth about the ghost more than the truth about the monster, though I recognize that the latter has a thematic connection to the story of Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling.

Again, “Hide” is a good tale to revisit on Halloween.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Revisiting The Sarah Jane Adventures

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Sarah Jane Adventures

Over the years Doctor Who has been on the air, the Doctor has shared his adventures with more than 30 companions. One of the most popular— the all-time favorite according to 2009 and 2014 polls of readers of Doctor Who Magazine— was Sarah Jane Smith.

Sarah Jane, played by Elisabeth Sladen (1946-2011), was a freelance journalist who initially traveled with the Doctor in his third and fourth incarnations (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) from 1973-1976. During the show’s initial 1963-1989 run, Sladen was twice invited back to reprise her role. And, until Torchwood debuted in 2006, her 1981-one off K9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend was the only Doctor Who spin-off idea to make it to the filming stage.

Sarah Jane and the Doctor

Sarah Jane and the Doctor.

When the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors”, aired in 1983, Sarah Jane was not only one of the returning companions, but also played an active role in the story. More so than the Doctor’s own granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford).

Is it any wonder, then, that A) of all the past companions who could have been invited to appear after the series returned in 2005, then-producer Russell T. Davies asked Sladen to reprise Sarah Jane in the 2006 episode “School Reunion”? Or B) that Davies would go on to create a five-season series centered around the resourceful Ms. Smith, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)?

The first episode, “Invasion of the Bane”, finds a somewhat aloof Sarah Jane, now living in the London suburb of Ealing, reluctantly interacting with her teenage across-the-road new neighbor, Maria Jackson (Yasmin Paige) as she investigates strange goings-on regarding the company behind a drink called Bubbleshock.

Sarah Jane— still an investigative journalist at heart— has taken it upon herself to battle alien threats (and help friendly aliens in need) in her own, quiet way. She doesn’t want anything to do with Maria— or anyone else— but the fact that the alien Bane regard both as threats brings them together.

Sarah Jane and Maria

Sarah Jane and Maria.

Things get more complicated for Sarah Jane when the Archetype, a teenage boy created by the Bane, escapes and assists in their defeat. Knowing that the boy, a genius she names Luke (Tommy Knight), has nowhere to go, she adopts him.

Of course, normal adoption procedures don’t apply to a teenager created by aliens a few hours before you met him. Good thing Sarah Jane has a sophisticated alien computer called Mr. Smith to create the necessary paperwork. Not strictly legal, but what else is she going to do? Leave him to fend for himself? Let Torchwood know about him? Neither would be in Luke’s best interests.

No, the Torchwood team isn’t actually mentioned, as The Sarah Jane adventures was ostensibly a kids’ show and Torchwood definitely wasn’t; but her comment about “secret organizations… tending to go in with guns blazing” is an oblique reference to both Torchwood and UNIT, with whom Sarah Jane was associated during her initial travels with the Doctor.

In season one, Luke and Maria befriend classmate Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony); and in season two, after Maria and her family move to Washington, D.C., a girl named Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra) moves in across the road. Sarah Jane, who wasn’t pleased when Clyde learned what she does, was bound and determined that Rani would remain ignorant of the truth.

Too bad for her that Rani— herself an aspiring journalist— is “into weird.”

THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES

Sarah Jane, Rani, Clyde and Luke watch for trouble.

Neither Luke nor “class clown” Clyde, are thrilled that Rani’s father is their school’s new headmaster.

Over the course of the series, Sarah Jane and the kids face off against a Gorgon; the Pied Piper (yes, that one); the Mona Lisa (yes, that one); a cosmic force predating the creation of our universe; the time-shifting agent of chaos known as The Trickster and The Nightmare Man, who preys on college-bound Luke’s insecurities.

Other adventures include the investigation of a haunted house; interaction with the Men in Black (Rani: “So where’s Will Smith?”) and Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani being sent on separate missions back in time.

Eventually, the Doctor himself appears. His 10th incarnation (David Tennant) shows up in the third season episode “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”; and his 11th incarnation (Matt Smith) appears in the fourth season adventure “The Death of the Doctor.”

“The Death of the Doctor” also teams Sarah Jane with her predecessor on Doctor Who, Jo Grant (Katy Manning).

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Sarah Jane with the Doctor and Jo Grant.

Sarah Jane is also reunited with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, 1929-2011), the head of UNIT during her tenure with the Doctor— and another popular character— in “Enemy of the Bane.”

The series is called The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it’s very much an ensemble show. Maria, Luke, Clyde and Rani are just as important as she is. And all the characters face challenges.

In “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane” the Trickster changes history so that Sarah Jane died at age 13. Maria’s the only one who remembers the true history. With Sarah Jane gone, so are Luke and Mr. Smith. Clyde doesn’t even know her. Setting things right isn’t going to be easy.

In “Mark of the Berserker”, Clyde not only has to deal with the return of his estranged father, but must also find a way to reach him before the mind-controlling alien Berserker takes the elder Langer over completely.

In “The Mad Woman in the Attic”, Rani, feeling ignored by the others, does some investigating of missing people on her own. A decision with long-term consequences.

In “Mona Lisa’s Revenge”, after a quarrel with Sarah Jane, Luke rather foolishly decides that he, Clyde and Rani can handle matters involving the come-to-life painting without her help.

Oh, and to paraphrase a line from a certain 1970s TV series, don’t let the Mona Lisa get hold of a Sontaran gun. You wouldn’t like the Mona Lisa with a Sontaran gun.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa: artwork with an attitude.

In “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith”, Sarah Jane has the opportunity to save her parents, who died when she was a baby. But it’s a trap by the Trickster. One affecting the future of the human race.

In “The Empty Planet” Clyde and Rani must work out why everyone but the two of them— and a young boy— has disappeared.

Sky

Sky manifests her powers.

The fifth season introduced a girl named Sky (Sinead Michael), who first appeared on Sarah Jane’s doorstep as a baby, but soon aged to a teenager. Like Luke, she was of alien origin. Sarah Jane adopted her, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the opportunity to develop the character as much as the others had been. Still, there were some nice brother/sister bonding scenes between Luke and Sky.

If you like science fiction and/or Doctor Who, you’ll probably enjoy The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: A look back at Doctor Who season 27/series 1, a decade later.

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Doctor Who logo series one

In 2005, Doctor Who returned to TV screens after 16 years (save a one-off TV movie in 1996). Starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion, Rose Tyler, it proved to be a massive hit for the BBC.

The debut episode, “Rose”, was broadcast on the BBC on March 26, 2005 and much later in the year on the (then) Sci-Fi Channel. Luckily, I was able to pick up the CBC over the air and saw it beginning in April.

Rose Tyler meets the Doctor

“Run.” Rose Tyler meets the Doctor.

In “Rose”— and indeed for that first season— Rose Tyler is very much the viewpoint character. Executive Producer and head writer Russell T. Davies knew that for the show to be a success, it had to appeal to a broad audience, as Doctor Who did in the 60s and 70s. By the time the series left the air in 1989, it had become too self-referential. Many of the scripts were good and it was starting to have a bit of a renaissance under then-script editor Andrew Cartmel, but there were also a lot of references that casual viewers wouldn’t understand.

Therefore, Davies (himself a fan of the original incarnation of the series) set out to draw in as many viewers as possible. And one way he did that was to have recurring appearances by Rose’s mother, Jackie (Camille Coduri) and boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). He also didn’t inundate the viewer with details about the original run of the series. In fact, it wasn’t until David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor— after the show had been well established— that explicit references to the original run began appearing.

Jackie and Mickey

Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith.

Every episode in season 27/series 1 also took place either on Earth or a space station above it. We met alien creatures, but never visited other planets.

I call it season 27, by the way, because the 2005-present incarnation is a continuation of the 1963-1989 series, not a start-from-scratch re-launch.

Yes, Davies did bring back an old adversary— the Autons— but he said in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (May 2015, page 40), that he’d have used the Autons had he brought back the show in the 90s; and that they were the best monster.

He also pointed out that “the grammar for [science fiction] barely existed, and certainly not on Saturday night prime time BBC One. So I was being careful. The monsters were dummies. Simple as that.”

Autons

The Autons advance on Rose.

As to the Doctor himself, neither we nor Rose (in her researches about him) are given the slightest hint that he’s ever had other faces. Another wise choice. Depicting images of the Doctor’s other incarnations (or even mentioning them) in the first episode would only confuse new viewers.

By the way, there’s a scene in “Rose” where the Doctor regards his ears in a mirror. Davies revealed in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (page 42), that it was not meant to indicate the Doctor had only recently regenerated.

“He doesn’t act very post-regeneration, does he? He appears in command, waving a bomb. This is a man who knows himself, and has known himself for a while.”

Throughout the season, Davies and his fellow writers provide information about the Doctor and his background piecemeal. In the second episode, “The End of the World”, the Doctor tells Rose that he’s a Time Lord; that his world was destroyed in a war and that he’s the last of his people. In the third episode, “The Unquiet Dead”, by Mark Gatiss, we learn from gaseous creatures called the Gelth that there was a time war. It’s not until the sixth episode, “Dalek”, by Robert Shearman, that we learn the Time War took place between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Viewers also learn the Doctor has two hearts.

( And in the fourth episode, “Aliens of London”, the Doctor reveals to Rose that he’s more than 900-year-old.)

In “Dalek” , the Doctor tells the damaged, lone Dalek who somehow survived the Time War that he made their destruction happen. He also angrily screams at it “Why don’t you just die?”

Ninth Doctor and a Dalek

Old enemies: the Ninth Doctor and a Dalek.

Brief aside: Actually, the Doctor didn’t destroy both the Daleks and the Time Lords, as we learned in the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”

In that episode, The War Doctor (John Hurt), the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) decide to change history so that the War Doctor does not activate a sentient weapon called the Moment and destroy both Gallifrey and the Daleks.

The Doctors and the Moment

The Doctors decide to disarm the Moment.

Or so they think. I believe their actions (hiding Gallifrey away in a pocket universe, leaving the Daleks surrounding the planet to destroy each other in their own crossfire) are what always happened.

At the end of the episode, the War Doctor says, “I won’t remember this, will I?”

“The time streams are out of sync,” the Eleventh Doctor replies. “You can’t retain it. No.”

“So I won’t remember that I tried to save Gallifrey rather than burn it.”

(the Tenth Doctor also acknowledges that he won’t remember the events, either).

As soon as he’s departed in his TARDIS, the War Doctor begins to regenerate into the Ninth. It’s been established in the past that the Doctor suffers from a bit of post-regenerative amnesia. So, the newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor not only won’t remember the events of “The Day of the Doctor”, his last clear memory might well have been stealing The Moment with the intention of using it.

Because both the Daleks and Gallifrey are gone, the Ninth Doctor reaches the logical conclusion that he did activate the Moment. Thus, when he tells the Dalek in “Dalek”, “I made it happen”, he’s making an assumption; he’s not recalling a specific memory.

This belief that he killed his own people (and the accompanying guilt) carries over into the Tenth Doctor and most of the life span of the Eleventh. It’s only after the Doctors act to preserve Gallifrey does the Eleventh learn what really happened: he’d always hidden  Gallifrey away in safety.

Throughout the season, Eccleston plays the Doctor as a man haunted by his past, one rushing ever forward in order to avoid having to stop and look back.

The family drama aspect of the series really comes into play with episodes four and five, the two-part story “Aliens of London” and “World War III.” In the former, the Doctor returns Rose (who has seen the end of the world in the far future and met Charles Dickens in 1869 Cardiff) home 12 hours after she left.

Or so he thinks. Turns out it’s 12 months later and Jackie has had “missing” posters of Rose posted everywhere in the interim. Jackie has a very hard time dealing with truth about Rose’s adventures, reacting with panic when she first sees the interior of the TARDIS.

Rose missing poster

After Rose disappeared, Jackie started putting up these posters.

Another “family” episode is “Father’s Day”, by Paul Cornell, one of the best of the season. Rose asks the Doctor to take her back in time so she can see her father, Pete (Shaun Dingwall), who was killed by a hit-and-run driver when she was a baby.

She tells the Doctor that Pete died alone and wants to be there with him. However, she impulsively saves him, instead, creating a wound in time. Pete, who has come to realize he was meant to die, deliberately throws himself in front of the car, putting everything back to normal. Rose rushes to his side and holds his hand.

At the start of the episode, in a flashback scene, we see Jackie telling young Rose about her father (which is how Rose knew he died alone). At the end, because the adult Rose had been there, Jackie says how an unknown girl had sat with him until the ambulance came (and how the driver had stayed as well).

Rose comforts her dying father

Rose comforts her dying father.

In the season finale, “The Parting of the Ways”, when Jackie scoffs at Rose’s claim that she met her father, a crying Rose reminds her of the girl.

Rose: “Remember when Dad died? There was someone with him. A girl, a blonde girl. She held his hand. You saw her from a distance, Mom. You saw her. Think about it. That was me. You saw me.”

Davies also appealed to a wide audience through comedy. in Doctor Who Magazine #485 (page 44), he discusses a scene in “Rose” where a plastic rubbish bin drags Mickey inside it and burps.

“We wanted 5-year-olds to watch this brand new show. Little kids hooting at a burp. It was absolutely right.”

That’s probably the same reason why the Doctor says “excuse me, do you mind not farting when I’m saving the world?” to the man he thinks is the prime minister (actually a disguised alien with a gas exchange problem) in “Aliens of London.”

David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi have all helped make Doctor Who a continuing success, but it was Christopher Eccleston who put the series on the map. His season of Doctor Who is well worth a look.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: Dickens and the Doctor

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Annotated Christmas Carol

On Dec. 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The story has seen many adaptations, but a recent one of note is the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.”

The story, written by series producer Steven Moffat, finds the Doctor (Matt Smith) trying to save hundreds of people, including his newly-wed companions Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), who are on board a space liner in distress. The liner is caught in the cloud layer of a particular planet and unable to safely land because of those clouds.

An embittered old man named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) controls the cloud layer, but refuses to save the ship. His attitude is that “everyone has to die sometime.”

The Doctor is inspired to take a page from Dickens when he’s talking with Amy over a communicator and a carol is playing over a loudspeaker near where he’s standing. Amy asks what the noise is and he shouts, “a Christmas carol!”

Christmas Carol Doctor Who

The Doctor returns to Sardick, who’d been watching a recording he’d made as a boy, and tells the old man he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Doctor then heads off into the past in the TARDIS. Even as Sardick watches the recording, the recorded events change. He sees his younger self greeted by the Doctor; and the Doctor, speaking into the recording device from decades ago, tells the older Sardick that his memories are going to change, but not to worry.

On this world, fish fly through the air (the nature of the cloud cover permits this) and the Doctor and the young Kazran (Laurence Belcher) encounter wonders and dangers. They also meet Abigail (opera singer Katherine Jenkins), whose singing doth soothe the savage shark; and as part of his plan to make Kazran Sardick a better man, the Doctor takes Kazran (played by Danny Horn as a young adult) and Abigail to various points in time and space every Christmas for several consecutive years.

In the present, we see subtle examples that the Doctor has changed the past. A painting of Sardick’s domineering father (also Gambon) is gone, replaced by one of Abigail. And where there once was no Christmas tree, now there is one.

Yet, Kazran Sardick hasn’t changed enough to disperse the cloud cover and save all those innocent people. You see, there’s something about Abigail the Doctor doesn’t know. Something that could still lead Sardick to becoming a bitter old man.

Amy appears to Sardick in holographic form (and later reverses the settings, so he’s the holographic projection on board the ship). She tells him she’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. He remains unmoved, even when he hears passengers singing hymns. Literally for their lives.

The Doctor’s last chance for success lies in the Ghost Yet to Come. Who is that? I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Watch the DVD and find out. I will say it’s not who Kazran Sardick would have imagined.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Keeping audio adventures alive

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Radio Shows

As I’ve stated before, I’m a huge fan of what’s called “Old-Time Radio” (OTR)— the dramas, comedies, mysteries, adventure, science fiction shows (and other genres) broadcast on radio primarily between the 1930s and the early 1960s.

There’s no reason why full-cast audio programs can’t work today with as much— if not more— success than in the era of OTR. After all, in addition to traditional radio, there’s satellite radio and the Internet, to say nothing of programs recorded on MP3s, CDs and other formats.

There are also repertory theatre groups that put on full-cast OTR-style performances, complete with sound effects. One such group is All Ears Theatre in Kalamazoo, Michigan (www.allearstheatre.com). I’ve written three radio plays (a science fiction story, a mystery and a western), which have all been performed by All Ears Theatre and broadcast over radio station WMUK FM.

In fact, even though radio is “dead”, people are making full-cast audio dramas. To give just two examples, Big Finish (www.bigfinish.com) offers audio dramas related to Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, and other series; and The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas (http://twilightzoneradio.com/) provide audio re-creations of Twilight Zone episodes. Though some are adaptations of scripts that were never filmed.

I’ve also listened to episodes of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission, which relates the adventures of the crew of the USS Montana, transported (no pun intended) from the Kirk-era 23rd century to the Picard/Sisko/Janeway era 24th). Unfortunately, their website seems to be down.

While these aren’t technically full-cast audio dramas, I’m currently listening to Doctor Who The Lost TV Episodes Collection 1: 1964-1965, which combine soundtracks of now-lost early Doctor Who episodes with narration by one of the original actors.

The first story in the collection, the seven-part “Marco Polo” is narrated by actor William Russell, who played Ian Chesterton. In the episode itself, Marco Polo (Mark Eden) occasionally provided a voice-over narration about the progress of the characters’ journey as he wrote in his journal. That and Russell’s narration “painting a picture” for the listener helps a visual story translate well to an audio format.

In 2011 I wrote a newspaper article about “timeless” radio shows, those programs that remain more or less “evergreen”, despite being made decades ago. These include The Jack Benny Show, The Green Hornet, Suspense and I Love A Mystery. To some degree these all reflected the times in which they were made, but, by their very nature, they aren’t limited to a specific time period.

In The Jack Benny Show, Benny, a generous man in real life, created the persona of a vain skinflint (a characterization he’d carry on to his TV series). There will always be vain people or skinflints; and there’s no reason why an audio series similar in tone to The Jack Benny Show couldn’t work today.

In The Green Hornet, Britt Reid was the “daring young publisher” of the Daily Sentinel, a crusading newspaper that fought for the common man and woman against corrupt politicians, racketeers, and other criminals. Not only did Reid write hard-hitting editorials and send his reporters out to expose corruption, he fought corruption head-on as the Green Hornet, a man who took down criminals by pretending to be a criminal himself.

The Hornet’s exploits may have begun during the Depression, but graft and corruption didn’t go away when it ended.

The Green Hornet is one of my favorite radio shows for many reasons. I like that he’s someone who could exist. He wasn’t a superhero. Except for the mask, he wore ordinary clothes. And there are people in real life who pretend to be criminals in order to take down criminals. They’re called undercover police officers. The Hornet was doing the same thing, just on his own. And with less paperwork.

Suspense offered stories of… well… suspense. The classic “Sorry, Wrong Number”, which was so popular, it aired eight times, could be broadcast today, with only minor changes.

I Love A Mystery offered serialized tales of mystery and suspense. Some of the dialogue and characterizations might need polishing for today’s audiences— and the back stories of Jack Packard, Doc Long and Reggie York would need to be updated— but some of the stories themselves could still work.

Shows like Jack Armstrong The All-American Boy and Captain Midnight, which were aimed at kids, could also be re-worked for modern juvenile audiences. Jack Armstrong’s 1940-1941 adventures in the Philippines not only offered excitement, but the storylines tied in the then cutting-edge technology of walkie-talkies. Kids today might well go for an audio adventure series in which current cutting-edge technology played a role.

And kids today would probably be as interested in whatever premium might be offered by a modern-day audio adventure as Captain Midnight’s fans were in the decoder wheel offered on his show.

I believe there’s a large untapped market for original audio dramas, mysteries, comedies, etc. As my friend Stephen Jansen, who heads up a group in Chicago called “Theatre of the Mindless”, often says, “Old-Time Radio never dies, it just changes formats.”

Radio Spirits (www.radiospirits.com) offers a wide variety of OTR shows, many with accompanying informative program booklets.

And if you’d like to watch— and possibly participate in— a live performance of radio-style scripts, be sure to come to the 2014 Cincinnati Nostalgia Expo (formerly the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention), May 16 and 17 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash. It’s a very open and relaxed environment and the OTR stars mix and mingle with everyone else.

Visit http://expo.wayback.net/ for more information.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

 

 

Random Musings: Marking 50 years of Doctor Who.

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    Today, Nov. 23, marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who and while I’ll mention the 50th anniversary special a bit later in this entry, I want to talk first about one of the Big Finish audio adventures, “Dark Eyes”, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.
    The discussion of the anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” (as well as the seven minute prequel, “The Night of the Doctor”), will contain SPOILERS; the discussion of “Dark Eyes” won’t. Just a head’s up.

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    Big Finish (www.bigfinish.com) produces a variety of audio dramas, including a range of full-cast Doctor Who adventures. These are, for all intents and purposes, radio shows recorded on CD.
    As I’ve indicated elsewhere, I’m a big fan of what we in the states call “old-time radio”, a medium which never died out in Britain (lucky Brits).
    In an interview posted on YouTube, McGann, speaking of the Big Finish productions, said, “I love radio, I love audio.” He added that most of the imaginative work is done by the audience.
    Radio has often been called “theatre of the mind”, because the listener’s imagination “paints” a mental picture of the people and situations.
    “Dark Eyes” opens with a disillusioned Doctor attempting to take his TARDIS to the end of the universe. He is stopped by a Time Lord operative called Straxus (Peter Egan). The Doctor tells Straxus, he wanted perspective.
    “I really hoped it would be a wonderful view; to look back from the end of everything, to see how things how things finally turned out,” he says. “Straxus, I was looking for hope.”
    Nicholas Briggs, who wrote and directed “Dark Eyes” and provides the voices of the Daleks in both the T.V. series and Big Finish, said the central theme of the story is hope.
    “Hope is discussed an awful lot,” Briggs said. “It’s all about giving the Doctor some hope. And then him, in the process, trying to give hope to someone else, to the character of Molly, who becomes despondent at one point in the story. Then she is able to reflect on the fact that she’d seen him- there’s a point where he loses all hope, when the Daleks kill _____.”
    Briggs said she tries to find out why, if the Doctor is able to give advice on hope, he can’t he take his own advice?
    Molly O’Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) an Irish Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing assistant in the First World War. When we first meet her, she tends to hide her true feelings and her fears by being argumentative.
    And she’s not the least bit impressed by the Doctor or the fact that he travels through time in his “Tardy-Box.”
    The Doctor encounters a number of curious things in his travels with Molly, who, according to Straxus, is at the center of “an insane plot to destroy the universe.” Not only does she have unusually dark eyes (a very sore point with her), but, to the Doctor’s surprise, she can somehow operate the TARDIS
    And then there are the Daleks, behaving very much out of character.
    The story is divided into four chapters, one per disc: “The Great War”, “Fugitives”, “Tangled Web” and “X and the Daleks.” And, according to the Big Finish website, “Dark Eyes 2” is due out in February, with “Dark Eyes 3” due next November and “Dark Eyes 4” in February 2015.
   
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    Now a few words about “The Day of the Doctor”, the 50th anniversary special (again, SPOILERS follow).
    It was great. It both paid proper respect to the series’ past and had the Doctor looking to the future.
    The respects to the past began at the outset, as the special used the original opening credits from 1963-1966.
    We also saw references to a scrap yard owned by one “I.M. Foreman” and Coal Hill School. In the first episode, “An Unearthly Child”, the Doctor’s original incarnation (William Hartnell) had parked the TARDIS in said yard and enrolled his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) at said school.
     In the present day, the Eleventh Doctor’s (Matt Smith) current companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman) is teaching there. We’re not told why. But she and the Doctor are soon literally carried away into the current adventure.
    We never learn how he and Clara got out of his own time stream, in “The Name of the Doctor,” the season finale from last spring which lead into this special, which I discussed at http://www.michronicleonline.com/index.php/your-voice/opinion/patrick-keating/11702-random-musings-looking-forward-to-doctor-who-s-50th-anniversary-celebration . Maybe that information’s yet to come.
    The Doctor and Clara soon find themselves interacting with two of his past selves, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and an incarnation known as The War Doctor (John Hurt).
    We first glimpsed The War Doctor in “The Name of the Doctor”, and he was first identified as such in “Night of the Doctor”, which saw Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor on screen for the first time since 1996.
    In that prequel to “The Day of the Doctor”, we also saw McGann regenerate into Hurt (albeit a younger version, via photographic trickery).
     Does that mean Hurt’s Doctor is the true Ninth Doctor? Apparently not, according to executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat. He has said in interviews that Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor, since the War Doctor didn’t call himself “The Doctor.”
   When we meet the War Doctor in this story, he has decided “no more” and seized control of a forbidden Time Lord weapon called The Moment. He intends to end the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, which threatens to destroy all creation, by wiping out both the Time Lords and the Daleks.
    The Moment isn’t just a weapon, however. It has developed sentience. And a conscience. It appears to the War Doctor in the form of a future companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), but also references another name by which Rose was known:
    Bad Wolf.
    The War Doctor tells the Moment that he has, “lost the right to be the Doctor.”
    When he comes together with his future incarnations, he asks (prompted by the Moment, whom his two other selves can’t see) if they’ve ever counted how many children were on Gallifrey (his home planet) the day it burned.
    The Eleventh Doctor says he has no idea.
    “Four hundred years older than me and in all that time, you never counted?” War Doctor asks.
    The Tenth says 2.47 billion, then turns on the Eleventh, saying, “you forgot? Four hundred years is all it takes?”
    The Moment tells the War Doctor that Ten and Eleven are himself. “They’re what you become if you destroy Gallifrey.”
    Clara talks with War Doctor about how the Time War continues to affect “her” Doctor. In response, he asks how many worlds his (future) regret saved and ultimately decides to go ahead and carry out his plan to end the Time War.
    Taken back to where he’d gone to carry out his task, the War Doctor and the Moment discuss the TARDIS’ distinctive sound. She says it brings hope to those who hear it, even him.
    As they speak, the TARDISes of his two future selves arrive. They’ve come share this terrible burden with him. They shouldn’t have been able to do so, as those events are time-locked, but the Moment let them in.
    The Eleventh Doctor, who’d been trying to deny the existence of the War Doctor, even to himself, admits that he was the Doctor more than anyone else. But this time, he doesn’t have to do it alone. His other selves will join him in this heavy responsibility, taken to save untold billions.
    But neither the Moment, nor Clara, are done. The Moment lets them see the reality around them— the families and children who would burn if Gallifrey falls— and Clara argues that with three of them on hand, there must be another way.
    And the three incarnations of the Doctor realize they have an advantage. They can freeze Gallifrey in a moment in time, removing it from the known universe.
    They also realize that with Gallifrey gone, the Daleks surrounding the planet would destroy each other in crossfire; and the rest of the universe would think the Time Lords and Daleks wiped each other out.
    When they contact a Time Lord general who questions this decision, the Eleventh Doctor tells him, in something of an echo of “Dark Eyes”, “you would have hope and that’s exactly what you don’t have.”
    But it isn’t just these three incarnations of the Doctor who use their TARDISes to carry out this plan, all the Doctor’s incarnations are involved, via selected clips. This includes Peter Capaldi, who’ll assume the mantle of the Twelfth Doctor at the Christmas special next month.
    Neither the War Doctor nor the Tenth will remember these events, which means the Doctor will still go through his ninth, tenth and most of his eleventh incarnations carrying the guilt of having destroyed Gallifrey when he might well have succeeded in saving it.
    But did he save Gallifrey?
    Central to the story is a “three dimensional” painting called either “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls.” None of the Doctors are sure which. The curator of the museum (Tom Baker) tell the Doctor the proper title is “Gallifrey falls no more.”
    Tom Baker, of course, played the Doctor’s fourth incarnation and his was one of the most popular of the Doctors. The curator isn’t the Fourth Doctor, but he implies that he might be a future incarnation.
    “I never forget a face,” the Eleventh Doctor says.
    “And in years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few. Or maybe just the old favorites,” the Curator responds.
    He’d also previously responded to the Doctor’s musings that he could be a curator with, “I really think you might.”
    It also appears the Doctor will go looking for Gallifrey. The story ends with him, surrounded by all his other selves, saying he’s always been going home— the long way around.
    Will the Christmas special involve that quest? Perhaps. While the Doctor now knows he might well have saved Gallifrey, and he’d understandably want to confirm this, I’d rather the Time Lords, if they ever return, play a very minor role in the series. The Doctor left Gallifrey for a reason, after all.
    In any event, Doctor Who is poised to continue for another 50 years. At least.

Copyright 2013, Patrick Keating