Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography Book Launch At The Doctor Who Experience

At 2:30 on 26th November I attended the official launch of Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography. A select few who purchased a ticket for the Doctor Who Experience, currently housed at Kensington’s Olympia II, between 12:30-2:00 were offered a free ticket and invited to both celebrate the publication of the book and the memory of this much-loved actress, Elisabeth Sladen. I’ve visited the Doctor Who Experience twice before, but still very much enjoyed it the third time around.

After a brief wander around the fantastic exhibition we took our seats in the minute, dimly-lit, and somewhat balmy screening room, alongside the Face of Boe, as well as a Pig Slave and a Scarecrow [I think!] We then watched a short tribute to Sarah Jane. The homage included clips from Elisabeth’s first storyThe Time Warrior, Planet of the Spiders, Robot, The Mask of Mandragora, her two returns to the show in 25th Anniversary special The Five Doctors and the 2006 episode School Reunion.

TV Choice magazine’s Ben Lawrence was there to interview Doctor Who writer and script editor Terrance Dicks, the fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker and Elisabeth’s daughter, Sadie Miller, who all came to share their fond memories of Elisabeth.

Terrance told us of his involvement with creating the character of Sarah Jane, reminding us that each companion grows out of the last. In Elisabeth’s case this was from Katy Manning’s Jo Grant. While Jo was a sassy, girlish foil for the Doctor as “someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are,” Sarah Jane was created not as an “assistant” but as an independent female with a career as a journalist. He shared that he would always remember the way that Lis would call him, “Terránce.”

Tom then went on to share with us the massive amount of gratitude he feels he owes to Elisabeth Sladen, who guided him through the early days of his time on the show by helping him form a kind of comic/jokey persona to counteract his self-admitted self-doubt. He told us that in the time he spent with Elisabeth he changed and has remained that way ever since. That juncture with Elisabeth gave him a new lease on life, of enjoyment and confidence, which is why, he says, he stayed on the show as long as he did. He admitted to being devastated when Elisabeth decided to leave the show, due to the fact that she believed she would not be wanted when Barry Letts announced his leaving and Phillip Hinchcliffe and a new regime were to take over. Tom also shared the irony that Hinchcliffe later stated that he was actually very happy with their partnership as Doctor and Companion.

Sadie, who, along with her father wrote a beautiful coda to the book, spoke more about Elisabeth Sladen herself, as Sadie’s mother and not just as her character Sarah Jane. Quite understandably she didn’t share too much with us, as her mother’s passing is still quite fresh. She said she was yet to watch the recently aired episodes of the Fifth Series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, wanting to save them to watch on a special day and enjoy as an undiscovered part of her mother’s work. She also showed us the necklace that originally belonged to Liza Minnelli, who gave it to Katy Manning who imparted it to Elisabeth [while they worked on Death of the Doctor] who in turn gave it to Sadie. 

Afterwards Terrance and Sadie, joined by her father and Elisabeth’s husband Brian Miller kindly stayed behind to sign copies of the book, with Tom having pre-signed some in advance.

I sadly never had the honour of meeting Elisabeth Sladen, but I find it amazing and wonderful that someone who myself, and millions of others alike, never met can have had such a profound effect on ones life.

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography has a foreword by David Tennant and is published by Aurum Press. It’s available now RRP £18.99 and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Wednesday Wonderfuls: SFX Article & Visions From Behind The Sofa.

Hello blogland, I have two exciting titbits to share with you from my rather eventful Wednesday. Firstly, way back in July I was interviewed for a special edition SFX Collection titled: Doctor Who The Fanzine. The 180 page issue was finally released on Wednesday 23rd November and is available here.

The article is called The Battle of The Superfans, and here are the overview and my bits for your perusal. 

They even kindly gave this very blog a shout out!
As you can I see I scored 6. I came third out of six, and as the youngest fan I think that isn't half bad. The winner was Peter Trott and second went to Keith Lloyd. The six of us are now all acquainted through the joys of Twitter and Facebook and I must say I am very proud to be in such good company as an SFX Doctor Who Superfan. Thanks SFX!

Secondly, I went to the University of Hertfordshire's Doctor Who Symposium: Visions From Behind The Sofa.

It was a great day, full of Doctor discussion with a panel of experts including documentarian/director Kevin Davies, ultimate DW authority/comedian Toby Hadoke, Who Visual Effects Supervisor and K9 wrangler, Mat Irvine and online blog sensation Blogtor Who, Cameron K McEwan.

Throughout the day, topics of discussion included: the inception of the show, the role of women and the companion, the wilderness years when the show was cancelled and the programme's return. 

We met K9 and a Dalek and as a highlight we were made privy to the world premier of Chris Chapman's documentary Taken Out Of Time which looks back on the making of the famously unfinished 1979 Doctor Who story Shada. 

It was filmed in Cambridge, and includes interviews with Tom Baker, Daniel Hill, Ralph Wilton, Les McCullum and Olivia Bazalgette.The documentary will be included on THE LEGACY BOX, which includes Shada and the documentary More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS. It's a very funny and heartfelt piece. It was wonderful to get this exclusive chance to view this brilliant documentary so far in advance of it's release. Big thanks go to the documentary's excellent producer Chris Chapman.

I also had the serendipity to be sitting next to an illustrator, Emily and I are currently discussing plans on how we might be able to work together in the future. Hat's off to Howard Berry and Ivan Phillips for organising and running a very successful event. I went for food and some drinks with Cameron, Kevin, Howard and few other lovely people I met on the day. I had a great time, talked a lot of Who, and made some new friends, all in all a pretty good wednesday.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

40: The Enemy Of The World - A Futuristic Political Intrigue Drama With A Doctor Doppleganger

Written By: David Whitaker.
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield.
Monsters/Villains: Salamander.
Brief Synopsis: In the year 2017, a dictator called Salamander has an insane plan to take over the world.
Rating: 6/10.

Well hello again bloggers. I am happy to be back again so soon with a report on The Enemy Of The World. The Enemy Of The World is packed with classic Doctor Who hallmarks; dopplegangers, mistaken identity, action sequences, and musical recorder antics to name but a few, but it is rather different as far as Doctor Who stories go. The piece is set in the future, but it is not aliens trying to take over the world, but a man. The story is yet another casualty of the great wiping, with only episode three still in full existence. It's penned by David Whitaker wordsmith of such previous stories as the bananas Edge of Destruction, the tedious Rescue, the literate Crusade, and the two pepper-pot-themed-pieces Power of The Daleks and Evil of The Daleks. I think the rule with Whitaker tends to go, unless he's writing a Dalek story don't get too excited. Here, Whitaker gives us a political drama, filled with back-stabbing, escapes, twists and turns and an action sequence extravaganza.

The TARDIS materialises on a beach. Jamie and Victoria want to know where they have landed but the Doctor is more interested in a seaside holiday and goes for a paddle. The trio have arrived in Australia in the year 2017. They are observed by three men in a Hovercraft. The men recognise the Doctor and contact their superior, Astrid Ferrier who contacts her colleague Giles Kent.

Astrid and her Helicopter.
Then we get a climax of an action sequence. Impulsively the three men shoot at the Doctor, believing him their enemy and the hovercraft chases the trio through some sand dunes. Just then, Astrid arrives in her helicopter. She beckons the Doctor and co into the helicopter and they escape, but the helicopter is damaged and Astrid wounded.

The Hovercraft.
At Astrid's house the Doctor tends to her wounds. Astrid explains that she wants to use the Doctor against the man he resembles Salamander, a tyrant with plans to become global dictator, but the Doctor declines. The three men catch up but are killed when they try to use the helicopter and it explodes. And now that we've got all the action and budget out of the way, we can get into lots of long scenes in offices, research facilities and corridors.

Giles Kent.
Astrid takes them to Giles Kent. Kent shows them a video of the Mexican Salamander, who is indeed the spitting image of the Doctor. He is addressing the United Zone General Assembly meeting and reporting his success using sun-catching satellites to restore the Ukraine's corn and flour production, which had been devastated by natural disaster. Kent explains that he used to be deputy security leader for North Africa and Europe before he was discredited by Salamander. Salamander's beneficence is actually a way for him to take power and Several high ranking politicians have gone missing, all with one detail in common: the last time each one was seen they were with Salamander. Donald Bruce who took Kent's place is in league with Salamander and has since risen to World Security Chief. Kent's only ally is Alexander Denes (George Pravda), controller of the central European Zone.

Astrid and Giles are pleading with the Doctor to impersonate Salamander,  when Security chief Bruce arrives forcing the Doctor to pretend to be Salamander. The Doctor guesses that Kent tipped off Bruce. The Doctor reemerges as "Salamander" with a side parting, and a "Mexican" accent, and questions Bruce's arrival.

Donal Bruce.
Bruce buys it and begrudgingly leaves. The Doctor agrees to continue to pretend to be Salamander while Astrid, Jamie and Victoria travel to Europe by rocket and attempt to infiltrate the real Salamander's base. 

Salamander is meeting with Denes and warns him that a few dormant Volcanoes in Hungry will soon erupt, but Denes ignores the warning. Astrid and Jamie concoct a fake attempt on Salamander's life. Jamie pretends to save his life and is hired immediately as a member of Salamander's personal guard. He also hires Victoria, Jamie's "girlfriend," as assistant to Salamander's personal chef, Griffin. 

George Pravda as Denes.
Salamander meets with Denes aide, Fedorin and blackmails him into betraying Denes. The Volcanoes begin to erupt, and Salamander accuses Denes of ignoring his warnings, denounces him as a traitor and has him arrested with plans for Fedorin to take his place as Salamander's puppet.

Salamander gives Fedorin a vial of poison to take care of Denes. For some incredibly bizzarre reason Denes is being held in a corridor because apparently it is and I quote, "easier to guard him here." Hmmm? Easier than a room with walls and a door?

There's no escape for Denes, not from this impregnable corridor?
We then meet Fariah, Salamander's assistant, who urges Victoria to escape as soon as possible, after she shows how rubbish she is in the Kitchen. I must admit I feel a little sorry for Victoria, she never gets anything to do, and people are always minimising her and saying how crap she is.

Victoria and Jamie don't get to do much in this one.
Astrid joins up with Jamie and Victoria, and the three plan to rescue Denes. Victoria is taking Denes some food, when Fedorin comes across her and sends her for some forgotten salt so he can poison the food, but he bottles it. Salamander gives Fedorin some wine to relax after his failure but the wine is poisoned, killing him. The rescue attempt fails, Denes is killed, and Jamie and Victoria captured, with only Astrid escaping. Bruce tells Salamander about seeing him in Australia and realises it must have been an impostor.

Carmen Munroe as Fariah.
Astrid manages to escape back to the Australasia zone, along with Fariah who claims to have some information that will aid in bringing down Salamander: the information he was using to blackmail Fedorin. Fariah admits that she was being blackmailed too and once again the Doctor agrees to again pose as Salamander, to free Jamie and Victoria. Benik (Milton Johns), Salamander's deputy and his men surround Kent's office. Benik orders his men to shoot on sight. Kent, the Doctor and Astrid escape but Fariah is shot and the files are recovered.

Milton Johns as Benik.
Salamander enters the records room and locks the door. He accesses a secret elevator, and descends to a underground facility where he meets a group of researchers who have been underground for five years.

Salamander brings them food and has them believing that a nuclear war has devastated the Earth. He has them creating natural disasters on the surface to turn the tides against "the enemies of truth and freedom." Salamander says that they cannot leave until the radiation levels have fallen to a safe level. Astrid and Kent are preparing the Doctor to resemble Salamander, but the door opens and Bruce is standing in the doorway with an armed security guard.

Bruce demands to know why the Doctor is posing as Salamander. The Doctor claims it is to free his friends and Astrid adds it's also to find evidence to bring down Salamander. Bruce doesn't believe them and Astrid takes the guard's gun but the Doctor takes the gun and gives it to Bruce as a gesture of trust. Bruce has some doubt as to Salamander's intentions and agrees to help the Doctor get into the station, provided that Astrid and Kent remain in the office as hostages.

The unground base's leader, Swan, is examining the food and discovers a scrap of newspaper that confirms that surface life is perfectly normal. He demands that Salamander explain. Salamander explains that the 'war' is over, but that the survivors are mad and deformed and these 'abominations' must be destroyed before the surface is fit to repopulate. Swan demands to see for himself, and Salamander agrees.

Meanwhile Jamie and Victoria awaken in the Australasian Zone. Benik enters gleefully looking forward to 'interrogating' them, when "Salamander" enters with Bruce, and orders him out. Victoria and Jamie confront Salamander with his crimes, including the murders of Fedorin and Denes. Victoria hits Salamander, who then reveals himself to be the Doctor. Bruce is still not wholly convinced to turn against Salamander, but enough doubt is planted that he agrees to investigate. Astrid and Kent escape and whilst hiding in a cave mouth Astrid find Swan mortally wounded by Salamander.

As promised, Astrid goes into the underground base and tells the researchers that there was no war, and that Salamander killed Swan. Bruce goes to help Jamie and Victoria escape whilst Kent comes to see Salamander in the record room, but it is the Doctor. Astrid takes the lift to the record room and discovers that Kent was in league with Salamander all along. Kent is revealed to have taken the researchers into the base in the first place. He only wanted to get rid of the real Salamander to steal his power. Kent flees into the cave system, and Bruce takes over the research centre and arrests Benik. 

So Kent was in cahoots with Salamander all along.
Salamander and Kent meet in the caves and Salamander shoots him. The dying Kent flees and destroys the cave system. Astrid manages to get the researchers out through the caves.

The Doctor emerges from the caves meeting Jamie and Victoria at the TARDIS. Silently, the Doctor gestures for Jamie to pilot the TARDIS. Then the real Doctor enters. Foolishly Salamander attempts to pilot the TARDIS, but the doors are open and he is sucked out into the space-time vortex, while the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria cling on for dear life.

This certainly isn't the first or the last time we'll see a Doctor Doppleganger, previously we saw Hartnell's first Doctor the spitting image of Abbot of Amboise in the story, The Massacre. I wasn't looking forward to The Enemy Of The World, but I quite enjoyed it in the end, it certainly has it's faults, but considering it's length it plods along quite nicely. I like the ending very much and am really looking forward to the next story.

Join me next time for a London Underground themed blog, The Web Of Fear. I am planning to listen to the entire story in the location where it is set, on the Tube, during the next few days whilst on my commute.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

39: The Ice Warriors - A Morality Tale On The Misgivings Of Reliance On Computer Technology, With Martians.

Written by: Brian Hayles.
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield.
Monsters/Villains: Ice Warriors.
Brief Synopsis: In the year 3000 AD a group of scientists living through a second ice age discover a frozen Martian.
Rating: 7/10.

Hello blog-a-teers! I have to start this one again by apologising for my total lack of blogs lately. I have been incredibly busy with auditions for the last month and have neglected you the worst yet. All things being well, I should have some more time on my hands and be ready to continue my epic pilgrimage through the annals of Doctor Who. I should also say although I am writing up my blog on this story now, I actually watched it about a month ago, so if I miss anything out or get anything wrong, that's why!

It's the Ice Warriors, and it's nearly all here, which makes a pleasant change. Only episodes 2 and 3 are missing. In my opinion this isn't one of the best stories ever, but it does introduce one of my all time favourite aliens, the Martians or as they are dubbed here: Ice Warriors.

They're very impressive looking creations, turtle like and huge, although to this day it is still not exactly clear wether their bodies are armour or their actual torsos. They do not have a name, but take one from their planet Mars. However like a lot of Doctor Who, somewhere along the way someone has picked up that they are actually called Ice Warriors and it kind of stuck. In their first outing they do look impressive however their mouths don't move with their words, which one could say gives them an eerie edge or 'looks a bit crap.' 

The faults with this story tend to lay in it's length, there are lots of good ideas in the mix, however they are stretched so thinly over the 6 episode structure it is hard for the tension to really build. It is a fairly unusual story. There are no evil 'take over the world' villains, merely some aliens who want to return home. But in order for them to do so they must disable and cannibalise the Earth base's reactor which would leave the human's without heat or power and allow the massive ice glaciers held at bay to break across the earth. So there's quite a lot at stake.

The first episode opens with this odd soprano music. It adds atmosphere but it is also quite funny. We see the white "futuristic" Brittanicus base from which some humans are trying to stop the Earth's glaciers from moving. Some of the base's scientists find a man buried in the ice.

The TARDIS materialises on it's side, and the doors open outward. This has only happened twice in the whole history of Doctor Who, here and again in Matt Smith's first episode The Eleventh Hour. Both times the TARDIS had landed on it's side. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria climb out. Jamie thinks they're still in Tibet but the Doctor quickly spies a huge dome made of plastic. The trio enter and meet the commander, Clent. There are odd moments in this story where they pass from room to room and one will look like a futuristic control room and the next a victorian house. The production team probably used bits of set from previous episodes or other programmes. They explain this by saying that they commandeered a house for their base of operations. It's a bit odd but a clever way to get around budget issues.

The Doctor and co are tagged as scavengers who are all being evacuated, but when the Doctor enters the control room and manages to prevent an imminent reactor explosion, Clent decides to test the Doctor further. If he succeeds he'll stay and help, if not he will be evacuated to Africa with the other scavengers. The Doctor passes the test and as Penley, the base's chief scientist is 'missing' the Doctor is asked to join the team. The current problems have been caused by a severe drop in the carbon dioxide level of the atmosphere following the wholesale extermination of plant life. The Doctor expresses his misgivings of total reliance on computers.

Peter Barkworth as Clent.
Jamie and Victoria have an interesting discussion concerning the fashion of the current time. Only in Doctor Who could you get a highlander from the mid-18th century discussing fashion trends from the year 3000 with a girl from the landed gentry in the 1850's. Meanwhile Arden, another scientist from the base returns with his ice man, which he begins to defrost quickly. It is alive. 

'Interesting' fashion.
Both episodes two and three are missing. The green warrior knocks down Jamie and takes Victoria away. The Doctor explains to Clent that the Warrior's helmet has electric connections meaning it must be alien and they realise that there must also be a space craft buried in the glacier.

The warrior tells Victoria that he is from Mars and is called Varga. Victoria explains that Varga has been in the ice for thousands of years, since the first ice age. The warrior only wants to defrost his colleagues and return home. Varga uses his sonic gun to defrost four more warriors. He orders his fellow warrior Zondal to locate the buried space ship. Zondal and the other warriors use their sonic guns to blast a tunnel to the ships airlock.

Peter Sallis as Penley.
Jamie and Arden enter the cave created by the Martians, but the warriors emerge and shoot Arden who takes the full force of the blast saving Jamie who is only knocked out. The missing scientist Penley (who is played by Peter Salis of Last of the Summer Wine and Wallace and Gromit fame) finds Jamie and brings him to his hideout, and his friend, Storr (played by Angus Lennie who returns to Doctor Who in Terror of the Zygons); a savage who is against scientists tampering with nature. Victoria tries to contact the base and Varga trains the space craft's weapon on her in case she gives up too much information. The warriors are about to fire on her but decide to use her as bait. They lose contact as the glacier is moving and Victoria runs.

Miss Garrett says that Mars' atmosphere is chiefly made up of nitrogen, which although at the time was believed to be so we now know to be untrue. The Doctor goes to the ship to rescue Victoria but she has already escaped and a warrior chasing her is famously killed by an avalanche caused by her screaming.

Look out mate, you don't have a name and Victoria Waterfield
is screaming in a cave made of ice! Watch it!
Penley and Storr are looking after Jamie as he wakes, his legs are paralysed due to the warriors' rays. Storr goes to meet the Warriors but finds Victoria, he pretends to help her but instead takes her back to the ship, and tries to throw in with the Warriors thinking them to be against the scientists. They kill him for being useless to them.

Angus Lennie as Storr.
The Doctor meets Penley and they go to Jamie. Penley takes Jamie back to the base and the Doctor goes to see the warriors and enters their ship's airlock. We then get a fantastically silly cliffhanger where Varga gradually reduces the pressure in the airlock unless the Doctor agrees to answer his questions.

Walters goes a bit mad.
Varga threatens Victoria so the Doctor tells him that he will find the fuel he needs for their ship's ion reactor at the base. Varga rallies his warriors for an attack. Penley and Jamie arrive at the base, but Clent orders them stunned and they are taken away. Varga contacts Clent ordering him to surrender. Clent suggests a peace meeting. A technician, Walters becomes crazed and tries to smash the computer but Miss Garrett stops him by using the stun gun. Walters then tries to attack the warriors at the peace meeting but they kill him. Varga wants to take the mercury isotopes from the ioniser reactor without any regard to how this will affect the humans, the dome and the world. Without the ioniser the glaciers begin to move forward.

Wendy Gifford as Miss Garrett.
Back at the Martian ship the Doctor alters the Warriors' sonic cannon to harm the Martians and not the humans. Penley adjusts the temperature controls making it uncomfortable for the warriors. The Doctor fires the cannon forcing the warriors to retreat; he then fuses it and leaves.

Victoria and the Doctor return to the base. The Doctor tells them that the ships reactor is ion based. The computer states that there is a fifty-fifty chance that the ioniser will explode when trained on a space craft with an ion engine. Penley enters and points out to Clent that choice is the strength of man. Acting on his own volition, Penley starts the ioniser. The warriors discover that their ship has power as the ice melts around it. The martian ship begins to take off but is destroyed by the ioniser. The ship explodes with only a minor explosion destroying both the oncoming glacier and the warriors. Clent thanks Penley and the TARDIS crew slip away.

The tale certainly has a good moral which is still valid today. We as a race are becoming more and more reliant on technology. This story, however silly in places, certainly points out the eventual extremes that could happen to a society that depends too fully on computers and technology.The Martians are pretty cool and will certainly be back. On paper this story sounds great, it's a shame it was so clumsily handled when being produced.

Join me next time for The Enemy Of The World.