Thursday, 23 February 2012

49: The Space Pirates - A Dull Space Opera Meets A Futuristic CopSit-Com

Written by: Robert Holmes
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot.
Monsters/Villains: Caven, Dervish, Space Pirates.
Brief Synopsis: The International Space Corps are on the trail of a buch of Argonite Pirates.
Rating: 3/10.

Right, I have to start this one off with a confession: I have never seen/heard The Space Pirates ever before!! I know, how can I call myself a fan? I just haven't! There's only one episode out of six that exists to this day, and there is little to no visual representation of this story, it is also the last story that doesn't exist in it's entirety and I had heard I wasn't missing much (we shall see). Unfortunately where the previous story, The Seeds of Death, took the late-sixties obsession with space travel and gave it an ironic twist, The Space Pirates, ah... doesn't.

Space Beacon Alpha 1.
We see Caven, Dervish and the space pirates plant demolition charges on space beacon Alpha 1, detonate their explosives and steal the beacon's precious mineral: Argonite. Then we watch them do exactly the same thing to Beacon Alpha 7. I'm not sure why we need to see this twice. However, never fear the Earth International Space Corps ship V41-LO, General Hermack and Major Warne are on the case. Some people have referred to this story as 'The Bill in Space,' and for the most part I would have to agree. General Exposition... I mean General Hermack is played by Jack May of The Archers fame, but he's rubbish. I'm genuinely not sure what accent he's going for and he's just very dull. One could blame his poor, frequently expositional and technobabble-based dialogue, but he is also just rubbish. His colleague, Major Warne is played by the excellent, Donald Gee, he's definitely going for an american accent, but sadly he is nearly just as unstimulating as his commanding officer.

Hermack and Warne having a coffee break. Thrilling... not!
In order to stop any more beacons from befalling the same fate, Hermack decides to man the other beacons. They leave Lt. Sorba and some men at beacon Alpha 4, where the TARDIS and the space pirates also soon arrive. Once aboard Caven kills the space corp men, takes Lt. Sorba prisoner and seals the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe in to a fragment of the beacon.

Fragments of the Beacon blasting away for the third time!! Snore.
The Pirates set their explosive charges, detach from Alpha 4 and detonate (so that's three times we've seen this now. Why?). The beacon breaks up sending the Doctor and his companions sprawling.

Dervish and Caven.
Episode two actually exists! Yay! The titular Space Pirates don't make an appearance, but we do however get a visit from the old, outdated space ship, LIZ 79 and it's prospector captain, Milo Clancey played completely round-the-bend-insanely by Gordon Costelow. Where this character and Costelow's wild west style performance might annoy in any other story, here his liveliness is more than welcome. The only thing he can be held accountable for is pointing out how colourless and monotonous every one else is. 

Milo Clancey played box-of-frogs crazy by Gordon Costelow.
Clancey is brought aboard the Space Corp V ship and questioned. Hermack releases him but puts him under observation as he suspects that he is in league with the pirates. There is even the first Doctor Who reference to the dreaded mind probe, when Warne suggests this means of learning the truth from Clancey. The closest planet to the latest "Beacon-busting" is Ta, which is dominated by the Issigri Mining Corporation, whose leader is Madeleine Issigri (who has a rather interesting hair hat). The firm was founded by her father and our cowboy captain Clancey, and the latter is now suspected of Dom Issigri’s murder, although nothing has been proved.

Madeline Issigri and her... um... Golden hair hat.
Still trapped inside a fragment of the beacon, in an attempt to get back to the TARDIS the Doctor manages to launch them further away from the other parts of the beacon and towards their certain doom. It's fascinating to see Troughton really being quite serious here. He really shows the defeatism when he thinks that there is no hope for himself or his companions. After all this time, in his penultimate story Troughton is still trying new things with the character. Basically I love Troughton. Cowboy Clancey picks up the Doctor's part of the beacon, links up, comes aboard and shockingly shoots Jamie.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe think their number is up.
And we're back to just audio for the last 4 episodes. Fortunately, yet unsurprisingly, Jamie is just stunned. Clancey and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe each think the other are the pirates, but quickly learn they are mistaken and team up.

Warne wearing what looks like the
Ice Lords Helmet from the previous story.
General Exposition... I mean Hermack goes to the planet Ta and proves himself to be the biggest idiot in the universe. Madeline Issigri has a model of a Beta Dart spaceship (like the one the pirates are using) and says her company has just bought two. Hermack can't seem to see what is patently obvious; that Clancey is clearly innocent and that this oddly hatted fem-fatal, is the one in league with the pirates. His dense detective work is clearly part of the fun. No one is trying to hide Madeline's guilt from us the audience which turns Jack May's Hermack's serious approach to hilarity. On the other hand you've got  Gordon Costelow giving us humorous bluster - but all to disguise the fact the Clancey is the most intelligent and independent character of the lot

The Pirates Beat Dart docked with a Beacon.
Caven who is hiding on Ta sends the argonite filled fragments of the beacon to the planet Lobos to place suspicion on Clancey, who owns the mining operation on that planet. The Doctor, Clancey, Zoe and Jamie are chased by pirates and fall into a mineshaft chasm where they find Lt. Sorba.

The Space Corp Ship V41-LO.
Once again Hermack shows his stupidity... I mean... beneficence, when he orders to abort an attack on the pirates ship when he recognises the Issigri logo on it's hull. He's so dumb! The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, Sorba and Clancey escape and while killing some pirates on the way, they head to Madeline's office to warn her. When they arrive Caven enters, kills Sorba and reveals that Madeline is the one in cahoots with the pirates. Big surprise there!

This is what Lisa Daniely, who plays Madeline
Issigri looks like without the silly hair hat.
Umm.. WOW!
Caven imprisons the Doctor and co when Madeline protests his plan to kill them. They're locked in a study where they find Madeline's father Dom Issigri, who is not dead but has been held captive by Caven. Madeline tries to contact Hermack to get help with the Pirates but Caven disconnects the signal and gets her to keep quiet when he reveals to her that he is holding her father captive.

Rather hilariously the Doctor uses smeared candle wax and marbles placed in front of the door to trip over some guards, whilst Clancey and Jamie knock some out and Zoe smashes a vase on one guard's head. Weirdly, during the escape the Doctor gets separated from Jamie and Zoe (off screen) and makes it to the LIZ 79 only to be caught in the blast as Caven remotely forces the ship to take off with Clancey and Dom inside.

Clancey aboard the LIZ 79.
Jamie and Zoe find the Doctor but Clancey and Dom are trapped on the LIZ which is out of control, and to make matters worse Caven cuts their oxygen supply. Jamie rescues Madeline from the pirate Dervish, the Doctor returns the oxygen to the LIZ, and instructs Clancey how to deactivate the remote control.

The Minnow.
In a last ditch attempt to rid themselves of their problems Caven has Dervish plant demolition charges in the atomic fuel store of the Issigri base. Fortunately the Doctor manages to defuse the detonator before the pirates can activate it. Hermack contacts Madeline to let her know that they will attack the Pirates in 55 minutes? It's like they've gone out of their way to seem mundane. Eventually Warne is sent out in a Minnow (small fast ship) and destroys the Pirates and their ship. Madeline is taken to earth to stand trial for her part in the plot and Clancey agrees to take the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to Lobos in the LIZ to find the beacon fragment containing the TARDIS.

So, there you have it. A story I had never seen before. I started off very excited to be seeing new, old Who but sadly I feel I wasn't particularly missing anything in this one. The Doctor and co hardly appear at all, (although more than I had heard) and although they do have a bearing on the story it doesn't feel much like Doctor Who. It's more like a rather dull space opera meets a futuristic cop sit-com. This is Robert Holmes second outing as writer and he still hasn't quite got it. I'm not sure if this is a step forward or a step back from The Krotons but it certainly isn't what we'll come to expect from one who would go on to be considered the best writer Doctor Who has ever had...

On the plus side I have reached the last missing episode. Things will be decidedly easier from here on in. I actually can't express how difficult it was at times to focus on what was happening in some of those audio-only episodes. I now feel a combination of depression and elation; sad that I am reaching the end of Troughton, who has really become my new favourite Doctor, and excited about moving on to Pertwee and colour. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'm not there yet...

Join me next time for Troughton's final story, and a true epic, The War Games.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

48: The Seeds of Death - Or "The White Balloons Filled With Talcum Powder Of Possible, Yet Unlikely, Death"

Written by: Brian Hayles.
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot.
Monsters/Villains: Ice Warriors/Martians, Ice Lord.
Brief Synopsis: Some familiar alien invaders take control of T-Mat and hold the world hostage.
Rating: 5/10.

Hello faithful readers, apologies that I have been a tad on the absent side recently. I am now returned and excited to let you know about how I got on with The Seeds Of Death or as I have re-dubbed it: The White Balloons Filled With Talcum Powder Of Possible, Yet Unlikely, Death. I was thrilled to be unexpectedly joined for this one by my good friend Phil who happened to be staying with me last week.

T-Mat cubical. 
So here we are at some point in the 21st century. It's not quite a base-under-siege but more like the whole planet. Completely scrapping cars, trains, ships, planes and space rockets, the world's travel has been completely dominated by T-Mat: a matter transmitter that sends food, supplies and people anywhere on earth and to the moon in the blink of an eye. Sounds good huh, but what happens when control of that technology is seized on the moon by alien invaders?

Osgood, one of the technicians on the Moonbase (presumably the same base from The Moonbase at an earlier point in time) sacrifices himself but not before disabling T-Mat, halting the aliens' invasion plans.

Commander Radnor and Miss. Kelly.
Fortunately the TARDIS arrives in a Space Museum (not the same one from Hartnell's story) and the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie meet Professor Eldred, who just happens to be the one man on earth still interested in space rockets and he also happens to have been building one on the sly; convenient that! T-Mat is overseen by Commander Radnor but actually controlled and run by a woman, Miss. Kelly. Towards the end of the first episode one of the moonbase technicians manages to get a message to earth. He tells them of Osgood's death but unfortunately he gets iced before he can say more. I think if it had been me I'd have led with Alien invaders as apposed to one man's death.

Radnor persuades Eldred to let them use his rocket.
(The real one not this model)
Episode two is filled with some pretty flimsy, farfetched plot points. Phil and I both agree that it is totally ridiculous when the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie, whose presence there is totally unexplained, are chosen to man the rocket to the moon. If the whole world were in danger, would you send three complete strangers in the one and only rocket you have to get to the moon, without even knowing if they have the knowledge to pilot a rocket or to repair the damaged machinery in the base once they get there, if they get there? 

The irreplaceable Miss. Kelly.
As if that wasn't enough Radnor refuses to let Miss. Kelly go, because she is "the only one who understands T-Mat." Well that's a little irresponsible, isn't it?! Phil points out what, " what if she's hit by a car." (He then realises there aren't any cars due to T-Mat.) "Well what if she get's killed... somehow?"

Three rather unlikely rocket pilots.
Phil points out a hilarious moment when we see the weakness/ingenuity on the budget of Doctor Who in the 60's when the Doctor and his two companions simulate space weightlessness by waving their arms around; priceless. 

The Aliens are revealed to be non-other than the Ice Warriors, or Martians for the less xenophobic. To keep their return a surprise, Steve Peters was credited as Alien in the Radio Times for Episode 1. We are also introduced to the first Ice Lord. They are smaller and have different armour and helmets than their ice warrior brothers; they are also more intelligent and speak better. The Second episode climaxes as Phil describes it when Phipps, one of the moonbase technicians 'arranges some heat lamps and uses them to melt one of the Ice Warriors.'

Fortunately for Radnor, Miss. Kelly and everyone one else on earth, the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie make it to the moonbase, but they are captured by the Ice Warriors. The Doctor points out there are too few (Phil and I tried to work out how many there were, we recon about seven) of them to invade the earth and learn that they plan to send "seeds" down to earth to change the atmosphere making the planet uninhabitable for humans and perfect for Martian colonisation. 

Miss Kelly and Zoe fix the "heat lamps."
Miss Kelly manages to get to the Moonbase when T-Mat is briefly operational again and fix the damage. She soon learns of the Martians and meets up with the Doctor and Phipps. They want to use the same booby trap as before but it is broken. Fortunately Phipps changes the bulb in one of the "heat lamps" and miraculously the signal returns. Miss. Kelly then plugs in the "heat lamp" and another Ice Warrior is melted to nothingness! Meanwhile conditions on earth are worsening and major cities are suffering food shortages. "After one day," points out Phil! 

Fewsham, the moonbase’s second in command, fears for his own life and continuously aides the Ice Warriors to save himself including T-Matting their "Seeds" down to earth. We then encounter the aforementioned and titular "Seeds" or "White balloons filled with talcum powder" of (possible, yet unlikely) Death. I think maybe they thought that if everyone in the story who sees one of these organic devices seems to think that they look like seedpods we as the audience will accept this and agree. I think they look like balloons. As if that wasn't bad enough they reclassify the "seeds" as fungus. Now it's been a while since I last did biology but seeds and fungus are different things. It seems to me if you're gonna name a story" The Seeds of Death," you should be pretty damn certain your main threat should definitely be a seed and not a fungus. The Fungus of Death doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

When the "seed" arrives it emits fumes that cause oxygen starvation. Phil points out that Radnor and Professor Eldred; the oldest guys there, are unaffected but the young, healthy, yet dispensable technician guy - dead! Oddly, one guy whom a coughing and spluttering Radnor orders to activate the air conditioning to rescue them seems entirely unaffected. 

Zoe and Phipps plan to literally turn up the heat in the Moonbase to take care of the Ice Warriors, rather hilariously the temperature control says 'cold' and 'full on.'  Zoe gets caught and is just about to be killed by one of the Martians when as Phil points out the huge cavernous space that is the moonbase control room is almost instantly filled with heat, immobilising the Ice Warrior. Meanwhile one of the Warriors is T-matted to earth with the important mission to sabotage the weather control centre.

The Doctor handles a ball or "seed."
The Doctor discovers that ordinary H2O destroys the fungus and runs really fast to the Weather control centre. I laughed as I realised that the rain and weather for London or possibly the whole county or even the world is all controlled from one console; again, seems a little irresponsible. The best/silliest cliff-hanger ever then takes place when the Doctor is obscured by foam as he tries to enter the Weather control centre.

As silly and farfetched yet undoubtedly enjoyable the majority of this story is, the plot takes an unfortunately dull turn for the worst towards the end that is sadly reminiscent of the Wheel in Space. Back on the moonbase the Ice Lord Commander Slaar speaks to Grand Marshal Sparkly Sequins who informs him that the Martian fleet is enroute. Slaar commands Fewsham to connect a homing beacon to guide the fleet to earth. 

Grand Marshal Sparkly Sequins.
In an act of redemption, Fewsham activates the video link so the Ice Warriors’ signal can be overheard on earth. The earth forces form a plan to send a false signal, which draws the Ice Warriors fleet off track and into the sun. It seems to me that with all this futuristic technology an alien fleet like the Cybermen or the Ice Warriors could find their way to earth from mars without a signal to guide them, and for that matter if they were following a signal that took them straight into the sun they would think: "hmmm, perhaps we ought not to follow this signal anymore, cause I don't know about you guys but I'm getting a little on the warm side."

In this largely futuristic story Zoe has really flourished but Jamie on the other hand seems a little surplus to requirements. They throw him a bone at the very end where he gets to razzle some Ice Warriors, but overall this scenario really exposes his character's weakness in 'future' based stories.

I ask phil for his overall thoughts and his main criticisms seems to centre around the programme's poor/flat direction and shoddy camera work. He says he liked the special effects, for the time, he likes Troughton and his credits but he seems most impressed with Zoe, which I can understand. Phil gives The Seeds of Death 6/10; just one point more than myself.

Phil and I agree we both love Zoe.
Regardless of it's often weak plot points I did really enjoy The Seeds of Death, even if they weren't technically seeds. One must bare in mind that in 1969 the world was obsessed by space travel. It's great to turn this on it's head and have a population entirely reliant on T-Mat and uninterested in space travel, which leads to all the problems in the first place. I'm not sure if this was meant to be a comment on space travel as a fad, but if so Brian Hayles was spot on as the worlds space programme is no longer breaking boundaries as it once did. As fun as this ironic premise is, it isn't always enough and the story often doesn't know how to get from A to B, however it still has much to offer.

Join me next time for Troughton's penultimate adventure, and the last of the incomplete stories The Space Pirates...

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Recently rediscovered 'Missing Episodes' won't see DVD release this year!

Galaxy 4: Behind bars until next year...
In a recent interview published in Doctor Who Magazine #444, 2|entertain commissioning editor, Dan Hall has announced that the recently rediscovered 'missing episodes' Galaxy 4: Airlock and Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace are to be separated and will not be released on DVD this year. 

Hang in there Zaroff, we'll see you in 2013.
When interview in DWM, Dan Hall had the following to say: 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

47: The Krotons - A Couple Of Brummies Trying To Take Over The World

Written by: Robert Holmes.
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot.
Monsters/Villains: Krotons.
Brief Synopsis: The Gonds have been enslaved by the crystalline aliens, the Krotons.
Rating: 0.5/10.

The Krotons is, to my recent memory at least, the dullest Doctor Who story of all time. 

I was excited to be joined by my good friend Ed Blagrove for this next viewing in my epic Doctor Who pilgrimage. We we're both pleased to see that this was the great Robert Holmes first script for Doctor Who. Holmes would go on to write what are considered to be some of the very best episodes or Doctor Who ever including: The Talons of Weng Chiang, The Cave of Androzani, and the Time Warrior to name but a few. I explained to Ed that The Krotons was actually a last minute replacement for an abandoned gender swap satire called The Amazons and later The Prison in Space by writer Dick Sharples, which has recently be remounted in audio form as part of the Big Finish Lost Stories range.

As The Krotons has not yet been released on DVD I gave Ed the option of the Itunes download version or the crackly characterful VHS. With my agreement he chose the VHS; in all it's dated glory. We sat down in my living room in front of my massive 52" screen and began. Ed's first observation was "The Krotons was never meant to be watched on a tv this big!" We both gave a sigh of nostalgia as we saw the old 1988-91 BBC Video ident but it was all down hill from there.

The plot of the Krotons is practically non-existant. The Gonds are ruled over by the organic crystalline beings, the Krotons; which no one has ever seen. Their ship, the Dynatrope crash landed on the Gond's planet leaving them powerless. In order to reform themselves and take off they need to harvest mental power, unfortunately the Gonds ain't the brightest bunch. Periodically the Gonds are tested and the two brightest people are welcomed to become "Companions of the Krotons." In truth they have their mental energy drained, after which they are killed. When the TARDIS arrives the Doctor and Zoe use the Kroton's teaching machine and have sufficient mental power to substantiate the Krotons. After learning what the Krotons have been up to the Gonds rebel, but it is the Doctor who manges to destroy them and their ship by using an impure form of sulphuric acid.

Troughton and Padbury make an excellent comic duo.
At the end of the first episode we don't really say anything. We both agree that James Copeland is pretty awful as Selris, the Gond's leader. The only joy to be found in this story is in it's comic moments between the Doctor and Zoe. There's a lot of fun when they both take the Kroton's test, and Zoe does better than the Doctor. 

Nice skirts Brummies.
Once the Krotons stop being all crystalline slurry they form into what looks remarkably like taller versions of the Quarks. The hexagonal based designs of the ship and these odd beings are actually pretty cool. Unfortunately the budget must have run out around about the actor inside's knees as we get a sort of metal looking skirt. The Kroton's are famous for having the rather unusual disposition of a Birmingham accent (Does every planet have a Midlands??). The Kroton's voice artists Roy Skelton and Patrick Tull were actually going for a South African lilt, to tie the story in with the serious then-current issues of apartheid, unfortunately it just sounds like some a couple of Brummies trying to take over the world.

Zoe's "Skirt."
Ed and I both agree that this isn't a bad story it's just very very dull. We do, however, both like Zoe's new costume, or lack there of. At one point in the story, my flatmate RJ who was also in the room, chimed in with, "Wow, this really backs up all the stories you hear about Doctor Who and people running around quarries in silly clothes."

At one point a Kroton seems to destroy the TARDIS and Ed and I both awoke from our vegetative state, but oh, no don't worry it's just moved. The Doctor had set the HADS. The Hostile action displacement system.

The most exciting thing that happened in the whole viewing process was after we stopped for a loo break, came back and the VHS got all speeded up and wouldn't play. I had to take it out and blow on it and give it the old lucky tap. (Ah, how I love earth technology.)

Philip Madoc as Eelek.
With Robert Holmes at the pen, Patrick Troughton as the Doctor and the excellent Philip Madoc making his first appearance in Doctor Who this just should have been better. The story finally picks up in the dwindling minutes of the last episode, but it is too little too late.

Ed scores The Krotons with a generous 2/10. Explaining one point is for Patrick Troughton and the other is for Zoe's skirt. We discuss briefly how there are so many missing stories especially from Troughton's era and yet this remains. I gave The Krotons 0.5/10 which is the lowest score I have yet given; beating even The Web Planet which I gave 1/10. I didn't like that one but at least it had some sort of originality to it. I finish our little fest by stating, "I almost wish it was lost." Ed laughs, but I don't.

To make up for this wholly disappointing story we decided to watch something else. So we set off to watch the film Moneyball, which by the way is well worth a look.

Join me next time for something hopefully a little more interesting, The Seeds of Death.