Friday, 25 May 2012

56: The Mind Of Evil - A Metaphor For Terrorism Ahead Of Its Time

Written by: Don Houghton.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, The Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton.
Monsters/Villains: The Master, The Keller Machine/Mind Parasite.
Brief Synopsis: The Master uses prisoners to hijack a nerve-gas missile to blow up a world peace conference.
Rating: 8/10.

The Mind of Evil is the Pertwee story I always forget about. This is the one where the "United Nations" part of UNIT's acronym was accented as opposed to the "Intelligence Task-force" bit. This is one of the few stories not yet released on DVD so it was back to good old, lovely, fuzzy VHS. Unfortunately not a single frame of The Mind of Evil exists in colour to date. A monochrome print survives thanks to the fact that BBC Enterprise's overseas customers bought black and white transmission prints. This is probably the reason I have overlooked it in the past. A DVD release is planned for 2013, episodes 2-6 have been recoloured, but episode 1 lacks the necessary colour signal for restoration used on the rest of the story.

There are a number of notable things in this story: including the first return of the Master and the first and only use of subtitles in the original series until The Curse of Fenric in 1989. For me the most notable aspect is that of the inclusion and casting of several asian characters/actors. You may be surprised to learn that Pik-Sen Lim who played the Master's unwilling assassin Captain Chin-Lee was this story's writer: Don Houghton's wife. Houghton was clearly trying to increase the representation of actors from ethnic backgrounds on british television; which at this point was practically nonexistent. He tries to show Captain Chin-Lee and delegate Fu Peng as respectable and valid four-dimensional characters. And in Chin-Lee's case attractive, which is presumably why Captain Yates refers to her as, "a bit of a dolly." Chin-Lee appears to be behind espionage and murder of two peace conference delegates but has actually been hijacked and used by the Master. This is perhaps a metaphor for the stereotypes at that time people might have pigeonholed certain minorities into. Houghton doesn't fully achieve what he set out to do, and Lim doesn't give the strongest performance but both must be given kudos for their attempts.

Pik-Sen Lim as Captain Chin-Lee.
The story centres around the Keller Machine that is used to remove all the negative/evil impulses from the brains of imprisoned convicts, which could be used to kill people by turning their greatest fears against them. It turns out to be part of a plot by the Master, with the aid of some of the inmates from the prison to steal a gas-missile, destroy a world peace conference and start a war so the Master could take over. At one point the Doctor shows weakness and limitation when Jo asks "Why don't you just destroy it?[the keller machine]" and the Doctor replies, "Because those idiots in authority won't let me." This is something that just doesn't gell with my idea of the Doctor. He is not someone who does what "those idiots in authority" tell him to do. He does what is best or what is needed. This is certainly an example of where the idea comes from that Jon Pertwee's Doctor was too "establishment." It is a valid instance but there are many more that prove the opposite.

The Doctor fears fire.
Some would say that Children aren't interested in politics, especially these days, but in 1971 Don Houghton and the production team of Doctor Who made an effort to encourage an interest, and subtly indoctrinate the youth to invest in caring about their future. Through an adventure setting, children would learn the importance of politics.

A shocking image of children in a playground when Chin Lee burns documents, she claims have been stolen.
The story has clear influences from James Bond and A Clockwork Orange, but the most interesting element to this story is the story itself. Emil Keller A.K.A the Master, a terrorist (from a time before that phrase was in common usage) hatches a complex scheme to plunge the world into war by using a group of convicted criminals and a machine that turns people's fears against them to steal a missile  to launch at a world peace conference. It really couldn't be a clearer metaphor for terrorism, a machine that literally uses fear against people for political reasons.

The machine becomes/is revealed to actually be a mind parasite (a sort of brain in a jar) and as the creature's hunger for minds grows, it develops the ability to teleport itself around; as terrorism grows, it spreads like a disease.

The Mind Parasite.
Even more interesting, are the working titles for this episode, which were The Pandora Machine, The Pandora Box, The Pandora's Box. They demonstrate a strong understanding of then-current events and amazing foresight on Houghton's part to establish "terrorism" as a fast growing and troubling issue. The age of modern terrorism as we know it today might be said to have begun in 1968 when the Liberation of Palestine group PFLP hijacked an El Al airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Rome. Modern terrorism didn't hit it's peak until the events of 9/11 but Houghton clearly saw that terrorism was like pandora's box; a jar which contained all the evils of the world.

Pandora's Box.
Today, to open Pandora's box means to create evil that cannot be undone. Originally in Greek Mythology after Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Prometheus' brother Epimetheus with Pandora and a container which she was not to open under any circumstance. Impelled by her curiosity given to her by the gods, Pandora opened it, and all evil contained therein escaped and spread over the earth. She hastened to close the container, but the whole contents had escaped, except for one thing that lay at the bottom, which was the angel of Hope named Astrea. Houghton was saying back in 1971 when modern terrorism was still in it's relative infancy that once that box had been opened there would be no closing it.

Barnham, an idiot or a saint.
Barnham, a prisoner who had all the evil/negative impulses removed from his brain, "leaving him either an idiot or a saint," is probably the closest comparison with Astrea. He literally neutralises the influence of the creature, which enables the Doctor to use it against the Master. Barnham actually tries to help save the Master when the Thunderbolt missile is about to detonate, and the Master repays him by running him over, killing him symbolising the death of hope.

The Master fears the Doctor laughing at him and his failure.
The Master "controls" the machine/creature/terrorism, but it turns against him, he loses control of it, and the Doctor, perhaps unwillingly, uses it against the Master. Too often the actual episodes' pacing and momentum lull and dissipate, and the ending seems quite weak. But what is missing in execution is made up for in intention. The Keller Machine/Mind Parasite is destroyed by the blast of the aborted Thunderbolt and the day is won, but the evil Master, like the evil from the box, escapes and with his recovered dematerialisation circuit in hand.

The story's execution often falters but there are some great moments and writer Don Houghton encapsulates his concern of the growing issue that we now call terrorism with a clever and clear metaphor. In short it's not the best story ever but the ideas are top notch. This is a story that will no longer go unremembered by me. It is just a shame that it goes largely overlooked because to date it is only available in black and white and VHS. This just moved to the top of my wish list for a DVD release.

Join me next time for The Claws of Axos.

Friday, 11 May 2012

BAFTA Cymru & BBC Wales present Doctor Who – The Lost Episodes

After a fun filled day of Doctor Who Cardiff location sightseeing I headed to Chapter where BAFTA Cymru & BBC Wales arranged a special, exclusive screening of two recently rediscovered episodes of 60’s Doctor Who. The episodes were found last year and shown at the BFI’s annual “Missing Believed Wiped” event at the National Film Theatre Londonin November. I was thrilled when I learned that these two episodes had been found and was instantly desperate to see them. Initially it was announced that they would get a DVD release later this year, but that was quickly corrected to 2013. When this special screening in Cardiff was announced I knew I had to go, I was able to secure a ticket through a friend at BAFTA and the rest is history. 

"How could this possibly get better?" I hear you ask. How about being joined for the viewing by actors, Peter Purves (Steven Tyler), Anneke Wills (Polly), Fraser Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), current series producer Caro Skinner and show runner Steven Moffat. Edward Russell, the Doctor Who Brand Manager, excitedly introduced the episodes and also gave us a little ray of hope. For those of you, who couldn’t make it, couldn't get tickets or like me couldn’t wait to see the episodes, you may not have to wait until 2013. Edward Russell alluded to a possible iTunes release of both Air Lock and Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace in the coming months. Nothing has been officially confirmed, but this certainly sounds hopeful.

Air Lock (Episode 3) from Galaxy 4

When Air Lock started I had a child sitting behind me, who had clearly come as a fan of the new series with her mother. She kept asking her mum whispered questions: "Who’s that? What’s that thing? Where are they going?" At first I was annoyed by this but she quickly quietened down, apparently engrossed. 

It was great to see the visuals of a story which until recently was almost completely unrepresented in the archives, bar a short section from the first episode, Four Hundred Dawns. There’s a beautiful flash back sequence where we see Margaa, commander of the evil/sexy Drahvins, killing one of her own injured soldiers all from the point-of-view of one of the kind/hideous Rills. Stephanie Bidmead who played Margaa has a very impressive 2-minute monologue which is delivered directly to camera. It's is just so impressive, especially when you consider it was all done in one take. The episode is solidly directed with some impressive fades and camera work. I felt particularly privileged as we got to see the whole episode, of which only a section was shown at the “Missing Believed Wiped” event. 

Stephanie Bidmead's impressive direct to camera monologue.
The episode has a classic cliffhanger, where Steven is locked in an Air Lock with the oxygen slowly seeping away. The little girl sitting behind me was so scared as she asked her mum, “Is the Doctor’s companion going to be okay?” Even though she was watching a 47 year old episode, totally out-of-context from it’s story, she invested in it, got scared and was genuinely worried for Steven's safety; even though she didn’t even know his name. It was thrilling to see one so young totally loving and buying into this vintage episode. I don't know who you were but I assure you Steven was fine, he got freed by the Chumblies and went on to run his own planet, so never fear.

Will Steven survive the Air Lock?
Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace

The picture in this episode was excellent as it had already been vid-fired and had it's censored clips reedited back in. This is now the very first complete Troughton episode in the archive. It’s great to see more of Joseph Furst playing the “mad as a hatter” Professor Zaroff, but the real joy here is getting to see Patrick Troughton still really playing with his interpretation of the Doctor. He makes so much of what is really no more than a fairly adequate script. Like Steven Moffat said “It’s all in the spin he puts on it.” 

Troughton loving his rhubarb hat.
The current show runner also shared with us his two favourite moments from this episode: when the Doctor is warning King Thous about Zaroff and says, “Have you noticed his [Zaroff’s] eyes recently? They’re like this!” and then doesn’t do anything with his eyes. The second is when the Doctor is given an Atlantian priest’s garb to disguise himself and perhaps enjoys it a little too much. It really is brilliant to see Troughton trying everything under the sun with the part; too often I forget how brilliant his early stuff is because there’s so little of it remaining in the archives.

The mercurial Patrick Troughton with guest star Joseph Furst.
Afterward we were treated to a Q+A panel with the three actors and Steven Moffat moderated excellently by Gary Russell. The three actors shared their experiences and memories of these episodes. Peter Purves talked in an incredibly articulate way about his time on the show, Frazer Hines was, as always, very funny, and Anneke Wills was beautifully inappropriate. All three expressed their interest to return to Doctor Who for the 50th anniversary next year. Steven Moffat put on his metaphorical crazy fan hat and spoke for everyone in attendance by admitting that he couldn’t impartially judge old episodes like these, in the same way “normal people” woud. Like everyone there, he was just so thrilled to see new old Doctor Who.

Me with two legends Frazer Hines and Peter Purves.
Once the event had finished I had the good fortune to get to meet Peter Purves, Fraser Hines, and Anneke Wills in person, all three were incredibly charming. I also got to have a brief chat with Doctor Who Magazine editor Tom Spillsbury; who kindly shared some of his experiences of working for the iconic publication. He's a very nice chap indeed.

Me with the lovely Anneke Wills.
I would like to say a big thank you to BAFTA Cymru, BBC Wales, ChapterEdward Russell and Gary Russell for organising the event, to Paul Vanezis and Peter Crocker for their work on the restoration and finally to Mr Terry Burnett for giving us the episodes themselves. It was a fantastic event, enjoyed by all in attendance. I feel incredibly privileged to be one of the lucky few who got to attend this very special occasion that I won’t soon forget.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Doctor Who Detour – Cardiff a.k.a The Capital of Doctor Who

Yesterday I made the journey from London to Cardiff for a very special event screening two recently rediscovered 60’s Doctor Who episodes and since I’d never been to the Capital of Wales and let’s face it Doctor Who, I thought I should probably take in some of the sights. Fortunately I had the knowledgeable Paul C Robinson to show me about.

Our first stop was the Church used in Father’s Day.
Next up was the Torchwood Hub.
The Millennium Centre.
And The Wall, adorned with fan love for Torchwood, specifically Ianto Jones.
I spied a familiar news item from Boom Town. 
Next up was the “American” diner from The Impossible Astronaut. 
Then Sarah Jane’s house on “Bannerman Road.”
We then arrived at the site of the Crash of the Byzantium (where you note I am dry) used in The Time of Angels/Flesh And Stone. 
Which is just across from Bad Wolf Bay (where moments later I am drenched) used in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. 
We passed the BBC Wales village. 
And last stop was Amy and Rory’s hometown, “Leadworth.” 
The next morning before I went back home to London I stopped to see House of Fraser, which was used as the Department store in Closing Time.
It did rain most of the time I was there but I had a great time and must say a massive thank you to Paul for taking the day to show me around. After my day of sight seeing I was off to the main event: Doctor Who – The Lost Episodes at Chapter.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

55: Terror Of The Autons - Plastic Fantastic!

Written by: Robert Holmes.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, The Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton.
Monsters/Villains: The Master, The Autons, The Nestene Consciousness.
Brief Synopsis: With new assistant Jo Grant, the Doctor must stop a second attempt invasion by the Nestene Consciousness and their plastic pals the Autons who are being aided by an old enemy, the Master.
Rating: 6/10.

As I write this I'm on a train on my way to Cardiff for a fun-filled Doctor Who day, culminating with a special screening of the recently rediscovered lost episodes Airlock from Galaxy 4 and episode 2 from The Underwater Menace with companions Steven Tyler (Peter Purves), Polly (Anneke Wills) and Jamie McCrimmon (Fraser Hines). I cannot sufficiently express my excitement. But back to Terror of the Autons.

The wonderful Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates.
Lots of big firsts are to be had in this one. The Doctor gets a new assistant in Jo Grant. UNIT gets a new resident Captain in Mike Yates. The Doctor also gets an arch-nemesis, in the Master, and he's got the plastic fantastic Autons of the Nestene Consciousness in tow. With so much going on you might think this story could become a little overburdened; especially with only four parts. These new characters however are cleverly underplayed and forced to put their back-stories and explanations on hold while everyone involved gets on with the Auton crisis.

The Autons get a redesign, but like Patrick Troughton says, "I don''t like it."
Terror of the Autons is another great example of Doctor Who doing what it does so well, in both being current (for it's time) and making the everyday terrifying. Plastic had been around for quite some time before this, but it was the sixties and early seventies when plastic seemed to be everywhere, almost invading the whole world, replacing other materials for production of numerous everyday items. For a people that had rather suddenly found themselves living in a plastic nation, what could be more scary than an invasion of beings that can possess anything made of the versatile substance?

My only real bugbear with Terror of the Autons is that it's all a bit too obvious. As an audience we know what's going on but have to stand idly by while the Doctor and UNIT puzzle it out. What this story really does achieve is an impressive parade of imaginative plastic-related deaths, including:

Death by plastic chair. 
Death by animated novelty troll doll. 
Attempted murder of the Doctor by exceedingly long telephone flex.
And of course death by a substance shot from a plastic daffodil.
Jo Grant is the Doctor's new assistant. As I said in my last post Inferno, Liz Shaw unfortunately never got a farewell story, the Brigadier just mentions that she has returned to Cambridge. We are introduced to Jo as she ruins the Doctor's steady-state-micro-welding work on the TARDIS dematerialisation circuit with a fire extinguisher prodding the Doctor to call her and I quote, a "ham-fisted bun-vendor." The Doctor initially refuses her saying he needs a scientist, to which the Brigadier replies, "All you really need is someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are." A relatively  young agent of UNIT, with experience in cryptology, safe breaking, explosives, and an "a-level in general science," Jo only got the job because she has relatives in high places. The Doctor wants to get rid of her but she only stays because he doesn't have the heart to chuck her; sounds like a lot of relationships my friends have had. Well the Doctor and Jo didn't do too badly so maybe there's hope for those couples yet.

Katy Manning as Jo Grant.
And of course this is the Master's first appearance in Doctor Who. When he arrives in his horse-box disguised TARDIS (with a working chameleon circuit) at the Circus ground we learn that he somehow knows Rossini's real name, he's physically very strong, and can hypnotise people. He likes to kill people by shrinking them down to doll size.

The Master's incredibly cruel tissue-compressor.
He's a member of the Doctor's race, a time lord and a master of disguise with a penchant for anagrammatic pseudonyms. I found myself wondering why the Master asks the aid of the Circus owner Rossini in particular. Does he arrive there specifically because he wants a cool Evil-Circus-Gang or is Rossini just the first person he came across? Roger Delgado gives an excellent performance and from this point on becomes a popular if perhaps slightly over-used series regular.

Roger Delgado as The Master.
From even before their first on-screen meeting, we really get the feeling that even thought the Doctor and the Master are enemies, they have camaraderie. The Time Lord that arrives to warn the Doctor of the Master's arrival on earth we learn that they were at school together, with the Master's degree in cosmic science was of a higher class than the Doctor's. They know each other from their home and like the Doctor's previous meetings with his people, The Meddling Monk and The War Chief there is a oddly friendly relationship. I love how they are categorised by their weaknesses. The Master's is Vanity and the Doctor's is Curiosity.

This Time Lord has come 29 thousand light years to warn the Doctor.
There's a moment when Jo is hypnotised and tries to destroy UNIT with a bomb in a box, somehow the Doctor seems to sense that it's a bomb. I have no idea how. Also the substance that shoots from the plastic Daffodils is apparently dissolved by carbon dioxide. I might be wrong but surely if that was the case it would dissolve when one breathed out on it. Hmm?

The resolution of this one is a little weak too, as the Master realises that the Nestene's wouldn't work for him so he helps the Doctor avert their arrival. The Doctor removed the Master's dematerialisation circuit with hopes to use it for his TARDIS. It doesn't work but it means that like the Doctor, the Master is also now stranded on earth and I certainly must agree with the Doctor's sentiment, "I'm rather looking forward to it!"

Join me next time for The Mind of Evil.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Doctor Who Detour - Paris a.k.a City Of Death

Hello wonderful readers of my meagre musings. I'm sorry I've been a little absent of late. I've got posts backed up ready to go and to write but such little time at the moment. I thought I'd just take a second of my time whilst I'm on this wonderful holiday to Paris with my brilliant girlfriend, Katie to share some Doctor Who City of Death location sightseeing photos.

First we visited the amazing wooden carved doors on the Rue Ville du Temple that stood in for the entrance to Count Scarlioni's Chateaux.

Then it was on to the Northern Passageway on the Rue de Rivoli, the route the Doctor and Romana took to the Louvre.

We went to the cafe that the Doctor and Romana stop at, La Notre Dame Brasserie, where we had some lovely French Onion Soup.

We had a lovely time in front of the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral too!

We haven't seen any Jagaroth yet, so hopefully like we'll survive the City of Death and I'll be back soon with some more posts!