Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

Thunderbirds: Are… Really… Early… Go!

Thunderbirds Are Go

Thunderbirds Are Go

Easter weekend, 10 Easters on from Doctor Who… ITV played another 1960s card. But has it proved to be a Hood-like ruse?

BRITISH TELEVISION’S HAD A TOUGH DECADE STRUGGLING TO REPEAT DOCTOR WHO’S TREMENDOUS SUCCESS. That show didn’t have a Vortex-given right to reclaim its Saturday family crowd, let alone continually prove through its continued and growing popularity and proof that weekend evenings could sustain drama. It’s not mean feat, and in the 10 years that have passed since 2005’s Rose only Merlin has come close, after Robin Hood had first fizzled in BBC One’s evening slot. ITV had worse of it, with Primeval trying hard, only to face extinction within five staggered years, while Demons failed miserably in one. And to make things worse, Who’s wake wasn’t limited to Saturday evenings. It immediately triggered a fresh torrent of new fantasy and science-fiction to British television across many timeslots, from Being Human to In the Flesh to the rather unfortunate Outcasts.

But in April 2015, as Atlantis reaches its solemn final half-season, times are quite different from those deadly mid-zeroes. Who remains at a sublime peak of course, alive and urgent as ever, with the rather woolly and pointless promise of another five years recently made. Unfortunately and crucially such a promise may have some weight, as the BBC is in far different shape than it was a decade ago. Although its budget didn’t rival that afforded an equivalent American 45 minutes at the time, Doctor Who’s return was a risky and considerable investment that could only have been made by a rather flush and secure organization. The same is true of its diminutive online precursor and canon-mate, the 40th anniversary webcast Scream of the Shalka, an outrageous undertaking for a website at any time. Ten years on, scandal, mishandles, poor defences, resignations and a right-leaning government mean the present day BBC most likely couldn’t consider either of those things.

Five Years

That five year promise may have a hidden truth, and Whovians should be ready for a very different BBC come 2020. Fellow mega-brand Top Gear’s plight might have a slight impact, as will the spilling out of BBC Studios and the success of BBC Worldwide. It’s likely that a form of license fee will remain in five years, but it may be as radically different as the UK’s state broadcaster is herself at the end of the next parliament. All things considered, it can’t be dismissed that the Doctor Who brand could be sold for a pretty psychic penny…

Continue reading “Thunderbirds: Are… Really… Early… Go!”

Doctor Who: The Master in the 1980s – “Somewhat Reduced Circumstances”

The Master in the 1980s - the Doctor Who Marchster takeover

The Master in the 1980s - the Doctor Who Marchster takeover

You will continue to obey me! The Marchster takeover reaches its mid-point. The Master had burned brightly before fading to a surely inevitable end during the 1970s. The 1980s brought a new Doctor and Jon Nathan-Turner, a producer who wanted to fill out the TARDIS crew and saw the strength in this youngest ever Doctor having a nemesis of note. A decade of survival beckoned, as the Master’s fiendish plots became increasingly self-absorbed. The Second Marchster… A select journey from Geoffrey Beever’s skulking well-spoken loon to Anthony Ainley’s smarmy psychopath…

THE MASTER HAD ENJOYED, AND SUFFERED, A PRODUCTIVE 10 YEARS ON DOCTOR WHO, FROM HIS GLORIOUS ARRIVAL ON EARTH TO SCRAPING A LIVING AS A WRAITH-LIKE ASSASSIN. He couldn’t stay crispy for long however, though the effects of his misadventures would be felt for a good time yet.

Having so far met his nemesis only once during his long-lived fourth incarnation, it was timely that the Master’s rebirth should come as the scarf and frock coat were locked back in the TARDIS costume room. It was certainly a rebirth, though not a comfortable one – as the Master carved his longest on-screen life yet from the tattered familial tragedy of others.

The Keeper of Traken (Season 18, 1981)

Envious Eyes

Having escaped E-space and lost two companions in the form of K9 and Romana, the Doctor’s trip to explain how he could mislay a Time Lady to the Time Lords on Gallifrey is interrupted. Fittingly, after the pomp legend of The Deadly Assassin, there is an admirable dream-like quality to The Keeper of Traken. Although the serial’s name doesn’t so much concern the incumbent Keeper, gate-crashing the TARDIS in his reality-warping chair like Metroid of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, but the position itself – and the envious eyes that covet it.

New Beginnings

The final premonitory days of the Fourth Doctor

On the way, we’re in the final premonitory days of the Fourth Doctor. It’s unfair to say that Tom Baker was sleep-walking by this point. The science of script editor Christopher H. Bidmead acted as sterner control than the occasional frippery of Douglas Adams a year previously. Though, in a season that carried a loose arc of entropy, the Doctor was subconsciously building a new family for his future incarnation. From E-Space came the first – Adric, the precocious maths genius teen who doesn’t make the best foil for the Fourth Doctor, but who was soon to make friends in N-Space.

While on Traken, the Keeper has detected evil in the family union of the benign Tremas, his soon to be wife Kassia and his daughter Nyssa, as he relates through an extended flash-back sequence much like a fairy tale. And if the idea of a galactic empire held together by universal harmony sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.

Calcified Evil

A fairly blunt metaphor for the Master himself

The concept of the Melkur is a fascinating one, retaining a considerable amount of mystery thanks to its Henry Moore-like design and the fact that we never really learn much about it. Everything is carried along on superstition and good will, although it’s also a fairly blunt metaphor for the Master himself, twisted into his current form through his pure evil. On a planet where time is a concept not worth tracking, it appears the Melkur is embedded in the gardens outside the main chamber for many years, giving Kassia time to truly become “married to the statue she tends”. Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master in the 1980s – “Somewhat Reduced Circumstances””

Doctor Who: The Master in the 1970s – Arrival of the “Unimaginative Plodder”

The Original Master - Doctor Who Marchester takeover

The Original Master - Doctor Who Marchester takeover

You will obey me! Whovember has ended, and that’s not gone unnoticed. Welcome to the Marchester takeover. When creating a Moriarty to match the Doctor’s Holmes, the Who team had to wheel out a figure with staying power, little did they know how successful they’d be. He arrived, a stylish and sinister figure, capturing a popularity when the show was already nearing a decade old. Things would never be the same again… To start this three-part takeover… A select journey from imperious Delgado to bug-eyed husk…

WHOVEMBER #4 PROCLAIMED SEASON 12 TO BE NOT ONLY THE GREATEST SEASON IN WHO HISTORY, BUT THE FIRST ARC. THAT’S TRUE, BUT THERE WERE CONTENDERS BEFORE, LOOSE ARCS WHERE THE SERIAL FORMAT JUST COULDN’T CONTAIN A COMMON ELEMENT. Jon Pertwee’s second season sits pretty as the closest contender. There, as always, the serials sat distinct from each other. But while the Doctor’s exile had brought the show its greatest stability, with consistent sets and cast, Season Eight added an extra component. And of course that dapper silhouette belonged to The Master. The season’s shared villain, linking every story, popping up and winding like a snake through tales of Doomsday Weapons, Axons, Daemons and Autons. While Season Seven had brought colour, Season Eight brought fun. And it all started at the circus…

The Terror of the Autons (Season Eight, 1971)

Perhaps the start of the end

Doctor Who had undergone its most significant reboot with the arrival of Jon Pertwee. Forget changing support cast, switching leading man and even altering the TARDIS set. Now we not only had colour but a fixed-Earth setting and a large and stable cast. The new production team headed by producer Barry Letts and Script Editor Terrance Dicks needed a writer they could rely on to set out the stall in the season premiere, so for what became Spearhead from Space they turned fast-rising star writer Robert Holmes. Not only reliable and steady hands, but one of the greatest British television writers of the 1960s and 1970s. Holmes name would become indelibly linked to Doctor Who, and that’s not through quantity as much as sheer quality. Sontarans, Autons, Gallifrey, the brain numbing monotony of Time Lord society – those and many more emerged from the mind and pen of Holmes. Onto Gallifrey later, but things must begin at the beginning, or in this case perhaps the start of the end. Because one year on from introducing the third Doctor, Holmes was tasked with creating his implacable Moriarty.

Enter the Master

“I am usually referred to as the Master”

It’s a great arrival. A TARDIS unmistakably appears, but one with a working Chameleon circuit. And with precision timing the Master emerges from the horsebox to make an immediate and indelible impression.

In just a few lines, in his first scene (appearing before the Doctor), Robert Holmes and Roger Delgado define a cool, impeccable, menacing and powerful nemesis. As the Master, Delgado cut a smooth and sartorial figure, with his dark suit, Nehru collar, slick hair and crucially piebald goatee. Delgado’s superior sneer and almost always unruffled delivery gifted much comedy to the character without sacrificing any of the threat.

The Doctor has never worn facial hair, except when in disguise or imprisoned for years in a dwarf star alloy cube, apart from the odd sweeping sideburn that the 1970s couldn’t control. The Master… Had a beard, a goatee that may as well have had a “twiddle this tache menacingly” label hanging from it. The Master had a fine taste in suits, the Doctor had a frilly shirt, multiple coloured velvet jackets and a cape! The Master was a force for evil, with hypnotic control cowardice. The Doctor was noble, occasionally grumpy but compassionate. The Master had a working chameleon circuit in a TARDIS with an occasionally black interior, occasionally reversed. They both dished out the same faint praise to each other, but then again they are both Time Lords.

Yes, the Master was designed in every way to be the perfect foil to the Doctor, and Delgado’s ability to elevate a potentially horribly one dimensional character to the charismatic third dimension ensured that the Master would have incredibly staying power – as it turned out, well beyond regeneration… Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master in the 1970s – Arrival of the “Unimaginative Plodder””

Doctor Who at 10 years old: Classic versus New

The Mistress, Time Lady and Cyberman

New Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary

A decade in, how’s the bold New Doctor Who bearing up to compared to its Classic predecessor

10 YEARS. 10 YEAR’S ALREADY. 10 YEARS. THE TIN ANNIVERSARY. AND THEY SAY TIME IS RELATIVE. Since Doctor Who returned on 26th March 2005 we’ve heard more about fixed and immovable points of time than ever before. Sure, they haven’t been treated too consistently over the past decade, but if ever there was a point that had ultimate mobility it was one spring day 10 years ago.

Jokerside’s always been kind to the show’s prolonged hiatus. For all the shame that Who was cut down at the all too young age of 26, when it was reaching a considerable 1980s high, and clearly by decision makers who had little objectivity, the hiatus has proved crucial to the show’s legacy. True, we might have lived without the American TV Movie, although losing Paul McGann would have been criminal. More important was the throng of fan activity that quickly swung into place to continue the Doctor’s adventures and keep the Sacred Flame alive during the lean early 1990s; imaginations starved that quickly adapted to generating content for themselves.

Creative Explosion

Keeping the Sacred Flame alive

The New Adventures came about through the chance inquisitiveness of Peter Darvill-Evans at Virgin Publishing, before BBC books found repeating that magic wasn’t that easy. Among the roster of Virgin’s subsequent New and Missing Adventures were Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Paul Cornell… On screen, the wittily disrespectful Curse of Fatal Death gave Steven Moffat a chance to script Who that wouldn’t otherwise have materialised. At the end of the decade, Big Finish roared into prolific recording, reviving those would be soon called classic doctors thanks to Nick Briggs, Gary Russell et al – creators who would have a significant role to play in 21st Century Who.

While many were dragged into the world of New Who following their involvement in the above, reputations enhanced by proven success, there’s no doubt that the looser editorial control in the early 1990s (that is, from the BBC) allowed Who to diversify and deepen far more than it could on television. And the legacy of creative explosion on New Who is undeniable, even as it sits proudly back its traditional Saturday family slot.

Time Wars

Masterful appropriation of fate

More importantly, when all these events combine, the hiatus became the ideal metaphor for the perfectly vague Time War. A non-descript, highly destructive war of which few could speak and the Doctor would take no little time to recover from: Masterful appropriation of fate.

Who loves a birthday, but has rarely managed to hit the date. There may be something coming up in Series Nine to celebrate this anniversary, which would be a neat reference to the Classic series 10th anniversary special, which may have fallen in Season 10 but was almost a whole year early. Whatever happens, we’ll be very lucky to see Three Doctors team up this time around.

So if you took 10 key points of Doctor Who – how would these first 10 years of New Who compare to the Classic Series?

  1. THE TUNE AND THE TUNNEL

New Who has been lucky to retain Murray Gold for its entire run

1973

Delia Derbyshire’s distinctive arrangement of Ron Grainger’s theme stayed broadly unmolested for seven years from the moment her second version had rung out at 17:16 on 23rd November 1963, just as the highly influential work of genius in the key of E should. There were a few minor tweaks of course – such as the echoes that appeared during Patrick Troughton’s first season. With colour and overhaul to the title sequence that had managed to last one doctor without sporting the protagonist’s face, came the first big theme change. Jon Pertwee’s first season in 1970 saw extra sting to match its Quatermass horrors arrive during The Ambassadors of Death. But the Third Doctor also saw his tune lose some of the introduction, completely mislay the middle eight and take fright at fading, opting for a stutter and eerie chopping.
Continue reading “Doctor Who at 10 years old: Classic versus New”

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