Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Graymalkin on Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:39 am

Rich Flair wrote:Did he manage to reuse any of City of Death or The Pirate Planet in any of his novels?

There's bite-sized chunks of 'City of Death' floating about like so many story-croutons in the Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency soup...
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Frank on Wed Jun 17, 2009 3:10 pm

And there's his reuse of the Season 15 pitch for 'The Krikkitmen' in his Hitch Hiker novel 'Life The Universe And Everything'.
For all that we criticise Terry Nation for continually recycling story ideas, Adams wasn't far behind him!

A lovely man but dare I say a slightly over-rated writer?
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Wed Jun 17, 2009 3:12 pm

Certainly one that, sad to say, ran out of ideas by his mid 30's.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Frank on Wed Jun 17, 2009 3:19 pm

The Co=Ordinator wrote:Certainly one that, sad to say, ran out of ideas by his mid 30's.

QFT. He burned bright but short.

Now, where did I put that review of 'The Chase' ?
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Zoltar on Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:00 pm

Graymalkin wrote:I love 'Shada' to bits.

I wonder if I have a skewed perspective on it, however, as my exposure to it was Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency>McGann webcast>Baker video?
Swap the webcast and the video and that's how I read/saw them. I'm fond of Shada too.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Sid Seadevil on Wed Jun 17, 2009 11:11 pm

As am I - but not to the extent that pre-internet received fandom 'wisdom' would have demanded. Congratulations for another quality piece of work, Frank. You've pretty much nailed my own feelings on the story square on the head.

And as for Adams cannibalising his own past work - good on him. I've done it myself in the past. If something works for you once, chances are it will work for you again. Not to mention the fact that its environmentally friendly to recycle your leftover material. Wink
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:38 am

Sid Seadevil wrote:And as for Adams cannibalising his own past work - good on him. I've done it myself in the past.

Heaven forfend, shum mishtake shurely! Laughing

I am currently over half way through writing Rapunzel, otherwise known to myself as "The best bits of C=O's pantos since 2004 crammed in an hour and fifty minutes". Razz

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Sid Seadevil on Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:42 am

The Co=Ordinator wrote:Heaven forfend, shum mishtake shurely! Laughing

I am currently over half way through writing Rapunzel, otherwise known to myself as "The best bits of C=O's pantos since 2004 crammed in an hour and fifty minutes". Razz
Well, there you go folks. Proof if proof was needed that if it's good enough for the C=O - then it's good enough for me and Adams.
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Season 18 - The Leisure Hive

Post by Frank on Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:32 pm

Season 18



The Leisure Hive

August - September 1980

'Arrest the scarf then!'

Bit of a pre-amble first. Season 18 emerged, blinking into the harsh light of the 80s, into a changing world. Firstly, it has to be acknowledged that popular culture, with an emphasis on 'pop', had moved on. Going to the pictures was different, especially in the aftermath of that film in 1977 - and I'm not just talking about visual effects here. Films were being made in a very different way - faster editing, shorter scenes, an attention to sound design etc. It was all so much more kinetic. Technology was having a huge impact and this would filter down to the small screen too..

In music, the same was equally true. Production was slicker and faster, there was all that discussion about traditional musicians being replaced with banks of sythesisers and drum machines. Marketing the sounds of the future took a quantum leap with the advent of the pop video. Artists were trying to out-do each other with the flashiest looking video they could make. The aesthetics seeped into the minds of the public.

Popular science, manifesting itself in the way of everything from the first personal computers through to the launch of the Rubik's cube, was fun. Yes, mathematics and logic puzzles were sexy. We were cooing over Mandelbrot's book on fractals in '82 and the first home video games like 'Pong' had gone mass market by '83.

And let's not forget, Doctor Who Weekly became a monthly. The fan archetype was emerging and the series was the subject of an escalating scrutiny. And a new producer arrived...

The future was here...

So let's look at 'Hive' and consider the obvious changes first in light of the above. John Nathan-Turner certainly changed how the series looked by ditching the original slit-scan titles that had been in service since '74 and going for a rushing star-field look. And with the titles came Peter Howell's reworking of the theme. Was he right to do this? At the time, he was.

It was fresh and vibrant and the new arrangement worked. Nathan-Turner was obviously keen to tap into new music technology, after all...it was 'the future'. And therein lies the problem...it was 'the future' according to the '80s man in the street but 'the future' had a horrible knack of becoming obsolete very, very quickly and kept getting replaced by a series of 'futures' every six months! (Hello, Clive Sinclair...) It may have made economic sense at the time too but with the new theme and the incidentals all being handled by the stalwarts of the Radiophonic Workshop there is certainly more of a built in obsolescence in that glorious 1980s idea of the 'now'. Somehow, Delia's original maintained its unearthliness despite the odd tweak here and there along the way, but Howell stripped that away for me. And we were left with just the nice tune.

And the odd thing was...the big blockbusters of the day were all scrambling to get the LSO to do sweeping symphonies. Not a synthesiser in sight. Never mind, the kids on 'Top Of The Pops' noodled away on their analogues for a time, so it sounded right for about eighteen months. Farewell, Dud Simpson. You were marvellous while it lasted. However, I do think, he'd lost his enthusiasm by Season 17. As a parting shot, 'City Of Death' was great.

Briefly, a word about the new 'neon bar' logo. Even then it looked rather passe. It has pretensions to be futuristic with its joined up letters but resembles something from the pages of a 1970s issue of Look-In or the font Timeslip used to denote 'futuristic'. Yes, they needed a new logo but that one never really appealed to me.

And so 'Hive' opens with the infamous tracking shot along Brighton beach. It's a tad indulgent, isn't it, and just as indulgent as those dreadful question marks the Doctor's sporting on his shirt. Nathan-Turner had a habit of putting aspects of the show into ruddy great quotation marks. Just in case you missed the significance. I blame popular cultural theory, myself, but I just think he's treating the show as a way of channeling his 'light entertainment' aspirations even here. Hence the Doctor's new 'uniform' - the idea of which will become more and more significant in the next ten years. But it's a lovely burgundy ensemble that Tom is modelling for us and, I have to say, it is an improvement on the 'I've just rushed in from rehearsals and popped the Doc's coat over me dirty shirt' look that Baker was giving us in the last season. He's a got a waistcoat and everything that matches here. Nice.

OK, so we've got change of music, titles, logo, the Doctor's look...new TARDIS prop...er...er...another annoying habit of the incumbent producer at this time was his 'shopping list' approach to the script-editor of the day. It's needed here because he has to change a number of the outward, cosmetic aspects of the show but it becomes an approach to making the show that really screws things up later. It's almost as if he's sitting in front of that gameshow's infamous conveyor-belt...'stay tuned!'...'stay tuned!' 'Didn't he do well?'

Sort of.

Talking of script-editors, Christopher Hamilton Bidmead also starts his job at this point and he immediately homes in on the 'popular science' angle. His obsessions with Pythagorean mathematics and logic start here. And, to me, it's not entirely a bad thing. The philosophical and poetical nature of his obsessions do invest this season with running themes - the nature of change and decay, closed environments and systems, intellectual puzzles. He conjures dream-like landscapes in the series that weren't there before. Unfortunately, he gives the characters an awful lot of gobbledegook to say in the process. And it's not your normal faux gobbledegook. He's trying to put the science of the day in there and make it all sound 'consumer friendly'.

'Hive' is a very simple story. Reptile gangsters want to take over the planet Argolis and scupper the Argolins plans for a happy future. The Doctor and Romana turn up. It's not much to go on. There's a richer David Fisher story trying to get out but it's wedged in between the story Bidmead wants to tell and the story Lovett Bickford thinks he's directing. Plenty of visual fireworks going off, lots of mind-boggling babble about 'tachyonics' and a couple of reptiles disguised as humans inadvertently providing the Argolins with a solution to their demise. All fighting for a bit of your attention. You don't know which way to turn. It's confusing and, most of all, it's really different. I remember watching on first transmission and not quite knowing how to react.

Granted, it looks marvellous. After the longeurs of the Brighton beach scene, we're in the fast cutting, whip panning, hand-held environs of Argolis. But it looks unfinished and rushed and it isn't easy to keep up with. It does beguile you, though. There are lovely flourishes throughout, from the POV shots of the docking spaceships to the tracking shot with the materialisng TARDIS, a moodier lighting palette and a confidence with the effects. Yes, some of the scenes are unnecessary and don't add anything to the plot but it's the casualness of using these as a palette for background detail that makes a marked difference here. This is a million miles away from 'The Horns Of Nimon' and so it should be.

And then Peter Howell goes a bit mad with his synthesisers. He's obviously so cock-a-hoop to be doing the incidentals that he just gets carried away and puts music over every scene. Annoying music that has a habit of telling you which scene has which kind of mood. But, put it down to experience. 'Hive" is definitely all about trying things and screwing up.

In the middle of all this visual and aural bombardment, Baker not only gets a new coat but gets aged - up in the make up chair and Lalla gets all the interesting 'sciencey' bits to do. They're both good, with Baker at his cantankerous, broody best as the aged Doctor. There's a physical melancholy here that echoes right through the season. Adrienne Corri and Laurence Payne each manage to get a respectable performance across but David Haig steals the show as the politicised Pangol. Love the camp 'Top Of The Pops' video effects as he replicates himself in the Generator. Very 'Devo' meets 'Talking Heads'.

Unfortunately, the reptile villains of the piece, the Foamasi, are quite forgettable and aren't really villains after all. The close up shots of the creatures are good but the final reveal just doesn't convince. No better or worse than the Mandrells of the previous season. Another bit of a cock up.

Bickford ransacks the 'pop-video' aesthetic and manages to give this a visual tone all of its own. There's nothing else quite like 'Hive' - despite its faults and incoherence - and clearly the series is trying to run before it can walk here as ambition gets the better of everyone involved. But its impact is important. There are more things here that they get right, just from a production view, than they get wrong. It's just a matter of confidence at this point.

It would be easy to say it's all style over substance but I think that's not the case. There are substantial efforts going on here and a determination to steer a different course and though it may not be a likeable story there are many aspects to admire as the series dons its 'futuristic' new clothes.

Are they the Emperor's new clothes, you may ask?

Nah, only the shirt with stupid question marks would qualify for that assignment.

THE LEISURE HIVE (BBC DVD 1351 Released 5th July 2004)
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:45 pm

Excellent review as ever Frank. I'm not a fan of Season 18, but my opinion of The Leisure Hive has changed over the decades, and I now regard it much more highly than I used to.

And, personally speaking, I simply adore the opening pan shot. It was a real genuine one-off, and Lovett Bickford should be commended for it.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Frank on Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:54 pm

The story lacks focus, Tom is rather too subdued but it is a visual treat. The opening pan is nice if a little too long. I too have rather warmed to it over the years.

And this is where Doctor Who becomes completely post-modern. There's an article with that theme with my name on it!
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:56 pm

*rubs hands in delight* Very Happy

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Dave Webb on Sun Jul 19, 2009 3:56 pm

Interesting.

The thing that stands out to me is how much better Baker is aged than Tennant was.

Perhaps it's the acting going on underneath the makeup, perhaps it's that Tom looks so much like Da Vinci that you feel "ah yes, elderly genius!" on some subconscious level, which is what makes it work.

The tracking shot with the Tardis materialisation is another good moment. I'm very fond of it.

The Popular Science thing is amusing, but bad. No matter what you do, Doctor Who is a genuinely bad place to try and explain science. It's a good place to talk about scientific method, ethics, critical thinking etc but never about theory.

There isn't time, and there isn't room. Even in a six parter, you have things that TV could be doing much better than baffling the 95% of the population that aren't physicists. Doctor Who can only really ever scratch the surface of the really interesting stuff, and it's done much better elsewhere.

For example: In Earthshock, the Cyberleader is impressed that Adric understands relativity. Following that, I went off to a library to find out what it all was, on the basis that if bloody Adric understood it, I should be able to. Since Adric seems to have understood precious little else. The upshot of that was a lifelong interest in baffling physics. Note I say interest rather than understanding.

The Hive didn't foster an interest in Tachyons. It did make me feel justified in having joined CND, though, thanks to the comments at the beginning about the very short war.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Frank on Sun Jul 19, 2009 4:43 pm

Oh, agreed. Bidmead wedging great chunks of science into the series alienated the audience. It does not endear us to the characters or the plots particularly. But I would say his appetite for puzzlebox narratives does produce some terrific stories in Season 18 with Logopolis being a personal favourite.
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Patrick on Sun Jul 19, 2009 9:09 pm

Well, I'll add my two cents here. As my Season 18 review revealed, I am something of a fan of this particular season. That has more to do with the sheer difference in presentation to a rather bland Season 17 than it does the introduction of Bidmead.

And I completely agree with Frank that Star Wars, and I would add Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, redefined how to tell a Science Fiction tale. All of that was boiled into the brew that informed Season 18.

Having said that, and as much of a fan of Leisure Hive as I am, while this story was visually stunning, plotwise, it was rather weak. The filmography/presentation almost made up for that. Almost. Fortunately, the best of Season 18 is still to come. Thus, in retrospect, I regard Leisure Hive as a visual feast intended to lure us into the rest of this series. And for me, it worked on that level.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Dave Webb on Mon Jul 20, 2009 1:25 am

Patrick wrote:I completely agree with Frank that Star Wars, and I would add Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, redefined how to tell a Science Fiction tale.

I know you're night, and you know you're right, but part of me wants to stand up and shout "Yeah! You take stories that have already been written and wrap neon lights around them!" which Doctor Who had already been doing.

Star Wars (and the Indy franchise) were created with recreation in mind. George Lucas definitely wanted to bring back some of the joy he'd felt at the old Republic serials (which I used to watch over the Xmas and Summer hols, because the Beeb used to broadcast old Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers/King of the Rocketmen et al in the mornings). The major thing they contribute is spectacle, and one of the things that Hive underlines, many times, in thick pen, is that the BBC can't match it.

I think they have a lot of fun trying, and without a doubt there are some stories in S18 (and before, and after) that work miracles. But we're not going to see movie quality SFX and spectacle on the TV until...oooo...until Star Trek TNG, with the million bucks an epi budget (or was that just rumour), and then we're going to see effects that are as good, if not better, on a smaller budget with B5.

And it's a shame! Because you can see what they tried for, and how hard they tried.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by stanmore on Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:07 am

Dave Webb wrote:
The thing that stands out to me is how much better Baker is aged than Tennant was.

Perhaps it's the acting going on underneath the makeup, perhaps it's that Tom looks so much like Da Vinci that you feel "ah yes, elderly genius!" on some subconscious level, which is what makes it work.

I think it might have something to do with David's insides being a tad... healthier... than Tom's. To me, Tom Baker's era always feels like a drinking spree - getting wilder and more erratic as it goes on - with Season 18 being the hangover, red-eyed, not quite believing that you'll see tomorrow. Still enjoy it, though.
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Season 18 - Meglos

Post by Frank on Thu Jul 23, 2009 3:46 pm



Meglos
September - October 1980

If 'Hive' was the 'Emperor's New Clothes' of Season 18 then 'Meglos' is 'Oxfam Shop Cast-Off'. You take two steps forward with one story and promptly fall on your arse in the next. It's one of those stories, really, where there are a number of interesting things going on but they don't necessarily make it worth watching. It's also, strangely, a sign of what we would get from Nathan-Turner further down the line. If only we'd known.

The last Zolpha-Thuran, Meglos, teams up with a bunch of Gaztak mercenaries to steal the fabled Dodecahedron. To do so he swaps his cactus form for that of the Doctor's with hilarious consequences...

The structure of the story is odd. Most of episode one is concerned with Meglos and the Gaztaks plotting to steal the Dodecahedron and preventing the Doctor from visiting Tigella in order for Meglos to act as a doppleganger. So, Romana and the Doctor end up in the TARDIS for most of episode one in a 'chronic hysteresis' - a very dubious time-loop to you and me - for which either the authors or editor Bidmead then provide a very limp escape clause. So Tom and Lalla repeat themselves ad infinitum and then have to recreate their repetition to sneak through a break in the time loop. Surely time loops being what they are - they don't have breaks in them? I smell needless padding in a story that quite honestly seems a rag-bag of cliches, narrow escapes, running down corridors etc. The shortness of some episodes really betrays how under written it all is.

Gosh, are we watching a Williams era story? No, that's not fair. This is hurling the style of the series even further back. Turn the colour down on your telly and you'd almost think this was 'The Space Museum' or 'The Sensorites'. It's so Flash Gordon it hurts. Throw in a load of extras in tin foil outfits and blonde Thal style wigs and we are back in the sixties. And is it no coincidence that Babs herself pops up in this? Yes, Jacqueline Hill, thus completes the picture but without the knitwear. It's a very odd experience, is 'Meglos'...and the wigs, the tin-foil outfits and the cod Flash Gordon bits anticipate the almighty ****-up that was 'The Twin Dilemma'.

Putting aside the '1960s On 45' feel of the production, there are some interesting things going on. Nathan-Turner's obsession with television continues apace with his keeness to use the latest technology to provide the effects. Scene-Sync makes the CSO look nifty by being able to track the camera - quite smart for its day - and lends the sequences with the Screens Of Zolpha Thura a bit of grandeur. It looks a bit tatty today but in 1980 it was the CGI of its day. Pity it's tracking over some rather ineffective model work at times, though. But 'Meglos' is very visual and again like 'Hive' Nathan Turner is keen to show off his budget. It's not cheap looking as such, just lazy SF pastiche.

Bidmead, however, is starting to ramp up his 'theme' for the season with the Dodecahedron being a whacking great symbol of the purity of mathematics as mystical power source along with a bit of a debate going on in the background about religion, faith, science and truth as presented by the scientists on the one hand and the mystics on the other. Funnel that through Bidmead's other growing theme of 'the mathematical environment' that would reach its height in 'Warriors' Gate' and 'Logopolis' and even here there's a plan underneath all this nonsense that he clearly wants to set in motion.

Tom's fab in the Doctor/Meglos dual role, clearly having a bit of fun, despite looking rather ill (and I'm not referring to the cactus make-up here). The scenes where the poor human tries to break free from Meglos and the cactus creature pulls him back into line are a triumph of vision mixing and physical acting. Lalla's tremendous even though she's getting less to do here. But the rest, other than Jackie Hill perhaps, are treading water a bit and offer us 'earnest' rather than 'convincing'. The interplay between Bill Fraser and his other cohorts as the Gaztaks is often amusing. Other than the leads the conviction is coming from an attempt to make such a studio bound story work and it's touch and go as to whether they've managed it. The jungle sets for Tigella are a mixed bag and I swear Lalla walked round and round the same bit at least three times! There's a fair bit of hand-held camera work when she's attacked by the plants that doesn't quite come off but at least it's trying something different. The underground chambers are more impressive despite being populated by refugees from 'Galaxy Four' or some similar story.

So, you can see the new team trying to get to grips with this despite the style being rather dubious in nature. It's too much of a 'greatest studio bound hits we've known and loved' package and the material is weak and uninvolving but two years earlier and no one would have been really trying to make it work. They'd have just accepted it as 'cheap and cheerful' and let Tom goof about a bit. The overall themes for the season to come are emerging and just about hold it together, production lessons are learned and applied to the rest of the season and it comes across as a half-way house between 'Hive' and the next story 'Full Circle'.

MEGLOS - ( BBCV7267 Released10th March 2003 - Deleted )
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Season 18 - Full Circle, State Of Decay & Warrior's Gate

Post by Frank on Wed Aug 19, 2009 3:28 pm



Full Circle

October – November 1980

“How odd. I usually get on terribly well with children”

After the confusing new wave of The Leisure Hive and the neo-traditionalism of Meglos we finally arrive at a point where most things fall into place and we’re given a traditional story with a new wave spin. Thus begins the so called ‘E Space’ trilogy and more importantly the departure of Romana and K9 as by the end of Meglos we know she’s been summoned back to Gallifrey. Poor old K9 has so far been drowned and kicked and here gets his head knocked off. We get the message, Nathan-Turner. And just for good measure, Nathan-Turner insists on getting the continuity right by mentioning the co-ordinates from galactic zero centre. Just for all those little fan boys out there in 1980. This is one of the first examples of many where there is an active attempt to get as much continuity into the show and this sort of thing has an important bearing on the shape of the series in the next decade.

On their way to Gallifrey, the TARDIS falls through a CVE (Bidmead’s roll off the tongue Charged Vacuum Emboitment) or a wormhole to you and me these days. The Doctor and Romana enter E-Space (another universe with negative co-ordinates to our own) and find themselves pitched up on Alzarius at Mist Fall when Marshmen will walk and the Deciders of the human colony based there can’t…well…decide, really.

Fan Andrew Smith constructed a neat story with little flab on its bones and it has real pace with an intriguing central mystery. A reverse evolution pandora’s box with an emotional centre that draws upon a great many of the core values and themes from past Doctor Who triumphs as well as nods to SF classics of the 60s – think Planet Of The Apes written by Mac Hulke. The generational themes of the story are also echoed by how the programme itself is attempting to nail its colours to the mast of perhaps a younger audience too with an overt emphasis on young rebellious characters in the narrative including the introduction of a young boy as a companion. Young fan boys…your time is now. And the moral dilemmas surrounding vivisection are also an important part of the themes of conservative scientific exploration. You can't imagine the same themes getting quite the same treatment in Season 17 let's say.

It’s engagingly translated to the screen by director Peter Grimwade who eschews much of Lovett Bickford’s visual pyrotechnics in ‘Hive’ and goes for iconic visuals to get the story told. The location work for the surface of Alzarius is exemplary with the use of coloured gels on the lighting to suggest an alien sun lighting the surface and for Mist Fall and the rise of the Marshmen a superb drenching of atmosphere and use of slow motion work that justifiably makes the sequence of the creatures rising from the lake one of the series’ best remembered. It’s still got a real charge, a proper sense of threat about it and it’s done with absolute conviction despite the rather obvious rubber nature of the creatures, especially in the studio sequences.

There’s a sense of place, of community and tradition evoked that hasn’t been seen in the series for some time. Extras are used well to show the Alzarians swimming and collecting food on the surface and then servicing their ship. The Deciders are stick in the mud conservatives, privileged to information that the rest of their people aren’t. Perhaps Smith's pot shot at the incumbent goverment of the day. The Outlers are naïve revolutionaries who can only manage to steal the odd bit of river fruit now and again until the real crisis arrives and self-sacrifice is the order of the day. It’s not just biological conflict that’s going on here – it’s also a potent view of the generation gap and government secrecy.

The Marshmen themselves succeed in being more than actors in rubber suits with an obvious attention to detail in the performances and sound effects that erase the painful memories of the Mandrells of just a year since. The death of the Marshchild is in itself a valid dramatic punch, engaging our concerns about these creatures, the emotional underpinning of the supposed bestial threat. We are both scared for the child and ourselves. Doctor Who hasn’t taken this approach for some time and Grimwade’s televisual grasp of the story’s strengths finally make us take the Nathan-Turner re-vamp seriously here. And the music’s calmed down to the point where it isn’t smothering the visuals and is more effectively used to build the mood. This is particularly evident in the rise of the Marshmen sequence.

The only disappointment is perhaps some of the acting of the younger members of the cast – Matthew Waterhouse actually equits himself better than some of his colleagues here – and the rather cod spider attack that forms the cliffhanger of episode two. It’s dreadful. Lalla can’t make it work, Grimwade can’t make it work and visual effects can’t either. It should have been so much better. Rather a hamfisted sequence that sits oddly with the rest of the programme.

There are some very grounded and much needed character acting turns from the likes of George Baker and James Bree too and Baker himself nimbly strides through the narrative with, at last, a sense of moral outrage and genuine concern as events play out. The evil here isn’t some galactic dictator cracking gags – it’s conservative attitudes, moral panics and scientific stagnation. And what of Matthew Waterhouse? Has there ever been a actor in the programme that continues to be so vilified? (OK, Bonnie's a prime target too). And what for exactly? Sure, he isn’t the world’s greatest actor but he initially handles the character of Adric well here and provides the focus for younger members of the audience. It’s only later that when the character’s moral choices become very suspect that he’ll begin to irritate. He works better as a character in direct relation to the Doctor rather than just one of what will be three companions. However, Waterhouse's arrogance and rudeness does not endear him to fans in the commentary on the DVD

‘Full Circle’ demonstrates that Nathan-Turner and the team have finally got a handle on this ‘making of Doctor Who lark’, and certainly, in no small measure here, it’s down to Grimwade marshalling good acting and design, keeping the pace up and serving the story well. It's hardly an original narrative but the team manage to give it a freshness within the Doctor Who format.

DVD features:

- Commentary – with actor Matthew Waterhouse, writer Andrew Smith and script editor Christopher H. Bidmead.
- All Aboard the Starliner – cast and crew look back at the making of this story.
- K-9 in E-Space – a look at the robot dog's role in the E-Space arc. With actors Lalla Ward, John Leeson, script editor Christopher H Bidmead, writers Andrew Smith and Terrance Dicks.
- Swap Shop – Noel Edmonds chats to Matthew Waterhouse and takes calls from viewers of the Saturday morning entertainment show after Waterhouse's first appearance as Adric.
- E-Space – Fact or Fiction? - Could E-Space really exist? A look at the science behind the concept of Exo-Space featuring script editor Christopher H Bidmead, visual effects designer (and Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society) Mat Irvine, authors Stephen Baxter and Paul Parsons, planetary scientist Dr Andrew Ball and astronomer and television presenter Sir Patrick Moore.
- Continuity – BBC continuity announcements from the original transmission, Photo Gallery, Isolated Score, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Material, Programme Subtitles, Subtitle Production Notes.

THE E-SPACE TRILOGY - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1835, Region 2, Released 26th January 2009)
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Season 18 - Full Circle, State Of Decay & Warrior's Gate

Post by Frank on Wed Aug 19, 2009 3:30 pm



State Of Decay

November to December 1980

'Then die, that is the purpose of guards'

Take one teaspoon of Hinchcliffe, one teaspoon of Williams, a sprinkle of Nathan-Turner and then throw it all in to a slowly marinading pot of Terry Dicks and...your tastebuds are in for a treat.

Dicks' script was put on the backburner back in 1977 (the BBC getting in a tizzy about it being too similar to their prestige production Count Dracula) so you can't get more steeped in tradition than that. It keeps its Gothic trappings for this revived version so it's often accused of being a bit of a throwback. I find that rather a load of nonsense. For me, it's an indication of the production team's confidence that they feel they can go for the traditional whilst still pushing their 'modernising' agenda.

Still in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana and stowaway Adric find themselves on a planet where the local inhabitants are held in thrall by the 'Three Who Rule' - astronauts turned vampire by an ancient Gallifreyan enemy.

With the story in 'Hammer' mode - a hyper Gothic production dripping in atmosphere with superb production design (Christine Ruscoe take a bow), costumes, make up, lighting etc - it's the script that cleverly understands how to undercut the stifling ambience with a great deal of wit and insight into the genre itself. Bidmead, being his usual self, then throws in some of his 'science-mysticism' obsessions to remind us that this is Season 18 not Season 14. Some of the ideas have seen the light of day before - namely The Face Of Evil - where an almost medieval society has grown out of science and technology and transposed it into a quasi religion/magic. But it works well because everything else in the production has such a commitment behind it.

It's probably the best work director Peter Moffat has ever done on the series with some truly wonderful visual flourishes - a highlight being the mixing of the slow motion bat footage over the face of Aukon still remains a potent image and is redolent of Herzog's similar approach to his 1979 Nosferatu - and he seems to rally the actors into giving some rather gorgeous performances which is an achievement considering he had two leading actors who couldn't bear to be in the same room as one another at the time. He seems to tune into the prevailing mood and is sensitive enough to heighten it.

Emrys James as Aukon totally steals the show and manages a knife-edge balancing act between outright camp and deadly seriousness with a flirtatious, full blooded (pardon the pun) performance. He projects menace and danger and makes it clear that Aukon is truly the power behind the other two, Zargo and Camilla. Rachel Davies is also exceptional as Camilla, all bestial and erotic. And William Lindsay is good as the ruthless Zargo with a stillness in his performance that counters the exuberance of the others. They are all sensual creatures, giving the relationships between them and characters such as Adric and Romana a curious sexual frisson, from Camilla's interest in draining Romana of her blood to a very redolent scene where Aukon whispers sweet nothings into Adric's ear! Matthew Waterhouse again is fine as Adric, despite the dreadful 'console room walk'. I certainly get the impression he's not a confident physical actor from this and later stories. But as a pawn in the machinations of the Three Who Rule, as a victim of the predatious Aukon, he does sublimated innocence well. Adric's out of his depth and that's how it's played. The Doctor and Romana are p'd off that they have to rescue him and that's how it's played.

This frisson also carries through to the two leads, Baker and Ward, especially in the scene in the cell which bounces from an erotic romanticism, mutual admiration and a sense that this is the last time we'll see Romana and the Doctor this close as friends. Lots of undercurrents run through State Of Decay and the performances and direction seize on this to truly advance the notion that big changes are on the way and things will never be the same again.

The one element that does irritate me is that K9 is trundled out yet again and is just a handy weapon to shoot down opponents. There's an equal sense that this is as far as you can take the original Williams era Doctor/Romana/K9 triumvirate and it's their last outing and this fits neatly alongside the faded potential of the three crew members of the Hydrax. 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here' seems a rather significant epithet. The visual effects are a little disappointing with the tower-ship model not really convincing enough to provide the grand climax. It's all been building so well to the unveiling of the Great Vampire (a lovely bit of Gallifreyan mythology from Uncle Terrance) and his demise. We get a rather wobbly rocket and a crudely made up hand from the effects team poking up through a scale model to provide a climax. A bit ho-hum. However, the Three Who Rule disintegration sequence is a triumph and betters the similar effects in countless Hammer films and more significantly is more satisfying than the death of Dracula in the BBC's own production in 1977. Two fingers up to the Head of BBC Drama there, I think.

Paddy Kingsland's score is memorable and isn't intrusive and is a further evolution of the approach that Nathan-Turner opted for. It suits the production well and is subtle and moody in most of the right places. Overall then, a dark and moody tale that often takes the hard science approach of earlier stories and twists it out of shape into techno Gothic science-mysticism more concerned with the nature of legends, myths and magic than CVEs, E-Space and block transfer computation. It contains some of the best performances of Season 18, certainly gives Traken a run for its money on the use of production design and is gloriously traditional within the context of the modernising approaches being taken. It's truly the last hurrah for the series as we knew it circa 1977-79 and for me, on recent viewing, came across as a rather under-rated little gem.

DVD features:

- Commentary with actor Matthew Waterhouse, director Peter Moffatt and writer Terrance Dicks.
- The Vampire Lovers – cast and crew look back at the making of this story.
- Film Trims – mute 35mm film trims from the model effects filming for the story, featuring alternative takes of the Tower and the scout ship staking the Great Vampire.
- Leaves of Blood – a history of Vampires in literary fiction featuring authors Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman, Pete Crowther, Simon Clark, Alison L R Davies, Chris Fowler and vampire specialist Dr Tina Rath.
- The Blood Show – a fascinating insight into the use and meaning of blood in society and culture.
- The Frayling Reading – cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling looks at State of Decay with reference to the vampire stories of film and literature.
- Continuity – BBC continuity announcements from the original transmission, Photo Gallery, Isolated Score, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Material, Programme Subtitles, Subtitle Production Notes.

THE E-SPACE TRILOGY - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1835, Region 2, Released 26th January 2009)


Last edited by Frank on Wed Aug 19, 2009 3:38 pm; edited 4 times in total
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Frank on Wed Aug 19, 2009 3:30 pm



Warriors’ Gate

January 1981

'I want a landing that wouldn't ripple the surface of a custard'

Many fans find this a difficult story to comprehend. Certainly, back in 1981, it left me scratching my head in puzzlement. However, it’s a story that improves over time and perhaps needs the benefit of age and wisdom to understand it. How many kids really appreciated this at the time, I wonder? It seemed wilfully obscure to me as a 17 year old and received wisdom often continues to trot out this line. As a story it’s actually very linear and easy to understand. It’s the telling of the story that’s so very different here. It’s book-ended by two very traditional Doctor Who productions and it stands out like a sore thumb.

But what a sore thumb.

It’s amazing that this got to our screens in this form as even for 1981 it defied expectations and conventions. It’s atypical and joins a number of the oddest serials under the Doctor Who banner – odd perhaps for their surreal vision or their puzzlebox narratives – and mimics some of the visual and narrative games that film directors such as Nicolas Roeg employed on films like Don’t Look Now or writers such as David Rudkin had attempted with Penda’s Fen or even more pertinently in 1981’s Artemis ‘81. Oh, and chuck in some 'Rosencrantz And Guildenstern' too for good measure.

Warriors’ Gate isn’t deliberately obscure and the story is presented quite clearly – The Doctor, Romana, Adric and K9 arrive at the Gateway, an intersection between E-Space and N-Space, where the time-lines converge. They are not alone in this slowly shrinking void. The Privateer and its crew, led by Rorvik, are also trapped here with their cargo of time-sensitive Tharils. Slave traders, they use the Tharils and their powers to navigate through space. The Tharils were once the rulers of a vast empire and were slave traders themselves until their slaves revolted using the Gundan robots to hunt them down. Now, seeing the error of their ways, one of the Tharils uses the Doctor to help free the remaining slaves. As the void diminishes, a race against time begins to prevent the Privateer and its crew from destroying the Gateway, helping the Tharils to escape enslavement and get the TARDIS back into E-Space.

There. That’s fairly straight forward. However, how this information reaches you isn’t all plain-sailing. Warriors’ Gate must be one of the most televisual and teleliterate serials in the canon. It takes Nathan-Turner’s remit to modernise the show using new technologies and new ways of telling the narrative and runs with it. It’s a cross between Play For Today, Jean Cocteau’s ‘Orphee’, a number of highly stylised pop videos of the era (everything from ‘Ashes To Ashes’ ‘Stand And Deliver’ to ‘Fade To Grey’) and ‘Last Year At Marienbad’. Wilfully eclectic visually, then. Only the minimum is imparted through dialogue and direct exposition and when a dramatic point is made visually it’s done with a real appreciation of what can be achieved by 625 line cameras in TC1 at Television Centre and thoroughly disassembles the ‘television as theatre’ thinking that was the way television was made up until the 1980s. This is television being television. 100%.

Arguably much of the sense of Warriors’ Gate is visual and symbolic and a lot of it doesn’t necessarily point you in any right direction or give you clues. Images are used to inform the whole in an exercise similar to trying to build sandcastles whilst the tide is coming in. The overwhelming sense of the visuals in Warriors’ Gate underpin the themes of chance, random actions and indeed, no action at all. ‘Do nothing’ but ‘ the right kind of nothing’ sums up the feeling of inevitability in the story. The many strands of the plot converge, must converge, despite the actions and in-actions of the characters trying to change this course, and cause, of the discourse. The still point of the climax of the story is our destination and will always be there. With a pragmatic fatalism, the Doctor understands finally that the inevitable will be the destruction of the Gateway and the Privateer, will be Romana’s decision to remain behind with the Tharils.

All this is funnelled through various forms of divination in the story, whether it be the I Ching, the tossing of coins, card games or the use of mirrors as scrying glasses to foretell the future and see the past in order to get us to a determined rather than random end point. Fate and determinism are scrambled through the prism of Zen-like lateral thought where stillness is the very thing that’ll bring about an outcome. Contrast this with Rorvik’s insane mantra, ‘…finally, I’m getting something done!’ and you can see where struggling against the tide will get you. All this is visually communicated as well through the wonderfully realised characters. The crew of the Privateer are well sketched. A scruffy bunch of indolents who’d rather do that ‘nothing’ as the outcome really requires but are bullied by the prickly Rorvik, superbly played by Clifford Rose, a man who is hell bent on doing anything, something…

And the stillness is there all around us, from the brilliant slow tracking shot around the Privateer in the opening of episode one, to the white void outside and then the frozen gardens of the Tharils' palace. The Tharils come over as repentant nobles maintaining a very faded empire and there’s that sense of inevitability in Biroc’s evocation of times past, a frozen empire awaiting re-emergence. Biroc and the Doctor are pretty much the two sides of the coin that’s featured here – Biroc foresees the events of the story and manipulates the other characters towards the events of the final episode. No randomness, no chance involved. The Doctor here is very much the instigator of random action – hence his allusion to the I Ching - and finds it wanting and is left to ineffectual bewilderment. And Biroc can also see that if the Doctor interferes randomly with actions then the whole ‘do nothing’ approach will be for nothing! The whole point of the story is Romana’s decision to remain with Biroc and free the other enslaved Tharils across the Universe and all the narrative and visual turns are the gears that move us to this conclusion.

It’s superbly directed by Joyce and certainly has some very memorable cliffhangers to episode one and two, all well edited and constructed - the Gundan robots about to slice off the Doctor’s head and the escaped Tharil creeping up on a trapped Romana. The complex switch between the past and the present in the Gateway is handled well and boasts some good production values. The casual knocking over of the goblet of wine is a superb visual motif that transports us between worlds and times and leads into the double-take conclusion of episode three. It’s meticulously planned, supported by great design from Graeme Story and a memorable score from Peter Howell who has now learned not to smother the visuals with squealing synthesisers. Visual effects are very good here with the model work some of the best the series has offered, contributing to the whole atmosphere.

Baker and Ward are on exceptional form. Ward in particular gets a good swansong and her farewell, though brief, is sympathetic and heartfelt and very appropriate. Baker manages to get across the Doctor’s incapacity to deal with the events at the Gateway – a mixture of bewilderment, frustration and resignation. Adric and K9 are less intrinsic to the plot here and are rather overshadowed by the leads and the guest cast. That K9 ceases to function in the void and can only be restored the other side of the mirrors is perhaps an apt conclusion to the character’s usefulness in the series. He heroically lives on despite no longer being in the series, something that has been of increasing significance since the start of the season.

So it’s goodbye to Romana and K9 – another door closing on the Baker era – and it’s the concluding story of the E-Space trilogy. It’s a literate piece of SF, thoroughly embracing the way television worked at the time, feeling part of the zeitgeist and bringing to the fore Bidmead’s desire for a harder edged quality to the series. An undoubted highlight of the season, visually impressive and intelligently constructed.

DVD features:

- Commentary with actors Lalla Ward and John Leeson, director Paul Joyce, script editor Christopher H Bidmead and visual effects designer Mat Irvine.
- The Dreaming – cast and crew look back at the troubled making of this story.
- The Boy with the Golden Star – actor Matthew Waterhouse looks back on his time on the show.
- Lalla's Wardrobe – a trip through Romana's time on the show via the medium of the many costumes actress Lalla Ward wore along the way. It’s a one-off Frockumentary like you’ve never seen before.
- Extended and Deleted Scenes – missing scenes from an earlier edit of ep. two.
- Continuity – BBC1 continuity announcements from the original transmission.
- Photo Gallery, Isolated Score, Easter Egg – Mat Irvine talks about the Gundan axes and his own on-screen role in Warriors' Gate, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Material, Programme Subtitles, Production Notes.

THE E-SPACE TRILOGY - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1835, Region 2, Released 26th January 2009)
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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Patrick on Wed Aug 19, 2009 4:47 pm

Excellent reviews, as always, Frank. The E-Space Trilogy ranks as my favorite point in Season 18. And that includes Warriors Gate.

My only quibble with WG is that I really hoped Romana would get a better final scene. She just sort of decides to stay in E-Space, and yet nothing in the story up to that point, other than a throw away line delivered to Adric, hinted that this was a direction she was seriously considering.

Still, these are three stories that really drew me into Season 18. And I think they reason they did had as much to do with the presentation, visually, as it did with the stories themselves.

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Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Thu Aug 20, 2009 1:58 am

Patrick likes the E-Space Trilogy? Surely not! Very Happy

I've haven't bought the box set yet, and haven't watched any of the stories in years. Therefore my opinions are probably not valid against Frank's excellent and insightful reviews.

I'll be back in due course. Wink

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Season 18 - The Keeper Of Traken

Post by Frank on Sun Oct 04, 2009 1:55 am



The Keeper Of Traken

February 1981

'A whole empire held together... by people just being terribly nice to each other.'

‘A new body at last…’

The Doctor and Adric are invited to Traken at the request of the ailing Keeper. Something evil is flourishing on this Eden like planet and the Keeper is concerned that it will overwhelm the union and threaten the mystical Source that harmoniously holds together the planets in the system. However, the ancient evil of the Melkur creature hides an old enemy…

At this point, it really does seem as if Nathan-Turner and Bidmead know what they’re doing. Since Full Circle things have clicked into place, there’s a renewed confidence with the production and a genuine attempt to experiment with the format and use television properly as a medium. Traken looks absolutely stunning, even now, and Tony Burrough’s production design is a major element in that appreciation, fusing Art Nouveau psychedelia with angular Futurist structures, informing everything from the Source, the Keeper’s Throne room right through to the Melkur statue and the Grove. He’s more than aided and abetted by Amy Roberts lush costumes and Don Babbage’s sensitive studio lighting. And for me this is probably the best score Roger Limb contributed to the series. It's subtle and restrained whereas some of his later work is, for me, a bit harsh and atonal.

For me it’s a clever balance between a very astute sense of design and a story that is able to punctuate those visuals with a number of concepts that are informing the pattern of the narrative if you so desire to amplify them. Certainly, Johnny Byrne has commented on many of these concepts and made it clear what the background is to Traken but many of Bidmead’s own themes, developing throughout Season 18, are also present. It’s the Pythagorean notion of the ‘Music Of The Spheres’, the body politic subtext straight out of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare and the Biblical story of the garden of Eden that makes Traken such an interesting story. Plus bung in all sorts of resonances to the Pre-Raphaelites (the look of it all), the Knights Of The Round Table and the Holy Grail and a millennial angst and you are seriously cooking with gas!

There’s such a lot in the story about how an harmonious society can become infected by evil, where the Keeper is not only the ‘godhead’ for the Traken union but also a motif representing the ‘godliness’ of Traken society that is directly contrasted to the festering serpent of Melkur deep in the ‘garden’ or ‘grove’ of that world. As the Keeper weakens, so society crumbles, there is disharmony, the nature of evil runs rampant (Melkur becomes animated). Weeds flourish in the garden and the citizens suffer. The idyll is tainted. You could also draw a modern body-politic argument here too. Remember Thatcher saying there was no such thing as society anymore? Well, she came on like our very own Melkur in the 1980s, wherein acts of personal greed and cruelty are perpetrated on an entire state and society is set out of kilter. No harmonious union, just very power hungry acolytes prepared to sacrifice it all for the good of the individual. No wonder Melkur is the living embodiment of the Futurist manifesto of 1909. The beginning of the century and the close of it - how terribly millennial!

There is also great significance placed upon science within the harmony of Traken society that directly correlates to the Platonic and Pythagorean alliance of music with mathematics, where music figured prominently in cosmology, astrology, and number mysticism. The harmonious nature of the Union Of Traken plays with the theory that the planets were governed in their motions by ratios of musical acoustics. Numbers keep these worlds in harmony (oh, let’s see…that’s Bidmead prepping us for Logopolis where numbers keep the Universe running!). The Greeks apparently gave great metaphysical significance to sets of numbers from 1 to 4 being the source of all harmony. Where does this take us…straight to the use of numbers to prevent the Keeper-ship from falling into chaos, to the science/mysticism principles that keep the checks and balances of the society in place and the Pythagorean partnership between the Doctor and Tremas, Adric and Nyssa ranged against the disharmony of Kassia and The Melkur.

And you can also see that the Keeper is an Arthurian figure, surrounded by his knights (the Consuls) but where the ailing leader withers away, aching to be replaced and where the Source is basically the Holy Grail. Oh, and Wagner’s Parsifal, anyone? There’s a massive dollop of that in there too! Traken comes out of this as a giddy, psychotropic experience, surfing through a kaleidoscope of inferences, allusions and metaphors from the psychedelic Art Nouveau design, to the anti-christ Melkur creature coming on like a mobile Futurist manifesto and it’s rather pervy seduction of Kassia via Klimt and Edward Burne-Jones.

Ally all this to some pretty good performances from Denis Carey as The Keeper, Anthony Ainley as Tremas and Sheila Ruskin as Kassia, plus the sterling support of John Woodnutt and Margot Van De Burgh and there’s no stopping it! Baker is on good form again, with a fitting melancholic resignation when he realises who Melkur really is. His partnership with Waterhouse’s Adric is solid and likeable. The only decision I didn’t like about this at the time, and one which I still hold to, was to keep Nyssa on as a companion. For me, it amplifies Nathan Turner's reduction of the companion to ‘child’ status within the programme which becomes a real problem much later. This diminution rapidly increases from this point on and it’s purely a Nathan-Turner attempt to remove the maturity from the audience identification figures. After Sarah-Jane, Leela and the two Romanas this is direction determined only by his own sense of the appeal of the programme. Nyssa, as a character, and the playing of it by Sarah Sutton, is perfectly fine within the context of Traken but as a companion…? I was never convinced it was a good idea.

Best of all though is Geoffrey Beevers as the Melkur/Master, his vocalisations being all that was required to demonstrate the cloying, leering, psychotic and destructive nature of the character. And that final, fatal hi-jacking of Tremas’ body still packs a punch. As the Ainley Master disappeared from view at the end of Traken, the dynamics of the programme changed yet again and heralded further and greater change in the next story. No matter how much weed killer you put down in the Garden of Eden, there’s always one serpent that gets away!

DVD features
:
- Commentary from actors Anthony Ainley, Matthew Waterhouse and Sarah Sutton, plus writer Johnny Byrne
- Being Nice to Each Other (30 mins) - a new documentary looking at the making of this story through the eyes of the cast and crew. Featuring actors Sarah Sutton, Sheila Ruskin, Geoffrey Beevers, director John Black, writer Johnny Byrne and script editor Christopher H. Bidmead. Narrated by George Williams
- The Return of the Master (9mins approx') - Geoffrey Beevers, Christopher H. Bidmead and John Black talk about how they realised the return of the Doctor's arch-adversary
- Sarah Sutton on Swap Shop - Noel Edmonds interviews Sarah Sutton, with questions phoned in from young viewers (11 mins)

NEW BEGINNINGS - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1331, Region 2, Released 22nd January 2007)
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Season 18 - Logopolis

Post by Frank on Sun Oct 04, 2009 2:07 am



Logopolis

February – March 1981

‘You revolting man!’

Logopolis is still a very divisive story. It’s not the swan song that many fans were expecting for the Tom Baker era and it was probably not the one Baker himself was expecting at the time either. However, I would argue that the conclusion of the era was more than appropriate. Not only does the story articulate our sorrow at the departure of the Fourth Doctor, arguably an incarnation with nowhere else to go within the ‘modernising’ notions of Nathan-Turner’s first season as producer, but also it’s a statement in itself of where the series has been and where it is about to go. The story and the characters are held within a past-future tension and appropriately within the context of the story, and as the Monitor states, the Universe (and the series) has gone beyond the point of heat death. The series itself, uncannily, falls into its own loop of recursion in order to stave off entropy and continue on. Therefore, Bidmead’s treatise on entropy, recursion and change is in itself also a statement on Doctor Who.

The Doctor and Adric set out to repair the TARDIS chameleon circuit and are trapped by the Master. In order to affect repairs, the TARDIS arrives on Logopolis whose inhabitants use intoned code to create mathematical models. Unknown to the Doctor, they also hold entropy at bay in a dying Universe, and the Master seizes an opportunity to hold the Universe to ransom…

The pervading sense of doom, the funeral like atmosphere and unavoidable pre-determined outcome of Logopolis tie in with the inevitable passing of our hero and with many of the themes already articulated in Season 18. Peter Grimwade just about manages to balance these elements with Bidmead’s science-philosophy on thermodynamics, entropy, block transfer computation to provide an apocalyptic scenario fitting enough to send the Doctor on his way. It’s amazing how death permeates the narrative – from the three lost soul companions (Adric without his brother, Nyssa without her father and mother- and soon her planet-and Tegan without Auntie Vanessa), the deaths of several Logopolitans and the Monitor to the billions killed as the wave of entropy gobbles up the Universe. Highest body count ever, one would assume? But the story is also about life reaffirming itself, about rebirth and renewal of a kind.

Looking at Logopolis today the only things that let it down are the production design and the effects work. The surface of the planet isn’t really constructed well enough to give that epic feel that's fit for the purposes of the narrative and the rather confined sets often prevent Grimwade from doing a decent bit of directing and proper blocking of actors and thus many scenes end up looking theatrical and rather flat. The model work is perfunctory at best and is often quite crude – the radiotelescope dish on Earth being the worst offender – and our old friend CSO pops up as the Doctor scrambles to his demise on the gantry, along with an obvious photo blow up of the Master in the background. The mix between studio and location towards the end of the fourth episode is often very distracting too. This is a shame as the standards achieved thus far in Season 18 have been very high indeed.

That aside, Grimwade puts a lot of effort into making Bidmead's script coherent and he's aided by good performances generally and a very striking score from Paddy Kingsland. There’s a great deal here to savour, the intriguing ideas and concepts not withstanding, from Tegan’s introduction as she prepares to start her job (possibly taking longer than necessary to establish her character to the detriment of Adric and, later, Nyssa), the evocative scenes of the Doctor meeting the Watcher on the bridge above the Thames, the spiralling recursion of the interlocked TARDISES, the very dignified Monitor (a lovely, regal performance by John Fraser) battling to save the crumbling Universe and then the Doctor's regeneration itself. Yes, flooding the TARDIS to purge the Master is ridiculous and yes, the Master holding the Universe to ransom with a tape recorder is ridiculous too but they don’t do too much damage to an intricate narrative, a crystal like structure reflecting on the past and future, refracting and doubling as the current Doctor’s demise folds into the new Doctor’s birth. The threat isn't resolved particularly well - does the CVE close or remain open? - but the journey is worthwhile.

I’m still not convinced by the shoehorning in of Nyssa as a companion – she starts out as an extra cog and does remain that way – but Sarah Sutton does get that tremendous scene to play where she witnesses the death of Traken and she handles it with very great subtlety. And despite the good introduction, Tegan comes across as a self-centred, loud, whinging woman more concerned about her job than the fate of the Universe. There are a few too many scenes of her clacking round TARDIS corridors that become tiresome. Matthew Waterhouse is actually great in this – his rapport with the fourth Doctor working very well – and this is perhaps the best he’ll be until Earthshock. Ainley’s portrayal of the Master hasn’t yet descended into the ‘heh, heh, heh’ one note performance that blights the series from Season 19 onwards so he works well within the story, especially when he realises what a f***-up he’s made by attacking Logopolis itself. He comes across as suitably unhinged and devious here. Finally, there’s Tom. The melancholy of the previous stories reaches a climax here in a beautifully reflective performance, aching with resignation and impending change, signifying not just the thematic cul-de-sac that the fourth Doctor’s arrived in but also Tom’s realisation that it’s time for him to go too. It’s full of sadness.

And the past/future tension I spoke of earlier radiates from the story’s dual attempt to move the series on into the future whilst regressing into the past. Many have noted that it essentially returns the series to its roots in An Unearthly Child both visually and thematically, as well as referencing Terror Of The Autons and The Time Monster. The final knot in this tension is the parade of references to monsters and companions in the ‘life flashing before me’ regeneration sequence. This, to me, sums up what the next eight years will be about – an anally-retentive focus on continuity and recycling of old concepts (there will be further flashback sequences like this) whilst struggling to give the programme a new direction. If this had merely been a one off then its status would be assured (and it works very well in context) but we know it wasn't a one off...

Further, Logopolis is also the point where, and if you'll indulge me I'll paraphrase French philosopher Baudrillard’s theory, we see 'the end of the era of the original'. With Bidmead bringing the series ‘full circle’ and back to the start of the original narrative in An Unearthly Child and then with the later Five Faces re-runs in 1981 we enter a period where the original is replaced by a series of simulacra of Doctor Who. And not just through re-runs on television, as the early 1980s also saw the arrival of home video. The original narrative ceases and is looped over on itself not just through Seasons 19-26 but also through access to previous simulacra of the original – the reissuing of the back catalogue of the series on VHS.

Baudrillard put it well, in his meditation on Western society, in which he described this society as a real territory that through massive change had been replaced by a copy or a map of that territory. The real is superceded by the signs of its existence, the copy. In 1981, the original Doctor Who is signified by a re-run of five adventures, a re-run of copies of the original (Troughton, Pertwee et al), whilst Logopolis signifies the closure of this narrative, the destruction of mystery (from Castrovalva onwards ‘Doctor Who’ becomes ‘The Doctor’ in the credits and those arch signifiers, the lapel question marks, are frozen into the Doctor's costume/uniform), the ritual adherence to a map, rather than the original territory of the series, in order to continue. With me so far?

So that fatal regeneration becomes symbolic of the show’s own entropy, the closing in of narrative and the reliance on reproduction of past signifiers – the return of old foes, continuity references – and the Master is also a visual symbol of this action; at once a copy of the original (Delgado, Pratt et al) but not the original. It’s significant that Baker lets go of the series and of the radiotelescope at the same time. Not only has the Watcher (surely another symbol of this closing down of the original) explained his (the Doctor's) fate within the narrative but he’s also a symbol of his (Baker's) fate outside of it too. The bold experiment of Season 18 also pretty much ends here. Apart from stories Bidmead commissioned before his departure that would get made in the following season, there is a sense, from 1981 onwards, of the dependency on the simulated past, the reproduction of the original rather than the continuation of it, as a map through this territory, becoming the focus. Doctor Who becomes its own mythology from this point onwards, it's own recursive occlusion, it becomes "Doctor Who".

Logopolis is therefore not just the apt swan-song of Baker and the fourth Doctor seen through the prism of previous foes and companions, the re-emergence of the Master and the 'modernising' of the show but also it's the end of the original Doctor Who. The story iterates the science of block transfer computation as a way of restoring the TARDIS' original function, of producing a copy of the police box to repair its past status. In effect, Bidmead and Nathan-Turner produce a 'block transfer computation' of the original show at this point which fits in very neatly with Baudrillard's theories about copies replacing and dominating over originals. It's a beautifully sad and sublime ending...

DVD Features:

- Commentary from actors Tom Baker and Janet Fielding, plus writer Christopher H. Bidmead
- A New Body at Last - a new documentary covering the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. Featuring actors Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton and Adrian Gibbs, script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, directors Peter Moffatt and John Black. Narrated by Denis Lawson (50 mins)
- Nationwide - Tom Baker - an interview with Tom Baker from the BBC news magazine show
- Nationwide - Peter Davison - an interview with Peter Davison on his forthcoming role as the Doctor
- Pebble Mill at One - Peter Davison - Peter Davison interviewed on the long-running BBC lunchtime show (12 mins)
- News Items - a selection of BBC News items, including reports on Tom Baker and Lalla Ward's wedding, the announcement of Tom Baker's departure and Peter Davison's arrival

NEW BEGINNINGS - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1331, Region 2, Released 22nd January 2007)
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Frank
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