The Sun Makers, by Lewis Baston (and Robert Holmes, and Terrance Dicks); and Angela from Bristol, the mystery extra

I remember watching The Sun Makers aged ten when it was first shown in late 1977. It’s not the high point of Season 15 (that would be Horror of Fang Rock) but it’s not the low point either (that would be Underworld). Even at ten, however, I could feel that the show was trying not to lose its way; I did not know of course that new producer Graham Williams was fumbling to set his mark on the show, or that Robert Holmes stepped down as script editor halfway through the story.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I wrote:

I remembered The Sunmakers from its first broadcast in 1977, but had forgotten quite how good it is. In total contrast to The Seeds of Doom, here we have the Doctor fomenting a popular uprising against an oppressive regime. There are numerous classic sf tropes – the rag-tag rebels living in the bowels of the city, the drugs in the air supply – but also a couple of Robert Holmes touches, such as the repeated digs at the British tax system. The bad guys – Gatherer Hade and the Collector – are gratifyingly over the top, but at the same time the implied violence is pretty alarming – the Doctor almost gets his brains burnt out, Leela is almost executed by public steaming, both are threatened with ugly death by the suspicious rebels, and these seem like serious threats. Indeed I seem to remember reading somewhere that at one point there was a plan for Leela to be killed off in this story, which would certainly have been a more in-character departure than what actually happened (but would have deprived us of her in the much later Gallifrey audios). It is also, and this I think is very unusual, a good story for K9: he starts and ends by beating the Doctor at chess, and takes the initiative at several crucial points during proceedings. It seems almost churlish after all that to point out that the actual setting – humanity has been forcibly displaced to Pluto as a result of fiendish capitalist exploitation – is pretty implausible even for Who, and does great violence to any attempts to construct a future history of the Whoniverse.

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2011, I wrote:

I have a feeling that last time I watched The Sun Makers, for some reason it was immediately after watching Underworld so it looked rather good in comparison. However, in sequence after the brilliance of Season 14 and the more modest successes of Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl, it is pretty awful. I think I can establish several specific reasons for the awfulness, one of which was not really anyone’s fault, but the remainder of which could have been corrected.

The unchangeable factor is that the weather for the location filming was dull, so the story gets off to a tremendously dull start; it’s difficult to make the roof of a cigarette factory in Bristol look much like the top of a kilometer-high apartment block on Pluto, but it helps if the weather cooperates. I wonder if there’s also a bit of an unconscious assumption on my part that cuddly blurry film should represent contemporary Earth settings, and sharp-edged videotape the future; so the setting looks even more like Bristol than Pluto.

But the other factors were simply mistakes made by Holmes in the script and not sufficiently rounded off in the editing process. The story is simply very nasty. The rebels are really very unpleasant people, threatening to kill him and Leela; we don’t really see why the Doctor should choose to help such unlikeable (and otherwise unmemorable) individuals. The Company of course are even worse, which is OK since they are the baddies, but the attempted steaming of Leela is a really horrific prospect, much worse actually than any of the supposedly extreme violence of the previous season.

It does have its good points. The interplay between Gatherer Hade and the Collector is great fun (though again Holmes is usually smarter than to give all the good dialogue to the villains) and K9 gets to be very useful in his first proper story after joining the Tardis. Though even then, the framing narrative of the chess match in the console room doesn’t quite gel. I don’t think I’ll watch this one again, unless the DVD commentary is particularly good.

This time around, I felt myself falling between the two poles: yes, cracking satire by Holmes and good performances from the bad guys; but the rebels are really unpleasant and the violence very squicky.

It also struck me that the future of humanity on Pluto is rather white. There is one exception, an uncredited Work Unit who appears on the roof in episode 4:

Who was she? The surviving paperwork, supplied to me by Paul Scoones, has four extras with women’s names booked for the filming in Bristol on 19 June 1977, six months before the episode was shown.

The four names are Jennie Weston, Elizabeth Havelock, Angela Towner and Marion Venn. Surprisingly, I think I have tracked down three of them.

  • I find a Jennie Weston who in 2010 was reported to be a Drama and English teacher, who had worked for Radio Bristol in educational broadcasting; the picture supplied doesn’t look like the person I am interested in.
  • An Elizabeth Havelock does have a credited page on IMDB, including four speaking TV roles from 1977-79, but was born in 1926 so clearly too old (if it’s the same Elizabeth Havelock); and again there’s a photo which is clearly a different person.
  • A Marion Venn was swimming coach at Dean Close School in Cheltenham from 1977 (the year of filming) to 2000; I’ve found recent photos of her and she’s definitely not the person I am looking for.

So I think my mystery actor, possibly the only actor of colour in the whole of Season 15 of Doctor Who, is Angela Towner (The Complete History thinks it’s “Angela Tower”, but Paul Scoones was able to find legible paperwork in which the name is clear). This could well have been her only professional acting role, asked to stand around with a crowd on top of a factory in Bristol on an overcast and not very warm Thursday, before going on to a life doing something completely different. It’s entirely possible that her surname subsequently changed, which would make it much more difficult to track down her later performances if any.

Oh yeah, I reread the novelisation by Terrance Dicks as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

However, K9’s brand of logic, based on his recollection of past events, and an extrapolation of future probabilities, told him that the Doctor would land in trouble within a very short time of leaving the TARDIS. He would need K9’s remarkable powers to rescue him from the dangers into which his rashness had led him. It was therefore logical that K9 should exercise these powers as soon as possible.

In 2008 I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Sunmakers is probably the best of these nine books [the Leela novelisations]; Dicks clearly appreciated Robert Holmes’ script and seems to have really got into the spirit of it. There is an interesting scene in the book but not in the TV series where Leela encounters some elderly workers waiting for euthanasia. Various other minor details are tweaked and basically improved in Dicks’ telling of the story.

Watching the series with the production subtitles switched on, I could see that Dicks was working from Holmes’ script as originally envisaged, and making the most of it.

Anyway. After my very grumpy post about the Black Archive on Kill the Moon, I’m very glad to say that Lewis Baston’s monograph on The Sun Makers was much more to my liking.

The first chapter, “‘An Unprofitable Operation, Hade’: The Sun Makers in context”, looks at the social and economic difficulties of the UK in general and of Robert Holmes in particular at the time the story was made.

The second chapter, “‘The Grandest Society of Merchants in the Universe'”, convincingly analyses the extent to which The Sun Makers draws not from contemporary Britain but from the history of the East India Company.

The third chapter, “‘Sacrifices to Tribal Gods'”, announces up front that it examines Doctor Who’s treatment of economics in general, but it also veers into the steaming subplot and death as entertainment, re-done (not as well) in Vengeance on Varos a few years later, and the influence of the Aztecs (much less in the finished programme than was planned by Holmes). Its second paragraph is:

The Sun Makers came relatively early in Doctor Who’s late 1970s engagement with economics. Before then, the principal economic concern was energy, hence baleful consequences in Fury from the Deep (1968), Inferno (1970) and The Claws of Axos (1971) and the background to Terror of the Zygons (1975). The Doctor consistently takes a dim view of humanity’s fossil fuel dependence.

The fourth chapter, “Empire of the Iron Sun”, looks at imperialism as protrayed in science fiction, especially Doctor Who, and also considers the influence of The Iron Sun by Adrian Berry (later Lord Camrose), and the anti-Semitism in the portrayal of the Collector.

The fifth chapter, “‘The People Should Rise Up and Slaughter Their Oppressors'”, looks at the frankly revolutionary and Marxist agenda of the story. It doesn’t reflect, as I did, on how remarkable it is that this story should be written by a former policeman who fought in Burma in the second world war and whose other work is usually entertaining but not nearly as subversive.

The sixth chapter, “‘Praise the Company'”, moves on from 1977, reviews what has happened to us politically and economically since then, and comes to the gloomy conclusion that to an extent we all live in the Collector’s world now.

A brief conclusion ends with a pithy summing-up:

The Sun Makers, therefore, is a revolutionary, experimental tract that shows the signs of its origins as a piece of writing by Robert Holmes which was turned into television by the BBC in the late 1970s. It deals with big ideas, and it is full of allusions and tangents. It also fulfilled its role as entertaining Saturday evening television for a family audience as the nights drew in before Christmas 1977. And, perhaps above all, it is very funny.

I’d have liked a bit more on the parts of the story I didn’t like as much – the gratuitous violence and the poor production values – but this is a case where the Black Archive has achieved redemption for me: I think I like The Sun Makers a bit more, now that I have read this analysis of it. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

The Talons of Weng-Chiang, by Dale Smith (and Robert Holmes, and Terrance Dicks)

I remember watching The Talons of Weng-Chiang when it was first broadcast in 1977, and loving it; the years since then have sensitised me to the racism in the story, but it retains a problematic attraction. I saw it again on videotape twice in the 1990s, and next time I saw it in 2007 I wrote:

The Talons of Weng-Chiang, from 1977, is the climax of the great Holmes/Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who (also the last directed by the superb David Maloney), and is as good now as I remember it being when I was nine. (I admit I have also seen it a couple of times since, once in the company of a girl from Manila who giggled pleasingly at the line about the Filipino army advancing on Reykjavik.) Thanks to my background reading I was now alert to look out for a particular shot at the start of episode 4 which had escaped my notice previously (on the DVD commentary track, Louise Jameson laughs loudly). There is so much great stuff here: Leela and the Doctor are both alien to Victorian London, so Jago and Litefoot are effectively the viewpoint characters; Deep Roy, later to play hundreds of Oompa-Loompas in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, turns in a great Mr Sin. Yes, the ethnic stereotypes are rather regrettable (and quite apart from the Chinese, I would draw the attention of Irish viewers to Chris Gannon’s Casey), but the setting and drama are just fantastic.

When I came to it in my Great Rewatch in 2010, I wrote:

I always loved The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and rewatching it made me realise once again how brilliant it is. (I know, I said this about The Deadly Assassin too, but it’s true in both cases.) There are two big problems with the story: the fairly useless and unterrifying giant rat, and the racism including having the lead Chinese role played by a non-Chinese actor. However, the settings are beautifully done, the plotting is tight enough, Magnus Greel’s distorted face is truly horrible, and everyone takes it seriously and does it well. The script has some particular delights: “I can play the ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ in a bowl of live goldfish”; “sleep is for tortoises”; etc.

I know it by heart, so this time I watched it with the cast commentary and the production subtitles. Still enjoyable, except that the racism really does make you cringe. It’s also a total Bechdel fail. Apart from Leela, there are hardly any women characters, and they do not talk to each other.

As it happens, I was reading R.F. Kuang’s Babel at exactly the same time as rewatching the show and reading the books, and if you don’t mind connecting the sublime and the ridiculous, that’s a really interesting pairing. You can get the DVD here.

Since I have it, I also went back and reread the Robert Holmes script, edited by John McElroy. The opening of the second scene of the third episode is:

2. PROFESSOR LITEFOOT’S DINING ROOM.

(LEELA peers out of the window. She hears the front door shut, then turns around.)
LITEFOOT: Nobody out there now! Fellow must have got wind of .. .
(He breaks off mid-sentence with a groan. There is a rustling sound in the hall.)
LEELA: Professor?
(She goes towards the door.)
Are you there, Professor?
(She is almost at the door when it swings open. MR. SIN is standing there, a knife glinting evilly in his hand. He moves purposefully towards LEELA. For a moment she is frozen with fear, then she grabs a carving knife from the side-table.
As MR. SIN moves stiffly towards her, she hurls the knife at him, with expert precision. It thuds into MR. SIN‘s throat but, to LEELA‘s amazement, it seems to have little effect. The weird little mannequin continues to shuffle towards her.)

I wrote in 2018:

The script, published in 1989, is really for completists only, but I would say two things: first, two of the most problematic elements of the TV series – the use of a white actor to play Li H’sen Chang, and the rather poor implementation of the giant rat – are of course invisible in the script (the racism, alas, survives); but second, so is the gorgeous staging which made it such a vivid experience when I was nine. A nice bit of nostalgia which you can get here.

Not much to add to that.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the Terrance Dicks novelisation is:

‘You sent for me, Sergeant?’

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang also loses out in the visual stakes, but gains a bit with occasional tight-third narrative from Leela’s point of view, which accentuates one of the successful aspects of the story, the confrontation between her primitive experience and the Victorian era.

The one difference I picked up on this time is that Teresa, one of Greel’s victims, is clearly coded as a sex worker in the TV story but is a gambling hostess in the adaptation. You can get it here.

Before I get to the Black Archive, I just want to salute some of the spinoffs: a Fifth Doctor prequel, a Fourth Doctor sequel, and a whole sequence of generally excellent Jago and Litefoot spinoffs from Big Finish.

With the publication of Dale Smith’s monograph on The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the Black Archive covers six consecutive Tom Baker stories and 26 consecutive episodes, which is their longest run of any era. I think that underlines the consensus that the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, which ended with Talons, was a true high point of the show.

Smith’s monograph is actually quite short by Black Archive standards, at 137 pages. It has just five chapters.

The first, “Foe from the Future”, looks at the story’s roots in the Jack the Ripper murders, Fu Manchu and The Phantom of the Opera, and also reviews the production process which was deeply exhausting for Holmes.

The second chapter, “The Talons of Victoria”, looks at the affinity that Doctor Who has with the Victorian era, and explores the role of science and the narrative of colonialism (also very much applicable to Leela).

The third chapter, “The Time-Traveller and his Savage Companion”, looks at the many double-acts in the story – not just Jago/Litefoot but also Doctor/Leela and Greel/Chang and even Greel/Mr Sin – and also at the extent to which it really does draw on Fu Manchu, The Phantom of the Opera and indeed The Island of Doctor Moreau. Its second paragraph is:

Holmes was undoubtedly a master of dialogue, creating characters painted with broad enough strokes to be immediately recognisable, but giving each of them the ability to say just the right things to give us a clear picture of who they are. Jago’s couplet of ‘You’ve been drinking’ / ‘Well, it’s time you started’ isn’t just a funny joke3: it gives us a clear picture of what is going through his mind, what he wants and how he intends to get it. But dialogue isn’t the only thing that Holmes uses to give his characters life and depth, and his ability with double acts shouldn’t be reduced to just having a way with words. Holmes had a way with every tool in the writer’s toolkit, and the best way to demonstrate that would be to look at one of the other double acts that Holmes peppered Talons with.
3 Episode 1.

The fourth chapter, “‘Die, Bent Face!'”, looks at Greel’s disfigurement and at disability in fiction in general and Doctor Who in particular, a theme that suddenly caught fire for about 48 hours last year.

The fifth and longest chapter, “Of Its Time, and Ours” addresses the crucial issue of race and racism. I think this is one of the best such analyses I’ve read by a white guy, addressing a largely white audience. We can love things that are problematic, but it’s really important to understand why and how they are problematic. Smith very briefly reviews the history of British engagement with China in the nineteenth century (it was, again, refreshing that I had just read Kuang’s Babel) and also the history of discrimination against London’s Chinese population, led by the trade unions. (He doesn’t mention the issue of Chinese slave labour in South Africa which became one of the themes of the 1906 general election, but there is plenty else to choose from.) He makes it clear that the question of whether Talons of Weng-Chiang is a racist story isn’t a matter of debate; what is up for debate is our response.

We know this is a bigger issue than just whether one story broadcast in 1977 contains racism. Talons isn’t just a product of the 70s – that young proto-fan can find it just as easily as they would find any of Christopher Eccleston’s stories. It is impossible for anyone to watch anything in the context it was made: everything is watched within an elastic context of ‘now’, and Talons is quite literally a product of now. It is easy for someone to get down their Blu-ray and settle down to watch it, to buy books about how it was made or listen to sequels that ape its atmosphere. The same can’t be said for The Black and White Minstrel Show. That’s why we feel uncomfortable when it is raised, why the urge to minimise and argue is so strong: we have watched this story and enjoyed it, and we are not racists so something else must be wrong.

But it isn’t. We are.

If we were educated through the British school system; if we have engaged with British culture; if we have lived in this country for any length of time. If we are white. It would be impossible for us to eliminate every unconscious racist assumption we have been taught to make. That is why the onus is on those of us who are white Doctor Who fans, to listen when people raise the issue of the racism in Talons. We have to educate ourselves about what that racism is and how it displays itself, and ultimately we have to decide how we as people are going to respond to it. Because it is too easy for us to push back, to force the people that racism targets to carry out the emotional and physical labour involved in educating white people. Because racism is a white problem. We benefit from it every day. It is up to us to solve it.

This is a short but powerful Black Archive, and you can get it here.

As this story demonstrates, Doctor Who has not always been good to China, but I’m glad to say that China has a thriving Doctor Who fanbase, as I discovered in October. After a couple of weeks when the Chengdu Worldcon has been excoriated in public and in private (including by me) I’ll take a moment to remember the positive.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

The Fourteenth Doctor novelisations: The Star Beast (Gary Russell), Wild Blue Yonder (Mark Morris), The Giggle (James Goss)

You wait five years for a new Doctor, and then two of them come along one after the other…

While we recover from the Fifteenth Doctor’s proper debut yesterday, you can relive the Fourteenth Doctor’s brief tenure in the three novelisations of his three stories, The Star Beast, Wild Blue Yonder and The Giggle, each published electronically a few days after the respective episodes were shown, and available in paper form next month. Spoilers: One of them is likely to be my Doctor Who book of the year when I do my roundup of my 2023 reading on Sunday. I’ve also had a listen to a relevant Big Finish audio adaptation.

Doctor Who: The Star Beast is Gary Russell’s second novelisation of a Doctor Who TV story, his first being of the TV Movie from 1996, 27 years ago. (He also did four Sarah Jane novelisations, and much else.) The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Best thing to do, Doctor, he thought, is not get caught.

This is a good start to the new regime. (One of my personal complaints about the Chibnall era is that little attention was paid to the spinoff publications.) As well as faithfully transferring the on-screen action to the page, we get more characterisation for the minor characters, especially Sylvia and Rose, and some delightful tips of the hat to the comic strip on which the story was based – the steelworks is called Millson Wagner, in a tribute to the original writers, and the original new companion, Sharon, makes an offstage appearance as Fudge’s friend. Basically it’s what you want from a novelisation. You can get it here.

The Fourteenth Doctor TV story was not in fact the first adaptation of the original Star Beast comic. In 2019 Big Finish released audio versions of this and The Iron Legion, the first of the Doctor Who magazine strips, both starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, and for completeness I listened to both. They are quite long; The Iron Legion is almost two hours, The Star Beast 1h49m, and then there’s an hour of behind-the-scenes, and the material isn’t quite strong enough to bear the weight of it. But it is fun enough, a look at two old stories from a new angle, with some tidying up of loose ends in the plots.

NB in particular from The Iron Legion, Christine Kavanagh (who had a small part in The Diplomat) as June / Magog, the lead baddy, and Big Finish regulars Toby Longworth and Joseph Kloska as the robot Vesuvius and Morris; and from The Star Beast, Rhianne Starbuck as Sharon (she seems to have paused her acting career, which is a shame), Bethan Dixon Bate as Beep the Meep, and in a surprise twist, 1970s news reader Angela Rippon as herself. You can get it here.

The novelisation of Wild Blue Yonder is by Marc Morris, who has done a bunch of other Doctor Who books and plays, some of which I liked more than others. The second paragraph of the third chapter (“Brate”) is:

There was no indication anything had been disturbed. The hover-buggy remained where they’d parked it; nothing had fallen over; nothing had become detached from the walls or roof and crashed to the ground.

Wild Blue Yonder was such a visual story, depending both on superb special effects and on twists in the plot, that the book version needs to be either a faithful screen-to-page adaptation or to take a completely different approach. Morris has (perhaps sensibly) gone for the first option, and the result is a workmanlike book that completists like me will want to have, but won’t be a gateway drug for anyone else. You can get it here.

It’s no secret that I rate James Goss as one of the best Doctor Who writers currently in business (eg here, here and here), so I awaited his novelisation of The Giggle with eager anticipation. The second paragraph of the third chapter (“Move 3”) is:

London burned. Flames poked out of windows. People stood on roofs, howling. Cars smashed into each other over and over. Double-decker buses lay toppled in the streets, people thronged the bridges, sometimes diving off, sometimes falling off, sometimes pushed off. She watched two boats down there in the Thames, playing a slow and stupid game of chicken. Neither boat blinked.

I have to say that my high expectations were more than exceeded. Goss tells the story from the perspective of the Toymaker (first-person Doctor Who books are very rare and not always successful), smooths off the edges, throws in some extra pinches of emotion and also some shifts of genre and format – at one point the book becomes a choose-your-own-adventure for Donna, and there are other puzzles throughout. I suspect that the paper version will be even nicer and it’s the only one of the three that I plan to get in hard copy. It’s a real tour de force, and you can get it here. I enjoyed this so much that I made it my very first post on Threads:

Post by @nwbrux
View on Threads

So, a good closing out of the brief Fourteenth Doctor era. (Though I haven’t yet read the DWM comic strip.)

The Hand of Fear (TV, novelisation, Black Archive); also, Eldrad Must Die!; also, Eldrad Must Live!

I think I missed the first three episodes of The Hand of Fear in October 1976 – I don’t know what would have taken nine-year-old me out of the house on those Saturday weekends, though I note that my grandfather died suddenly the night the second episode was shown, which must have led to some family disruption the following week.

However I vividly remember the fourth episode, with the barren, abandoned planetscape of Kastria, Eldrad shockingly crushed and then transformed from woman to man, and then the abrupt departure of Sarah Jane Smith, after three and a half years in the TARDIS. I enjoyed it a lot at the age of nine, even without having seen the story that got us there.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I wrote:

This may not be the greatest of stories – I rather missed UNIT being able to let the Doctor take control of the quarry and the nuclear plant – but it is still rather fun. In particular, it’s unusual for the Doctor to be so thoroughly hoodwinked by the bad guy (or gal in this case), and I rather liked the setting of Kastria. Of course, everyone remembers this for Sarah’s departure, but I could entirely sympathise with her fury at getting hypnotised yet again (I haven’t counted, but it must have been roughly the fourth time in five stories).

For my Great Rewatch in 2010, I wrote:

The Hand of Fear is two decent but not terribly memorable stories joined together – the first two episodes being the Nunton nuclear plant invaded by an alien, and the second two being the Destiny of Kastria once Eldrad arises. I remember first time around being really shocked by the moment the female Eldrad is apparently crushed to death. Most of the story is however fairly unremarkable; what makes it linger in the memory is of course Sarah Jane’s farewell, scripted on the spot by Baker and Sladen – I found I had something in my eye while watching it.

Maybe I was just in a good mood – if memory serves me right, I watched it on the way home from Oslo – but I enjoyed it a lot this time round. Out of sequence, I did not mind the absence of UNIT so much; I did like the awful horror of the power station, with the director’s tense farewell phone call to his family; and Judith Parris really steals the show as the first version of Eldrad. Having said which, Elisabeth Sladen is on top form here, and Sarah really does get one of the best farewells of any of the classic companions, perhaps only Susan and Jo are in the same league. There’s a nice piece about the story from 2011 in the Guardian.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is:

Tom Abbott was being surprisingly co-operative. At first the
Doctor’s reception had been rather hostile, but his insistence that
no one blamed Abbott for the accident and that Sarah was
comparatively unhurt, and above all his production of a set of
impressive credentials from some secret Government
establishment called UNIT, had all combined to put Abbott in a
more friendly frame of mind. He had even agreed to move the
old blue police box, in which the Doctor stored his equipment, to
a safe part of the quarry, and look after it until the Doctor had
time to arrange for its removal.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

A pretty standard retelling of the TV original, without much added or taken away. The story line seemed slightly clearer on paper, but maybe I just was not concentrating sufficiently when I watched it. On the other hand, Dicks does not quite do justice to Sarah Jane’s farewell scene.

I think that’s not quite fair; as the co-creator of the UNIT years, Dicks does add a bit more material to link The Hand of Fear with continuity. But basically this is a book to reassure you that you can re-experience the TV serial, in an age before video recorders. You can get it here.

It did strike me that the cover, by Roy Knipe, has Sarah not in the Andy Pandy suit that she wears on screen, but in what is frankly a much more sensible blue outfit, though with the same red top and headscarf.

Left: book cover (scanned from my own much-loved copy, hence creases); right: TV series

In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought; so I went back and re-listened to the 2013 Big Finish story Eldrad Must Die!, which I consumed shortly after its release but never got around to writing up here. It’s by Marc Platt, featuring the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough, and I’m afraid it’s not all that brilliant; poor old Turlough gets possessed as usual, and Stephen Thorne shows up as the male Eldrad and shouts. There’s a nod also to J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World. You can get it here.

More intriguingly, shortly before his death in 2021, Bob Baker (who with Dave Martin wrote the original story) published a sequel, Eldrad Must Live!, through Cutaway Comics, illustrated by Stephen B. Scott, Andrew Orton and Colin Brockhurst. This is the second frame of the third page:

As you can see they’ve caught Glyn Houston’s portrayal of the director rather well. It seems that Eldrad’s traces were not completely removed from the nuclear reactor, with predictable consequences, and a mysterious woman supposedly from the authorities shows up; however I’m afraid that the comic ends in mid-story, promising that it will be picked up in Cutaway Comics’ main sequence of Gods and Monsters; and this has not yet happened as far as I know. But you can get it here. I got only the PDF rather than the physical version, which comes with extras.

Simon Bucher-Jones has produced a really good Black Archive on this story, considering mainly the horror tropes. It’s quite long but has only four chapters.

The first and longest chapter, “Why Are Hands So Significant?”, looks at the history of the hand in art from the stone age onwards, and at the precedents for detached hands in horror films, looking at the obvious Addams Family, The Beast with Five Fingers and Carry On Screaming, but also a 1963 B-Movie called The Crawling Hand which features a detached body part from a spaceship explosion.

The second chapter, “‘Eldrad Must Live’: Three Types of Fear in The Hand of Fear“, points out that the hand itself doesn’t strangle anyone and isn’t bloodied; so why is it scary? Or even, is it scary? Bucher-Jones diverts via the Flixborough disaster to considering the story’s plot structure and how the narrative beats function. He’s not completely certain that it all works, but I’m more confident that it does.

The third chapter, “The Thing from the Aeons: Fossil Horror and The Shadow Out of Time“, looks at how ancient figures coming back to life are treated in Doctor Who, linking Eldrad with Omega, Davros and Rassilon. Its second paragraph is:

We discussed in Chapter 1 why the hand is a potent image in horror and fear, and in Chapter 2 how the ‘idea’ of Eldrad adds or transcends the physicality of that horror, being presented as a dark religion that afflicts and repurposes the mind, but there is a further aspect of the horror in The Hand of Fear in the first episode, which we have not yet touched on.

The fourth chapter, “Gender (and Other) Issues in The Hand of Fear“, briefly considers a) the fact that Judith Parrish’s female Eldrad is much better than Stephen Thorne’s male version; b) how the Hand could have landed relatively undamaged; c) the morality of the Doctor’s disposal of Eldrad; and d) the perfection of the final scene with Sarah’s departure.

An appendix, “Kastria and the Kastrians”, considers the difficulties of locating Kastria and of the Kastrians’ biology.

It’s a rare case among the Black Archives where I think I like the story more than the writer does, but in any case he does a good job and you can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope; The Androids of Tara, by Terrance Dicks and David Fisher; and a play by Paul Cornell

David Fisher’s novelisation of his 1978 Doctor Who story, The Androids of Tara, has recently been published in paper form (it had been around as an audiobook for ages). It is a story which draws very strongly on the 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope,so I thought I should go back to the beginning and re-read that as well. The second paragraph of the third chapter of The Prisoner of Zenda is:

I took an early luncheon, and, having bidden my kind entertainers farewell, promising to return to them on my way home, I set out to climb the hill that led to the Castle, and thence to the forest of Zenda. Half an hour’s leisurely walking brought me to the Castle. It had been a fortress in old days, and the ancient keep was still in good preservation and broad moat, which ran all round the old buildings, was a handsome modern chateau, erected by the last king, and now forming the country residence of the Duke of Strelsau. The old and the new portions were connected by a drawbridge, and this indirect mode of access formed the only passage between the old building and the outer world; but leading to the modern chateau there was a broad and handsome avenue. It was an ideal residence: when “Black Michael” desired company, he could dwell in his chateau; if a fit of misanthropy seized him, he had merely to cross the bridge and draw it up after him (it ran on rollers), and nothing short of a regiment and a train of artillery could fetch him out. I went on my way, glad that poor Black Michael, though he could not have the throne or the princess, had, at least, as fine a residence as any prince in Europe.

In case you don’t know, the story concerns one Rudolf Rassendyll, a minor English aristocrat, who visits the central European kingdom of Ruritania only to discover that he is an exact double of the new king. The new king gets drugged and kidnapped by his half-brother, who is scheming to take the throne, and Rudolf is co-opted to pretend to be the monarch, through the coronation, and courting the lovely princess Flavia. There’s lots of exciting sword-fighting and derring-do, especially around the castle of Zenda where the real king is being held, and the half-brother’s henchmen include an evil Belgian. It’s a slightly deeper book than most readers may think, with reflections on dynastic duty and honour, and it’s a cracking good and short read. You can get it here.

I remember hugely enjoying The Androids of Tara when it was first broadcast in later 1978; I would have been eleven. When I came back to it in 2008, having read The Prisoner of Zenda in the meantime, I wrote:

Almost all of The Androids of Tara is basically a lift from The Prisoner of Zenda – Romana actually finds the fourth segment of the Key to Time, the ostensible point of the plot, in the first episode while the Doctor is off fishing. But it is all great fun – Mary Tamm gorgeous as ever in all her parts (ie all her roles), the villainous count yelling “Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”

I noticed that Declan Mulholland, playing the Count’s sidekick Till, did so with a marked Ulster accent. I checked back on his one previous appearance in Doctor Who, in The Sea Devils, but his character is too busy dying in agony to really display much of an accent there.

When I came back to it in 2011 for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

The Androids of Tara is one of the most shamelessly derivative Who stories ever, so obviously ripped off from The Prisoner of Zenda that apparently even some of the lines are the same. But it’s done with great style and affection, with particularly the guest cast enthusiastically in it – most especially Peter Jeffrey’s evil Count Grendel, but the others as well (and a special shout-out for Declan Mulholland’s Ulster/Mummerset accent as Till). In a season where every story is a quest for a segment, it’s refreshing to have the segment found in the first ten minutes and then get on with the planetary intrigue. Mary Tamm doesn’t have to do much as Princess Strella, which again is a sign of the times.

One minor casting point is that this is the last of Cyril Shapps’ four appearances in Doctor Who, playing the Archimandrite this time, and the only occasion on which his character is not killed off.

On reflection, the story’s relationship with The Prisoner of Zenda is a little more complex than I said in either of my previous write-ups. The Doctor and Romana land in the middle of a Zenda-like plot, but take it in some different directions (and some similar). Rather than the central character being the King’s double, it is his sidekick who is the princess’s double; but the doubles double up thanks to the android theme, with Mary Tamm playing four different roles in the end. Several of the set-piece scenes are indeed lifted directly from Anthony Hope, but with variations – the drugged drink combines two slightly different events from the book; K9 intervenes directly to assist both getting into the Pavilion and getting out of the castle. (In fact we see more aggressive action from K9 here than usual.) Contra what is sometimes asserted, I don’t think any of David Fisher’s lines is a direct lift from Anthony Hope. But it is recognisably the same story, rewritten to have the Doctor, Romana, K9 and android duplicates.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ original novelisation is:

‘Castle Gracht, my dear,’ said Count Grendel proudly. ‘Ancient home of the Grendels of Gracht.’

When I reread this in 2008, I wrote:

Another standard Dicks write-what’s-on-the-screen treatment.

Not much more to say. You can get it here.

It is delightful that we now have Fisher’s own version of the story, filled out in a number of directions. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The reason for this was that Madame Lamia had become interested in the crystal that the stranger had been found with. Lamia had broken two diamond-tipped drills on it and not even scratched the surface. Yet this strange woman, who was the spitting image of Princess Strella, kept insisting it was quartz. But it was like no quartz that Madame Lamia had ever seen. However, her concentration was shattered by the Count’s entrance at full gallop roaring like an angry bull.

As previously mentioned, this is actually the 2022 print version of a 2012 audiobook, slightly adapted for the page (as Steve Cole explains in an endnote). It is thoroughly satisfying. The social structure and recent history of Tara are explained in depth, if still not completely believably, and it’s very clear that the relationship between Count Grendel and his engineer Madame Lamia is sexually as well as economically exploitative. The whole thing feels very much bulked up rather than padded out, and I’m very glad that the BBC asked Fisher to have another go at it before it was too late. You can get it here.

For fun I went and reread Paul Cornell’s sequel, “The Trials of Tara”, which you can find in Decalog 2: Lost Property, a 1995 anthology of short stories which you can get here. I didn’t especially call attention to this story when I first read the book, but it’s an entertaining mashup of the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield returning to Tara to find that things have gone wrong in their absence, with that notorious android, the Candyman, also turning up, and the whole thing told in (more or less) iambic pentameter as a stage script, with elements of pantomime (Benny cross-dresses, the villains are appropriately villainous). The third scene opens as follows:

Scene 3. Another clearing, with TARDIS

Enter the Doctor and Bernice.

Doctor: This is the sweet and charming planet Tara.
Home to android smiths. And nobles.
On which I own a field or two of land
Having earned it. In royal serrvice.
My intent is to visit my old friend
Prince Reynart, and his princess bride Strella,
Who did resemble my friend Romana.

It’s actually really amusing, and I should have paid more attention on first reading it; it was a nice chaser to the three books. I don’t know of any other Taran spinoff fiction.

The Stones of Blood, by Katrin Thier (and David Fisher, and Terrance Dicks)

I remember watching and hugely enjoying The Stones of Blood when it was first broadcast in 1978. I’ve come back to it several times and it retains its charm. When I came back to it in 2008, I wrote:

The Stones of Blood was one that I remembered fondly from first time round, and I liked it again on re-watching three decades later. Perhaps, now that puberty is behind me rather than yet to come, I appreciate Mary Tamm’s costumes as Romana all the more. But of course I also have a fascination with megaliths, and this is the only broadcast story that really uses them (though see also the SJA story The Thirteenth Stone). And of the three stories featuring an ancient cult in England within a few years of 1980, this is the only one that really pulls it off well (the other two being Image of the Fendahl and K9 and Company).

When I came back a couple of years later for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

We are back on firmer ground [after The Pirate Planet] with The Stones of Blood. This just shows the difference that a decent plot (as opposed to a decent script, which Adams was capable of doing) and good casting and direction can make, though unfortunately we are now slipping into Romana as screamy girl rather than smart aleck, which is a shame, especially as the story has two excellent female leads in Beatrix Lehmann and Susan Engel. (I must also add that the viewing experience on DVD is greatly enhanced by the extras, which include a documentary with Mary Tamm exploring the Rollright Stones where it was filmed.) 

It’s a story of two halves, Satanic cults (as previously seen in Image of the Fendahl and The Masque of Mandragora) and then the abandoned prison spaceship with the ruthlessly homicidal justice machines. The story wobbles a bit at times – Beatrix Lehmann, who died a few months after filming, is notably shaky on some of her lines – but stays just the right side of the quality divide. The location filming around the stones is particularly memorable, (including particularly K9 on one of his few field outings) and well blended in with the studio scenes. I am really looking forward to the new novelisation by David Fisher, the author of the original script; the original Terrance Dicks novelisation is workmanlike but not terribly memorable, but Fisher’s two previous novelisations of his own stories – The Creature from the Pit and The Leisure Hive – are particularly good, among the best Fourth Doctor books and certainly better than the TV originals.

Rewatching it again, I liked it a bit more if anything; it clearly too Beatrix Lehmann a couple of scenes to get comfortable with the situation but once she gets in the swing, she is great. And the monstrous Ogri are depicted as pretty horrifying even though we see very little of what they actually do to people (apart from the unfortunate lady camper). I also liked the clues that the segment is around somewhere nearby, which I picked up on more than on previous watches.

Unusually, though not uniquely, there are two different Target novelisations of the story, the first being a rather workmanlike effort by Terrance Dicks. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

Romana straightened up, releasing her end of the tape. A sudden loud cawing sound made her jump. A big black bird was perched on the stone above her head. Romana jumped back. ‘What’s that?’

A longer novelisation by the story’s original author, David Fisher, was released on audio a few years back and is now available in book form. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

The figures pushed back their hoods, revealing themselves to be Mr de Vries, a plump man sporting a wisp of a beard on his chin, and Martha Vickers, a middle-aged lady with the face of a discontented bulldog. She was a resident of the nearby village of Bodcombe Parva, and a member of the local Women’s Institute. Her fellow members would have been astonished to see her there, because she was known to be non-religious and only sang ‘Jerusalem’ under protest. In fact, ever since meeting Mr de Vries a couple of years ago, she had been a pillar of his Druid circle, gradually initiated into the inner mysteries of the BIDS. She used to hunt in her younger days, and unlike some of the other group members was not disturbed by the sight of blood. Hence her presence at all the sacrifices.

I wrote up both novelisations when the audio of Fisher’s version came out in 2011:

Earlier this year the BBC released a new novelisation of an Old Who story – David Fisher, who wrote the original TV story The Stones of Blood, has now converted it not to a print novel but to audiobook format, read with great gusto by Susan Engel (who played the villain of the piece on screen) with John Leeson doing K9’s lines. I had been looking forward to this with hopeful enthusiasm, as Fisher’s novelisations of his other two stories are among the best of the Target range.

I am very glad to say that I was not disappointed. The audio is about twice as long as the original series (four hour-long CDs), and Fisher has bulked out the material with lots more character background and atmosphere than was possible on screen – the full story of the campers gruesomely slain by the Ogri, for example, and various brazen but humorous infodumps. There are lots of decent sound effects as well. Very highly recommended.

I also went back and reread Terrance Dicks’ original novelisation of the story for comparison. It must be a lot shorter than Fisher’s new text. I noted of it three years ago that it is “a standard Dicks write-what’s-on-the-screen treatment, somewhat flattening a rather good story” and I found no reason to change my views. I did think Dicks handled the climax of the story with some finesse, but the rest it pretty thin.

The print version is topped and tailed by some lovely personal reminiscences about Fisher by his son Nick Fisher and by the BBC Audio commissioning editor Michael Stevens. It remains a good read.

As my regular reader knows, I myself am pretty interested in megalithic sites and in their mythology. Katrin Thier, the author of this monograph, apparently shares my interest and has given us a good chunky read with no less than seven chapters, not counting introduction and afterword. There’s plenty to say about this story and where it fits in British popular culture.

An introduction sets out Thier’s stall, reviewing the previous careers of writer, director and guest cast and describing the ‘folk horror’ and Gothic modes, and making a link to Irish independence,

Chapter 1, “The Stones”, starts with the bold proposition that “the main guest stars in The Stones of Blood are the King’s Men at Little Rollright in Oxfordshire, playing the Nine Travellers.” Thier reviews the cult of medievalism, especially around the Rollright Stones themselves, and looks at the origin of the Ogri.

Chapter 2, “The Druids”, reviews what is really known about the Druids and the Gorsedds.

Chapter 3, “Megalithic Afterlives”, looks at the scientific investigation of megalithic monuments and how it has been reflected in popular culture (including The Goodies episode “Wacky Wales”, which features Jon Pertwee as a homicidal cultist). Its second paragraph is:

When the Doctor explains to Romana that the circle is a ‘megalithic temple-cum-observatory’, he expresses an interpretation widespread in the 1970s, suggesting that the prehistoric builders of these monuments were not simple undeveloped countryfolk, but were in fact highly sophisticated, maintaining a class of scientists to rival those of the ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The evidence for this was seen in the way many of these monuments seemed to be laid out to allow astronomical calculations. The study of this idea now called archaeo-astronomy (although ‘astro-archaeology’ is also sometimes found, reflecting the different emphasis assumed by different scholars). The idea arose partly out of the well-established observations that some of the major monuments interact with points on the sun’s annual circuit, especially the solstices, and a simple explanation for this is that the monument points to the event it is used to celebrate.

Chapter 4, “The Women”, explores the fact that the two main guest stars are women and that Romana rather than the Doctor carries a lot of the plot. This ties into Graves and Mallory, of course. A nice note – although on screen, Beatrix Lehmann is older than Susan Engel who in turn is older than Mary Tamm, Professor Rumford is the youngest of the three characters, a mere 70ish, whereas Romana is in the first half of her second century and Cessair of Diplos is thousands of years old. (Cessair is a genuine if obscure Celtic figure, but should of course be pronounced with a hard ‘c’.)

Chapter 5, “‘To Wit, a Celtic Goddess'”, looks more deeply at the goddesses – the Morrigan, Nemetona, the Cailleach, Ceridwen and the origin of the Great Seal.

Chapter 6, “Mere Mortals”, looks at the origins of Vivien Fay / Cessair’s other identities. I love this coincidence: the site of the Nine Travellers was supposedly owned at one time by the Little Sisters of St Gudula. St Gudula of course is the patron saint of Brussels, but is also the name of a key character in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, who in the BBC’s 1966 TV adaptation was played by… Beatrix Lehmann!

Chapter 7, “Leaving Earth”, looks at hyperspace, slightly jarring with the themes of the previous six chapters (as indeed the hyperspace parts of the story jar with the rest).

An afterword, “Reithian Gothic?”, points out that the story is really quite informative about megalithic sites and lore, and would have sent the curious viewer off to find out more. It certainly fed my own interest, both on first watching at eleven and since.

This is a good analysis of a good story, even if it’s light on the production details which I usually enjoy hearing about. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

The Deadly Assassin, by Andrew Orton (and Terrance Dicks, and Robert Holmes)

I loved The Deadly Assassin when it was first broadcast in 1977, and I love it still. When I rewatched it in 2007, immediately after my first watch of The Mind Robber, I wrote:

As for The Deadly Assassin: I was really a bit worried about watching it this time round; could it possibly be as good as I remembered it being from when I was nine years old, over thirty years ago? But yes, yes it is. Tom Baker is at the top of his form, combining humour, moral outrage, and determination to do the right thing by his home planet and people, even if they seem at times equally determined to do the wrong thing by him. And Robert Holmes’ superb script has so many memorable moments – here’s an early one, spoken by the exasperated official trying to pin the Doctor down who comes closest to filling the companion role. There’s a great Doctor/Tardis love moment as well.

Yet there are a couple of oddities. One, which is nothing to do with the series as originally presented, is that it has been preserved only as a 90-minute movie, which is rather annoying for those of us purists who like the old cliffhangers. [No longer the case, thank heavens.] Another, which is very bizarre indeed, is that there are no women visible anywhere in the Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin. (Helen Blatch plays the disembodied voice of the Time Lords’ computer system.) This is of course the only story featuring the Doctor with no companion (unless one counts The Runaway Bride), but it really does seem peculiar. One could probably do a short list of stories featuring only male guest stars (?The Moonbase?) but I think this must be the only one with no women on the screen at all.

The interesting linkage with The Mind Robber is that for much of the story the Doctor enters a constructed, invented world, in which he has to battle an artifical reality and try and impose his own will on it. There is an interesting compare-and-contrast between the Second Doctor urging Jamie and Zoe to deny the existence of the unicorn charging at them, and the Fourth Doctor denying the fact that he has been wounded in the leg – same theme but pointing to the very different ways the series as a whole was going in 1968 and 1976. Like the Land of Fiction, the world inside the Matrix of the Time Lords turns out to be under the control of a cosmic villain called the Master – and this time it is that Master, reappearing for the first time since 1973, but horribly altered; with an audacious plan to seize control of the universe by tapping the very power of the Time Lords themselves. (The reality-altering theme is nicely echoed in the final episode by Cardinal Borusa’s attempt to impose his own version of historical reality on recent events.)

As I hinted at above, The Deadly Assassin has Bernard Horsfall returning – this time not as Gulliver (left), but as Chancellor Goth of the Time Lords (right). (I believe he is a Thal officer in Planet of the Daleks too, but haven’t seen that yet.) Horsfall also appeared in the last episode of The War Games in 1969 (middle), pronouncing sentence of exile and regeneration on the Doctor. If we are meant to read the two characters as the same person – though they have very different haircuts – then The Deadly Assassin represents the Fourth Doctor not only overcoming the Third Doctor’s unfinished business with his arch-enemy, but also reversing the Second Doctor’s defeat by the Time Lords in general (and by this one in particular).

Rewatching it in 2010, I wrote:

I always loved The [companionless] Deadly Assassin, and rewatching it made me realise once again how brilliant it is. It is as if Sarah Jane Smith’s departure liberated Robert Holmes from the constraints of the show’s previous history, to go back to the Doctor’s own origins and rewrite them completely. We’ve been gradually moving towards Gallifrey as not so much a place of magical, ineffable power, as we saw in The War Games, but as the fading bureaucracy glimpsed in Colony in Space and The Three Doctors, subject to the political corruption that could give rise to a Morbius. Now it all comes together. I suspect that my own professional fascination with politics may be partly rooted in watching this at the age of nine; the reality that the most powerful people are none the less fallible individuals, operating to their own private agendas as much as to public perceptions, is well portrayed here.

There are so many delights in this: the nightmarish world of the Matrix, the Engin/Spandrell [Pravda/Chitty] double act, Runcible the Fatuous, the final battle amidst crumbling architecture (so dismally copied by the TV Movie). It seems almost churlish to mention two flaws. First off, the re-introduction of the Master worked much better for me at the age of nine, when I barely remembered his existence in the Pertwee era, than it does in sequence – apart from anything else the Time Lords have forgotten him now, having specifically warned the Doctor about him in Terror of the Autons; and of course nobody, not even Peter Pratt who was a great performer, can match Roger Delgado as the arch-enemy. [Since 2010 we’ve seen strong competition from Michelle Gomez and Sacha Dhawan.] Secondly, as my mother remarked when I was nine, there appear to be no Time Ladies among the Time Lords. Now, there are other Who stories without woman among the guest cast – Warriors’ GateThe Power of KrollThe Pyramids of MarsPlanet of EvilRevenge of the CybermenThe MutantsThe Abominable SnowmenThe MoonbaseThe Smugglers and The Rescue – but this is the only one with no visible speaking female character at all (the voice of the Matrix is played by Helen Blatch. It’s a sad lacuna in what is otherwise one of the greatest stories.

When the whole thing was streamed on Twitch in January 2019, I happened to be stuck at a loose end in London and watched it again, live-tweeting as it rolled.

Needless to say I watched it again for this post, and needless to say I enjoyed it again. You can get it here. Nothing much to add to what I have already extensively written. But I was intrigued to learn that the following slide was dropped from the end titles:

We thank the High Court of Time Lords and the Keeper of the Records, Gallifrey, for their help and co-operation.

Who are “we”?

Diverting to another book entirely, I am intrigued by Richard Molesworth’s suggestion, in his biography of Robert Holmes, that the writer at this point was getting irritated with Doctor Who, and that the tall blond Chancellor Goth stalking the hero through the swamp in hope of wiping him out could be seen as wish fulfillment by the author, who was also tall and blond, and had fought in the swamps of Burma / Myanmar during the second world war.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is:

Three figures appeared out of the gathering darkness. Castellan Spandrell and Chancellor Goth walked side by side, Hildred following respectfully behind them.

When I reread it in 2007, I noted very briefly that it’s an average Terrance Dicks treatment of one of Robert Holmes’ best scripts, and there’s nothing much to add to that now. NB that “Hildred” in the book is “Hilred” on screen. You can get it here.

Andrew Orton’s Black Archive on the story is very meaty, with seven chapters and three appendices. Up front: I liked it a lot for shedding new light on a story I already love.

“Chapter 1: The Gothic Assassin” is the longest of the chapters, setting out Orton’s agenda. It leads with a consideration of the Gothic in Doctor Who of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes period in general, and of course in The Deadly Assassin in particular. There’s a whacking great indicator in the name of the main Time Lord villain. Even the opening rollover caption echoes the faux manuscript theme in Gothic literature.

“Chaper 2: The Noir Assassin” looks not only at the visible noir influence in the story but also as American and British political scandals: Watergate, Jeremy Thorpe, Harold Wilson’s resignation honours (announced the day the first episode was shown).

“Chapter 3: The Wartime Assassin” looks at the influence of the Second World War and the Cold War on British TV of the era in general, and on Doctor Who and this story in particular. Orton makes the point that the first twenty years of Doctor Who were dominated by the memory of conflict, Holmes in particular with his Burmese experience (it has been previously noted that he has a fondness for swamp planets with bubbling explosive gas). The second paragraph is:

The Second World War cast a massive pall over the first 20 years of Doctor Who, as it did over most of British culture. The Leisure Hive (1980) and Terminus (1983) were the series’ final real dalliances with War imagery, through their use of background radiation as a threat. Up until this point, the War permeated the series. Almost all of Doctor Who’s writers had lived through it (Douglas Adams was the first writer who hadn’t lived through at least a part of the War, although Chris Boucher was only born in 1943 and Graham Williams was born after VE Day but before VJ Day), and its influence informed and is present throughout the series’ first couple of decades. This tended to be shown in two strands: that of the totalitarian regime against which a resistance is formed, and that of the atomic bomb and the dangers of nuclear fallout.

“Chapter 4: The Symbolic Assassin” looks at the way in which the Time Lords mirror British society, especially parliament, and at the symbolism of the Matrix.

“Chapter 5: The Observant Assassin” reflects on the significance of the Panopticon and the Eye of Harmony; what are the Time Lords actually observing?

“Chapter 6: The Linguistic Assassin” looks at Robert Holmes’ inventive use of language throughout his Doctor Who career.

“Chapter 7: The Dangerous Assassin” points out that the story comes more or less at the half-way point of Old Who, and reflects that Holmes’ attempt to myth-bust the Time Lords resulted in yet more mythology.

“Appendix 1: Engines” reports briefly on the whereabouts of the four railway engines seen in Episode 3, all of which are still intact.

“Appendix 2: How Might the Eye of Harmony Actually Work?” unsuccessfully attempts to bring scientific rigour to a technobabble plot twist.

“Appendix 3: Observer Theory” looks at why it is that the Doctor (generally) has his adventures in order. Of course, we know the real reason, but it’s fun to try and put it in fictionally coherent terms.

In summary, Robert Holmes is the greatest Old Who writer, The Deadly Assassin is his greatest story, and this book is a great book because it provides further evidence for those uncontroversial opinions. You may be able to get it here.

Next, The Awakening.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

The Robots of Death, by Fiona Moore, and Chris Boucher, and Terrance Dicks; and Corpse Marker, by Chris Boucher

I watched The Robots of Death when it was first shown in 1977, and hugely enjoyed it as a nine-year-old. I have rewatched it several times since and still feel the same way. When I first blogged about it in 2006, I wrote:

The Robots of Death has worn pretty well. I had seen it twice before – the original showing in 1977 when I was 9, and I think again some evening about ten years ago watching someone’s video when there may have been booze and conversation as distractions. The robots themselves look superb – swisstone has commented on the origins of the design. I had not previously picked up the very interesting tension between Uvanov, the captain of the trawler, and the First Families representatives Zilda and Cass – it is an interesting inversion of racial politics, since Zilda and Cass are clearly of non-European origin, unlike the rest of the crew, but are also deferred to socially.

I had forgotten how good Louise Jameson is as Leela. She doesn’t steal the show – as always, that is centred on Tom Baker’s Doctor – but it’s a very interesting performance, I guess the only seriously physically assertive female companion bar perhaps Ace. My sister-in-law giggled manically at the line, “You talk like a Tesh!” for a reason that is only comprehensible if you know who my in-laws are. Which is why I think we’ll watch The Face of Evil next. (After catching up with Sunday’s Torchwood and re-watching yesterday’s Doctor Who.)

It’s also unusual to see a Doctor Who story which is quite so obvious in its homage to classic sf. As long-time readers of this blog well know, I hate cute anthropomorphic robots. But the Robots of Death, despite being designed to Asimovian specifications (at least as far as the First Law is concerned), are not cute at all, even if they are anthropomorphic. The one person who does think they are cute turns out to be the psychopathic murderer. There’s a moral there; are you listening, Mike Resnick? Also the mining machine on the surface of a desert planet is very reminiscent of Dune (though no sandworms here as far as we know).

The plot, of course, doesn’t stand up to a lot of scrutiny – as ever, the Doctor happens to arrive just at the moment of crisis, and the powers-that-be accept his credentials as a benevolent actor pretty swiftly (though it must be admitted not as swiftly as in some stories); and we find out who the villain of the piece is long before the characters do (though the Doctor seems to have worked it out). But it’s all done with great conviction, and the whole thing just looks fantastic.

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2010, I was still convinced, though more briefly:

The Robots of Death is another jewel of a story – Baker and Jameson on top form, a stellar guest cast, a claustrophobic and believable scenario, understated but convincing special effects. Gregory de Polnay’s heroic D84 stands out as a particularly great character – “Please do not throw hands at me!” – but everyone is good; Davids Baillie and Collings as baddie Dask and good guy Poul, and Russell Hunter as the besieged commander Uvanov, Pamela Salem as loosely-dressed Toos. And Louise Jameson, now playing Leela in a high-tech envornment, is just fantastic. I really found it something of a struggle to keep to my one-episode-a-day discipline while watching this.

It’s also interesting that The Robots of Death has a substantial aftertrail. Chris Boucher’s novel Corpse Marker takes up the story of the Doctor and Leela returning to Kaldor City to see what happened to the Sandminer crew, and there are then a series of excellent audios set in Kaldor City by Alan Stevens, Jim Smith, Fiona Moore, Daniel O’Mahony and Chris Boucher, including not only Uvanov but also Paul Darrow playing a sinister character who is obviously Avon under a pseudonym (Boucher was of course script editor for Blake’s 7). Strongly recommended.

Rewatching it again, I still think it is great. Why can’t Doctor Who, or indeed life, be that good all the time? You can get the DVD here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is:

‘This time,’ muttered Zilda.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote (briefly):

Doctor Who and the Robots of Death loses in the transition to the written page; the TV version just looks so memorable, and I think hints better at the background setting of Kaldor City.

Again I have little to add; where Dicks sometimes enriched the narrative for the printed page, here he simply transposed from the TV script. Not one of his more memorable efforts, but you can get it here.

On the other hand, I went back to Chris Boucher’s sequel novel Corpse Marker, and found it an excellent expansion of the Robots of Death continuity. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Watching them, the Doctor had begun to think that what one member of any particular group of six learned, the others in that group would also know. How the information was communicated within the group he was not yet sure and he could not tell whether there was the same communication between the different groups. Were they factory-produced clones? He wondered. Was each group of six effectively a multiple of one single individual? And was that the root of their mysterious powers of communication?

When I previously read it in 2008, I enjoyed it:

Corpse Marker takes us to Kaldor City and the three surviving crew members from The Robots of Death, several years on, in a complex web of political intrigue and threat. Once again Leela gets some good bits, and for once Boucher’s world-building is on form: Kaldor City feels pretty real, and there are a number of very visual moments. One of the characters actually has escaped from Blake’s Seven, but I think I missed that particular episode. My caveats about Boucher’s portrayal of the Doctor still apply, though.

Again, I don’t have much to add: perhaps one point is that we don’t often get to revisit a society after the Doctor has intervened and see what effect he has had. You can get Corpse Marker here.

Unusually for a Black Archive author, Fiona Moore has already contributed fictionally to the Robots of Death universe via the Kaldor City audios, which you can get here. So it’s not very surprising that she comes to the story with an even more positive approach than me, wanting to explain why it works so well, without explaining it away. She succeeds in this.

The first chapter, ‘The Robots of Death in Context’, starts with the big picture of 1970s arty TV, then zooms in on the Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who and then briefly examines some of the aspects of the story that make it work.

The second chapter, ‘Script to Screen’, delightfully finds that some of the best bits were added at the last moment, by the actors including Tom Baker.

The third chapter, ‘The Machine Man’, looks at the very direct impact of Expressionism on the design of the story, specifically through the classic film Metropolis. The second paragraph is:

There are three reasons why the design of The Robots of Death is effective. Firstly, it is of a high aesthetic standard; much of it could work out of context, simply as art. Secondly, it makes use of the common technique of using past design rather than ‘futuristic’ designs, which can wind up dating a story. However, above all of this, the past society being referenced was one whose interests and concerns harmonised with the themes of the story itself.

The fourth chapter, ‘Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Stupidity’, points out that contra some descriptions, the robots themselves don’t actually rebel; and finds roots for the story’s take on AI in the back-story of Dune.

The fifth chapter, ‘Class and Power in the Works of Chris Boucher’, looks at how these themes played out in The Robots of Death and in his other TV work, the series Blake’s 7, Gangsters and Star Cops and the two other Doctor Who stories (both of which have been Black Archived), The Face of Evil and Image of the Fendahl.

The sixth chapter, ‘Cast All Ethnicities’, makes the point that the story is ahead of its time in assembling a multi-ethnic cast and treating them equally, though the character of Leela is a little problematic.

The seventh chapter, ‘The Legacy of The Robots of Death’, lists at the various Kaldor-set sequels in print and audio (though curiously does not mention Moore’s own authorship explicitly, except in a footnote), and then also looks at the treatment of similar themes in the Ood stories of New Who, and Voyage of the Damned, Oxygen and Kerblam!.

All in all this is a good roundup of why the story is a good one, and it also spurred me to reread Corpse Marker. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

Horror of Fang Rock, by Matthew Guerrieri (and Terrance Dicks)

It’s Gallifrey One this weekend, and I’m travelling to Los Angeles today; the next few reviews here will accordingly be of my recent Doctor Who reading, starting with an old favourite seen through new eyes.

I remember vividly watching Horror of Fang Rock when it was first broadcast, kicking off the 1977-78 season of Doctor Who, keeping us entranced for the four weeks that it was on. I really enjoyed it then. On rewatching in 2008, I wrote:

Horror of Fang Rock is a very bleak and horrific story. Indeed, it made me reflect that for all his cuddly public personality, Terrance Dicks’ actual writing is often rooted in pretty horrific stuff – vampires, Frankenstein, King Kong, and his first ever story, co-written with Malcolm Hulke, was The War Games which surely has the bleakest ending of any classic Who.

This is the one with the Rutan, the electrical alien foe of the Sontarans which can change shape and indeed does so as it picks off the inhabitants of the light-house one by one. There is one actor of dubious talents, but fortunately his character is the first to die and the others all give it their best.

This is the last story in which we just have the Doctor/Leela Tardis crew, and it’s worth pausing to reflect that this was surely one of the greatest ever combinations, with a consistent run of four good stories (Face of Evil, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang and this one). Leela could so easily have been a one-joke character, but in Louise Jameson’s portrayal she is completely credible, always earthed in her own identity, able to clash and spark with the Doctor, playing the dramatic role of a companion as the one who gets things explained to her not because she is stupid but because she is different. She is the one companion who we see the Doctor trying to change and educate, and that somehow makes it all work much better. After watching the Troughton stories over the last year or so I decided I was a huge fan of Wendy Padbury’s Zoe; but now I see things in Leela that passed me by as a ten-year-old. (Meaning the integrity of her performance, of course.)

When I came back to it for my Great Rewatch in 2011, I wrote:

Horror of Fang Rock is a strong start to Season 15, with Terrance Dicks proving once again that he can actually write. Sure, it’s a base-under-siege story; but it’s one of the better ones, with everyone being killed off except our crew in the end.

It is a particularly good story for Leela, who is utterly exasperated by the screamy Adelaide (she does a brilliant eye-roll when Adelaide faints) and stuns the other Edwardians with her relaxed attitude to death; it makes her horror when Reuben-the-Rutan is unharmed by her knife all the more striking. It’s a bit un-Doctorish to wipe out the entire Rutan mothership as they land, but gives a satisfying bang at the end of the story.

I stand by all of that. A few more things struck me this time. We never actually find out the details of Palmerdale’s nefarious plan, except that it’s clearly indicated that it is dishonorable, and it’s also clearly indicated that Adelaide is more than a secretary. There’s an interesting untold story there. Also, the music is very good. Also, unfortunately, the Rutan is not all that well realised, a weak point in what is otherwise a strong story. Still, I realliy enjoyed rewatching it.

For those of us in the Worldcon community, one of the Doctor’s lines in particular has a strong resonance:

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation is:

‘That’s what happened, according to the Doctor. Massive electric shock, he said.’

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock is a case of Terrance Dicks adapting one of his own TV scripts, which gives him even more than his usual degree of confidence with the material, and he uses the opportunity to fill out the Edwardian background of the story rather satisfactorily.

I don’t completely stand by that judgement now. One point where the novelisation is consistently out of step with the TV version is that the Doctor is cheerful, funny and charming, whereas Tom Baker’s portrayal on screen is moody and Olympian. Baker apparently did not like Dicks’ script, and his bad mood carries over into his performance, but it makes it all the more watchable; this is not a funny story and a funny Doctor would have been jarring. Perhaps this is Dicks, again belying his cuddly reputation, getting obscure revenge on Baker. If you want to judge for yourself, you can get it here.

I keep on saying this about the books in this series, but with occasional exceptions it keeps being true: Matthew Guerreri’s Black Archive monograph is really good, taking us deep into the roots of the story. I have two minor complaints, and I’ll mention the first now: I wish it had been longer.

A prologue references the infamous Max Headroom incident of 1987, which Guerreri witnessed at first hand, and reflects on the manifestations of intrusion and discontinuity in the story. Like all of the chapters, it is prefaced with a literary quotation.

The first of four long chapters, dubbed “Part 1”, has the title “Technology and Character”. It starts with Robert Louis Stevenson’s credentials in lighthouse construction, goes on to E.G. Jerrome’s 1966 Lighthouses, Lightships and Buoys, compares the lighthouse crew and the production team to the Three Body Problem, looks at Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday’s contributions to lighthouse lamps, examines diamonds as a focus, explains Marconi, comes back to Robert Louis Stevenson on island life, and finishes on the timing of the Doctor’s presence on Fang Rock.

“Part 2: Time and Class” starts with Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse, quotes John Stuart Mill and Ronald Coase on lighthouse economics, ponders the fate of Palmerdale’s sailors and Skinsale’s ethics, returns to Virginia Woolf and her father Leslie Stephen and the letters Q and R, sticks with Woolf’s take on Einstein and her Orlando, detours a little to Roger Fry and the obscure late nineteenth century writer Grant Allen, and briefly considers the diamond again.

The second paragraph of “Part 3: Time and Terror” is:

In 1847, after taking up residence in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, mansion that had been George Washington’s headquarters during the war’s Boston campaign, Longfellow returned to Portland. He took a holiday at the Verandah, a new hotel that would help create Maine’s reputation as a vacation playground for well-off New Englanders. During that sojourn, the poet did not visit the Portland Head Light, but he did see the ‘Two Lights,’ twin towers at the southern end of Cape Elizabeth. Longfellow climbed to the top of the western tower to take in the views.

It starts with Longfellow’s poem, “The Lighthouse”, looks at the Rutan’s roots in Lovecraft and Verne, goes in detail into Lovecraft’s “The White Ship” and “The Color Out of Space”, considers why green should be so awful anyway, and briefly reflects on the Flannan Isles.

“Part 4: Fact and Fiction” looks in detail at Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera The Lighthouse, considers The War of the Worlds, reminds us about Dudley Simpson’s music, mentions the Tarot, looks at William Wilfred Gibson’s poem “Flannan Isle” which is (mis)quotred by the Doctor at the end, and finishes with a note about narrative.

A brief epilogue considers the story about a lighthouse left unfinished by Edgar Allan Poe at the time of his mysterious death.

There’s a lot here, and it expanded my list of books that I want to read (or re-read) much more than I really need right now. You can get it here.

My only other complaint, and it’s a small one, is that I’d have liked to see a nod to the Andy Frankham-Allen novel in the Lethbridge-Stewart sequence, Beast of Fang Rock, which is well worth a look (and you can get it here).

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

Warriors’ Gate, by Frank Collins (and John Lydecker / Stephen Gallagher)

I vividly remember watching Warriors’ Gate when it was first broadcast back in the cold January of 1981. I was thirteen, and knew that this was Tom Baker’s last season; but much of the actual story sailed over my head. My family were not the only fans in Northern Ireland. In Newry, a thirteen-year-old girl missed the last episode:

But her younger brother caught it.

That evening I too remember watching the “stupid Finnish film”, The Year of the Hare, and unlike NornIronGirl (but like her father) I loved it. (It must have been that evening, because that seems to be the only time it was shown on British TV when I was a teenager.)

When I rewatched Warriors’ Gate in 2008, I wrote:

I was surprised that I did enjoy Warrior’s Gate. A somewhat surreal plot line, with reflections on colonialism, empire and slavery, and also Romana’s extended farewell to the Tardis (for once, decently signalled in advance, more perhaps than for any companion since Victoria). Even Adric, for once, seemed to fit in reasonably well. Definitely worth watching again.

Coming back to it three years later for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

Warrior’s Gate is truly weird and wonderful. The slavery of the Tharils is pretty horrifying, but we understand that there’s an element of cosmic karma in that they were once the enslavers (and Rorvik in turn gets his cosmic come-uppance at the end). For a story which is mostly filmed in a blank studio, there is an amazing sense of place about it. I still don’t completely understand the plot but I somehow feel confident that the author did, and wasn’t just making it up as he went along. K9 and Adric get reduced to mere observers here – again, it’s a strong story for Romana, but of course it is her last.

This time around, I came to it having seen the whole of Secret Army and its spinoff Kessler, in which Clifford Rose, who is the chief antagonist Rorvik here, plays the vicious SS officer in charge of Brussels. (Rose died just over a year ago in Denville Hall.) He seemed to me to be turning in a very strong performance: like Kessler, Rorvik is stuck with a mission that many would find ethically unpalatable, in an environment that he doesn’t really understand, and his reaction to new factors tends to be suspicious and violent. But it’s different as well to see him as the head of a team; Kessler tended to have the SS adjutant of the week.

I was also struck by the parallel with the other Doctor Who story mainly filmed in a blank studio, the first episode of The Mind Robber, where the production team successfully made something out of literally nothing. The same trick is pulled off here, with a few more props. You wouldn’t want to do this all the time, but it’s interesting to see it done twice.

Rereading the original novelisation in 2008, I wrote:

This is really good, the best book of this run; Romana II departing in style. Lydecker / Gallagher seems almost to be writing a standard genre sf book that the Doctor, Romana and Adric happen to have wandered into – Romana wanting to wander off on her own, of course. (And K9 gets perhaps his best characterisation in any of the novels, even if he is out of order for much of the story.) Of course, with it being the printed page rather than the screen, the story has to be told in a rather different way; but the author, whatever his name is, really rises to the challenge.

Since then I’ve read Gallagher’s early hit, Valley of Lights, and actually passed him by a couple of times in the corridors at the February 2022 Gallifrey One convention; I wish I had stopped for a chat. The book still holds up, giving a bit more meat to the bones of the show-don’t-tell TV story, especially on the background of the slavers. You can get it here.

But but but… it turns out that in 2019 the BBC released a considerably expanded audiobook of the novelisation, so much altered that it is basically a different book. Read by Jon Culshaw, with John Leeson contributing the voice of K9, it gives us a lot more background and characterisation of the slavers and the Tharils, and mixes up the plot quite substantially. Culshaw is very good at the characterisation of the voices, though I think his Rorvik is actually a bit closer to Kessler than Clifford Rose’s was.

It’s not the only or even the strongest case where the novelisation departs from the TV script, but it’s the most recent, I think, and certainly the one with the biggest broadcast-to-publication gap. It’s well worth getting to shed a new light on the intentions behind the story, and gives new depth to the narrative. You can get it here.

I still don’t completely understand every aspect of the story, but I felt I had a much better grasp of it this time around, especially thanks to the expanded novelisation.

Frank Collins’ monograph on Warriors’ Gate is one of the longer and denser works in the Black Archive series. There are eight chunky chapters, preceded by an introduction that explores the problems of assigning authorship of the story to writer Steve Gallagher, script editor Christopher Bidmead, director Paul Joyce (who becomes a major figure in the narrative) and even John Nathan-Turner and Graeme Harper.

The first chapter, ‘A Medieval Mystery Play’, looks at the appointment of Christopher Bidmead as script editor, touches on the Christopher Priest affair (which I’ve heard from the other side) and then looks at the early career of Steve Gallagher as a radio script writer.

The second chapter, ‘The Dream Time’, looks at the origin and early versions of Gallagher’s scripts, shaped also by the Christopher Priest affair, and its roots in Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête and the TV mini-series Roots. It also turns out that Gallagher’s original scripts were funnier.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, ‘Aldo and Waldo’, with the quotation that it introduces, is:

Well known for his documentaries on filmmakers, actors and artists made by his company Lucida Productions, Joyce’s wider career spanned theatre, film, television drama, documentary, photography, painting and writing. In 1965, after two terms at The London School of Film Technique, he had used his final grant cheque to fund his first film The Goad, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s short mime play Act Without Words II, which he’d seen during an experimental programme of five short plays, Expeditions One, at the Aldwych Theatre in July 1964. He saw the play as a meditation on the relentless rituals of modern life, the empty passage of time ‘from birth to death presented in the simplest of terms. (Two sacks, each containing first, a dozy human, and secondly, a spruce, athletic one, are prodded progressively across the stage by a sharp metal object on wheels, “The Goad”).’2 Perhaps he saw that sense of relentlessness when he encountered the world of Rorvik and his crew in Warriors’ Gate. He also fastened onto one of Beckett’s recurring themes: rubbish. ‘Beckett’s identification of miscellaneous rubbish with the world, minds and bodies of his characters indicates its importance in his writing,’ and itwas a signifier of mortality and the modern world in many of his novels, theatre and radio plays. The tramps in his breakthrough play Waiting for Godot (1953) also inhabit a world of ‘hand-me downs, cast-offs and detritus’ where ritual and habit are bound up with change brought about by uncertainty3. Again, the rundown privateer is a tangible evocation of Beckett. Joyce’s work continued to incorporate elements of the absurd and surreal, a sensibility that he would detect in Gallagher’s scripts for Warriors’ Gate. This could perhaps be traced back to a formative moment in his childhood, when he saw a black-and-white film that was:
‘…a bit like that Laurel and Hardy one where they have difficulty getting a piano up the stairs […] only it was the delivery of a stereo or a radiogram, of enormous proportions, which was taken upstairs and delivered to a bachelor in his apartment. It was what he’d always been wanting, he plugs it in, twiddles around with it, listens to the music. Magnificent. Then he thinks it’s time for a bite and he goes to switch it off. Switches it off and the music continues. Hits the thing. And the fucking thing won’t stop. In the end, he smashes it to a pulp. How about that for a surreal situation? That gave me film and a Beckett kind of situation.’4
2 Joyce, ‘Guinness with Godot’, unpublished essay emailed to author, 20 April 2018.
3 Bates, Julie, Beckett’s Art of Salvage: Writing and Material Imagination, 1932-1987, pp6-9.
4 Joyce, interview with author. Our efforts to identify this film have been unsuccessful.

The third chapter looks at the career of director Paul Joyce, his work with the plays of Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett, and his first TV drama, Keep Smiling. It then goes in detail into the changes made by Bidmead and Joyce to Gallagher’s scripts, and explains how we have ended up with two very different novelisations – John Nathan-Turner having forced Gallagher to rewrite the original version (now the audiobook) to be closer to the story as broadcast for publication in 1982.

The fourth chapter, ‘Fade to Grey’, goes into as much detail as is possible given the fading of memories and lack of records about the difficulties faced by Joyce in directing the story. This was his first (and as it turned out only) multi-episode TV assignment (indeed most of his subsequent IMDB credits are documentaries). It’s clear that he was unprepared for the demanding time scales required of Doctor Who story production; it’s less clear to what extent others had to step in to help him out; it’s very clear that John Nathan-Turner never wanted to see him again.

The fifth chapter, ‘Cinematic and Videographic’, looks at the extent to which Joyce brought film productions values to Warriors’ Gate, including the costuming as well as the cinematography, and the extent to which it fitted within the New Romantic Zeitgeist.

The sixth chapter, ‘Going Against the Grain’, looks at the impact of the films Last Year in Marienbad, Dark Star, Orphée and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the cinematography of Warriors’ Gate. An interesting quote from Clifford Rose indicates that he saw Rorvik as much closer to Dad’s Army‘s Captain Mainwaring (Secret Army is not mentioned).

The seventh chapter, ‘The Impeccable Realism of Unreality’, looks more deeply at the two Cocteau films, La Belle et la Bête and Orphée, and at their impact on the plot concepts in Warriors’ Gate. (It is also noted that La Belle et la Bête experienced similar production difficulties in post-war France.)

The eighth chapter, ‘The Individual Confronted by the Desolate Universe’, looks briefly at the design of the story by David H. Smith, especially the eponymous Gate, and what it symbolises and is derived from.

A brief conclusion reflects again on the question of authorship, and applies it to New Who, especially Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver.

As I said, this is one of the longer, richer books in the Black Archive series, and will certainly help those of us who are still trying to get our heads around Warriors’ gate, forty-two years after it was first broadcast. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

The Clockwise War, by Scott Gray

Second frame of third story (“A Religious Experience”, by Tim Quinn and John Ridgeway):

I had bought this in hard copy ages ago, and had not appreciated that the title story, a Twelfth Doctor / Bill Potts adventure, is a direct follow-on from the previous Twelfth Doctor volume, The Phantom Piper, which I have not read yet. The arc also depends quite heavily on continuity from earlier stories in Doctor Who magazine, most of which I had read but long ago.

But I got over it and very much enjoyed the title story and the collection as a whole. There is a whole arc about Cybermen, which comes close to making them interesting. There is a First Doctor story, a couple of Fourth Doctor stories, and a Fifth Doctor story by Paul Cornell. There are some interesting endnotes by the writers and artists, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, and why. I still wish I had got the previous volume but I don’t regret reading this. You can get it here.

This was my top unread English-language comic. Next in that pile is Alternating Current by Jody Houser et al, a Thirteenth Doctor volume, but I may have to reassess my approach.

The Face of Evil, by Thomas L Rodebaugh (and Terrance Dicks)

Next in the excellent sequence of Black Archive books on Doctor Who.

I remember vividly watching The Face of Evil when it was first broadcast at the start of 1977 (the first episode was shown on New Year’s Day). I loved it then and I still like it now. When I rewatched it in 2007, I wrote:

The Face of Evil was broadcast in 1977 between two other excellent Fourth Doctor stories, The Deadly Assassin and The Robots of Death. It features the introduction of new companion Leela, played by Louise Jameson, a warrior woman of a primitive far-future clan descended from the crew of a crashed spaceship. She had a difficult act to follow, and perhaps it’s as well that we had the companionless Deadly Assassin and a month’s break to help us get over the departure of Sarah Jane Smith (and more about her in a coming post). But she really does seem right for the part from the word go, as a new kind of foil for Baker’s Doctor, a woman confident in her own culture and not afraid to engage with the new and unknown.

The story itself is good rollicking stuff: hinges on one of my least favourite devices, an untelevised earlier adventure, but that aspect is brought unashamedly into the story at the end of the first episode and done well and unapologetically. The name of the other tribe who are enemies of Leela’s people causes some amusement in this household. (I must stop playing the litany when the in-laws are visiting.)

When I got to it in my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

And, even if Sarah Jane is the greatest of Old Who companions, we then hit Leela’s introduction in The Face of Evil. This is the first time we have had a new companion who does not arrive in the the first story in the season since The Wheel In Space; indeed the first time we have had a new companion other than in the first or last story of the season since The Highlanders, so it’s a disruption to the normal cycle of these things, just as Leela herself is a disruption – primitive, instinctual, sexy and violent. Just watch the clash of characters between Jameson the professional method actor and Baker the accidental instinctive actor, as the relationship develops. Last month’s Doctor Who Magazine ran an interview with Louise Jameson, where she reflected that she hadn’t quite realised that Leela was a sexy character at the time. We’ll hold over discussion of that point until next month.

The other thing to notice about The Face of Evil, viewed in the sequence of fourteen years of Old Who, is that it seems rather a riposte to The Savages from eleven years before (a story which was incidentally also followed by a story written by the same author about homicidal machines). I haven’t seen any serious questioning of Chris Boucher on this point, but it seems to me that the parallels of Elders/Savages vs Tesh/Sevateem, the playing around with absorption of the Doctor’s personality, and even the use of a hand-held mirror to reflect a death ray at a critical plot moment are a set of references to the older story. They are both jolly good scripts, and both repay the casual viewer (or, sadly, listener in the case of The Savages) even now.

I am ambivalent about references to unseen adventures; Terrance Dicks dealt with this in the novelisation by explaining that the Doctor went for a spin during the events of Robot and ended up dealing with Xoanon, which isn’t perfectly satisfactory but is better than we get from the screen version. My other reflection, more personally, is that as it happens my wife’s maiden name was Tesh, so certain lines from this story have extra entertainment value in our household. At least for me.

Rewatching it again, I still like it. In these days when people have been getting all upset about Doctor Who continuity (much more so than in 2010 when I last commented), it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a whole unseen adventure here that the story depends on, and the franchise moved happily on.

Though this time I wondered where all the other women are; we see only male Tesh, and the Sevateem have one woman warrior whose voice can be heard in the group chants, played by Barbara Bermel but uncredited. (She also plays the younger of the German women in the famous Fawlty Towers episode, again uncredited.) One of the voices of Xoanon is Pamela Salem, who had a more visible role in the following story.

Speaking of the voices of Xoanon, here is one of my own very few contributions to Doctor Who research. Spurred by reading a now-deleted story that the youngest of the voices was provided by “seven year-old Anthony Frieze, who had won a Design-A-Monster competition administered through the BBC exhibitions at Blackpool and Longleat”, I got in touch with someone called Anthony Frieze who confirmed that it was him and that otherwise almost every part of my source was wrong:

…as you have worked out I was older than the website records. In fact I was almost 11 in September 1976 (or “1876” as T[om] B[aker] dated a poster of his he asked me to sign). I have also seen references to winning a competition which may have been the way the director of the Face of Evil series explained my selection. In fact the explanation is somewhat more “young boys’ club”, as it were. The director, a chap called Pennant Roberts – if I recall correctly – had a wife who was a teacher at my school (Belmont Primary School, Chiswick) and she suggested my name having heard me read at assembly. No competition, as such that I was aware of. I had to re-record the the “Who am I” as I had the wrong emphasis.

I hope this has corrected some of the Dr Who lore.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of the story is:

Leela looked at the box in awe. ‘That keeps away the phantoms?’

When I most recently reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Face of Evil has a couple of interesting differences: Leela is actually portrayed as young, vulnerable and, well, girly in a way that is inconsistent both with the TV story as shown and with the other books. Also, of course, we have the explanation of how the Doctor’s face became the Face of Evil, as the result of a solo adventure shortly after his regeneration.

Not much to add apart from that; it’s one of Dicks’ less adventurous novelisations.

Thomas L Rodebaugh has written one of the more adventurous Black Archive books, however. He is a Professor and Clinical Training, Psychological and Brain Sciences at a mid-western American university, and has brought all of his professional expertise to bear on the story. The result is not really the book I wanted to read about The Face of Evil, but it’s clearly the book that Rodebaugh wanted to write, so I enjoyed it more as a gateway into someone else’s passion than as a stimulus for my own thoughts.

The first chapter, “The Face of Evil and the breakdown of the bicameral mind”, argues that the setup of the story strongly reflects the theories in Julian Jaynes’ 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Some plausible points are made before he admits that there is simply no way that the writers and production team could have read and absorbed Jaynes’s book before making the story (the scripts were commissioned in January 1976 and delivered before the summer). He then argues for his own preferred personality model (the OCEAN aka Big Five model) and insists that by applying psychological theory to Doctor Who, we learn more about both. It is an interesting argument, but I am not completely convinced.

The second chapter, “Why psychology and why The Face of Evil“, briefly develops this further, calling attention to Christopher Boucher’s other work.

The third chapter has the title, “Ideas of madness”. Its second paragraph is:

If we start with whether Xoanon’s ‘madness’ is accurate, we have an immediate problem of determining what is meant here by ‘mad’. There are at last two different ways that the word is used in popular fiction. It is often used to signal that the person being labelled is beyond reason in a moral sense. This usage is aligned with what used to be called ‘moral insanity’: an affliction in which a person understands morality and the world, but makes choices without concern either for how those choices will affect others or the self1. The very term ‘moral insanity’ suggests that it is not the same as insanity without a qualifier, which historically referred to the condition of having a severe lack of understanding of reality. Thus, a person who kills because it seems fun is morally insane, whereas a person who kills due to a false belief that he or she is being attacked is simply insane.

It goes into some depth in an effort to diagnose Xoanon’s psychological afflictions, concluding that in fact Doctor Who in general is not very good at depicting mental illness and tends to go straight to stereotypes. (Vincent and the Doctor is consigned to a footnote.)

The fourth chapter, “Implicit bias and production design”, turns (thank goodness) away from psychology and looks instead at Leela. Was she based on Leila Khaled? Why did they insist that Louise Jameson wear contact lenses to change her eye colour to brown? Was her skin colour in fact deliberately darkened by make-up so that she would look more savage? To what extent is the story deliberately based on Harry Harrison’s Captive Universe? And where are all the Tesh and Sevateem women? None of these interesting questions is really answered, apart from the Captive Universe one where the answer is “not much”.

The fifth chapter looks a bit more at potential sources for and influences on the story; the films Forbidden Planet and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Harry Harrison’s Deathworld trilogy. Rodebaugh speculates that Brian Aldiss told the BBC about Harry Harrison, though I think BBC executives would have found plenty of his work in any nearby bookshop. Once again, he turns around at the end and says that looking for specific sources (other than Captive Universe) is a waste of time. This rhetorical device annoys me. I would rather be told up front what the author is trying to prove, rather than try and follow an argument for a dozen pages only to be told that the point is something completely different.

An appendix attempts to apply the OCEAN personality analysis to the different Doctors and to other Whoniverse characters.

A second appendix consists of an interview with Chris Boucher, which is really interesting though the key points have already been covered in the main text.

And finally, a third appendix looks at the massive continuity problems within the story. What about the Doctor’s previous visit? What’s the weather like on Leela’s home planet? And, again, where are the women?

It will be apparent that this is not my favourite of the Black Archive books, but I want to be fair and it will likely appeal to others more than me. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)

Directed by Douglas Camfield, by Michael Seely

Second paragraph of third chapter:

They worked on the seventh floor of Lime Grove, assigned to different film editors. This was the same building where Alfred Hitchcock made The Thirty Nine Steps twenty years before when it was the Gaumont British Picture studios. Perhaps it was a portent for the future of the film industry when the BBC had bought tip and converted the studios in 1949. Situated in Shepherd’s bush, the building was on a cramped and enclosed site and the only way to expand was up. Lime Grove Studios became a multi-levelled rabbit warren of a building, easy to get lost in and was not much loved by those inside. Try as they might, the people who worked here in the 1950s find it very hard to describe the place as magical. Further down the road at Wood Lane, something magical had been postponed.

A couple of years ago, I read a biography of Robert Holmes, the greatest of Old Who’s writers; this book looks at the life of Douglas Camfield, one of the greatest of the Old Who directors (the top three must be him, David Maloney and Christopher Barry – and Camfield directed more episodes than either of the other two).

I found it a really fascinating read. Seely has hunted down as much information as he can about every single TV episode that Camfield ever directed. He knows his audience, so he has concentrated particularly on Doctor Who – the stories we now know as An Unearthly Child, Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Time Meddler, and most of all The Daleks’ Master Plan; and also The Web of Fear, The Invasion, Inferno, Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. Those alone would be a fantastic legacy.

But Seely is very good at taking us into the world of the director, to the point that you can almost smell the static electricity in the studio gallery and the manure on location. Not every BBC director was as meticulous or professional as him; at the same time, he seems to have been genuinely charming, always bringing his guitar to finish the evening singing with those of the cast and crew that wanted to. (Though he also had his musical blind spots, and repeatedly refused to hire Dudley Simpson for incidental music.)

Camfield had a loyalty to a certain group of guest actors who tended to pop up in many of his productions, but in general they were good. This included his wife, Sheila Dunn, who got a small part in the Dalek’s Master Plan and a larger part in Inferno; though I remember her best as the daughter of Kessler, in the sequel to Secret Army, which had nothing to do with Camfield. Incidentally Bernard Hepton, the star of Secret Army, started his career as a director before turning to acting and was a peer of Camfield’s on the BBC training courses.

He did his best to move away from being typecast as a police and science fiction serial specialist, but did not quite success. He directed Duel, one of the great Blake’s 7 episodes, and the first episode of Shoestring and two others. His only close co-operation with the great Robert Holmes was not Doctor Who but the 1981 series The Nightmare Man, based on the novel Child of Vodyanoi by David Wiltshire; I have fond if scary memories of it forty years on, and would love to get hold of a copy.

Camfield’s health was always a problem, and he had to be taken off the Doctor Who story Inferno after a couple of episodes when he suffered a heart attack. Another heart attack hilled him at the age of 52 in 1984. Unlike Robert Holmes, who had sadly run out of steam when he died a couple of years later, one feels that Camfield was still innovating and finding new things to do, though he would have refused to return to Doctor Who. We must be grateful for what we have. This is a good book, with occasional rough edges. You can get it here.

Full Circle, by John Toon (and Andrew Smith)

Gradually working through the excellent Black Archive series of short monographs on Doctor Who stories, I have reached another Old Who story which I watched on first broadcast. When I rewatched Full Circle in 2008, I wrote:

Imagine if you were a 19-year-old fan and submitted your script idea to Doctor Who and it actually got accepted… again, I was surprised by how good Full Circle actually is, bar Matthew Waterhouse. Quite a sophisticated plot, both in terms of rebels vs establishment and in terms of the scientific hand-waving; and lots of nasty tension involving threats to Romana and the Tardis. The Gallifrey stuff at the beginning does seem a bit bolted on, and it’s one of the drawbacks of this season that it is dealt with a bit inconsistently.

When I came back to it in 2011 for my great Old Who rewatch, I wrote:

I think this may be a recurring theme in this post, but Full Circle was also much better than I remembered. This month’s DWM ran an interview with author Andrew Smith, who was only 18 at the time the story was made, and thus a cause of immense envy to all Who-watching teenagers such as myself (both then and also now, though I am no longer a teenager). Smith admits that the story underwent considerable massage by script editor Christopher Bidmead, but of course that actually helps to give it a certain unity of style with the rest of the season.

Rewatching it this time, I was not quite as satisfied in some ways – the science behind the plot doesn’t really make a lot of sense even in its own terms, and for a supposedly hard science script it draws on horror movie tropes to an extent that I found uncomfortable. However I particularly enjoyed Paddy Kingsland’s incidental music, and it was also interesting to see James Bree, recently escaped from Secret Army, in one of his three Doctor Who roles, as well as George Baker, who was Tiberius in I CLAVDIVS.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the novelisation is:

Amid all the relieved, frightened, and numbed faces, Nefred and Garif, overseeing the boarding operation, perceived Halrin Login, Keara’s father. Login was a respected man, a wise man destined perhaps one day to be a Decider.


When I first reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Hmm. Smith is of course determined to give his own script a fair wind, but the end result is not very special; it is one of those rare occasions when the book doesn’t quite do justice to the special effects of the original series. Of course he gives us a bit more background to the Alzarians and their origin – or not – on Terradon, but if anything it rather confuses the picture.

Coming back to it now, I think this was a bit harsh of me. Smith does the descriptive bits perfectly adequately, and does his best to add colour to the background, without spoiling it by trying to add realism to the pseudoscience. You can get it here (for a price).

John Toon’s Black Archive essay on Full Circle is largely about the intellectual ideas behind the story. I’m coming to realise that while this is a perfectly valid approach, I find the Black Archive volumes giving the inside scoop on the creative choices made in the production of the story much more interesting. This is partly because I have previously dealt with the history of ideas in my own career, and moved on, and partly because often (as in this case) Doctor Who slightly muffs the landing for big philosophical debates.

Anyway, it’s a perfectly decent book as this very good series goes, and it won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Professional Production/Publication in 2019.

The first chapter makes the intriguing argument that rather than thinking of the Nathan-Turner era of Old Who, we should think of the Bidmead, Saward and Cartmel eras, the script editors being much more important than the producer in terms of content; and that Full Circle is the point where the Bidmead era really begins, after two stories at the start of the season which were leftovers from the previous regime.

The second chapter takes us through theories of evolution, which as previously mentioned is something I have done before; my Ph D supervisor was Peter Bowler. So I did not learn much from it.

The third chapter explains the Gaia hypothesis at some length, and reflects on its impact – or lack thereof – on the story line. I had forgotten that Lovelock’s book came out only the previous year, 1979. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Lovelock used the name ‘Gaia’47 to refer to this system of chemical feedback loops, partly because it had all of the convenience and none of the ugliness of an acronym, and partly to make the idea more relatable for his readers. The downside of this is that the reader might too easily suppose Lovelock was depicting the Earth itself as an intelligent being, personifying it by naming it in this way. In his preface to the 2000 edition of the book, Lovelock insists that he was simply exercising poetic licence for the benefit of his non-scientist readers, but not all of his readers drew a distinction between the poetry and the science. In the decades that followed its publication, Gaia was scorned by the orthodox scientific community and hailed as a visionary text by the New Age contingent of the environmental movement.
47 The name of an ancient Greek goddess personifying the Earth; as Lovelock admits in his opening chapter, the name was suggested to him by his neighbour William Golding (Lovelock, James, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth p10).

The fourth chapter points out that most of the “science” in Full Circle is pretty magical.

The fifth chapter tries (largely unsuccessfully) to find a social critique in the story’s presentation of progress, both evolutionary and scientific.

The sixth chapter looks at the importance of Adric being a teenager, and the presentation of teens and kids in Who at the time, while omitting any assessment of Waterhouse’s performance in the role.

The seventh chapter, one of the best, looks at the Marshmen in the context of cinematic monsters and finds much inspiration from the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

An appendix makes the slight point that it’s interesting when fans start to get involved with the production of the show.

Full Circle will never be one of my favourite stories, and I’m afraid this isn’t one of my favourite Black Archives either; I wanted more info on how the story was actually made, and way certain things were done or not done in the course of production. But John Toon is entitled to write the book he wants, which may not be the book I want. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56)