Kinda, by Frank Collins (and Christopher Bailey, and Terrance Dicks)

I vividly remember watching Kinda when it was first shown in 1982, and being a little baffled but also a little reassured; I wanted interesting adventures on distant planets, like we had largely had in the Tom Baker years, and apart from the one production fail of the snake itself, we got it.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I wrote:

I also saw Kinda on first showing in 1982, and in some ways it is even less comprehensible than Logopolis, though in other ways it is fairly clear what is going on – giant pink snake trying to penetrate Tegan’s inner recesses, and all that. It is one of Doctor Who’s most successful takes on colonialism (a theme the Pertwee era consistently tried and failed with) even though that isn’t really the point of the story. Wood and Miles point to the influence of Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, and while I can see that, I think it may be a more general reflection of the ecological concerns of the day. The deep themes are laid on pretty heavily – the apple in paradise, the reflections of the “real” world in Tegan’s dream, and on the whole we are shown rather than told about it. There are some impressive performances – Janet Fielding as Tegan of course, the three colonial officers (though we never find out what happened to their missing colleagues) the two Kinda women and the Trickster, which means you can almost overlook the cheapness of the sets and how wooden Adric is. Rather fascinating.

When I rewatched it in 2011 as part of my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

I had forgotten quite how fantastic Kinda is. Even the snake at the end is not as bad as I remembered. But it’s a brilliant tour de force of explorations of reality, possession by spiritual forces, possession by colonial agents, about speaking and not speaking. Again, Janet Fielding is the best of the regular cast, but everyone is good, especially of course Simon Rouse as the increasingly deranged Hindle, and Mary Morris – only in two of the four episodes, but bloody hell, what a performance – as Panna. But nobody is actually bad; Nerys Hughes and Richard Todd, big name actors hired to perform auxiliary parts, lift it; even Matthew Waterhouse, delivered with yet another Adric-as-potential-traitor script, more or less rises to the occasion; and though I see some fan criticism of Sarah Prince as Karuna I must say I find her performance pretty luminous and interesting.

It does show the value of watching Who in sequence. Taken as an attempt at a serious big-picture SF story, it would probably fail because of the limited means available. But when one bears in mind the production constraints, and considers the story as a televised theatrical piece, it really ought to blow you away. I don’t have time or energy to wax more lyrical on the subject, so just let me refer you to a brilliant write-up of the story here. [link now long dead].

Just before we go any further, here is Mary Morris 42 years earlier at the age of 25, performing the dance of the robotic Silver Maiden in The Thief of Baghdad:

As with Paradise Towers, I enjoyed revisiting Kinda, and it almost reminds me of the early Hartnell stories which were trying to tell big picture space parables in a fairly small production and budget space. Adric is still annoying, and the snake still disappoints, but the rest of it all works very well, and this was a rewatch that was more rewarding than I had hoped.

An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with four women guest characters and at least one regular (Nyssa only in briefly, but two versions of Tegan), all of whom talk to each other about various things other than men.

Terrance Dicks wrote the novelisation, and it’s not one of his more energetic efforts. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

She stared challengingly at this new apparition. ‘I suppose you’re also going to tell me I don’t exist?’

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Another standard write-up, not doing any favours to a story whose impact was visual and implicit.

Nothing to add to that. You can get it here.

Frank Collins’ Black Archive monograph on the story follows his previous writing on Warriors Gate and on the first Matt Smith season. As usual, it is dense but enjoyable, one of the longer Black Archives, with seven chapters. Like the monograph of Paradise Towers, it has clearly benefited from a lot of dialogue with the original writer of the story, in this case Christopher Bailey.

The first chapter, ‘An Eccentric Chain-Smoking Buddhist’, looks at Bailey’s personal biography and other work, and convincingly shows how a mild-mannered but politically radical playwright who had not previously touched science fiction ended up writing Kinda.

The second chapter, ‘Only Ever One Ingredient in the Stew’, looks head-on at the Buddhist themes in the story (and the limited visibility of Buddhism elsewhere in Doctor Who).

The third chapter, ‘The Important Part is the Melody’ looks at the behind-the-scene story of the commissioning and production of Kinda. In particular, Eric Saward as script editor rewrote large parts of the last two episodes, and Christopher Bailey then rewrote them again. Its second paragraph is:

However, changes were made to the scripts of The Kinda under the guidance of three different script editors. After his initial consultation with Bidmead, apart from several phone calls and letters, Bailey doesn’t recall meeting in person with him again. Bidmead later saw that Bailey was exploring a ‘strong Buddhist element’ on his own terms and while Kinda ‘lacked the form and structure and indeed the sort of subject that I thought was essential to Doctor Who […] nevertheless, it had an extraordinarily haunting quality to it’3.
3 Bidmead, ‘Dream Time’.

The fourth and longest chapter, ‘The Power of Life and Death, Over All of You!’, starts by looking at the casting of Richard Todd and Simon Rouse and the postcolonial context (unfortunately he says nothing about Nerys Hughes), and goes on to look at theories of ancient science, and then sources of inspiration such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with a brief coda on cargo cults.

The fifth chapter, ‘Otherwise Out There Gets In. Do You See?’, looks at Hindle’s disintegration, Christianity and imperialism, matriarchy and the Box of Jhana, and the Mara and Janet Fielding’s sensuous performance.

The sixth chapter, ‘The Mara Turns the Wheel of Life. It Ends as it Began’, begins and ends with the Box of Jhana again, and also looks at the unfortunate fact that all the actors are white and how this intersects with the colonial themes, and at the uncomfortable role of prophecy in the story.

The seventh chapter, ‘There is Great Danger in Dreaming Alone’, looks at dark places (Conrad again), the imperfect implementation of Bailey’s vision for gender roles among the Kinda, and the late rewrites of especially the last episode to foreground the Buddhist themes more visibly.

I sometimes complain about the Black Archives on less good Doctor Who stories, that they cannot bear the freights of the interpretation placed on them by the Black Archive authors. This is not one of those cases, and it’s a great rick unpacking of the themes informing the story and how they were realised on the screen. (Though I’d still have liked a bit more about Nerys Hughes.) 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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

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.

https://twitter.com/nwbrux/status/1085625887578640384

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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

The Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Jonathan Morris (and Terry Nation, Terrance Dicks and “Alan Smithee”)

When I first watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth in 2006, I wrote:

Bought this in London last week. Excellent value – six Hartnell epsiodes of classic story, plus various mini-documentaries, including a short silent film shot by Carole Ann Ford on her last day as Susan (featuring William Hartnell with no wig and looking ten years younger).

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is good – in fact, the first three episodes are excellent, with the Dalek coming out of the river at the end of episode one, and episode three a real high point, with the scenes of the Daleks in London, wandering past Westminster, congregating in Trafalgar Square, and patrolling the Albert Memorial (having obviously somehow got up the steps) particularly effective. That is also the episode where Susan tells David of her feeling of dislocation: “I never felt that there was any time or place that I belonged to. I’ve never had any real identity.” And the incidental music is great – I hadn’t heard of the composer Francis Chagrin before but he was apparently a well known film composer; shall look out for his other work. There is a real feeling of occupied Europe resisting the Nazis (and I write this in a village which experienced that directly rather than just in the cinema).

It is a bit let down by episode four, with no Doctor in sight and the rather rubber-suited Slyther, and the Daleks’ actual plan when revealed stretches our suspension of disbelief. But the pace is kept up (especially by Jacqueline Hill as Barbara).

And finally the departure of Susan. Beautifully done, the first time that a member of the regular cast had left the show. “Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine,” says the Doctor, promising to return, but we know he never will.

When I rewatched it in sequence four years later, I wrote:

After a couple of frankly ropey sf stories (The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites) we have a very marked improvement with The Dalek Invasion of Earth. As with Planet of Giants, we are on familiar English territory, but this time warped by the passage of time rather than perspectives of scale. There are lots of brilliant moments here, and the whole is for once equal to the sum of its parts. The impact of the Dalek emerging from the Thames at the end of the first episode is slightly lost if we know what the name of the whole story is, but several people who saw it first time round in 1964 have picked this as the most memorable moment in all of Old Who. Myself, I just love the sequence of Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun dodging Daleks across London to Chagrin’s haunting tortured incidental music in the middle of episode 3; I could watch that again and again. And at long last, as she leaves, Carole Ann Ford is called upon to do some acting, and rises to the challenge. Susan’s departure scene is really rather moving, especially watching it (as I now have done, and as original viewers had to do) as the 51st episode in sequence rather than the last of a vintage 6-part DVD. One point lost on 1964’s viewers that strikes one forcibly today is Peter Fraser’s eerie resemblance, as David Campbell, to David Tennant (who of course was not born until 1971).

Since then of course I’ve also watched the great 1970s TV series Secret Army, which is about the German occupation of Belgium; it’s possible that Gerald Glaister watched Doctor Who in 1964, but both stories are drawing from a common well of war narratives. I enjoyed watching it again, and the scene of evading the Daleks in the third episode is thrilling every time.

Terrance Dicks’ novelisation was, I think, the very first Doctor Who book I bought for myself, shortly after it came out in 1977, at the Blackpool exhibition. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

When he’d grabbed Barbara at the steps, he’d released her almost at once, saying he’d just wanted to make sure she didn’t scream. ‘They’ had their patrols everywhere, and he’d already carried Susan to shelter so she wouldn’t be spotted.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth leans a bit on the Peter Cushing film as well as on the originally broadcast story. Its most remarkable innovation, and improvement on the screen version, is the Daleks’ pet monster, the Slyther, which is much more terrifying on the page. But unfortunately a lot of the good bits of the TV story – the desperate chase across a deserted London in episode 3, and even the Doctor’s farewell to Susan at the end – are truncated and lose their effect. It’s still a good story but this comes across rather in spite of than because of Dicks’ efforts.

I was not entirely fair here. The opening paragraph is one of Dicks’ real crackers:

Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man. His clothes were tattered and grimy, his skin blotched and diseased over wasted flesh. On his head was a gleaming metal helmet. He walked with the stiff, jerky movements of a robot—which was exactly what he had become.

And the prose is taut as 150 minutes of screen time are condensed into 142 pages. The cover is fantastic too (and unrealistically raised my ten-year-old expectations for the look of the original TV series). You can get it here.

This is one of only two Doctor Who stories to have been converted to the big screen, as a film starring Peter Cushing as the human scientist Doctor Who, Bernard Cribbins as policeman Tom Campbell, and Roberta Tovey and Jill Curzon as Dr Who’s granddaughter Susan and niece Louise. I had seen it on TV as a kid; when I rewatched it in 2010, I wrote:

It is much inferior both to the original six-part TV Dalek Invasion of Earth and to its own predecessor which I reviewed earlier. Somehow where the TV series succeeded in making the sets appear a realistic future occupied England, the big screen fails to do so; the sequences around the mines are particularly striking, where the original show achieved five times the effect for perhaps a tenth of the money. The music is often terrible, though of course the TV version had some of the best incidental music ever to feature in Who. Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey, returning from the previous film, are much less effective; the more striking performances are Jill Curzon as Dr. Who’s niece Louise, Philip Madoc as a short-lived black marketeer, Andrew Keir as a Scottish freedom fighter, and particularly Bernard Cribbins as Tom Campbell, a 1960s policeman who accidentally enters Tardis thinking it is a police box and gets swept forward to 2150.

I have some suggestions as to why this film manifestly fails where its predecessor did not, and where the TV story succeeded. First off, the TV series has an ensemble of regular characters with established relationships; the film loses time and momentum setting that up (and also has no particularly good reason for it). Second, the switching round of the narrative strands fails to work in the film’s favour. Here, Tom and Louise, rather than Ian and a local, head up to Derbyshire in the Dalek saucer; and Dr. Who and granddaughter Susie travel by land separately rather than together. (Susie follows roughly the route of Barbara on TV, accompanied by Weir’s Scottish resistance fighter.) Opportunities are missed to generate much spark between Tom and Louise, let along their terrestrially travelling friends. Of the good scenes from the TV story, only Dortmun’s last stand and the treacherous women in the woods survive, and are done less well. (The women are played by Eileen Way and Sheila Steafel.) Finally, the geology of the Daleks’ plan actually – and this is difficult to believe – makes less sense than the original TV version.

Rewatching again, the changes to the narrative annoyed me even more. But on the other hand I appreciated the thrill of seeing Doctor Who in colour, years before the TV show got there (in 1970).

Along with the Black Archive sequence, Obverse Books have produced four “novelisations” of films starring the Peter Cushing Doctor, only two of which were actually made of course. The author is the pseudonymous Alan Smithee. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘Run,’ Dr Who whispered under his breath. ‘Run!’ he said again, far more forcibly this time.

The mysterious “Smithee” has done well here, adding quite a lot of background detail about a number of the human characters and how their lives were affected by the Dalek invasion – something that I now realise is missing from the Dicks novelisation (unlike his books with more contemporary settings). You can get it and the other three here.

Before I get to the main business, I’m also going to mention the recent Big Finish play, After the Daleks, which I listened to recently and will write up properly Real Soon Now. It’s set in the aftermath of the Dalek defeat, and features Susan and friends attempting to reconstruct society. Some monsters are human in shape. You can get it here. Edited to add: Silly me! I had already written it up.

LibraryThing tells me that I have 42 books and audio plays by Jonathan Morris, and I know I have not been diligent about logging my audio collection there, so the real total is a bit higher. I really loved his early Big Finish play Bloodtide and his Fourth Doctor novel Festival of Death, but this Black Archive monograph on The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the first non-fiction that I have read by him.

Unlike most of the other Black Archives, this concentrates largely on the development of the script and the story in its various iterations. Morris does enlarge on something I had learned from the DVD commentary. Originally the character of Jenny, played by Ann Davies (whose husband was Richard Briers), was to be a much younger Anglo-Indian girl, played by Pamela Franklin, who was then only 14, and would have ended the story replacing Susan by stowing away on the TARDIS. But the BBC bureaucracy screwed up on the contracts, and it didn’t work out.

On the one hand, it would have been great to have a non-white companion forty years before Martha Jones. On the other, we may have dodged a bullet: my impression is that Pamela Franklin, though born in Japan, has exclusively European ancestry, so she would have needed make-up for the role, which would have been very dubious indeed. She hit the big time a few years later as one of the pupils in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The books has the following chapters, all fairly short:

  • An introduction where, like me, Morris reveals that the novelisation was the first Doctor Who book he ever bought (he was seven, I was ten)
  • Chapter 1, “The Return of the Daleks”, looking at the instability around the show and its place in the BBC in mid-1964, and the role of the Daleks in securing its future;
  • Chapter 2, “Doctor Who and the Daleks’, looks at the roots of the story in war stories, H.G. Wells and Earth vs the Flying Saucers;
  • Chapter 3, “The Invaders”, looks in detail at Terry Nation’s original script. The second paragraph, and the quote it introduces, are:

Nation’s delivery date for his draft scripts was 19 June. The existing paperwork doesn’t record when he delivered them, but it seems reasonable to assume that he didn’t deliver them before that date. Interviewed in 1973 2, Nation recalled:
‘I was in demand from all sides, besieged by offers to write comedies, plays, science fiction. We worked out that there was some work of mine shown on television for 40 weeks out of 52 that year. Fortunately I work very fast, and work best under pressure. The [Doctor Who] scripts became my Saturday job. They were written one a week, each Saturday.
2 For the Radio Times Special celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary.

  • Chapter 4, “Serial K”, looks in detail at the changes made by David Whitaker to the script;
  • Chapter 5, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, looks at the changes to Whitaker’s script made by director Richard Martin and others as it was being filmed;
  • Chapter 6, “The Daleks are here!”, briefly looks at the way the story was marketed;
  • Chapter 7, “Daleks Invade Earth”, looks at Milton Subotsky’s original draft of the film script;
  • Chapter 8, “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD“, looks at how the shooting script differed from Subotsky’s original draft;
  • Chapter 9, “Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth“, looks at Terrance Dicks’ novelisation;
  • and Chapter 10, “Legacy of the Daleks”, looks at how this story more than almost any other has been referenced explicitly and implicitly in later Doctor Who stories, both on and off screen. The book was written before the 2021 Big Finish play After the Daleks, but references among others Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?, a BBC play in which she returns to our time and becomes a European Commissioner.

So, all meaty stuff, 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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)

The Time Warrior, by Matthew Kilburn (and Terrance Dicks)

When I first watched The Time Warrior in 2007, I wrote:

The Time Warrior was the first story in the eleventh season of Doctor Who, over December 1973/January 1974. More significantly, it was the first outing for Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a role she played until October 1976, the longest continuous run of any companion (and longer than some Doctors had on screen). (Reprised, of course, in 1981 in K9 and Company, 1983 in The Five Doctors, in various Big Finish and other spinoffs, and last year in School Reunion; now getting her own TV series at long last.)

She gets a good introduction, stowing away in the Tardis to investigate the disappearance of scientists, who as it turns out are being kidnapped by time machine by an alien Sontaran who needs them to repair his spaceship which has crashed on Earth in the Middle Ages. (Of course, when they meet again in School Reunion, the Doctor is once again pretending to be Dr John Smith; not, as we now know, for the last time either.) I felt she was a bit screamy compared with the Sarah Jane Smith we came to know and love later on, but in contrast with the awful Jo who came before she is a vast improvement.

There’s also an interesting conversation in Episode 2 between the Doctor and the Sontaran commander Lynx with significant continuity implications. Apparently this was the first time that the Doctor’s home planet had been named. But it’s also interesting that the Sontarans have been considering it as a military target, a plan which comes to fruition in The Invasion of Time in 1978.

Anyway, not one of the great Robert Holmes stories, but not bad at all.

Coming back to it in 2010 for my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

The Time Warrior has the difficult task of introducing the first new companion for three years. But it is also the first story with a historical setting since The Highlanders, which incidentally was also the introductory story for a long-lasting companion (Jamie), which in itself is rather a good signal that the show is still capable of pulling surprises (which is just as well, considering the disappointments in store later in the season). The medieval stuff – Dot Cotton and Boba Fett in alliance against the bad guys – is actually rather well done, to the point that you don’t realise that there is only one castle playing two roles. The Sontarans are off to a good start, and there’s a satisfying bang at the end as the castle blows up.

It’s interesting to note that Sarah actually looks rather boyish here – pageboy haircut, understated bust, wearing trousers rather than skirt – which reinforces the point that the companion is meant to be the audience identification figure, and perhaps makes her easier for small boys to relate to than the much more girly Jo would have been. One can’t take this too far – she is certainly femme rather than butch – but it strikes me that after the first seven seasons of regular characters who just happen to be hanging around the Tardis and the Doctor, we have here the consolidation and further development of the Jo Grant dynamic.

One further character note about the Doctor – we have a bit of a reshaping of the role of the Time Lords here, as galactic ticket-inspectors; and this is also the story where the Doctor says he is serious about what he does, but not necessarily the way he does it. Unmoored from the UNIT setting, this is a new Pertwee in some ways, and we are allowed to sympathise with Sarah to a certain extent when she mistakes him for the villain rather than the hero of the story.

Rewatching once more, a couple of points struck me. First, immediately after the rather drab location shooting of The Curse of Fenric, here things seem much better co-ordinated and coherent. Alan Bromly is not at the top of many people’s list of favourite Doctor Who directors, but (unlike Matthew Kilburn, but we’ll get there) I think he delivers the goods.

Second, the script is neutral but heading towards positive on Sarah’s feminism. The Doctor looks like an ass in the first scene with her when he tells her to make the coffee. There’s a funny moment when she tells the kitchen wenches that they should not be living in the middle ages, just before realising that they have no choice. But to have a character articulating these views at all is (sadly) a step forward. (I also wonder if the wenches had been hiding or hidden when Lynx arrived; it’s clear that Sarah is the first woman he has seen.)

Third, Elisabeth Sladen is really nervous in her first scene as Sarah. We know now that Pertwee had been awful to her in rehearsal, saying how sorry he was that Katy Manning had left, almost as awful as the Doctor is to her in the script. The scene gives context for Sarah thinking the Doctor must be the villain, but one can also sympathise with the jitters of an actor who had just been given her breakthrough role, but with a star who had already had one potential candidate sacked and had made it clear he wished she was someone else. (Pertwee came round in the end, but the production team had already decided to dump him and keep her.)

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

Linx went to the cellar door. It was closed and locked but he made no attempt to open it. ‘Linx!’ bellowed a hoarse voice from the other side. ‘My lord Linx, will you open the door?’

When I last read it in 2008, I wrote:

Somehow despite the apparently favourable conjunction of DW’s most prolific TV script writer (Holmes) and the most prolific novelisation writer (Dicks), it rarely seems to gel, and this is a typical example: an unexceptional Dicks novelisation of a decent Holmes script, supposedly in this case with Holmesian participation. The Sontaran commander Linx (rather than Lynx) and the myopic Professor Rubeish both get a little more characterisation, but it’s otherwise standard stuff.

It is interesting that both this and the next story are about the bad guys shunting people between the present and the past.

I now accept that this was unfair of me. There are a lot of nice little moments in the novelisation that were missed from the TV show, including Mary, Hal the archer’s girlfriend, whose lines were completely cut from the screen. After a marathon of Pertwee novelisations in 2008, I think I may have been getting a bit fed up with Dicks’ prose, but in isolation it reads much better. You can get it here.

As with the author of the last Black Archive that I wrote up, Matthew Kilburn is a friend, amd as with Una McCormack on The Curse of Fenric, this monograph has made me reassess several aspects of the story positively, though starting from a higher base in that I liked it more to start with.

An introduction points out the rarity of stories set in the historical past at that time of Doctor Who, the most recent having been The Evil of the Daleks, six years before, and also discusses the uninventive style of director Alan Bromly (where as mentioned above I think there is a decent case for the defence).

The first chapter looks at The Time Warrior as a war story, reflecting on Holmes’career both as s soldier in Burma and as a writer for the patriotic boys’ magazine John Bull, but also considering the Vietnam War which was raging at the time.

The second chapter looks at the story’s aesthetic, coming down firmly on the Gothic side of the fence, considering also The Castle of Otranto, Ivanhoe, Frankenstein and the TV series Arthur of the Britons.

The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The above paragraph offers a brief description of a character who could be either the Doctor or Linx. The parallels are obvious, especially with Spearhead from Space; but so are the objections. While Irongron and his men saw Linx’s vessel cross the sky and fall to Earth, the UNIT officer and her technician saw Nestene energy units, not the TARDIS. The UNIT personnel identified an enemy, while it’s Irongron who finds an ally. However, this latter statement is open to challenge, and it’s part of the Doctor’s function in this story to point out why.

The chapter looks at how Lynx and the Doctor parallel each other, alien wizard/scientists working with local Earth military/political leaders, but also looks at how Lynx portrays racism and colonialism.

The fourth and final chapter looks at Sarah as a character, and the way in which she is both a new and a traditional companion figure for Doctor Who. Her feminism is a character trait; it’s not funny, but it’s not shared by others either. The chapter looks at the story of Elisabeth Sladen’s casting, and also at the changes between script and screen which slightly eased the gendered elements of the story.

A conclusion reflects again on The Time Warrior as a post-imperial story, and how its themes are reflect in other Who stories which Holmes had a hand in.

The whole thing is well worth getting 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: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | 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) | The Girl Who Died (64) | 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) | Flux (63)