Friday, 19 January 2018

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis Part Three

Cyberleaders in 1980s Doctor Who have a reputation of over-using the word "Excellent!" but I think this mainly comes from 1982's Earthshock when it is said by the Cyberleader 13 times.

In contrast, he says it only twice in Silver Nemesis, and both uses occur early on in part three, when things seem to be going well for the cybermannys and he has a chance to enjoy himself. They are the last two examples in this video:

Karl pretends to betray De Flores so he can join the cybermannys and this makes the Cyberleader decide to make both Nazis into cybermannys instead of killing them. The Cyberleader is confident that they will soon get the silver bow, to which De Flores replies:
"From the Doctor? Don't delude yourself. He is no common adversary. Do you think he'll simply walk in here and hand it over?"

Now on the one paw, how does De Flores know this, or indeed anything at all, about the Doctor when he only met him once back at the end of part one? On the other paw, the Doctor is obviously an adversary beyond the wit of the Nazis to defeat, seeing as how he stole the silver bow out of their special case without them noticing. So maybe De Flores is basing his assessment entirely on this?

Anyway the very next thing that happens is that the Doctor walks into the room holding the bow. This moment of comic timing is followed by a bit of business where the Doctor and Ace evade the cybermannys' clumsy attempts to take the bow from them until the Doctor can give it to the statue momentarily, then he takes it away again and they both run away back to the TARDIS while the cybermannys are confused and, as a result, completely fail to capture or kill them.

The Nemesis wakes up, and screams...

... and then a model somebody made of Lady Peinforte's tomb explodes!

Lady Peinforte hears the scream and says
"Fear not, Richard. It is the Nemesis come alive."
Then we see that maybe the cybermannys' plan from part two did work after all, it just took a while to become obvious, as Lady Peinforte goes mad and says
"All power... all power past, present and future shall be mine. Why, I shall be mistress of all of that is, all that shall be, all that ever was... yes all! All!"

The Doctor and Ace go back to 1638 again for yet another scene that really shouldn't be here. There is no need for the Doctor and Ace to have gone back to Lady Peinforte's house on three separate occasions when they could have done everything on the first visit - no new clues are picked up by the Doctor and nothing happens there to move the story forward. The Doctor plays chess against someone who makes their moves in between the scenes, but this bit makes no sense.

On this last visit Ace takes the gold coins that were the fee to Lady Peinforte's murdered henchmanny, and which she will shortly make use of, but there is no reason she could not have done that earlier except that the viewers would have had to remember about it for longer.

Richard tries hitch-hiking back to Windsor, unsuccessfully, until Lady Peinforte stops a car by standing in front of it.

Karl frees De Flores from the cybermannys, thereby demonstrating the most cunning either of these characters have shown in the whole story.

Now back in 1988, the Doctor leads the Nemesis to a great big room where he properly gives it the silver bow at last. Meanwhile there is some comic relief from Richard when he gets confused by the American in the car that they got a lift from.

"I am beautiful, am I not?"

The Nemesis speaks to Ace in a haunting, ethereal voice that adds to its mystique even more than its pure white-silver appearance with empty black eyes. It doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but what it does say hints at its origins so as to complement the suggested backstory of Lady Peinforte and the Doctor. In particular
"It is only my present form. I have had others which would horrify you. I shall have those again."

The cybermannys come in and Ace fights them with the gold coins that she fires from a catapult, and which their pewpewpew guns are no match for. This cleverly foreshadows their eventual defeat by the Doctor, with the inert metal gold of the coins that are launched from a primitive weapon symbolically reflecting the high-technology living silver of the Nemesis that will be their final undoing.

Or maybe it is that the cybermannys are just a bit rubbish?

"We ride to destiny!"
"We surely do, honey. We surely do."

Meanwhile there is some more comedy from Lady Peinforte and the American in the car, and while this is pure padding, as the earlier scene with Richards was too, they both manage to reveal more of Lady Peinforte and Richard's personalities by showing their reactions to a character who comes from completely beyond their frame of reference.

As well as her lethal gold coins, Ace tricks two of the cybermannys into shooting each other. Because she is busy fighting the cybermannys, Ace misses the Doctor's conversation with the Nemesis. It wants freedom, but the Doctor says "not yet," which is an unexpected response coming from him and hints at a darker side to his involvement in this story.

The Doctor destroys two cybermannys with the rockets from the Nemesis's comet spaceship, leaving only the Cyberleader. De Flores and Karl come in and take the silver bow but then the Cyberleader comes in and kills them. So much for the Nazis. I suppose Donald Trump can console himself with the fact that they went out in a marginally more dignified manner than their counterparts in The Blues Brothers.

Lady Peinforte and Richard come in. The Doctor holds the bow and both Lady Peinforte and the Cyberleader want it, with the idea being established that whoever the Doctor gives the bow to will control the Nemesis.

"Doctor who?"

All the hinted at backstory of Lady Peinforte, the Nemesis and the Doctor comes to a head, as Lady Peinforte threatens to tell the Doctor's secrets if she does not get the bow. Sophie Aldred is on great form, looking genuinely scared as Ace asks how Lady Peinforte knows the Doctor's secrets in the first place. The answer is as simple as it is evocative:
"The statue told me."

Unfortunately for Lady Peinforte, the only mannys there for her to tell are Ace and the Cyberleader, and he is more concerned with getting the Nemesis, so the Doctor calls her bluff and hands the bow to the Cyberleader, who then tells him to launch the Nemesis into space.

Lady Peinforte does not take losing well, and so she jumps into the statue and is absorbed by it before the spaceship takes off. Using the tape deck they watch the Nemesis go and blow up all the cybermanny spaceships, because the Nemesis obeyed the Doctor's orders, not those of the Cyberleader.

The Cyberleader is about to kill the Doctor and Ace when Richard takes Clarke's Arrow from the TARDIS and stabs the Cyberleader with it. In this way, Richard redeems himself, and so the Doctor and Ace take him back home to 1638 in the TARDIS.

In the last scene the Doctor and Ace recap the story for us.
"So you sent the Nemesis off into space to draw the Cybermen so you could finish them off."
"I suppose I did. How clever of me."
"Just like you nailed the Daleks."
That last line is a bit too close to the truth, isn't it?

Where did it all go wrong?

Silver Nemesis is not the worst Doctor Who story evar, but it is the biggest missed opportunity.

Despite having a plot that possesses a strong resemblance to that of Remembrance of the Daleks - I could sum them both up as 'multiple factions of baddys chasing a MacGuffin that turns out to be a trap set by the Doctor a long time ago' - Silver Nemesis is three-quarters the length and yet appears to have more padding than the longer story. (And it was just two stories earlier, which makes this much less forgivable than if there had been a greater gap between them.)

In part that is because Remembrance of the Daleks is better at disguising its padding, wrapped up in the 1960s setting and the pseudo-UNIT supporting characters of Group Captain Gilmore and his friends. Silver Nemesis, conversely, seems to draw attention to its padding - even when the scenes are enjoyable ("Social workers!") you are always aware that they are not vital to the plot.

Remembrance of the Daleks is also far more successful in its minor characters. Compare Mr Ratcliffe to Herr De Flores - since both serve a similar purpose in their respective narratives - we learn only a little more about Ratcliffe's motivation than we do about De Flores's (they both have exactly one scene each where they give us exposition about their backstory) and yet Ratcliffe easily seems the more rounded character of the two. As far as Silver Nemesis is concerned, De Flores is a baddy because he's a Nazi and a Nazi because he's a baddy, and that's all we know and all we need to know.

Where Silver Nemesis does succeed is in the two vital characters of Lady Peinforte and Richard. Richard goes on a complete journey over the course of the story, from a simple, villainous henchmanny to a bewildered time-traveler (he is essentially Lady Peinforte's Companion), to confronting his own mortality, and finally to an act of redemption.

Lady Peinforte, meanwhile, is one of the most intriguing baddys in all of Doctor Who, simply because her unseen backstory is so mysterious. (Actually that's not quite true... being played magnificently by Fiona Walker helps a lot as well.) However, it is probably for the best that she was killed off at the end of the story and did not become a recurring baddy like Davros or the Master, as it is highly doubtful that the mystery could have been successfully sustained over multiple appearances* - we have recently seen, in Steven Moffat's era of Doctor Who, that not all writers have the skill to pull this off, and that if one continually hints and teases at dramatic secrets and revelations, eventually he has to deliver a payoff worthy of the build-up or else risk looking like the little manny who cried "wolf!"

(On the subject of Steven Moffat, it is clear that the awesome-but-vague powers of the Nemesis as a Time Lord weapon were a big influence on his version of the Time War, in particular "the Moment" as seen in Day of the Doctor.)

Still, for this one story Lady Peinforte is easily the best thing about it. The core of the story is her struggle with the Doctor, with the other two factions of baddys being merely a distraction - the Nazis are shown to be out of their depth as soon as the cybermannys turn up, and even the cybermannys are heading straight into the Doctor's trap all along.

This leads me to a big part of the problem with the story - the different elements do not work together at all well. There are a lot of disparate ideas - not just in the three diffring baddy factions, but in the minor parts such as the jazz musicians, the mannys at Windsor castle, the robbers, or the American in the car - but not enough is done to tie them all together into a single thematic whole.

On top of that, with the Doctor and Ace keeping out of the way for so much of the plot's duration, there is a curious lack of a sense of peril to the story - even when fighting multiple cybermannys at once, there is not the feeling that Ace is in much actual danger. But then the one time there is a sense of threat is when Lady Peinforte confronts the Doctor and threatens to reveal his secrets - a psychological threat, rather than a physical one. The conflict here is on a different level from most Doctor Who stories.

This difference makes Silver Nemesis a very memorable story, but as a celebration of Doctor Who's 25th birthday I am left feeling it ought to have been memorable for better reasons than that.

* In the end Lady Peinforte is killed off without revealing any of her secrets. This should by rights be an anticlimax - we don't even find out why she was a baddy and an enemy of the Doctor's, never mind any of the things she claimed she knew about his past. But there is another TV series that once successfully pulled off the trick of ending without answering any of its own questions, proving that it doesn't always have to matter.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Raumpatrouille - Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion


German Star Trek.

That is the simplest way to describe Space Patrol - The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion, although it doesn't really do it justice. Made in 1966, all seven episodes would have been broadcast before Star Trek's first season had finished airing in America, and before it ever made its way across the Atlantic.

Supposedly cancelled for being "too militaristic" (according to the TV Tropes Wiki article), Space Patrol was about the fantastic adventures of the spaceship Orion, captained by Major McLane. He and his crew fight the mysterious alien Frogs, who are more like the aliens from a Gerry Anderson series than the sort normally encountered by Captain Kirk.

In the first episode they are in trouble for being mavericks, and so Lt Jagellovsk is assigned to the Orion to try and stop them - and especially McLane - from being mavericks by increasing the levels of UST aboard the Orion. It takes until episode five before McLane and Jagellovsk kiff, proving that McLane is nothing like Captain Kirk (as it would have taken him about half an hour).

The aesthetics of Space Patrol are more like old, pre-1960s sci-fi B movies than that of Star Trek, helped a lot by it being in black and white. I was also reminded of Space Year 5000 from The Daleks' Master Plan, and can easily imagine McLane working alongside the likes of Bret Vyon or Sara Kingdom.

As well as the fantastic adventures of the spaceship Orion, there are also a number of scenes showing us the different perspective of McLane and Jagellovsk's superior officers back on Earth. These are interesting and well used in the context of the series, as we see them debate topics that are relevant to the Orion's mission for that episode but that are also allegories of 1960s issues - such as which mannys should be evacuated in the event of the Earth being destroyed (obviously after all cats first), and whether a preemptive strike against another planet is justified, both relating to the real world fear of nuclear war.

Each episode is very tightly plotted, with plenty of tense moments. The last two are particularly good, featuring very clever baddys who stay one step ahead of McLane and his crew up until the very end. One is a mad scientist trying to escape from a prison planet that could have come straight out of a Terry Nation episode of Doctor Who or Blakes 7, and the final episode features an alien invasion by infiltration that has shades of Star One, over 10 years before Chris Boucher thought of it!

I had never heard of this series until recently, probably because it has several strikes against it to prevent it from being as famous as Star Trek. First, it is in black and white. Second, they only made seven episodes of it, less than a tenth of the number of Star Treks even if we don't count the animated series or the films. Finally, and probably most importantly, everybody in it speaks German. Of course none of these are strikes against the quality of the programme itself, but they are all factors practically guaranteed to lessen its fame in English-speaking countries.

Fortunately, a version with English subtitles has been made available on YouTube, and I am very glad I had a chance to see this series because it is an amazing example of the sci-fi genre.

Oh, and it's theme music is amazing as well...

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Ice Station Zebra

The film Ice Station Zebra, 50 years old this year, is forever linked to the series The Prisoner by the presence of Patrick McGoohan, who took time away from the one to make the other, infamously leading to Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling being as bad as it is.

Not only that, but also his character in this is very similar to that of Number Six (and, not coincidentally, that of John Drake* from Danger Man) - a British secret agent, secretive, used to working alone and keeping his thoughts to himself. And like in The Prisoner he has no name given in this, since "Jones" is stated to be a codename. He even thumps a table at one point, although I didn't notice if it broke any saucers.

I can't tell if nobody told McGoohan he wasn't supposed to be the main character, or if somebody did and he thought "we'll see about that!"

Two and a half hours may be a pretty standard length for a movie these days but in 1968 it seems it was felt an intermission was required at the halfway point. How fortunate then that the story has two clearly identifiable halves - the journey of the submarine to the titular ice station, and then what happens when they get there.

So the journey there is structured almost like the opening of an Agatha Christie murder mystery - we are introduced to all the main characters, almost one-by-one, get to know them as they establish their relationships with each other - who knows who already, who trusts who, and who doesn't - all within the confines of an environment that none of them can leave, in this case a US Navy nuclear submarine on its way to a rescue mission. Then, instead of a murder, we get an act of sabotage, and the revelation that the saboteur must be one of them. (Technically the sabotage could have been set up back at the naval base, but then my comparison doesn't work so just go along with it. Anyway, the saboteur does turn out to be one of them so it's fine. Mew.)

The submarine scenes are, while not slow, quite leisurely, dialogue-heavy, character-building scenes alternating with scenes of the submacrewmen going about their business, and interspersed with cinematic shots of the submarine surfacing or diving as required. The goal here is not so much to build suspense - although it does, in a kind of claustrophobic way - but to make the sudden moment of action when the sabotage goes off seem all the more unexpected for us the audience as well as the characters.

The sabotage itself is dealt with with only one fatality among the crew, so when the intermission comes it is hardly a cliffhanger moment (in fact the interval is placed at a moment of calm between events), but the identity of the saboteur remains unknown and is carried forward as a mystery for the second half.

Part two is itself divisible into two sections – the first is all action, all the time, as our heroes leave the matter of the saboteur in their midst aside to battle against the arctic environment for their survival. The bit where some of the mannys fall into an ice crevice and have to be quickly rescued before it closes up and traps them is the sort of adventure serial stuff that Terry Nation would (and did) put in his Doctor Who stories whenever he got the chance.

Once they reach Ice Station Zebra itself it lets up slightly, but only slightly, as the cast divides up between those helping the survivors (and questioning them about exactly what happened there, allowing the exposition to come out somewhat naturally), and those searching for the MacGuffin – a set of satellite photos that would give the possessing nation a huge advantage in the Cold War, as McGoohan explains to Rock Hudson’s character in a lengthy scene of pure exposition. At least McGoohan has the skills to pull this off, helped by some good-natured back-and-forth with Hudson about whose country is most to blame for the Soviets getting their hands on the technology.

Speaking of the Russians, the second half of the second half kicks in when they turn up, having waited for the weather to clear before flying in. For the good guys, the fight for survival against the elements is replaced by the fight to survive against an overwhelming force of Soviet paratroopers.

The identity of the saboteur is revealed to us before the rest of the characters, building suspense very effectively and leading to the film’s most shocking moment where McGoohan is tricked into shooting the wrong manny!

But after that the film rather loses its momentum – not helped I’m sure by McGoohan’s character being injured and having to take a back seat for most of the last act. The stand off between the Russians and the Americans is stagily directed, with the Russian commander standing around explaining the situation in simple, unambiguous terms lest there be any confusion as to what is going on. The resolution is at least reasonably well foreshadowed, with Hudson possessing a device to ensure neither side wins – a destruct switch that Terry Nation would have been proud of, although I’m sure he would have added a countdown or two in there also.

* "Jones" obviously isn't Drake or Number Six since he keeps a gun under his pillow, something neither of them would ever do. He could maybe be Curtis from The Schizoid Man though...

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis Part Two

Part two kicks off with a big impressive fight between the Nazis and the cybermannys, which the cybermannys win easily because they have pewpewpew guns and the Nazis (in contravention of a number of science fiction genre tropes) do not.

Lady Peinforte joins in the fight by shooting a cybermanny with an arrow and it goes
Meanwhile Richard is still scared.

The Doctor says
"A Cyberman killed with an arrow? But that's ludicrous!"
Thus preempting the cries of Doctor Who fans down through the years since this was made.
"Unless, of course, the head's made of gold. The only substance to which they're vulnerable."
he adds, so that's all fine then. The Doctor recognises the arrow as being one of Lady Peinforte's, so now he knows she is here. In the confusion of the fighting, the Doctor steals the silver bow from out of De Flores's special case, and Lady Peinforte and Richard spot the Doctor so now they know he is here too.

Lady Peinforte knows it is the Doctor as soon as she sees him, so that means either he met her since his last regeneration or else she has the ability to know him no matter what he looks like.

Lady Peinforte shoots an arrow at the Doctor and Ace as they run back to the TARDIS but it only hits the indestructible TARDIS door, where it sticks out of it ready to come in useful later on in a classic example of Clarke's Arrow (a dramatic device named after the writer of Silver Nemesis, Kevin Clarke).

De Flores and his son Karl are the last surviving Nazis on the scene, so they run away with the special case, not knowing the bow is not inside it any more. The Doctor and Ace go back to 1638 Windsor for a pointless scene that they could easily have done earlier, but the pacing and editing of this middle episode are not as tight as they maybe could have been.

Lady Peinforte and Richard wander around 1988 Windsor in their 17th century clothes looking cool but very conspicuous. Two mannys mistaik them for "social workers" and try to rob from them, which does not end well for the mannys since Richard is finally able to comprehend a situation that is not so different from his own time - what he does to them happens off screen, but they are next seen by us tied upside down from a tree wearing only their pants, lol!

This bit is, at first glance, pure padding the same as the scene with the Doctor and Ace in 1638, but it actually serves an important purpose in showing Richard's emotional journey coming to terms with his situation. Also it show that Richard is not to be fucked with.

By now back in 1988, the Doctor and Ace use the jazz music from part one to jam the cybermannys trying to send a message to their reinforcements in space. Then they find the two mannys in the tree, who still think Lady Peinforte and Richard were social workers. Teh satires!111

Lady Peinforte and Richard are following the arrow pulling them towards the main body of the Nemesis, which at the end of the fighting was taken by the cybermannys. They see Richard's gravestone, which Lady Peinforte recognises at once for what it is, and this scares Richard even more than he was before.

"He saw worlds end and begin."

Lady Peinforte has her own tomb, a much bigger one, nearby. This is where the cybermannys have taken the Nemesis. Unlike Richard, Lady Peinforte is not at all worried about being near or even in her own grave - she is more annoyed by not finding the Nemesis inside.
"My lady, where are your bones?"
"What matter?"

The cybermannys are confused that Lady Peinforte has not been driven mad by "the fact of her death" and then their plan goes even more wrong when Richard shoots one of them with a gold arrow and so the rest retreat.

The Doctor and Ace find the cybermannys' spaceship and Ace blows it up with Nitro Nine. This serves to keep them away from the main plot while the antagonist factions fight each other. The Doctor takes this opportunity to give Ace (and us) some more exposition about the Nemesis:
"Listen, Ace. The Nemesis generates destruction. It affects everything around it. I launched it into space, but unfortunately with an orbit that brings it back to Earth every twenty five years. Take the twentieth century. It appeared in 1913."
"The eve of the First World War."
"Twenty five years later?"
"Hitler annexes Austria."
"Kennedy assassinated."
Only two stories ago, Remembrance of the Daleks featured a MacGuffin superficially similar to the Nemesis in the form of the Hand of Omega. But while the Hand of Omega was a Gallifreyan "remote stellar manipulator" that, in the wrong hands, could be used as a powerful weapon of mass destruction, the Nemesis is an actual Time Lord weapon, "created as the ultimate defence for Gallifrey, back in early times." The way the Doctor describes its powers to Ace makes it sound like the One Ring: what exactly it does is vague, but so strong it influences events even when it is not actively being wielded, and everybody wants its power for themselves sooner or later.

De Flores and Karl do a deal with the cybermannys but obviously both sides plan to betray the other as soon as they have taken the Nemesis back from Lady Peinforte. De Flores and Karl run in to capture Lady Peinforte, but Richard distracts them by giving in so quickly - surrendering both the statue and the silver arrow - that he and Lady Peinforte can escape down her tomb's secret passage.

The statue comes to life long enough for its hands to grasp the arrow. Still mostly unseen but glowing like a ghost out of Dark Towers and accompanied by incidental music to match, combined with the Doctor's earlier warnings of its power, the Nemesis already has a strong presence at the heart of the story.

De Flores thinks he has won but his special case is empty (he and Karl do a comedy double-take when they find out) and so he still lacks the bow to have the complete statue. The cybermannys come in and betray him.

With the tape deck they are using to jam the cybermannys, the Doctor and Ace see the cybermannys have a lot more spaceships out in space. This is an attempt to end part two by upping the stakes to make the story look and feel a bit more "epic" in scope, but it is not a very successful way to conclude the episode as it lacks any sense of immediate peril for our heroes and the stakes have not been raised in any meaningful way.

Part two of Silver Nemesis is a mixed affair. It contains too much padding and it feels like the Doctor and Ace are separated from the main storyline for too much of the time, even if this is technically necessary to allow for infighting between the baddy factions and for the Doctor to have the time to give out vital exposition.

But the scenes with Lady Peinforte and Richard in them are excellent, and really well acted by Fiona Walker and Gerard Murphy. We may only be two episodes into their story, but they have already become two of the most interesting supporting characters in all of Doctor Who that aren't played by Paul Darrow. I am left wanting to see more of them and know more about them.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis Part One

Silver Nemesis is President Donald J Trump's favourite Doctor Who story.
It is the third story of season 25 and was specially themed around silver to celebrate Doctor Who's 25th birthday, which is why it has cybermannys in it because they are silver, or at least look silver. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace.

Silver Nemesis has an unusual structure in that there are three separate sets of baddys as the antagonists to the Doctor and Ace. We are introduced to two of these groups at the beginning of the episode but the third is kept back for a surprise reveal at the cliffhanger ending, although I have already given away who they are.

The episode begin with a caption:
South America
22nd November 1988
We hear Wagner's music playing and see a manny with an '80s computer. Herr De Flores is about to shoot a birdy with a bow and arrow when he gets some "wonderful news" from the manny with the computer. We don't get to know what the news is yet, maybe his computer game has finally loaded? (I am too young a cat to get this joke, but I am reliably informed that it makes sense if you are old enough to remember the 1980s.)

Windsor, England
(thanks to a second on-screen caption for keeping us informed) Lady Peinforte and Richard - played by Fiona Walker and Gerard Murphy, the former was in I Claudius as Agrippina and was also in Doctor Who all the way back in Sentence of Death, the latter was the Narrator of The Lord of the Rings - are also playing with bows and arrows and about to shoot a birdy. This cleverly parallels what De Flores was doing in the previous scene and establishes a thematic link between them, even though they haven't met.

Lady Peinforte has a silver arrow. They are about to leave her house but we don't find out where they are going yet, just as we don't know what De Flores's news was. This helps build up suspense over the first few scenes.

De Flores makes a speech to his henchmannys in which he mentions "the fuhrer" and then they toast "the fourth reich" so as to make it as clear as possible that they are Nazis. De Flores has a silver bow as well as a special case to keep it in.

The Doctor and Ace are listening to music when the Doctor's alarm goes off to remind him to do something that he has forgotten to do, but then he can't remember what it is he has forgotten, silly Doctor! Then they get shot at by some mannys (perhaps to encourage them to get on with the plot, there are only three parts to this story after all) and run away back to the TARDIS.

Lady Peinforte and Richard plan to kill Lady Peinforte's other henchmanny just to make it clear that they are baddys as well, since you have to work quite hard at that when one of the other factions in your story is Nazis. They drink a magic potion to travel in time from 1638 to 1988, but to cover up the fact that this makes no sense they make one of the best jokes in Doctor Who evar:

"Yes, my lady."
"When I employed you, you lead me to believe you were a hardened criminal."
"As my lady knows, before I entered your service I was found guilty of a large number of offences."
"Then have the courage of your convictions."


The Doctor and Ace travel to Windsor to look for the silver bow, not knowing the Nazis have it. The Doctor finds a fez instead.

Now in 1988, Lady Peinforte and Richard are confused by technology. Richard is scared again but Lady Peinforte is not, which helps to further differentiate and develop their characters.

The comet Nemesis lands. The Nazis are on the scene but need to wait for the comet to cool down before they can capture it. Lady Peinforte and Richard also need to wait to get their paws on the Nemesis, but the local police arrive and capture it first.

The Doctor and Ace take the TARDIS back to Lady Peinforte's house in 1638 where they find the dead henchmanny. Ace (and through her, we the viewers) start to get the backstory from the Doctor about how he has known Lady Peinforte before, and how the Nemesis is made from "a living metal" called Validium and is a weapon of mass destruction. The Doctor is careful to let the exposition out a little at a time so as to not confuse us, but this does make this feel a lot like the sequel to a story that I haven't seen because it doesn't really exist - and while that sometimes works, it is not a technique that stands up to scrutiny because it is really just the writer cheatily avoiding introducing his setting and characters properly.

The policemannys get gassed, which is why they are not a fifth faction involved through the rest of this story.

Now it is time for some completely unnecessary padding - the Doctor and Ace go to Windsor castle in 1988 for some hijinks where they nearly meet the Queen and then get chased around the castle for a bit by some mannys. This couldn't be more irrelevant to the plot if it tried.

Lady Peinforte also isn't doing very much at that moment, but she is by far the most interesting character we have seen because she knows the Doctor and has a mysterious past relationship with him, and she talks to Richard about how she wants the Nemesis in order to have revenge on him.

The Nazis decide it is time to capture the Nemesis. De Flores is not very clever as he doesn't think it is important that the police have already been gassed by some unknown third party. He is more concerned with the arrow being missing from the statue, which makes him annoyed. So now we know the answer to the question "how do you make a Nazi cross?"

The Doctor and Ace arrive to get back into the plot. The Nazis capture them and De Flores thinks the Doctor has the arrow (presumably because he is the only other main character that he has met at this point), while the Doctor has noticed the gassed policemannys and tries to point out that this is important.

The Nazis threaten to shoot Ace unless the Doctor gives them the arrow that he doesn't have, but then a spaceship arrives and distracts them. It is the cybermannys, who have arrived just in time for the cliffhanger!

If we ignore the pointless padding scenes, this is a fantastic first episode. All three factions of baddys have their own character and points of interest for us viewers, especially the mysterious Lady Peinforte who knows the Doctor's secrets and so has the potential to be one of the Doctor's greatest adversaries... even if her past history with the Doctor isn't a "real" past history (one from previous television stories) but a cheat, somehow that only adds to the mystery.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Gold Robbers

The Gold Robbers is a TV series from 1969 so obscure that, at the time of writing this, it doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page. It has been released on DVD by Good Old Network though, which is how I have now seen it.

This is a strange cross between a police detective drama and a '60s telefantasy series - a gang of baddys led by a devious and shadowy mastermind steal five-and-a-half million pounds of gold (worth many tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds in today's moneys) and murder a policemanny in the process, but instead of putting Department S or The Avengers on the case, it falls to the more realistic police CID to catch the robbers.

The main character is DCS Craddock* as played by Peter Vaughan, best known for playing Denethor in The Lord of the Rings. He is a manny ahead of his time, possessing a difficult personal life more frequently found among '90s TV detectives.

Unlike in most telefantasy series, Craddock does not solve the case in a single episode. It takes him the whole 13 parts of the series to get to the bottom of it, a bit like how it took Captain Sisko seven seasons to sort out problems that Captain Kirk would have wrapped up inside an hour.

This is because the baddys are well-organised, disciplined and ruthless. But they are not invincible - because the job was so big, they had to involve amateurs in specialist roles. This plus other small slip-ups let Craddock and his team get their first breaks.

As the series progresses we spend more time with the baddys as they experience problems of their own - they have all this money but cannot spend it easily without being suspicious. Some of them want to use the money to stop being baddys, while others enjoy being baddys for its own sake. Cracks begin to appear as they don't trust each other, and these are made worse when Craddock starts arresting some of the little fish (nom!) and the mastermind has to start killing his own mannys to try and stop Craddock following the chain up to the top.

Craddock is also not infallible, as we see him and his fellow policemannys make mistaiks in the course of their investigations. Craddock often makes up for this by playing hunches that are right and trusting his instincts even when he lacks evidence (we know when he is right because we have already seen the baddys do it, shades of Columbo in this), and he bluffs more than one baddy even when he has a weak paw. He many not be John Steed, but we know he'll get there in the end.

This is an interesting and worthwhile series, with a fine cast and some great twists along the way that more than justifies its length. The Gold Robbers deserves to be better remembered.

* Craddock was the name of a character in Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. so this is a proper Terry Nation-ish sort of name for our hero.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy new year

Here is the winner of our 2017 Calendar Doggy of the Year competition to wish you all a happy new 2018.

And a happy new year to you from all of us cats as well!