Sunday, 3 December 2017

Doctor Who Night 2017: Hammer Time

Doctor Who's 13th season (1975-6) was influenced a lot by the iconography of the Hammer Horror films, which began in the 1950s and were still in production at that time. This gave us our theme for this year's Doctor Who Night, as we watched two classic stories that very obviously draw inspiration (putting it mildly) from Hammer.

Pyramids of Mars sees Tom Baker at the height of his powers as the Doctor, with one of the most definitive portrayals of the character - simultaneously an alien and an exemplar of mannykind, as he battles against the forces of Sutekh.

Sutekh is one of the most powerful and evil baddys the Doctor has ever faced, with a memorable appearance and even more memorable voice - which he needs, because he doesn't actually do very much besides talk. Instead his actions are carried out by his minions, who are all themed around manny mummys from Egypt, as drawn from the Hammer Mummy film series.

It is a very serious story for the most part, with the fate of the Earth and maybe the entire universe at stake if Sutekh wins, but there is still time for some humorous moments such as this bit where the Doctor and Sarah go "Nonononononope!"

The second story we watched was The Brain of Morbius, which is not nearly as Spock's Brain as it sounds. The Doctor doesn't have to search the galaxy for Morbius's brain, it's there in that jar.

This is the story from which the Morbius Doctors Theory comes, as I have written about in the past. But there is a lot more to the story than just that one (in)famous scene - after all, it doesn't even involve the best baddy character in the story, who is not the monster Morbius but his creator, the monster Solon.

Solon, played by Philip Madoc in his second-best appearance in Doctor Who (after The War Games), is a mad scientist blatantly based on Frankenstein. He has a henchmanny called Condo and he makes Morbius a new body out of spare parts to put his brain in. As the old saying goes:

Thursday, 19 October 2017

What do politicians make of The Prisoner?

Now that we are 50 years on from the first broadcast of The Prisoner, it is a reasonable assumption that some, if not all, of the mannys who are today politicians with jobs like Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and Guest Presenter of Have I Got News For You, will have at some point in their lives have watched The Prisoner on TV.

I wonder what they make of it, and in particular the episode Free For All - relating as it does to the matter of manny elections that are the means by which some politicians get their jobs in the first place.

Do Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn both see it as a metaphor for the struggle over control of the Labour Party, just from very different points of view?

Does Theresa May secretly sympathise with Number Six, but can't say so in public for fear of getting replaced by a new Number Two in time for the next episode?

Has Michael Gove had enough of my posts about The Prisoner and wants me to post more Blakes 7 fanfiction instead?

And does Boris Johnson think that if we destroy the 17 episodes of The Prisoner then we can have 17 episodes of Patrick Troughton-era Doctor Who back?

If you are a politician, please let me know what you think of Free For All - and The Prisoner TV series as a whole - in the comments.
Unless you're Nigel Farage, in which case you can fuck off.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remembrance Day of the Daleks Part Four

The cliffhanger, such as it was, didn't leave any of our heroes in immediate peril, so we can get straight on to...

Dalek v Dalek action!

That's what we want to see! A pity, then, that these scenes are so static, with the Renegades and the Imperial Daleks just sitting there and shooting at each other from only a few feet away, a bit like a scene from Police Squad!

Daleks have never been the most dynamic of monsters, but the lack of motion here is so much more noticeable when we see Daleks on both sides of the fighting.

The Imperial Daleks are losing at first, but then they get the "Special Weapons Dalek" to come and help them - it has an even bigger pewpewpew gun, and blows up two Renegade Daleks with one single pew.

Mike runs to Mr Ratcliffe's base and gets captured by the Renegade Daleks who are there. The little manny has managed to get their Time Controller working again, so they are about to exterminate Mike and Mr Ratcliffe before leaving with the Hand of Omega when the Imperial Daleks attack the base.

This acts as a distraction allowing Mr Ratcliffe to steal the Time Controller and run away, but then the little manny turns out to have Evil Emperor-style lightning powers... somehow... and she electrics Mr Ratcliffe. Mike takes the Time Controller and runs away, pursued by the little manny.

The Doctor and Ace see Mike has the Time Controller and the Doctor tells Ace to follow Mike. By now all the Renegade Daleks' base are belong to the Imperial Daleks, so they take the Hand of Omega coffin back to their shuttle and fly away.

The Doctor repurposes the borked Dalek teleporter to turn it into a TV that he can use to speak to the Imperial Daleks in their spaceship. He sees the Dalek Emperor on TV, and then it opens up to reveal...


I do like the way the Emperor's voice changes from Dalek to Davros before we see him. We are now poised for a classic confrontation scene between the Doctor and Davros, the dramatic climax of the whole story. But first there is a short cut to where Mike has a gun and captures Ace.

Davros looks and sounds so silly on the Doctor's TV set, in crackly black and white, but yet strangely menacing at the same time. This is an effective conclusion for the story arc of Group Captain Gilmore, Professor Jensen and Allison, who are present to witness the confrontation. They know the Doctor is an alien, and have wondered if they can trust him, but now they see in Davros what a genuinely alien alien is like and so the Doctor seems benign by comparison.

Davros looks scary, but the Doctor is not scared. He provokes Davros into threatening to use the Hand of Omega at once. Then the Doctor pretends to be afraid of this and so Davros immediately switches to gloating before ordering
"Activate the Omega device!"

The Hand of Omega does not do what Davros wants it to, and instead it blows up Skaro (unless you believe the events of the novel Retcon of the Daleks, which you shouldn't because it is one of the worst books known to cats). In terms of characterisation, this scene is a highlight of the story - the Doctor knows Davros is a megalomaniac and so psychologically manipulates him into using the Hand of Omega prematurely, defeating the baddy using words alone.

Davros, too late, realises he has been tricked by the Doctor and as soon as the Doctor switches off his TV set, Davros abandons the bridge of his spaceship to get to an escape pod, which you can just make out leaving the spaceship model before the Hand of Omega comes back to blow it up as well.

The little manny comes and electrics Mike who goes
and then she tries to electric Ace. The only Dalek left now is the Black Dalek, leader of the Renegades. The Doctor comes and talks it to death, which is inevitably an anticlimax after he has already dealt with Davros.

The Black Dalek vanishing frees the little manny from its control, illustrated very nicely by the scene transition from the disappearing Dalek to the screaming manny, both spinning around out of control. This bit makes no sense, but does look cool - which basically sums up most of the problems with Remembrance Day of the Daleks right there.

Remembrance of the Daleks is a flawed classic. It was once voted the sixth best Doctor Who story of all time (Doctor Who Magazine #265, June 1998), and while I wouldn't go that far (that same poll put Timelash 157th, and that's over 150 places too low, mew!) I would say it is one of the most cinematic Doctor Who stories of all time, in both positive and negative senses of the word.

It looks great. Not only the Daleks themselves, which have always been Doctor Who's most iconic monster for good reason, but all of the SFX from the spaceship in the pre-credits sequence through to the Black Dalek's technicolour demise, not to mention the fact they got in a genuine Time Controller for the Renegade Daleks to use! These all add up to make this story one of the most visually memorable of all Doctor Who stories.

But looks aren't everything and so there was a tendency, as I have noted, for things to be included just because they looked cool, even if they didn't make sense or, at the most charitable reading, weren't fully explained to us. The plot then exists as a device to link one "cinematic" set piece scene to the next, and so on. In those terms it is very successful, but the result is that Remembrance of the Daleks is left as the Doctor Who equivalent of a superficial Hollywood blockbuster action movie, rather than working as something deeper like, for example, Star Trek 2 Wrath of Khan (my best evar film).

The Doctor's character has also continued in the questionable direction it started taking in Dragonfire, particularly with regards to his relationship towards Ace. I don't mind the attempt to make him seem more mysterious, to put a distance between him and us the viewers, but what I do mind is the muddying of his morality - the Doctor should, must, always be a goody, and Doctor Who ceases to be Doctor Who when that fails to be the case. It is a fine line and I think they manage to just about stay on the right side of it in this story, but we are seeing the beginnings of a path that leads inexorably to times in the New Series when they have crossed it.

By setting his trap for the Daleks on Earth, it is arguably the Doctor's fault that so many mannys are placed in danger of being exterminated. But the Doctor does spend a lot of the story trying to keep as many of them safe as he can, which seems to me like a step back in the right direction compared to his characterisation in Dragonfire.

And then there is the retrofitting of the reason the Doctor was on Earth in 1963 in An Unearthly Child, apparently to give the Hand of Omega a decent burial. This is another aspect to the plot that doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about it - or at the very least it raises more questions than it answers - the Doctor certainly cannot have been planning to use it as a trap for the Daleks back then, as he hadn't even met them yet. But it works in a superficial way because it ties the story to the origins of Doctor Who, and feels right because it is marking the TV show's 25th anniversary.

Why do mannys think the 25th anniversary is special anyway? Is it because 25 is half of 50, which itself is half of 100, which is special because it is the biggest, longest number known to today's cat science? That would mean that half of 25 must also be a special anniversary, but what is that in Doctor Who terms?

I have consulted with a leading cat Professor of my acquaintance, and he says the answer is that it would be the 12½th anniversary (oh noes, this means we need fractions). The first half of season 12 consists of Robot, The Ark in Space and The Sontaran Experiment, and the second half (less stories but the same total number of episodes) is Revenge of the Cybermannys and... Genesis of the Daleks!

Appropriately enough, Remembrance of the Daleks is not only in the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who and the Daleks, it is also in the 12½th anniversary of the first appearance of Davros.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remembering of the Daleks Part Three

The recapped version of the cliffhanger scene cuts away sooner than at the end of part two, so we don't get to see Ace close her eyes and make a face this time. I do like the dramatic music during this bit, it helps cover for the fact that Ace is obviously going to escape.

The Doctor runs in and uses his anti-Dalek device (cleverly foreshadowed in the previous episode) to special effect at the Daleks, confusing them and allowing Ace to get away and Sergeant Mike to blow up the Daleks.

One of the Daleks is still alive and manages to strangle the Doctor for a bit, until he is rescued by Professor Jensen's assistant Allison. The Doctor is happy that Ace's tape player has been destroyed, saying
"That tape deck was a dangerous anachronism. If someone had found it and discovered the principles of its function, the whole microchip revolution would take place now, twenty years too early, with incalculable damage to the timeline."
"Ace, the Daleks have a mothership up there capable of eradicating this planet from space, but even they, ruthless though they are, would think twice before making such a radical alteration to the timeline."
But he can't have cared too much or else he might have said something about it sooner.

The Doctor uses Ace's bat to destroy the Dalek teleporter in the basement, and then it breaks.
"Weapons: always useless in the end."
he says, which is basically him acknowledging that it was a weapon, and not just an item of sporting equipment that happened to get improvised into a weapon. Why does the Doctor have this hypocritical blind spot when it comes to Ace, happy for her to carry around a melee weapon, a backpack full of high explosives, and technology that he himself admits is "a dangerous anachronism"? Not since Leela have we seen this level of indulgence from the Doctor towards his Companion, and even then he was much more severe with her than with Ace:
"Who licensed you to slaughter people? No more Janis thorns, you understand? Ever."
Compared to:
"Ace, give me some of that Nitro Nine that you're not carrying."

Mr Ratcliffe finds where the Hand of Omega is buried and gets electriced by it. This alerts the Daleks to where it is. The mysterious little manny watches as Mr Ratcliffe's mannys dig up the coffin and nick off with it.

On their spaceship, the Imperial Daleks are visited by their Emperor who is not as forgiving as I am. He has a big head like in '60s comics.

The Doctor finally gives Ace, and us watching, the exposition on what the Hand of Omega is.
"The Hand of Omega is a mythical name for Omega's remote stellar manipulator, a device used to customise stars with. And didn't we have trouble with the prototype..."

Mr Ratcliffe's mannys all get exterminated by the Renegade Daleks who take the Hand of Omega's coffin from them. Mr Ratcliffe is surprised by this but the mysterious manny in the Dalek chair (the one who isn't Davros) tells him
"You are a slave, Ratcliffe. You were born to serve the Daleks."
And turns out to be the little manny. Not Davros. What a twist.
The little manny gets out their Time Controller from where it was hidden in a cupboard.

We keep our Time Controller in a cupboard when we're not using it too.

The Doctor and Ace sneak into Mr Ratcliffe's base and see the Hand of Omega. Ace asks if it is alive, to which the Doctor smiles and replies
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
This is a great touch, and far more successful at making the Doctor seem mysterious and alien than any of the exposition from earlier on, even the Doctor's hinting accidentally-on-purpose that he was somehow involved in making the Hand of Omega.

They go inside while Mr Ratcliffe and the Daleks are out and the Doctor turns off the Time Controller. Again the subtle way in which he, a Time Lord, can instantly master the Daleks' time travel technology* is another effective moment, partially spoiled by the heavy-handed way he then leaves a literal calling card on top of it.

The Doctor and Ace run away and there is another bit of business where the Doctor almost sneezes while hiding from a Dalek. I don't know why they bothered to include these comic relief moments, the story does not need them.

They make it back to the school and join up with Mike and Group Captain Gilmore. Mike gives away that he knows the Renegade Daleks have the Hand of Omega, which he can only know because he has been working for Mr Ratcliffe the whole time. I really don't know if this is meant to be a surprise reveal to us viewers because, while on the one paw it has been really obvious ever since he was with Mr Ratcliffe back in part one, on the other paw I already knew this because I have seen this episode before - so perhaps this is another instance of this story losing some of its impact upon repeated viewings?
Ace calls him a "toerag" again, also a "lying dirty scumbag." Harsh.

Time to end the episode. An Imperial Dalek spaceship lands outside the school. It is eggboxtastic, the perfect shape for monkeys (and little mannys in the late 1980s) to try to copy when making their own spaceships at home.

While not as immediately a perilous situation for our heroes as the endings to parts one and two, this is once again an escalation of the threat of the Daleks: a single Dalek; a team of three Daleks; a whole spaceship full of Daleks. Textbook stuff.

* It took the Monkeys With Badges ages to work out how to use our Time Controller. Then they popped back in time and told themselves how to do it.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remembering the Daleks Part Two

Ace rescues the Doctor by hitting Mr Bronson - she doesn't use her bat though, she's not that psychotic. The Doctor and Ace go and get a rocket from a soldier and Ace blows up the Dalek with it.

Group Captain Gilmore and Professor Jensen don't trust the Doctor, but they have to go along with him for now because he's the only one who knows what is going on. He goes off on his own and tells Ace she can't come because
"It's not your past. You haven't been born yet."
Professor Jensen asks Ace
"Not been born yet? What did he mean by that?"
To which Ace smiles with an "oh shit, how am I going to explain this?" expression on her face. We don't see her response.

The Doctor goes to a café for a cup of tea and some padding. Meanwhile Mr Bronson has repaired the Dalek teleporter and more Daleks start to appear in the school basement.

The Doctor visits the Hand of Omega, which is disguised as a coffin. He puts Ace's bat inside for a moment, then gets it to follow him by floating. This leads to a bit of business where a manny faints upon seeing it float by itself.

The Doctor buries the coffin with the help of Packer from The Invasion who is a blind vicar now for some reason. This scene is very portentous but doesn't make a lot of sense, and the presence of Packer makes me think that this story would be improved immeasurably by the presence of Kevin Stoney (like almost all Doctor Who stories that don't already have Kevin Stoney in would be).

"Packer! Why are you burying the Hand of Omega for?"
"Sorry Mr Stoney, sir. I think it's a crude attempt to make things more enigmatic, sir."
"You're a stupid incompetent, Packer!"

Mr Bronson attacks Sergeant Mike, but when Mike wins the fight the Daleks kill Mr Bronson by remote control.

Back at Mike's house the Doctor gives Ace back her bat, then she calls Mike a "toerag" when he won't let her come with him to do soldier stuff.

Once everyone else has gone away, Ace discovers that Mike's family are racists so she goes back to the school by herself in order to get into peril in time for the end of the episode. And also to get her tape player which she left behind earlier. She then meets a Dalek and runs away.

The Doctor has been making an anti-Dalek device when he hears from Mike that Ace is not still at his house. He immediately works out that she must be at the school getting into trouble.

The Dalek blows up Ace's tape player with its pewpewpew gun, thus demonstrating more regard for non-interference in Earth's history than Ace or even the Doctor have so far shown in this story. Ace responds by attacking it with her bat, which now has a special effect on it due to the power of the Hand of Omega. Then Ace runs away again and picks up a rocket from a ded soldier.

The rocket may have been super effective against a single Dalek, but Ace gets surrounded by three Daleks who all, in true Dalek fashion, decide to shout at her instead of shooting her. But it makes for another great cliffhanger ending, escalating the peril from a single Dalek at the end of part one to a whole team of them now.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Remember the Daleks Part One

Remember the Daleks is the first story of season 25. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. Although it is a Dalek story it is not written by Terry Nation, which bodes ill for how good this can possibly be, but then on the other paw it is written by Ben A Ronovitch who is a manny that likes Ars Magica* so maybe it will be good after all? Let's find out.

It starts with a pre-titles sequence (which is also how season 24 began, although I assume this is a coincidence) in which we see the Earth from space and hear mannys talking. Then sinister music starts playing and a Dalek spaceship appears before we cut to the title sequence. This is a great opening, reminding us that the Daleks are the very best baddys in the whole of Doctor Who and the only ones to have successfully conquered the Earth (twice).

The TARDIS arrives near a school and the Doctor gets interested in a van because it has technology on it. When asked, Ace denies having any Nitro Nine in her bag but even I can tell this is a lie. Ace goes to get noms and meets Sergeant Mike, while a little manny watches the Doctor as he investigates.

There's something sinister about the little manny, although I can't quite put my paw on what exactly it is yet. She sings
"Five six seven eight, it's a Doctor at the gate."
And I don't think that is a coincidence - she recognises the Doctor somehow. It is a mystery for now, and it is a good thing they did not have modern-day internets in 1988 or else there would doubtless be speculation that the little manny was Susan, or Romana, or (somehow) both.

The Doctor goes in the van with Gandalf and Aragorn with Professor Rachel Jensen and takes over so the plot can get going. There is a ded manny to see so they get Mike and Ace and all go in the van to meet Group Captain Gilmore. The Doctor predicts that the manny was killed by "a projected energy weapon" or, as Rachel calls it,
"A death ray?"
By which they mean a pewpewpew gun. Sylvester McCoy plays the Doctor as suitably alien, beyond just being an outsider to these new characters who all know each other, with lines like
"What a predictable response."

Soldiers surround the place and one of them gets exterminated, proving the Doctor right. He had perhaps ingratiated himself with "the military" a bit too easily (since they are not UNIT or mannys he had met before) but this turn of events properly establishes him as knowing things and being on their side.

"Listen to me, Brigadier..."
"Group Captain. Group Captain Gilmore!"

As the level of danger escalates, this is a perfectly pitched tiny moment of humour in amongst the peril. With lines like that and the later exchange between Gilmore and the Doctor:
"Nothing even remotely human could have survived that."
"That's the point group, Group Captain, it isn't even remotely human."
The dialogue in this scene is very good at establishing the situation and the characters and their dynamic with the Doctor. It also builds up the threat posed by a single Dalek very well.

Sadly the payoff is not as good as the build up. The Dalek emerges and starts missing with every shot from its pewpewpew gun, though the soldiers are not successful either. The Doctor blows it up with Ace's Nitro Nine, making him look like the only competent character in the story so far.

The Doctor and Ace take the soldiers' van and drive around while the Doctor gives Ace some of the Daleks' backstory... or should that be The Backstory of the Daleks? There is also some business with them changing who is driving the van that is clearly meant to be comedic but is just confusingly directed instead.

Mike introduces Group Captain Gilmore to Mr Ratcliffe, who is played by George Sewell from UFO and The Detectives. Something is mysterious about him... and I don't just mean his name, which makes him sound like he might be a mouse on a high place... because the next scene we see Mr Ratcliffe in, his mannys have knocked out two of the soldiers and stolen the ded Dalek for an unknown purpose.

Mr Ratcliffe is taking orders from an unseen manny in a Dalek chair - it looks a bit like Davros although I know it isn't Davros because I have seen this before. But I think that we are supposed to think that it is Davros so there will be a surprise later on, however this will obviously only work if we have not seen it before or read this review before.

The Doctor and Ace go back to the school where they meet Mr Bronson, who is played by Michael Sheard from Doctor Who (the last of his six guest appearances, having already been Rhos in The Ark, Dr Summers in The Mind of Evil, Laurence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars, Lowe in The Invisible Enemy and Mergrave in Castrovalva. And yet the Doctor never felt the need to investigate or explain why these six different characters were so similar...) and he acts strangely too.

The Doctor and Ace go into the school's basement. Ace has a bat which is not of the flying mouse variety but is of the sort used in American sports, demonstrating that the BBC were still trying to appeal to American viewers at this point in the show's history. This kind of bat is also the sort to be used for a bit of the old ultraviolence, and I suspect that this is the reason that Ace has it since, as I have speculated before, this Ace is a psycho.

In the basement there is a Dalek teleporter. A Dalek tries to teleport in but the Doctor breaks the teleporter so it disappears. Another Dalek comes and the Doctor and Ace run up the stairs to get away because everybody knows Daleks can't climb stairs.

Mr Bronson turns out to have been a Dalek henchmanny and he traps the Doctor in the basement and then the Dalek comes up the stairs after them, ending the episode, proving for the first time that stairs are not an insurmountable obstacle for the Daleks, and forever confining "everybody knows Daleks can't climb stairs" to the "lose you 10 points" category on QI.

This makes for a great cliffhanger ending precisely because "everybody knows Daleks can't climb stairs" and so the reversal of this well-established truism is genuinely shocking and powerful... the first time you see it.

As with it not being Davros in the Dalek chair, the cliffhanger loses a lot of its effectiveness once you are expecting it, so the episode can never be quite as good on repeat viewings as it was when seeing it for the first time.

* Ars Magica is a tabletop Role-Playing Game about wizards in the 13th Century who speak Latin.

My friend Longdog has been playing in an ongoing game of Ars Magica for a while now, and has been enjoying it very much. His character is a magic dog who can speak, read and write Latin and he has a job as a librarian W-wording for some wizards. Sometimes the wizards go off to have adventures and then he can get up to all sorts of magical doggy mischief while they're away.

Here is a picture of Longdog studying the rules in order to be ready for his next session!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Laughing Prisoner

The Laughing Prisoner is one of the oddest TV programmes that exist. Made by Channel 4 in 1993, it is a strange pastiche of The Prisoner in which Jools Holland resigns from presenting his own programme and is then taken to the Village where he meets Number Two, played by Everybody's Big Gay Boyfriend Sir Stephen Fry. Naturally Number Two wants to know why "Number Seven" resigned.

What follows is a mix of sketches in which Number Two tries to break Number Seven using spoof versions of various Prisoner plots, intercut with light entertainment style music bands playing live in the grounds at Portmeirion (Holland and Fry are also on location there, so this probably features about as much filming in the actual Village as The Prisoner series did), and clips from the original series chosen to give the impression that Number Six/McGoohan is present with Holland and Fry - this is edited together quite well except that the differing quality of the film stock gives the game away completely.

The sketches are of questionable quality, and show that Sir Stephen's Comic Authority Figure persona really only works properly when he's playing opposite Hugh Laurie (who does make a brief appearance, but not sharing in any scenes with Fry). The biggest laughs come from the only other prisoner in the Village, Number Three, a.k.a. Stanley Unwin.

Where this does prove worthwhile is in the accuracy of the pastiche - the attention to detail shows this was a labour of love on somebody's part, possibly Holland's? For instance, when Number Seven is about to reveal why he resigned (before being interrupted by the need to introduce one of the live bands), he says word-for-word what Number Six says when he almost reveals why he resigned in The Chimes of Big Ben.

The Laughing Prisoner is available on YouTube here, for the time being at least. As we approach the 50th anniversary of The Prisoner, it is worth checking out this curiosity if you have never done so. And a little curiosity never harmed anybody.