Doctor Who – The Seeds of Doom Review (or ‘The Sleeper Hit of Doctor Who’)

September 24, 2012

“Well Gorilla, I went on record; I said this could be the sleeper match-up right here” – Jesse Ventura on the match between Mr Perfect and The Blue Blazer at Wrestlemania V.

The idea of a ‘sleeper hit’ – that being something that unexpectedly ends up being considered great despite a lack of promotion or general attention – is an interesting one.

I read a thread in the off-topic section of a Scottish Football forum the other day where a poster asked the question ‘What old Doctor Who stories should I track down on DVD?‘, and he was given the usual suspects in what is traditionally the Doctor Who hit parade. You know the ones…

  • Genesis of the Daleks
  • Caves of Androzani
  • Pyramids of Mars
  • Seeds of Death
  • Robots of Death
  • Talons of Weng Chiang
  • Earthshock
  • The Five Doctors
  • The Daemons
  • Ark in Space

…and so on and so forth.

Nobody ever talks about the Seeds of Doom.

It never seems to get brought up when people talk about classic stories or great guest stars, it was released in the tail end of the VHS release era and took an age to come out on DVD.

Things get gritty, with the Doctor resorting to snapping necks and loving it

It seems to be a hidden gem in the Doctor Who crown jewels, because despite the fact nobody really talks about it, that infamous old list – The DWM Mighty 200 – lists it as the 16th best Dr Who story of all time, and the 8th best of the Classic Era of the show.

Now I know I criticise those rankings – and quite rightly, when you consider the story next highest on the list is the overrated Terror of the Zygons – but the fact is that in spite of it getting no attention, the Seeds of Doom still ranks higher than many stories that people do talk about. So away from any sort of influencing of what is supposed to be ‘classic’, this story manages to break through.

Let’s review it and find out why that is.

Doctor Who – The Seeds of Doom Review: What’s This One About?

A story in two linked parts, this is about two seed pods found buried in the Antarctic. They are Krynoid pods – an alien form of hostile plant life that can eat animal tissue and take over an entire planet.

The first two episodes are like The Thing, with a small group of people in the South Pole being terrorised by one of their own who has been turned into a Krynoid.

The latter four take place back in England, with a flora-obsessed insane millionaire – having hired goons to steal the other pod – trying to harness the power of the Krynoid for his own gains.

Thoughts – Unlike Anything We’ve Seen Before

In so many ways, the Seeds of Doom is unlike anything we’ve seen up to this point in Doctor Who.

For a start, it’s far more adult than other stories.

Yes, we’ve seen death in almost every story in the show’s history up till now, but there’s a certain detachment to it. You can have a Dalek kill someone with its death ray or an Auton shooting someone with its detachable gun hand and I think that seems more clean and fantasy like.

The make-up here is exceptional. You can believe he’s turning into a plant.

Here you’ve got a man being clubbed over the head with a metal wrench, and then fed into a pulveriser. Fuck…that’s grim. That’s up there with getting dunked face first into burning chip fat.

On a similar note, censors might look at men dressed up in funny costumes like Cybermen or Sea Devils and think ‘That’s ok if they terrorise the Doctor; it’s not real’, and the kids would probably know that too. They can allow themselves to be scared by the usual Doctor Who monsters because they know it couldn’t happen to them.

But for the most part, the main antagonist is a gun-toting mercenary who regularly beats up the Doctor.

And then there’s the Doctor himself. We’ve seen him being physically involved with people before – Jon Pertwee’s Doctor especially. But Pertwee used a sort of made up martial art. Here, the Doctor is jumping on people from above & punching them in the face, as well as trying to snap people’s necks with his bare hands.

But it’s not just what he does from a physical point of view either – he acts more intense than normal. His jokes are laced with a notion that he’s taking things more seriously than usual, he’s angrily screaming at people, and he’s issuing orders to thugs to create Molotov cocktails.

So the Seeds of Doom is going down a thematic line that we’ve not seen before.

But it’s also stylistically different.

Here, the Doctor is seen as a sort of ‘Troubleshooter for Hire’, in that I suppose we’re to believe he’s just been living in England before he and Sarah are asked to go to the South Pole. And though it has UNIT in it, they are merely ‘soldier candy’ for the end part.

I don’t think it would have worked as a ‘traditional’ UNIT story, and had it involved the Brigadier and Benton it wouldn’t have come across half as intense as it does.

But I have to say, all these aspects that are different are fantastically good. We’re soon going to get to a point in Doctor Who where his link with ‘modern Earth’ is severed completely. Yes, stories with the ‘UNIT Family’ had ran their course in my opinion, but this

Similarly, I think this is a very good special effect for the time

format could have worked in at least a semi regular state.

So it’s a pity that it’s the only story of its kind, but it also makes it stand out more for me, because I think it’s brilliant.

Performance and Story Together

When I look back at some of my reviews, the ones that really stand out tend to be the ones where the actors put in brilliant performances, rather than it being an amazing story. You’ve only got to look at the Brain or Morbius review I recently published. Praising the story came secondary to praising some of the dialogue or the way the actors played it.

The Seeds of Doom has that of course, with top quality lines like “I’m not a patient man Doctor”, “Well your candour does you credit” to name but one exchange of many, and it has excellent performances throughout the cast, with no letdowns from anywhere.

But added to that is that this is one hell of a story. Where some adventures will spend an episode or two treading water, The Seeds of Doom moves at pace from beginning to end. The split of environment and restart with a new Krynoid in Episode 3 helps matters, there’s no doubt, but that’s not a crutch – it’s just good storytelling.

As I see it, looking at the Tom Baker era so far, you’ve got stories like Ark in Space which has a great plot and some efficient acting, then you’ve got stories like Brain of Morbius which have great acting and wonderful dialogue but a plot which is merely good, and you’ve got a story like the Pyramids of Mars which has both a very good script and very good performances but maybe doesn’t have the humour or the sparkling dialogue, and it slows down towards the end.

But the Seeds of Doom manages to have excellent performances combined with a powerful plot and quality dialogue.

But this is just shit. Rather than the Doctor picking something up from beneath the snow, he is clearly just ruffling through a box with Styrofoam in it.

I said that Brain of Morbius was my favourite story of the Baker era, but only one story hence, its lost it’s title to this.

John Challis – Living in the Shadow of Boycie

There’s a thread on a Doctor Who forum about the top 10 guest artists to appear in the show. And many of the names you’d expect to be on that list are on. The likes of Philip Madoc, Kevin Stoney, Peter Jeffrey, Julian Glover, Bernard Kaye, Peter Barkworth – they’re all there.

And they deserve to be of course. These people are excellent actors who do a wonderful job with what they are given.

But missing from that list is John Challis.

In the same way as people will criticise Ken Dodd’s performance in Delta and the Bannermen because it’s Ken Dodd and not because it’s poor (and when I eventually get to that review I’ll say that I think it’s actually a very well performed cameo role), I think people don’t want to put their name to praising Challis because he is famous for being Boycie in Only Fools and Horses.

You ask 100 British people where they know Challis from, and 100 will say Only Fools. That’s the role he’s most famous for, that’s the role he made a career on, but that’s a role that isn’t exactly critically acclaimed.

And yet, before he was Boycie he was Scorby. And he was magnificent.

In all of Doctor Who, there is not a better ‘hired goon’ character. He’s got him down to a tee. So many actors would take a reasonably well written character like that and do an efficient job of it, but it wouldn’t be memorable. But Challis does a fantastic job. He works so well against both Baker and Sladen, he’s fully invested in the character and he makes him multi-layered. You feel that there’s a certain vulnerability about him, and despite not having the flashy lines

There’s John Challis – or to most of you ‘Boycie from Only Fools & Horses’ – putting in a fine performance as Scorby

like Philip Madoc did as Solon, or the ridiculous OTT brilliance of Christopher Robbie’s Cyber Leader, he commands the screen when he’s on it.

So here’s to John Challis. I disassociate him with the Boycie character and commend him for being a quality actor in his own right, and would happily place him in my Top 10 Guest Artists in the show. Although, we’ll see how that goes once I’ve watched every story…

The Doctor and Sarah – Equals

Another aspect of this story that stands out is that the Doctor and Sarah are written very much as equals. He leans on her as much as she leans on him.

Gone is the dynamic of the older man and his young dumb sidekick here.

Of course, in modern Who this is par for the course. Towards the end of her run, Rose was very much equal billing with the Doctor, while now Matt Smith’s Doctor is positioned in equal footing to Amy (but not poor old Rory of course).

But it’s something new for this era, and since she’s only got two more appearances before she leaves, it’ll never happen again, which is sad.

Random Observations

  • While John Challis stands out as the best of the guest cast, it’s very strong on the whole with nobody letting the side down. I must commend the writing and casting of Harrison Chase as well as the performance of Tony Beckley in playing the role. You can fully invest in his creepy obsession with plant life, along with him being both dangerous and whimpering. Another massive plus point in the story.
  • On the other hand, if I have to criticise it, I’ll say that some of the attempts at making it look as though they were in Antarctic were pretty pathetic.
  • And that TARDIS prop is literally falling apart by this point.
  • Another slight criticism I have is that Scorby didn’t have to die. Although it fit in well with him having a breakdown, he seemed too savvy a character to go out to his death.
  • Oh, and while the principle of it was good, the execution of the cliffhanger to episode 4 was feeble.
  • Having said that, all the other cliffhangers were tremendous.
  • Incidental music and location is somewhat secondary to the other positives of this story, but they certainly help in making the story what it is.
  • The Krynoid in human state is of course just a repainted Axon, but it looks effective. And the makeup given to the likes of Keeler when he was half was transformed was also exceptional.

    The TARDIS has clearly seen better days

  • I could be wrong, but I believe the Krynoid on the house was done by stop motion animation. Again, it looks great – considerably better than the Scaracen in Terror of the Zygons – so you invest in it more.
  • I could question why the Doctor didn’t just take the TARDIS to the Antarctic, but hey-ho.
  • What I would say though is that having the Doctor not bother to wear any warm clothing at the South Pole makes him seem alien. A little thing, but again effective.
  • Another great line of dialogue worthy of mention: “It’ll be the end of everything! Everything! Even your pension”. Superb!
  • Tony Beckley appears to have noticeably shorter hair when filming on location.
  • Finally, how obvious is it that the Ecology Bureau is just Television Centre?

Doctor Who – The Seeds of Doom Review: Final Thoughts

As I said before, Brain of Morbius couldn’t even retain its title as the best Tom Baker story so far against its first challenger.

The Seeds of Doom is absolutely brilliant. Any issues with it – dealt with above in the Random Observations section – are trivial at best. No, this story – to me at least – is pretty much faultless. A wonderful example of Doctor Who and yet a departure from what we can usually expect from it.

It wouldn’t have worked with any other Doctor, nor would it have worked if Tom Baker approached the part with his usual level of frivolity. His seriousness, along with his interaction with the other characters, sells what is a super script.

I look at all the stories I’ve rated so far; I look at what came first for each of the first three Doctors and I look at this, and I’d honestly say this is probably the best yet. It’s just that good. In times to come there will be a couple more challengers to the crown in the classic era, like Weng Chiang and Androzani, and there are a few excellent stories in the modern era, but this deserves its place in the top 10 stories ever.

And going back to the very beginning of the review, nobody seems to talk about it or know about it.

It’s the very definition of the sleeper hit.


TV Review: Revenge

September 23, 2012

Praise the Lord, because the new US TV Season is about to get under way.

Yes, we had gems like the Newsroom and Breaking Bad to keep us ticking over, but without the usual TV shows on the box over the summer we’re left to watch repeats or watch full runs of programmes that we missed in the last season.

For me, one such example is the ABC Drama – Revenge

What’s It About

Revenge is a story about – you guessed it – Revenge.

To be more exact, it’s the story of a woman in her 30s who has come back to town where she lived as a child under an assumed name, to take revenge on the people responsible for sending her late father to jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and in turn making her spend her formative years living in a sort of Young Offenders Prison.

The town in question is a small ocean-side one where America’s rich upper class go to live and throw extravagant parties throughout the summer months, and she’s able to move back there because she has become rich herself, thanks to being 49% owner of a Microsoft-like software company.

I could go into why she is, but you can just watch the show yourself…

Thoughts

Revenge is an interesting show in that it’s highly enjoyable and yet a bit crap at the same time.

The premise for the series is simple. Emily Thorne (played by charisma machine Emily VanCamp) is out for revenge, particularly against the Grayson Family, who are the super-rich lords of the manor responsible for framing her father.

The first few episodes are basically a ‘Fall guy of the week’ type affair as she takes down/discredits/ruins the lives of the Graysons’ friends, accountants, therapists and political allies, but then it turns more into a long game with her looking to get enough evidence to bring the family down for good.

And of course, like any good TV show, it branches off into a number of other directions to keep things interesting along the way.

So in terms of plot, Revenge keeps you on the hook and wanting to see what happens next.

It’s also got a good location. Sometimes I find some American TV shows can be difficult to associate with – initially at least – if they are set in grim and desolate locations. Of course, if the show is good, it can overcome that (Breaking Bad being a perfect example), but it does help if what you see in terms of setting and location appeals to the eyes; at least it does for me anyway.

And – though it’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing – the music, use of flashbacks and opening credits are reminiscent of Lost.

Where the show falters a little bit is the acting.

Some of the characters – like lead villainess Victoria Grayson – played by poster girl for facelifts going wrong, Madeleine Stowe – are ridiculously over the top, and akin to something you’d see in a show like As The World Turns or Days of Our Lives. Victoria is very ‘panto villain’ – despite attempts to make her seem more ‘human’ later on in the series – and makes you want to go ‘boo hiss’ whenever she’s on-screen.

There are also some characters that just aren’t necessary, with story arcs that have absolutely nothing to do with the main plot. In particular I’m talking about the dreadful Connor Paulo, who according to imdb was a fixture in Gossip Girl. Terrible actor, terrible character, totally pointless to the narrative. More likely he and his peers are in the show to get the teenage demographic on board. Whoopee.

It’s also got one of those English characters who speaks with an English accent so pronounced that they can only ever be found on American TV Shows. In this case it’s Ashley Madekwe as Ashley Davenport (hey, that’s the second character with the same name as the actor playing her. Either the people writing it are that unoriginal or the cast have Sid James Syndrome) who apparently comes from ‘a small town in England with a population of who cares called Croydon’. That’ll be the Croydon with a population of almost 350,000, which is similar to that of ‘lesser known’ US cities like Tampa, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. That’s some good research by the writers there…

Not all the characters are bad though. In particular, the guy who plays Tyler – Ashton Holmes – manages to do such a good job of being unlikeable and slimey that he’s up there with the guy who played Bill Kim in Prison Break in the ‘making a character so awful that I would love to punch him’ stakes.

On the whole though, the quality of acting isn’t so important in that it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the show. Indeed, the campness of it all adds a certain charm to it. It wouldn’t hold up in shows like Breaking Bad or the Newsroom because you expect better from them, but since Revenge is a bit far fetched anyway, it works.

Watching it, I did wonder how they could continue it beyond one season, but they manage it fine, and so I’m looking forward to it starting again in the next couple of weeks.

Should You Watch Revenge?

I’d happily recommend the show. It’s got a good flow to the plot and it kept me entertained and wanting to see more.

It’ll never be anyone’s favourite show (at least you’d hope not) but there are far worse ones out there that are supposed to be better.

So give it a chance and you may not be disappointed.


Games: Ms ‘Splosion Man Review (or ‘A Game That Combines Autistic Levels of Difficulty With No Real Challenge’)

September 19, 2012

I must confess I haven’t held up my end of the bargain when it comes to reviewing games; in fact I’ve only reviewed three since I started the blog, and I’ve certainly played a fair few.

But I just don’t get moved enough, often enough by games that I play to actually write about them.

Well, I’ve been moved tonight – and not in a particularly good way – to write a quick piece about Ms ‘Splosion Man on Xbox Live Arcade.

What’s The Game?

The sequel to the enjoyable 2009 Live Arcade title ‘Splosion Man, Ms ‘Splosion Man is essentially the same thing but with a female lead. So it’s the same principle as Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man.

It’s a side scrolling 2d platform/puzzle game where you have to navigate your explosive character through a various laboratories, trying to escape.

Why Am I Moved To Write This Review?

Ok, I’ll lay it out for you.

I consider myself a ‘good gamer’. I like a challenge, I like to feel like I’ve got my moneys worth and I don’t like things to be too simple.

‘Splosion Man had it right. It started off pretty simple so you could get the basics and as you went on, it got more and more challenging.

I liked that.

But the sequel just doesn’t have the dynamic right. I’m only a quarter of the way through the game, and the difficulty level is already way in excess of its predecessor. And the thing about it is that it combines being massively difficult with having no real challenge to it at all.

You remember back in the old days when you got three lives and from there you had to try to complete the game. If you collected stuff along the way you could get more lives, more continues etc etc. That was a challenge. I remember being proud of finally completing Double Dragon, Super Mario Land or Rainbow Islands. The achievement was that you felt you’d earned the victory.

But this is completely different.

Instead of being progressive and making you feel like you’ve actually shown ability to win, this is just a hard slog.

Why? Because you have unlimited lives and a variety of checkpoints. There’s no question about whether or not you can complete the game, because you will; there’s no mechanism for having to start again. Victory comes by whether or not you’re lucky enough to have pressed the A button at the right time or whether you just decide a section is too difficult and skip it entirely.

If – like me – you don’t see the point of skipping sections of a game you’ve paid to play then you have to just repeat the same bits time and time again until you finally manage to get through it. I’ve read reviews from people saying that they ‘loved it’ because it took them 100 attempts to get past a particularly difficult area of the game, but to me that’s not a reason to love it.

To me that’s just frustrating. After 35 goes trying to work through a section where I had to trip 3 gates and combine a double jump to coincide with a bomb I’d dropped from a roof onto a moving floor, so I could spring onto two platforms and finally onto another roof, I just felt annoyed. And that annoyance didn’t translate to a sense of achievement when I finally completed it, but rather relief combined with more annoyance at how stupid the puzzle was.

I think of it like this; older games of this sort worked in a way where if you were good enough, you could complete it without losing a life. This game is impossible to complete in one life because things move so fast that once you’re passed one bit, you’re instantly thrown into the next bit where you have to die at least twice to get a feel for what’s going on.

So you spend all that time trying to get past a bit only to immediately die again once you do, and so you have to repeat the bit that you’ve finally worked out how to get beyond.

And rinse and repeat.

And what’s even more frustrating is that the character of Ms ‘Splosion Man moves from being mildly amusing with her constant droning on about Spice Girls songs and what-not, to really grating by the time you’re 15 minutes in to the level.

So yes, you might say that this game has earned its scathing review.

Will I Finish It?

I’ll probably carry on with it to see if it gets even harder, but it’s one of these games where I certainly won’t be engrossed in it and want to play it all in one go – I don’t think my mood would cope.

No, this game is just annoying.

Indeed, if it was possible for a game to be autistic, this is it.

And when I finish it, I won’t feel a sense of achievement, but rather a sense of relief.

I don’t think that’s what games are supposed to be like…


Doctor Who – The Brain of Morbius Review (or ‘A Triumph of Casting and Dialogue’)

September 18, 2012

There are certain points in a child’s life when he or she is encouraged to buy an autograph book.

For me it was in Walt Disney World, when finishing school and – oddly – when moving from Primary School to Secondary School, even though it was the same establishment.

My brother was the same, and I remember for some reason when he had his ‘Leaving Primary School’ autograph book, an eight-year-old Stuart decided to add a signature to it, which read…

To Steven,

All the Best In Secondary School.

From your friends,

Condo, Solon and Morbius

I’d even gone to the trouble of making up different signatures for each of them.

About 10 years later, we stumbled upon that autograph book and had a good laugh about it, and to this day my brother still gets a birthday and Christmas card signed from the three of them every year.

“Oh Stuart, you are a wacky one”, I imagine you’re thinking, if for wacky you mean “weird”, but the point is that these characters obviously made an impression on me at a young age.

There’s Sladen with the finest ‘Blind Acting’ since Blair McDonough in Neighbours

The Brain of Morbius of course was one of the early VHS releases along with stories like Revenge of the Cybermen and Pyramids of Mars, so it’s one that I know well and have been looking forward to reviewing.

Doctor Who – The Brain of Morbius Review: What’s This One About?

Continuing the concept of Gothic Horror, this one is about Frankenstein and his monster.

Or to be more specific, a renowned neurosurgeon and member of the Cult of Morbius – an evil Time Lord who had been exiled and thought executed on the planet Karn – has the Brain of Morbius in a jar and wants to put it inside the Doctor’s head, atop a monster he has created from the spare parts of aliens and animals that have crash-landed on the planet.

Thoughts

There’s so much I like, so much that’s bang on about this story, that I’m having trouble finding where to begin.

Certainly, the first thing that strikes you when you watch it is the setting, which is largely impressive. The gloomy house that Solon lives in, the darkness outside, the incidental music that goes along with it – it all works wonderfully with what this story is.

Indeed, there’s only one main issue I have with the whole thing, which is that for select few scenes – the ones that take place outside and especially those set during the day – it does look cheap.

Beyond that – as well as maybe a little too much emphasis on the Sisterhood of Karn – this is one story that I consider to be an absolute triumph.

Here’s why…

The Writing

Condo Have Girl. What Condo Do With Girl? You Decide.

Like many Doctor Who stories, this one has a basic but effective and flowing plot.

But what sets it apart for me is that there are so many clever bits of writing. Writing that doesn’t just tell you what is going on with the plot, but makes you laugh without being comedic and – crucially – develops the characters.

Perhaps the key is that there is quite a small cast of characters and so they are all given time to develop.

In that respect, this is similar to both the Pyramids of Mars and the Ark in Space, but where I think this story exceeds them is that each character is more well-rounded, given not just a reason to be there, but a backstory and time to grow throughout the four episodes.

So with fewer people to write for, there’s more scope to write better.

And that – as I say – is something that this story manages to achieve.

The characters have memorable and interesting lines, and they work well against each other.

Condo and Solon

The best example of this is the relationship between Condo and Solon.

I just love the way these two work against each other. Alone they are great, but together they are superb, with Colin Fay (Condo) and Philip Madoc (Solon) getting the sort of ‘Pinky and the Brain’ relationship spot on.

And the dialogue they are give, such as…

Condo: Doctor gone.
Solon: I can see that you chicken-brained biological disaster

…is an absolute riot.

As their relationship plays out, Solon becomes the sort of character you love to hate, while Condo becomes a very sympathetic ‘gentle giant’ rather than just being Solon’s muscle.

Would you accept wine from this man?

You feel for him as Solon offers him up to the Sisterhood in place of the Doctor, when you find out Solon has been using his arm for his Morbius body, when he impresses upon Solon not to hurt Sarah (who he has developed feelings for) and ultimately when he is shot by Solon and then killed by Morbius.

The example of when he falls for Sarah springs yet another fantastic exchange of lines…

Condo: Master not hurt girl
Solon: I misjudged you all this time, Condo. Under that brutish exterior, there lurks a tender, compassionate nature.
Condo: Condo like girl
Solon (to Sarah): Oh, he’s such a romantic
Sarah: You think you’re a bundle of laughs, don’t you?
Condo (touching Sarah’s hair): Hair…pretty
Sarah flinches in terror
Solon (wearily): All right, that’ll do. She doesn’t like it. Now, get out. Go on, get out.

Written down, it doesn’t seem particularly special, but I suppose that’s the point. These actors are bringing out the best in the lines through their expression and delivery.

Madoc is especially good in this regard as he puts in his finest performance in Doctor Who – possibly in anything.

I imagine with lesser character actors in the show it might not seem anywhere near as good.

Morbius

It’s not just those two that are memorable – the Morbius monster too is also very good.

First of all you have the reveal of him being a brain in a jar at the end of episode two. How can a brain in a jar be an interesting character? Well again, it goes back to dialogue and delivery.

I said in the Pyramids of Mars review that Sutekh was voiced appropriately; that it wouldn’t have worked as well if he was voiced as a booming voiced angry villain. Well I’ll flip that here, because it wouldn’t have worked for a brain in a jar to be voiced like Sutekh. It’s horses for courses.

Noooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!

Michael Spice – who will be back in Talons of Weng Chiang as Magnus Greel – voices Morbius as an angry, frustrated and impatient man. He also manages to convey the vulnerability and fear of a man who has been reduced to a brain in a jar too, with the cliffhanger to Episode 2 being a great example of how to express emotion through voice alone.

And as Morbius’s story develops, his emotional state alters with it. By the time he is fully mobile in Episode 4 he has become smug and grandiose, and that is helped by the odd way Stuart Fell in the Morbius costume positions himself while moving around (which I imagine was so that he could see where he was going). Serendipity in action.

So again, it’s a triumph.

Messing With Canon

An interesting aspect of this story is that it throws Doctor Who Canon out of the window.

I love that people write essays on this subject or try to convince themselves and others that it’s something it’s not, but this story clearly makes out during the Mind Bending Contest that Tom Baker’s Doctor is not his fourth incarnation, but rather his twelfth.

I have no problem with that, because it really makes more sense for it to be the case, but certain sections of Doctor Who fandom will greatly disapprove of it.

But who cares really? Yes, I had a problem with Terry Nation completely rewriting Dalek mythology, but I’m not going to criticise Robert Holmes for failing to consider a line of dialogue from the Three Doctors when writing this.

But some people who do care. The ‘Season 6B’ crowd and the ‘Oh my God, Doctor Who is going to have to end soon because we’re going up to the Doctor’s last regeneration’ society.

Rearrange the words ‘A Grip Get’ and you have my feelings on the matter.

Random Observations

  • To continue on with my point about lines of dialogue, the ones where the Brain of Morbius states that he is in a situation where he ‘envies a vegetable’ is so brilliantly politically incorrect that there’s just no way it would be allowed in 2012.
  • Another noteworthy exchange is the ‘You thought I was dead; you’re always making that mistake” line which – if you’ve watched the show in sequence – is cleverly apt.
  • There are also a couple of fantastic ad-libs from the cast. Tom Baker’s “Can you spare a glass of water” is the most famous of them, but my favourite is Philip Madoc’s “I’m sorry, the pun was irresistible”. Genius
  • One could question why Solon doesn’t just put the Morbius’sbrain inside the Doctor’s body, but I think that gets covered by the notion that he’s built Morbius a body designed to be the most efficient form of life going, in spite of its hideous appearance.

    In possibly a first for the blog, a Double ‘Mon Then’

  • Why did the member of the Sisterhood that Morbius kills just stand around and let him do it?
  • Tom Baker is quite a strong guy to pick up Morbius and throw him over his shoulder as if he was nothing.
  • From the files marked ‘You’ve got to admire his brass neck’, I love that Solon offers the Doctor another glass of poisoned wine the moment he arrives back at his house.
  • The Brain of Morbius is similar to many stories – whether it’s Doctor Who or other works of fiction – that falls a bit in that it spends so long building up what could happen when some force of evil is unleashed, only for it to be quickly and resoundingly defeated when it happens. Pyramids of Mars was the same.
  • Solon’s death was done in a very low-key manner; almost disappointingly so. Or are we to assume he’s still alive?
  • If you don’t know the story behind the writer’s pseudonym ‘Robin Bland’, then I urge you to watch the accompanying documentary on the DVD.
  • Liz Sladen gets to add to her “Doctor, I can’t….” acting range. This time she can’t see.
  • And in fairness to her, she does quite a good job of looking like she’s blind, but I’d suggest the ease at which she gets around Karn while blinded is a bit silly.
  • Pot Pouri is the worst insult I’ve ever heard.
  • As to my earlier point about the story managing to be humorous without being comedic, a great example of that is when the brain falls on the floor. It’s like something out of a sitcom but it’s played absolutely seriously and so – much like the rest of this story – it just works.
  • Brain of Morbius comes in as low as #40 in the DWM Mighty 200. That’s something I really can’t understand. For the life of me, I don’t see how anyone can consider this as being worse than The Daemons, The Green Death or Terror of the Zygons, to name but three.
  • Since I’ve focused on the dialogue so much, I’ll finish with another one that I like. When the Doctor wakes up in the Shrine of the Sisterhood, his reaction of “Events have moved along while I’ve been asleep” is classic.

Doctor Who – The Brain of Morbius Review: Final Thoughts

I’ve said it twice already, but I’ll say it again now. The Brain of Morbius is a triumph.

The plot is good, but the key to it is the choice of actors and the writing and execution of their dialogue.

You’ll see that I haven’t said too much about the Sisterhood of Karn, and that’s not that they are bad, but rather that they are simply outshone by better characters and actors than them.

Everyone in this one puts in one hell of a performance, and though I only just recently proclaimed a story – The Pyramids of Mars – as a true classic, I would go as far as to say I enjoy this one even more.

There’s a reason why the characters of Condo, Solon and Morbius influenced me enough to write a nonsense autograph from them when I was 8. They are larger than life, wonderfully performed and exceptionally memorable.

Of the Fourth Doctor stories I’ve seen, this might be the best yet.


9/11 Documentaries: Awful and Fascinating in Equal Measures

September 13, 2012

Everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001.

Most people were huddled round TV sets watching the unbelievable events unfold in front of them; the first major historical event to take place in the era of 24 hour news.

I, on the other hand, was on a plane flying to New York from Glasgow.

Balls.

The attack on the World Trade Centre probably only took place within about 30 minutes of us taking off, but rather than just turn the plane around, we kept going – completely unaware of what was going on. A few hours into the flight though, the message came over the intercom from the Captain that we were making an unscheduled landing in St. Johns, Newfoundland.

Nothing seemed off, but the assumption was that were must have been something wrong with the plane, and so – upon landing – we gave the pilot a polite round of applause to congratulate him for getting us down safely. It occurred to me that even though I hadn’t heard of St. Johns before, it must have been a pretty busy hub because there were loads of planes from all over the world parked in the airport.

Then things became clear…ish.

The pilot came through to the rather cramped compartment of the Continental 757 looking white as a sheet and said “Uh…folks…we’ve landed here because the States have come under some pretty serious terrorist attack today. New York has been badly hit. The towers are down”.

Now that obviously created a sense of panic and shock among the passengers of the plane, although at the age of 18 I wasn’t really aware of the significance of the Twin Towers or what they represented (other than a tag team including Akeem and the Big Boss Man), but what I was made aware of was that we were going to have to wait on the plane until all the passengers on the planes that had arrived before us were processed.

Bear in mind this was a small plane, back in the day before MP3 players, iPads or – in the case of this plane – screens behind the seats. There was one TV showing Shrek on a loop and it was broken. Great.

So there we sat, not really knowing what was going on, on a cramped plane without anything to eat for what ended up being about 16 hours.

To make matters worse, as St. Johns wasn’t that big, when we got off the plane at long last we found out that all the hotels were taken and so – following a brief detour to an Ice Hockey Arena where we saw footage of the second plane going into the South Tower on a loop on the scoreboard – we ended up having to spend the week sleeping on the floor of a Conference centre, sleeping on army surplus stretchers and without a change of clothes or even washing facilities.

Not the most fun week of my life, and that was topped off by the plane being unable to take off again once we finally got back on board.

Cue another 15 hours spent on the plane with no food or drinks, no air conditioning (as it was broken) and an armed policeman patrolling the aisle to stop anyone trying to get back off (hey, there were angry Glaswegians on board and they were pissed off) while we waited for a replacement plane to pick us up. At least they called out for pizza for us though.

Anyway, we got into New York at about 4am and then booked on a flight straight out again and back home.

Now, that’s not me declaring a ‘woe is me’ tale, because despite the trying circumstances, the people of Newfoundland were terrific, as they aided our little refugee camp with a constant supply of free food and drink, and after 5 days we were finally allowed out of the place to see the local sights. A holiday though, it was not.

But what I’ve always felt is that despite having that anecdote and being ‘part of what happened’ in a very tenuous way, I’ve always been envious of the people who got to see what was going on as it was going on. That might sound odd, but being told everything that happened after it happened mostly likely didn’t have the impact of seeing these society-changing events unfold on TV.

And so, because of that, I’ve always been amazed by the documentaries that are shown at this time of year.

The best ones I’ve seen are probably the part factual/part drama one done by the BBC called 9/11: The Twin Towers and the one by the camera crew who were following the fire service that day and picked up so much of what happened.

This week though, I’ve watched three that I hadn’t seen before…

  • 9/11: The Firemen’s Story
  • 9/11: Emergency Room
  • 9/11: Miracle Survivor

All three tell the story of what happened that day from different perspectives; the Firemen involved, the Doctors at a small nearby hospital, and from a guy who survived the collapse of the tower by ‘air surfing’ down over 20 floors.

Each offers a unique and informative view of events, and are amazing to watch.

The thing about documentaries like this are that they are ‘real’. We watch documentaries about important moments in the history of our society, like the two World Wars or the Assassination of Kennedy, but to me these are aren’t as complete or authentic as the 9/11 ones. The 9/11 ones are still raw, told by people with more than hazy recollections, boosted by the level of on-the-spot video evidence that we just don’t have for any other major historical event.

They are stories from ordinary people who were not prepared for those horrible events, and everyone has a different story to tell – each as harrowing as the last. You watch them speak and see the hurt in their eyes and in their voices as they tell the story of what they saw and how those around them perished or suffered. You feel their pain. It’s both awful and fascinating in equal measures.

Usually my reviews are about whether a piece of fiction or a game is worth your time, but whether you should watch these isn’t even in question. This is history; this is who we are. And they are worthy of anyone’s time. I really just wrote this to make that point.

I’m not particularly interested in dramatisations like that horrendous Nicholas Cage film, nor do I care for the ‘what ifs’ of conspiracy theories.

To me, you don’t get a more gripping or significant tale of human interest than from the people who were in and around the World Trade Centre that day, and we should continue to be amazed at the level of detail such a horrible and major day in our history was covered in.

And hope that nothing similar ever happens again.


Doctor Who – The Android Invasion Review (or ‘The Kraals Have A More Wasteful Economy Than Greece’)

September 11, 2012

Fresh from delivering the apparent classic ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, Terry Nation is back and writing a non-Dalek story for the first time since the brilliant Keys of Marinus.

Nation has been hit and miss in his attempts to write for the series in the 1970s and there’s a school of thought that anything he did well was either because he was going back to old ideas (Planet of the Daleks) or someone else rewrote if for him (Genesis of the Daleks).

So what about the Android Invasion? A good story, or is Nation a busted flush?

Doctor Who – The Android Invasion Review: What’s This One About

The Doctor and Sarah land on a planet that they think is Earth, but is really the planet of the Kraals, who are in the final process of rehearsing for an invasion of rural England by recreating the village of Devesham, its nearby Space Defence Station and everyone in it.

And seemingly all of it has been created by using the memories of Guy Crayford – an astronaut who is presumed dead on Earth.

As always, it’s up the Doctor to stop it.

Thoughts

Before I launch into what is a pretty extensive critique about how none of this makes even the slightest bit of sense, I’ll defend the story by saying that this was a story made at a time when people were only supposed to see it once and never again.

So on that score you’d look at the shock value of the story not really being set on Earth despite it appearing to be and think that it was quite clever. After all, if you only see the last episode three weeks after the first one you might forget some of the earlier plot and

One thing you can say about Androids – they have good posture

just enjoy the surprise.

And that’s clearly what Terry Nation and Robert Holmes were banking on, because if they knew that this story would be immortalised on video and DVD in the years ahead they might have taken a moment to think about what they were presenting.

Because as I say…this story makes no sense.

The Kraal Plan – What…The…Fuck?!

So the Kraal’s need to move to Earth because the radiation on their planet has reached intolerable levels.

They have advanced technology, such as the ability to warp through space, create viruses that will wipe out mankind in a matter of weeks and other such things. You’d think that what they would do would be just to invade and attack, right? Wrong.

Instead they decide what they want to do is infiltrate in secret and then destroy humanity with this virus. And they plan on doing that by brainwashing an astronaut they have stumbled upon and captured and use his knowledge to get a better idea of what they are invading.

So they brainwash him by making him think that the humans have left him for dead. But they don’t just leave it at that; they say they have rebuilt him after he was ravaged by something like radiation, even though he wasn’t. And to emphasise the point that they’ve rebuilt him they make him believe that part of his body couldn’t be saved.

What part? Well they could have chopped off a hand, a finger even, but they decide the best thing to do is make him think he’s missing an eye. But rather than actually remove the eye, they put an eyepatch over it – despite it being perfectly healthy – and then just pray to God that he doesn’t bother to take it off at any point in the next two years. And he doesn’t of course.

So now they’ve got their man and brainwashed him into disliking humanity, they decide that they want to use him as a gateway to Earth and through that, their idea is to replace some key figures in the Space Station with Androids who will…I don’t know…help

Keep an eye out for this man – he appears in almost as many stories as King Extra, Pat Gorman

the Kraals infiltrate unnoticed or something.

With me so far? Probably not, but I’ll keep going anyway.

So they’ve got their contrived means of getting to Earth and so plan to test that by recreating the surrounding area on their own planet. Seemingly through Crayford’s memory alone they are able to make a perfect replica of Devesham, complete with the knowledge of exactly who will be on staff two years later. That includes not only people who work at the station as their day job (in the hope that they haven’t moved jobs) but also which members of UNIT will be on staff while they are there.

But even that’s not enough for the micro-managing Kraals. For some reason they want to create the village nearby, along with Android replicas of all the villagers (assuming nobody has moved in or out in two years), a fully stocked pub, a calendar with the date July 6th printed on every piece of paper, freshly minted coins that were all issued on the same year despite the statistical unlikelihood of that happening,  an unused dart board and everything in between. Why? I don’t know.

They also go to the trouble of creating android dogs, presumably in case someone like the Doctor stumbles across their plans.

So it’s lucky for them the Doctor has stumbled across it, and as such, in a bid to keep their plan secret, they program all the Androids – including his friends – to be hostile (that won’t raise suspicion, will it?), they have ‘basic’ Androids shoot at them even though the Androids don’t have the ability to distinguish between themselves and humans (think about that…), and when all that failed to work they make the Android Sarah tell the Doctor their entire plan.

Then, despite all the planning that’s gone into it, once they are ready to leave they decide to blow the entire village up. Presumably the Kraal economy is more wasteful than Greece (ooooh, topical).

But they don’t just want to kill the Doctor, they want to tie him up so he dies in the blast, thus giving him a small but crucial chance to escape and thwart their plans. Similarly, they don’t just want to test out their virus by actually TESTING it on Sarah; they give her a glass of water and assume she’ll drink it, and then they don’t even bother to check up on the results.

And when they eventually get to Earth and replace the key figures that they replace (which for some reason didn’t include the guy who apparently runs the place), they don’t kill them, but instead tie them up.

And they assume that the Earth authorities will just accept that Crayford has managed to survive for two years in deep space by recycling his own piss, and not question it. And they don’t!

So that’s their plan.

They could have and did do all of that, when they could have avoided it all by just going to another planet (which wouldn’t be too much of a stretch considering they can fly as far as Earth in a couple of hours) or if they had to have Earth they could have just bombed it.

So no, this plan makes no sense to me and deeply compromises the story. And as a result of that, I find it hard to be positive.

The End of the UNIT Era

Beyond that, one of the few noteworthy things about this story is that it’s the end of UNIT as a reoccurring theme in the show.

Yes, they show up again in the Seeds of Doom but those soldiers are just no-names who are unfamiliar to us; they may as well be ‘The Army’.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. “Holy Shit, Holy Shit, Holy Shit”

No, this is the real end of the UNIT era, and though the Brigadier has disappeared already, we now say goodbye to Benton and Harry Sullivan.

I get the feeling this wasn’t supposed to be their last appearances though, because if it  was, the lack of any sort of goodbye scene must have felt like a right kick in the teeth.

UNIT could have worked going forward, but by this point, maybe ‘Aliens invade modern-day Earth’ had been getting a little stale.

Milton Johns as Guy Crayford

If I’m going to be positive about one thing about this story it’s that Milton Johns is quite good as Guy Crayford.

Unlike most villains, he does a good job of making you dislike him.

Johns is – whether you consider it to be unfortunate or not – a naturally slimey wee character, and so his weasily antics here and later on in the Invasion of Time make him one of the more odious actors in the show, but for the right reasons rather than being because he’s bad at his job.

Random Observations

  • I hate incongruous writing, and this story has it. From the off, all we hear about is the Doctor’s love of Ginger Beer. We’ve never heard of it before, nor will we hear about it again, but in the Android Invasion, he’s just crazy about the stuff. Why? Well you’d think it was so the Doctor could rumble the Android Sarah, but the reason he gives for knowing it wasn’t her is that she was wearing a scarf that the Doctor had in his pocket (which incidentally is another part of the plot that doesn’t make sense – how did the Android Sarah have the scarf).
  • So what was the point of the Ginger Beer stuff?
  • You’ll notice that there’s another character that sounds exactly like Zippy in this one. It was of coursed voiced by The Emperor’s New Clothes of Voice Acting, Roy Skelton. It becomes clear that Skelton only has three voices in his supposed repertoire – his

    I bet Tom Baker learnt a lesson he wouldn’t forget that day…

    own, Zippy and George. Still…that’s at least two more voices than Nick Briggs.

  • One thing you can do while watching this is play a game called ‘Which Scenes Were Filmed After Tom Baker Goes Into The Lake And Picks Up A Bad Throat Infection’. Give it a try, it’s fun.
  • Not quite sure how he managed to dry his clothes though, are you?
  • That guy who played the Brigadier’s replacement for the episode is the sort of actor you’d expect to find in something like Rentaghost or Bodger & Badger. Absolutely awful.
  • And of course, it begs the question of how a) he’s not aware of any extra-terrestrial stuff seeing as he’s high up in UNIT and b) how he’s even employed by UNIT considering the budget previously wouldn’t run to hiring extra staff.
  • Max Faulkner is in this again. Who is he? Well he’s been in almost every story for the past three seasons and barely gets a word in. Have a look out for him in other stories and you’d be surprised how often he pops up.
  • I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Kraal masks as they don’t offer any sort of movement in the face and the actors underneath sound muffled.
  • But Stigron really did have a gritty death, didn’t he?
  • To end with a positive thought though, I do like the scene where the Doctor first enters the Space Centre and gets blanked by the UNIT soldier. His incredulity and annoyance at that is well performed as he really does look pissed off.

Doctor Who – The Android Invasion Review: Final Thoughts

Following on from the Pyramids of Mars, this is a seriously disappointing story.

It just doesn’t make sense.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s bad, because there are far worse stories out there that do make sense but are incredibly boring or poorly acted.

If you can disengage your brain from a moment and don’t look…well I wouldn’t say too deep…don’t look at it at all, then you have a reasonably entertaining story that is mostly well performed.

But as I say, it’s laughable how little sense it makes and so I give this one the thumbs down, especially considering it’s sandwiched between two excellent stories.

And it would appear as though Terry Nation is back ‘on form’, unfortunately for us all.


Doctor Who – The Pyramids of Mars Review (or ‘At Last, Fandom Gets One Right’)

September 10, 2012

I had an ‘exchange of views’ on twitter the other day with a very well-known Dr Who fan. I’m sure you can guess who I’m on about, but I wouldn’t want to name him for fear of making The List.

The fan in question was lashing out at anyone who was being critical of the newest episodes of the show because in his opinion they are all perfect. I tried to point out that they can’t all be perfect and that saying as much is just as redundant as saying everything is bad. The world is not black and white; there are shades of grey. Some stories are better than others. Some are rubbish, some are brilliant and many are just average.

He couldn’t agree with that and actually said words to the effect of ‘I neither care nor respect the views of anyone who disagrees with my own’. Make of that what you will…

I’ve enjoyed the new series of Dr Who so far, but I thought that while Dinosaurs on a Space Ship was very enjoyable, Asylum of the Daleks was merely average (and incidentally, you can read my full review of those stories at some point in 2013).

And that brings me to the Philip Hinchcliffe Era.

There’s this belief that it was a Golden Age for the show and that everything in it was superb. That’s just not true. Yes, I think Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen are both excellent for wildly different reasons, and I have enjoyed most of the other stories,

This just looks cool. It doesn’t look fearsome, but it does look cool. It’s the suit that brings the whole thing together.

but those ones are certainly not “classics”

If I said they were all amazing then it would soften the impact of the review of a story I genuinely believe is a classic.

And Pyramids of Mars is one such story…

Doctor Who – The Pyramids of Mars Review: What’s This One About

This is the one set in early 20th century England where the Doctor battles Egyptian Mummy Robots, The Living Dead, An Egyptian with a short temper and a softly spoken Egyptian God who may well be the Devil himself.

But the chances are you know that already.

Thoughts – Yep, This Is A Good One

There’s no doubt about it; the Pyramids of Mars is one of the top Doctor Who stories of all time.

Everything that you look for in a good story is here, whether that’s a strong supporting cast, good location and sets, a villain you can take seriously, worthy incidental music, top-notch performances by the regular cast or of course a well written script; you name it, it’s here.

Obviously the BBC can be relied upon to do a good job of the setting – a mansion and its grounds in 1911 England – because they always do period drama well. And if it looks convincing then you immediately consider it to be convincing, and thus you enjoy it more.

Compare the look of this one to the rather bland and unimaginative space ship that the latter half of the Planet of Evil took place on and you immediately feel that you’re watching a show of a higher standard.

And of course, it’s not just the sets; the costumes are authentic, the mummies look great (and also have the twist of being Robots, which is very ‘Dr Whoish’), Marcus Scarman looks like the zombie he’s meant to be and the villain of the piece is something viewers

Do you think they went on location to film this or used library footage? If this was an Andrew Marr documentary it would be the former.

can relate to.

Yes of course, when Sutekh takes his mask off he looks a bit silly, I won’t argue that. Indeed, when I was a child growing up watching the VHS of this one I always laughed at it because it looked like a sort of ant-eater/horse/deformed rabbit. But we can forgive it I think.

And it sounds wonderful as well. Combined with an effectively themed incidental score, there is the powerful use of the organ in Scarman’s house to emphasise when business is picking up within the story.

So all of that is great, but it wouldn’t be worth too much if it wasn’t written or acted well…

The Writing

But of course it was written well.

The story has a flow to it that many Dr Who stories lack. It’s fair to say that the show can slip into the formula of capture and escape, which is something that even a highly regarded story like Genesis of the Daleks was guilty of.

Pyramids of Mars avoids that. We get the prologue with Marcus Scarman in Egypt, followed by the Doctor arriving in a situation that is already half-developed. The beauty of the writing in the early episodes is that although there is exposition, it doesn’t seem like there is.

There’s a good reason within the confines of the story for why each character is introduced and for how the Doctor and Sarah get brought up the speed with what is going on.

It has a small cast of characters but they all have a purpose – even the poacher – and a villain who is a genuine threat and has a reason for being threatening. Oh no, there’s no ‘Invasion For The Sake Of It’ stuff going on here. Sutekh is discovered during an archeological dig, and he plans to use those who discovered him to set himself free and wreak havoc upon the universe. And the idea that his evil is our good and vice verse means it makes sense.

Ok, it maybe gets brushed over a little bit how they are able to assemble a missile to be aimed at Mars in 1911, and it’s also a little convenient that Sarah is all of a sudden a crack shot with a rifle from long-range, but once again these are forgivable.

And also, while some people could be branded hypocrites for loving the ‘Rehash of the City of the Exxilons’ bit in Episode 4 considering most people don’t seem to like that part of Death to the Daleks, I liked it, and would say that the difference between the two is that there was an actual point to this one.

The Characters

As I say above, it has a small set of characters, but each of them serves a purpose.

The butler is there to expose the plot to the Doctor, The Egyptian is there to bring forth Scarman, Scarman is there to be Sutekh’s ‘man on the ground’, Doctor Warlock is there to emphasise the problem with Scarman and to bring Scarman’s brother into it, Scarman’s brother is there to give the Doctor a base of operations and the Poacher is there to provide the Doctor with a means with which to blow up the missile. And the deflection barrier is there to keep everyone else out, or to keep those in the story in.

Serves him right for trying to dish out Vigilante Justice.

So it works well.

Perhaps it could be argued that if the performances of Dr Warlock or Laurence Scarman weren’t so good then they’d be a little bit incidental to the plot, but the fact is that they are so good, Michael Sheard’s especially.

Sheard is one of the better actors to appear in the show over the years, and this is his finest hour in Doctor Who (his main achievement outside it being Mr Bronson in Grange Hill). Indeed, what makes this performance so good is that he’s such a whimpering and sympathetic man, which is a far cry from the Demon Bastard Teacher From Hell, or indeed his many turns as Adolf Hitler.

Tom Baker too is in fine form, with a performance that mixes the light relief of his early jokes with the butler and his brilliantly delivered ‘Don’t provoke me’ line to Sarah, all the way through to his deadly serious attitude to the threat of Sutekh and the ‘as if he wasn’t human’ reactions to Laurence when he finds himself understandably hesitant to kill off the walking dead that is his brother.

It’s like I’ve said before; if the cast are taking it seriously and putting their all into it, then you can invest in it further.

Sutekh

Throughout my reviews of the show, I’ve always been full of praise for the villains who act against type.  I loved Kevin Stoney’s performances working against the Daleks & Cybermen, or Roger Delgado’s latter goes at playing the Master where he came across as  a more likeable character than the Doctor at times. And of course you all know my thoughts on Christopher Robbie as the Cyber Leader from Revenge.

On watching the Documentary on the DVD, your thought process will be as follows…
“Jesus Christ, Dr Warlock is still alive? Oh, he died in 2008. But hey, he had a good innings”
Tell me I’m wrong….

Well you can add Gabriel Woolf’s portrayal as Sutekh to that list.

I say portrayal but I really mean his voice acting.

If you asked 100 directors to cast a voice artist to play the character of Sutekh then I imagine 98 of them would hire a guy like Stephen Thorne. A big, booming voiced bastard who could play the role with anger and gravitas.

Instead, Director Paddy Russell hired a softly spoken guy to deliver the lines in a calm whisper. And how much better is it?

Gabriel Woolf plays a blinder as Sutekh and the delivery of his lines only manages to make the character more threatening, more evil and more memorable.

Excellent stuff.

Random Observations

  • This story has three top-notch cliffhangers. Best of the lot is the first one which is a bit of a game-changer. Up to that point the viewer probably thought the main villain was going to be the Egyptian with the fez, but then the arrival of Scarman to kill him and deliver the line “I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humans” will no doubt have made them sit up and take notice.
  • Meanwhile the cliffhanger of Episode 2 probably wouldn’t be allowed on TV before the watershed in 2012.
  • But then I don’t think many of the deaths would be shown on Dr Who these days either. You’ve got the Poacher being crushed to death, Doctor Warlock being strangled and the Egyptian being killed with some sort of death grip. And that’s to say nothing of Warlock being shot with a revolver earlier on.
  • A series of lines I particularly enjoy is “Where are we?” “Hiding” “Where?” “In a priest hole” “In a Victorian Gothic folly? Nonsense!”. Slick.
  • It’s good to see a writer finally tackle the age-old question of ‘Why don’t they just leave’.
  • I suppose the poacher being killed is his just reward for attempting some vigilante justice. He didn’t see anyone get killed himself but heard a scream and decided the best thing to do was sneak up on a bloke and shoot him in the back. Typical farming type.
  • And speaking of that scene, when you know that is was filmed in reverse, starting with Scarman walking backwards from the window, it looks pretty obvious, but it’s a nice effect.
  • It took me a little bit of thinking but I did manage to get my head around the logic puzzle in Episode 4. I must admit to thinking ‘Wait…hold on…is that right?’, but it is.
  • A similarly nice bit of logic was the conclusion with the ‘It takes 2 minutes for radio waves to travel to Earth’ or whatever it was. Well done the writing team.
  • If you watch the DVD of Pyramids of Mars and watch the excellent ‘Making of’ documentary, you’ll be stunned to see Peter Copley who played Dr Warlock still on the go. He’s sadly passed away since, but still – you’d have thought he’d long since have popped his clogs before then.
  • From the file marked “I’m Glad I Proof-Read That”, I’d been calling Dr Warlock Dr Lawrence and my initial draft had a random observation moaning at the lack of imagination on the part of the writer for calling two characters Lawrence. I’d have looked mighty foolish if I’d let that one slip…

Doctor Who – The Pyramids of Mars Review: Final Thoughts

Pyramids of Mars comes in at #7 in the Top 200 stories list and at last I agree with Fandom.

This is a superb story, with almost nothing to be critical of. Everyone involved in its creation has brought their A-Game and as a result you truly do get one of the best Dr Who stories of all time.

If you don’t like this one, you’re watching the wrong show.