Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Whilst researching images for my recent post on The Monster of Peladon, I was struck by a wave of nostalgia on seeing the old Weetabix collectable character cards again.
Now, there is a great deal written about the 1960's Dalekmania merchandising (there's a significant feature in the recent Dalek Magazook). There are whole websites, and books, devoted to all the merchandise released since the series came back in 2005.
The 1980's green K9, 5-sided TARDIS console and two armed Davros get mentioned a lot - entirely due to those errors.
One era of merchandising rarely talked about is the stuff covering what might be argued as the classic series best years - the later Pertwee / early Tom Baker period. Why? Because there was virtually nowt released.
And yet there were a few gems to be found during my own personal formative fan years. I do have an older brother, but he is of the "Not We", so there wasn't any Dalek material for me to inherit. (Yes, a deprived childhood).
Come with me then, if you will, on a journey back through time - to what is often thought to be merchandising's Dark Times.
The images at the head of this post were the second set of collectables from Weetabix. The first set were the full figure ones, some of which can be seen immediately above. Other characters included a Yeti, Quark and White Robot from the Troughton era. There was also Saarl (sic), which was actually taken from a photo of Azaxyr. You could also collect Alpha Centauri, Aggedor, a Silurian, a Sea Devil and an Axon monster. I had several Cybermen, and turned one into a Cyberleader (using a black felt pen) after watching Revenge of the Cybermen. The figures could stand up, and on the back of each box was a background scene to pose them against - jungle, volcanic cavern etc.
My family never bought Weetabix - until prompted by me. They never ate any of it once bought, so it was down to me to finish the contents of every box in order that another could be purchased. (I must have been a very regular youth). Naturally I would cheat a little, binning the odd one or feeding one to the dog - never appreciated - but did manage to complete both sets.
Another promotion which I collected were the Typhoo Tea photo cards, sending off for the accompanying book "The Amazing World of Doctor Who" (which is what the World Distribution annuals ought to have been like). For a couple of months, my dad was deprived of his favoured PG-Tips (he loved the chimps) just to placate me.
Talking of the annuals, they continued throughout the entire run of the programme, but were sadly lacking in much visual representation from the programme itself. What I always wanted were photos from the series - especially pictures of monsters. Before DW Weekly and the magazines born out of the Star Wars phenomena - "Starburst", "TV Zone" etc., there were very few places you could get photographs (apart from Radio Times).
Having that aforementioned older brother, who was into horror movies, introduced me to the short-lived magazine "World of Horror".
The magazine featured primarily Hammer, Amicus, Tigon films, but the first edition had a photo of Malpha, from Mission To The Unknown. Subsequent issues covered an increasing amount of Doctor Who material - even getting the above cover. The pieces were relatively text free monster galleries, but one of the last issues had a full feature on The Claws of Axos. Of course, another draw for the 10 year old me were wonderfully gory (and frequently naughty) images from what were then X-rated movies I had absolutely no chance of ever getting to see. You'll find copies of this magazine on e-bay - but for a heck of a lot more than 30p.
A particular item treasured by me was the Doctor Who Poster Magazine. As you can see, the cover was not exactly promising, and the actual poster was a publicity shot of Tom, but the reverse of the poster held a plethora of glossy photographs from the show (sadly mostly B&W). I bought my copy on a trip to the Blackpool Exhibition - a much anticipated annual event for me. Imagine my delight on a subsequent trip to obtain the second Poster Magazine - with far more colour photographs and two posters.
Soon after, those hideous Doctor Who dolls were released (including the scary Leela), and Star Wars was about to burst onto the scene - initiating loads of sci-fi magazines which featured the programme (as mentioned above). Then, in 1979, we got a publication all of our own.
It may sound a bit perverse, but in some ways I miss the relative lack of merchandising. There was stuff out there, and you really had to hunt for it (or eat hundreds of Weetabix), and it made finding things all the more thrilling. We're all a bit too spoiled these days (and a lot less regular)...
Sunday, 16 June 2013
The Web of Fear might have been the dry run, or the inspiration, but this is where the UNIT story really begins. The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce is unveiled for the very first time, and it is still very much part of the programme to the present day (albeit with a minor litigation-avoiding name tweak). We know from filming that it will feature in the 50th anniversary story.
Nicholas Courtney's character gets promoted to Brigadier - defining both character and actor for the rest of their lives.
Though he won't become a regular for a little while longer, the story also features John Levene's first appearance as Benton (still a corporal).
There are a couple of iconic Doctor Who moments on show - the Cybermen in the sewers (and popping out of them) and their march down the steps near St Paul's.
This is the only outing for this particular Cyber design - the first to feature the "ear muffs".
It is the Cyberships from this story which the new series' design references (as seen in The Pandorica Opens and A Good Man Goes To War).
Kevin Stoney's performance as Tobias Vaughn provides us with one of the greatest ever Doctor Who villains.
In some ways it is the longest running story of the series (The Daleks' Master Plan being little more than a series of smaller adventures strung together, as with The Trial of a Time Lord. This is one powerful single homogeneous story-line).
And just think, The Invasion was almost even more significant - had it featured Professor Travers making his third appearance, as originally intended.
No TW3 this week, as there really isn't anything to report on, so I will just pose the following question.
Hands up who would pre-order something that you knew absolutely nothing about? I have been keeping an eye on the forthcoming "Monster Collection" DVD sets - due for release on Monday 8th July - and am very surprised that there is still no information regarding them. No covers, no contents. Even the BBC Shop has nothing to show or tell about them, yet the release date is now less than a month away.
I certainly would not pre-order any of these discs until I am given some idea of what they are actually going to contain. Some folk must be pre-ordering, however, as the discs start to appear on Page 6 (out of 30) on Amazon's forthcoming releases section - based on "popularity", which I assume is based on advance orders.
Update Tuesday 18th June: The BBC Shop is now listing these as to be released on 30/9/13.
Thursday, 13 June 2013
I'd totally forgotten about this until I was doing a bit of late night trawling through You Tube. Of course, the best three songs ever recorded are:
1. William Shatner's sublime rendition of "Lucy... in the Sky... ... ... with Diamonds".
2. His first officer's jaunty "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins".
3. Roberta Tovey's timeless classic "Who's Doctor Who". (Might be tuneless classic - it's a bit hard to read...).
3 and a bit. Frazer Hines' "Who is Doctor Who"
3 and another bit. Jon Pertwee's "I am the Doctor".
But I'm sure you will agree that this is right up there with them. (Sure beats Matt Smith pretending to play a synthesiser with Orbital at Glastonbury a couple of years ago).
All these hits - and MORE - are available on an exclusive 34 CD set from DrossCo Records. Not available in any shops. Send £399.99, or as much as you can afford, to my off-shore bank account, care of the Cayman Islands. Buy before July 2013 and you receive a FREE bonus disc - "Christopher Eccleston Sings Billy Bragg". Twelve of your favourite Billy Bragg songs, recorded by Chris LIVE at the Salford Labour Club.
(Buy before 20th June, and we promise not to send the 12 CD set "Colin Baker Sings Gilbert & Sullivan").
AND THERE'S MORE. For an extra £10.99 you receive an electric thing that peels potatoes very, very quickly. We don't understand it either - but it works!
In which the Doctor decides to take Sarah to the planet Peladon to visit his old friend the King. The TARDIS materialises in the tunnels beneath the royal citadel, but the Doctor finds that they have arrived some 50 years after his last visit. The King is dead and his daughter, Thalira, now sits on the throne. The Federation are still present, overseeing Trisilicate mining operations. In charge of these is an Earthman named Eckersley, aided by a native of Vega Nexos, renowned mining engineers. Ambassador Alpha Centauri is also here. It is able to vouch for the Doctor when he is captured by the soldiers of Chancellor Ortron.
The mining operations are at risk, after the sighting of apparitions of Aggedor, which have struck down the miners. Vega Nexos also wants to use advanced technology - a sonic lance - but the superstitious natives are against this and suspect that Aggedor is angry with the aliens are their machines. Trouble is being stirred by a firebrand miner named Ettis. The Pel miners are being kept in check by their leader Gebek, who is a more pragmatic and reasonable man. The Federation is at war, and the mining of Trisilicate is vital, so any disruption has terrible consequences. Vega Nexos is killed by the Aggedor apparition when he tries to demonstrate the sonic lance to Thalira and Ortron. The Doctor decides to investigate and is escorted by the Queen's Champion, Blor. Aggedor appears once more and Blor is killed. The Doctor is saved by Gebek, who informs him of his peoples' woes. The Doctor has observed that the apparition is a man-made phenomenon - the projection of an image coupled with a heat ray weapon.
Relations break down further between Orton and the miners, as he tries to imprison both the Doctor and Gebek. At one point he tries to execute the Doctor and Sarah by throwing them into a pit beneath the temple. They are attacked by the real Aggedor, but the Doctor is able to subdue it through hypnotism as he had done 50 years before. Ettis leads a failed attempt to break into the armoury to steal energy weapons. Eckersly convinces Alpha Centauri to call upon the Federation for help. Whilst searching for the Doctor in the mines, Sarah stumbles upon the disused refinery control room. She is sure she sees a large figure moving around within.
A squad of Ice Warriors arrives on the planet. Commander Azaxyr is prepared to put the planet under martial law in order to get the Trisilicate mining operations up and running. Sarah informs the Doctor that the figure she had seen in the refinery was an Ice Warrior - despite their not having been summoned at that time.
The Doctor urges Ortron and Gebek to work together. If everything appears to be back to normal, the Ice Warriors should withdraw. Unbeknownst to them, Azaxyr is a member of a rebel faction who are allied with the Federation's enemies. He wants to see his people return to their belligerent ways of old, rather than act as puppets of the Federation.
Ettis steals the sonic lance and aims it at the citadel - intent on wiping out the aristocracy as well as the aliens. He does not know that Azaxyr has sabotaged the weapon. The Doctor struggles with Ettis and the machine explodes, killing the miner. Eckersley is unmasked as Azaxyr's ally. He wants wealth and power. After Ortron is killed saving Thalira, the miners are rallied by Gebek and attack the Ice Warriors. The Doctor takes control of the Aggedor apparition weapon (controlled from the refinery) and uses it against the Martians. Azaxyr is killed by the Queen's guards. Realising their plan has failed, Eckersley abducts Thalira and makes through the mines to a waiting escape ship. The Doctor uses Aggedor to track them. It kills the traitorous Earthman but dies in the struggle. Thalira offers the Chancellorship to the Doctor - but he recommends Gebek for the role.
This six part story was written by Brian Hayles, and was broadcast between 23rd March and 27th April, 1974.
It is significant for being the first proper sequel in the eleven year history of the programme. It is a general rule of thumb that sequels tend to be inferior to their originals, and this proves to be the case here.
The Curse of Peladon had been a reasonable enough story, but one often bogged down in politicking. This one has even more of it - people arguing in the mines, followed by other people arguing in the throne room, then a few more arguments in the mines. The action set pieces are a bit too few and far between.
The Ice Warriors only turn up at the end of part three, by which time we've grown a little bit too bored of the bickering Pels. Basically, the story just doesn't hold up over 6 episodes.
And all this despite a wide range of alien creatures on show. As well as Ice warriors, Alpha Centauri and Aggedor reprising from the earlier Peladon tale, we get mole-man Vega Nexos.
I saw this story on transmission, but when Weetabix did their second Doctor Who promotion - including Blor and Vega Nexos I failed to recognise either.
Vega Nexos even turned up prominently in the second DW Poster magazine. Again, I failed to recognise him - but could work out which story he came from by the background. It is likely that in the pre-VHS days I might have missed part one of this story - and Blor and Vega Nexos are confined entirely to that episode.
Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks have stated that, apart from The Green Death, no story was ever commissioned to have an overt current political theme. However, The Curse of Peladon obviously paralleled Britain's efforts to join the EEC, and this reflects the massive industrial unrest of the mid 1970's. Come to think of it, perhaps that's why I have no recollection of Vega & Blor - a local power cut in North Ayrshire...
It is nice to see the Ice Warriors back to their bad old ways, and Alan Bennion's Azaxyr is pretty nasty even before it is found that he is a traitorous rebel. He is quite prepared to execute hostages in order to resolve the protests. The character of Ettis just does not work at all - mainly due to Ralph Watson performance. He is just too mad for it to be likely anyone would actually heed what he says, let alone follow him. Watson had played Captain Knight in The Web of Fear (after Nicholas Courtney had been promoted to Colonel). The other villain of the piece is Eckersley, played by Donald Gee. His is a far more nuanced performance. His villainy is well enough hidden, and he comes across as someone who just wants to be left alone to get on with his job - even if this does make him quite cold towards the Doctor, Sarah and Gebek.
Nick Hobbs reprises Aggedor, and Alpha Centauri is realised once more by Ysanne Churchman (voice) and Stuart Fell (body).
Gebek is played by Rex Robinson, a regular performer for director Lennie Mayne (The Three Doctors and The Hand of Fear).
Frank Gatliff is Chancellor Ortron - a mean spirited man who keeps his queen under his thumb, but who redeems himself before the end. Things might not have changed that much for the better on Peladon with entry into the Federation, but at least the more extreme aspects of their religion have been toned down. Workers are subjugated and women regarded as inferior, but you don't get executed for blaspheming the temple any more.
Thalira (Nina Thomas) is a bit wet. Sarah has to talk her into believing in herself a bit more, with some words on Women's Liberation. There's nothing "only" about being a girl, after all.
Episode endings are:
- Ettis has sealed the Doctor and Blor in a cave. The apparition of Aggedor appears and strikes down Blor, the Doctor next in the firing line.
- The Doctor and Sarah have been cast into a pit beneath the temple. Aggedor lurches out of the shadows to attack them.
- The Doctor and Gebek break into the refinery - only to find an Ice Warrior already inside.
- Ettis activates the sonic lance. There is an explosion - killing him and, apparently, the Doctor as well.
- The Ice Warriors begin burning through the door to the refinery, with the Doctor, Sarah and Gebek trapped within.
- The Doctor and Sarah depart from Peladon.
Overall, a touch over-long with insufficient incident to really grab the viewer. It will be a very long wait indeed before we see the Ice Warriors again, and Peladon will only be revisited on audio and in the novel Legacy. I would dearly love to see Alpha Centauri brought back, using new costume and CGI techniques. The kids would love it.
Things you might like to know:
- Continuity with The Curse of Peladon is achieved by using the same director and designer (Gloria Clayton), as well as having the recurring monsters.
- Lennie Mayne's wife, Frances Pidgeon, is Thalira's hand maid in early episodes. She has a more prominent role is her hubby's later The Hand of Fear.
- Max Faulkner, playing one of the Pel miners, gets quite noticeably killed twice in the same episode.
- Terry Walsh is the Doctor! He's rather too obviously seen in the fight sequence just before Ettis gets blown up.
- If you can't stand the heat, keep out of the mines. Always worked for me.
- This is Frank Gatliff's only appearance in Doctor Who. He was quite a flamboyant character - usually dressing head to toe in black and sporting a cloak.
- In The Curse of Peladon, Trisilicate comes only from Mars, whereas here Peladon is full of it.
- One great mystery is how did UNIT manage to get hold of a picture of Sarah in the temple? Are we to assume that the Doctor takes souvenir photos of his travels in unfilmed scenes? (He got his library card picture taken in the Celestial Toyroom after all - plus a photo of Clara the Clown which he gave to the coulrophobic Sarah). If you're wondering what I'm talking about, watch the Sarah Jane Adventures story The Lost Boy.
- Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns by the way.
- And the fear of chopsticks is Consecotaleophobia. I mention this only as I found it next to Coulrophobia in a list of phobias... See if you can fit it into a conversation tomorrow.
Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Fury From The Deep.
Love it or loathe it, the Sonic Screwdriver is as much an icon of the show as the TARDIS and the Daleks - and this is the story in which it was introduced.
It was well-known back in the 1970's - even when it wasn't actually employed all that often - but is rarely off screen in the newer stories.
JNT rather over-reacted by having it destroyed (missing out on a merchandising opportunity as well, which was very unlike him). His reason for the axing of the Sonic was sound (pun very much intended) - claiming it made it far too easy for the Doctor to get out of trouble. (Mind you, we would have been spared Peter Davison sitting in a cell for an entire episode of Snakedance).
Lord knows what JNT would have made of more recent series. I have already posted specifically on the Sonic (tying in with my review of this very story) and made my views known therein. I've nothing against it per se, but do dislike:
- Its overuse (generally).
- The ever expanding list of its capabilities.
- Using it like a magic wand.
- The Doctor brandishing it as though it were a weapon.
Sadly, it is Debbie Watling's only story missing in its entirety, save for a few clips.
There is a unique, for the time, TARDIS landing.
It's also a rare example of a story in which none of the characters gets killed.
Sunday, 9 June 2013
Well you can't - bet on it that is. Bookmakers have suspended betting on the new Doctor on the grounds that they've heard that the role has already been offered to Rory Kinnear, though he hasn't accepted yet.
Might all be a reaction to a well-placed rumour and odds open again tomorrow.
We could do with another Rory in the TARDIS, mind you.
First reaction from Mark Gatiss on the news: "I can confirm that Rory Kinnear will be the new Doctor - and I should know because I'll be playing him!" Allegedly...