“Exquisite, Absolutely Exquisite”: Just What The Doctor Ordered!

Ah-haaar! Loooong Scarf. Would You Like A Jelly Baby? Come On!

Costa: “Name and date of birth.” 
The Doctor: “Well how would I know? I don’t even know who he is yet.” 
Costa: “YOUR name and date of birth!”
The Doctor: “Oh well, I’m called the Doctor. Date of birth difficult to remember. Sometime quite soon, I think.”

My life changed on 1 September 1979. 

Destiny of the Daleks just happened to be the opening story of Doctor Who Season 11. 

For the next five years, my Saturday evenings became a magical time catching the cosmic – sometimes Earthbound – shenanigans of a dual-hearted Gallifreyan renegade in his Type 40 time capsule (better known as the TARDIS).

The programme’s effervescent mix of mayhem and monsters, humour and horror – and jelly babies – proved to be an irresistible delight. To me, and twelve million other viewers.

EVERY Saturday evening. (And this Saturday teatime is the ideal time to launch this Post! 😉 )

For those of you who believe that the time is right to delve into Classic Who, who better to guide you through the best stories than someone who tried to alleviate the inexorable wait for that following weekend’s unmissable instalment by grabbing each ish of Doctor Who Weekly and, using his own wardrobe for a TARDIS, accompanied by (cuddly) companions: Jallo Bear and Teddy Edwards, enacted his own adventures in time and space (imagination permitting!) 

It seems unbelievable now, but back then, the producers simply could not select a suitable replacement for the very popular Jon Pertwee (the 3rd Doctor: 1970-1973). Until Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks (Producer and Script Editor respectively) were captivated at the cinema by the evil sorcerer in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, played by a little-known actor named Tom Baker. At a meeting, where this actor discussed the morality in children’s literature, the duo realised they had found the new Doctor. 

This regeneration’s distinctive “Bohemian and battered” look would be inspired by a portrait of Aristide Bruant by Toulouse-Lautrec. A delightful misunderstanding caused Begonia Pope to use ALL the wool she had been given, resulting in the twelve-foot technicolour scarf that has become the most iconic part of his wardrobe.

Despite a mixed reaction – “too silly,” or “too crazy” cried some of the dissenters – Baker swiftly transformed this Gallifreyan into a national institution. Once again, Doctor Who triumphed at exacting what secured its status as the longest-running SF series: its boundless capacity for change.

For me, the 4th Doctor IS the Doctor, not just because he was my first to watch, but with his large eyes, imposing height, riot of curly hair, that toothsome grin, his amusing penchant for shouting: “Ah-haaar!” and “Come on!” in almost every episode (in that rich and renowned voice of his!), his cool loping gait – and jelly babies – he actually exuded an “otherworldly” nature that no other actor in the role has managed to recreate.

From his debut story: Robot (28 December 1974 – 18 January 1975), THIS is the definite article, you might say:

The Doctor: “You’re improving, Harry!”

Harry Sullivan: “Am I really?”

The Doctor: “Yes! Your mind is beginning to work! It’s entirely due to my influence of course; you musn’t take any credit…”

The 4th Doctor’s first three seasons (12-14) were exceptionally produced by Philip Hinchcliffe – widely regarded by fans as the Golden Age of Doctor Who.

Despite Robot resembling a stock Jon Pertwee adventure, Ark In Space (25 January – 15 February 1975), The Sontaran Experiment (22 February – 1 March 1975), Genesis Of The Daleks (8 March – 12 April 1975), and Revenge of the Cybermen (19 April – 10 May 1975) remain such well-crafted SF masterworks, (all now available on Blu-ray!)

Moreover, the 4th Doctor was truly blessed to be joined by arguably his best-ever companions: UNIT Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). 

Sarah Jane (still the longest-serving companion) had first wandered into the TARDIS at the beginning of Season 11; Harry, on the other hand – regrettably – fared less well. A much older actor – harking back to the Hartnell years – had been the original intention to play the 4th Doctor, with Harry drafted in to manage the more physical, feisty moments. However, when it became all-too-apparent that Tom Baker could more than take care of himself, the Surgeon-Lieutenant was soon written out. This is a pity, as Baker and Marter shared an amazing chemistry together onscreen.  

Season Th13teen got off to a rip-roaring start with Harry’s swansong: Terror of the Zygons (30 August – 20 September 1975): a taut tale of tartan and teeth written by Robert Banks Stewart. Good to see the return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (even if his appearance in a kilt looks more terrifying than your average Zygon!) Particularly impressive is the sinister performance of John Woodnutt as the Duke of Forgill – there’s much more to him than meets the eye! 😉 Okay, so the model effects for the Skarasen (better known as the Loch Ness Monster) always look cringingly bad, the quality of the script and the quickening of the pace leaves a lot of NuWho to be desired. 

Of course, cliffhangers added extra excitement to Classic Who. NuWho, in its mundane way, deals in self-contained stories, so no place for cliffhangers! Some rather clever episode-closers can be seen between 1974-81; most notably, one of the very best – cited by most Classic Who fans as the scariest – is this from Terror of the Zygons first episode: 

The Brigadier: “You get on well with the landlord, don’t you?”

RSM Benton: “Well, yes, sir. I suppose I do.”

The Brigadier: “Well, use your influence to get him to play the pipes when we’re out, will you?” 

During the mid-’70s, Doctor Who continued to try the patience of the BBC – and the dreaded National Viewers’ Association – infusing gothic horror into the sci-fi, with mechanical Egyptian mummies lumbering around English forests in Pyramids of Mars (25 October – 15 November 1975); The Brain of Morbius (3 – 24 January 1976) is such an obvious copy of Frankenstein; the ecological terror of The Seeds of Doom (31 January to 6 March 1976); the occult and sacrificial subplots in The Masque of Mandragora (4 – 25 September 1976); and is there anything not creepy about The Hand of Fear (2 – 23 October 1976)?

Unfortunately, the violence featured during The Deadly Assassin (30 October – 20 November 1976) proved too deadly, and caused Hinchcliffe to be “transferred” to another programme.

The next three seasons (15-17) would be supervised by Graham Williams; and although, in some cases, diminishing production values would show through (no thanks to a technicians’ strike crippling the BBC during the late-’70s) some great stories would still be produced.

The Doctor: “Now which box is larger?”
Leela: “That one.”
The Doctor: “But it looks smaller.” 
L
eela: “Well, that’s because it’s further away.”
The Doctor: “Exactly. If you could keep that exactly that distance away and have it here, the large one would fit inside the small one.”
L
eela: “That’s silly.” 
The Doctor: “That’s transdimensional engineering, a key Time Lord discovery.” 

The Robots of Death (29 January – 19 February 1977) is the fifth serial of the 14th season, written by Chris Boucher. 

Essentially a murder-mystery set onboard a mining vessel, it boasted the most incongruously lavish (and outlandish!) costumes ever seen on any show from that decade. But it’s those intricately designed Voc robots, with their mellifluous voices, and sporting an uncanny resemblance to the ancient Chinese terracotta army, that linger long in the memory. These robots were THAT CLOSE to appearing in my recent celebration of robots, but their place is rightfully deserved here. 

This is the story in which Leela – the feisty warrior-woman played by Louise Jameson – asks the Doctor how the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside…

Season 16 (1978-79) turned out to be an ambitious story-arc for new Producer: Graham Williams to exert his influence. The six fragments to the Key To Time lay scattered across the universe; and the Doctor – accompanied by Romana, a fellow Time-Lord, played by Mary Tamm – had to find them, before the Black Guardian could get his dastardly mitts on them.

Must admit, however, that while K-9 (the Doctor’s robot dog) may have “enchanted younger viewers,” Brad was not one of them. Strangely enough, one can’t recall those stories where K-9 made a positive contribution to the plot…

“Curious the tricks time plays on one, isn’t it…?”

The Doctor: “Adric, I give you a privileged insight into the mystery of time, yes? Open your mind to adventures beyond inagination, yes…? And you criticise my logic?!” 

Adric: “No… no, I’m just saying that a lot of the time you really don’t make sense.”

The Doctor: “Aarh. Aarh! You’ve noticed that, have you? Well, I mean anyone can talk sense as long as that is understood. I think we’re going to get along splendidly! Come on!” 

 

Frisk: “Who are you? The company you said you worked for was liquidated twenty years ago!”

The Doctor: “I was wondering why I’ve never been paid…”

Frisk: “That’s not good enough!” 

The Doctor: “That’s exactly what I thought…”

Doctor Who heralded the new decade with a drastic image makeover.

Not only a brand new title sequence, but a completely (ahem) regenerated, synthesized theme tune, a new Producer (John Nathan-Turner) and new companions were introduced, but, unexpectedly, Baker continued in the role for one more season. Having served as the longest-serving Time-Lord, he felt it his duty to speak out against anything unWhovian. 

This viewer still watched avidly every Saturday evening, even if the quality used to fluctuate. Among the weaker stories from this period: The Mandrels (above) from Nightmare of Eden ‎(24 November – 15 December 1979) always looked great to me even though the costume department loathed them. Re-watching this story, nearly four decades later, the script (provided by Bob Baker) is uproariously funny! The much-derided Horns of Nimon (22 December 1979 – 12 January 1980) still appealed to me because their minotaur-like monsters latched onto Greek mythology: my other great obsession around that time. 

Baker’s penultimate story: The Keeper of Traken (31 January – 21 February 1981) has become another personal favourite. Especially liked the way in which arch-villain The Master lurked inside that creepy Melkur statue (see below!)

After kicking up a grand bally-Who with Nathan-Turner, Baker, rather inevitably, threw in the scarf. His beloved era of wit, warmth, and wool, came to its conclusion in the Season 18 closer: Logopolis21 March 1981: a date forever seared into my memory.

“It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…” 

The Doctor: “When I mentioned the black hole to Soldeed, he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.”

Romana: “Ah, well, people often don’t know what you’re talking about!” 

The Doctor: “Exactly!” 

 

In other Who’s: 

As well as time, space is an issue, but surely you can make room to discuss those other glorious masterpieces such as: The Ark in Space, The Deadly Assassin, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, yes? These gems, all masterfully written by Robert Holmes, will appear together in a special forthcoming Post reviewing this great writer’s work.

If one had to recommend just one story that best exemplifies the Baker era, it would have to be Genesis of the Daleks (1975, written by Terry Nation). It not only restored the menace of the series’ most popular villains, but with its tense and terrific storyline – plus a wicked performance by Michael Wisher as Davros, creator of the Daleks – it redefined what SF TV could achieve. 

It contained the single greatest scene in the history of British TV drama which can be found here in this previous celebration of Doctor Who.

And which single Classic Doctor Who story counts as my personal favourite?

City of Death (29 September – 20 October 1979). Without a doubt. 

Scaroth, Last of the Jagaroth (“an infinitely superior race”) remains one of SF TV’s greatest villains; Julian Glover’s performance of megalomaniacal malevolence landed him the role of General Veers in a blockbuster the following year called: The Empire Strikes Back. 

The destruction of the Jagaroth ship caused the chemical reaction that gave birth to the human race. And the Doctor must stop Scaroth from going back in time to prevent himself from initiating the launch sequence: GENIUS. 

Doctor Who: written by Douglas Adams, and guest-starring John Cleese?

Come on! 

It’s a shame that NuWho is nowhere near as witty and clever as this: 

Scaroth of Jagaroth: “Time is running out, Doctor!”

The Doctor: “What do you mean: Time is running out?’ It’s only 1505…” 

 

The Doctor: “Good, well now he’s gone, any chance of a cup of tea?” 

General Ravon: “WHAT?!”

The Doctor: “Or coffee. My friend and I’ve had a very trying experience. Haven’t we had a trying experience, Harry?”

Harry Sullivan: “Very trying, Doctor.”

General Ravon: “STEP INTO THE SECURITY SCAN!”

The Doctor: What, no tea…?”

 

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“I Have A Plan. Attack!”: Prepare for War!

Time To Suit Up For ALL-OUT AWESOMENESS…

“Okay, anybody on our side hiding any shocking and fantastic abilities they’d like to disclose? I’m open to suggestions” – Iron Man. 

“The threat has risen to a new level – which is really saying something,” says Robert Downey Jr.

It really is!

Considering how Rob’s first outing as Iron Man – released ten years ago next week – started this whole delirious, but irresistible, MCU malarkey that has culminated in Avengers: Infinity War – just DAYS away now(!)

It has been an absolutely spectacular decade, watching this particular Universe develop. Thankfully in all the right places.

How’s it been, Rob?  

“…It’s been the Ben-Hur of the MCU, for sure. This is huge, isn’t it? It is HUGE.”

And impossible to disappoint… right?

This Enhanced Individual Convention is arguably – creatively, logistically, budgetary – not only Marvel Studios’ BIGGEST movie, but the GRANDEST superhero epic ever (ahem) assembled. In this camp, there are no doubts that all elements will work, for writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen Freely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo – responsible for the amazing Captain America trilogy – are in charge here.

When asked how high the stakes are, Freely offers: “Is the universe high enough for you?” 

This is only the largest event movie. Ever!

Expect to see just about all the Avengers we’ve come to know so far. And the supporting characters from their respective solo movies. PLUS the Guardians Of The Frickin’ Galaxy! AND Fields overflowing with Wakandan warriors! 

As the younglings are wont to say these days, it’s only gonna be FUCKIN’ AWESOME!!

Soz, Cap…

 

Humans… They are not the cowering wretches we were promised. They stand. They are unruly, and therefore cannot be ruled. To challenge them is to court… death” – Chthon.

“This is the biggest film of all time,” says Benedict Cumberbatch.

You can trust him. He’s a Doctor. 

That colossal third-act battle – teased tantalisingly in the trailers – breaks out across Wakanda, because the sixth, as yet unseen, Infinity Stone languishes there, right?! 

Normally, my journalistic instinct is to uncover every juicy, spoilersome nugget of info from each major movie, but considering the scale and ambition of this EPIC, who knows what will transpire?!

Yes, so good to see Chadwick Boseman return as King T’Challa: The Black Panther – Cool. Charismatic. AND GET THIS MAN A SEQUEL! As Black Panther has become the first non-Stark MCU movie to pass a billion dollars worldwide, quite clearly, Wakanda‘s finest will be the new figurehead for the new Phase going forward.

Considering the xtreme measures taken to protect certain plot-points, it comes as no surprise to learn that Chris Evans was one of the few members of the enhanced ensemble to receive a complete script.

“The majority of people on set are like, ‘So what are we doing today?’ The Russos have to give a loose description of what’s happening. I didn’t complain. I was just like, ‘I need to know what’s going on! Give me a fucking script!'”

Uff, LANGUAGE!

“That’s not going away anytime soon…” – Captain America.  

Behold! Earth’s Mightiest Boy-Band: N-Hanced…

 

Thor: “I thought humans were more evolved than this.” 

Nick Fury: “Excuse me, did we come to YOUR planet and blow stuff up?” 

“You could call this movie: AvengersThanos if you wanted to,” says Stephen Freely“He is the main character.”

“The movie is told from his point of view,” Anthony Russo explains, discussing Josh Brolin’s performance. “It’s a very complicated character. He’s at times despicable and horrifying, and at other times oddly empathetic.”  

“He’s an exceedingly difficult character to beat. He’s stranger than the Hulk – he’s a force of nature. He is a conqueror of worlds.” 

The next statement intrigued me the most. 

“He doesn’t have a weakness, and that’s what makes him so threatening.”

How the Avengers can prevail against such an indefatigable foe, will certainly make for intriguing viewing. Having been in awe of Thanos over these past two years of Bronze Age explorations, seeing this big threat marching across the big screen will probably be quite a dewy-eyed experience as well…

“It really is mind-blowing…” adds Joe Russo, “…how sensitive a performance we can translate into a CG character now, and how much of Josh’s performance is in that character.”

Yep, sounds like all concerned know how to handle the Mad Titan here.

AND that we are all going to have to rearrange our Top 5 Movie Villains charts…

“Conflict breeds catastrophe…” – The Vision. 

“We heve not had any special death requests,” McFeely stated, confirming that he and co-writer Markus had “free reign to kill off whomever the story dictated should go.”

“It’s a cocktail of emotions,” was how Evans summed it up.

So many bloggers have speculated as to which of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will fall in this big showdown. Yes, much must be risked in War, but you KNOW how Brad prefers to concentrate on the positive, hopefully life-affirming, textured-sponge-with-a-creamy-filling things in life, so no morbid discussions to round off this particular blog-post, ta very much! 

Plan to watch The Movie Of The Decade this weekend having avoided – for once – all rumours, leaked clips, TV spots and what-have-you. Just looking forward to finding out what this jaw-dropping spectacle has to offer.

We began with Rob Downey Jr. – is it with him where it will all end…? Well, let’s close with him here anyway, speaking highly about IW’s lead actor: Josh Brolin.

“I love him,” Downey leads the praise, having known each other for thirty years, and so happy to see him become a solid participant in the MCU. Brolin doesn’t take himself seriously, but there’s a lot of weight in how he’s portraying this guy. We literally are all little bit scared when he’s done cracking wise and steps into it. 

“Get ready… the Brolin Effect is coming.”

“I hope they remember you…” – Thanos. 

 

Who’s The Doctor? Who Knows?

The Tale Of A Time Lord: Are You Coming And Going… Or Going And Coming?

4th-Fourth-Doctor-City-of-Death

“You may be a Doctor, but I’m the Doctor, the definite article you might say” – The Doctor.

By the gods of Gallifrey, it was only a matter of time before my attention turned to Doctor Who: that beloved, enduring phenomenon of British TV. This weekend, BBC1 showed “Heaven Sent,” the penultimate episode of this current series – a fascinating outing featuring just Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, in a creepy castle constantly reconfiguring itself, stalked by a mysterious veiled entity: “extraordinary; one of the best episodes ever.”

Admittedly, it looked a more engaging viewing pleasure than usual. Too many of the stories in recent years have been incomprehensible, or just dull. Looking – and sounding – so radically different from the Who of old does not help either. Despite their notoriously shoddy sets and terribly-dated special effects, their classic scripts sparkle stronger than ever. 

A huge fan of the series between 1979-1984, it was a joy to be introduced to this Saturday evening ritual during the years of the Fourth – and arguably the greatest – regeneration played by Tom Baker (1974-1981).

Having witnessed the demise of the show in 1989, hearing about its resurrection in 2005 failed to instill any excitement or curiosity whatsoever. David Tennant turned out to be surprisingly successful as the Tenth Doctor, but failed to interest me; the same, alas, can be applied to the Eleventh reincarnation: Matt Smith. Just as well really – working abroad in recent years has kept me away from the BBC’s longest-running series.

However, things are looking up with Peter Capaldi – probably the best casting for the role since, well, Tom Baker. 

Bless both your hearts, Doc. 

ark-in-space

“Homo sapiens, what an inventive, invincible species… Puny, defenceless bipeds, they survived flood, famine and plague – they survived cosmic wars and holocausts; now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They’re indomitable… indomitable…” – The Doctor.

Since 2005, of course, the series has metamorphosed into something bigger than ever, even attracting a huge following on the other side of the pond, which is fantastic, considering how quintessentially English this phenomenon traditionally set out to be.

No matter where the Doctor (not just the Fourth, but any of them for that matter) and his companions ended up – Gallifrey, Skaro, Traken, etc. – the aliens always spoke impeccable English, and their planet looked suspiciously like a more terrestrial quarry. Whenever the more malicious species decided to invade Earth, they always ended up targeting England. 

One reason why this bigger (better?) incarnation has failed to lure me in is the standard of the scripts. The writers assembled for the Baker years (1974-1981) were a formidable bunch, including Terrance Dicks, Chris Boucher and Terry Nation (the creator of the Daleks, the Doctor’s most fearsome – and consistent – foe), but particular praise should go to Robert Holmes, who is responsible for penning some of the best-loved stories: including The Ark In Space (1975, above), Pyramids of Mars (1975), The Brain of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin (both 1976), and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977). His scripts really exuded charm, even intelligent dashes of wit – how often can you say that of the series now? 

robot1

“I can see your long rest hasn’t done anything to cure your megalomania. Have a jelly baby” – The Doctor.

What set the the Fourth Doctor apart, and endeared him to multitudes of fans worldwide – besides Baker’s wonderful performances and consistently amazing scripts – was his iconic look: the floppy hat and that seemingly endless scarf, plus the amusing habit of offering any of his adversaries a jelly baby.  

9 million viewers at Saturday teatime sat enthralled or, as legend would have it, “cowered behind the sofa.” During the 1970s, the show was heavily criticised for being too scary and too violent. None of it scared me – on the contrary, it never failed to excite.

And engage my imagination: once that week’s thrilling cliffhanger was absorbed, and taken over by the haunting theme tune (it still induces goosebumps even now), it was off to Gallifrey (i.e. my bedroom) and convert the wardrobe into my very own Tardis. 

To all those fans who insist that Tennant is the best Doctor (pah!) please feel free to (try and) make your case in the Comments below – recommend any stories or individual scenes worth my while.

Good luck: surely there cannot have been any stories in the past decade as stunning as Genesis Of The Daleks (1975). The following scene from that story out of all 41 of Baker’s reign is my all-time fave – not just a classic Dr Who moment, but one of the most impressive scenes in the history of British TV drama.   

You don’t have to wait – the Doctor will see you now…

doctor-who-the-doctor-tardis-tom-baker-space

“It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for” – The Doctor.