Monday, 11 April 2016

The E-Space Trilogy: Spotlight on "State of Decay"



Who doesn't like a good vampire story? A castle apon a hilltop, a nearby village with terrified peasants and a traveller who arrives from a far off land and ends up slaying the vampire. The usual description of an a-typical vampire story already sounds like the blueprint for a Doctor Who story doesn't it? It makes you wonder than why it took the series so long to do a vampire story with a Doctor Who spin on it in the first place. This was one of the earliest T.V shows or movies I saw that had Vampires in it and I really enjoyed it, I thought State of Decay was a fun story the first time round I saw it. I pretty much still do. It seems funny looking back on the first time I saw State of Decay and how my ten year old self didn't think "hang on what are they doing sticking vampires in a science-fiction T.V show like Doctor Who?" but if that thought had entered my head back when I first saw State of Decay it sure didn't stay there for long because of the science fiction spin the writer (Terence Dicks) did on vampires to make them fit into Doctor Who. I especially like the fact that Terence Dicks made the vampires of the Doctor Who universe ancient enemies of the Time Lords which expanded on what I knew about the Time Lords history at that point (here's a link to a scene from the story which explains that history - https://youtu.be/Ih17YLr7VvQ).



Originally State of Decay was going to open Tom Bakers fourth season (1977) as The Doctor. At the time, State of Decay was going to be called The Vampire Mutation, and was going to feature Lela with the Doctor instead of Lala Ward's Romana character, but then the classics department at the BBC decided to do an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula with a French film star called Louis Jourdan playing Dracula and Suddenly the higher ups at the BBC told the Doctor Who production team and the writer (Terence Dicks)  "No Vampires in Doctor Who because they'll think you're making fun of us", as if they would! Later on when the new script editor for Doctor Who "Christopher Bidmead was getting scripts together for Tom Bakers last season as the Doctor in 1980, he found that there was a dearth (lack of) of scripts in the Doctor Who script editors office. But he then talked to the producer John Nathan-Turner and he told Christopher Bidmead that there were already a couple of scripts that had already bean commissioned and one of them was the original finished script for The Vampire Mutation. John Nathan-Turner had been reading a pile of scripts for the show that hadn't been used and the only one that he liked was the Vampire Mutation script. Christopher Bidmead didn't like the title and it was changed to State of Decay, originally he wanted to change it to The Wasting but mercifully that title was rejected and State of Decay became the new title. The director for State of Decay was to be Peter Moffatt who would be making his directorial d├ębut to the series with State of Decay. John Nathan-Turn had sent Peter the script and he had loved it. So Peter Moffatt replied to the producer that he'd love to direct State of Decay. Time went by and Peter Moffatt received a new version of the script, which had been entirely changed from the original script. Christopher Bidmead had made a number of changes to the script to make it more scientific and gave it to the director who then said, "what is all this nonsense? Give me Terence's original script back". Peter Moffat phoned John Nathan-Turner and said that he wasn't doing it because what he had originally been shown was something that the producer had know that he would have wanted to do and the new script wasn't, so John Nathan-Turner got the old script back and let Peter Moffatt do that one instead. So what reached the screen was pretty much what Terrence Dicks had written.


I liked State of Decay, I thought the story was good and that it was atmospheric and haunting when it needed to be. However, I don't think that the horrific elements in the story were explicit enough and we should have seen at least one person having their neck bitten. All in all I think State of Decay is a story worth seeing. It takes a little bit of a pause in terms of the overall E-Space story arc which runs through Full-Circle, State of Decay and Warriors Gate. Here's a link which will take you to a page which will tell you more about the E-Space trilogy story arc - http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/episodeguide/espacetrilogy.shtml. There's one or two things in State of Decay I think could have been better, namely "the Great One" but I still enjoyed myself when I rewatched it last Saturday. In my next blog post I will be talking about "The Keeper of Traken".

Monday, 30 March 2015

Meglos

On the outside Meglos seems like a bit of a setback after the Movie-stylings of The Leisure Hive but take a deeper look and it's actually a more old fashioned Doctor Who Story.Considering that the Villain of the story is a talking cacti, hell bent on conquering the universe, one might assume that Meglos would have fitted in better in the more humorous season 17 (Melgos was apart of Tom Bakers last season as The Doctor which was season 18) but Meglos manages to retain an air of seriousness thanks to the performances of Tom Baker. In Meglos he plays both The Doctor and Meglos. Former Doctor Who regular Jacqueline Hill, who played companion Barbara Wright in the first two seasons in the shows history, in Meglos she plays a character called Lexa. Now I know what you're thinking, a talking cactus and a band of space pirates for villains what were the writers thinking! What's actually quite funny is the fact that the idea for Meglos (the cactus) came from the two writers of the story just looking at their rather sad looking cactus which was situated on their kitchen table (talk about mad sources of inspiration!) As for the space pirates which were called Gaztaks, they just came from the writers not wanting to feature in their story the usual run of the mill uniform villains, so they had the Gaztaks wear cloths from the many different planets that the Gaztaks had been to and pillaged and were actually more like mercenaries than pirates, although I suppose they were a bit of both.



Okay lets get into actually talking about the story and my views on Meglos. It's interesting that with Meglos, The Doctor, Romana and K-9 don't arrive on Tigella until almost twelve minutes into the second episode of this four part story because of a trap employed by Meglos to keep The Doctor stuck in a time loop. That's just about more or less thirty-two minutes of the story  gone and they're only just arriving, I thought that was an odd choice story wise when I re-watched Meglos a couple of days ago, but it did allow the supporting characters in the story to be established, so when The Doctor Roman and K-9 do arrive, the story can start to really get moving. One of the grievances I have with Meglos is that to be honest it is a little slow, whereas the story before this one "The Leisure Hive" was a lot more pacy and I just feel like the plot for Meglos could have been a little quicker and not as slow. Personally I think Meglos could have made a decent three-parter or maybe they could have edited parts one and two together and parts three and four together but I suppose we'll never know if either of those ideas would have worked.

With Tom Bakers dual performance as Meglos in Meglos was awesome because even just the look in his eyes when he's acting as Meglos as opposed to when he's playing The Doctor lets you know that this is someone else. My oldest memory of this particular Doctor Who story is The Doctor and Melgos (Looking like The Doctor) being in the same room and wondering just how that was done, I thought that bit was brilliant. The spiky make-up that they use on Tom Baker for the scenes where Meglos is losing his grip on his earthling host and Meglos starts to shift between looking like The Doctor and a spiky cactus version of The Doctor, I would have liked to have seen more of that because that make-up effect was really cool. That does however touch on a bit of the plot that is a bit weird, why did Meglos need a human host? why not get the Gaztaks to capture a Tigellan instead? it does seem a little odd! at the heart of this story it is science versus religion with science obviously wining hands down and I think it worked for this story to be about science versus religion and a dying city. The first time round I watched Meglos was on T.V across four days when I was ten years old and I enjoyed it, but look back on it today as a twenty-one year old I can't help but feel a little disappointed, I not saying it's awful or that there isn't stuff in it that I really like, it's just that I can't help wondering if it couldn't been done better.


My next post will be on State of Decay. I only saw parts one and two of Full Circle and with Warrior's Gate I'm pretty sure I only saw the first part but I can remember seeing all of State of Decay the first time round I started watching Doctor Who, so that's why I'm be looking at State of Decay next.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The Leisure Hive: Reptile gangsters and a holiday for The Doctor and Romana


When I first saw The Leisure Hive it was a bit of a shock that the opening title sequence for Doctor Who was different, even the theme tune had been given a shake up, but you could still tell that it was the Doctor Who theme tune. That was and still is my overriding memory of The Leisure Hive, the fact that it was so different in its feel, to any Doctor Who story that I had seen before. The incidental music had a different feel to it, the tone was different, it was more serious, less jokey then the last three Doctor Who stories that I had seen (The Creature from the Pit, Nightmare of Eden and The Horns of Nimon). And in retrospect I can see that the science has a more plausible feel about it. The Doctor's clothes had also been changed, (luckily the scarf was still there!) At the start of this story is a long opening shot where the camera pans along Brighton Beach for a good solid two or three minutes until you arrive at The Doctor, sitting on a deck chair. Even though that sequence was (I think) too long, it did set a nice feel to the first part of this four parter. Once the story shifts to the planet Argolis (which 99% or 98% of the story, I'd say takes place at) the story begins to develop into almost a gangster movie, with the Foamasi being used very much like the marfia, with there being underground Foamasi criminal gangs with The West Lodge being the main one. It's not stated if there are other Foamasi criminal groups. The Foamasi are a species of intelligent reptiles while the other main alien race in The Leisure Hive, the Argolins, who are an intelligent plant based life form. 



The director of The Leisure Hive, Lovett Bickford's choice to shoot the story using single camera techniques,as opposed to using the more common multi-camera shooting style of the time, was a good choice because it made the story feel more filmic and it also made up for any faults in the design and construction of the Foamasi costumes. It did cause The Leisure Hive to go over it's budget, which is possibly why Lovett Bickford was never asked to come back to direct another Doctor Who story. I'm now going to focus on Tom Baker and Lalla Wards performances in The Leisure Hive. I think Tom Baker gives a first rate performance in The Leisure Hive, in this story The Doctor is a lot more sombre then he has been for the last four stories, in fact I hadn't seen The Doctor this serious since The Stones of Blood. I think that Tom Baker particularly did a great job of performing the scenes when The Doctor ages several hundred years, (I wont say how he gets back to looking like his old self in case you haven't seen the story before!) he makes it totally believable that The Doctor has aged several hundred years and makes you suspend your disbelief that it's just make-up. With Lalla Ward I felt that her acting was back to the standard that she showed back in City of Death. Lalla Ward is brilliant as Romana in The Leisure Hive, I really feel like we're reminded in this story that The Doctor and Romana are almost equal in their scientific knowledge, with Romana sometimes proving to be smarter in some areas and it's all because of Lalla Wards acting ability. I've chosen to not go too in depth in to the stories plot because I don't want to give all of what happens in The Leisure Hive away. On the whole I can remember liking The Leisure Hive the first time I saw it and I still do, if I had to give The Leisure Hive an out of ten score, I would give it a 6 out of 10. although I do think that it did have too much music.




My next blog post will be on Meglos

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Horns of Nimon

The Horns of Nimon was the last Doctor Who story to be script edited by Douglas Adams, and the last to be produced by Graham Williams. It’s a shame that given that the first two seasons of Doctor Who that Graham Williams had produced had been so good that his time as producer had to end with a story like this one. The Horns of Nimon is one of those Doctor Who stories where if you were to look at it just from the point of view of what had been written, the ideas, the dialogue, not the visuals then it would have come across as a good story. If you then look at the finished production your view of The Horns of Nimon would probably drop. One of the things that Doctor Who was criticised for at the time that The Horns of Nimon was made, is school boy level humour. While its true that season 17 had its fair share of humour, the season 17 story that seemed to have the most was The Horns of Nimon. The main contributors of this when watching it are clearly Graham Crowden who played Soldeed and Tom Baker. Graham Crowden is incredibly funny in some scenes in The Horns of Nimon and incredibly bumbling in others. With Soldeed, you clearly have a villain who is a genius scientist but is also a lunatic underneath it all. Particularly when in Part 4 of The Horns of Nimon when Soldeed's plan to restore the Skonnos empire to its former glory falls to pieces because the Nimon have deceived him and he ends up being reduced to this insane, hysterical mess, its really funny when Soldeed looses it. With Tom Baker its feels like when he got his hands on the script for The Horns of Nimon that he didn't think to much of it and watching The Horns of Nimon its clear that the two reasons that he puts as much humour as he does into the story is because one he doesn't much of the script for The Horns of Nimon and two because he's clearly trying to improve what he had to work with in the script by putting more humour into it but at the same time as that it's also clear in this story that The Doctor uses humour in The Horns of Nimon link he does in City of Death, as a ploy to put his enemies off guard. Lalla Ward has a lot more to do than in other stories in season 17 and that was written in on purpose because the writer Anthony Read felt that the writers hadn't been making the best use of the character and Anthony Read also felt that Tom Baker would feel thankful that he wouldn't have to be in every scene. Now lets talk about the Nimon themselves, I loved the masks, which where very good. I really liked their voices which I felt, and still feel are really effective, I'd love it if their look was updated and they were brought back in the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi's era. I had mixed feelings when I first saw The Horns of Nimon and still do now, there are things about it that I like and things about it that I don't like, on the whole it's an okay, fun story and is a better story than people make it out to be, not 10 out of 10 better but a 4.5 or 5 out of 10 I'd say.


Nightmare of Eden

I remember really enjoying "Nightmare of Eden" the first time I saw it, but you can’t help but see where in certain sequences the production of Nightmare of Eden could have been a lot better. The first thing that stands out are the spaceship model shot sequences which were shot on video over the course of two hours in a single day, but should have been shot on film, which would have taken four days. If they had shot it on Film like it normally was it would have looked a lot better. Problem number two would have to be Nightmare of Eden's monsters, the Mandrels. They're supposed to be terrifying and yet they look (as others have pointed out in the past!) like cute rejects from The Muppet Show. They look good in the Jungle where you can only see the shape of a Mandrel and its glowing eyes, but as soon as you move them to the ship where everything is flood lit, the Mandrels loose any scariness they might have had and end up just coming across as a bit of a laugh! On a better note however, one of the better effects of the story was when one of the Mandrels broke back down into the drug substance that the creatures were made up of in the story. To achieve the effect of the Mandrel braking down into the drug, a Mandrel costume was recreated using brittle foam and covered bits of it in latex, and had all of it attached to pulling wires and they then pulled it inwards and at the same time they were pumping smoke through it. When they finished the effect with a roll-back and mix, while putting in some more dust and the finished effect is probably the best effect in the story. When watching "Nightmare of Eden" it’s clear that the writer Bob Baker had thoroughly researched his ideas behind his script for "Nightmare of Eden", namely drugs and the scientific ideas behind the C.E.T machine (The Continuous Event Transmuter). The acting could have been better namely Lewis Fiander who played the character Tryst, he really could have done without the accent he chose to put on for the character and the square sun glasses. On the whole I still find Nightmare of Eden surprisingly enjoyable despite its flaws; it’s definitely not as bad as The Creature from the pit that's for sure. 



Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Creature from the pit

When I was first getting into Doctor Who, "The Creature from the Pit" was just another Doctor Who story I was sitting down to enjoy. Ten years later I can look back at The Creature from the Pit and safely say that out of the first few Doctor Who story's that I saw this one had to have been the first truly bad story that I had come across, even The Invisible Enemy was better than this. First up, "Erato", what was David Fisher thinking when he came up with Erato. You only have to watch the making of feature on the DVD release of this story to know, that the Doctor Who visual effects team thought that this one was a bad idea and should only have been attempted if a lot of money had been thrown at it. The end result of the show's visual effects team's best efforts has got to be the worst alien ever in the history of Doctor Who. Having said that, given the fact that the shows visual effects team were being asked to do the impossible, it's a miracle that the end result is as good as it is, it could probably have been even worse. My other big criticism of The Creature from the Pit is the writer David Fisher's seemingly more or less complete lack of scientific principles. The obvious instance of this is when Erato launches itself into space and weaves an aluminium shell around a neutron star in order to minimise its gravitational pull (what the hell?) and allow the Tardis to pull it off course with a tractor beam (Hmm...). Some of the other things I don't like about The Creature from the Pit are that most of the characters in this story are to be honest a bit one-dimensional, with the dialogue being quite dodgy in parts (And that's me being nice about it), the wolf weeds are just plain silly and the band of thieves that feature in the story are simply stupid. Even the Doctor and Romana are poorly written for in this story. It’s obvious watching The Creature from the pit that David Fisher has written Romana with Mary Tamm's version of the character in mind, this is however not his fault as when he wrote the script for The Creature from the Pit it had yet to be firmly established as to whether Mary Tamm was leaving or not. The Doctor seams to lose his mind completely at the end of part 1 when he leaps into the pit of his own accord, knowing full well that to be consigned there is regarded as tantamount to a sentence of execution. Basically my view of The Creature from the Pit is that it’s pretty much a near total mess but there are a couple of things I like about it, the characters Oraganon (played by Geoffrey Bayldon) and Adastra (played by Myra Frances), with Adastra being excellently evil. The other thing I liked about The Creature from the Pit was the Jungle set, which was filmed at Ealing, it really did look quite impressive, it looked like the whole sequence had been filmed on location as a posed to being filmed in a studio and gave the first episode a very atmospheric quality which wasn't noticeable in the following three episodes of the story. If one word can be used to summarise this adventure it would be "disappointing", because it boasted some fine sets, good actors and a rather interesting plot with some twists, it’s just a shame that The Creature from the Pit couldn't have been better than it was.




In my next post I shall be talking about Nightmare of Eden.

Monday, 27 October 2014

City of Death: Art, Humour and Death in Paris!


City of Death is one of the most highly regarded stories in the history of Doctor Who and there are some pretty good reasons for that, one of which was the fact that one of the two writers of the story, Douglas Adams (the other was series producer Graham Williams) first love was comedy, and City of Death sees Doctor Who at its comedic high-point. City of Death is also filled with wit and intelligence as has been pointed out in other reviews of the story on other websites. a first that City of Death can boast is that it was Doctor Who's first ever major over seas filming, thanks to the shows Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner. The sequences that were shot in Paris give a grand feel to the story, and all the famous location landmarks are included, The Eiffel Tower and The Louvre being the main two. The score that Dudley Simpson scored for City of Death, has to be another of the memorable parts of City of Death, there is not a single piece of music in City of Death that doesn't feel wrong or out of place, the music score for City of Death has to definitely rank among the best of the music scores in the shows history. One of City of Death's most celebrated scenes is the guest appearance from comedic actor John Cleese and actress Eleanor Born. It was Douglas Adams who suggested to John Cleese that he might like to appear in Doctor Who, the scene features two art critics discussing the wonderful functionalism of a police box being in a modern art gallery. City of Death got some of the highest ratings ever for Doctor Who, at a time when ITV were on strike, and the only alternative was a blank screen. But part 4 of this story holds the record for one of the highest viewing figures that the series has ever achieved at 16.1 million viewers. City of Death explores ideas of how we value art and authenticity. Some of the characters in City of Death simply look at art in purely pragmatic terms, as simply a means to an end, while one character in the story simply looks at art as a badge of status. It's down to the Doctor to Point out the moral of the story. Art is valuable not because of what its worth but because of the human achievement that it represents. But more than anything else this story is loved for its humour. One of if not the funniest scenes in City of Death has got to be when the Doctor first meets the villain of the story and is flung in to the room and walks around on his knees, and complains about the Louis Quinze chair. You honestly have to see that scene to appreciate why its just so funny. And watch out for the cliffhanger at the end of part-one its really good, in fact pretty much all of the cliffhangers in City of Death are excellent. I've left out talking about  the plot of this story and talking about the villain of this story because I don't want to give anything away about the finer points of this story for anyone who hasn't seen it before. And if you haven't its definitely worth watching. City of Death is definitely one of the top Doctor Who stories of the last fifty-one years.


Sorry about the lateness of this post I was in the middle of Tafe assessments when I did the last one and its just taken me a little to get this one in a state I like. next Post will be about "The Creature from the Pit" which was the next story I saw after City of Death when I was first getting into Doctor Who.