Sunday, 31 January 2010

Now is the winter of our disco

I have not written anything for a while, but I have been watching more Shakespeare. I have seen The Tempest, and I have seen Henry vi Part 3, and I have seen Richard iii.

Henry vi and Richard iii are about mannys fighting about who should be king. Henry vi is king but Edward iv takes over from him, then his little brother Richard kills lots of mannys to become King Richard iii, but he dies at the end and another manny is king after him. They are long plays but that is what happens in them.

Richard is a good baddy. He is good because he pretends to be a goody but he is really a baddy all the time. He even fools people who know he is a baddy into thinking he is really a goody. But he isn't, he is a baddy. He tells the audience that he is a baddy but not anyone else. He also goes "mew" like a cat. Here is the bit where he goes mew at the start:

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be."

Saturday, 30 January 2010

'Duncan's Cat' - lyrics

He looks handsome, he looks smart
He is a walking work of art
Such a dazzling cat of many colours
How I love my cat of many colours

He is red and orange and yellow and green
And blue and blue and purple and red
And orange and yellow and green and blue
And blue and purple and red and orange
And yellow and green and blue and blue
And purple and red and orange and yellow
And green and blue and blue and purple
And red.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 17

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Seventeen: Seasons 36-40 (1999-2003)

Season 36 began with a three-part serial starring Paul McGann, in which the Doctor and Bernice encounter events about which the Doctor knows more than he should, but he is unwilling, or unable, to explain. Events are made somewhat clearer by the next serial in the season, in which Colin Baker’s 6th Doctor encounters the same events after the 8th, events that the 8th Doctor can go on to remember in the first serial.

As the season progressed, more and more plots of this nature were encountered by the Doctor(s) and his Companions, in which events occur in a different order for the viewers than for the Doctor. Eventually it became clear that an unseen opponent was deliberately setting up these encounters for the Doctor, perhaps as some kind of test. In one of the longest story-arcs in Doctor Who’s history, it would be four seasons before the unseen hand was identified.

Season 36 contained four episodes starring McGann, and three each for Davison, McCoy and Colin Baker. Seasons 37 through to 40 continued in a similar vein, though the exact mix of Doctors and their order of appearance was always slightly different. Not every serial contained a complex time-travel-related plot, though intelligent, thought-provoking stories that rewarded viewer loyalty were the standard of this era.

Foreshadowed as far back as season 35, the 40th anniversary special was the high point of the multi-Doctor era, as the multi-Doctors appeared on-screen together for the first and only time, and revealed the unseen, time-manipulating opponent to be Davros and the Daleks, whose return was carefully kept secret and unpublicised (a feat not achieved since the Cybermen returned in 1982’s Earthshock) in favour of promoting the mystery and suspense right up to the moment of revelation.

Season 40’s final story led directly into the storyline that was to dominate season 41 and cast a shadow over Doctor Who for a long time to come:

The Time War.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 16

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Sixteen: The Multi-Doctor Era

Between seasons 34 and 35, Paul McGann first raised the possibility of leaving Doctor Who at the end of his third season (season 35), but at the same time raised the question of whether or not it would be possible for him to return to the role in the future - not as a one-off guest-artist as had been done on occasion, as with Patrick Troughton in Two Doctors, but for entire serials or seasons at a time.

Segal was against this idea at first, fearing the loss of a strong leading man from the show, but was persuaded by his writing team that it could work if, instead of regenerating the Doctor into someone new, they could persuade the old Doctors to make return appearances, giving the production team golden opportunities for publicity. Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were all sounded out about this. Tom Baker refused outright. The others all provisionally agreed, depending on other commitments they might have at the time.

One of Segal’s last actions as Producer was to approve this ‘multi-Doctor’ direction for the show. He then resigned from his position and was succeeded by Gary Russell, another long-term fan of the series who had been Editor of Doctor Who Magazine for several years.

Stories starring ‘past’ Doctors were originally intended to be classified as ‘Missing Adventures’ and designed to fit in with the style and timing of the Doctor-in-question’s original era. Though popular among the writers (most of whom were fans of certain previous eras and so delighted at the chance to write for them), this idea was impractical from a production point of view, not to mention the logistical headache of scheduling the actors to play the right Companions for the eras.

At a writers’ brainstorming session, a sci-fi explanation for the presence of previous Doctors in the ‘present’ was devised, and an overarching story was contrived to tie the different serials together into a coherent, thematic, whole. At the core of Doctor Who is the idea of time-travel, and this was exploited in a way that has rarely been seen in the series before or since.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 15

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Fifteen: Seasons 34-35 (1997-98)

Doctor Who had been damaged by its dabbling with ‘Americanisation’ in its 33rd season. Top of Philip Segal’s agenda for season 34 was to find a balance between appealing to the American audience (which he had seemingly achieved) and to the core audience in the UK.

Minutes of a production team meeting in the early planning stages of season 34 show a collective agreement was reached on how to restore the balance: the ‘classic’ years of Doctor Who appealed to Americans despite being very British in style and setting. Therefore the American actors and locations would be dropped. The TARDIS set would be kept on (a second redesign would have been very expensive, and impossible to justify so soon), as would McGann’s Doctor.

Daphne Ashbrook’s Grace was written out early in the season, and writer Paul Cornell was invited to create a new Companion for the series, Bernice Summerfield, to be played by British actress Lisa Bowerman. In fact Cornell had created the character several years earlier for an early draft of one of his scripts, and now had the opportunity to introduce her into the world of Doctor Who.

Eric Roberts was not invited to return as the Master, and the character was not used again for several years.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 14

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Fourteen: Season 33 (1996)

Although JNT had been mostly successful in keeping Doctor Who’s ratings high in the UK, it became clear that the recent seasons, starring Sylvester McCoy, were not as popular in the USA as the ‘classic’ eras: namely Pertwee and the two Bakers. In the end it was this fact that caused the BBC executives to remove JNT after season 32 and replace him with someone they hoped could make the show appeal to the American audience.

They were prepared to throw money at it, too, as somewhere along the line somebody had realised that Doctor Who was a cash cow for the BBC. Ian Levine’s claim in 1987 that Doctor Who made more money for the BBC than it cost to make, through merchandising and overseas sales, was proved true beyond the wildest fantasies of the 1980s production team.

New Producer Philip Segal, brought in from outside the BBC, wasted no time in wielding the axe. Sophie Aldred’s Ace was the longest-serving Companion in the show’s history, having joined eight years earlier. Axed - new blood required. Sylvester McCoy had completed three seasons as the Doctor, and in spite of his popularity in the UK had never taken off in the USA. Axed - need someone who would appeal to the ‘target market.’

Their replacements were Dr Grace Holloway (American actress Daphne Ashbrook), taking over from Ace in the first serial of the season, and eighth Doctor Paul McGann, replacing McCoy in the middle of the season.

Changes were not just made to the cast - the TARDIS interior set was to be revamped again, but making it much, much bigger on the inside than ever before.

One thing Segal kept the same was the semi-regular return of favourite monsters and enemies from the past. In his first season he wanted to see Daleks, and he wanted to bring back the Master (last seen in 1987), though he did not wish to bring Anthony Ainley back to play the role, instead casting American actor Eric Roberts.

With hindsight, changes like this can be seen as favouring the American audience at the expense of the British audience. Unfortunately, while it took time for the viewing figures to build up in the USA (though build up they did), the drop off in the UK was almost immediate in the middle of season 33. The serial Enemy Within saw a new Doctor alongside a new Companion and facing a new Master (both of whom were being played by Americans), in a story set in San Francisco. The British press criticised the ‘Americanisation’ of a quintessentially British TV show.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 13

Part Thirteen: Seasons 30-32 (1993-95)

Sylvester McCoy’s first season as the Doctor was also the show’s thirtieth anniversary year. A special feature-length episode was commissioned for Children in Need night (always broadcast in November, close to the anniversary of the broadcast of Doctor Who’s first episode) and all surviving previous Doctors had agreed to take part, though only Jon Pertwee would have a significant role (to avoid diluting the focus of the plot). Several old Companions would also feature, including Nicola Bryant and Paul Darrow reprising their roles as Peri and Nova Rek, and Nicholas Courtney - returning as the Brigadier - who was given a chance to appear with both Colin Baker and McCoy’s Doctors.

The special was called Dimensions in Time, and it saw the conclusion of the Lady Peinforte story arc begun in the 25th anniversary serial Silver Nemesis. The story was a brave one from a production point of view, as its downbeat ending saw Richard (Gerard Murphy) sacrifice himself to save the Doctor(s). A powerful and moving performance from McCoy deflected some criticism, but the story still attracted a number of complaints from viewers who thought it too frightening for children.

JNT was ‘hauled over the coals’ by his BBC bosses after Dimensions in Time, and subsequently the remainder of his era as Producer was characterised by the tension between his desire to ‘play it safe’ and his writers and Script Editor’s desire to push at boundaries. JNT was increasingly isolated in the production team, but he was the Producer and ultimate decision-making power was his.

One thing JNT was not criticised for during this period was his willingness to bring in new writers. Although Terrance Dicks and Paul Cornell were by now practically guaranteed one script per season, most of the remaining four-or-five slots went to new blood. That said, Cornell’s submission for season 32, entitled Human Nature, was rejected by JNT on the grounds that it was “a fine sci-fi story, but not suitable for Dr Who” (Human Nature would eventually see the light of day over 10 years later). Its replacement was Videomancer, by newcomer Mark Gatiss (who would later become famous as a writer and comedy performer in the League of Gentlemen).

This story was popular with the public but provoked outrage and criticism from an unlikely corner - JNT’s Unofficial Continuity Advisor Ian Levine saw it, or rather the character of the titular Videomancer (a man whose obsession with a decades-old children’s TV series - a thinly veiled reference to Doctor Who itself - attracts the attention of seemingly supernatural forces), as a thinly veiled attack on himself and he threatened both to resign and to sue Gatiss for defamation. Although placated by JNT, many see this over-reaction as the reason Levine was not retained by the production team after JNT’s departure.

Gatiss has always maintained that the Videomancer was based on his own lifelong obsession with Doctor Who, not Levine’s.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 12

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Twelve: Seasons 28-29 (1991-92)

As Colin Baker approached, and then passed, Tom Baker’s record of seven years as the Doctor, it was clear that his era was drawing to a close. Baker believed he had done all he could with the character, and announced he would leave at the end of his eighth season. JNT began the search for a replacement.

Continuity would be retained through the Doctor’s two companions - Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Richard (Gerard Murphy), a 17th century former henchman of Lady Peinforte (introduced in season 25’s Silver Nemesis, but Murphy did not join the regular cast until season 28’s Timewyrm).

Timewyrm was co-written by a new writer, but one who would go on to become a regular contributor to Doctor Who - Paul Cornell. Cornell had been a long-time fan of the show, often citing the story Twin Dilemma as an inspiration for him to become a writer. Like Twin Dilemma, Timewyrm is often cited as a turning point in the history of Doctor Who, being the climax of Andrew Cartmel’s Masterplan - the Doctor confronts himself within his own psyche and is reconciled to his past (the exact nature of which remains unspecified to the viewers). Thus Timewyrm could also be said to see a turning point in the character of the Doctor.

Ratings had once again begun to slip around this time, and they would continue to gradually decrease throughout the 1990s, though this trend was observed across all British TV during this decade due to the introduction, and growing popularity, of satellite TV, which diluted ratings across the board. Instead of four channels, a status quo maintained in the UK since 1982, there were now dozens, and the number grew with each year that passed.

JNT saw only that his audience figures were reducing season by season, and feared another attempt by his BBC bosses to remove him or cancel his show. He was therefore determined, as he had been in 1984, to make as much capital as possible out of the publicity surrounding Colin Baker’s departure.

He had decided to cast a relatively unknown children’s entertainer-turned-shakespearean actor called Sylvester McCoy, who had recently been critically acclaimed in the role of Macbeth. McCoy, though a critical success, was not a financial one, and he accepted the part on the grounds that it would be regular paid work for at least a year, as well as increasing his public profile immensely.

Colin Baker finally departed the role of the Doctor at the end of the last episode of season 29, Paul Cornell’s Love and War, the regeneration an event that had been extensively - yet carefully - foreshadowed, both in and out of the series, in a manner not seen since Tom Baker’s final season in 1980-81. It was the end of an era.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 11

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Eleven: Seasons 26 to 27 (1989-90)

Andrew Cartmel left the role of Script Editor after only two-and-a-half years, midway through production of Doctor Who’s 27th season, having been transferred to another BBC show. By this time his ‘Masterplan’ was a well-established part of the programme, subtly introducing a darker feel to some, though by no means all, of the serials in each season.

Colin Baker was keen that Cartmel’s successor should keep this aspect of the series, which he enjoyed immensely (even though it had worked the opposite way to his original intention; light-to-dark instead of dark-to-light). JNT had private reservations about how long they could sustain the subtle hinting at the Doctor’s past without exhausting the patience of the viewers. Audience figures remained high throughout this period, however, so the seemingly winning-formula was not tampered with.

The most memorable serial from these two seasons is probably Ice Time, which saw Sophie Aldred’s Ace depart in a story featuring the Ice Warriors and the Time Lords. However, this was to be a temporary departure - reminiscent of Tegan’s between seasons 19 and 20 - and Ace was to return in season 28.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

...and the Silurians

Woo-oo, it's me again.

I have been watching Doctor Who and the Silurians. It has Paul Darrow in it!

Look, this is him as Captain Hawkins.

Captain Hawkins is now my favourite character in all of Doctor Who. He was brave and got killed by a Silurian, which is a kind of cave monster with a laser head. He worked for the Brigadier who is also a brave manny. The Brigadier doesn't die and is in lots of other Doctor Who stories like the Invasion and Dalek's Master Plan (actually that's another character called Bret Vyon who does get killed, but played by the same manny so I got confused). Of course the Doctor and Liz were the clever ones and they beat the Silurians in the end. It was a long story but very good, I think it may be my favourite now.

Postcards from Another World 10

Part Ten: The Masterplan

As the 25th season took shape, Cartmel began looking to introduce his own ideas into the show, and took a proposal to JNT. This proposal, which was later to become known in fan circles as the ‘Cartmel Masterplan,’ found immediate acceptance with JNT and, when it was raised with him, Colin Baker, because of its intention to take the Doctor down the darker path that Baker had envisioned for his character when first taking on the part, albeit not in quite the way originally planned by him and Saward. The Doctor’s past, which had never been explicitly revealed in the show before, would return to haunt him.

There was, however, no place for Paul Darrow’s Nova Rek in the Masterplan - Cartmel intended for him to be dropped at the end of the season, and Darrow’s contract not renewed. JNT agreed to this, perhaps as a form of revenge for Darrow’s blocking of his Bonnie Langford casting. In the end it was agreed that Rek should depart in the penultimate serial of the season, Crooked Smile.

A change to the shape of the season was required to be made when the BBC decided to move the final serial to the Children in Need night in November (this had previously been done with Five Doctors, the show’s twentieth anniversary special, in 1983), edited to show the complete story in one go. The serial chosen for this was Silver Nemesis (to symbolise the ‘silver’ anniversary), written by Terrance Dicks - his first planned writing engagement since 1983 - from an idea by Kevin Clarke.

Silver Nemesis is generally regarded as the best story of the 25th season of Doctor Who. It saw the return of old enemies the Cybermen, but is more notable for introducing a new ‘old enemy’ of the Doctor’s (the characters had backstory together, but had never before been seen together on screen), Lady Peinforte, played by Fiona Walker.

Lady Peinforte was in some ways a combination of the best traits of the Master and the Rani - a dark mirror of the Doctor, as powerful and intelligent as he, but using her knowledge for evil and not good, and with a clearer, more human, motive than the Master had ever shown. There was, and remains, speculation that Lady Peinforte was once the Doctor’s wife, although this has never been confirmed within the show (though neither has it been officially denied) and the rumour is believed to originate with JNT creating the story just to see if it leaked. It did.

With the decision to rest the character of the Master, Lady Peinforte was to become the chief recurring villain for the remainder of Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor, threatening him with not only her evil plan of the week, but also the knowledge that she, and only she, could reveal the terrible secrets from his past.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 9

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Nine: Season 25 (1988)

After Trial of A Time Lord was over, the pendulum had once again swung the way of the production team. Michael Grade was sensationally sacked by the BBC that year (not entirely due to Doctor Who, it has to be said) and it was rapidly confirmed that for the show’s silver anniversary year it would be restored to 13 episodes and with a budget to match. The Sun claimed the credit for this, to the surprise of nobody.

A couple of changes were to be made at the start of this season: Nicola Bryant had decided to move on from the show, and behind the camera JNT needed to find a permanent replacement for Eric Saward - Terrance Dicks declined the post, although he offered to mentor the new guy. Andrew Cartmel was an unlikely choice for Script Editor, as he was a young writer with little experience of script-editing duties. Nevertheless, he was JNT’s choice.

When it came to casting the new female Companion, JNT’s first choice was, unexpectedly, all-but vetoed by the show’s stars Colin Baker and Paul Darrow. Accusing their Producer of attempting to “stunt-cast” Bonnie Langford for the sake of cheap publicity, they raised strong objections and, knowing JNT’s weaknesses, pointed out that she would not be popular among the show’s bedrock fanbase. JNT was wise enough to see things their way, and the Langford idea was dropped.

After auditioning for the part, the unknown actress Sophie Aldred was cast in the role of “Ace.” The first serial of the season, Dragonfire, saw Peri depart the series and Ace join the TARDIS crew in her place.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 8

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Eight: Season 24 (1987)

When Robert Holmes died unexpectedly in 1986, Saward was left to write the unfinished scripts for the season by himself, and the pressure became too much for him. His confidence deserted him and he resigned from his post, becoming almost a recluse and refusing to speak to anyone from the world of Doctor Who for several years. JNT was left with a catastrophe on his hands as deadlines loomed and he had only four finished (or at least workable) scripts out of seven.

Once again, he was saved by the assistance of the ever-reliable Terrance Dicks, who took Holmes and Saward’s basic outline and turned it into one of the darkest, most memorable, and most moving Doctor Who stories of all time - a fitting tribute to Holmes.

Season 24 begins with the two-part story Mysterious Planet, written chiefly by Holmes with only some input from Saward and a very small amount of re-writing by Dicks. It sees the Doctor, Peri and Rek investigate a, well… mysterious planet, which is revealed to be Earth in the far future, having been moved into the wrong part of the universe by sufficiently advanced technology. Unusually for a Doctor Who story, several plot threads remain unresolved at the end of part two when the TARDIS departs the planet, including who was responsible for ‘stealing’ the Earth.

Mysterious Planet is followed by Trial of A Time Lord, which makes up the remaining five episodes of the season. The early parts were written by Holmes and Saward, but as the story progresses it becomes increasingly the work of Dicks. The TARDIS is diverted to the planet Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords, and upon arrival the Doctor is arrested and put on trial by his peers. In a twist that demonstrates the Time Lords’ mastery of time travel, the crimes the Doctor is accused of he has not yet committed.

As the Doctor defends himself in court from the accusations of the prosecuting counsel, a Time Lord known as the Valeyard, Peri and Rek, who do not stand accused and so are at liberty, must attempt to prove the Doctor innocent. To do this they mentally enter into the Time Lords’ computer Matrix (which harked back to Holmes’ 1976 serial Deadly Assassin) to look for any clue that might help save the Doctor. Unfortunately there is another mind in the Matrix, one hostile to them and in control of the illusionary environment. In a shock ending to episode 2, a phantom warrior in pseudo-samurai armour, played by Brian Blessed, kills Peri.

The final three episodes see the convoluted plot established by Holmes and Saward in parts 1 and 2, as well as the unresolved plot threads from Mysterious Planet, skilfully unravelled by Dicks. The crime the Doctor is accused of is causing the death of Peri, which only occurred because she was trying to save him. But these events have not happened yet; they are merely a projection of the future by the Matrix. So Peri is revealed to be still alive. But the Doctor cannot interfere in future events without breaking one of the Time Lords most important laws, so he cannot save Peri without condemning himself. He is caught in a trap that must lead to either him or Peri dying.

The Doctor does not hesitate in attempting to save Peri. He takes the place of Rek in the Matrix, and recognises his opponent is his old enemy the Master (Anthony Ainley, making his final appearance in the show). The Doctor saves Peri, outwits the Master (who was disguised in the identity of the Valeyard), and exposes the corrupt Time Lord High Council who were responsible for stealing the Earth in Mysterious Planet. All charges against the Doctor are dropped (though he is, technically speaking, guilty).

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 7

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Seven: The Trial

After season 23 received some criticism from the media, Michael Grade (Controller of BBC1) and Jonathan Powell (Head of Drama) attacked the series by circulating an internal BBC memo raising concerns over the show’s future and casting doubts over its “value for money.” This was, of course, leaked to the press, prompting a tabloid story under the headline “Dr Who Axed in BBC plot” and leading to The Sun’s campaign to “Save Dr Who.”

Minutes of meetings in the Doctor Who production office around this time show that opinion was divided about what to do - all their jobs were at stake if Doctor Who was indeed “axed” so the feeling was that they should do something. But the collective decision was taken to not get involved with the “Save Dr Who” campaign, as this might demonstrate weakness and so be playing into the hands of their enemies.

Cooler heads prevailed in the production team - all that was done was that Unofficial Continuity Advisor Ian Levine leaked to the press that Doctor Who made more money for the BBC than it cost to make, through merchandising and overseas sales (it is worth noting that although that is certainly true today, it remains unknown if it was true in the mid-1980s or if this was being economical with the actuality).

With hindsight it seems clear that this response, though it doubtless seemed sensible enough at the time, was not enough. Several ideas that could have raised Doctor Who’s profile, and thus garnered crucial public support, were not adopted. In the end Doctor Who was not “axed” by Powell & Grade, but it did see its budget reduced yet again. In practical terms, there was simply not enough money to make thirteen 45-minute episodes, and JNT said so publicly. On this occasion he had misjudged the response from the executives and instead of the budget being increased, the number of episodes was decreased - from thirteen to seven.

Only after this decision was public knowledge were JNT and Saward forced into action. They believed that they only had seven episodes with which to save Doctor Who. All the stops were to be pulled out to make this season, though reduced in length, the best quality it could possibly be. Saward turned to the man he thought could save Doctor Who - a man acknowledged as one of the series’ greatest writers and Script Editors - Robert Holmes. Between the two of them they concocted the idea for an over-arching story for all seven episodes, the epic Trial of A Time Lord.

Never has Doctor Who come so close to disaster as with what happened next…

Friday, 15 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 6

Part Six: Season 23 (1986)

Faced with popular and critical acclaim for the 22nd season of Doctor Who, the production team was once again in the position of wondering how to follow their previous success.

JNT and Saward had been brought closer together by their shared trials and tribulations of the past year, and decided they could dispense with Letts and Dicks (all accounts agree that this was an amicable decision) and continue on their own. Colin Baker was reconciled to his relationship with co-star Paul Darrow - although Darrow’s character had the ‘dark’ edge that Baker had wanted for his Doctor, and the sardonic Nova Rek frequently got the best lines, Baker was still the star, and Darrow’s presence constantly drove him to up his game in the acting stakes so as not to be upstaged. Critics of this era of Doctor Who often regard it as the show’s hammiest period.

Thus season 23 continued in much the same vein as season 22, with a few returning old foes (popular with the fans and JNT, himself a fan) including the Ice Warriors (last seen in 1974), the Celestial Toymaker (not seen since 1966), and Sil (introduced in season 22’s Vengeance on Varos).

Although season 23 did not have the time and scheduling issues of season 22, it did have budget problems. Around this time budgets were being cut throughout the BBC, which is usually attributed to the introduction of daytime TV. The re-use of old monsters, for which designs and/or costumes already existed, could therefore be seen as a sensible cost-cutting exercise.

Nevertheless, season 23 is usually regarded less well than its immediate predecessor, and chief among the criticisms are a certain complacency or lack of ambition, and the instances of serials looking ‘cheap.’ The show’s enemies within the BBC seized upon these criticisms, and between seasons 23 and 24, Doctor Who was attacked by the enemy within…

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 5

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Five: Season 22 (1985)

Under enormous pressure to follow two ‘instant classic’ stories (Caves of Androzani and Twin Dilemma), the production of season 22 was fraught with difficulties throughout, which can be put down to the already tight production schedule being squeezed even further by significant delays in the early scripting part of the process.

It is to the credit of all who worked on this season of Doctor Who that they rose to the challenge and produced one of the best-regarded seasons in the programme’s history. Credit must especially go to JNT, the Producer, for resisting external pressures and remaining focussed on making the quality of the show as high as it could be given the limited time and budget.

Season 22 saw the introduction of new Companion Nova Rek (Paul Darrow) in the story Attack of the Cybermen, written by Paula Moore but heavily re-written by Eric Saward (Script Editor) and Terrance Dicks (uncredited), with additional dialogue by Darrow himself. Although this story is best remembered for the introduction of Nova Rek and for being the first serial of the 6th Doctor era to feature the Cybermen, it is also noteworthy for its topical inclusion of Halley’s Comet, which was visible from Earth around the time of original broadcast.

Another noteworthy serial from this season is Two Doctors, which saw Colin Baker’s Doctor and his companions team up with former Doctor #2 Patrick Troughton and companion Jamie (Fraser Hines) against the Sontarans. The reunion of old friends and foes was almost (some might just say ‘was’) overshadowed by the reunion of Darrow with his old Blakes 7 antagonist Jacqueline Pearce, playing guest villain Chessene. But it wasn’t all good news: due to production difficulties the overseas filming in Spain had to be cancelled and remounted in the studio, forcing yet more last-minute rewrites by Saward and Dicks.

The jewel in the crown of season 22 is undoubtedly its final serial, Revelation of the Daleks, which cemented in the mind of the British public (if not all those at the BBC - but more on that later) the return of Doctor Who to a golden age not seen since the 1970s. This story saw the Doctor, Peri and Rek come up against Davros and the Daleks once again. The script was written by Eric Saward and, as the last serial of the season to be produced, he had more time to incorporate the changes made to the series into this serial than for any of the others. It was also fortunate that it suffered from fewer production difficulties than any other serial of the season - the only one of any significance being the loss of Alexei Sayle as a guest-artist due to a scheduling clash. The story concludes with the Doctor offering to take Peri and Rek to Blackpool, which was to lead into the first story of the next season…

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 4

Part Four: Nova Rek

Casting for the second Companion was now on. It was decided by JNT that the Companion should be male, and should be older than the last two male Companions Turlough and Adric (he was anxious to avoid too many comparisons with Turlough, who was recently departed from the series and had begun his tenure in an antagonistic role working for the Black Guardian, trying to kill the Doctor). Again, time was against them in making this last minute addition to the regular cast, but a stroke of inspiration (which has in the past been claimed by Colin Baker himself) caused JNT to cast someone already lined up for a guest role in season 22: Paul Darrow, originally due to play the villainous henchman Maylin Tekker in Timelash.

Darrow, most famous for playing the anti-hero Avon in Blakes 7, was thrilled at the prospect of upgrading his status from ‘guest-artist’ to ‘regular,’ but was even more thrilled when JNT explained the new character’s concept to him.

The character of Nova Rek has often been criticised for its lack of originality and its suspicious similarity to Darrow’s favourite old role, but this has to be understood within the context of when and how it was created. Rek was very much a last-minute addition to the script of Attack of the Cybermen (originally the character of Lytton, first seen in season 21’s Resurrection of the Daleks, was due to return, but Rek was written into his place) and the rehearsal schedule was a problem for Darrow for the first four serials of the season due to his last-minute commission. It therefore made sense to allow Darrow to fall back on the method and mannerisms of a character he had grown accustomed to playing over the course of four years.

Darrow was to play Rek for four seasons over four years, equalling his time as Avon in Blakes 7.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Meanwhile, what has Big Gay Longcat been up to?

Postcards from Another World 3

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Three: Crisis

The root of the problem was that Saward wanted a darker feel to the series, and Baker wanted a darker Doctor to go with it - this would help contrast with his predecessor’s portrayal of the role (though Baker planned to soften him over the course of the years he intended to play the Doctor for). JNT initially supported this position, for the reason that it provoked outrage amongst Mary Whitehouse’s NVLA which, perversely, always resulted in a subsequent boost in ratings. But this darker feel had not been introduced in Twin Dilemma (for reasons outlined above), and so the split was between JNT, who came to believe that they needed to continue in the same vein as Twin Dilemma, and Saward and Baker, who wished to carry on with the intended change in emphasis.

Saward’s position seemed strongest at first - the script for Attack of the Cybermen (planned as the first serial of season 22) was already written, and he had edited it heavily to deliberately contrast it with Twin Dilemma (so the change in the character of the Doctor would not seem arbitrary). If it was to be changed, time was against them.

JNT then pulled a masterstroke. He invited Saward and Baker to a lunch meeting with himself and two old stalwarts of Doctor Who: former Producer Barry Letts and former Script Editor Terrance Dicks. At this (now legendary) lunch a compromise was reached - Letts and Dicks convinced first Baker and then Saward to abandon the ‘darker’ Doctor, and Dicks agreed to assist Saward in making the necessary changes to the scripts. In return, the darker direction of the stories themselves would be kept. To help with this, a second Companion would be introduced who would take on some of the role originally intended for the darker Doctor.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 2

Part Two: Success

Many things have been written about Twin Dilemma since its initial broadcast, and it is generally agreed that the success of the serial is due almost entirely to the performances of the two leads, Baker and Bryant, and their instant chemistry. Most cite the scene in which Peri and the newly-regenerated Doctor visit the TARDIS wardrobe and choose his new costume (including the famous blue coat, trademark of the 6th Doctor) as outstanding - some say it lays the foundation for the 6th Doctor’s era.

These scenes were written by Saward at the request of JNT, though rumours persist that there was a great deal of improvisation by Baker and Bryant on the day of recording. Either way, the scenes established a rapport between the two leads that continued throughout the story, elevating what is generally agreed to be an unexceptional plot, direction, guest-artists and production values (the latter, of course, was standard for Doctor Who in the 1980s).

Audience figures of just under 8 million were sustained throughout the four episodes, but subsequent to the season ending word of mouth continued to keep the new Doctor in the public’s attention. This led to the BBC deciding to repeat Twin Dilemma at Christmas 1984, just prior to the new season starting in January 1985. It was edited into two double-length episodes, matching the format that had been chosen for the new season.

When this was announced, planning and production for season 22 was underway, and the decision (taken, naturally enough, without consulting the Doctor Who production team) caught JNT and Saward by surprise. When the new season debuted it would be following hard on the heels of the repeat, not with a gap of over 9 months. This presented them with a problem - one that divided the production team and provoked a crisis.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Postcards from Another World, or, What if Twin Dilemma Had Been Great?

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part One: 1984 - The Turning Point

Doctor Who’s 21st season started badly but it ended on a high, with two of the best regarded stories of all time back-to-back: Peter Davison’s swansong Caves of Androzani, and Colin Baker’s triumphant introduction in Twin Dilemma.

It was a turning point for the series, and it came at a crucial moment in Doctor Who’s history - during the Peter Davison years episodes had been shown mid-week, twice-weekly, up against ITV heavy-hitters such as Coronation Street, and ratings had fallen as a result. Shortsighted as ever, BBC executives did not see the slump in context and instead blamed the decline in ratings on a decline in the quality of the programme (if we were feeling charitable we might assume they had watched the 21st season’s opening story, Warriors of the Deep, before drawing this conclusion).

Producer John Nathan-Turner (known as JNT) and Script Editor Eric Saward were presented with an opportunity to capitalise on the publicity surrounding the departure of Peter Davison from the role of the Doctor and the introduction of new Doctor Colin Baker. If they could attract a higher audience to the episodes surrounding the changeover and sustain them to the end of the season, it might deflect some of the criticisms being levelled at the show.

Initial ideas for the story of Twin Dilemma saw the Doctor acting erratically, in a “post-regeneration crisis” (an idea which found favour with actor Colin Baker, who would have a chance to stretch his acting muscles while finding his feet with the character), but wiser heads prevailed against this in view of the pressure the show as a whole was under - the Doctor acting out-of-character, even temporarily, might alienate the viewer from the hero of the story and jeopardise the precious ratings.

JNT persuaded his Script Editor that it was vital that the new Doctor “hit the ground running” and the story was re-written with this in mind. Several early scenes saw substantial alterations, or were dropped in their entirety - including one in which the Doctor goes crazy and attacks his companion Peri (played by Nicola Bryant).

The last six episodes of season 21 put an extra million onto the viewership - from 7 to almost 8 million - not the standout success that JNT was hoping for, but enough to satisfy someone at the BBC that Doctor Who was worth giving a chance. From the 22nd season it would be returned to Saturday evenings. Doctor Who was coming home.

Guest spot: Postcards from Another World

I hope I didn't scare any of you too much with my scary face picture. I am a cuddly cat really.

Now I am going to have sleeps and let Duncan begin a guest spot - he has been writing a story about Doctor Who. His story is called Postcards from Another World. I like it, it has Paul Darrow in it. I hope you like it too.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Thursday, 7 January 2010

It is cold outside but I am on the internets!

Hello, it's me again! I'm back!

I have been watching some Doctor Who. First I saw David Tennant who was Hamlet turning into a new manny, so now I know why there are lots of Doctor Whos - he regenerates when he dies into a new body that looks different and acts a bit different but is really the same.

Does that mean Travis from Blakes 7 is like the Doctor?

Then I saw an old Doctor Who story called Planet of the Daleks by Terry Nation. It was very good, I think it is my favourite Doctor Who I have seen. It was exciting and I never knew what was going to happen next and the Daleks were baddys and they were on a planet and they could turn invisible and there were other invisible aliens who wore cloaks so they could be seen and there were Thals who were goodys along with Jo and the Doctor (who wasn't David Tennant, he was Jon Pertwee) and they beat the Daleks by being clever and brave.

Now I am even more excited because I have seen the first part of a series called The Legend of Robin Hood. It has Paul Darrow in it! I don't know if he is a goody or a baddy because he has not been in it a lot yet. He is playing a character called Sheriff of Nottingham.