Sunday, 28 July 2013

I Love Willies

I have already written about how much I love Willy Armitage from Mission: Impossible, but now I have seen another TV programme with a handsome and brave Willy in it. I am talking about Willie Caine from The Sandbaggers. Here he is as the filling in an acting sandwich:

The Sandbaggers is a TV series from 1978 (a good year to begin in) about Cold War spying, but it is not like James Bond because it is more about the politics and Bureaucracy of sending spies on dangerous missions. It means that exciting action scenes are rarer, but when the do happen they are all the more exciting for it.

Willie Caine (played by Ray Lonnen) is the top field agent - they are known as Sandbaggers - for the British Secret Intelligence Service. His boss is Neil Burnside (played by Roy Marsden, seen on the right in the above picture) who is the main character, and he has to decide when to send Willie and his Sandbagger friends on their missions. Sometimes he gets pressure to do missions he doesn't want to do, or to not do ones he does want to do, from other mannys such as Sir Geoffrey Wellingham (played by Alan MacNaughtan) who is like a serious version of Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister. This results in very dramatic scenes of intense acting, which is always great.

Some notable moments in the series (WARNING: spoilers coming up) include killing off main characters to show this series is serious business. In particular, the third episode kills off two character who seemed to be set up as regulars. In your face Spooks and Game of Thrones! 1978 gets there first, as usual.

Another parallel with Blakes 7 is the way the last episode ends on a cliffhanger that has never been resolved - Willie gets shot! And we don't know if he survives. Fortunately there is a DVD extra called The Sandbagger Files which shows Willie meeting CIA manny Jeff Ross (played by Bob Sherman, on the left in the picture above) many years later so, like Avon, Willie must have survived. But, as with Kaldor City, the canonicity of this story is disputed. I believe Willie survives though, he is my new crush.

I am now off to write stories about how Willie teams up with Willy to rescue big, gay, long cats from behind the Iron Curtain.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

A Tricky Problem for the Doctor

A Tricky Problem for the Doctor is another one page story, and is the only one in either Adventures in Time and Space or Journey Through Time to feature Romana. Romana doesn't actually do anything though, and there is no picture of her so there is no way of telling if she is being played by Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward, or if they got somebody else in just like they have done with Jo, Sarah and Leela.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is wearing a suit and tie again. Perhaps there is a dress code on the planet Skarium?

This is a story about maths! The baddy tries to defeat the Doctor by proving that 1=2, which doesn't sound so bad to me since it would make counting to 2 easier, but the Doctor is too clever.

The Doctor smiled. It would take more than a simple trick like that to break down his super reasoning powers. But would you have been fooled?

Yes. I am a cat. Cats don't do maths. QED.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

If your mansion house needs haunting...

By Duncan. Big Gay Longcat is much too young to remember Rentaghost, so I'll have to take this one.

Rentaghost finished in 1984, which means that - unless there was a repeat in the late-80s or early-90s - I would have been 5 years old (as old as Big Gay Longcat is now) when it finished. My memories are as vague as you would therefore expect - the theme tune, of course (though hardly any of the lyrics), and every episode ending with somebody going into the cupboard where the dragon lived and coming out in comedy soot-blackened make-up. Something about a pantomime horse as well. Timothy Claypole and Hazel McWitch were the only characters I could recall well enough to name without resorting to Wikipedia.

That was until yesterday when, prompted by the Anorak's thread on the series, I watched the first four episodes of the 1st season - dating from 1976 so before I was even born.

The thing that most impressed me about Rentaghost was (aside from the theme song itself, which is remarkably catchy and I was humming it to myself all today) the way the "action" (for want of a better term, as I hesitate to go as far as to say "plot" or "story") continues through the end credits, with the "You Have Been Watching" style shots of the actors being credited coming not from stills or stock, credits-specific footage, but instead showing the aftermath of the situation the episode proper left off. And then over the crew credits we get a sort of epilogue, a dialogue-free bonus scene or two. I'm amazed this playing with the conventions of the medium doesn't happen more often in other, more sophisticated TV shows. (It's Pythonesque, in that Monty Python's Flying Circus did use this technique from time to time.)

The first episode takes a little while to get going, understandably so because it has to introduce characters and set out some ground rules of how the ghostly powers and "psychic energy" work. The scenes at the train station and on the train didn't work for me, but this was more than made up for by the payoff at the end, where Fred Mumford is being teleported between his parents' house and the Rentaghost office, appearing in an unfortunate position each time and culminating in Mr Meaker having his face painted green and with his head stuck in a birdcage. That gave me the biggest laugh of the episode, followed by Timothy Claypole's brief impersonation of a budgie. I think between them these two moments convinced me to watch more.

The second episode was probably the weakest I watched, concerning a ghostly Highwayman haunting an airport and lots of verbal misunderstandings by Davenport and Claypole. Not that memorable overall, but hardly bad for what it is.

The third episode saw the team at a hospital, a very TV-land hospital of the sort I have never seen in real life, and as I spent a lot of time in hospitals in the late-80s and early-90s I have to wonder if the 'quick-Matron's-coming' hospital is entirely an invention of Carry On films and TV sitcoms, or was there a cultural shift in 1980s Britain that did away with Matron the feared and all-powerful? Anyway, it's a pretty good episode with Timothy Claypole going a bit crazed with magical power and demonstrating that he really does have a scary laugh like at the end of the theme song, and I liked the payoff of Fred Mumford being stuck in a filing cabinet just as his parents turn up and ask where he is.

The fourth episode was probably the best of the four, starting with an amusing scene of Claypole turning Mr Meaker's baby son into a puppy and back again before Meaker, but not the man he was expressing his parental pride to, becomes aware that the change happened. Most of the episode sees the team being store detectives, watching out for shoplifters while Claypole mischievously makes the biggest things in the room (a rowing boat and then a tent) disappear. The Rentaghost format here shows its flexibility, as we can see the team doing pretty much anything from episode to episode. It's not a unique format for Kid's TV comedy, I can think of The Goodies and the Chuckle Brothers at least who have done similarly. In the end Claypole makes almost everything in the shop vanish, which presumably gets them the sack to do something different next time. Why this doesn't get Claypole the sack from Rentaghost is a mystery, but perhaps with his poltergeist power it's better to have him at least sometimes on their side. I am definitely over-thinking this.

So the writer of Rentaghost was Bob Block, who also wrote Galloping Galaxies! This was a considerably shorter-lived and much more obscure series from 1985 that is probably only memorable for having Kenneth Williams in it as the voice of the computer Sid, but I have stronger childhood memories of it than Rentaghost because of the novelisation that I used to borrow from the local library, along with Target novelisations, before graduating on to the grownup's SF section and the novels of Douglas Adams, Michael Moorcock, Frank Herbert, Ian Watson, etc.

That's why I think Bob Block, Rentaghost and Galloping Galaxies! deserve more recognition.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Power

The Doctor seems very keen on leaving his scarf behind and wearing a suit and tie these days. Maybe it is too hot for him to wear a scarf right now? I wonder who that is with him - Leela was the Companion in the last story but it could just as easily be Harry or Co-Ordinator Engin going by the prior form of these stories.

The arrival of the TARDIS distracts one of the fighting mannys and allows the other one to win, just as happens at the beginning of Temple of Secrets (part one of The Myth Makers). I'm not going to hold that against The Power though, not when there are so many other things to hold against it.

It turns out it is Leela that is the Companion when the narration tells us
Dr. Who and Leela step out of the TARDIS...
Leela, of course, is instantly recognisable in her trademark blue jeans. And it appears that she has changed her shirt since page 1 as it is a different colour. I am good at recognising colours because I have seven different colours of stripes on me.

The Doctor has taken off his jacket and tie so that he looks like he did in The Deadly Assassin. This makes it easier for the artist to copy pictures of the Doctor from that TV story.

He would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't been for the invention of videos and DVDs. The Power is very confusing and it is difficult to follow what is happening, but I think the Doctor has been thrown in a pit to be nomed by some hazily-defined monsters called Porgs. The baddy, Zig, does have some good quality mad laughter bits though:
All you need do is tell us the secret! Ha ha ha! Throw him in!
 Good luck with your case, Doctor. Ha ha ha haah!

Princess Azula looks like a monkey. This is page 4 and it is the first (and only) time we have seen a clear picture of her. If it wasn't for the narration I would not be able to tell which character is which, except for the Doctor who does manage to look consistently like Tom Baker.

The twist where Zig reveals he has wings, so far concealed under his cloak, is a good one, but if the artwork had been clearer then this could have been a much more dramatic revelation.

Zig appears to have taken the time to shave off his beard since the last page, going by the third panel here.

Zig ends up falling into his own pit full of Porgs, in a satisfying piece of poetic justice that partially helps redeem this mess of a story. The moral of the story is that books are great but they should be shared, which I think everybody would agree with except for obvious baddys.

The Doctor puts his tie and jacket back on to look smart for the ending. Leela has changed into a purple shirt, but then is back in yellow for the last panel. At the very bottom it says "Paul Crompton" but I don't know why.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


Flashback is a bit longer than the last few stories I have looked at in the Doctor Who Books Project. At six pages, it even has the luxury of an introductory scene set before the Doctor arrives on the scene. We are introduced to Tay, Zak and Able, three spacemannys from the planet Pendor, and there is a big picture of Tay's face so that we know he is a manny and not a river.

The Doctor has been accompanied by Sarah for a lot of stories now, ever since The Sleeping Beast, but Sarah is not in Flashback. Instead the Doctor's Companion is Leela. A change in Companion is accompanied by a change in the art style, as it seems that whoever has drawn the pictures to go with this story has tried quite hard to have them make sense and go with the words, which very few of the recent stories have done.

The Doctor and Leela arrive on "a Pendorian beacon ship. A sort of cosmic lighthouse-cum-weather balloon" (as the Doctor explains). They have arrived just in time to see the plot getting underway as we get to page three.

A small spaceship had docked with the beacon ship, and four men were walking down the ramp. The first three all looked very similar - tall, well-built and dressed in identical red uniforms. The last figure was very small by comparison, fat, with a shock of red hair and a metallic blue suit. Three more uniformed figures were waiting to greet them.

This is a pretty accurate description of what we can see in the above picture, except that there are only two mannys waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Maybe the other one is drawing the picture?

The manny in blue is called Skeeda and is a baddy. Fortunately the Doctor recognises him and fills us in on the exposition so that we don't have to waste any time in establishing this. Skeeda hypno-eyeses the uniformed mannys and Leela using a flashing light, but the Doctor is too busy expositing to be hypno-eyesed.

A nasty piece of work, but very clever if he could only have used his talents to do good . . . Leela, you're not listening. Leela!

The Doctor knows how to un-hypno-eyes Leela though.

Quickly he turned the girl's face away from the light and slapped it hard. As she staggered under the blow, Leela's eyes flickered and she brought her hand up to her cheek. The Doctor relaxed and pulled her out of sight of the ship.
"Sorry about that," he said, "but you were almost hypno-tised by that fat fiend down there."
Leela rubbed her face ruefully. "I am glad that I am on your side," she said.

I had to read that bit a couple of times to make sure I understood it right, because the first time I almost thought it said that the Doctor slapped Leela's face. But it must mean that the Doctor slapped the hypno-eyesing light because that would make more sense.

The other mannys are still under Skeeda's control and he is going to make them use their computers to "cause as much havoc and destruction as you can!" They must have some kind of space internets to be able to do this.

Serious Business needs a Serious Face.

The Doctor and Leela follow Tay to his computer room and the Doctor uses a flashing light to de-hypno-eyes him. Tay then works to undo the damage he has done, but there are still other mannys who are under Skeeda's control.

"Even now, the rest of your team is stirring up more delights for that madman, Skeeda."
"We must stop them at once!" gasped a horrified Tay.
"Yes, but how?" said Leela.

"Leave it to me," said the Doctor, with a conspiratorial wink. "I have a plan...."

Since the story cuts to Skeeda and his hypno-eyesed minions at this point, I will cut to talking about how Leela looks nothing at all like Louise Jameson in this picture, and the Doctor appears to be wearing a red coat but not his usual scarf... and now I have been hypno-eyesed by the light he is holding.

Louise Jameson as Leela

So, the Doctor's "plan" turns out to be that he goes to where Skeeda and the other mannys are and hypno-eyeses them with his flashing light. This massive anticlimax ought to bring this sorry excuse for a story to an end, but there is still almost a whole page left to go and the Doctor hasn't acted out-of-character nearly enough yet, with his questionable light-slapping antics.

The Doctor appears to have changed his coat and put his scarf on for this last picture, unless he just hypno-eyesed me into thinking he did. And if you think the Doctor wouldn't use his hypno-powers for petty things like that, read on:

The Doctor concentrated on Skeeda, who was still staring at the flashing light, his eyes glazed, his mouth slack.
"Are you listening to me, Skeeda?" said the Doctor, softly.
"Because if you're not listening, I can make you listen. Because I can do anything. As from this moment there's no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There's only my will because I possess the Key to Time."
The little fat man nodded, his eyes still on the light.
"You have been a naughty man, a very naughty man, but now you're going to be good, aren't you?" Skeeda nodded again.
"Listen carefully. These men have a busy time on this ship, and you could be very useful to them, preparing their meals, keeping their quarters tidy, and doing any little odd jobs for them.
"From now on you will do exactly as they say, and you will forget that you were ever anything but their servant."
Skeeda's face assumed a vacant smile, and the Doctor switched off the light. Immediately the little man's eyes flicked wildly around the room.
"What am I doing here? he said. "I should be getting a meal ready for those boys! They will be starving after that long journey!"

This is supposed to be an amusing, everybody-laughs-at-Mr-Spock type ending, but I find the idea of the Doctor robbing a manny of free will, even a baddy getting a taste of his own medicine, to be deeply uncomfortable. Who wrote this, Paul Cornell?

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Cybermannys

The Cybermen is a one-page story about the Cybermannys, the officially-second-best monsters in Doctor Who. Because the story is only one page long you can see the whole of it in my picture above.

The story is in two parts, the first of which is about how the Cybermannys became Cybermannys and why they don't like hugs and kiffs any more, and the second part is a short summary of times when the Doctor met Cybermannys. These almost, but not quite, correspond to the Doctor Who TV stories The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Invasion and Revenge of the Cybermen.

While I think that the reason that no TV stories after Revenge of the Cybermen are mentioned is that this story was written before they were made (Professor Cat agrees with my hypothesis), I am confused as to why The Wheel in Space was not included. Maybe it was edited out because there was not enough space on the page for it, or maybe the writer just didn't like it very much?

The story finishes by asking the reader
But was that the end of them ? Ask yourself, is the shore troubled by the sea ? Is the sun disheartened by the clouds ? The Cybermen feel no pain. Beware ! They will return !

A criticism of the Doctor Who TV story Earthshock that I have read on the internets is that it was so long since the Cybermannys were in Doctor Who that hardly anybody would remember who they were, so they wouldn't know to be scared by their surprise appearance at the end of part one (oops, sorry if I have given that away for you, but good luck finding a version of the story that doesn't have Cybermannys on the cover to give it away for you anyway). I think it is stories like The Cybermen that would have reminded everybody about the Cybermannys existing in between their being on TV.

The Cybermen is not to be confused with the Target novelisation of The Moonbase, which was renamed Doctor Who and the Cybermen. I don't know why this had to be renamed - it clearly isn't to make it obvious that there are Cybermannys in the story because there are Cybermannys on the cover!
Look, I will show you the cover to prove it:

Mewmewmewmewmew! It is not easy to use a scanner when you don't have thumbs.

The Only Mary Sue in the Forest is the River

I have mentioned before that I don't like River Sue, a character in Doctor Who that I don't think belongs in Doctor Who.

I'm only a cat and so it is very hard for me to express all the reasons why I think that River Sue doesn't belong in Doctor Who, but a manny called Richard Cooper, who also writes a blog, has expressed the reasons very well in a post here. I hope he doesn't mind if I quote the relevant paragraphs here because the full post is long (which I approve of, being long myself) and talks about other things besides River Sue.

Anyway, here are the relevant paragraphs, written by Richard Cooper and not written by me:

Virginia Woolf foolishly called Conan Doyle's Watson "a sack filled with straw" (and she didn't have the excuse of having seen Martin Freeman). It's merciful she was never introduced to River Song, the most misjudged and cynically constructed fictional character in history (well, at least until Clara came along). The only aspects of her not defined by a male scriptwriter's standbys of femininity are the signs round her neck that read "Spoilers!" and "watch the finale because something more exciting will happen there", usually replaced in the finale with "next series, all will be revealed." She's got poisonous lipstick, her all-time fantasy is a threesome with two Doctors, her last words before regenerating are "I'm concentrating on a dress size" , she promises that she's "a screamer - now there is a spoiler for you!" and her reaction to meeting the Doctor for the first time (from her point of view) is "you never said he was hot!" The "bickering" between the Doctor and River is excruciating because it's little more than the stage directions "they bicker" and "they flirt". One yearns for some genuine tension: what if River had a an unpleasant manner about her, or a manner that riled the Doctor in a way that unnerved the viewer, changing the status quo from "Doctor and his friends" and adding tension by making the dynamic less cozy? Sexual tension is rendered impossible by the Doctor's celibacy. Instead, their conversations are indistinguishable from Moffat, Smith and Kingston delivering their oral press releases for it on Doctor Who Confidential. River delivers cute domestic soundbites - "Hello sweetie", "I'm going shopping", "it's called marriage, honey." "You wouldn't answer your phone" - while the Doctor performs anaemic comedy "grrr! That woman will be the death of me" responses (Curiously, The Name of the Doctor spared us the gruesome River line promised in Doctor Who Magazine's preview - "Oh, I do like to watch a man think: it’s like watching a whale knit" - a line recycled from Coupling). Her revelation that the TARDIS only makes that noise because "YOU leave the brakes on"' is really just an upscale equivalent of the moment in Batman and Robin when Batman produces a credit card with a Batman logo on it, or Batman Forever's line "it's the car, right? Chicks love the car", all three showing the same contempt for the narrative, and provoking a jaded laugh that doesn't survive a second viewing. It's sadly not the only resemblance between Steven Moffat's Doctor Who and Joel Schumacher's Batman movies, the only question being whether the former is headed for the same notoriety. "Well, she is a woman," says the Doctor when Amy and Rory puzzle over her murderous behaviour. River's other two ways of speaking are to spout trailerspeak - "this will be the Doctor's darkest hour -  he'll raise higher than ever before and fall so much further" "you're going to find out very soon, now, Doctor, and I'm sorry, but that's when everything changes" - and hymns to the Doctor's near-Godliness: "You've decided that the universe is better off without you, but the universe doesn't agree", "To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word Doctor means mighty warrior. How far you've come. [...] And all this, my love, in fear of you".

 This isn't a character, but a soulless collection of gender and TV reference points, and the increasing lack of conviction in Kingston's performance - every smiling expression over-played to the point of simpering, every line over-enunciated in such a fey tone it becomes hard to hear her, and the strangely weak pitch in her delivery whenever she has to be frightened, tough or upset, as if she can't make the shift to proper acting (Eve Myles syndrome, as it's known), makes River as unsuccessful an attempt by a male writer to evoke someone from the opposite sex as anything by Benny Hill
The Day of the Moon saw River Song betray the show's very ethos. Gareth Roberts, back in the days before he wrote for this version of the series, quite rightly said that the problem with the New Adventures version of Ace is that he instinctively felt the Doctor wouldn't invite anyone with a gun on board the TARDIS. How much more apposite this is when applied to River Song. Another Who writer who offered interesting opinions on this show in the 1990s, Paul Cornell, rightly observed that mid-80s Doctor Who, with Eric Saward as script editor, relied far too much on characters with guns, but even the truly wretched Saward never suggested that Lytton was cool and rather fun, or that Orcini would be fit to travel in the TARDIS. Compare the scenes of Lytton's bogus policemen shooting fleeing prisoners dead in Resurrection of the Daleks with River shooting the Silents in Day of the Moon. One portrays a shooting as cruel, frightening and psychotic, while the latter presents it as cool and sexy, right down to the moment when River does a Western/Robocop style twirl with her gun as she holsters it. The days of risking your life to stop the Brigadier from blowing up the Silurians and agonising other whether one has the right to blow up the Dalek incubation room have never seemed so far away.
Consider the soul crushing dialogue from that scene, a curious mixture of witlessness and malodorousness:

Doctor: This is my friend River. Nice hair, clever, has own gun, and unlike me she really doesn't mind shooting people. I shouldn't like that, kinda do a bit.
River: Thank you sweetie
Doctor: I know you're team players and everything but she'll definitely kill the first three of you
River: (pressing her back against the doctor's while pointing her gun) oh, the first seven, easily.
Doctor: Seven, really?
River: Oh, eight for you, honey.
Doctor: (grinning) Stop it...
River: (grinning, attempting a "breathily sexy" tone) Make me...
Doctor: (giggling, sounding aroused) maybe I will...
Amy: Is this important flirting? [...]
Doctor Sorry. As I was saying, my naughty friend is going to kill the first three of you to attack...
(the Doctor and River are back to back, as River opens fire
River: what are you doing?
The Doctor: Helping!
River: You've got a screwdriver, go and build a cabinet!
The Doctor: That's really rude!
River: Shut up and drive!
(Doctor dashes into the TARDIS. River kills all the Silents, twirling and shooting in slow motion to heroic music)

It ends with a return to domestic sitcom talk, after River performs the gun-twirl: "my old fella didn't see that, did he? He gets ever so cross." Unlike with Ace, we're not being encouraged to think there's something wrong with this person: it's the show itself that comes across as jaded and withdrawn from empathy and decency to a psychopathic extent (and what a charming ethical copout to have the Doctor leave before he can witness the rest of the killing). Again, we have the depressingly widespread idea that a woman acting violently is empowering and a corrective to sexism and misogyny. When questioned about his ability with female characters during a Guardian interview Moffat replied:

River Song? Amy Pond? Hardly weak women. It's the exact opposite. You could accuse me of having a fetish for powerful, sexy women who like cheating people. That would be fair.

It would indeed. Unfortunately, a fetish for powerful, sexy women who like cheating people is no substitute for an interest in human beings.

Hello it's me, Big Gay Longcat here again. I did write this bit now. I just want to finish this post by saying that although I don't like River Sue, I do like Alex Kingston, the actress who plays her on TV.

Here is a picture of Alex Kingston in the trailer for the 32nd season of Doctor Who, in a scene that must have been much too rude to appear in the series itself because it never did. Therefore it is not canon!