Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Kevin Stoney, RIP

When I think of villains, I think of Kevin Stoney. By all accounts, he was a lovely man, but among the dozens of characters he played – in TV series as diverse as I, Claudius, The Avengers, All Creatures Great and Small and Bergerac – I treasure two charismatic would-be dictators in Doctor Who. He was even voted the Daily Mail’s 1965 “Villain of the year” (presumably handing over to Roy Jenkins for the rest of the ’60s). He was a marvellous actor, and after two decades of false reports of his death, sadly the news that broke on Monday is true.

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Doctor Who fans will always remember him as Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan, the first human villain striking enough to steal a scene from a Dalek, then as Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion, a business tycoon of such Bond-villain cool that he very much made the Cybermen just secondary villains in their own story. In one of the first Who stories I ever saw, Revenge of the Cybermen, he returns to play an avuncular bearded alien – though unfortunately that’s not a story from which anyone emerges with much credit. You may also have seen him as the perpetually upbeat astrologer Thrasyllus in I, Claudius (I must get round to watching him play the same man in The Caesars), Tiberius’ sidekick in exile who has to laugh off the threat of being thrown down a mountain. He was just about the only thing worth watching in two of the weakest episodes of Blake’s 7, first as a scheming councillor and then as a blind archivist who knows too much. And you can see him as a doomed Treasury inspector and then a bitter old bird expert in The Avengers, a dodgy Colonel in The Prisoner, the Prime Minister in the final Quatermass and in dozens of roles in TV series from The Adventures of Robin Hood in the 1950s to Inspector Morse in the 1990s.

Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan)

The Daleks’ Master Plan was the series’ early epic, a mixture of war story, political thriller, horror story and space opera, and perhaps because the Daleks are best when they have someone to play against, they’re accompanied throughout by Kevin Stoney’s Mavic Chen. Though the Daleks plot to take over Earth’s galaxy with the help of several ambitious leaders, it’s Mavic Chen, traitorous Guardian of the Solar System, who’s the real star. Named and made up to evoke a mix of as many human ethnicities as possible to accentuate his betrayal of the whole human race, he has something of the commanding camp of the Emperor Ming about him – but across twelve episodes, he has the time to develop as a character and in performance, with his overweening self-confidence (to the point of megalomania) making him increasingly blind to the Daleks’ real view of him and the fate he has coming. Competing for attention with another villain who has real charisma, the Daleks are at their height; for me, they were never better than pitched against the original Doctor, and in this story they get to be the devious galaxy-spanning conquerors of the TV21 comic strips. It’s enormous fun to see Mavic Chen winding them up to fury; because they need him – temporarily – he gets away with talking back to them and even swatting a Dalek’s eye-stalk with a long-fingernailed hand well past the point that they’d exterminate anyone else. And he still doesn’t see the danger when he’s told that
“One Dalek… is capable of exterminating all!”
While they allow him to live, his theatrics are immensely entertaining, and he’s great teasing and outwitting other of the Daleks’ allies in the second episode, Mr Stoney making great use of bars to peer through, lit by flames. Unfortunately, only three episodes still survive from the story, but the whole thing’s available on BBC CD, complete with narration to make it easier to follow. Once you have the CD, you might also consider picking up the Reconstruction, as the part-stills, part-computer-animated version of this story is by far the best Recon I’ve seen. You get a charming interview with Mr Stoney on the Recons for both The Daleks’ Master Plan and for The Invasion, too. But perhaps the most accessible way to view the story – well, a quarter of it, anyway – is to pick up the Doctor Who DVD set Lost In Time, which collects together eighteen ‘orphaned’ episodes, and where the survivors of The Daleks’ Master Plan are among the undoubted highlights (along with The Crusade and The Evil of the Daleks).

Tobias Vaughn (The Invasion)

When I was just four, I saw a Doctor Who villain that petrified me so much I’ve loved him ever since. Gabriel Woolf’s Sutekh the Destroyer (from Pyramids of Mars) was a performance of such quietly terrifying evil that the same actor was brought in to supply the voice of the Beast in The Impossible Planet two years ago. I still enjoy a great villain today, and Doctor Who has seen a great many – but only one’s ever captivated me as much as Sutekh did, and I didn’t see that until I was 21 and The Invasion was released on video (though, for all sorts of reasons, you’re much better off now with the DVD). My other favourite is, of course, Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughn. Kevin Stoney’s second appearance in Doctor Who is frequently said to be a retread of his first: an extra-long story; elements of a spy thriller; an invasion of Earth by one of the most famous two Doctor Who monsters; a human using his power and prestige first to betray Earth to the monsters, then planning to double-cross them (and, naturally, being double-crossed first). Despite all that, the 1968 story has a very different feel to the 1965-66 epic – the Daleks leapt from planet to planet to attack a far-future Earth, while the Cybermen are in effect invading a Bond movie on a BBC budget, with Tobias Vaughn very much a Bond villain in a sharp suit rather than a grand piece of Flash Gordon camp. On the other hand, if you’ve seen 2006’s Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel, you’ll recognise an awful lot of that double-length story lifted from The Invasion

Tobias Vaughn is the head of International Electromatics, a global business empire that dominates the electronics market through its unique ‘micromonolithic circuit’ (yes, you may very well think this is where Intel started). And, unwilling to settle for mere market domination, he plots to take over the world. One of the reasons Vaughn is so striking is that he’s just like how we imagine heads of major corporations to be – after all, the James Bond films are documentaries, aren’t they? And this story has much of the style of the ’60s, with Vaughn’s dark suit and lovely high-collared shirt making him one of the best-dressed men in Doctor Who, but set just a little bit in the future, with videophones and private armies. And that look, the script and Kevin Stoney’s performance come together into the ideal villain for the story: he’s authoritative, he’s witty, he’s in control… At least until the Doctor gets in the way. In The Invasion, the Cybermen are at their most inhuman – faceless, mostly voiceless, wholly emotionless, and so Vaughn makes the perfect contrast. His journey from urbane sophistication through anger to broken depression isn’t just a demonstration of the kind of emotions that his allies can’t have, but a tour de force by a brilliant actor.

When we first encounter Vaughn, he’s not just calm but amused; when some of the Doctor’s friends wreck his irritating computer answering service – as many of us wish to on a daily basis – he thinks it’s very funny, and only his thuggish head of security wants to maltreat them. His urbanity persists while he’s still utterly in control, with orders and threats of “encouragement” for someone he wants to talk given as smiling asides that make them all the more effective. But his self-image as someone who’s both laid-back and in control is threatened when his ambition is threatened – he flares into temper for a moment when the Cybermen won’t share information, and again lets out a sudden whiplash of anger when his head of security warns him not to disobey the Cybermen:
“I don’t take orders, Packer, I give them!”
Increasingly, the story becomes about Vaughn’s state of denial when he stops having it easy. There’s a priceless scene when the hapless Packer finds the Doctor and friend inexplicably missing from a lift, while Vaughn – face like thunder – has clearly spotted the open panel in the ceiling and is losing his patience with an underling too stupid to notice. He manages an icy impression of his previous calm when Packer promises to find them:
“Call me when you do, Packer. I’ll be in my office. And don’t fail this time, there’s a good fellow.”
When Packer inevitably misses their exit by fire escape, Vaughn’s already strained quiet façade breaks into screaming fury. He’s one of those villains who purrs
“Much as I detest violence…”
then clearly distracts himself from things going pear-shaped by bullying sadism. Desperate to find a weapon he can use against the Cybermen, clearly terrified he’s left it too late, he has one wired up to an emotion-inducing machine that drives it mad with artificial fear, but the scene cuts two ways. It’s disturbing, because we’ve never seen a villain so powerful he can make a monster suffer before, but Vaughn’s evident hunger to make a Cybermen feel fear is a reminder that their natural state is that he’s afraid of them, not the other way round. He torments an inoffensive little scientist into shooting him in a superbly played scene, just so he can show off that he has a partly-cybernetic body that’s impervious to bullets – but again, underlying that is his desperation not to be fully converted by the Cybermen, because he doesn’t want to lose his individual human mind. Perhaps it was a real gamble, assuming he’d be shot in the chest rather than the head, but his whole invasion plan has been a gamble, and the more he realises the odds are against him the more he refuses to cut his losses, insisting
“Nothing has been overlooked.”
“I must go on, I must…”
One of the most memorable aspects of Kevin Stoney’s acting here is the way he keeps his left eye lazily half-closed throughout most of the story, while Vaughn is in control, then – when everything finally, undeniably falls apart around him – suddenly switches to having his eyes race around as if looking for a way out while he virtually has a nervous breakdown, then sinks into despair. He only drags himself out of it, after a last burst of fiery energy as he tries to justify himself and his need for power, with a desire to revenge himself on the Cybermen who destroyed his dreams. It’s a compelling turnaround, and you can’t help noticing that he never goes back to that lazy half-closed lid – because on being forced to admit his real situation, he’s finally opened his eyes.

You can watch this extraordinary character study on a beautifully cleaned-up DVD, and I thoroughly recommend it (with lots of bangs and flashes as well as acting, if you like that sort of thing). Though this is another story for which the BBC carelessly destroyed some episodes, this one’s the reverse of The Daleks’ Master Plan – three-quarters of it are present, rather than missing, and, even better, it’s the only one so far where you can see the ‘missing’ episodes on DVD. The BBC stumped up the cash a couple of years ago to have two full episodes recreated through animation and paired to the soundtrack, so it now starts with a rather marvellous film noir cartoon that completes the story. It’s the best way to remember a magnificent actor bringing a character to life. I remember reading the novelisation of The Invasion in the mid-’80s, and being so thrilled by the story that I acted out scenes from it in Drama class at school. I didn’t play the Doctor; I played Vaughn. Quite often, my imagination would conjure up something more impressive from the book than what Doctor Who had actually produced on screen, and I’d find myself a little disappointed on eventually seeing the video. When, years later, I was able to watch Kevin Stoney’s Tobias Vaughn, I saw everything I’d imagined and much more besides. He was simply brilliant. Ten years ago, I was inspired to draw a set of ‘Doctor and Villain’ portraits, and – as I draw very much more slowly even than I write – I only managed to complete the one. The first I chose, though, was of course a picture featuring Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughn (with Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor). You can see it above.

My condolences to Mr Stoney’s friends and family, and he’ll be missed by many people who, like me, never met him but had their imaginations captured by his work.

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