Monday, November 28, 2011


Sherlock Holmes – Murder By Decree

Last Saturday night, ITV3 showed Murder By Decree, the 1979 film pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper (not to be confused with Hammer’s earlier variation on the theme, A Study in Terror). Of all the many films that tried to make a serious attempt at defining Holmes between Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, this is perhaps the most critically acclaimed and certainly the one that takes itself the most seriously. Yet though I rather like Christopher Plummer’s soulful Sherlock, the film’s achingly fashionable – for 1979 – Ripperology and conspiracy theories in general just test my patience. Spoilers follow…
“He seems to take a delight in keeping his subjects waiting. I suppose, since after all he is only the Prince of Wales, we should not expect the same degree of courtesy.”
“And since you are only the prince of detectives, Holmes, I don’t think you should presume to criticise a man who one day will be the King of England!”
My Puritan Streak

There are many reasons why this film gets on my wick, despite several fine actors, one or two of whom even give fine acting, and it’s to do with both style and substance. The narrative feel of the thing is a mess, not aided by a thoroughly unsatisfying excuse for an ending, nor in aiming for ‘realism’ by shooting almost the whole film in the dark until the last twenty minutes, making the picture even murkier than the script. But it’s the script that’s my main problem (just as it’s the reason many others praise it).

Essentially, the reason the narrative is a muddle, the reason the ending is an anti-climax, and the reason it takes itself so appallingly seriously all come down to the same central conceit: this purports to be an undiscovered adventure of the famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, but in fact he’s merely grafted on as a framing device for a very expensive docudrama of the trendy Jack the Ripper theory of the time.

My prejudices are showing here a little; I’m not one of nature’s great Puritans, but such a Puritanical streak as I have tends to come out about ‘true crime’. It’s probably not very logical to delight in many fictional murder mysteries and crime capers while sniffing at the tasteless exploitativeness of anything like the same plots if based on real criminals with real victims, but it’s my instinctive reaction. So while I can understand the idea behind this sort of film – hey! Let’s mash up the two biggest ‘popular legends’ of Victorian London to make big box-office! – I can’t help being a little biased against it from the start. A fictionalised stand-in for the Ripper, with a different name and in a work which promises nothing more than fiction, has nothing like the same effect on me, but if it’s purporting to be the real horrible misogynist murderer as ‘glamorous history’, I don’t like it. And so without the most extraordinary brilliance driving it, and it hasn’t, this film is almost precisely calculated by its po-faced presentation of both Sherlock Holmes and Stephen Knight’s schlock history book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (tasteful title, there) as ‘true’ to fall between two stools. It’s at the same time too serious, and not serious enough.

The Hairpiece From Hell

As well as being made to cash in on ‘ninety years of the Ripper’, this was the end of the ’70s, and glum conspiracy ‘thrillers’ in which the establishment is riddled with nasty murderers and the hero never wins and is lucky not to end up dead in a ditch at the end were very much in vogue. So it’s not surprising that the decade ended with a big conspiracy movie ‘exposing’ the entire British nobility as behind a Masonic conspiracy over the Jack the Ripper murders (the only surprise being that, unlike the book it’s based on and several later Holmes-less dramatisations, this film bottles it and changes the names of the aristocrats they claim committed the murders, while happy to slander openly various public servants of the time they name as the Ripper’s friends in slightly less high places. Surely not forelock-tugging by the producers?).

The problem, on its own terms, of making The Parallax View for the previous century is that they decide to put Sherlock Holmes in it so people will flock to the cinemas to see it. And Sherlock Holmes is in complete conflict with a grim, ’70s-style conspiracy movie. Those have to end up bleak, despairing and insoluble; he has to end up victorious by means of his brilliant brain, and not end up floating face-down in the Thames or framed for murder and blamed for it all in the end (he is, of course, arrested for murder at one point here, but it’s such a lacklustre attempt that the charge slides off him in the very same scene). Well, at least seeing as it’s not one of those books in which Holmes turns out secretly to be Jack the Ripper, Moriarty and Queen Victoria, or any other of those dreary ‘twists’ telegraphed from the cover. Shove these two immovable narrative forces up against each other, and what do you get? One of the most rambling, pointless and unintentionally hilarious scenes ever committed in a Sherlock Holmes film, as the film’s excuse for an ending shifts from briefly bloody to protractedly preachy against the “madmen wielding sceptres.”

Unable publicly to bring the Ripper to justice (just a bloody end in the dark that no-one can mention) or even to name him, but equally unable to have Holmes fail, the film’s ‘climax’ is twenty minutes of a handful of haughty men declaiming quite bad but very long dialogue at each other in a vast Masonic hall deep within the Palace of Westminster. No, seriously. Christopher Plummer is the only one who comes out of it with any dignity, and probably an award for being able to deliver this tosh with a straight face. His Holmes is compassionate, socially concerned, and thankfully clean-shaven; the Prime Minister, of course, is a stiff, cold liar who refuses to take any responsibility for having in effect said ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome woman?’; but even his ludicrous whiskers (concealing John Gielgud, and I bet he wished it was a full face-mask) can’t compete with Anthony Quayle’s giant curlicues of pubic hair arranged at random all over his head. In Hammer’s ‘Holmes versus the Ripper’ film A Study in Terror, Mr Quayle had played the decent, dependable moral heart of it; here, the difference in his part and performance are so blatantly mirrored in his appalling wig that I wonder whether the hamming was playing up to the hairpiece or vice versa. Along the way to this meandering shouting match, David Hemmings’ scheming closet Radical is almost as bad – and almost as ludicrously coiffured – as those he wants to bring down, while Donald Sutherland’s goggling psychic tries hard to be worse.

The decent, dependable moral heart of this film is, of course, Holmes, with Christopher Plummer giving rather more sides than the usual cold fish or hyper aesthete, actually carrying off a Holmes who weeps over Geneviève Bujold’s sad fate rather than making us go, ‘Oh, come on’. James Mason’s older, stiffer Dr Watson isn’t so lucky; contractual obligations for every Watson of the second half of the last century make them all ‘an attempt to move on from bumbling Nigel Bruce’ (though I rather liked him), but the elderly Mr Mason seems so weary that he gives the impression, once removing the shadow of Mr Bruce, of having nothing to put in his place. The only excuse I can think of is that with Watson usually taking the part of Holmes’ narrator, he’s the one ‘watching’ the whole thing on the part of the viewer and so is postmodernly as fed up with it as we are. Between them, they have one quite endearing scene with a pea, but it’s thin pickings in a very long two hours.

A Study In Terror and More

In all, it’s not a patch on Hammer’s more lurid but much more entertaining A Study In Terror from 1965, despite sharing the same case, murderous aristocrats and even some of the same cast (notably, not just the Jekyll and Hyde performances of Mr Quayle and his stylist but Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade). James Hill’s direction gives a much more lively and colourful film – and it’s a good half-hour shorter – while its utter disregard for historical accuracy and open desire just to tell a thrilling story means that it’s not just free of the later film’s visual sludge but its turgid narrative sludge, too, and is as a result far less offensive. The film has far more satisfying twists, details (despite the ludicrous title “the Duke of Shires”) and an exciting climax, none of them purporting to be true, and the actors are given much more interesting things to do than strike a pose and recite indigestible chunks of bad history at each other. The late John Neville’s Sherlock is quite sparky and energetic, if without Mr Plummer’s depth, while Donald Houston’s Dr Watson is, by contrast to Mr Mason, awake. John Fraser gives one of his most striking performances; Adrienne Corri is terrific; Robert Morley does the sort of enjoyable schtick he was always asked to do; and viewers who’ve come to this movie second may be surprised to find Anthony Quayle acting in this one.

Or, from the same sort of between-the-definitive-Holmeses period, there’s Robert Stephens’s languid detective in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which hopefully will be released on Region 2 one day with some of the mutilated bits restored, or Peter Cushing’s various and interestingly different takes – I do wish they’d release The Masks of Death, an eerie and little-known mystery that’s always stuck with me despite its jingoism. Or, if you must, From Hell, which nicks from the same Ripperology as Murder By Decree but doesn’t throw in Holmes to try and glamorise it (though Alan Moore and Johnny Depp going several rounds in the same sort of glum conspiracy thriller isn’t going to have anyone rise to the surface at the end).

On the bright side, if you want to compare legendary British icons of a particular sort of period that never really was but which we can all picture, then Holmes and history both got off lightly in Murder By Decree. Channel 4 this afternoon showed Siege of the Saxons, surely the worst King Arthur movie ever made that doesn’t have Clive Owen in it. It’s a pale shadow of The Black Knight, and it’s difficult to think of greater damnation than that.

If you want ‘canonical’ Sherlock Holmes, incidentally, I’m still rather proud of my piece on The Valley of Fear’s Visit From Porlock

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars

Doctor Who is forty-eight years old today, and one of the series’ finest stories took place one hundred years ago (probably not today). On TV, Pyramids of Mars scared the daylights out of me when I was four as an inexplicable force drew Tom Baker’s Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith to the year 1911 to find a sinister priest summoning the awful power of an ancient god; then I grew up pleasurably terrified by Terrance Dicks’ novel, now gloriously read in audiobook by Tom. Both versions cast long shadows through today’s Doctor Who, for TV, other stories and toymakers alike. And watch out – there are many spoilers ahead…

Flap Your Fluffy Feet Before Sutekh
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The Terror is Unleashed

1975 was probably the most exciting year Doctor Who has ever had – and I’m sure that I can judge that entirely objectively, having started watching it at the beginning of the year with the early days of Tom Baker. With more new stories broadcast that year than in any for a decade – or for another three decades to come – there was a mighty amount of Doctor Who, and of an astounding quality. In fan polls – and for me – two 1975 stories always make the top ten of all the two hundred and more broadcast so far, while another is said to be the personal favourite of both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. Pyramids of Mars is one of those two up there at the top, and from interviews and references in his stories as early as Queer As Folk onward clearly a favourite of Russell’s, if not the favourite. And it may say something about the age or taste of fans as to whether they prefer the different ‘raising dark gods’ stories of 1971’s The Dæmons, 1975’s Pyramids of Mars or 2006’s The Impossible Planet (which explicitly refers to the earlier two). For me, it’s the combination of 1975 and 1911 all the way.

On TV, it’s easy to see why Pyramids of Mars is so highly regarded. Looking great in the ideal setting of ‘about a hundred years ago’, it has perhaps the most perfect Doctor Who opening episode of the lot, climaxing in for me the series’ scariest ever cliffhanger, then introduces the TARDIS and big concepts around time travel, and finishes with the Doctor tempted – and taken – by the Devil, a mixture of science fiction, myth and pure horror that gives you big-scale ideas on a canvas small-scale enough to deliver them convincingly, the ultimate in ‘ancient horror on the rise’. Robert Holmes’ least funny, most scary script (with additional work by Paddy Russell, adding to her assured direction); a small but perfect cast including Bernard Archard, Michael Sheard, Peter Copley and Peter Mayock; a superb atmosphere created by filming at Mick Jagger’s stately home, gorgeous antique design and a career-best eerie music score from Dudley Simpson that can all compete with Hammer’s own Mummy movies; and, above all, probably Doctor Who’s greatest ever villain in a heart-stopping performance by Gabriel Woolf as the dark god Sutekh, dripping malice in a voice that rarely lifts above an agonised whisper. The whole thing was the single story that scared me the most, and though I loved returning to it, it was always with a thrill of fear – most vividly going down the stairs that led into the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition, finding Sutekh, mummies and sarcophagi in the dark at the bottom, and being seized with such terror that I gripped the banister and couldn’t be dragged inside for what felt like an eternity (probably two or three minutes of parental persuasion, or of patient prising my fingers away).

Pyramids of Mars has been repeated twice on BBC1 or BBC2 and released several times – it was one of the first Doctor Who stories available on VHS in the mid-’80s (and the first I bought), initially in a feature-length edit with not only cliffhangers but several other scenes sliced out, seemingly at random, then a few years later in full, and a fairly early DVD release, one of the first to have the sort of full selection of extras that set the standard for the range continuing today (complete with a scriptwriter being unfeasibly rude about Mary Whitehouse, as he should). And it’s the first ‘classic’ Doctor Who to be released on Blu-ray, in tribute to Elisabeth Sladen as an extra feature on The Sarah Jane Adventures Series Four – while if you missed it on CBBC last month, the very last and one of the finest of The Sarah Jane Adventures begins tomorrow on BBC1, so make sure you catch it. As a Blu-ray experience, though, Richard notes in Millennium’s excellent Mysteries of Doctor Who #23: Why Does Pyramids of Mars Take Place in ENGLAND? that the disc presentation could be better. One of the great things about that article, incidentally, is that it mirrors the Scarman brothers as both keys to Sutekh’s escape: everyone knows that Marcus’ archaeological bent is bent by Sutekh; but Laurence’s scientific invention becomes another fatal flaw. This was released on 31st October this year, appropriately, for what’s probably the most perfect Halloween Doctor Who story (its main competition being Image of the Fendahl, both adventures first shown at the end of October, both filmed at the same manor house, though the latter ironically set at Lammas). And though I can’t remember where I first saw this picture – several years ago – or give appropriate credit to the bright carver who created it, it’s remarkable what you can find on your hard drive, isn’t it?

Sutekh Lord of Pumpkins
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The Return of Marcus Scarman

With all that to live up to, you might wonder how the book can compare without the actors, music, direction or location, particularly as the novelisations and Terrance Dicks especially tend to tone down the horror (Ian Marter’s The Ark In Space, on the other hand…). But you needn’t worry, even if he takes out the most controversial bit (it’s not the one Mary Whitehouse would think of). Though this doesn’t have quite the depth and power of his Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion – nor its thrill of horror that outmatches that story’s TV version, as I’ve recently written – it’s still one of Terrance’s best, telling the story with pace, occasional flourishes and fascinating extensions at either end, into the past and the future. Last week, I looked in detail at another childhood favourite, Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters, and noted that Terrance himself says he rose to his best when novelising Bob Holmes’ work, because those were simply the best scripts (and I’m pretty sure that it was when signing my copy of Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars that he told me that in pretty much those words).

I have many memories of the book in particular: when I was a little boy and only just starting on my life of obsessive collecting spreading out all my Doctor Who books (perhaps thirty or so) and trying to put them in ‘best’ order, with this always at or near the front; it being the first I chose to lend to another boy at primary school (Martin Campbell, down in The Valley; not the James Bond director) to show him why they were so brilliant… Before, I suspect, going overboard and adding a crate of others, not realising that not everyone would share my enthusiasm or indeed reading speed; and, of course, the book itself, from the mythic Prologue to the melancholy, eerie Epilogue of Sarah Jane alone in a library (a familiar part of my young life).

Chris Achilleos’ original cover, now used for the audiobook, is uncharacteristically stark – a grim-faced Doctor and even grimmer rifle-wielding Sarah Jane framed around a mummy (out of character for her, you might think, though arguably there’s nothing so Doctor Who as the juxtaposition of frock and gun). Alister Pearson’s cover for the reprint (adapted here into a video cover, and also used on Heathcliff Blair’s CD of Dudley Simpson Doctor Who music of the period) is one of his best, intense and expansive, seething with dark colours around the Doctor, Sutekh and his servants.
“For many thousands of years SUTEKH had waited . . . trapped in the heart of an Egyptian Pyramid. Now at last the time had come – the moment of release, when all the force of his pent-up evil and malice would be unleashed upon the world . . .

“The TARDIS lands on the site of UNIT headquarters in the year 1911, and the Doctor and Sarah emerge to fight a terrifying and deadly battle . . . against Egyptian Mummies, half-possessed humans – and the overwhelming evil power of SUTEKH!”
When I was a boy, I loved those exciting back blurbs; now I ask, only half-possessed? Though I also now realise that mentioning UNIT should have been much more jarring at the time, and only wasn’t because most of the early books were of Jon Pertwee stories. And yet that very cosy familiarity was clearly designed to be a deliberate statement in the original script – with the Doctor at last breaking away from his exiled Earth ‘home’, albeit less destructively than Sutekh, this firmly told anyone expecting a return to the early ’70s status quo that literally right where the comfortable familiarity of UNIT ‘ought’ to be there’s going to be a time-travel story of unspeakable horror instead (and in case you didn’t get the message, the substitute UNIT HQ gets burned to the ground). So at a glance, this is something bolder than usual. Terrance doesn’t even use any of his stock chapter titles, the most traditional – if effective – being “The Terror is Unleashed”, though few others could actually boast “The World Destroyed . . .” and “The Weapon of the Time Lords” has rather a ring to it. As does…

The Legend of the Osirians

Terrance Dicks rarely added scenes when novelising Doctor Who scripts, so his rare Prologues were always a treat for me. This one, “The Legend of the Osirians”, memorably gives his backstory for Sutekh and his people. It’s interesting to compare it to other interpretations: Justin Richards’ The Sands of Time pedantically ‘corrects’ the details to fit ‘proper’ Egyptian mythology and grinds down imagination with banal spaceships and explanations of psychic powers; Lawrence Miles’ Faction Paradox series offers a vast, non-linear mythos of rival gods that fits more with the cynical asides of Robert Holmes’ script. Terrance’s advantage here is that he paints with a broad brush as if an ancient story told many times, allowing you to fill in the details of a galaxy-spanning conflict in your mind’s eye without the bathos of spelling them all out in a couple of pages. His disadvantage I think is that he has a more comforting worldview than Robert Holmes’ dark universe; rather than everyone who isn’t evil being corrupt, Terrance tends to tell stories of bad apples but a basically trustworthy establishment, as in his tale of the godlike Osirians:
“As they grew in power, so they grew in wisdom – all but one.”
And yet in other ways Terrance makes his Universe every bit as dark as Bob Holmes’. The script, famously, kills off every character other than the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and the Egyptian labourers who flee in terror from Marcus Scarman’s ill-fated archaeological dig in the first scene; on the page, even they are swiftly caught and slaughtered by the Cult of the Black Pyramid, making the book – with Terrance’s own Horror of Fang Rock – the most merciless in the entire series. If anything, his deft little biographical notes that sketch in the likes of Marcus Scarman (“The year was 1911, and Englishmen abroad were expected to maintain certain standards”), Ibrahim Namin (“To his terror and delight, one of the Great Ones had spoken to him”) and especially Ernie Clements (who “regarded himself as the Scarmans’ unpaid gamekeeper”) make their gruesome fates all the worse for first having made us feel for the characters as people.

Against expectations, he maintains much of the feel of horror throughout, not least by being constantly aware that Marcus Scarman, walking around as the apparent villain of the piece for much of the story, is a perambulating, smouldering corpse under Sutekh’s control. He underlines the arrival of the ‘messenger’ by giving him bare feet as he steps out to dispose of Sutekh’s earlier servant, whose “shuddering scream” is as horrible a moment as any in the novels; he describes the charred hands that kill his brother, only hinted at on TV; most memorably, as Sutekh sends him the co-ordinates for the Pyramids of Mars, he picks up the despatch:
“The cylinder glowed with the fire of Sutekh and there was a horrible sizzling sound as Marcus touched it. But he felt no pain. Only the living feel pain.”
One change where Terrance could have done with rather more ambiguity is towards the end, as Marcus Scarman’s body finally collapses into ash: on screen, you can make your own reading as to whether it’s Marcus or Sutekh who at the last exclaims that he’s free. Yet perhaps that’s his surprising mercilessness coming through again; with Sutekh exultant, there’s not even the faintest crumb of comfort to take from the old archaeologist’s fate. Either way, there’s a terrible aptness in that, possessed, his last act is to be once more an archaeologist, in the service of a hideous patron. His friend Dr Warlock is a more striking but sensible change in the context of a novel: a ruddy-faced, hearty, typical village squire (given a bluff Yorkshire accent in Tom’s reading) in the book, fitting his self-confident to the point of bossy character but very different to Peter Copley’s fine TV performance. Think for a moment, though, and you can see how Paddy Russell might cast to suggest an elderly, ascetic gentleman who you could easily imagine as an old friend and contemporary of Bernard Archard’s Marcus Scarman, while Terrance has very reasonably made him a very different physical type so as not to end up describing two very similar thin old men.

Pyramids of Mars Doctor and Mummies
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Sarah Jane shines through the book, as Lis Sladen did on screen in what was surely her most effective season as the Doctor’s companion – she even lifts the novel at points by taking the piss out of the Doctor, if less so than on screen, giving a bit of a release of tension when Terrance evokes the horror of the script with unexpected force but rarely manages to get across the moments of humour. One slight change, having not Warlock’s hat but the Doctor’s dropped for their pursuers to find, gives her a grimly amusing moment of mutiny over his outfits.

Without Michael Sheard’s childlike wonder and Lis Sladen’s grim defiance, the ‘escape’ to “1980” – mentioned six times on TV but tactfully trimmed from the book – doesn’t have quite the same punch, though the scene again stands out as one of those (as in The Masque of Mandragora) in which Robert Holmes decided it was time to say out loud those questions everyone put to him in the BBC canteen and up the tension with it into the bargain. In Doctor Who’s ultimate horror story, it’s not just all his favourite horror themes from the cinema that are on view, but new ones he introduces especially for a time travel series. We get fear of the living dead; fear of possession and loss of identity; fear of something horrible happening to a loved one, and even being done by a loved one; fear of confinement and pursuit, at the same time; we get several different types of horrible death, through burning, strangling and crushing; and if all that fear, existential horror and plain death isn’t enough to scare you, the trip to the alternate present day where, because the Doctor deserts his post, Sutekh has long since destroyed the world, gives new existential horror on a grand scale, not just of the end of the world but that you might have ceased to exist before you were even born.

In the Power of Sutekh

Though Terrance drops the ball a bit in having Sutekh’s voice sometimes rise “to a maddened howl” in typical OTT villain description, at other points he captures something of Gabriel Woolf’s quietly compelling portrayal – there’s “hideous strain” in his voice when holding in an explosion, and the first description of him is perfect:
“Sutekh’s voice was soft and ferocious at the same time, like that of some great beast.”
Neither the design nor the script quite deliver on the final episode’s voyage inside a trap-filled alien pyramid – the Pyramid of Mars promised from the first – on TV, but as ever it’s on a bigger budget on the page, with the added advantage that Terrance can use carefully ambiguous descriptions to imply far more devious traps and puzzles. While seeing the VHS in the late ’80s was for the most part an amazing thrill, I can still remember being rather disappointed by the inner chamber for which my imagination fed by the book had overlaid my actually having seen the programme, an awesome chamber of light in which “cradled in a silver tulip-shaped cup was what appeared to be a giant ruby, bigger than a man’s head. Four silver rods projected from it, like the rays of a stylised sun” – rather than, on screen, something that looks a bit like an item of garden ornamenture. Even throwaway details add to the design – such as the simple but rewarding moment where we ‘see’ that the deflection barriers around the Scarman Estate don’t just go straight up but form the pattern of a pyramid.

Those deflection barriers invite comparisons with The Dæmons in particular, showing a very different sort of worldview from when Terrance Dicks was lead writer on the show to Robert Holmes’ period; they’re very different stories, and the points of similarity only show up their differences (as if Hinchcliffe and Holmes were poking the Pertwee era in the eye with something very much tauter and darker). The vicar’s only bad in one because he’s been done away with and replaced by the Master; the priest is only a part of a nasty Cult in the other. The alien that looks like the Devil in one is a cross between an amoral scientist and a harsh Old Testament father God, who when he wakes up may destroy the world if we don’t meet his exacting standards; the demonic alien here is a cruel and twisted Lovecraftian dark god that will destroy the world once freed because he wants to. And while both stories have the scene hemmed in by an impassable force barrier, in one the barrier is merely an inconvenience that stops people getting in or out, while in this story it makes a whole country estate a place of claustrophobic horror because the grey ‘inanimate’ servants that have come to life are stalking rather than merely guarding, determined to kill everyone within. In both stories, too, the Doctor builds a clever machine to stop the enemy, but it’s destroyed before it can do the trick, but each is succeeded by a very different finale. Whereas in The Dæmons it’s human goodness that wins out, something it would be impossible to believe against Sutekh (or, some might say, full stop), in Pyramids of Mars, each of the last three episodes builds up a device that will foil Sutekh, each blown by the end except for the last one – the first a lash-up that fails, the second succeeding for the moment but at the cost of the Doctor, and the last invoking the might of the Time Lords, pitting (according to taste) one mythic race against another or pitting science against god… And Terrance’s novelisation improves the ending of Pyramids of Mars in two key ways. First, his chapter title naming Time “The Weapon of the Time Lords” makes it sound both rather grand and ponderous and as if it’s down to someone other than the Doctor (had he called that final chapter ‘The Doctor Shoots Sutekh With a Big Time-Gun’ it would have seemed both easier and much less in character). And then he gives us a proper aftermath.

While on TV we can sit back and watch the rising flames to give closure, the book grounds us with an appropriate coda, the Doctor musing over the fire as practical Sarah Jane wants to get out before “some heavily-moustached village policeman of the year nineteen eleven” arrives to ask questions, then back in the TARDIS the way she ponders one by one every death, including remembering Laurence’s “bright-eyed eagerness” looking round the TARDIS, “And most tragic of all, Marcus Scarman, taken over and burnt out by Sutekh’s horrible alien power.” With the Epilogue still to come, the end of the book really gives it a sense that it matters. And that elegiac Epilogue in which Terrance shows that he, too, can answer those questions asked in the BBC canteen (‘Didn’t anyone notice?’), is unique in the Target range, set “Later, much later,” once Sarah Jane has parted from the Doctor, where she visits the little country town close by the scene and looks up the newspaper files from 1911:

“Sarah skimmed through the rest of the report. So that was what the Doctor had meant. The terrible events surrounding the return of Sutekh had found a natural explanation, a deplorable but soon forgotten tragedy in an English country village.

“Sarah looked through the window, out into the bustling high street of the little country town. She shivered at the memory of the desolate world she had seen through the doors of the TARDIS—the world Sutekh would have made if he had not been defeated. The sacrifice of all those lives had not been in vain. The pity was that no one would ever know.

“Sarah closed the heavy old volume and went into the summer sunshine of her own, unchanged, twentieth century.”
The Doctor Fights Back

Tom Baker read four complete audiobooks from Target novels before moving on to ‘new’ adventures, of which more later, but this is by a long stretch his best. Decades before, he’d created a reedy ‘old man’ voice for an abridged version of State of Decay that really doesn’t work for Solon when he digs it up after a quarter of a century, for example, while even the humour of The Creature From the Pit didn’t bring out the best in him.

In Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, though, you can hear an actor who’s suddenly enjoying and engaging with his material, doing justice to an excellent book. His ‘old man’ gets new life for Laurence, while his bluff, Yorkshire Warlock is ideal and his ferocious Sutekh decidedly impressive. He gives an appropriate air of mythic grandeur to the Prologue, is entertaining on Sarah’s little asides, and even seems to engage with ‘his’ own lines, finding interestingly different readings for many of them – generally playing the Doctor a little lighter in 2008 than in 1975 (and still giving a pronounced ‘shh’ sound in the word “eviscerated”). Aided by its own musical motifs, this CD is surely the best way to enjoy it today (and the only one that’s not out of print).

Millennium and the Doctor
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I was a little mean to Justin Richards’ Missing Adventures novel The Sands of Time above, but it’s frustrating in part because a lot of it’s so good – it would simply be much better if it had no connection to Pyramids of Mars. This sequel is brilliantly plotted, but follows its source material of Mummy movies and Egyptian mythology far too slavishly – not least, effectively saying ‘Doctor Who got it wrong and I’m going to get the legends right,’ getting in the way of a good story to try for spurious accuracy. A sequel shouldn’t make its original smaller. And then there’s the book’s stand-in for the all-hating, especially sibling-hating Sutekh. Justin would change Terrance’s line to ‘As they grew in power, so they grew in wisdom – all but one… And his Mum and his sister, with whom he remained best mates’, and I find that very hard to swallow (oh, his Mum? Actually, she’s in a Big Finish CD, which again is rather fun if you can ignore Pyramids of Mars, but it would be a spoiler to say which. E-mail me if you want to know).

Twenty-first Century Doctor Who stories owing a debt to Pyramids of Mars range from Steven Moffat’s “Timey-wimey” scripts or Sarah Jane reminding the Doctor that “A man has just been murdered!” while he only pays attention to millions being echoed in Rose to the outright references in The Impossible Planet, where the planet’s code number is ‘Sutekh’ backwards if you squint, the Doctor muses about Sutekh and the sinister voice of the great Beast is even provided by none other than Gabriel Woolf. “Don’t turn around,” indeed. And, in this time of wonders, you can now buy the toys that my eyes would have boggled out on stalks to see when I was little: two slightly different versions of Sutekh’s Mummies are available from Character Options, complete with either jackal-or-falcon-headed canopic jars with silver force generators inside; an inappropriately grinning figure of Tom Baker’s Doctor with the part of the TARDIS he wires up to Sutekh’s space-time tunnel to make him miss his station; and, next year, even a cuddly Sutekh, apparently.

Pyramids of Mars Doctor and Mummies Struggle
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The most impressive variation on the theme, though, is undoubtedly a series of six linked audio dramas. Gabriel Woolf returned to the role of Sutekh alongside Julian Glover, Isla Blair, Philip Madoc and others in Lawrence Miles’ 2005-2009 Faction Paradox series from Magic Bullet (Coming to Dust / The Ship of a Billion Years, Body Politic / Words From Nine Divinities and Ozymandias / The Judgment of Sutekh), which expands the Osiran Court across time and space. You’ve probably not heard of it, but it’s a brilliant piece of work.

But Doctor Who fans have a lot to thank this novel for in two better-selling if less intense audio drama series. Listening to the audiobook, it felt like Tom Baker was getting into it in a way he hadn’t with his three previous readings – and it turns out he really had. After years of resisting, it was on doing this reading that he was at last enthused enough to agree to record new Doctor Who audio dramas, first with BBC Audiobooks and now with Big Finish. So Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks and a novel from 1976 are still impressive enough to be pushing on new Doctor Who today.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011


Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters

Terrance Dicks has had a huge impact on Doctor Who, both as lead writer during Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor and then in writing many more Doctor Who novels than anyone else. I grew to love his work on tales like this, his novelisation of Carnival of Monsters – a story which I first saw on TV thirty years ago tonight, repeated in BBC2’s The Five Faces of Doctor Who season. And for me this tale of thrills, comedy, posh trippers and Tories eaten by dragons is still one of the most entertaining, on DVD or on the page.
“One has no wish to be devoured by some alien monstrosity, Kalik. Even in the cause of political progress.”

The Five Faces of Doctor Who
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It’s forty-seven years this week since the very first Doctor Who novelisation was published, and they’re still worth celebrating. Having come to Pertwee’s Doctor through the marvellous early Target Books, as far as I’m concerned many of them remain superior to the TV versions, with an inevitable gap in quality between prose, characterisation and my imagination on one hand and what I much later saw on screen. With BBC Books now reprinting some of those novels, I’ve written about that ‘Pertwee Gap’; and Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters sits right in the middle of it. The TV story is exciting, colourful, full of vivid performances and with a natural advantage for displaying a story in which the Doctor, at long last free of his exile to Earth, realises he is in effect still trapped inside a television programme… But it’s also tacky, silly and very variable in which bits work. So is the book, then, the best of it? In making some comparisons tonight – and running right through, so with many spoilers (grab the book or the DVD first if you can) – I’ll try to work out the answer on one of the Pertwee stories I love the most but find it most difficult to decide on.

When I was a boy, there were two sorts of novelisations that were my favourites, depending on the mood I was in. One sort had greater characterisation and background, and felt like they had a message to them; once I was a little older, I realised that these tended to be the ones by Malcolm Hulke. But the other sort, simpler, more stripped-down, but often telling a more exciting story, might best be described as cracking good stories told at a cracking pace, with cracking dialogue. Books like Pyramids of Mars, Terror of the Autons and, of course, Carnival of Monsters. And I grew to realise that these, too, had something in common: they were written by Terrance Dicks, from stories by Robert Holmes. Terrance has often said that he enjoyed novelising Bob’s work the most, because his were simply the best scripts, and even when I was as young as five or six, it showed. These days, the more in-depth novels have more to offer than the brisker works when – unthinkable back then – the TV stories are on hand to watch anytime you want, and yet the deceptively simple style of Terrance Dicks can still be rewarding.

Carnival of Monsters is an odd beast – which is why I enjoy it so much. Where most of Jon Pertwee’s stories are confined to Earth, working with the military forces of UNIT, and a bit po-faced, this was the story immediately after he regained the TARDIS’ ability to travel in space and time, and not only does it showcase that in an exuberant range of settings but it gloriously takes the piss. No wonder the BBC chose to show it among just five stories to sum up over a hundred so far in 1981 (I very nearly picked it for my own The Eleven Faces of Doctor Who); no wonder it’s been released this year on DVD for the second time, as part of the Revisitations 2 boxed set. By a long way the least Pertwee-like of all Pertwees, with a feel far more Who-ish and a Doctor far more Doctor-ish than usual, it takes the Doctor and his ditzy – or is she? – assistant Jo to a 1920s ship full of strangely repetitive British Empire stereotypes, to the grey, bureaucratic planet of Inter Minor and to the world of the terrifying swamp dragons, the Drashigs. What could connect all these people and places? Could it have anything to do with a disreputable interplanetary traveller with a plucky female companion and a box of times that seems bigger on the inside than the outside (no relation)?

The book is long out of print, though second-hand copies abound; as yet, this isn’t available as a BBC Audiobook either, but you may be able to find in the distant reefs of the Internet a much more primitive version from thirty years ago. Gabriel Woolf, the fabulous voice of Sutekh (from Pyramids of Mars, again), read three books on tape for the RNIB, and Carnival of Monsters happens to be the one I have a wobbly MP3 of (so should you happen to come across his Loch Ness Monster or Three Doctors, please let me know). It’s much brisker than the BBC readings these days – no music, no retakes on the fluffed lines, and rattled off at great speed. He’s got an authoritative voice; his Jo is quite perky (curiously like Katy Manning’s Iris Wildthyme); his Pletrac entertainingly tetchy… But it’s very clear they’d got him in to do a lot of work in a rush, and nobody’s trying to make anything much of it. An historical curiosity, but far from his best work, and it shows how good the modern ones are. Whether or not this is ever remade on CD, though, in this time of wonders, you will shortly be able to buy your very own Drashig toy!

Carnival of Monsters
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Dangerous Arrivals

Chris Achilleos offers one of his most striking though least stylised covers, with a haughty Doctor picked out in black and white as a fabulous mottled green sea serpent twists round to attack a ship behind him. Super-pedants might argue that Pertwee’s pictured from The Three Doctors, or that the plesiosaurus looks little like the one on screen… But, let’s face it, there are two species of sea-serpenty thingy in this TV story, one of which looks terrific, and the other of which looks far better when Chris Achilleos paints it.

This was always one of my favourite novelisations when I was a boy – from the terrific cover to the terrific characters and lines. The book also adds lots of little polishes; it’s clearer, if less vivid, and uses the word “liberal” to mean good and “authoritarian” bad, so it’s appealed to me on many levels and from a very young age, along with the fabulously memorable tagline on the back:
“The Doctor and Jo land on a cargo ship crossing the Indian Ocean in the year 1926.
“Or so they think.”
Even that line presages the approach Terrance has in the book, of taking the television version and subtly refining it – I suspect he wrote the book’s back blurb, as I suspect he wrote the Radio Times teaser for the original transmission of the first episode:
“The Tardis lands on a cargo-ship in the Indian Ocean, in the year 1926.
“Or does it?”
Although Terrance Dicks isn’t known for major structural changes in the way that Malcolm Hulke, for example, would make in his novelisations, Carnival of Monsters is notable for a very different set of scenes to those on TV. I’d be fascinated to see what order everything was in the original script… Was it Bob Holmes, writing for TV, who chopped between lots of scenes ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ to give the TV story a strikingly modern feel of channel-hopping, with Terrance Dicks then collating them to make the book more coherent and straightforward, or did Barry Letts break up the longer passages of the script as director? With different stories running on different levels – in several senses – it’s possible to decouple and play around with them far more than in most Doctor Who stories, and they do, with each format deftly tailored to its own ‘grammar’.

The two versions are quite different from the very first page. The TV adventure begins with a cargo-thruster landing at the Inter Minoran spaceport while villainous Official Kalik sneers (and as his legs fuzz against a dubious blue landscape)… The book, as the TARDIS lands in the hold of the cargo-ship S.S. Bernice, the Doctor insisting they’re in the Acteon Galaxy, Jo indignant and poking around the chickens. Whichever version I’m reading / watching, I always expect to find it opening the other way. And very early, too, another contrast becomes clear. Jo gets more lines in the book – Pertwee probably nicking the good ones, famously as light-fingered over screen time as he was over nautical compasses – but is also more girly and helpless on paper, suggesting the script (or actress Katy Manning) took one view of her and Terrance Dicks another. Still, crossing to Inter Minor after Jo humphs at the end of page 9 that the Doctor’s landed them back on Earth, Terrance has a giveaway that’s as fourth-wall as the serial itself.
“As the terrifying adventure which followed was to prove, Jo had never been more wrong in her life.”
The planet Inter Minor is rather better-characterised than the TV at first, and has the advantage of considerably better special effects in your mind’s eye than on your actual eyes; we have the busy spaceport, an economic boom as trade opens up after centuries of isolation, and tales of long-ago Space Plague leading to “a hysterical over-reaction” (only hinted at on screen, when they could just as easily be warlike as terrified). The progressive party has come to power and changed things – but only because the Officials hope new President Zarb will save them from revolution by the unsettled masses. The Official caste is deftly sketched in:
“They were mostly tall and thin, grey-faced and grey-robed. Grey-minded, too, for the main part.”
Yet though the book has the edge, the TV has much more of a sense of place, of teeming business, and is startlingly vibrant even if some of it’s more enthusiastic than effective (even the wild electronic zig-zags slicing the air around a victim of a toasting-fork gun are far more interesting to watch than just another “blaster” is to read).

The S.S. Bernice certainly works best on screen, however, at least early on – the rather splendid old ship they film on, the music, and most of all the actors make it very watchable. Crusty old Major Daly is far more fun on TV, mainly because Tenniel Evans is hamming it up for all he’s worth – increasing his word-count exponentially simply by changing “What’s going on?” into “What? What? What what what?” as he wakes up! Jo gets some great lines here either way, frustratedly telling the Doctor he should have an L-plate on his TARDIS and explaining about her and her unseaworthy “uncle”… But skip ahead a few pages and (before Jo gets to be the dumb one as the Doctor patronises her over where and when they are, before she recovers with the skeleton keys) while in the book Jo grins cheekily at the first officer when he boasts he’s always stopped his crew making a fool of him and says “Don’t underestimate us,” on TV Pertwee blatantly nicks her line. The first monster, too, is already much better on the book cover, while the mysteries pile up better on the page: the octagonal plate leading somewhere else is very clear in the book; on screen, it’s very oddly directed. Did they not have it ready for that studio day? We keep seeing the Doctor squatting down to look at something that’s below the camera angle, and are only shown it for an instant in close-up. The cliffhanger to Part One / close of Chapter Three will make that distinction even clearer…

Back among the Inter-Minorans, dodgy travellers Vorg and Shirna have disembarked with their dodgier machine. Described in the book as a ‘What The Butler Saw’ machine (despite a much later reference to Jo feeling like an ant inside a television set), the MiniScope seems more tawdry than telly on paper, while on TV it’s obvious what it is – a TV. Or is it? With satirical Officials and Empire characters, I saw this as a boy as a satire on Britishness, while the channel-hopping TV version makes it clear that it’s still more about sending up TV – and one TV show in particular. And yet it’s impossible to overlook the statement
“‘Our purpose is to amuse,’ confirmed Vorg. ‘Nothing serious, nothing political…’”
…is a deliberate non sequitur, and that when conservative Official Kalik seethes at the lifting of the prohibition on “amusement” as “More anti-productive legislation” that will see the end of society as they know it, Terrance and Bob’s purpose is to amuse with something very political indeed.

The Giant Hand

The two places / stories come together at the climax of the first quarter of the adventure – when Vorg, detecting something new inside his Scope (given away far too early in the book, which gives the TV another head start), reaches in… And pulls out the tiny TARDIS. And that’s a brilliantly visual scene which, er, the book wins hands down. That cliffhanger / chapter climax as a section of the ship’s cargo hold opens out impossibly and an enormous hand gropes towards our heroes before they can get escape is, on screen, just a couple of seconds of a hand going straight onto the TARDIS (in itself a very poor cut-out with rotten yellow lines around it). Contrasting the two, perhaps the most disappointing moment of the whole TV story is that curiously unsatisfying delivery for what, conceptually, is a brilliant cliffhanger. In the excellent reviews book Running Through Corridors Volume 1, Rob Shearman notes how he originally scripted his TV episode Dalek to open with a huge face of the villain breaking open, as the helipad bay cover, but that they decided they wouldn’t be able to afford to make it look good enough – and that, in the old days, they’d have just done it for thruppence anyway. Which makes it all the more bizarre that Mr CSO himself, Barry Letts, bottled out of showing exactly that sort of shot.

It’s time for entertainer Vorg to explain about the Tellurians / Terrans in his collection as the story’s early questions are answered and new ones set up, and suddenly you can see Terrance’s slightly schoolmarmish habit of cleaning up the more dubious elements for children to read. Neither the book nor the TV version have the full scene of Vorg speculating on how we breed, of course, just as Doctor Who could never say so, though at least you can find the gag that he can’t talk about it in the DVD extra features (“Extended and Deleted Scenes” on the original release; integrated into the full “Episode Two – Early Edit” on the Revisitations 2 Special Edition). Perhaps it’s for similar fears of impropriety that Major Daly’s daughter Clare (missing an ‘i’ in the book) no longer calls herself a “silly flapper”.

And then the novel surges ahead again with its sharper politics, making the xenophobic horror of the Officials at unexpected alien animal importation much more palpable (and considerably less camp), which is very effective – and it’s a great improvement to have that law against weird biologies one that Zarb hasn’t dared repeal yet, making Vorg’s thoughtless transgression cut to the heart of Inter Minoran disease-paranoia, rather than the TV’s rather weak “The Interstellar Ecology Commission expressly forbids the transportation of live specimens”. Who believes Kalik would give a stuff about the Interstellar Ecology Commission? Still, it gets aggressive enough for Vorg’s clear plastic bowler hat to steam up…

Then the Carnival of Monsters on your screen pulls ahead again with the glorious techno adventure playground that is the inside of the Scope as the miniature Doctor and Jo crawl through the workings in search of the exit – only to find a swamp full of beasties. While the TV version is, of course, the best at sending up television, a prize for the best TV-analogue mention in the book from a man on the receiving end of Mary Whitehouse and co must come here, as Shirna switches channels to show the Drashigs (with new improved Terrans):
“Vorg noted sourly that the three Officials, however much they disapproved of the Scope, were as keen as anyone to savour its excitements.”
The Monster in the Swamp

Constantly talked up and a memorable design despite Bob Holmes’ lack of faith in BBC effects conceiving their name as an unflattering anagram, the Drashigs we see bursting from the swamp look absolutely terrific, beating the more prosaic dinosaur / dragon description of the book hands down. And, yes, if you think about it, beasts written to be near-blind probably shouldn’t have those eyes on stalks, but they’re fabulous, and with an extraordinary roar (uniquely, the work of both Brian Hodgson and Dick Mills as they swap over who does the series’ sound design). They clearly surprised and delighted the production team – to the unwise extent that Barry Letts commissioned a whole show full of dinosaurs to follow – and so, while they never starred in another story, they’re constantly mentioned through the rest of Pertwee’s time, not least in the following story (odd, isn’t it, that Carnival of Monsters and The Space War / Frontier In Space go together much better than the latter and Planet of the Daleks? Two feel like ’70s space excitement with lots of aliens, one like a ’60s rehash with Thals and an stock alien planet from the cupboard).
“Jo thought she had never seen anything more terrifying in her life.”
One small advantage the book gains even at this point, however, is in Terrance Dicks providing a flare pistol for the Doctor to pick up and make use of; a bit late, but he saw the problem he’d left in the script – that the sonic screwdriver sets off marsh gas for no apparent reason (bar hazily remembering that it blew things up in The Sea Devils, a story from the previous year in which sonic vibrations set off landmines, that being a plausible way to detonate a landmine but not a puff of gas) – and corrected it, enabling him to complain these days with a clearer conscience about the new series’ “magic wand”. That small advantage is outweighed by the point shortly after at which the book suffers a major loss of nerve. The Doctor either works out (TV) or breaks it to Jo (novel) that they’ve been caught inside a MiniScope, a peepshow… And while both versions confront the viewer / reader about the thoughtlessness of zoos, for which many would have been visitors at the time, only one sets out directly to make everyone uncomfortable, with Robert Holmes’ sense of humour much blacker than Terrance Dicks’. The only way in which the TV story doesn’t underline its most postmodern point is that Jo’s frightened face doesn’t actually stare right out of the television as she expresses her horror; the book carefully shifts the emphasis away from the personal and makes her outrage less strident. Compare the two:
“Do you mean that that Major Daly and all those people on the ship are in a sort of a peepshow? …And outside there are people and creatures just looking at us for kicks?”
“Very probably.”
“They must be evil and horrible!”

“Jo gave him a horrified look. ‘You mean Major Daly and all those people on the ship are specimens, in some kind of peepshow? And outside there are people—creatures—looking at them just for kicks? That’s terrible!’”
The second half of the story sees a bit of a decline for each version’s trump card: in the book, the lines begin to get shorter rather than longer than on TV; and the Drashigs, so effective seen in the swamp, are rather less well-served tearing around the ship. And so Terrance’s greater special effects budget of the imagination creeps ahead again, with a rather more impressive chase for the Doctor and Jo that ends at a huge shaft “like a great canyon” which is, er, completely missing on screen (we merely see them peering down, and nothing of what they’re peering into), and a lovely line as Jo takes “lateral thinking” a bit literally: “when in doubt, go sideways!” To regular readers, Terrance’s exciting “shattering roar” from the Drashigs and “long, raking burst” from a machine-gun have an air of both thrill and comfort blanket, too.

Jo’s a bit more pro-active on screen and the Doctor less of a git in leaving her when her enormous stacked heel is spotted back in the ship’s hold; rather than her being dragged away and the Doctor just sitting there, improbably undiscovered, Katy plays it that Jo realises she’s been spotted, signals to the Doctor to stay, and gets up. Back in the book, after a wait, the Doctor makes ready to go down into the Scope again, wondering if he should go back for Jo, “but decided against it.” Exactly the same words as he thought four pages earlier when she was grabbed, the cad. Though there’s a nicely characterised flash of vanity when the Doctor feels he’s evened things up for Jo’s skeleton keys when he produces the string file, then drama-queens it by complaining about his aching wrist. And I laugh at most of the crates falling on top of the Doctor. Far less postmodern than the screen version of the story, Terrance does manage one brilliant extra:
“Clare and Jo were sheltering behind a sofa.”
The close of Chapter 8 is quite effective, as Kalik the Inter-Minoran John Redwood plots with his rather dim sidekick Orum for a leadership bid and a war to unite the planet and stop the “liberal policies” “changing our ways”.
“And who will give us all this?”
“I will,” said Kalik quietly. “By leading a rebellion against my brother Zarb.”
The “quietly” rather sets it off, as for once a chapter climax doesn’t have someone screaming into an exclamation mark! Still, turning the page after that to discover that in Chapter 9 “Kalik Plans Rebellion” isn’t all that much of a shock.

Down in the Scope, the damage to the machinery is more effective in the book than altered lighting: “the great metal shapes were twisted and warped” and “the low hum of power [had become] an agonised groan.” There’s “the charred body of a Drashig” which “had bitten through a power cable”, then the Doctor’s dizzying climb to escape the Scope. He isn’t spotted here and almost stamped like a cockroach, disappointingly, but only causes panic on emerging and suddenly expanding to normal size, meaning a chapter climax a little later and more threatening than the cliffhanger – the Doctor free at last, only to face a great big gun…

In the book, we get an insight into the Doctor’s thoughts as he lambasts the Officials; worried about Jo, he reckons there’s “no time for all the nonsense of imprisonment and interrogation” that “usually” happens when he arrives in another of Terrance’s deadpan postmodernisms, and is utterly scathing about the inner weakness of “all authoritarians”. The re-ordering of the scenes to take out all the tiny cutaways rather draws attention to how little Jo has to do around here: she’s absent for two chapters while the ship’s crew chase her, forget her, chase her like a “jolly game of hide and seek” and forget her again, all the while unaware of “the danger which loomed over them all” once the power drops below critical, the artificial sun stops working and that, suddenly soberingly,
“Their world, and their lives, would end in choking darkness.”
Return to Peril

Perhaps the point where Terrance’s urge to simplify (and, perhaps, bowdlerise) most comes a cropper is at this point, when Vorg claims “I’ve worked many a Terran fairground” while at the same time thinking we’re animals fit to be exhibited, and Terrance even forgets which galaxy he’s in when trying (page 99) to explain the scene where he sidles up to the Doctor and speaks Polari as if chatting him up. On the page, it’s “the universal showman’s slang, which had spread out from Terra and across the galaxy”… When, for a start, back on page 43 we’re from “a distant galaxy” instead, and of course his Polari (or “Parlare”, here) is far less camp, far less jarring and very firmly a secret carnival speak and nothing else, so sadly you miss almost all the hilarity of Vorg’s assuming that the Doctor is some sort of fellow dodgy galactic traveller who’s always got a pretty young woman with him. Imagine! Similarly, Official Pletrac is only “tactless” rather than insulting, and far less blissfully camp. Still, even this late there are some smarter touches, as when Vorg goes to warn the Doctor, having failed to rat out on the next spaceship home:
“Since his attempt at self-preservation had failed, Vorg decided he might as well do the decent thing.”
As usual, Terrance handles action sequences deftly, with Vorg’s heroic spasm brief but rather exciting, and evoking what happens on screen both accurately and with greater clarity (the TV admits defeat when, in the event of a CSO effect so terrible even Barry Letts vetoed it, Kalik’s death is illustrated by just a close-up of Kalik bricking himself and then running, followed by a Drashig closing in and then sauntering off triumphantly). The “livestock” collapsing in the Scope as the power fails is quite grim in the book; first Jo falls, unable to breathe, and the Doctor has to hoist her unconscious body on to his shoulders; in the saloon, they worry that it’s getting cold, in the tropics, and dark too, then perhaps that Clare has collapsed from heat exhaustion and finally
“The three bodies lay motionless, while the little saloon grew colder and darker …”
The Doctor struggles to the top of the shaft, but knows he doesn’t have the energy to climb and slides to the floor, muttering a prayer to Vorg. On TV, of course, the moment’s rather less dignified as Pertwee’s nose hits the floor, which is always good for a laugh.

As with the collapsing Sahibs, we don’t see the other creatures dematerialising on screen as we do in the book, just the Drashig – exactly as “In the misty swamp, a Drashig raised its head, bellowed – and vanished.” The awkward questions of exactly what’s in the Scope are raised by the differences between formats: we see the ship itself vanish; we read that just the bodies fade quietly from the saloon. So, in the book, was it a fake ship, on a fake sea (the sea doesn’t vanish on screen)? They don’t drown, as we have that rather lovely little epilogue scene in Daly’s cabin. On screen, there’s rather good lighting around Clare’s eyes as she almost remembers… It’s a great illustration of the respective strengths of the screen versus the page; Clare’s the natural focus of one, while the book plays to its own strengths by following up on her Daddy’s finally finishing his own book:
“Daly yawned again. He reached out for his calendar and crossed off the last day of the voyage, then settled down to sleep. As he was drifting off, strange pictures floated through his mind. He heard the roar of guns, and the bellowing of monsters. There was something about a tall white-haired man, and a small girl with fair hair … stowaways … Daly couldn’t make any sense of it. Must be jumbled memories of some blood and thunder story he’d read a long time ago. Soon he was peacefully asleep. The S.S. Bernice steamed steadily towards Bombay.”
A lovely and memorable passage, and one that probably added “blood and thunder” to my vocabulary as a boy. Even if, like so much of the story, it’s difficult to reconcile with the description of the way the Scope works as a “simple temporal loop” (as in The Time Warrior, time travel isn’t something special but something everyone can use for a short cut that doesn’t necessarily make sense, with Bob Holmes writing less for plausibility than to send up the series)…

And finally, to the closing scene with the three magum pods and the yarrow seed (or, in our Tellurian terms, ‘Find the Lady’)… Points to the book for expanding Jo’s “He’ll probably end up President!” with the funnier comeback “That or Chancellor of the Exchequer,” which is certainly where I learned that title from; points to the TV for Vorg not merely beaming and winking at Shirna as Pletrac raises his wager to ten credit-bars, but for actor Leslie Dwyer positively pissing himself, which is a joy to behold. And points taken from Barry Letts for making such an incredible fuss about the dodgy hairpiece on one of his aliens. It’s just a crinkle as Pletrac’s eyebrows move, not a split, and much less noticeable than the yellow lines round the Drashigs that Barry left in. So the ‘director’s cut’ of the story (as shown in The Five Faces, returning to the first time I ever saw the TV story) rather spoils the ending by removing not just that wrinkled forehead but Vorg getting all his money. Like The Ribos Operation, it’s important in the final scene that we know the loveable rogues have got some cash, even though the Doctor’s taken their main livelihood.

The End of the Scope

All right, all right. So, after all that, which version is better?

It’s the only Pertwee story where I still don’t know. Both Carnivals are hugely entertaining, but as I read one I want to watch bits of the other, and as I watch one I remember better lines from the page. Despite many moments of invention and several sensible explanations, the book is just a little flat by comparison; notably, it’s far less funny, and it starts by giving us a bit more than is on screen, but by half-way through has settled into giving us a bit less. Terrance’s novel polishes some little moments and retains gems from the original script in others, but perhaps lacks enough sparkle on its own to be among his best – it’s good, solid fun, but not much more. Whereas on TV it’s far less good – at times, positively wicked – and considerably less solid, so gloriously over the top that it veers between fabulous and gaudy, and the direction between brilliant bits of framing and close-ups for impact, or clumsy inadequacy. But then, Vorg’s showman’s patter throughout is the hype before inevitable disappointment, so imperfection is part of the point. The definitive adventure, then, exists only in Robert Holmes’ conception and in our heads, but it’s great fun seeing either Barry Letts or Terrance Dicks stretch towards it.

The story as a whole, whichever one of it you take, always feels like it’s crashed in from another period of the show: a mid-Tom Baker piece of knowing fun; the TV references, tongue-in-cheek asides, continuity throwaways, a bit of politics and a lot of virtual reality, not to mention Bernice S.S., could make it a New Adventure twenty years early; and you could just as easily make it again today (in fact, on stage last year, they did). Flawed, tacky; inspired, hilarious; it’s Doctor Who.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011


DVD Detail: Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp

Mindwarp is one of the most extraordinary-looking Doctor Who stories ever made – sometimes brilliantly, sometimes just breathtakingly ’80s. Bright pink! Bright blue! Bright orange! And as well as the scenery, some of the people look like that, too. Today* is officially Peri’s birthday, and this was her final story with the Doctor, building up to a shock ending… Or is it? Add a memorable villain, guest stars who return with David Tennant, and behind it all, the Doctor’s still on trial: has the evidence here been falsified? Why is he behaving so strangely? And can he out-act Brian Blessed?

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the opening four episodes of Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord… And, twenty-five years ago this evening, that superb cast led by Colin Baker and Michael Jayston was still in the middle of it. Before you watch Mindwarp, the second set of four episodes, you’re best off watching those earlier ones, The Mysterious Planet – not that you have to go out of your way to do so, as they’re all part of the same The Trial of a Time Lord DVD box set. The two mini-stories have much in common: the same ‘Trial’ framing device; the same lead actors; the same postmodern attitude to the series being on trial by hostile BBC executives, as I wrote last time. What’s different about this one is that it’s a much less straightforward narrative – to the extent that even the actors and director didn’t know what was supposed to be going on for some of it. And so it’s possible to slightly unfairly sum up the four mini-stories that make up The Trial of a Time Lord two by two: the odd-numbered stories as not very odd at all, but a bit forgettable; the even-numbered stories as memorable messes, full of interesting ideas but few of them complementing each other. I don’t know if this explains the bulk of fans’ relatively low opinion of Mindwarp (while a few think it brilliant), but it’ll do for mine (and why I have a very high opinion of some of it). Back in September 2009, Doctor Who Magazine 413 published “The Mighty 200” – 6,700 fans’ votes on all 200ish TV Doctor Who stories to that point – and placed the whole Trial of a Time Lord 142nd (about right, to me) but this second set of four episodes at a lowly 160ish (not far off for me either, though I might put it as much as ten places higher).

While this ‘Detail’ obviously goes into some detail, incidentally, my policy in these is not to be too spoilery. So read on without fear of finding out too many key twists from the end. Should there be such things (tip: if you’ve not seen this, don’t read the comedy sketch at the bottom).

Sil and Kiv Have Gone A Bit Floppy
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That Golden Moment
“You’ll not die on me, you fish-faced monster!”
If you’ve ever seen Mindwarp, you’ll know that there’s one completely awesome scene. And why I can’t mention it. But I can mention one of the key characters in it, friendly neighbourhood surgeon Dr Crozier – in whose laboratory the chaotic story keeps snapping into focus. As do an Alien and a throbbing brain. That means that another brilliant sequence takes place there, half-way into the third episode (or Part Seven of The Trial of a Time Lord), as he performs his first big operation on Lord Kiv…

In the caverns of Thoros-Beta, profit is in progress, with Lord Kiv and the self-styled Mentors piling up trade with other cultures – if necessary, by lethal force (or even by recycling old costumes). And while the wriggling other Mentors led by Kiv’s aide Sil have no love or loyalty for their leader, they’re desperate to keep him alive for his brilliant business brain, without which they might all end up dead or, worse than that, poor. But that very brain is fatally expanding within his slimy skull, and only the greatest – as he’d be the first to tell you – doctor in the galaxy can transfer it to a new frame. The first ‘monster’ we meet in the story is a forewarning of this, as well as a basically terrible piece of design kept wisely in the dark, then almost redeemed by the way people chat about him afterwards like he was Harold down the chip shop.

Colin Baker makes the most of a wildly inconsistent script, Brian Blessed is at his most BRIAN BLESSED, and Nicola Bryant is terrific as she approaches her end, but it’s stolen from all of them by Patrick Ryecart as Crozier, playing it so intense and deadpan that he becomes much funnier – and more sinister – than anyone else. Confined mostly to one set, dressed for citrus insanity in lemon and then orange, he’s somehow still the centre of the story. An obsessive rather than the ‘mad scientist’ that the brain transplant storyline might suggest, he’s marvellously self-centred, regarding anything bar his medical experiments as an utter waste of his time. And, though with brilliant touches of eccentric charisma, as Patrick Ryecart has explained his part, he’s more Nazi than nice. Clipped, staccato, disturbing and funny, you can see how he can go on to give such a great sit-com performance as the awesomely continuity-error-in-reality-named Captain Hilary Duff.

Kiv rambles wonderfully about his donor body-to-be having an primitive sting at the end of its tail – and how “I could, perhaps, sting all my assistants to death!” – as they prepare to operate; the Doctor camps up his pleasure at being allowed to monitor the equipment; Crozier eyes the Doctor like a wolf assessing a tailored suit (in a threatening plotline that, unfortunately, never goes anywhere, built up until suddenly dismissed in a late aside, as if they’d just thrown the script in the air and picked the bits up at random… Similarly, the nature of Crozier’s experiments changes at the last minute and makes a nonsense of much of the earlier dialogue); piercing music echoes; Crozier’s eyes narrow in a fabulously crazed single moment as he begins the operation. Later, Kiv will come round and see a thing of beauty; later still, Crozier’s eyes shine as he sees his ambition to conquer death within his grasp… But my favourite moment of him is tiny, arrogant, and perfect, and brilliantly down to Patrick Ryecart and a bit of business. Once the operation’s complete and the spectators have drifted away, Crozier is simply how we imagine every brilliant surgeon to be: dismissive and rude to his patient, and only caring for his own achievement. In a scene framed by a gorgeous effects shot of the arching roof of his lab, he’s sipping a cup of tea when his assistant, Alibe Parsons’ glamorous Matrona Kani, alerts him to something going wrong. Crozier takes this in at a glance:
“Cardiac arrest. His body’s – reacting to the drugs.”
And in that gap in the middle of his sentence, in protest at being interrupted by what he clearly sees as his patient letting down his genius, instead of leaping to his feet he takes another sip of tea. It’s a perfectly calculated little moment, and the tiny stutter on the “F” as he calls his lord and master a “fish-faced monster!” allowing us just for a fraction of a second to think of another, more Brian Blessedy word, is the icing on the cake.

Patrick Ryecart and Brian Blessed spar deliciously in rival interviews in the ‘Making of’ – the former saying the latter needs to be licenced, the latter that the former never knew his bloody lines (and, to show he’s watched it, tipping his tea. Patrick Ryecart is still as reliable today; he didn’t turn up to a convention earlier this year, and was represented on stage by a dummy in his orange surgeon’s gown to wicked lines from Alibe Parsons). Other stories found on the disc will reveal a moment when Mr Blessed, too, may not have got his own lines word-perfect…
“The major thing was sort of replacing Brian Blessed’s brain. Which some people would argue is not a bad idea in real life – in fact, having replaced his brain, I think it might be what sent him up Everest without any oxygen.”
Something Else To Look Out For

While the postmodern commentary of the Trial impinging on the ‘main’ story got in the way on The Mysterious Planet, here it suddenly works better on a much more fragmentary story where the viewers, too, must be arguing about what’s really going on. Informed by Philip Martin’s groundbreaking series Gangsters (from whom it borrows Alibe Parsons), the hints of today’s interactivity make it seem far more modern. So while, for me, this isn’t the best segment of the Trial, it’s the one that makes best use of the overarching story in its own, with the interruptions resembling a DVD commentary in which cast members argue over the deleted scenes and try to salvage their own parts in a box-office disaster. It’s not the a clever noir-style plot the format could have led to, an unreliable narrator usually works better when the production end has more of an idea than the audience, and there are still riskily near-the-knuckle complaints such as calling it “inconsequential silliness” and “gratuitous,” but when the Valeyard counting the precise number of times the Doctor and his companions have respectively been in danger is a point-perfect echo of Mary Whitehouse, ticking off numbers of unsuitable incidents with no regard for narrative, and when Michael Jayston sarcastically invites us to watch “The Doctor’s next – frightening adventure,” you feel that they at least knew what they were doing better than Gerald Ratner.

The sparring between Colin Baker and Michael Jayston suddenly becomes more dangerous as the stakes rise: the Doctor becomes less playground and more lost; the Valeyard seems to know exactly where to twist the knife to stir up self-loathing in the Doctor; and his “Who else is there?” booming out of the sky is one of the few times he makes a telling point, a dramatic moment that almost anticipates the Doctor damning him as a second-rate god at the climax.

You can see how good Colin Baker is when the script deals him an almost crippling blow: as Colin glumly notes on the commentary, it takes him back to square one, completely destroying the character progression planned for his Doctor. Conceived as a ‘Mr Darcy’ who begins aloof and to whom we slowly warm, lead writer Eric Saward was utterly hopeless at writing that overarching story from the first, when The Twin Dilemma’s terrible writing blighted him. Just as finally, and far more thanks to the actor than his scripts, the Doctor has been mellowing, this story magnifies his ‘nice or nasty’ struggle without planning or revealing which bits are which. And the script editor had the nerve to blame other people? No wonder Philip Martin saw him as mentally fragile and “a bad guy pretending to be good” – which is when the lead writer should have stepped in to contextualise, rather than piss off. Mr Martin explains some of where he thought he was coming from on the commentary, but this is the first anyone’s heard of it – while the confusion of the Doctor being good, bad, mad or fake isn’t helped when none of the rest of the story can decide what it is, either (horror, comedy, sci-fi, barbarian swordplay, vivisection, a Dallas satire with green slugs as the Ewings, or a runaround with rebels?). On The Mysterious Planet, I talked about how seeing that when I was fourteen led to empathy with existential crises; something else I’d become very aware of at that age sprang to mind watching the ‘Doctor jiggles about too enthusiastically’ cliffhanger on broadcast, so I’ve always been amazed no-one said ‘Hang on…’ before it went out. What it looks like has always distracted me from the key turning point in the story, after which it’s anyone’s guess whether the Doctor’s in his right mind, in Brian Blessed’s, or simply invented. Though one scene, at least, is obvious, even if it was horrible for Nicola Bryant: the Doctor on the Rock of Sorrows saying ‘I am a wrong ’un and no mistake, I did it, guv’ like the notes of a provincial PC read out in court never fails to be a scream.

Peri’s Finest Hour?

Nicola Bryant gets a far better deal from the script than her co-star, and rises brilliantly to the opportunity of something more stretching than being chained to a rock (though as I’ve just noted, she has that too). Betrayed and abandoned, Peri seizes control of her own fate at key points rather than just suffer or revenge, and Nicola gives a truly powerful final scene, explaining on the commentary that she’d seen anaemic exits and decided that wasn’t for her. All that, despite being stuck in an electric pink smock after finally being allowed to dress as a grown-up in the previous segment – though it goes with the bright pink seawater. With so many others dressed in the same colour, they could make a camouflage bathing party that would be camouflage only ever on that one world (or in the ’80s).

The scene where the Doctor and Peri land at the seaside – the shocking pink seaside, with the brilliant indigo rocks and bright green sky – is a striking one, and not just to your eyeballs. Though it is a glorious example of finally having the technology to turn a cold British beach into an alien planet, and really going for it (thrillingly for fact fans, Peri goes out as she came in, with a story filmed on a nudist beach. And though she spends most of this one fully clothed, in one arresting respect she finishes up wearing much less than she started out, and it’s a fantastic look she’s much happier signing than a bikini shot). It gives Peri some oomph, and sets up many of the themes of the story: gun-running for profit; the great gag of ‘liquefied’ for ‘liquidated’ from the killer capitalists; and the in-joke and foreshadowing in one of the “Dirty old warlord!”

Which brings us to that old pulp SF cliché of ‘What is this Earth thing called love’, about which the kindest thing that can be said is that I’d rather have that than the horrible, horrible ‘Planet of Women’ script it replaced and on which Doctor Who once again dodged a CD phaser (it must be that they gaze into each other’s eyes and see the same taste in eye make-up. I say ‘taste’…).

Like the story, the supporting actors are absurdly variable – a mixture of over the top and totally flat. The Samurai-ish warlord Yrcanos (in a story that’s far more racially mixed than most Who, to its credit, both in the actors and in the costume influences it plays with) is played by Brian Blessed, at one end of the scale – you may be able to guess which – while his companion in rebellion, Gordon Warnecke’s Tuza, is gorgeous but you’ll need to watch My Beautiful Laundrette to realise he’s not always wood from the neck up. I suspect that the Valeyard may have got bored with doing a director’s cut on the Doctor and tinkered with King Yrcanos, too, as I can’t say I’m sold on the notion of a bloodthirsty hereditary warlord suddenly becoming Che Guevara. Mind you, something needed to gee up the galaxy’s least lively rebels, who make the Tribe of the Free seem full of character and multilayered performances in top fashions (meeting them even brings Peri out in a rash of terrible dialogue, while the idea of twenty-year-olds being aged to death seems less about vampirism or time experiments than a bit bunged in before a cliffhanger and then forgotten about). It’s impossible, though, not to enjoy the bizarre inventiveness – and shouting – of Brian’s performance, and his grumpy concession:
“Very well. Today, prudence shall be our watchword. Tomorrow, we shall soak the land in blood.”
Again with the themes of The Mysterious Planet, only more so, Mindwarp moves from mere Minder-in-mass-murder to a full-blown critique of big business exploitation and capitalism as conquest, with Nabil Shaban again outstanding as Sil, the poison dwarf Mini-Me of Jabba the Hutt with a great tail and a fabulous laugh (which he was pleased gave at least one Doctor Who writer of my acquaintance nightmares). Returning from the previous year’s innovative if flawed Vengeance on Varos, he has considerably better design – suggesting, as with Kiv’s new body, that the Mentors become greener as they age – but a much less powerful part, becoming more the comic relief than the principal villain. Sil’s boss Kiv is a future returnee, with The Young Ones’ Christopher Ryan to become a Sontaran General opposite David Tennant (and, briefly, Matt Smith), while bored (occasionally amusingly so) head of security Trevor Laird comes back as Martha Jones’ dad.

For once, director Ron Jones – the bane of many ’80s Doctor Who stories – creates a bit of atmosphere here, though not consistently: ironically, his two strongest achievements are respectively in the dark and in chaos. The epilepsy-inducing strobes in the tunnels mostly come across as distracting escapees from the Top of the Pops studio, but they work brilliantly in the second (or sixth) cliffhanger, where a perfectly timed flicker of light enlivens an otherwise stock moment. Even better, though, is the climax to the final (or eighth) episode, half a dozen minutes in which everything at last delivers as Thoros-Beta collapses into a hellish clamour of claxons and lost souls and the Doctor enters his own private hell. With Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker each perhaps giving their finest moments, it’s a stunning evocation of everything falling apart without the actual production doing so.

Brian Blessed Versus the Fuckerons

Leading a fine set of extras, the twenty-minute The Making of Mindwarp is excellent and very entertaining, particularly – as above – Patrick Ryecart and Brian Blessed (of whom a career summary notes his subtle and varied roles, “And then Flash Gordon happened”). Half the cast do their Brian Blessed impressions; Brian does the Queen, asking him to say “Gordon’s alive!” before thoughtfully observing that with Yrcanos, like Vultan, he could let his hair down. It’s just a shame there’s no Nabil Shaban. And, wonder of wonders, before flouncing off in a strop, absentee script editor Saward for once even praises Colin’s performance, while Colin brightly observes:
“And for once, I wasn’t the most over-the-top person in it!”
With this and the commentary between Colin, Nicola and writer Philip Martin, you can also enjoy tales of why Philip felt like an assassin, why he was told he couldn’t be political, which door cost more than Nicola, and how Colin observed BBC unions at work. In other extras, Lenny Henry stars as the Doctor in probably the ’80s’ key piss-taking clip, though it’s a shame they cut the sketch before his show’s end credits and lose him boogieing in the TARDIS (I wonder if anyone has the full version? Mine’s on a Betamax I’ve not been able to play for twenty years). I’m always unhappy when an ’80s Who story is released without the option of being able to listen to the musical score separately. Richard Hartley’s glistening and occasionally thumping incidental music here is the exception: it’s the only score of the decade for which the master tapes no longer exist, so it’s not cost-cutting nor lack of interest that means there isn’t one on this disc. I’m still miffed it’s the excuse for not making the scores for the other ten The Trial of a Time Lord episodes available, though. There’s an impressively comprehensive location feature, plus nine minutes of deleted and extended scenes which are interesting but don’t add much until the last couple, where Sil uses a vital word and Tuza half-remembers that there was someone else with him (with an appropriate idea of who it is from Yrcanos). Quite an extensive photo gallery, too, and thankfully the DVD menus helpfully don’t give too much away this time. My favourite extra, though, is the tiny additional commentary – for part of a later Trial episode – on A Fate Worse Than Death. Apologetic Colin. Appalled Nicola. Priceless.

The best anecdote, though, is obviously when Colin Baker is quoted – and asterisked out – in the mostly unthrilling text notes recalling how, at the visual effects-laden and stressful end for one day’s shooting, Brian Blessed cost a lot of money in setting it all up again next time by exuberantly forgetting the name of his slimy enemies in a way that will surprise few viewers of Fry’s Planet Word:
“Let’s find the Fuckerons!”

Businessbeing From Possicar and Time Lord Guard
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These photos, too, are from the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition. A major part of my childhood, it was closed in 1986, making The Trial of a Time Lord its last new season of Doctor Who. A new version opened in the 2000s, but the BBC closed it and flogged off the exhibits two years ago rather than preserve them for the nation. Philistines. So even in these glory days, some BBC brass are still Fuckerons.

Philip Martin’s novelisation is not a happy experience. The other stories of the Trial had been published a couple of years earlier, so you got the impression he was struggling with it – though there’s more material, most of it was probably cut from the script, as his overwritten and ponderous prose style suggests he’s much happier with writing for television. Unusually for a book, though it’s not a perfectly plotted descent in quality, it’s easy to identify the best of it – the first page, as the Doctor muses over his trial and struggles with disturbing flashes of memory (flash-forwards, in the context of most of the narrative – and the worst, which with eerie symmetry is the epilogue’s comedy ‘afterlife’. Even the cover’s a mess: not matching the style of the three other Trial novelisations, and a pretty horrible painting that’s almost certainly the worst from the normally almost photorealistic brush of Alister Pearson (compare it to his gorgeous cover for the whole season-length story on VHS a few years later, for example). Rather more effective follow-ups to the end of the story, incidentally, can be found in Colin Baker’s own graphic novel The Age of Chaos, Big Finish’s audio play Her Final Flight and, certainly the best work overall though with the relevant echo its most self-indulgent part, the superb New Adventures novel Bad Therapy by future Doctor Who TV author Matt Jones.

Though I usually review a whole DVD release at once, and though The Trial of a Time Lord box set is in theory all one big story, again there’s more to come. So, Next Time… Er, with all the “Next Times” I’ve found online too spoilery, why not try this hilariously ’80s fan trailer?

The Trial of a Time Lord… In a Hurry (Continued)

And finally… Richard and Millennium have a few things to say about this story, too. Millennium’s (spoilerish, as it covers the next six episodes too) Mysteries of Doctor Who #15: What the TRUNK is going on at Dr Who’s Trial? Less seriously than the elephant, but also with a spoiler at the end if you look carefully, Richard has helpfully condensed the whole story into three scenes for your entertainment and delectation:

Part Two: Mind How You Warp
Scene 1: int. laboratory. CROZIER, a mad scientist, and SIL, a slimy gonk, are discussing immortality. THE DOCTOR and PERI enter

THE DOCTOR: I wonder what Sil is up to?

PERI: Oh golly, Doctor, this is Sil’s home planet, isn’t it?


Scene 2: laboratory, later that day. THE DOCTOR is attached to A MACHINE

SIL: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

MACHINE: [FX] Fizz Bang Wallop


Enter Brian Blessed

BLESSED: Ooh, how very dare you!

MACHINE explodes for no readily apparent reason


THE DOCTOR: You killed Peri!

THE INQUISITOR: Yes, we did, we really really did. [Miranda Hart-style to camera] We didn’t really.

Roll titles

*All right, technically yesterday by the time I published this, but these things take time.

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