Monthly Archives: October 2013

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Sixth Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE SIXTH DOCTOR: PETER DAVISON 1984-1986

Poor Colin Baker. Cast as The Doctor off the back of his appearance in the show as Gallifreyan security officer Maxil in Fifth Doctor story Arc Of Infinity, he always intended to stay in the part for as long as possible. Sadly, he happened to preside over the strangest, and most turbulent period in the show’s history.

The blame for what went wrong during his tenure is, quite often, levelled squarely on the shoulders of the leading man – these days perhaps temporarily best known for his recent stint on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, rather than his tenure as the legendary Time Lord. This belief stems from the superfans who had grown up with the show since its early days – those children who watched in awe at the early episodes but were now in their twenties, watching a show that was still, ostensibly, for children.

Yet whilst these overgrown brats threw all their toys out of the pram, it was the power struggle of the two leading figures behind the scenes of the program, and the intentions of two further figures higher up in the echelons of BBC One which really threw the show into disarray.

Producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward had a number of good ideas for the Doctor Who, which paid dividends during their time working on it. Yet when they failed to nip a bad idea in the bud, it would spread like poison ivy across a show under the watchful eye of the boys upstairs – BBC One controller Michael Grade, and Head of Drama, Jonathan Powell.

At the time, the drama department were knee deep in setting up new soap opera Eastenders, which was proving increasingly costly, whereas Doctor Who had kept essentially the same budget for years on end. As inflation took its toll, the show could no longer compete with Hollywood blockbusters in the slightest, and this was increasingly obvious.

© BBC

© BBC

So when respected stage and screen actor Colin Baker arrived in the show, it was already on borrowed time, and the decisions made around his character helped sow the seeds of his undoing. First off was the idea that this would be a difficult regeneration period, and Baker’s casual suggestion that he’d like to peel the character banana was taken a little too literally. Saward and Turner elected to make his Doctor violently unpredictable, irascible, and totally tasteless – trapped in the worst costume design concept in television history.

Tacked onto the end of Peter Davison’s final run, immediately following series highlight The Caves Of Androzani, was Colin’s debut, The Twin Dilemma. A clumsy opening story filled with poorly realised monsters, it didn’t help that the Doctor tried to kill his own companion during a violent post-regenerative mood swing, before the show disappeared for nine months, leaving audiences baffled.

When it did return, now back to Saturday nights and in new-fangled 45 minute episodes, the show was working surprisingly well despite increasingly convoluted plotting. Colin had a natural chemistry with Nicola Bryant, who played his put-upon companion Peri, and his initial series featured the return of the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Master, Sontarans and even Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as The Second Doctor and Jamie.

© BBC

© BBC

Yet Grade & Powell had already decided to cancel the show, for good. Furious, JNT leaked the news to superfan Ian Levine and it spread like wildflower, and it is at this point that things started to get really messy.

Forced to reconsider immediate cancellation, the show went into an 18 month hiatus, with the intention of quietly letting it disappear in the interim. Levine and JNT then elected to make a Band Aid style charity record with a bunch of Z-list pop stars (and future Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer) singing about The Doctor over a hi-NRG beat. The results are every bit as horrid as you can imagine, and then some.

Out of embarrassment, more than anything else, the powers that be rescinded their decision, and let Doctor Who return. But rather than replace the production team, or insist on a series of changes, or even just improve the budget a little, they simply reduced the run-time and episode count, and left JNT and Saward to get on with it, business as usual.

With the original plans for Season 23 abandoned, Saward hit upon the idea of putting the Doctor on trial. A mammoth 14 episode arc was conceived to act as an umbrella for stories set in his past, present and future. Peri would be written out as Bryant’s contract was due to expire, and she was to be replaced by well-known television personality Bonnie Langford. That her character, Mel Bush, was unfeasibly meant to be a computer programmer (who never touched a computer on screen, oddly), and that we would meet her whilst she was already on adventures with The Doctor, without an origin story of her own, didn’t seem to faze the producer – he just wanted Langford because she had star quality, red hair and a scream that could pitch perfectly with the opening notes of the end credits theme.

© BBC

© BBC

That last sentence should make apparent that all the production problems the show faced were still in place, and arguably intensified. The Doctor’s dreadful coat also remained, as did the baffling plot twists and references only the diehards who hated the show by now would understand. Actors continued to be cast for their showbiz status rather than suitability for the role, such as Carry On veteran Joan Sims being a tribal Queen for no apparent reason.

Worst still was Peri’s exit. Planned as a dramatic send off, it was written to see her killed horribly: her brain replaced with that of slug-like mentor Lord Kiv (Young Ones star Christopher Ryan), who was then gunned down by warrior King Yrcanos (a typically on form Brian Blessed, no less). Yet this was clumsily revealed to be a fabricated demise during an exposition heavy season finale, with Peri and Yrcanos escaping together instead for no apparent reason.

Ultimately, the Sixth Doctor’s tenure ended as it began – in a state of frenzied confusion and behind the scenes back-stabbing – after JNT refused to let the story end as Saward planned: The Doctor and primary villain The Valeyard tumbling into the abyss, giving Powell & Grade a perfect opportunity to end the show on a bum note.  Furious, Eric Saward quit his role as script editor, and the finale had to be rewritten in a hurry, with predictably lacklustre results.

In the end, the under-promoted season closed on a whimper, with lower audience figures than ever before. The so-called superfans – including future Torchwood and Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall – turned on the producer and the leading actor on national television, calling for changes to the way the show was made because it no longer fitted their narrow view of how Doctor Who must operate.

As a result, the boys upstairs did something they’d never done to a series before: they demanded a new lead actor must be found, and Colin Baker had to be fired. He offered amicably to do one last season and leave with his dignity, but they never spoke to him again, and The Sixth Doctor’s subsequent regeneration would be handled very badly indeed.

Despite his unfortunate time on the show, Baker is never less than thrilling as The Doctor, even if everything around him – from the sets and monsters, to the clothes on his back and the lines coming out of his mouth – are diabolical. That he remains a goodwill ambassador for the show is a testament to his person, and thanks to the gift of Big Finish audio productions, he’s finally being allowed to show the world what a great Doctor he truly is.

© BBC

© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

Vengeance On Varos: A brilliant morality tale from noted political writer Philip Martin, which, with its tales of deadly reality television placating a subdued civilisation to prevent them rising in revolution, is more pertinent now than it’s ever been.

The Two Doctors: Ok, it’s a bit of a mess story wise, but as one last chance to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as The Second Doctor and Jamie, it’s a must.

Revelation of the Daleks: The Sixth Doctor is hardly in it, but this is one of the best things Eric Saward ever did for the show. A bleak space soap opera slash black comedy, populated by grotesques and Alexei Sayle, in which Davros is using the inhabitants of a funeral planet as Dalek cultivations. As mad as it sounds.

The Trial of a Time Lord: Cheating a little here, as this is not only four stories banded together under one title, but also represents almost a third of the Sixth Doctor’s era. Still, it’s a great chance to see a lighter version of the character, even if those moments are surrounded by some of the show’s bleakest, and most baffling plot points ever. To paraphrase his predecessor, if only there had been another way…

STORIES TO AVOID:

The Twin Dilemma will perhaps always remain the worst debut of any Doctor ever, and the fact that Timelash has been noted as an anagram of Lameshit is entirely appropriate, even if it does have its moments. This era is so short, there’s only two other stories left in its run-time, and both of them (Attack Of The Cybermen and The Mark Of The Rani) could have been so much better with a bit more care…

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Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Fifth Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE FIFTH DOCTOR: PETER DAVISON 1982-1984

Replacing Tom Baker was no mean feat for Doctor Who’s new producer, John Nathan Turner, who had overseen the incredibly popular leading man’s final run of episodes, and was set to remain with the series until its untimely demise at the end of the decade. Whomever was chosen had to be someone who had the appropriate gravitas to bring an increasingly pantomimic show back down to earth, but also the star quality to outshine any criticism that he wasn’t as good as the man who had defined the last seven years of the program.

Enter Peter Davison – already a household name due to his role in vet drama All Creatures Great and Small, and someone who would continue to make other hit series during his tenure. Then the youngest actor to play the role, aged just 29 when he began filming, he nevertheless took the show closer to its early days with William Hartnell.

Whilst Baker and Pertwee had dominated every territory they found themselves in across time and space, and Troughton got stuck in meddling away with anything he could twiddle levers and push buttons on, Davison returned the part to that of an outsider: at times grumpy and irascible, with an incredibly moral backbone, yet often distant from events which frequently spiralled out of his control.

© BBC

© BBC

This was reflected in the way his Doctor became the first since Hartnell (UNIT personnel not withstanding) to have three full-time companions at once on a regular basis. Alien child (and mathematical brat) Adric, played by young Matthew Waterhouse, had joined during the Fourth Doctor’s final season, whilst both fellow alien genius Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and mouthy air hostess Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) had been roped into The Doctor’s world via the dastardly schemes of The Master.

This new team would, over the course of Davison’s first series, spend a little too long inside the TARDIS, bickering amongst themselves, or being sidelined as narrative requirements of four lead characters took their tole. Tegan seemed to dislike being stuck on the TARDIS, which had once more reverted to random travels, making her attempts to get back home rather difficult. Venting most of her frustrations at the Doctor, she did however form a bond with Nyssa, who in turn respected Adric, who didn’t seem to like anyone.

 

Therein, perhaps, lies one of the problems with Davison’s era. Tegan was bolshy and quick tempered, but she was at least believable, and played brilliantly by Janet Fielding. That she spent most of her time with The Doctor being exasperated by almost everything she came across could grate with a lesser actress, but for all her casual dismissal of her own abilities, Fielding carries most of this era on her own back, particularly when Davison’s Doctor remains at arm’s length for the majority of it.

Nyssa and Adric, however, just come across as humourless brats, and the latter’s demise at the hands of the Cybermen has become so celebrated by fans that there’s even a stop-motion animation on that story’s DVD release, in which his death becomes all the more final. Fairing a little better was their replacement: alien schoolboy Vislor Turlough (played by a man now best known for producing Steve Irwin’s wildlife documentaries, Mark Strickson).

© BBC

© BBC

Turlough’s premise was interesting from the off, as he was under the influence of The Black Guardian (a hammy as hell Valentine Dyall), and encouraged for several stories to try and kill The Doctor, with predictably flailing results. However, despite teases of potential in the character, and Mark’s talent as an actor, once this mini-arc is dealt with, nothing is ever made of his unusual nature again until his final story, Planet of Fire, which just so happens to be an absolute snore-fest.

 

In fact, whilst Davison’s successor has the dubious honour of being in the role during its most criticised period, it is the Fifth Doctor’s regime which feels the most like wasted opportunities. Davison is brilliant in the role, but most of his stories fall apart from poor script editing (courtesy of Eric Saward, whose infamy will be covered in the next instalment of these quick-start guides), shonky effects, overlit sets and just plain bad decisions.

Take, for example, The Master, now played by film actor Antony Ainley who would return on and off to the role until 1989. Having stolen the body of Nyssa’s father, his very existence should be a torment to her, yet the unemotional character seems to get over it all rather quickly. Which may be because Ainley is not so much chewing the scenery as making a metaphorical five course meal out of the sets, the lighting rig, the cameras and hell, the cast and crew too.

So when a character designed to be The Doctor’s equal ends up looking increasingly ridiculous, what does that say of the show itself? Shunted to a twice-weekly broadcast, away from its traditional Saturday night home, a show which had already started to show signs of disrepair in the late 70s was progressively finding itself increasingly out of date.

© BBC

© BBC

Whilst we’re on the subject of mistakes, let us stop for a moment to consider the character of Kameleon, brought into the series as a regular in The King’s Demons. Designed as a shape-shifting robot, the character – voiced by Gerald Flood – was in actual fact, a real robotic prop, which never really worked properly, and was quietly abandoned. Instead of having Kameleon use his ability to change form and be played by ANY ACTOR, which was shown on screen from the offset, he’s tucked away in a cupboard somewhere on the TARDIS for almost a whole year, returning just to be destroyed because his very existence was a loose end.

 

Sure, the 20th anniversary saw a feature length, back-slapping adventure with previous Doctors and companions brought back for popcorn fodder nonsense, but the very next time we saw The Doctor on screen, Hammer Horror legend Ingrid Pitt was doing piss-poor karate against an underwater beast that was, to all intents and purposes, a pantomime horse on a set lit so brightly one suspects it could be seen from space. For all the negativity hurled at the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, and all the love thrown at the Fifth, it is this era which took the show everyone loved, and accidentally wrecked it, however great Davison is in the role.

Suddenly, right at the end of The Fifth Doctor’s reign, with Tegan and Turlough gone and new companion Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant) giving the dads watching some eye-candy, a director came along who understood exactly how to make Doctor Who work, even when he was being restricted to studio-bound, multi-camera, sitcom style shooting methods. His name was Graeme Harper, and he turned in a story that was recently voted the finest in the series history, and would prove so popular he’d be invited back to direct several episodes for David Tennant’s Doctor all those years later.

But for The Fifth Doctor, time was at an end.  The man who battled Daleks, Cybermen, The Mara and Mawdryn met his end via the deadly poisons of Androzani Minor. Saving the life of a girl he barely met, it was time for change, and it seemed on a moment too soon…

© BBC

© BBC

 

STORIES TO AVOID:

Black Orchid: A rarity in colour Doctor Who, in that this little two-parter has no science fiction elements whatsoever beyond our TARDIS team, and the results play as a lovely little who-dunnit instead.

The Visitation: Gorgeous location work, an interesting companion-who-never-was, and the accidental starting of The Great Fire Of London.

Mawdryn Undead: The Brigadier returns in a story originally written to feature Ian Chesterton instead, but no matter, because it’s great to see him again.  This tale also introduces Turlough, and features the brilliant David Collings returning to the show as the titular villain.

The Five Doctors: Campy fun as Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton return, alongside a number of classic companions, in this love letter to the first 20 years of the show.

The Caves of Androzani: The Fifth Doctor’s finest moment, and also his last. A bleak morality tale, with a huge body-count, in which life for the Doctor gets progressively worse with each moment, until the only solution is death itself…

STORIES TO AVOID:

An awful lot of this era involves TARDIS arguments and/or crap monsters. Warriors of the Deep represents this best, with the much lauded return of the Silurians and Sea Devils falling apart due to overlit sets and the dreaded Myrka. Similarly, Arc of Infinity spent so much time pointing out how great it was to film on location in Amsterdam, it forgets to include a decent plot and criminally wastes the talents of Michael Gough. Too many other stories just end up dull as dishwater (hello Frontios, Enlightenment and Four to Doomsday), but the nadir of Doctor Who itself may come in the form of Time-Flight: in which The Master, for no apparent reason, disguises himself as a fat, oriental alien and hides in prehistoric times where he tries to steal a Concorde. No, we’ve no idea about that one either.

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Fourth Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE FOURTH DOCTOR: TOM BAKER 1974-1981

For many years, Tom Baker was the public face of Doctor Who. Long after he hung up his oversized scarf, the eccentric actor overshadowed his successors in the eyes of the average viewer, and became so synonymous with the role, he’s even a recurring sight gag in The Simpsons.

All of this is unsurprising, considering he was the incumbent Doctor for the longest sustained run of them all, lasting seven years, forty-one stories and a whopping one hundred and seventy-two episodes. There’s no denying that Baker, who later unsuccessfully tried to distance himself from the role, gave a defining performance, living and breathing Doctor Who on and off camera.

However, that’s not to say his tenure represents a true ‘Golden Age’ in the shows history, though if ever such a period could be argued, many would tell you it falls during the early part of his reign. Initially pared up with Third Doctor companion, Sarah Jane Smith (the ever wonderful Elisabeth Sladen) and bumbling UNIT medical doctor, Harry Sullivan (the incomparable Ian Marter), Tom’s early adventures are a blend of fantastical science fiction, gothic horror pastiches, and the final death-throes of the UNIT era.

The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sgt Benton (John Levine) crop up occasionally early on, but are quickly and quietly written out without any fanfare – both actors proving unavailable for what was intended to be their last hurrah in ‘The Seeds Of Doom’. Harry, too, was quickly abandoned – the character having been designed to fulfil the physical needs of an action hero had an older Doctor been cast, resulting in Marter being accidentally superfluous from the outset.

© BBC

© BBC

Nevertheless, it was the natural chemistry of Marter, Sladen and Baker that helps makes those first two seasons a firm favourite with fans.  And while the characters gel so well, the stories take the show back to its roots, away from earth invasions, and back out into space and time. The show even attempts its first story arc of sorts, across Harry’s entire time travelling with The Doctor and Sarah, with mostly golden results.

Genesis Of The Daleks, in particular, is often cited as one of the series’ finest moments, with Michael Wisher’s magnificent performance as twisted scientist Davros putting to rest the notion that classic Who was badly acted in one fell swoop. Indeed, his version of the character was mirrored to the letter by Julian Bleach in Tennant era shin-dig The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, making Sarah’s rematch against him in that later story all the more chilling.

When Sladen decided to leave the show after over three seasons, Tom Baker was despondent, and initially wanted to abandon the notion of a companion altogether. In The Deadly Assassin, he travels alone for the first time, but the needs of an audience – particularly dad’s watching after the footie results – forced the creation of warrior savage girl Leela (Louise Jameson). Dressed mostly in skimpy leathers, Leela was a new type of companion for The Doctor: part Eliza Doolitle, part brutal killer, and her initial adventures include some of the show’s true classics.

© BBC

© BBC

Yet the gothic nature of the series by this point was causing concern.  When a cliffhanger involving The Doctor’s head being forcibly held underwater caught the wrath of Mary Whitehouse (and was later cut from the episode until recently), producer Phillip Hinchliffe and script editor Robert Holmes were phased out and replaced by Graham Williams and a certain young writer called Douglas Adams, respectively.

Those of you who have read Adam’s very famous novels will be more than aware of the calibre of this comedic genius, who had recently been writing for Monty Python no less, and would go on to be one of the most highly regarded literary giants of the 20th century.  Yet his penchant for camping it up, and the show’s strict instructions to tone the horror element down, saw Doctor Who take a decidedly sillier turn.

Soon, The Doctor had a robot dog in the form of K-9 (voiced mostly by John Leeson), and Leela was hastily written out with a sudden and unlikely romance.  She was replaced by the late, great Mary Tamm as fellow Time Lord (or should that be Time Lady?) Romana, but Tamm’s time on the show was short lived, and Romana regenerated into the body of Lalla Ward.

© BBC

© BBC

 

By this point, Tom Baker was a superstar, and by his own admission, had become a nightmare to work with.  He was calling the shots in the studio, rewriting scripts at will, and the show descended into a self-aware, pantomimic mess.  Viewers – recently wowed by Star Wars – began to see the show negatively, and audience figures slumped so soon after they reached their all-time peak.

A revamp was in order, and Season Eighteen brought in change by the bucketload. Fresh titles, writers, composers and companions followed, and a brand new, more sombre outfit for The Doctor – all under the helm of bold new producer John Nathan Turner. However, it would also prove to be Baker’s last, as the actor quit the show that had made him a star. As he foiled a returning Master’s plans, and fell to his death from a radio dish, it truly was the end for The Fourth Doctor, but as ever, the moment had been prepared for…

© BBC

© BBC

 

STORIES TO START WITH:

The Ark In Space/The Sontaran Experiment/Genesis Of The Daleks: Bit of a cheat, this one, but all three stories link together and are such a delight, it’s worth watching them as a whole. Watch The Doctor tackle the creepy Wirrn, beat a lone Sontaran at his own games, then try to avert the creation of his deadliest foes – but do remember to try and avoid the very next story (more on that later…)

Pyramids Of Mars: Period England always looks so wonderful in Doctor Who, and this tale of alien mummies and an alien posing as an Egyptian god in 1911 is an utter delight.

The Robots Of Death: Agatha Christie in space, basically, as a spate of deaths on a mining vessel appear to be being committed by the serving bots, in spite of their core programming. Also features the most adorable robot sidekick you’ll ever meet in the form of D-84.

The Talons Of Weng Chiang: Ok, so the giant rat sucks and casting a white actor as a Chinese magician is pushing it a little in retrospect, but everything else about this is an undisputed classic.

Doctor Who does Sherlock Holmes for the first time, and its supporting characters Jago & Litefoot are so popular they now have their own spin-off audio series, 36 years on.

City Of Death: One of the few times in later Tom Baker seasons where everything gels, this Douglas Adams story sees a loved up Tom and Lalla Ward (who married briefly after they left the show) larking around in Paris, foiling the plans of slimy businessman, and secret alien, Julian Glover.

STORIES TO AVOID:

Revenge Of The Cybermen may see the return of the metal men from Mondas, but it’s the only real dud in the first two years of Baker’s tenure. Underworld saw budget cuts force a good 90% of the sets to be made entirely via green-screen with disastrous results. And pretty much all of Season 17 not written by Douglas Adams was an abomination, far worse than any so-called nadir in the later years of ‘Classic Who’…

Review: The Creepshow – Life After Death

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MUSIC NEWS.

It’s not often that a band’s entire future hinges on a viral video, yet for The Creepshow, the success of a particularly famous Gotye cover version almost destroyed the band for good. On the eve of a European tour, their singer Sara Blackwood – one fifth of that YouTube hit – walked out to join Walk Off The Earth, leaving the rest of the group frantically searching for a replacement.

That saviour came in the form of Kenda Legapsi, a long term friend of the band who had the guts to take centre stage, and the resulting tour was a resounding success, prompting the band to get back in the studio to begin work on this – their fourth studio album.

Beginning not with The Reverend’s usual sermon, but with the not-too-subtle sound of ‘the machine that goes ping’, it is nevertheless not long before its business as usual, tying the band’s Halloween vibe and rockabilly swagger into blistering knots for the album’s brief thirty-two minute run time.

For much of the record, there’s a definite ‘if it ain’t broke’ mentality in place – a band who know they do what they do so darn well, that they give their loyal fanbase exactly what they want – and nowhere is this more apparent than in recent single Sinners & Saints. Seriously, whoever decided that organs, double bass and punk rock are a great mix deserves a knighthood, and The Creepshow excel at this fusion.

That’s not to say there’s no room for experimentation. Born To Lose in particular, goes to places the band have never quite been before, with a full blown rock-n-roll duet that manages to include elements of glam rock and even a singalong 80s style chorus.

There’s also one of their closest homages to the genre’s 50s roots yet with The Devil’s Son, which could almost be a lost Johnnie Ray or Little Richard track if it wasn’t so darn noisy, in the best possible way! The track actually harks back to Kenda’s pre-Creepshow days, first appearing in her live sets three years ago, which perhaps goes someway towards explaining why she was the perfect choice for the band’s third lead singer!

Yet by the time the delightful ska-tinged Last Call arrives, surely destined to go down in the annals of the very best drinking songs, it’s clear there’s a white elephant in the room, and the happy-go-lucky vibes that surround their tongue-in-cheek macabre needs to be temporarily put aside, whilst the issue of THAT breakup is addressed.

At the time, the band were nothing but positive in public, wishing their former singer well as she went off around the world with her new family, but the defiant lyrics of the last few tracks here – together with a recent statement from bassist Sickboy that “NO-ONE is going to take away what we’ve built with this band” all seem to suggest her departure was not as rosy as it first appeared.

Take It Away appears to directly reference Blackwood, suggesting she almost destroyed everything but the band refused to lie down and accept their fate, with lyrics like: “You tricked yourself about the blood on your hands/Now the gun’s loaded and we know where you stand/Picked our pockets and you left us some gruel/Now you’re just somebody that I used to know…”

The lyrical theme continues, with the even more venomous Can’t Wait To See You Fall (“Picked you up, dusted you off, made you who you are/But now we’d give it all to see you fall”), and is made all the more powerful by giving each band member a moment in the spotlight, including slap bass breakdown, Hammond squizzling, guitar twiddling and Kenda’s finest vocal point on the album – so great, in fact, that the music just stops for a moment to appreciate it.

Yet despite the apparent venom, real or not, the final song – and the album’s title track – acts as a mission statement as much as it is an album highlight. “We don’t want to talk about it anymore,” the band sing, “So let us do what we were meant to do once more.” Truly it seems, that’s the case.

Life After Death may be short, and it may be sorely lacking a ballad moment – which the band previously excelled at – but what is there is bold, energetic, and does exactly what it says on the tin. With no regrets, and the past firmly behind them, The Creepshow are back to what they do best – making great music that’s filled with fun. Long may they continue.

Life After Death is released on Monday, October 21st. You can see the grisly video to second single, The Devil’s Son below.

Onion Talking: Neil Cole is… Man Vs Ride!

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

Tonight sees the proper UK launch of Man Vs Ride – the new science adventure show featuring Neil Cole taking on some of the biggest and best rollercoasters, thrill rides, races and unusual modes of transportation in the world.

© National Geographic

© National Geographic

The show airs on National Geographic at 10pm, and to celebrate, we thought we’d catch up with one of the busiest of TVO’s regular faces.

The results are below…

Neil Cole’s resume has to be one of the most varied in the business.  By day, he’s an alternative comedian, a theatrical actor of stage and screen, a radio dj, journalist and television presenter.  In his time, he’s presented Olympic Games coverage and the World Rally Championships, interviewed celebs on the red carpet for NME, and played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  One could almost suggest “Renaissance Man” be his middle name.

© Dave Brown

© Dave Brown

To TVO, it’s his comedy work that has attracted the majority of our attention.  A long-standing friend of The Mighty Boosh, Neil first shared the stage with them back in 1998, when Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt & Rich Fulcher guested in his Edinburgh show Psycho Vertigo Disco.

Over the years, he’s also worked with Dave Brown (on his 2011 Edinburgh show Neil By Mouth), Tom Meeten, Steve Oram, James Bachman, Barunka O’Shaughnessy, Waen Shepherd and The Actor Kevin Eldon to name but a few.  He opened for Russell Brand on tour, popped up in The Day They Came To Suck Out Our Brains, starred in Uxbridge Swain with James Wren & Richard Glover, and was a founder member of seminal cult sketch troupe Pros From Dover.

Today, we’re catching up with him to discuss his latest project – the epic Man Vs Ride for National Geographic.  Already airing in Australia, the series sneaked onto the UK version of National Geographic last week, without anyone – least of all Neil – noticing.

As such, TVO and Cole have decided to treat tonight’s airing, with a bit more prep time, as the (un)official launch.  It is, after all, a show worthy of our – and your – attention.

Asked to describe this globe-trotting documentary series in a nutshell, Neil suggests: “In a nutshell, it’s about everything you do to get OUT of your nutshell. It’s a popular-science look at thrill rides, adrenaline, roller coasters etc and what effects they have on our bodies.”

“Of all the amazing jobs I’ve done in my life,” he continues, “THIS is the one that everybody says “You call that WORK?!” – and I am very aware that there are rollercoaster fanatics who spend all their spare time and money to make a couple of theme park pilgrimages per year, maybe even per lifetime.  As someone who already travels a lot for work, this was pretty special.”

Taking in race cars, camels and anything else that looks like a thrilling challenge (yes, we did just say camels), it’s understandable that rollercoasters and thrill rides feature heavily.  They are, after all, perhaps many people’s first brushes with thrill seeking on this scale.  Neil, himself, has been a fan for a long time indeed.

© National Geographic

© National Geographic

“I went on my first proper rollercoaster in New Jersey, USA when I was 8 years old,” he explains, “and have loved them since then.  Easily the one that genuinely took my breath away first time was Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi.  It accelerates SO FAST you think something’s gone wrong. Your brain is like “shiiiiiiiiiiiiit! this can’t be right??!” as your lips flap around your ears. It is SO fast it has to slow down before the first climb, otherwise your eyes might pop out. Ridiculous!”

The great thing about Man Vs Ride is that it doesn’t just focus on rollercoasters.  For every Pepsi Max Big One, there’s a thrill that’s so far out there, it’d be very easy to say no.  For Neil, the biggest challenge lay in Soweto, an area of Johannesburg featuring the world’s largest Suspended Catch Air Device Freefall.  Taking riders 70m off the ground via a winch, it then simply lets go…

© National Geographic

© National Geographic

“That was really scary,” admits Neil.  “I did it 5 times in the same day, and I screamed EVERY time. But there was never a question of not wanting to do it. The issue for me is safety: “How likely am I to die or get seriously injured doing this? Pretty low? Then let’s goooo!” When it comes to things with genuine risk, then me & the producers have to have a serious conversation… and then I’ll normally do it anyway!”

Obviously, for all the natural fear of a near 230ft drop, it is, nevertheless, in controlled conditions.  That camel, on the otherhand…

“I rode a camel,” he tells us, “and that doesn’t have a seatbelt or a harness or a safety lap bar.  However, it does have a mind of its own!  That was strange, and possibly the weirdest experience for me.”

TVO wonders if he’s ever done anything stranger on previous globe-trotting endeavours.  “Before the show,” he suggests, “I guess the weirdest ride related thing I’ve done is the steel luge they’ve built to get down from the Great Wall Of China. I mean, you go to visit one of the Wonders Of The World and, oh – by the way, to get down? Slide down this wicked metal slide! Amazing. It’s like having a helter-skelter down the Eiffel Tower…”

That luge could be an idea for Series Two, and Neil has plenty of other possibilities to ponder if the show’s a hit.

“I would love to do some NASA astronaut training,” he tells TVO, “and experience genuine anti-gravity.  After experiencing 6G, I think it’s only fair I get to try zero G.  Plus there are some amazing coasters in USA & Japan.  We have barely scratched the surface.  The production company that makes the show have shows all over terrestrial TV, and Nat Geo shows frequently get syndicated, so if enough people watch it and like it, who knows where we could end up?”

© National Geographic

© National Geographic

So while it may be tucked away on National Geographic at present (admittedly with a worldwide reach!), there’s every possibility we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of Man Vs Ride in the future.  Either way, Neil’s hectic lifestyle is showing no signs of slowing down, and he’s already prepping a potential return to Edinburgh…

“My second solo show is under construction,” he reveals.  “It’s called Neil Cole Has A Problem With Gravity – a title and theme which existed long before Man Vs Ride came up.  It’s basically about my lifelong propensity for falling off, onto, over and under things… all while believing the rules of gravity don’t entirely apply to me, so filming the show has given me even more material.”

“Dan Antopolski liked me to Beast from the X-Men,” he adds.  “I think he means in the sense that I’m a strange mix of clever-pensive-guy and simian-jumping-loon-guy.  Now I just need to find an August I will be in the UK, and that will be my sophomore solo Edinburgh.”

There’s also more collaborations with fellow TVO regulars on the way, with one particular project whetting our appetites most of all…

© Neil Cole / Dave Brown

“I have a comedy filming project on the backburner which involves Dave Brown and Tom Meeten in very funny roles,” Neil confesses.  “There’s always people I’d like to work with who I haven’t, like Matt Holness and Richard Ayoade.  I’m a big admirer of both, and I was lucky enough to see the original Garth Marenghi’s Fright Knight show at the Pleasance, Edinburgh in 2000.  It remains one of the funniest live hours I’ve ever seen, so working with either of them would be great.”

If all else fails, TVO suggests, the news that 24 will be filming in London, means Neil could utilise his experience playing Jack Bauer in Pros From Dover spoof sketches 42, could be put to good use.

He thinks for a moment, then opines, “It will be interesting to see if they mimic our running-past-London-landmarks joke from Ep4.  And if Keifer needs a bum double, I’m there.”

Neil Cole, thank you very much.  Man Vs Ride begins tonight, Wednesday 16th October at 10pm on National Geographic.  You can see a gallery of extra images from the below.

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Third Doctor

IS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE THIRD DOCTOR: JON PERTWEE 1970-1974

Since its very inception, Doctor Who has been about change.  Indeed, the show has thrived on it, with a revolving door of cast members, and each successive story being set in a different time and place to the last.  There are a few recurring themes over the years, but precious few physical constants in the show across two successive years, let alone fifty of them.

Which is what makes Jon Pertwee’s era as the titular Time Lord one of the more unusual parts of the series history. Coming after a then unprecedented seven month break since the final part of Patrick Troughton’s swansong aired, the first season of Pertwee’s run was perhaps the biggest revamp the show has ever undergone whilst still in active production.

For starters, Doctor Who was now being produced in colour, even if few households at the time could receive it. It was also being shot differently: the reduced episode count from around 45 episodes a year down to approximately 25, and an increase in location work allowing for greater opportunities to edit the finished episodes than ever before.  There were new effects machines on offer, with the series becoming one of the pioneering homes of early Colour Separation Overlay – now commonly known as blue/green-screen.  Those glorious CGI epics you watch today all owe Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who a massive debt, not least because it was these episodes which the likes of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg got hooked on.

© BBC

© BBC

The big change, however, was the format of the show.  Tired of budget problems recreating alien worlds, and pleased with the success of (recently recovered) The Web Of Fear and The Invasion featuring UNIT soldiers battling monsters in present day England, outgoing producers Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant retooled Doctor Who into a fully-fledged revamp along those lines.

The Doctor, now under exile due to his meddling in time, has been forcibly regenerated into the imposing figure of Jon Pertwee: a suave, no-nonsense man of action.  Like the show at the time, he became two extremes – pompous enough to name-drop famous historical figures and work his way through the contents of other people’s wine cellars, but keen to burst the bubble of militaristic and bureaucratic types by pointing out how science was the logical solution to the monster of the week.

Paired up with his old friend, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (the ever wonderful Nicholas Courtney), the Doctor becomes UNIT’s official Scientific Advisor, and immediately hooks up with fellow scientist Dr Elizabeth Shaw (the late, great, Caroline John).  Suddenly, we’re in new territory, as the trio investigate various mysterious goings on at various military bases and scientific research facilities that involve living plastic Autons, prehistoric Silurians, missing astronauts and a project to drill to the earth’s core which could have deadly implications.

This initial season is often cited as amongst the show’s finest, and it’s not hard to see why – suddenly, Doctor Who was being played for adults just as much as it was for children, and the stories are intelligent yet packed with memorable, blockbuster moments. There’s no surprise Liz Shaw was paid tribute to in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, because the character would have fitted in perfectly.

© BBC

© BBC

Sadly, this approach wasn’t quite gelling for new producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, and Caroline John’s pregnancy sped up the decision to replace Shaw with a younger, ditsier companion.  Enter the loveable Jo Grant (gloriously eccentric Katy Manning), and an enhanced UNIT family.  Occasional soldier Sgt Benton (John Levine) was promoted to regular status, and a potential love interest for Jo was brought in, with Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin).  All of a sudden, the show’s period of constant change drew to a halt, and the show pretty much stayed in this ‘mode’ for the next three years.

Which, in itself is no bad thing, when the series was so much fun.  Season Eight gave birth to The Doctor’s arch nemesis, The Master – a fellow Time Lord played with Machiavellian delight by Roger Delgado.  The Master appeared in eight out of fifteen stories during this period, and whilst he became increasingly shoehorned in, it was always a delight to see the incredible Jon Pertwee square off against Delgado on screen. Long before Cumberbatch and Scott as Holmes & Moriarty was this equally dynamic pairing of two equals, batting wits, and the Doctor/Master rivalry has never been bettered in their subsequent incarnations.

The UNIT family battled Daleks, Sea Devils, giant maggots, Omega (with help from the First & Second Doctors, no less) and even a being who claimed to be the Devil himself.  For a while, they seemed unstoppable, even when the show began to explore travels in space and time once again, it always returned to UNIT HQ for some fun with the Brig, Benton & Yates.

And then, it all fell apart. Whilst filming a movie in Turkey, Roger Delgado was tragically killed in a car crash.  Not long afterwards, Manning decided to move on, and Pertwee announced he too, would leave the following year.  By the time Jo’s successor, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen – more on her next time) turned up, the Pertwee era was on borrowed time.  Yates was written out, and at the end of a deadly battle with giant spiders on Metabelis III, the Doctor stumbled back to UNIT HQ and died in front of Sarah Jane and the Brigadier.  As Lethbridge-Stewart put it during the regeneration: “Oh well, here we go again…”

© BBC

© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

Spearhead From Space: Pertwee’s debut, and the only classic Who ever shot entirely on film, this one looks beautiful on (possibly the only classic series) blu-ray, and is filled with epic moments – as the Nestine Consciousness turn innocent shop window dummies into children’s nightmares…

Inferno: The rather wonderful Season Seven concludes with a tale of a parallel Earth, an eye-patch wearing Brigade Leader, Liz Shaw rocking a fascist hair-cut, and Jon Pertwee at the top of his game.

The Mind Of Evil: A typical UNIT adventure, with The Master on top form, trying to control an alien device which is feeding on the evil thoughts of the inmates of Stangmore Prison.  Recently returned to vivid colour via magic technology, with episode one coloured frame-by-frame by two rather dedicated fans.

The Daemons: Spooky goings on in a quaint English village, where science meets is biggest foe… magic.

The Green Death: Famous as “the one with the giant maggots”, this one, in fact, is the one with the giant maggots.  And also the first time Who pulled at the heart-strings, as Jo accidentally breaks the Doctor’s hearts.

STORIES TO AVOID:

The two Peladon based stories (The Curse Of Peladon & The Monster Of Peladon) are dull allegories for political problems of the time, that fail to contain any Doctor Who magic.  The Time Monster is a pointless runaround in Atlantis, with a villainous computer genuinely called TOMTIT.  And Death To The Daleks has arguably the worst cliff-hanger ever, or the best depending on how you look at it… all fear the deadly patterned linoleum!!!

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Second Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE SECOND DOCTOR: PATRICK TROUGHTON 1966-1969

There’s an old adage that always seems appropriate to Patrick Troughton’s tenure as The Doctor: absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Certainly, the news this that a batch of previously lost episodes have indeed been found, and made available to fans quite possibly by the end of the month, has put the hearts of many fans in their mouths.  Could arguably the most important Doctor of all be due for a glorious return?

Looking at the statistics before any more details are revealed as to exactly what has been returned, it is Troughton’s time in the series that feels the most pain from the BBC’s archive purges in the late 1970s.  At a time when video tape prices were at a premium, sales of film copies had fallen as more and more stations worldwide began to embrace colour television, and archive material simply littered every nook and cranny of BBC Enterprises, it seemed logical to the powers that be that the hundreds of hours of material they were sitting on had no further use than to be taped over.

And that’s exactly what happened. The Beatles appearances on Top Of The Pops. Dad’s Army. Hancock’s Half Hour. Nobody saw the potential in all of this old material, and that included Doctor Who.  As it stood until this week, 106 episodes remained missing from the archives – 62 of which were from Patrick Troughton’s era.  From 21 serials, only six remained complete, and all but one of those were from his final season in the role.

© BBC

© BBC

What does survive, however, are audio recordings of every missing episode, and telesnaps (literally, photographs of a television screen which actors/directors would use to get work in the days before showreels) of the majority.  Piecing these together has been the only way to enjoy most of this era since it first aired, and whilst this is far from convenient, it has at least allowed fans to concentrate less on the cheap visuals, and more on storytelling and performance.

And the latter is where Troughton flourishes. The decision to recast the role of The Doctor as someone completely different to William Hartnell could have fallen flat on its face, but it works because he is mesmerising from the off.  At first eccentric to the extreme, with a penchant for funny hats, as he grows into the role he becomes the eternal outsider: a socially awkward little man in funny clothes who tricks those in positions of power into believing he is an ineffectual babbler, until the moment comes when he saves their lives by being magnificent.  The parallels to Matt Smith’s incarnation are obvious, and it’s no surprise that Smith cites Troughton’s first surviving story, The Tomb of The Cybermen, as his favourite story.

The dynamic of the show changed considerably during Troughton’s tenure too, further enhancing the show’s ability to survive for five decades.  Whilst he began travelling with First Doctor companions Ben and Polly (Michael Craze and Anneke Wills), the Second Doctor found his groove with the arrival of 18th century Highlander, Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines).  First appearing in Troughton’s sophomore story, he stayed with the show until Patrick decided to hang up his recorder and sonic screwdriver in 1969, and later returned to the series twice in the 1980s to pick up where Hines and Troughton left off.

© BBC

© BBC

If Jamie became the Doctor’s best mate for the first time, the arrival of another companion from the show’s past, Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) formed a tight knit trio, and offered the first real (and possibly, only) damsel in distress for the boys to rescue.  The Victorian orphan was phased out after a year, and replaced by a far more interesting character – futuristic genius Zoe Herriot (Wendy Padbury), who differed from superficially similar Susan and Vicki by being bubbly, full of life, and able to give as much as she got when it came to out-clevering The Doctor. Though in her spangly silver catsuit and a variety of miniskirts, she was a favourite with the dads perhaps even more than she was with the kids watching.

 Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and when Patrick Troughton decided to leave the show, so too did Hines and Padbury.  The threesome went out in a blaze of glory at the end of the epic ten-part adventure The War Games – Jamie and Zoe being returned to their own times, and The Doctor being put on trial for his meddling by his own people, the mysterious Time Lords.  A forced regeneration and a drop into the abyss, and the show was about to come down to earth with a bang…

© BBC

© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

The Tomb Of The Cybermen: Matt Smith’s favourite story, and a close as you can get to a science-fiction version of the Hammer Horror style Mummy movies.  Taught the Borg everything they know.

The Mind Robber: Scripting nightmares, budget problems and even cast illness were overcome with great style and imagination by setting a story in The Land of Fiction, where anything could happen!

The Power Of The Daleks: Possibly the missing story fans want to be returned more than any, The Second Doctor’s debut sees the return of his deadliest foes in one of their most dastardly schemes yet.

The Web of Fear: The first story to feature UNIT, who would go on to make a huge impact on the series, and the debut of Nicholas Courtney as (then Colonel) Lethbridge-Stewart, this one sees robot Yeti invading the London Underground on sets so realistic, the real London Underground tried to take legal action for filming in a tube station without permission!

The War Games: Yes, it’s ten episodes long. Yes, the bit in the middle is a bit of a runaround. Yet somehow, this is never less than thrilling, the time flies by, and when it comes to saying goodbye to all three series regulars at once, you’ll tell everyone something just got stuck in your eye…

STORIES TO AVOID:

Received wisdom is that The Space Pirates could possibly be the very worst Doctor Who story ever, and judging by the surviving audio, it’s not hard to understand why.  The Dominators may survive in its entirety, but most fans would happily swap it for any of the missing tales.  The Krotons fares better, but when the likes of Fury From The Deep and The Evil Of The Daleks are missing, it does feel like the wrong episodes got junked when stuff like this one survives.

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The First Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE FIRST DOCTOR: WILLIAM HARTNELL 1963-1966

The length and breadth of Doctor Who is so phenomenal, the majority of its fans came to the show late. That might have occurred in the 1970s, when Tom Baker’s floppy scarf ruled the airwaves, or more recently, when Matt Smith’s fringe was doing all the flopping instead.

Returning to the early days of the show can present something of a culture shock, especially as Doctor Who in 2013 is so far removed from the way it was made in 1963, it’s almost ridiculous. The first seasons don’t feature thirteen sumptuous high-definition blockbuster episodes with movie quality special-effects from The Mill. Instead they’re black and white, 405-line resolution, studio-bound ‘as live’ plays, airing for over 40 weeks a year and with as few fancy edits as possible. Stories would last for weeks on end, and any fluffs in dialogue had to be patched over and ignored, rather than screaming ‘cut’ and getting another chance.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the essential DNA of Doctor Who: that it can take audiences to any time, any place, and hop between genres with comparative ease. In its earliest incarnation, there was a determined effort to alternate science-fiction tales of alien worlds and the distant future, with historical tales (usually with an educational element), in which the only trappings of sci-fi are the cast of time travellers.

Said time travellers are led by The Doctor, here far more mercurial than we have grown accustomed to. Played by William Hartnell, he is erratic, cold and calculating, and precious little is revealed about his origins, only that he and a young girl he calls his grand-daughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) are exiles from their home planet, “wanderers in the fourth dimension”. The real heroes of early Doctor Who are curious school-teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and it’s no real surprise that they teach science and history respectively.

It is Ian & Barbara, who introduce the humanistic element to The Doctor’s persona, and over time, he begins to soften up and grow fond of his new companions, eager to replace them when he inevitably leaves them behind. Susan gets dropped off on a future Earth, quickly to be replaced by the very similar young genius, Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), and when Ian & Barbara leave, The Doctor quickly meets dashing young space pilot Steven Taylor (Peter Purves of Blue Peter fame).

© BBC

© BBC

As the production team behind the scenes lost its initial stability, with a fast turnover of producers and script-editors, so too, were companions exchanged in quick succession. The latter half of William Hartnell’s reign saw him team up with Troy hand-maiden Katarina (Adrienne Hill), space agent Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh), and the show’s first working class contemporary female companion, Dodo (Jackie Laine), who suffers the unfortunate honour of being dumped off-screen

mid-story because the actresses contract was not renewed. Finally, he travels with 60s sailor Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and his friend Polly (Anneke Wills), but Hartnell’s ill health was taking its toll, and the producers decided he had to go, and an idea popped into their heads that would see the show handed the technique by which it would last for five decades…

Hartnell’s era was, like all periods in Doctor Who’s history, filled with classic serials, with a smattering of truly awful episodes that are a chore to sit through. It is his Doctor who first met the Daleks and the Cybermen. He had adventures with Marco Polo, accidentally burnt down Rome, and got mistaken for Doc Holliday in the Wild West. The show in his tenure was noticeably a different beast to that it would later become, but accept you’re watching archive television made in another time entirely, and there’s a lot of fun to be had from his adventures. The saddest part is that 36 of his episodes no longer exist as anything more than audio recordings, due to archive purges in the 1970s, but what we do have is the stuff of legends, and long may it continue to be so.

© BBC

© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

The Dalek Invasion Of Earth: Lots of action, Daleks meandering about London landmarks, and a few iconic speeches from Hartnell.

The Time Meddler: Carry On… veteran Peter Butterworth as a time traveller causing havoc in Saxon England.

The Aztecs: A glorious study in morality as Barbara is mistaken for the goddess Yetaxa and tries to rewrite history.

Marco Polo: Only surviving as audio, this is still a delight, as The Doctor and friends traverse the Himalayas with the famous explorer.

The Chase: Absolutely bonkers comic-book mayhem made at the peak of Dalekmania, taking in alien planets, the Mary Celeste, the Empire State Building and both Frankenstein and Count Dracula. No, really.

STORIES TO AVOID:

Dull as dishwater trio The Web Planet, The Savages and The Sensorites have precious little going for them. Avoid these snooze fests like the plague.

Remembrance… 25 Years As A Fan Of Doctor Who

A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION OF HOW I BECAME A DOCTOR WHO FAN, WRITTEN AS AN EXCLUSIVE PIECE FOR THIS BLOG.

Twenty five years ago this weekend, when most of the nation was tucked on the sofa with a cuppa and the latest instalment of Corrie, the landmark twenty-fifth season of a perennial science fiction adventure series began airing to little fanfare over on ‘the other side’.  Doctor Who was back with a bang, even if a decreasing number of people watched it.

© BBC

In Remembrance Of The Daleks, The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and his new companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive in London in 1963, a few days after he left the area in the very first episode 25 years earlier.  The Doctor had left something special behind, and his arch enemies, The Daleks, were after it, and him.  Allying himself with investigating military officer Group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams), his scientific advisor Dr Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem) and her assistant Alison (Karen Gledhill), The Doctor pro-actively sets about pitting two warring Dalek factions against once another, so that the right lot get their hands on his well hidden treasure, the mythical Hand of Omega.

It’s rightly described as one of the show’s highlights across 50 years, 33 seasons and 800 episodes.  McCoy and Aldred’s chemistry is apparent from the off, and Ben Aaronovitch’s script crackles with witty lines and clever references to the show’s past.  It even goes meta at one point, with a cheeky reference to a brand new science fiction series airing on a television in the background, and better still, has a glorious one-scene role from future Fresh Prince Of Bell Air star Joseph “Geoffrey the bulter” Marcell.

More importantly for me on a personal level, is that this story became my earliest memory of Doctor Who.  There’s a possibility that, with fan parents, it may not be my first exposure to the series, but these four episodes made such an enormous impact on those cold October evenings, that the show cemented itself a place in my heart, of which I sadly possess only one.

My parents had cleverly figured from my fascination with the trailers that I would enjoy this show enough to want it on tape afterwards, even at a time when blank videos were still pretty expensive.  After all, they had enjoyed the show themselves in their youth, so it was a logical assumption that I might also, and as the globe appeared on screen and my dad pressed play and record on the machine (there was no remote control back then!), my world was changed forever.

© BBC

At the age of three years and eleven months, I was entranced by this funny little man with a question-mark umbrella, and his awesome friend with a baseball bat to bash the bad guys and a rucksack full of explosives.  To me, The Doctor and Ace were the best buddies anyone could ever hope to have, and as their adventures continued in the coming weeks, I longed to join them.

When I reached primary school in the autumn of 1989, the duo returned for their final voyages, and their adventures would be acted out in the playground, as generations had done previously.  We’d be running away from Daleks and Cybermen, going to alien planets (ok, the trees at the top end of the playground), and dreaming of one day going away in the TARDIS for real. I was also going to marry Ace, which in retrospect I realise is something the character would have hated.  Then again, I was also going to marry Kylie Minogue, Tiffany and the cartoon version of April O’Neil, but we’ll keep that childish lack of understanding around bigamy laws to one side, and stick with Doctor Who, eh?

And then, suddenly, it was all over.  Doctor Who was dumped by the BBC, quietly, and without any of the public furore that had greeted their earlier attempt at killing it off.  Years later, those responsible for the decision admitted they carefully planned the organisation, deliberately putting the show on against the nation’s top rated soap, to give it as little chance as possible to survive.

And yet, survive is exactly what it did.  At first, this came through video sales, and the handful we could afford as a child offered me a tantalising glimpse of the Doctor’s other faces and former friends.  Stories like The Ark In Space and The Robots Of Death were quintessential Who, still hugely regarded to this day – but at the time, for me, they were just as good as the rest of what I had seen.

Then came the BBC repeats, starting with The Time Meddler, The Mind Robber and The Sea Devils, and before too long, I had seen at least something of every Doctor, taping every episode to watch over and over again.  The 30th anniversary brought a brand new story on telly, which is rightly something fans try to forget about in retrospect, but at the time was so exciting for this nine year old.  I still have the 3D glasses required to this day.

© BBC / Universal

Books came out, the magazine thrived, and then suddenly, the Doctor was back – with a brand new face for one night only thanks to an American co-production.  Then came comic strips in the Radio Times, and more novels to get into. By the turn of the century, Doctor Who was long gone from our screens.  It was, however still out there, somewhere, even if my interest temporarily waned with nothing on screen to grab my attention as a teenager with limited cash, and lots of rock bands to get into.

Then, ten years ago, I spotted a special dvd box-set in WH Smith, bringing together three stories featuring the Daleks, including the one that had so wonderfully caught my imagination back in 1988.  Taking it home, I devoured all three tales – The Dalek Invasion Of Earth was glorious, and beautifully restored.  Resurrection Of The Daleks was a bit disappointing, but it had its moments.  And oh, Remembrance Of The Daleks, how I still loved you.  Just as good as it had been on clunky vhs all these years, first taped off the telly, then in a Dalek tin edition, but now remastered and looking better than ever.

It was at that point, that I decided to get back into the show in a big way.  Buying up every dvd currently available, by the end of 2004, I was on track to buy every successive title as it was released, and have stuck with it ever since.  Books came along that I devoured once again, just as I had clung to “Ace”, “The Monsters” and that ex-library copy of Peter Haning’s 20th anniversary book “A Celebration” in my childhood. The magazine got revamped and became better and better with each issue.  But most importantly of all, around the same time I picked up that dvd and fell in love with Remembrance once more, the BBC announced there would be a brand new series of Doctor Who.

And before we knew it, we had three more Doctors to fall in love with and another on the way, in the form of the magnificent Peter Capaldi.  The show is now bigger than ever, and it’s heartwarming to see kids run around the Doctor Who Experience, knowing the names of all the Doctors and reading the books and magazines with the same vigour I did at that age. These children are also collecting the dvds and the passage of time and the increasingly clunky looking special effects never get in the way of what has always made the show so magnificent: the stories.

© BBC

Twenty-five years after Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred popped up on a London street, investigating a strange black van outside Coal Hill School, fans around the world are itching to see a glimpse of the 50th anniversary special on television, and dying to hear the audio play from Big Finish that unites Doctors Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight in one adventure.  Come November 23rd, we’ll all be raising a glass to those who have given their all since 1963, to The Greatest Show In The Galaxy.

Thank you to all of the Doctors, the companions, writers, producers, script-editors, directors, guest stars and anyone else who made their mark on the show.  Love to those who are here to enjoy the celebrations with us, and remembrance for those we have lost along the way – from producers Verity Lambert, Barry Letts and John Nathan Turner to stars William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Jacqueline Hill, Adrienne Hill, Michael Craze, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen and Mary Tamm, plus everyone else taken from us in between.

And extra special thanks to Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, script-editor Andrew Cartmell, writer Ben Aaronovitch, director Andrew Morgan and everyone else involved with the production of THAT story, and THAT season, 25 years ago, for making me the fan I am, and to some extent, the person I am, today.

© Paul Holmes

As you can see, I still have my vhs tape of Remembrance Of The Daleks and The Happiness Patrol, recorded off air in November 1988 and with titles scribbled on by my young hand.  And one day, my children and I hope, grandchildren, will be given that tape.  Chances are they will have absolutely no way of playing it, but it will be passed down as a personal treasure of mine to keep hold of because, whilst it has long since been consigned to the past, that tape marks the moment with which I truly began to dream.

Remembrance Of The Daleks is available on dvd now. You can pick it up from Amazon here.

Review: The Duckworth Lewis Method @ Manchester Academy, 26.09.13

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION. AN ALTERNATE, SHORTER REVIEW WITH LESS EMPHASIS ON PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF THE BAND WAS ALSO WRITTEN FOR MUSIC NEWS.

© The Duckworth Lewis Method

Earlier this year, we told you all about Sticky Wickets – the second album from art rock band The Duckworth Lewis Method.  As with their 2009 debut, the record featured the vocal talents of Matt Berry, whose groin also graces the inside cover and subsequent merchandise on sale now.

That the record also happens to be one of the finest albums we’ve heard all year is no surprise, given that TDLM are in fact a combination of two of Ireland’s finest – Thomas Walsh of Pugwash (who recently toured with Berry), and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy (and of course, the theme music for Father Ted and The IT Crowd if you need a further TVO connection).

Musically, the album was gloriously archaic – a timewarp to the 1970s and 80s with ELO, 10cc, The Beach Boys and even Art Of Noise references jostling with trad. jazz influences, spoken word interludes from big name celebs (Stephen Fry & Daniel Radcliffe, anyone?) and glossy production.

That symphonic baroque fusion, with lyrics focused on that last bastion of English sporting tradition – wonderful, glorious cricket – could have been hard to pull off live, yet the incredible talents of Hannon, Walsh and fellow Pugwash refugee Tosh Flood ensure that’s never going to be the case.

© Paul Holmes / The Velvet Onion

Crammed onto the tiny stage of Manchester Academy 3, the band are dressed in typically cricket-inspired attire, attempting to defy the heat of the stage lights and the small but packed out venue with a variety of hats, scarves and cricket whites.

Thomas Walsh takes centre stage, acoustic guitar slung over his mighty shoulders, flanked by Neil Hannon on his right and Tosh Flood on his left.  Instantly, the camaraderie between them is apparent: they may look gimmicky writing songs about cricket, but they love the game and they love one another, and it shows.

Blasting their way through most of their two albums, the band are on fine form throughout, and intersperse the tracks with audience interaction and chit-chat that out-does most live comedy shows in terms of laughs per minute.

Walsh, in particular, is on fire – banging out witticism after witticism, most of which we couldn’t possibly repeat here.  After a particularly cheeky spot of mickey-taking, Hannon comments at one point, “I’m not paying your legal fees for this!”  The big guy in the top hat retorts: “Imagine me in prison. Don’t bend down for the soap? I feckin’ can’t!”

© Paul Holmes / The Velvet Onion

The evening also acts as an opportunity for Flood to shine.  After an early microphone mishap causes a roadie to distract the audience from his foot on the speaker rock guitarist stance, Tosh makes his mark with daft comments and an impromptu rendition of The James Bond Theme.  Yet it’s his beautiful guitar work that resonates after the show just as much as his tales of late night shopping for Wotsits.

As for Hannon, it’s becoming increasingly rare to see the mastermind in his element on stage, and it’s a delight to get that opportunity in such an intimate venue.  As typically charming and eloquent as one would expect, he’s also incredibly self-demeaning – particularly when he simply cannot remember the words to Jiggery Pokery, and lets the song descend into a hilarious running commentary of how a cricketing legend may possibly murder him one day.

Besides this little mishap, the tunes are note perfect all night long, and the frivolity on stage keeps the crowd energetic and surprisingly pleasant, even when faced with improvised reworkings of songs by The Smiths and James Blunt in the name of comedy.

It’s an incredible, feel good vibe that only comes from musicians at the peak of their game – talented enough to have the song-legs to stand on, but human enough to leave egos at the door and just have a damn good time.

It’s quite common to walk out of a gig and feel elated, but less frequent to still have that feeling the following day.  Even rarer, is that wish you were going to back and do it all again the following evening, but after a few hours in the company of Duckworth and Lewis, you’d be hard pressed not to.  Splendid.

The Duckworth Lewis Method are currently on tour, with dates in Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Dublin and Belfast still to come. For more info, visit their website.  Their albums – The Duckworth Lewis Method and Sticky Wickets – are both available now via The Velvet Onion Amazon UK Store.