I always enjoy recording podcasts, either my own or as a guest. September is turning into a busy month for me. First off is the second part of my interview for The Time Scales YouTube channel. Greg continues our conversation with questions about writing pantomimes, Bolton Little Theatre, Will Hadcroft’s Fine Line story The Chattath Factor, promoting yourself on social media, taking rejection, and the future of Doctor Who. You can watch Part Two here and I hope you’ll find it interesting. Greg and his wife have done a great job creating a programme out of our lengthy, pleasant conversation.
You might remember The Randomiser from previous mentions, a brilliant Doctor Who podcast featuring my old friends Tim Reid and Charles Auchterlonie. It’s a chat show where the two of them debate a story chosen at random, alongside several mini-features like “No complications”, finding magic moments of greatness and naffness in the long-running programme. The latest episode is out now and I had the pleasure of being their special guest for the the second time. We talked about The Faceless Ones, the recent Star Trek The Motion Picture cinema re-release, Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s fascinating children’s drama King of the Castle and held a tribute to the much missed Bernard Cribbins. I only hope we did justice to him. You can listen to Just looking for Wombles, officer on their Anchor.fm website or find them on all the major podcast platforms.
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed by Greg for his Youtube channel The Times Scales, a place dedicated to Doctor Who. I’d originally planned to try and keep to a disciplined hour, but we ended up talking for nearly three, so the interview is being released in two halves. You can watch part 1, about being a fan of the classic series, thoughts on the so-called Wilderness Years, and the joy of its mainstream success when it returned. We also talk about my BBV productions, Audio Visuals and my own fan audio stories. The second half will continues with more about Westlake Films, my pantomimes, the future of Doctor Who and the excellent writing advice of Georgia Cook.
We had met online via Will Hadcroft, whom Greg had already interviewed as part of Will’s promotion of his BBC audiobook The Resurrection Plant. Greg was interested in covering my journey as a creative too, so we arranged a date and had an enjoyable conversation. Greg proves to be an excellent interviewer and I think he’ll only get better. You can watch part 1 now below and I hope you get something good out of it. If you have any questions yourself as a consequence, feel free to drop me a line here or on Twitter @gazhack.
It’s surprising to realise that Doctor Who has rarely used the Industrial North as a setting. We have seen adventures set in futuristic factories and warehouses, visited the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Mark of the Rani and had a few romps into Steampunk. Big Finish has touched on it in The Peterloo Massacre and Industrial Evolution but that landscape of terraced houses, looming smoke-belching factories and municipal buildings that could be found from Birmingham to Newcastle has remained the province of Coronation Street and contemporary drama. So having the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe land on the corner of a cobbled street in Will Hadcroft’s The Resurrection Plant feels quite fresh.
Not that this is the actual North of England. In fact the TARDIS has brought our friends to Calico Three, a small habitable planet where the rural colony the Doctor remembers is in the grip of an unexpected mechanisation. What’s more the factories are capitalism run wild, with human workers mere expendable cogs in the machine. But nobody minds because on this planet everyone can be brought back to life thanks to the Resurrection Plant, even if occasionally they change gender along the way. The travellers investigate but are soon captured, just in time for a factory accident to lead to the creation of a terrifying mutation in the newly grown humans.
The author captures the the characters of the regulars extremely well. Patrick Troughton’s Doctor can be hard to capture in print, since so much of his character is in his delivery, but here he’s compassionate, curious, mischievous and has moments of righteous indignation. Jamie and Zoe both get moments to shine on their own too. The story seems to be setting up as a Frankenstein-influenced piece about Ren, a technocrat facing up to consequences of treating his workforce as commodities, together with a fearsome but misunderstood monster, but there’s a second act twist which takes us into another kind of drama, one that I was worried was going to ruin the authentic Sixties atmosphere that Will had recreated. Thankfully he skilfully avoids this.
Fraser Hines has been sharing his enjoyable Troughton impersonation for a while in Big Finish audio plays and books. It’s great to hear it again. Elsewhere he is an excellent reader in general and tells the story with animation and a good pace. Similarly impressive is the soundscape.
There are echoes of The Rebel Flesh and The Quatermass Experiment, but ultimately this is a great original adventure. It tells a story probably too difficult for the television series of the time to realise well, and instead takes advantage of the freedom of prose. An excellent addition to this year’s mini-Troughton celebration, along with the recently released animated recreation of The Abominable Snowmen.
Will Hadcroft of course is a friend of mine and its been marvellous to see him achieve the ambition of writing an official Doctor Who story. He’s previously written several novels and many moons ago an adventure for my old fan audios Fine Line, called The Chattath Factor, which has recently been re-released on Youtube. It was a marvellous story to end my fan series on.
Several fun news items to report on today. My old friend Will Hadcroft has achieved one of his personal ambitions (and mine too someday) of having an official Doctor Who story released. The Resurrection Plant is being released on CD and download by the BBC and Penguin Books on 4th August 2022. It features the Second Doctor (as played by Patrick Troughton), together with Jamie and Zoe and is read by Frazer Hines, who not only played Jamie in the television series but in recent years has been acclaimed for embodying the Second Doctor in new adventures for Big Finish. Here’s the description:
The TARDIS brings its occupants to Calico Three, an Earth-like planetoid where industrial foundries are worked alongside sophisticated technology. The Doctor is staggered to learn about the Resurrection Plant, which re-births anyone mortally wounded in the line of work. While Jamie is put to work in the foundry, Zoe and the Doctor investigate the Plant – but when the machine goes terribly wrong, they must work with the locals to combat a horrifying monster. The Doctor also uncovers a shameful secret that, for him at least, hits close to home.
Will’s been on the publicity trail for his audiobook and was recently extensively interviewed by Greg for the YouTube channel The Time Scales. He’s also just guested alongside myself on The Folklore Podcast.
Hosted by author, lecturer and folklore expert Mark Norman, The Folklore Podcast is a long running series which “…began in the summer of 2016, after it became apparent that there were very few podcasts which dealt with folklore in an accessible and yet informative way. Most were of the storytelling, ‘campfire’ variety. The ethos of this podcast is simple. To bring world-class experts in the fields of folklore and its associated areas of interest to a wide audience, completely free of charge.” (taken from the official Folklore Podcast website)
Will mentioned my name to Mark after being invited on to talk about the crossovers between Doctor Who and folklore. What followed was an entertaining hour and a bit of conversation between the three of us, looking at the ways the programme had used not just British myths but legends of other cultures too, such as China and Greece. A theme developed that in an almost Scooby Doo fashion, whatever was introduced as supernatural was almost inevitably unmasked as alien by the end of the story. We gave special attention to The Daemons, The Awakening, The Curse of Fenric and The Shakespeare Codex. Our debate moved into the show’s educational remit, its treatment of religion and the often thin line between genuine folk stories and cinema inventions. I enjoyed guesting a lot, and you can listen to the finished episode on your favourite podcast platform or directly from the website.
Speaking of podcasts I have recorded two conversations so far, covering The Aliens and The Flipside of Dominick Hide and I am currently editing them for hopeful release later this month. So watch this space.
I am pleased to say that I have graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University after four years, having achieved a First Class honour in BSc Digital Technology and Solutions Apprenticeship.
Hope you are well. A quick round up of several pieces of interesting news.
Firstly, I am hosting the latest episode of the Official Talking Pictures TV podcast which has just been release, covering the Talking Pictures schedule for second half of October. For non-UK readers, Talking Pictures is marvellous, family run independent UK television channel which shows vintage movies from the 30’s to the 80’s. The podcast was started by Adam Roche, the genius behind the podcasts Attaboy Clarence and The Secret History of Hollywood. Later he handed into the capable hands of Scott Phipps, Mel Byron and Daniel Reifferscheid who’ve been doing a marvellous job since. But they deserve a break, so several regular contributors including myself are handling an episode each.
So I was sent MP3’s of the guest reviews and it was up to me to edit them into a programme, providing the linking material and adding some extra thumbnail reviews. Juggling that with my other work has been a challenge but happily I was able to clear an evening to put it together. Basically trying not to drop the ball. In this show you can hear reviews of films like Mona Lisa, Leave Her to Heaven and The Quatermass Xperiment. You can download it from this link or listen on all the major podcast apps.
Excellent news from my mate Rik Hoskin. His graphic novel Only Death Can Save Us won the Indie Volt Award from Best Graphic Novel of 2021. Rik adds “I say ‘my’ when really it’s mostly Russ Leach’s work, I just provided the script! Book 2 has just launched crowdfunding on indiegogo, so the award came at a good time!”
Another friend and a splendid guest on the debut episode of my podcast Very British Futures, Nigel Anderson, has been busy on his own video podcast Doctor Who – Most Wanted and episode 3 is on Youtube now. He’s joined by VBF regular John Isles to talk about the Dalek stories, especially the missing or unmade episodes. It’s just as polished as the first episodes and well recommended.
It’s getting busier as a new academic year looms and the UK slowly brings itself back to normality after more than a year of lockdowns and distancing. I’ve reached that stage where I am having to be careful about how I manage my time and future plans, but that’s really a good state of affairs to be in.
The Very British Futures podcast has been a great success and definitely the most fulfilling project I’ve been involved in for a long while. It’s been great to reconnect with some old friends and make some new ones along the way. Plus I’ve enjoyed the speed of the production process too. So it will be a wrench to take a break but I need to to concentrate on the final year of my BSc apprenticeship. Season 1 will be ending with a look at Outcasts and a reunion of three regular contributors. Season 2 will be coming in the Spring of 2022 and will feature another wide spread of British programmes, from Day of the Triffids to The Comic Strip. Thanks to all the blog readers who have supported it.
Rik Hoskin’s novel Bystander 27 has made a good debut. You can read my review on the blog. For newcomers it’s a fresh take on the superhero genre, looking at what it is like to live as an ordinary New Yorker in a city that seems to constantly under attack by super criminals, invasions from other dimensions, and power crazed scientists. Whilst Captain Light and The Jade Shade fight in the air above Manhattan one day, it’s business as usual for Jon Hayes, ex-soldier, and his pregnant wife Melanie, Until a burning helicopter thrown from the sky crushes Melanie in front of her husband. Grief starts Jon asking questions about the whole pantheon of superbeings. Why are there unnamed leagues of minor and major superheroes who only fight enemies at their ‘level’? Who can hold people like The Mechanic to account? Why is the world imperiled once a year by a threat that can only be defeated by a large team up? As Jon delves deeper he’s shocked to find his search coming painfully close to home.
The nature of modern publishing being what it is, reviews and social media are significant indicators that what publishers’ keep an eye. So not only do I recommend the book, if you have read it or do in the future, if you can leave a short review on Amazon etc. or just tweet your thoughts, it can really help. You can buy Bystander 27, a standalone fantasy novel from all good bookshops.
Unusually, some news from my day job. Manchester Metropolitan University’s Brooks Resource Centre was recently featured as a model of good practice by the National Technician Development Centre. You can read an article about where I work on the website, and see the above lovely picture of myself and fellow technician Lucy (pretending to be a customer).
After a long hiatus, Bolton’s amateur theatre scene is coming back to life. I’m currently involved getting the sound together for Bolton Little Theatre’s first production of the season Dick Barton – Special Agent. It’s quite a challenge since as well as the needs of this play, I am also putting the sound deck back together again and upgrading it too. But it will be ready for 13th September.
Dick Barton – Special Agent is a fast-moving comedy, affectionately mocking the famous 30’s/40’s hero of radio, TV and film, as he and his sidekicks Snowy and Jock battle Evil Foreigners In London (EFIL) and their plan to drug the nation with cannabis-laced tea. Running 13-18th September 2021. You can book online now.
Although I have stopped linking to every review, I am still a regular reviewer on the Talking Pictures TV podcast. The station has gone from strength to strength, with an increasing amount of vintage British television joining their film library. Their Saturday Morning Pictures programming has been a big success, and they are hoping for equal reaction to their new Friday night cult film nights, The Cellar Club, hosted by Caroline Munro. I review the first night on the current podcast, which includes Hammer’s The Mummy and nudie flick How to Get Undressed in Public. Available, like Very British Futures, on all major podcasting platforms.
Recently I had the pleasure of guesting on The Randomiser podcast, talking about Doctor Who and Red Dwarf with Tim Reid and Chas Auchterlonie. The time flew by and hopefully the episode will be out soon. In the meantime you can check out this excellent banter pod at randomiserpodcast.buzzsprout.com
In further podcast news, my friends and VBF contributors John, Dani and Rebecca will shortly be starting Tripodscast, all about the classic BBC SF show and perfect if we’ve intrigued you with our recent coverage. Nicky Smalley is also going into the podcast business with Unended, a show pondering what happened next to the fictional lives of characters in popular TV shows.
I’ll be back soon with more on Outcasts soon and other theatre news. Thanks for reading.
Shortly before I started out making my own podcast series, I took part in Nigel J Anderson’s own video podcast Doctor Who Most Wanted, alongside Brian M Clarke. The same line-up would meet again online a couple of weeks later to record the first episode of Very British Futures.
Now that podcast is available on Youtube and I urge you to watch, especially if you have been enjoying Very British Futures. The focus of this episode is on reconstructions of missing episodes, both official and fan-made. I knew Nigel had ambitious ideas but I’ve been taken aback with how polished and visually entertaining the episode has turned out, thanks to the many hours he has put into it, to turn a Skype chat into a proper half hour episode.
Where possible the Skype footage is enlivened with CGI illustrations, alongside an animated clip of the unmade William Hartnell story Masters of Luxor, a clip from Nigel’s live action recreation of the opening chapters of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, plus other animations.
We cover quite a range of topics in course of the episode, including a look back at The Stranger series starring Colin Baker, the recent animated Troughton stories, and what stories we would especially like to be returned to the BBC archive.
In other news, there is still a little time to take part in Rik Hoskin’s Terror Trumps Kickstarter campaign and get a copy of his marvelous 70’s retro horror card game. If you want to learn more, take a look at their Kickstarter page http://kck.st/3bLx6zm
It’s time to take care of a little unfinished business. Back in 2020 I was kindly invited by Dylan Rees onto the podcast Doctor Who – Too Hot for TVto discuss the legendary TV21 Dalek comic strip. I was in the process of moving house at the time so my own copy of the strips and other related books were locked away in storage, so I had to rely on my memories and the internet for details. It all worked out in the end I think Dylan and I created a fun episode. However there was one story which neither of us could remember a single detail about. It has variously been listed by fan sites as The Emissaries of Jevo or The Seeds of Arides (the comic strip had no individual chapter titles) and ran between issues 90 and 95.
As the supposed guest expert on the show, this has irked me since and Panini’s recent restored release of the TV21 comic series in a glorious new edition last November 2020 has given me a chance to upgrade my collection and refresh my memory.
This is certainly the definitive reprint of the British classic comic strip. Thanks to Gerry Anderson’s own archive and contributions from collectors, many of the original artboards have been digitally scanned, supplemented by scans from the best surviving issues of TV21. Digital technology and printing is now at a stage where these 104 pages not only look as good as they did coming off the printing press in 1965, but it in fact often better. Bight colours zing, and the skilled draughtsmanship of Richard Jennings, Eric Eden and Ron Turner looks sharp and detailed. Well presented in bookazine format on quality paper and supported by some excellent archive articles, this is for my money the best Doctor Who publication of 2020.
The Emissaries of Jevo was wholly illustrated by Ron Turner and written David Whitaker, Doctor Who’s script editor who wrote the large majority of the strip, with supplemented help from Angus Allen. The spacecraft “Guardian” and its crew from the planet Jevo is despatched on a secret mission to Arides to destroy a mutated species of plants. The flowers, infamous for their pollen which destroys all rival organic life, have mutated to gigantic size and now threaten to poison the galaxy. Unfortunately the ship is captured by the Daleks, who are quite happy for these flowers to unleash galactic genocide. Through a ruse, Captain Kerid persuades the Dalek Emperor that Daleks are vulnerable to the seeds too and his ship is released. When the Daleks discover the trick, they pursue the Jevonians, who heroically choose to complete their mission, even though it means certain extermination.
Despite its silly premise about mutant space pollen, this is a typically good example of the strip. Whittaker had developed a general rule that when the Daleks faced human looking opponents they would always lose, but in this story that guideline is cleverly bent. Although the Daleks destroy the Jevonians, it is an empty victory since the the flowers are destroyed and even the Emperor has a moment of doubt about whether they can ever truly conquer the human spirit. Curiously the crew of the good ship “Guardian” are described throughout as androids, yet this has no bearing on the story at all. We do not learn if all Jevonians are androids or just their astronauts, we never see them use any robot abilities and the crew certainly seem to have a full range of emotions. Kirid and his second in command even have a violent argument that ends with Kirid punching his subordinate in the face.
In good piece of continuity, the Daleks used a magnetrap to capture the spacecraft, just as they had used on Robot 2K a few weeks earlier. As was discussed on the podcast, magnetism is something of go-to for Whittaker whenever it comes to Dalek science, possibly because it was a bit of science that most schoolchildren would have learnt about. The Emperor voices a chilling piece of Dalek philosophy too. When Kirid tells him the apocalyptic threat posed by the seeds, the Emperor replies “Daleks are not android, human or animal. Why should we prevent these plants achieving what we are dedicated to achieve…?”
Ron Turner’s artwork is as splendid as ever. “Guardian” is quintessential Turner design. Loosely based on the Bluebird jet plane, its a riot of fins, flanges and intakes. The Daleks meanwhile are piloting claw-like space fighters that look impressive in action. Explosions are another Turner speciality and this story has some particularly good examples, my favourite being a Dalek scientist being ripped apart by an exploding gun.
In his introduction, editor Marcus Hearn describes the comic strip as the most enduring artefact of Sixties Dalekmania and I would agree. Their influence on the programme goes right up to the present day with the recent Dalek YouTube series and the visuals of Dalek saucers and armies in the 21st century series, clearly show the echo the comic. Even the fabulous look of the modern bronze Daleks has something of a Ron Turner feel to it. All the strips are exciting and accessible, but the best of them have depth too, as expanding that Dalek empire we heard about but the series could never afford to show us.
The Daleks is available to order from panini.co.uk, priced £9.99.
Recently I had a pleasure of guesting on Dylan Rees’ hugely entertaining podcast about the wider world of Doctor Who – comic strips, Big Finish audios, independent videos and similar. For this issue we were celebrating the Dalek’s own comic strip, printed in TV Century 21 at the height of Sixties Dalekmania. Although credited to Terry Nation, it was in fact largely written by David Whitaker, then script editor for the programme and was fairly sophisticated for children’s title. Certainly compared to the Doctor’s own adventures over at TV Comic. All driven by spectacular artwork by Richard Jennings, Roy Turner and Eric Eden.
In addition, we talk briefly about my BBV career, becoming a fan, and the Fine Line Doctor Who audios. It was a lot of fun to record and Dylan has done a good job editing our long conversation into a slick hour. You can find Doctor Who – Too Hot for TV on your podcast app or via:
It is fair to say that Doctor Who is almost as much a literary world as a television one. Even before Virgin Publishing released the first authorised original novel Timewyrm: Genesys by John Peel in 1991, many fans including myself had followed the Time Lord through the Target novelisations of stories which we thought we would never see on television again. Not to mention the hundreds of pages of fan fiction which had emerged since the Seventies, a handful of whom’s authors would eventually come to create stories for the actual BBC series. So Sophie Aldred’s first novel materialises into an universe already hundreds of books wide. So it is to her credit (and that of Mike Tucker and Steven Cole, who she openly credits as collaborators in the acknowledgements) that it is an enjoyable read that tells a fast-paced space opera with imaginative new alien races. It also captures her fictional persona Ace perfectly and gets the voices of the current TARDIS crew satisfyingly authentic too.
Ace herself has had a more complicated fictional life than most companions. Her status as the Doctor’s current companion when the show was cancelled in 1989 meant that her adventure across the vortex never had an official conclusion until now. So her history is split into many alternatives across books, comics and audios. She’s had heroic deaths, tragic deaths. Grown up to be a hardened space marine, grown old by the Doctor’s side. Settled down in 19th century Paris, or become Earth’s Champion with her own time-travelling motorbike, or a myriad others. Cleverly this novel addresses these alternatives without become bogged down in trying to reconcile them, before setting out to tell its own story of what Ace did next, inspired by suggestions by ex-showrunner Russell T Davis. Davis had said in an interview in Doctor Who Magazine that if he had stayed for a fifth season, an Ace reunion story might have been on the cards, with Ace as a wealthy charity boss whose slick businesswoman facade would have cracked to reveal the baseball bat wielding rebel she still was underneath.
I was a little concerned that the opening chapters of the book read too much like a wish fulfillment fantasy. Ace is a billionaire who lives in a gleaming London skyscraper penthouse, drives an eco-friendly prototype sports car, and has her own secret ‘batcave’ laboratory workshop of gadgets and alien tech. In addition, she owns a global charity organisation called A Charitable Earth and her best friend is a supermodel actress called Chantelle. Frankly if she was anyone other than Ace, this is the kind of character the reader would automatically suspect of being too good to be true. She also has Will, a handsome ex-boyfriend who happens to be in charge of the British Space Programme. So when a large mysterious alien ship appears in the solar system, she’s soon powering into space to rendezvous with it. They do this with the aid of ‘squidget’, a glowing lump of semi-intelligent Plasticine which like the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver can basically do anything the authors need to keep the plot moving, from turning a humble shuttle into a faster than light spacecraft, to interfacing with the TARDIS.
Once Ace and Will investigate the alien artifact, they soon run into the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan, who are exploring themselves. Happily the Doctor’s change of gender is dealt with in a couple of sentences and the interactions between Ace and this new TARDIS gang form a major part of the emotional material. We soon find out that Ace and the Doctor parted on unhappy terms and its interesting to see this seemingly more grounded and empathetic Doctor, really struggling with reconnect with her old friend. Meanwhile the two men take Ace pretty much at face value, but Yaz finds her policewoman’s suspicions and sense of right and wrong are set twanging by an individual who seems to live entirely by her own rules and keeps Nitro 9 explosives handy. It’s great to see Yaz showing some grit and her arc is one of most interesting in the book. Meanwhile there’s some gentle comedy for Ryan when he meets Chantelle, one of his teenage pin-ups, in the flesh.
By this time the storyline is properly underway, with two new enemy alien races introduced – shape changing rat henchmen the Ratts, and a warrior race of centaurs with horse-shaped heads called the Astingir. The latter could be criticised as being essentially that Klingon trope of soldiers who talk about honour and codes an awful lot. Nevertheless they are well motivated and described, whilst the Ratts are successfully written as pretty unsettling. The authors have created a story that reaches back to the time storm which abducted Ace in the first place and features numerous call backs to other Doctor Who stories of many medias, without feeling off-puttingly fannish and derivative. The action is well described and the writing propels along at a good pace. The rest of the supporting cast are well sketched in with a few lines.
With a moody, effective cover, this is definitely one of the most pleasurable of the Doctor Who tie-in books related to the 21st century series I have read. I would definitely be interested if this same team chose to write another, either more Ace adventures or an original creation.