Hosting the Talking Pictures podcast and more

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.

https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/talkingpicturestvpodcast/id/20827100


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!”

You can find out more about both books at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/only-death-can-save-us-book-2-techstone#/


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.

Podcasts, Superheroes, and Dick Barton

Dick Barton logo

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.

Man serving a woman at a counter

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.

Doctor Who Most Wanted Episode One

Television and logo

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.

Brian, Nigel & Gareth on Skype
, Nigel

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.

Visit Youtube to watch the episode.

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

TV21 Daleks – The Emissaries of Jevo

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 TV to 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.

Doctor Who – Too Hot for TV Episode 4.5

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:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/864883/4370129-episode-4-5-dalekmania

In addition the latest episode of the Talking Pictures TV Podcast is with us, in which I recommend the classic gothic adventure – The Most Dangerous Game.

Doctor Who – At Childhood’s End Reviewed

Ace and monster rat

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.

Doctor Who The Aztecs Special Edition DVD

Before we begin this revisit to another of my old ciao.co.uk reviews, a quick note that the latest edition of the Talking Pictures TV podcast is now out. Hosted by Scott Phipps, it features a contribution by myself on the 1979 Quatermass series by Thames. Plus lots of interesting reviews about old British gems like Hobson’s Choice and The Snorkel. Listen to it now at Spotify, iTunes etc or its website. Thank you, now back to the marvellous Hartnell era of Doctor Who.

Two very different adventures for the First Doctor: The Aztecs finds the original TARDIS crew trapped in the Aztec empire at the height of its powers, two years before Cortez would arrive to destroy it. When Barbara is mistaken for a god she tries to use her influence to change history and save this civilisation. Meanwhile Galaxy Four sees the Doctor and two of his later friends, Steven and Vicki, caught between two alien races on a dying planet. The beautiful Dravhin women say they are under attack by the ugly inhumanoid Rill but time travellers begin to suspect otherwise.

The cover for this DVD doesn’t do its contents justice, advertising it as simply an improved version of The Aztecs when in fact it really a double bill that also features a recently recovered episode from the Hartnell  era which forms the centre piece of a restored ‘lost’ story Galaxy Four. The Aztecs was the first William Hartnell story to be released on DVD, in 1992 at a time when fan were still buying stories on VHS to complete their collection. It was a natural choice for the fledgling new line, being generally regarded as one of the gems of his period. At the time its picture and sound restoration was impressive but this new version is even sharper and clearer. In addition there are some new extras.

The Aztecs illustrates many of the best qualities of the Sixties era of the show. Very ambitious in scope, with several entwining sub-plots, not to mention recreating the city of Tenochtitlán in a small studio. The script intelligently deals with the moral dilemmas of twentieth century British values clashing with the South American nation’s very different mindset, especially their acceptance of human sacrifice. There is a little bit of time-travel SF as the Doctor tries to stop Barbara from interfering in established history and an educational aspect as writer John Lucarotti explores this ancient culture. All the regulars are in superb form, even Susan whose sub-plot about becoming the reluctant bride of ‘The Perfect Victim” was devised to give actress Carol Ann Ford a well deserved holiday. There’s even some humour as the Doctor’s ignorance of local custom leads to him becoming accidentally engaged to a gentle Aztec woman called Cameca. The serial also benefits from strong guest performances by John Ringham and Walter Randall as the rival high priests. This is possibly my favourite of all William Hartnell’s stories.

If you were to ask any Doctor Who fan what lost story they would like to be rediscovered, it is unlikely that many of them would have named Galaxy Four. Due to the lack of many photographs, virtually no pictures at all of its star monster the Rills, and coming from a less well regarded period of the programme, this is one of show’s more obscure stories. But that means watching it now there is a delightful element of surprise and discovery. Episode 3 – “Airlock” was recovered from a private collector last year. This has been combined with an existing clip from episode one, the surviving soundtrack and a lovingly made fan reconstruction featuring photoshopped images and new modelwork of the scenes where only the robot Chumblies are involved. The producers have made the wise decision to cut out about a third of the reconstructed footage, resulting in a pacier hour long version of the four part story, which does not harm the plot at all, since the original did feature some padding and repetition as characters go to and fron between the two crashed spacecraft and the TARDIS. If you want to experience the complete version, then you can buy the soundtrack on CD.

Galaxy Four is reminiscent of a Star Trek episode in many ways. It has a simple ‘don’t judge by appearances” moral, studio bound desert planet set and it would easy to imagine Captain Kirk trying to seduce one of blonde Dravhan women. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in incidental pleasures such as the endearing Chumblies, robot servants of the Rills which look like three bowls stacked on top of each other. Clearly an attempt to create another money spinning character like the Daleks by author William Emms, the Chumblies failed to catch on with the public. Meanwhile the Rills are purposely rather immobile, unable to leave their ship due to the planet’s atmosphere being poisonous to them but they look suitably bizarre and Robert Cartland provides a fruity theatrical voice for them. Best of all is Stephanie Bidmead as Maaga, the ruthless leader of the Dravhans. She’s intelligent, drily self-aware and a bit of a sadist. Her high point is delivering a memorable speech into the camera as she contemplates the forthcoming death of the Rills and the Doctor. Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien make a good team as they explore together, in fact I think this is as good as I’ve ever seen Vicki.

This two disc set comes with a plenty of extras. There are most of the features from the original release: a Blue Peter item with Valerie Singleton visiting the ruins of Tenochtitlan and giving a potted history of Cortez and Montezuma, “Remembering the Aztecs” – interviews with surviving cast members, “Designing the Aztecs” – an interview with designer Barry Newbury and “Making Cocoa” – an amusing animated guide to making the chocolate drink the authentic Aztec way. Also remaining is the option to watch episode 4 with Arabic dubbing as recorded in the sixties and one of the TARDIS Cams, a series of wordless short videos produced by the BBC’s then newly formed online media department in the early Noughties.

The commentary features producer Verity Lambert and actors Carol Ann Ford and William Russell. It’s not that good unfortunately because their specific memories are few and far between, making most of material just comments on what they are watching like three viewers. It was commentaries like this that prompted the DVD makers to start including a knowledgeable fan in the panel for later sixties stories.

As well as Galaxy Four, the second disc features the brand new DVD content. From the BBC2 archives comes an episode of the history series Chronicle. “The Realms of Gold” is wonderful documentary about the story of Cortez and the Aztecs. If it was being made today it would have dramatic reconstructions, CGI and a booming score. There’s something rather relaxing about its more academic tone, with contemporary illustrations, maps, location filming and an austere score by the Radiophonic Workshop. Also from the library comes what is almost certainly the first Doctor Who TV comedy sketch, a clip from Michael Bentine’s “It’s a Square World” featuring Clive Dunn dressed as The Doctor, playing a rocket scientist.

Many people who buy Doctor Who DVD’s are collecting the whole set. This has encouraged the makers to make several multi-part documentaries spread across several titles. “Doctor Forever!” is taking a look at the wider world of Doctor Who as a phenomenon. This episode is about the merchandise. It’s a subject that could easily fill an hour but this twenty minute feature covers a fair amount of ground, from Sixties Dalekmania to today’s highly detailed action figures. Some of the more unusual items are looked at too, such as the TARDIS Tuner and Tom Baker underpants. It’s one of my favourite features in the package. “A Whole Scene Going” was a Sixties magazine programme and there’s a report on the making of the second Dalek film, including a rare interview with Gordon Flemmyng.

This year there are several special editions of the older Doctor Who DVD titles coming out but this one is I think is the most worthwhile. Well recommended.

Doctor Who – Colony in Space DVD Review

As gorgeous as the new Doctor Who Collection bluray sets are, one of the strengths of the DVD releases was that, for one month, nearly every story, regardless of reputation, got its moment in the sun. Its episodes were the center of a collection of DVD extras, memories and artwork. Because there are some adventures that otherwise might always be the roughage of a season, a spacer between other more celebrated titles. Colony in Space is such a serial. The most six-parterly of all Pertwee six-parters,

The Master has stolen the Time Lord’s secret files about a legendary weapon hidden on the planet Uxarieus. So they take control of the TARDIS to send the exiled Doctor and Jo Grant on a mission to stop him. Unaware of the true reason for their journey, the pair become embroiled in the conflict between a poor farming colony and a powerful IMC mining exploration team. Uxarieus is also the home a race of primitive tribal warriors who live inside an ancient city of incredible technology, ruled by mutated priests. When the Master arrives in disguise, the Doctor begins to realise that there is a far greater danger than just the ruthless IMC Captain Dent and his troops.

One of my favourite Doctor Who novelisations is Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon by Malcolm Hulke, based on his own script for Colony in Space. It’s full of interesting characters and what makes them so vivid is their back stories, which also illustrate Earth’s future civilisation. It is a grim over-industrialised society where people have little experience of the outside and big corporations rule. It was shock therefore when I finally saw Colony in Space on UK Gold and found that the television version has very little of what made the book great, such as the Doctor showing the colonists how to hold a simple funeral. A ceremony they had little experience of in their automated lives. Instead these episodes are a bit of a plod, with a lot of the Doctor moving back and forth between the three camps, slowly working out a fairly simple story. The characters are all fairly stiff as well, although Bernard Kay gives some colour to his role as a sympathetic IMC mineralogist and Morris Perry is coldly effective as the fascist IMC Captain Dent. Coronation Street icon Helen Worth also appears as Mary, the young daughter of the colonist’s leader.

It doesn’t help that the planet looks is essentially a mixture of grey/brown sand and rock, even if it is convincingly harsh. Perversely, the Doctor’s first visit to an alien planet in the colour television era finds him driving through an empty quarry for most of the time. Even the alien city is largely rendered in cramped brown rocky corridors and rooms. The Uxarians are not much to get excited about either. Neither the spear-waving primitives or the gargoyle-like priests can talk and despite Jo Grant screaming when they appear, they never seem like much of a threat either. The shrunken Guardian is another disappointment, a very obvious puppet with an actor’s head poking out on top. Speaking of Jo, it’s interesting to compare her first trip in the TARDIS with those of the more recent companions. Whilst Rose, Clara et al greet the universe with wonder and thinks it really cool, Jo steps out of the TARDIS, wrinkles her nose and is asking to be taken back to UNIT HQ within a couple of minutes!

Colony in Space is essentially a western – homesteaders versus the big cattle baron, with the Uxarians playing the Indians. They even have a couple of shootouts with old fashioned rifles.  Thankfully the story does pick up a little once the Master arrives, played with charming evil by Roger Delgado, but its speed never develops into more than a trot.

This DVD is relatively light on extras. “IMC Needs You!” is framed by some amusing South Park style animation but is otherwise a straightforward making-of doc, with much emphasis on the terrible weather and muddy conditions the team had to endure. Probably the most interesting fact is that the script originally called for Dent to have a ruthless female henchman, but Ronnie Marsh the Head of Serials felt that a woman in a leather uniform shooting people was too kinky for family viewing.  All the contributors seem fairly happy with the resulting episodes.

“From the Cutting Room Floor” – features a collection of outtakes and behind the scenes moments from the location filming. It’s one of the more entertaining examples of this feature, with some nice moments of humour from Delgado and Pertwee.

The commentary is a fairly luvvie one this time. Comedian and television historian Toby Hadoke chairs a discussion with stars Katy Manning, Bernard Kay and Morris Perry being joined by director Michael E Briant, Assistant Director Graham Harper (who in recent years has directed the new Doctor Who and the Coronation Street tram crash) and script editor Terrance Dicks. It’s a jolly conversation, with some laughs at the show’s expense, which frankly this story deserves.

After that there are the standard photo gallery and information subtitles, whilst Frank Bellamy’s marvellous comic strip in the Radio Times which promoted the first episode can be opened as a PDF. Colony in Space is a very average story and one for the fan completest rather than the casual viewer.

Doctor Who – The Ark

Monoid and young woman

If there is one idea science fiction has taught us, it is that huge colony ships crewed by generations of humans are generally a bad idea, prone to all kinds of sociological weirdness. Or in the case of this story, employing an another alien race as your servant class is bound to come back to bite you.

Earth is about to fall into the Sun, so the survivors of the human race have set out in a gigantic colony ship to live on the planet Refusis II. Alongside them for the journey are an alien race called the Monoids, who appear to be happy to work as humanity’s servants. When the Doctor (William Hartnell), Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane) arrive, they accidentally infect the crew with the common cold, a virus that future humanity no longer has any immunity to. Soon it looks as if the whole population will be wiped out. Whilst the Doctor races to find an antidote, he is unaware that his presence will shortly have even more significant and unforeseen effect on the future of the human race.

The Ark is a unique story within the history of the programme, with a twist that must have been a real shock back in 1966. It uses the time travel element of the show in a way that few other stories have, at least until Steven Moffat took over as showrunner. For once it addresses the consequences of the Doctor’s travels and encounters with strange new worlds. Unfortunately aside from that concept, this is a story I enjoyed more for its unintentional humour than its dramatic qualities. A lot of the comedy comes from the monster of the month – the Monoids. They resemble a man sized lizard with a Beatles mop top and a single eyeball in its mouth. Its initial appearance is striking but as soon as they start waddling about it is hard to take them seriously. They’re just as funny when they learn to speak and have a charming way of discussing their evil plans out loud, then being surprised when humans hear them. Their leader, simply known as Number One, comes out with one of the show’s most infamous lines, “Take them to the Security Kitchen!”

The humans aren’t much better in their skimpy togas and wooden acting. Of special note is their Commander (Eric Elliot) who delivers every line with a fruity Shakespearian flourish and has more than a passing resemblance to the ineffectual commander of the B-Ark in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The pace is slow too, even by the standards of the time. Once or twice the cast just literally stands there waiting whilst what looks like an airport truck rolls in slowly and parks.

According to Peter Purves who played Steven, Hartnell was becoming increasingly difficult to work with as a long term illness began to affect his memory.  There’s the odd stumble in his lines but generally for the viewer he is still the Doctor on good form, sometimes imperious and other times quite twinkly. Peter Purves himself is great. Steven is an underrated companion in the series, bringing a welcome energy to the series with a character who was headstrong and principled. This is a good story for him, where he gets to be heroic and take charge in the Doctor’s absence. Meanwhile this was the first full story for Dodo (Jackie Lane) after having arrived at the end of the last story when she mistook the TARDIS for a real police box. She’s quite likeable and makes a good team with Steven, with a pronounced Northern accent, one that swiftly fades over the course of the four weeks it took to make this story. It’s a shame that most of her stories have been junked.

Despite seeing the flaws I do admire the ambition of the serial, creating a vast spaceship with a jungle inside it, the surface of an alien planet, massive statues and shuttlecraft flying through space, all created in a small studio on a budget that wouldn’t pay for one set in the current series.

As is often the way with Hartnell stories, sadly most of the key players are no longer with us to be interviewed. However Peter Purves who played the companion Steven and director Michael Imison are very much alive and join stand-up comedian and fan Toby Hadoke for an affectionate but honest commentary. There are three major DVD extras: “All’s Wells That Ends Wells” is a documentary on H G Wells’ influence on Doctor Who. It’s a nice little piece, although the links with “The Ark” are tenuous. “One Hit Wonder” is a light-hearted feature that celebrates the Monoids and asks why some monsters only appear once in the programme. “Riverside Story” is partially a reminisce about how television drama was made at the BBC’s Riverside studios and also a look at the making of “The Ark”. All three of these features are ably presented by cultural historian Matthew Sweet. In addition there are the essential photo gallery, info text and Radio Times PDF files.

I did enjoy this story but as a fan who loves the series including its foibles. A more casual viewer might be less forgiving. So this is a DVD for the fans of Sixties Doctor Who.

Gareth Preston

Photo copyright Radio Times

Doctor Who – The Mutants

TARDIS

By the ninth season, the Doctor Who production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were finding their reliable Earth based formula for adventures beginning to constrain them. Happily they had cleverly written themselves an escape clause. The Doctor’s exile could be temporarily relieved by the Time Lords who had imposed it, when they wanted to hypocritically send him on a mission to interfere with other civilisations, the very crime they were punishing him for. The Mutants is one of those mid-table stories, decently made but perhaps lacking anything to really push it into the more memorable classics, but its excellently presented on this DVD.

The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) are sent by the Time Lords to Solos to deliver a mysterious box to an unknown recipient. Solos is a misty planet colonised by Earth where the native, seemingly medieval Solonians are treated as second class citizens and are not surprisingly bitter about their lives. They are also being terrorised by a spate of horrific mutations, as men and women turn into insect-like creatures nicknamed Mutts. When an ambassador from Earth informs the odious Marshall that their faltering empire is pulling out of Solos and giving it independence, the tyrant cannot bear the thought of losing his power. He arranges for the ambassador to be assassinated. The Doctor and Jo soon find themselves on the run and battling tribal warriors, mutants and Earth troops. Only by solving the mystery of the mutations and exposing the corrupt Marshall can they hope to survive.

It surprising that some fans have recently been complaining about Doctor Who being “preachy” when in Jon Pertwee’s time the programme was often telling allegorical SF tales. Racism had been tackled previously by Letts and Dicks in The Silurians and The Curse of Peladon but this is the most explicitly political take on the subject, a direct comment on South Africa’s apathied regime and the colonial attitudes behind it. There is also an ecological thread about future Earth becoming a barren concrete jungle and thus having to export its pollution to other planets. Mixed in with this is the SF body horror trope of humans gradually changing into something strange and inhuman. John Friedlander’s design of the mutant creatures is splendid and when they are scuttling enmasse through the caves they are pretty scary. On a trivia note, the Mutt made a cameo appearance in Frontier in Space and later was reused as another alien race in The Brain of Morbius.

Paul Whitsun-Jones had a long track record of playing flamboyant, menacing villains on TV and as The Marshall he goes into full Brian Blessed mode, shouting his way through the part in a way that may not be subtle  but is certainly entertaining. Pertwee’s Doctor is at his grumpiest in this story, acting as humanity’s conscience and horrified by the treatment of the Solonians and their world.  Special mention ought to go to Christopher Coll as cockney trooper Stubbs, making a lot out of a fairly generic guard character, even with the handicap that his best friend Cotton is played by Rick James, one of the worst actors ever in the series.

They’ve fitted a surprising amount of extras on this disc considering it is a six-part story. “Mutt Mad” is an in-depth if straightforward making-of doc, heavy on talking heads and BBC paperwork. More interesting is “Race Against Time”, a look at the show’s attitude towards casting ethnic actors. While admitting the show could have done more to promote more black faces in prominent roles, generally the show is given a clean bill of health. Oscar winning costume designer James Acheson gives a fascinating interview about his time on the programme in “Dressing Doctor Who”. He was responsible in part for the look of the Sontarans and the Fourth Doctor’s famous scarf. Then there’s a slightly random clip from Blue Peter in which Peter Purves talks about Doctor Who monster costumes, including a Mutt.  The six episodes enjoy an excellent commentary featuring a rotating cast of contributors led by Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Garrick Hagon (Ky), Christopher Barry (director), Terrance Dicks (script editor), Bob Baker (co-writer), Brian Hodgson (special sounds supervisor) and Jeremy Bear (designer). This good value disc is rounded out by the traditional photo gallery, info subtitles and Radio Times listing in PDF format.

Watching “The Mutants” again on DVD I’ve enjoyed it a lot more this time. I used to think it was too long and slow but in fact there is a lot to stir the mind and enjoy.  Pertwee is in great form, the Mutant transformations are quite creepy and I’ll even forgive the dodgy science about what happens when you get a hole in the side of a space station. (clue you don’t stand by chatting next to it just because the air pressure has ‘equalised’).

Gareth Preston

Photo by Chris Sampson, Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.