Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Revenge of the Cybermen

'Revenge' of the Cybermen? Ugh, here we start the Cybermen descending into emotive behaviour. While entertaining, David Banks' cyberleader frequently showed too much relish for an unemotional being. Here they crack the odd joke (the cyberleader comments when tying the Doctor up on the Beacon that he won't be around to see the 'magnificent spectacle' of the crash with Voga) and a bit of monologuing about the destruction of Voga ending with "This is good!". The cybermen are restyled from the Invasion cybermen with more pipes and flares (it was the 70s).

Something about it all seems a bit lacklustre. Kellman is a great villain, he sort of comes out on the good side working for the Vogons, but still murdered a lot of people. I can't help wondering why his plan needed to be quite this ruthless, but he was going to help the Vogons blow the Beacon up anyway. The location shooting looks great, the main cast all come out of it well. The ark looks a bit cheaper this time around but the caves of Voga are much richer being filmed at Wookey Hole. It's probably just that the Cybermen are so naff reduced to just a few men with a silly scheme. The Vogon plan doesn't seem so smart either. There's a lot of things that don't add up, such as the Beacon not being able to radio for any help, the transmat removing the cybermat 'plague' by being set up for human tissue, but transporting the Doctor, Cybermen and their cloths and other non-human tissue. The surface of Voga as the Beacon flies over is obviously a revolving log in front of the camera and isn't well realised. The Cybermen fall for the old 'tie them up and leave them to die' trick which has been old since moustache twirling villains tied women to railway tracks. It makes no sense for the Cybermen to do this unless they bizarrely relish imaging the Doctor and Sarah having the front seat for the collision of the Beacon with Voga.

This story is the first to introduce the cyber-weakness to gold, yet oddly enough the only cybermen to die from gold is that injected by the captured cybermat. A cybermat is disabled with gold dust but the Doctor quickly gets it working again to terrorise Kellman. Both occasions when the Doctor tackles cybermen with a handful of dust they he is beaten back, people just can't get the opportunity to use it effectively as a weapon. While being a weakness, it's not an entirely practical one to exploit. Also we can assume that only gold dust is effective, as Vogon bullets are undoubtedly made of gold yet are ineffective. Either the gold needs to be a dust or the gold bullets, like regular bullets, just bounce off. I'm guessing both are true. But compare to Silver Nemesis where anything made of gold cuts through the cybermen like a hot knife through butter. Bullets are ineffective but gold tipped arrows and coins fired from a catapult cut them down. As soon as gold penetrates their armour they die, no talk of "clogging their respiratory systems", it's more like a puncture wound from gold is akin to blood poisoning from a lethal snakebite. Maybe gold in contact with the coolant circulating within a cyberman is lethal, but ultimately you have to ask why?? It's an inert metal.

It's a shame that Tom Baker only met the Cybermen once, and Pertwee only in the Five Doctors. The gap between the Invasion and Earthshock seems a long one with only this unsatisfying morsel in the middle. Hard to imagine now, what with the Daleks appearing in every season of Doctor Who, that you could go for years without these 'regular' monsters. People criticised the 80s for being continuity laden, probably with the nadir being Attack of the Cybermen, but throughout the 70s the old series was braver than the new by constantly creating new stories and pushing the horror to the limit. Currently the New Series relies on its past a lot more than is generally admitted with the Daleks appearing more frequently than ever over the last 6 years, and plays it quite safe regarding horror as seems in line with BBC paranoia regarding receiving complaints on any matter.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Our World

Reposted from Lawrence Miles' blog...

Death to the Daleks

Death to the Daleks was one of my first Doctor Who stories on video well over 20 years ago, alongside Day of the Daleks and The Daleks. But this one is often comes in for more criticism than most Dalek stories because of the many clich├ęs being reused; dying civilisations, ancient cities, a 'quest' with tests and traps to overcome. Some dislike the music, it seems to mostly fit the dark brutal setting for the story. The Dalek music seems a little too jolly though.

I remember it being quite frightening with a brutal level of violence. The story's best moments are all in the dark, at night or in caverns. The Exxilons are probably more frightening than the Daleks, being rather aggressive and thuggish and have a tendency to hit people with clubs or shoot them with arrows. At the beginning of the story the TARDIS loses all power and is stranded in the dark with a thick green mist everywhere. The Doctor wanders off (I never understood this because he promised not to leave Sarah alone, what a git) and Sarah is attacked in the TARDIS by some brute. Various sources have since asked if the Exxilon is still wandering around in the TARDIS, but my impression is that Sarah does a very good job of beating him to death with the starting handle from a car. What we are spared from is the scene of the Doctor dragging the three day old carcass out of the TARDIS before take off.

The Exxilons have a good background and are yet another alien species, like the Daemons or Fendahl, to have influenced ancient Earth cultures. Unfortunately it went rather wrong, they built a living city, which then expelled them and has ever since has drained up all electrical power. The Exxilons descended into barbarism and worship the city as a god. Although there are rebels to this who seems smaller and paler in colour and live underground. The time for this fall is described as thousands of years, but one body in the city disintegrates to dust upon the air in the room being disturbed suggesting it's many many thousands.

The humans in the story are rather one dimensional. Commander Stewart is already wounded and succumbs half way though while hopes for a interesting character in Captain Railton end with a well placed arrow in episode 2. The only well placed arrow of the story, the Exxilons can't shoot for toffee. Peter Hamilton doesn't have much about him but possibly is the vague interest of the only woman on the team, Jill Tarant, who spends most of the story whimpering. That leaves ruthless bastard Dan Galloway who takes command when all the other officers are dead. Cut from the 'ends justify the means' cloth he does deals with the Daleks, agrees to ethnically cleanse the Exxilon society of their underground dwelling rebels. He also agrees to let the Daleks have the Doctor and Sarah, but they never actually get their hands on them. Of course he soon realises he's out of his depth with the daleks and does actually win back a bit of respect by stealing a dalek bomb and sacrificing himself to blow them and their ship up. It's a bit hard to have sympathy because he's been such an arse throughout. But he's the most interesting one of the lot.

Death to the Daleks is an apt title given how many Daleks die, some inexplicably so. The best bit with the Daleks is in displaying a little cunning and being able to quickly overcome the problem of not being able to use their weapons. The energy drain disables their energy weapons, but oddly not their other mechanical functions. In The Daleks they ran of static electricity and merely being separated from the floor cut their power, here they run on "psychokinetic power" which sounds like bullshit. Daleks move by power of their mind now? But back to the point, the Daleks quickly devise ballistic weapons firing darts or bullets and are quick to use them to subdue the Exxilons. The Daleks also allow people to go under the impression there are only four of them when in fact there are more in the spaceship. Reminiscent of Power of the Daleks there. Well we can say four Daleks, it's more like three because whenever four appear in a scene one of them never moves. Clearly they only had three operators and the fourth simply lingers static in the background.

The bad bits are the number that die for stupid reasons. One Dalek explodes after being attacked by a crowd of Exxilons who hit it with sticks. One fights a hopeless fight with the 'root' from the city in the caves and instead of retreating sticks around to be blown to pieces. The worst of all has to be where a Dalek finds that a couple of prisoners are not where it left them, and instead of going to search for them or reporting it, starts spinning in circles shouting that it has failed and has to self destruct. That's just embarrassing. But hell, they did it again in Remembrance of the Daleks.

The story ends with a chase through the city overcoming various intelligence tasks (for what purpose?) and includes an attack upon their sanity that has some of the brightest flashing sequences ever seen in Doctor Who. Certainly a bit harsh on the eyes. The Doctor whips a few PCBs out of a computer and switches a few components and the city goes wild with lights flashing and doors opening and closing at random. Once outside the heroes watch the Dalek ship explode before turning around to see the Exxilon City dissolving and crumbling. Obviously a polystyrene models sprayed with some solvent, it actually looks quite good.

Overall not a great Dalek story. It's a shame the history of the Exxilons has not been expanded, and a story focusing more on them and the humans might have been quite strong without the Daleks being involved. As it stands, the Daleks are at their weakest at times and make a poor showing with them dying for silly reasons.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The War Machines - On Location

The War Machines has a mix of some very prominent and rather obscure locations. The big novelty in this story is the Post Office Tower, now BT Tower. It was the first full contemporary Earth story paving the way for the likes of the Faceless Ones, Web of Fear and eventually the whole UNIT era. Hartnell works wonderfully in this story and it's a shame that this came late in his era, leaving his Doctor often in historical adventures or on alien worlds. But this isn't a review, just a brief look at some of the locations used in that story.

Immediately jumping out is Bedford Square only a minute's walk from the British Museum. Here the TARDIS lands in the first episode and is shot from various angles including a window of one house. In the row of photos to the back of me when taking this photo is No. 41 which doubles for the Royal Scientific Club.

From here the Doctor heads for the Post Office Tower which can be seen roughly to the North, however he is seen in the next shot approaching from Fitzroy Square along Conway Street which is just to the north of the tower.

The Tower itself is largely unchanged as seen in this shot from Cleveland Mews just off from Maple Street. The angle achieved in the story must be from a platform or window above the ground floor. The Tower has been closed to the public for a long time and has a rather permanent plaque on the wall stating this. :-(

There are a lot of shots taken in various streets during the War Machines attack but this taken in Berners Mews along which the War Machine reprogrammed by the Doctor travels to return to the Tower.

The Time Monster

Last night we had a friend to visit and watched The Time Monster, because the wife loves it so much. You just have to laugh at it, because it's so woeful at times and none of it makes sense. If you keep going until the end though, you are rewarded by the much better episodes set in Atlantis.

At six episodes there's a lot of obvious padding. You could probably do away with episodes 2 and 3 entirely, pick out a few salient points and put them into either episodes 1 or 4, making it a four parter. Episode 2 has a lot of running around, then with the reveal of the Master the Brig calls up UNIT and a wealth of heavy artillery which does nothing but allows for some extended scenes in which the Master calls up various things from the past, a medieval Knight, some Roundheads and a V-1, to attack them. Then the Doctor builds a thing out of old junk (see photo above) which does absolutely nothing to stop the Master. What's the point of it all? Episode 4 does some good stuff with the TARDIS, but Logopolis does it all better in later years.

Speaking of which, this is the one and only appearance of the 'washing-up bowl' interior for the redecorated TARDS but is also conveniently used for the Master's TARDIS. In retrospect it might have been nice to use a normal set for the Doctor's TARDIS and the new one for the Master's, just to differentiate them more. Perhaps they thought they would be getting more use from this set and shifting material for two different sets is asking rather a lot of the production.

That said the sets for Atlantis are actually very good and seem wasted on barely two episodes worth of material. In fact, perhaps they should have set the entire story in Atlantis and dumped all the TOMTIT stuff on Earth. Not that it makes much sense, but all the talk of the crystal 'not really being there' or actually 'being in Atlantis in the distant past' seems to suggest the Master should have just gone there in the first place and not bothered with the complicated research programme and false aliases.

Strangeness abounds. The relevance of the Doctor's dreams are never explained nor the eruptions in modern day Thera, but both lead the Doctor to jump from one conclusion to the next to implicate the Master in all of this. You have the preposterously named TOMTIT and the Master's convoluted plan to push things through the cracks in time. The crystal does all sorts, and can make people older or younger, but this is always rubbish. Why doesn't hair grow and if you are subjected to accelerated time wouldn't you quickly starve to death? Chronos looks bloody ridiculous swinging around on it's occasional appearances, the powerful god idea is far better conceived at the end of episode six.

There's the window cleaner who picks the moment of testing an important government project to wash the windows, pull a big "oooh" face before falling off the ladder. Having worked in a government funded research institute I don't know what's less likely, the fact that someone would even be paid to wash the windows or that an injured man is left left lying around for quite some time before anyone notices, apart from the Master who doesn't care. Maybe it's a weekend, because there only appear to be a couple of people working in the place. When he is found it's left to the Brigadier to sort it out because the government bods seems bored by the inconvenience of a crippled or dying man.

Fortunately all this is swept aside in the second half of the story, after an episode mostly set in the TARDIS involving threats of time rams and the Doctor being ejected into the vortex and saved, we get to Atlantis for the final third of the story. Which is clearly the best bit of all of this but many fans might have given up by the first 90 minutes. This is a shame because the best sets and acting are all present in this part. Ingrid Pitt is very memorable as Queen Galleia and there are some good performances from several of the other Atlanteans. The bit with the Minotaur is pretty bad but thankfully short. Roger Delgado is loving it in this part of the story, the Master oozes evil charm; seducing Queen Galleia and snapping his fingers when wearing gloves.

Atlantis doesn't last so long though and is destroyed with the Master trying to escape with Jo held hostage. But she causes a time ram with the Doctor's TARDIS. They are saved, by Chronos, who in it's own CSO environment appears as the massive face of a woman. So much more impressive than its previous manifestation. Chronos wants to keep the Master in torment, but after the most pathetic begging display from the Master the Doctor puts in a good word for him, but then the Master escapes! The review from the The Television Companion by David Howe and Stephen James Walker calls this overacting 'woefully' on Delgado's part, but I don't think so, it's obvious the Master is not being sincere and is pulling the Doctor's strings.

There are some great moments scattered throughout the story. The Master declining a lunch with the people from UNIT claiming to be a vegetarian who abhors violence is a lovely way to avoid blowing his cover. I love the Masters's line "You're wrong, Sergeant Benton. That is the oldest trick in the book!!" There are some great moments with the Master and Queen Galleia, and the Doctor's 'Daisiest Daisy' story is wonderful. That's probably the best way to look at this story - it's very easy to focus on the negative when so many rate it poorly but overlook the good bits and how funny the ridiculous bits are. It's not the complete write-off that some make out, there's a good story trying to get out here but it's just swamped in padding in the first half.

Friday, 3 February 2012

We Are Scientists

“And now I know you're mad, I just wanted to make sure."

The Doctor has fought many mad scientists among whom are the worst humanity has to offer, others are simply misguided or blinkered by their own fanaticism, usually it leads to their deaths. Here's the run down on my top ten, which goes up to eleven. Because that's mad/I couldn't choose which to leave out/it's the standard set by the BBC iPlayer volume control.

11. Dr Fendelman

Not a bad guy as such, just one who got carried away and wouldn't listen to reason. Was totally fixated upon his work and scientific success until too late. When he realised he was being used by the Fendahl he was murdered by those working to bring it back to life.

10. Prof Stahlman

Another scientist with his judgement clouded by the pursuit of scientific glory, possessed all the worst attributes of Dr Fendelman in abundance. Was aggressive and totally intolerant of anyone attempting to delay his risky experiment to drill into the Earth's crust. Even when contaminated with chemicals from his drilling he did not report the hazard showing a total disregard for Health & Safety. I know it was 1970 but when you turn green and grow hair you should probably bring the industrial accident to someone's attention.

9. Prof Whitaker

Now we get into the distinctly bad scientists. Prof Whitaker is the first of these working on time travel. The loss of grant money gave him a great enough dispute with modern society to want to wipe it out by turning time back to a period pre-dating the evolution of humanity and starting again. There's the glimmer of a noble aim here, but he's still an eco-maniac at best.

8. Prof Kettlewell

Another Professor, who keeps handing out chairs to these loonies? This time an expert in robotics and likely creator of the first sentient robot on Earth. Initially appears to be a kindly old gentleman who has fallen out with the establishment, but actually supports nazi manics who want to annihilate the world with nuclear rockets. At least he had a change of heart though, but more in line with tradition he was killed by his own creation.

7. Prof Lazarus

Prof Lazarus thought he had invented the means for eternal life, to revert his body back to a younger form. Unfortunately it turned him into an enormous monster and drove him utterly insane.

6. Harrison Chase

Perhaps more of an eccentric millionaire than a scientist, but he was hardly your common or garden botanist either. A collector and expert in plant science, he put the acquisition of the rare Krynoid pod before all else and was more than happy to murder people with his own hands to do it. No regard for human life and no time for any attempts to appeal to reason. Ended up mulched in his own compost and missed the moment of his Krynoid blooming and destroying the world.

5. Taren Capel

Robot scientist and psychopath. Raised by robots and had greater affinity for them than humanity itself, in fact had no regard for human life at all. He then attempted to start a robot rebellion and murdered his way through the crew of the Sandminer. Unfortunately died at the hands of his own robots. Oops.

4. John Lumic

An alternate universe crazy who 'created' the Cybermen there on Earth. Like Lazarus he wanted to extend life, particularly as he was terminally ill. But his ambitions extended to taking over the world and converting everyone into Cybermen.

3. Ramon Salamander

Brilliant politician and scientist, very highly respected for his work improving agriculture and tackling world hunger. But in secret he was a madman hell bent on taking over the world. He murdered people behind the scenes replacing them with various accomplices and moved himself into a position of power. His ultimate aim was to subjugate the entire world with the threat of destruction using his control over volcanoes and earthquakes.

2. Prof Zaroff

A completely mad scientist. While his early work in producing food from the sea was highly accomplished he turned to sheer insanity. He disappeared from public life and settled in Atlantis where he came up with a plan to destroy the world. Unlike many on this list the destruction of the world was not an unintended consequence of an evil plan, or a play for power, he simply wanted to destroy the world purely for the hell of it. Or the scientific achievement and personal satisfaction it gave him. Totally disinterested in any appeals to reason he nearly tops the mad scientist list, if only for coming out with the immortal line "nothing in the world can stop me now!"

1. Dr Mehendri Solon

And finally, at the top of the list comes Solon, 'creator of Morbius' as he was desperate to be known. While his ambitions may not have extended as far as personally destroying worlds, the evil he wished to resurrect certainly would. He lies, murders and abuses poor Condo from whom he has stolen his arm, it also seems implied that he has left public view because of questionable ethics regarding his work. And no wonder, Solon is a special kind of mad scientist, while his plan is evil and mad, it shows a distinct streak of egomania. His plan was to piece together a body from bits and pieces in which to place Morbius's brain, yet when the Doctor arrives he immediately sets to work removing his head to attach to the ridiculous homunculus he has built. Not for a second did the obvious occur, that he should perform a straight brain swap, but Solon's pride is such that he is damned if he won't use the body he has made. Seeing as the Doctor slips out of his clutches he ends up dusting off an old fishbowl and putting the brain in that instead. An obviously intelligent man to whom ethics are an unknown concept and common sense is blinkered by his own perceived brilliance.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Underwater Menace

With the release of the recently discovered episode two my appetite for this story was whetted so I thought to give a recon a go with the remaining episode three. Previous to this I have only seen a few clips of the fish people on the 30 Years documentary from many years ago. The reputation for this story is that it is diabolical, badly made and acted and hated by the cast. Oddly enough, I found it quite entertaining and look forward to seeing episode two put into place. I read some comments expressing the wish that it hadn't been found, or sadness that it wasn't something else. But missing episodes are always a bonus and you don't get to choose them so be happy for each one.

The story is notable for going hugely over budget and still looking rubbish in a season that gave us two of the best Dalek stories made and two cybermen stories. The cast didn't get on with the director and became difficult driving her to tears. The sets overall look good and from the pictures with water pouring through and collapsing they may be fairly impressive. It doesn't seem clear if a sizeable amount of the budget was blown on making the fish people, as monster of the week, or if the swimming scenes in episode three were extended specifically to get their money's worth and pad it out a bit. I certainly suspect the latter, as this extensive scene is otherwise superfluous other than to indicate that the fish people are spreading the word about their strike. It is nice that this bit exists in episode three as otherwise their contribution to the story would be largely lost, but I was surprised how much of it there was, it's well made but is only people bobbing around on wires pretending to be swimming. Otherwise the fish people don't appear much overall and the story could be achieved without them. There's also a daft run around scene in a marketplace where the regulars inexplicably expect to be able to capture Zaroff (shopping for vegetables perhaps?) and Troughton dresses up as a gypsy with 60s sunglasses. Definitely some padding here for episode three and general nonsense that tips the silly campness of the story into outright farce.

The fish people are not villains but slaves farming plankton that agree to 'go on strike' as soon as the concept is suggested to them. Prior to this it doesn't seem have occurred to them to challenge their life of servitude. So much of the story doesn't make sense. But there again, Professor Zaroff is just plain mad, a proper old style mad scientist and you don't get many of those. An explanation offered was that he blames 'the world' after his family died in a car accident but this was cut from the script. His plan is simply to destroy the world for the sake of it - that's pretty much it. In the name of science of course. I don't understand the dislike of his character, just take it as a bit of fun, at least he gets to chew up the scenery a bit unlike the regulars who get rather less to do.

Polly does very little but whimper for most of the story after nearly undergoing an operation to become a fish person, while servant girl Ara proves quite proactive in helping the Doctor. Ben gets a reasonable amount to do but Jamie is short on material and is even uncharacteristically weak in a fight scene. Although he was added to the script as an afterthought as the story order was changed putting this after The Highlanders. Overall you can probably tell that there are too many companions trying to get too little material which is why they seem to spend a lot of time walking around in mines and tunnels while Troughton gets plenty of longer scenes with Zaroff.

After failing to kidnap Zaroff the Doctor's plan is to flood Atlantis which is a bit mad in itself. The people living down they just have to be warned to get out and the fish people disappear. As the king says that there will be 'no more fish people' it's open to interpretation where they go. Either they have been crushed or trapped, or they have swum out to sea and off to a potential sequel. Even odder is that with Zaroff defeated the King declares that superstition and gods got them into the mess with Zaroff so they will abandon them all and set up a secular society. This is all done in the most casual manner and is rarely commented upon. Yet if done today in New Who there would be all sorts of claims of an atheist agenda behind the series as has already been made on the most tenuous of reasons.

In summation, it's reminiscent of the Web Planet, but at least they had the excuse of doing it for the first time as an experiment. I actually prefer this to the Web Planet because I enjoyed Zaroff and Patrick Troughton's Doctor, and it's some what shorter than Web Planet that drags. At least Underwater Menace keeps up a reasonable pace. But they should have know it wasn't going to work and the whole thing creaks like a B-Movie. Episode two will be a decent addition though and help round out the story a bit more as it was my impression from the audio was that this episode is more interesting than the third which is padded with silliness.

"Nothing in the world can stop me now!"

How could I end without mentioning one of the best lines in the whole piece? Zaroff is up there with the greatest and most memorable megalomaniacs of the whole series. As a point of reference, the accent isn't put on but is apparently Joseph Furst's own. Secondly he says the above line straight which defies some expectation as it has become common to quote it as some exaggerated variant along the lines of "Nuzzing in ze vorld can schtop me now!"

The story also marks the final appearance of the 2nd Doctor's hat. Some say that it last appears in episode one, but it appears in episode four in the Tardis; telesnaps show Polly wearing it while still dressed in her fish person frock acquired during the story.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

You will be like uzzz...

Cybermen have changed significantly across their many appearances, even when they appear similar there are often small differences. I think it gives great variety for costuming, although a lot of effort is involved. When I was young my dad brought home large sheets of some plastic material with a chrome layer on one side. It was some sort of packaging for computer equipment and came as an enormous square bag several feet long in every dimension. But when I first had it my young imagination raced, because it seemed ideal for a Cyberman costume, and I was very keen on a Tomb-style, as these episodes had recently been released. The stumbling point was always the mask, they aren't easy to find and never cheap.

Mark I

The Tenth Planet style only had a single outing before a total redesign, but it's probably one that reflects the body-horror element of the cybermen the best, still being obviously part human. They rarely appear in other media either, though most notable in the audio Spare Parts, where their unique sing-song voices work very well. They still have flexible faces hidden behind fabric, and they are often described still having flesh hands though I've not seen an original colour set photo confirming this. The lack of a helmet seems to avoid some of the problems with the expense of other costumes but overall the costume has many fiddly parts, largely plastic sheeting with a cumbersome chest unit and probably a bit fragile for repeated wearings. I'm not aware of anyone dressing as one for a convention which is a shame.

Design - 6/10 - but only cosplay if you don't mind wearing a washing machine on your chest.

Mark II

A total redesign came for The Moonbase and reused in Tomb of the Cybermen. There might be a few differences in the positioning of the pipes but they are effectively the same. These are my favourite design from the moment I saw them in Tomb of the Cybermen. They appeared brutal and strong, with powerful three-fingered hands. They were made from some one-piece rubber wetsuit sprayed silver, as the paint kept flaking off during the filming of Tomb according to one interview. There's a bit of obvious use of practice golf balls at the shoulders and joints but otherwise they need to be largely custom made. The chest unit is smaller and more manageable but the helmet is difficult for the costumer. Expensive as it is, it's probably worthwhile buying one as it will be the centrepiece for the costume, the rest can be home made, even the chest unit, and pipes are easy to find. The Cybercontroller from Tomb is more straight forward as he does not have a chest unit but the head might be hard to locate.

Design - 9/10

Mark III

Wheel in Space cybermen are similar to the previous design but with several distinct differences. The pipes on the arms are replaced with rods and the chest unit is upside down while the helmet gains the memorable 'teardrop' design on the eyes. The hands are slightly different too, still three fingers but with metal caps on them. Same issues with acquiring a helmet present themselves and making the chest unit, and the arm rods are probably more difficult to make than the previous piping. I don't greatly care for the two-part costume, more obviously a wetsuit but probably more comfortable to wear, as far as comfort goes in such costumes.

Design - 7/10

Mark IV

All change again for The Invasion, some aspects of the Wheel design still present on with the two-piece wetsuit and the rods on arms and legs. New chest unit and I like the new head, but the use of the wetsuit is even more obvious as are the lace up boots on the feet. A bit of me likes it, a bit of me doesn't. I only got to see the Invasion recently with the DVD release, which is grand, so it doesn't hold a childhood nostalgia value. It's a memorable design though and would be a lot of fun to cosplay, if you could get the head. Fortunately, there seem to be more props of this head that come up for sale than the Tomb/Wheel version.

Design - 7/10

Mark IV

There was a huge gap until the next Cyberman story which hopped right over the Pertwee era which was a shame. They resemble the Invasion style but the heads are modified and the chest unit is reused again from Wheel, and it's been turned around again. Joints have a concertinaed sleeves and thick pipes are all over the costume. I don't really care for it, but maybe that's influenced by the fact the story isn't up to much. Also the cybermen strut around a lot with their hands on their hips (see above), it's all a bit silly.

Design - 6/10

Mark VI

Awesome redesign for the 80s, gone are are the wetsuits and now there is a far more complex looking RAF flight suit. The head and chest unit are done again and look fantastic. I think the cybermen became a lot more fluid and human in their movement with this design, and somewhat less robotic. The costume was used in Earthshock, Five Doctors and Attack of the Cybermen with minor modifications. In Earthshock the chin piece was clear revealing a little movement inside, but later on it was just painted silver. Attack of the Cybermen had one painted entirely black to hide in the sewers. The loose fitting suit is probably the best choice for a cosplayer, but getting hold of an accurate RAF suit is difficult and the head and chest unit are a costly purchase that probably can't be avoided. They do however look grand on screen and still look good over 20 years later. But I was never scared of them, not like those in the 60s.

Design - 8/10 - but is more difficult to home build than those previous.

Mark VII

The cybermen get a very shiny makeover for Silver Nemesis, this just look a bit glitzy and not particularly realistic. The story is god-awful with the cybermen's allergy to gold so strong that even lumps of it hitting them kills them outright. It's a sad 25th anniversary. Anyway, the head and chest unit are chrome, but also the plate in the middle is different inside. Pipes and wires are rearranged particularly around the wrists and shins, the RAF suit is replaced with some sort of more generic looking fabric, hands are the 'cricket glove' style. A lot of work for the costumer but at least the complex RAF suit is gone. The head is difficult to achieve unless you compromise on the chrome finish or have means to chrome plate something large. The original props in this story can be found in the hands of various collectors online and all have all discoloured with age turning a rather uncharacteristic gold colour for the cybermen.

Design - 5/10 - hate the chrome.


And that was it for a long time through the 'wilderness years' with a few speculative designs for various aborted projects throughout the 90s like that of the "Dark Dimension". But the New Series came back and with it in the second series new Cybermen. Concept artists came up with all sorts of ideas for the new cybermen, some taking inspiration from the old, like the image below.

That is first class in my opinion. Heavy set, industrial, brutal and a mix of the old. A really lovely design. And there were a lot of other great looking designs. What we got was this...

Dreadful. Did someone really walk around the many designs and pick the shit bit from each, and then come out with something that looks like a damn toy? I really believe the 'action figure potential' was a factor in this design, because apart from the jug handle ears it does not evoke anything cyberman-ish to me and flares went out of fashion with Revenge of the Cybermen. I really hoped that we'd get a new design after the "parallel universe" shtick in the New Series but no, this is what out cybermen now look like in every story, probably because the costumes cost so damn much. It's all armour and very little to suggest they are organic in any fashion, they are as good as robots. It wouldn't be so bad, but seeing many pieces of the concept art just makes me think we lost out. The costume is nigh impossible for a cosplayer to adequately construct, I've seen someone making one from folded paper and card, but the investment to make something durable would be high.

Design - 2/10 - please get rid of it.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Faceless Ones

This story comes fresh to me, though the couple of existing episodes and a reconstruction using telesnaps. Having never even read the novel, all I knew about this story was that it had aeroplanes in it. Overall I quite enjoyed it, it has a rather slow pace to it and there’s the novelty value of using Gatwick airport. This story is much better than Time Flight and is only the second story to really be set on contemporary Earth like the War Machines before it. Oddly enough, chronologically speaking it occurs only a day after the War Machines allowing Ben and Polly to return to their lives without any hassle. Some describe the story as unmemorable but that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that like many of this ear, most of it is destroyed. As a story it unfolds gradually over the six episodes with several surprises along the way. It’s not clear who has been replaced by a Chameleon and who is still human, you don’t know what the aliens are doing with the humans or where they are going. The true form of the aliens is only occasionally seen and not over-used; a scarred humanoid form, which they wish to replace using the form of captured humans. The captive humans are taken aboard a spaceship and shrunk down for storage, while the Chameleons take their form. On Earth they have replaced many staff at the airport, although no all seems well in the alien camp. If the link with the original human is simply broken, the Chameleon doesn’t just lose the human form but dies. The original human has to be kept, and it seems that their superiors keep these hidden, as though to keep their subordinates under their control. Their superiors have their own human copies hidden away themselves. In this way the aliens don’t seem entirely evil, they are desperate to replace their damaged bodies and their approach is unethical... but it is distinctly their leaders that are villainous; others are more open to reason once under a bit of pressure.

It is the hiding of the human originals of airport staff that is the undoing of the Chameleon plan. In most of the six episodes the Doctor has to deal with the usual disbelieving authority figures, but once accepting the alien menace the airport staff soon find the ‘hidden’ humans in the car park. The threat of disconnection from the humans, and their deaths, soon halts the Chameleon plan. Authority figures are particularly difficult to convince in this story of the alien threat but the Doctor probably doesn’t do much for his credibility by causing a bomb scare to escape the controller’s office shouting “One step nearer and I'll blow you all to smithereens!” before throwing something at the controller and running away. Fortunately the humans do come through, the alien plan is defeated and the kidnapped humans are returned.

At one point the Chameleons claim to be the “most intelligent race” in the universe; big headed boasting or actual delusion? It’s a claim so ludicrously massive that the Doctor just appears to let it slide. These, after all, are aliens who have copied people and ‘hidden’ the bodies by propping them up at the wheel of cars in the car park, knowing that if the devices attached to the bodies are tampered with it will kill them. This is probably sillier than the Nestene keeping their human doubles standing in Madame Tussauds.

Innes Lloyd again demonstrates that companions are very disposable characters. Here Ben and Polly are effectively written out after episode 2 only making a short appearance in episode 6 to say goodbye. It’s more than Dodo got in the War Machines, but still not much of an exit. Though their departure makes some sense, they are leaving the Doctor the day after they first stepped into the TARDIS meaning their lives will continue without disruption. Unlike Ian and Barbara who returned after a two year disappearance having literally vanished off the face of the world, if the authorities looked into the matter. I saw mention that there might have been contractual purposes for their non-appearance in most of the story but it does seem a bit confused as to why they left. Michael Craze was not being renewed, Anneke Wills turned down the opportunity to continue on the show. Claims that there was a lot of animosity among the cast have been refuted. Their departure marks the casting off of the last vestiges of the Hartnell era. The character Sam, in search of her missing brother, becomes a trial companion for the story, and tentative love interest for Jamie, but Pauline Collins turned an ongoing role down. The companion role would soon be filled by Victoria in the following story.

A slow, somewhat ponderous adventure with plenty of little mysteries and a few surprises, villains that are perhaps more desperate than evil and an ending that doesn’t result in their mass destruction. Watched/listened to in a single sitting would be too much, but it is enjoyable over a couple of days. Overall a good story.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dalek Attack

Recently I've been messing around with DosBox and trying out a few old games available on abandonware websites. No one official bothers with these now and there's no support for them either. Dalek Attack was one memorable game from my childhood, released from 1992-3 on a spread of platforms, 8 and 16 bit, and each seems slightly different. At the time there were even adverts on TV. The poorest version was probably the Spectrum, being the most limited machine, the game was cruder in every way with fewer monsters. The PC was far superior, though I had the version for the Atari ST and they seem fairly equivalent. The Atari release had particularly good music as the machine was known for having a good quality sound board. The only annoying thing about this game is the manual. To prevent copying the game, as was common of this era, after the first level you are requested to find a word in the manual that comes with the game ("Type the word on Page #, Line #, Word #"). To prevent photocopying the book, all the pages are covered in faint diamond logos, but this also makes it difficult to read, and the text is very small. And if you lose it you are stuffed.

The game itself is an odd beast. It's not really very 'Doctor Who'... the Doctor leaps around the level scaling buildings and blasting baddies to pieces with his sonic screwdriver. In that respect it's very much an action platform game with very little regard for the source material. But on the other hand, I think it's rather fun in its own right. The game is colourful with rich textures and sound for its time. It might not feel like Doctor Who but there's plenty to identify from many sources.

Player 1 always has the Doctor, and you get a choice between the 2nd, 4th and 7th. Player 2 has either Ace or some big bloke in green that is supposed to be the Brigadier. Of all the characters, only he could really be seen blasting Daleks to pieces with such relish. Your main weapon is a weedy blaster that slowly damages weaker enemies but doesn't hurt daleks. You can upgrade to lasers which do kill daleks with several blasts but you need to keep collecting the powerups because it runs out. Also you can collect grenades which are effective against all enemies but the character tends to lob them making it difficult to get one-shot kills. And that makes all the difference when you die easily. There's the smart bomb which will kill everything on the screen, but once you pick it up you can't save it and use your grenades, you only get them once you use the bomb. So the opportunity to save it until much later in the level doesn't present itself. There are other power ups beyond lasers and health, but they seem pretty rare.

The enemies are numerous. As mentioned, in the spectrum release there is little variety, but in the better 16 bit releases you get a lot more. Ogrons and robomen (styled like the Peter Cushing movies) are commonplace, daleks less so... and thank god because they take some killing. Daleks come in various colours, grey in London, silver/blue movie style in Paris, Gold in Tokyo. There are also red daleks, daleks they fly on pads like the TV21 Comic and on Skaro there is on dalek baring a resemblance to the gold emperor of the TV21 comics and some Daleks resembling Ray Cusick's redesign that was in an annual in the 1990s and probably making it the only appearance in the fiction anywhere that I know of. There are also some other villains unique to each locations that aid the Daleks; gang members in New York, Ninjas in Tokyo, Paris has some evil mime artists striped jumpers and Egyptian mummies (?!). As I said, the game draws on a variety of sources, TV, comic, film and elsewhere..

That seldom seen Dalek redesign...

So you're probably getting a feel for the game now. But what I touched on earlier is the difficulty, it is an immensely hard game. The levels are London, Paris, New York, Tokyo and Skaro. I played it on and off for years and struggled to get to New York. Getting to Tokyo was a herculean effort. I never saw Skaro. There was no learning curve, you were thrown straight in with it being relentlessly difficult to survive.

The first level in London has a sort of pre-level in which you have to fly through the sewers. It's the only time you have to fly in the whole game, and it thrashes you. It's not an easy vehicle to fly, there are walls everywhere to run into, small gaps to fly though, drills coming through the floor and ceiling, poisonous slime dripping off the ceiling, mutants that leap out the water to damage you and if you don't fly though all this shit fast enough a couple of Daleks appear behind you and shoot you up, and you're not allowed to turn around and kill them. You just have to take it.

Then at the end of the level you have two bastard tough mutants to kill.

And you've not even properly started the first level yet!!

Is this a reference? It should be "Totter's Lane" rather than "Totter Lane", but here No. 76 is a pub so I'm not sure they are going for accuracy...

As you exit the sewers you get one of those smart bombs... which you immediately have to use in the next level because you start with three enemies around you shooting you up. This is fine, but if you die and have to restart, you don't get the smart bomb back so take a beating. Lots of stuff kills you, falling off a building kills you, walking in waist deep water kills you, giant rats in the underground kill you. All the time you enter a door or window and immediately there's an enemy shooting you, sometimes in the bad. You can't do anything but take the damage. It's pretty hard going but London is by far the easiest level.

In each city you have to explore to find some human hostages, when you collect all these, and thankfully they tell you how many you have remaining, you get access to go to the final boss.

All the final bosses are a bit different. This is the London one and looks like a super dalek with a mutant that comes out to spit missiles at you once you destroy the various other weapons.

Hope you have you manual to hand with a magnifying glass ready because you're going to be asked to input a word next...

Sometimes the Timelords will appear and offer you a free gift. And you really need these because you are taking a beating in the game. I think it's related to your score, because when I cheated and ran around blasting dalek I could find the Timelords popped up fairly regularly. Normally, you avoid the daleks, so simply don't get the timelords or the offer of the much needed powerups or extra lives. So it's a bit Catch 22.

Just a few quick pics of Paris and New York. You can tell he's French because he's wearing a stripy jumper and beret.

And in New York even the taxis hate you...

The game never lets up on the difficulty and the bosses are very fast and powerful. Eventually you will run out of lives and see the following screens...

But wait, if somehow you complete the four cities on Earth you are sent to Skaro to recover a Time Ring, and defeat Davros. Skaro is a hell hole. Most levels are a maze, but this takes it further with doors and corridors all leading you around in circles. The daleks are tougher and ther are trap everywhere. Just getting to the city is hard with mutants and pits of fire and spikes to fall in. Once you free all the hostages you get access to Davros and he pops in and out of various doors making him hard to hit let alone kill. I had to cheat to get this far in the game, I've never been able to do it.

Once Davros is finished you get a different end scene...

And Davros is frozen in an ice-cube for safe keeping.

The End!

Phew. Well maybe one day I will beat the game fair, but at least I've had the chance to see all of it, instead of spending all day just to get a few minutes of New York as I managed when I was young. The difficulty does pose a hell of a challenge, and it might be easier with two players, but you still have a job on. As games go I think it's got it where it counts. The control is all fluid and it looks and sounds great.

As a Doctor Who item, well it's not going to fit into the canon well... but it has all the icons of Doctor Who. It looks more obviously like Doctor Who than some of the cruder games that came before and frankly it's a lot more fun to play than Destiny of the Doctors. So it's worth a go if only once.

Anyway, to help others along, there are a few rather long winded cheat codes to type in.

JAMES BOND AND OLIVER REED WERE NEVER GOOD SINGERS - Infinite Lives (I can't get this to work on PC whether I hold down shift or not, as some suggest, but I know it works on Atari ST and I've heard it works on Amiga)


DAY OF RECKONING Skip London (Doesn't work in sewers)


TRICOLOR COFFEE SHOP Skip New York (may need UK spelling of 'colour')