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')


Monday, 16 January 2012

UNIT - Part 2

"You attract trouble Doctor. You always did."

UNIT are usually thought of as a three man operation, the Brig, Benton and sometimes Mike Yates, with some troops to support them, but an overview of the series shows hints of a much larger organisation even within the UK which is constantly changing. Many characters make singular appearances and are never heard from again. Admittedly quite a few are killed, but most soldiers dying onscreen for UNIT are unnamed privates and not officers. Some of these have names, most do not. It does seem that there are a handful of staff that work in an ongoing capacity for UNIT but that the majority probably only do a short tour with them and return to regular duties as with the Queen’s Guard. This is implied in Scales of Injustice according to which Captain Munro returned to the regular army after Spearhead from Space.


Corporal Benton is probably the best known NCO but had a promotion after his first story to Sergeant and later to Regimental Sergeant Major. He’s one of the few long standing members of UNIT. Corporal Forbes was killed by Auton. Corporal Bell is a rarity being pretty much the only female member of UNIT staff throughout the 60s and 70s who was not an assistant of the Doctor’s. Corporal Nutting fought the silurians, Corporal Tracy fought the Cybermen, Corporal Champion was present during the alien possession of the Astronauts on the Mars Space Programme, Corporall Campbell is referred to working in stores in Terror of the Autons but only receives a rank in the novel. Corporal Palmer fought Omeg’s Gel Guards and though I’m sure he was mentioned a few times, I only find mention of him in the Terror of the Zygons novel. Corporal Adams and Faraday were both duplicated by the Kraals during their invasion, but as Benton and Harry Sullivan survived there’s a possibility that these two did not die as a result.


As expected UNIT Sergeants are fewer in number but several many single appearances. Apart from most of Benton’s appearances there was Sergeant Walters who fought the cybermen and Sergeant Hart who died fighting the Silurians. Sergeant Henderson was murdered by Harrison Chase who fed him into a composter to feed the Krynoid. Sergeant Osgood was a technician supporting UNIT and fought Azal. Unlike most of UNIT he actually appears as supporting a scientific approach but is baffled by the Doctor’s science. Regardless it appears that he is an accomplished expert in his field, just dwarfed by the Doctor at the time. Sergeant Zbrigniev appears in Battlefield and reflects the more multi-national aspect of UNIT in later years. Although it is not expanded upon, he appears to have previous experience of the Doctor, or at least is better informed than others.


Few Lieutenants have been seen working for UNIT. Lieutenant Richards escorted the missile in Battlefield and in the same story Flight Lieutenant Lavel, another woman in UNIT in a story that gave us a female Brigadier. She’s a helicopter pilot, but unfortunately killed by Morgaine.


With relatively few Captains, it is possible to see the chain of command developing over time. In the Invasion Captain Jimmy Turner fought the Cybermen and according to Scales of Injustice later married Isobel Watkins. This might explain his departure making way for Captain Jimmy Munro who fought nestene in Spearhead from Space and according to Scales of Injustice returned to the regular army afterwards. The next Captain was the short lived Captain Hawkins who was killed by the the Silurians. After this there is a gap until Terror of the Autons where Captain Mike Yates appears and serves long term with UNIT until being discharged. As mentioned in the first part of this blog, he never really recovered after the Green Death when he was brainwashed. But upon his return was easily manipulated into betraying his friends and later pushed out on sick leave and resignation. Following his leaving, Sargeant Benton is promoted to RSM which as suggested earlier might reflect budgetary cuts to UNIT’s funding.


A few Majors have appeared for UNIT and often take charge of significant operations. Major Husak appeared under the command of Brigadier Bambera, Major Walton fought the Silurians, Major Cosworth was present for the attack on the prison in Mind of Even and the attack to recapture the stolen Thunderbolt missile. Major Beresford was called upon to fight the Krynoid in the absence of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

Senior Ranks and Leaders of UNIT

Colonel Charles Crichton was Lethbridge-Stewart’s replacement, but interestingly his taking over of British UNIT forces did not coincide with an increase in rank. He appears to no longer be in charge by the mid-90s or whenever Battlefield is set.
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart hardly needs an introduction but we first see him as a Colonel who is promoted to Brigadier with the creation of UNIT. He is also regularly described as the head of UNIT, although this can only describe the British branch of the organisation. As is described further on, he has superiors in Britain and abroad. Lethbridge-Stewart eventually retired (don’t ask when) and was directly replaced by Colonel Crichton. Later the organisation was commanded by Brigadier Winifred Bambera who only appeared in Battlefield but according to the novels likely commanded for some years.

The extent of powers granted to the ‘head of UNIT’ seems unclear as does who has actual control. UNIT cooperate, and can take instructions from, the main forces of a country. The Brigadier is observed to report to the MOD and the Prime Minister themselves as in Terror of the Zygons. But elsewhere is known to go to Geneva to override instructions given by the British Government. It’s also noticeable that the Brigadier spends more and more time in Geneva and is not present for either Android Invasion or Seeds of Doom. In the Invasion the Brigadier has a supervisor at the Ministry of Defence in Major General Rutlidge who was working for Tobias Vaughn and attempting to foil UNITs investigations. He was later killed by Vaughn. At the time, however, the Brigadier made the threat of going to Field-Marshal Thatcher in Geneva who was more superior again and could overrule Rutlidge. In Paradise of Death the Brigadier even goes to the Secretary General of the UN to take action against the wishes of the British Government.

It’s not clear if Field-Marshal Thatcher is actually a member of UNIT, although he is the highest ranking military officer known to give orders to UNIT, orders do come from senior members of the government itself and from the UN. The Brigadier is the highest ranking dedicated UNIT officer in the country, more senior ranks appear to be attached to the regular forces. With Major General Rutlidge overseeing some of UNIT’s activities in the early phases of their setting up and later with a liaison officer in the form of Major General Scobie. The Brigadier commands a handful of dedicated officers, but it seems likely that beyond this are soldiers who do a tour with UNIT and are not working full time for the United Nations. This may explain why UNIT have a large turnover in staff, but that for a specialised organisation they appear very much like regular forces and not Special Forces.

The last thing to note is the portrayal of UNIT by old and modern production teams. UNIT have become are far more sinister organisation under the New Series which is the direction the organisation also heads into the middle of the 21st Century in the novels. I haven’t discussed the New Series as such because of the volume of material in the older series. Generally though, I think that the difference in depictions comes about because of people of different eras writing. For example, those writing, producing and acting in Doctor Who of the 70s would all have either served in the war or done national service; this simply is not the case today. It leads to touches of authenticity in the old series, and some obvious gaffs in the new. When Sergeant Benton is promoted in Robot to Warrant Officer, he is correctly referred to as “Mister Benton” by the Brigadier. In the new series, there is some peculiar behaviour by several UNIT soldiers. In Planet of the Dead Captain Magambo holds a gun to the head of one of her staff to make them cooperate. This is just extraordinary. Lethbridge-Stewart would never have done such a thing, and while I can see they are trying to make UNIT seem morally dubious, it just comes across as ridiculous that a senior British officer would threaten their own staff with a gun for insubordination. Then there are other thing, such as in the Sarah Jane Adventures ‘Enemy of the Bane’ where Major Kilburne salutes a senior officer, albeit a retired Lethbridge-Stewart, without putting on his hat first. Yes, I know he’s a Bane in disguise, but the Brig should have smacked him about the head for that with his cane and should have given him the first clue that he wasn’t a genuine British Officer. It really is something no officer would ever do. Overall I think writers in the new series push the “military force doesn’t work” aspect harder than their predecessors, but at the same time they don’t give the impression they speak from experience of the military.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

UNIT - Part 1

"We deal with the odd, the unexplained, anything on Earth... or even beyond"

UNIT is a strange organisation, are they an elite band specialising in extra-terrestrial warfare, or a more conventional rather tiny organisation which is worryingly ineffective? It depends on the story. Also there's the question of UNIT's organisational structure which is a bit inconsistent and from which most people can likely only name a handful of obvious names. To the casual observer they are led by a Brigadier General, who under him has a single Captain and Sergeant, and the occasional Corporal. Yet there there is a raft of others of similar rank that simply appear at random and play no further role in the series. In some episodes, the organisation is even short on basic troops meaning that senior officers have to lead the assault on the aliens. I'll base most of this on the original TV stories, as there is more written in the books expanding the total number of characters further, but the number of one-off characters I'll describe later gives plenty to discuss.

UNIT was established somewhere between the Web of Fear and the Invasion. In the Invasion they have significant resources though a large number of troops, vehicles, heavy weapons and the ability to call in air support which they do in later stories like Terror of the Autons and Seeds of Doom. This was UNIT at its most powerful. What we see in later stories is an apparent decline in UN funding as they appear to struggle to pull together any resources at all. In Spearhead from Space they have large numbers of troops and are handling a clean up operation to collect the fallen meteors. In fact they turn out significant troops in most stories of Season 7 and handle large operations in Ambassadors of Death and the Silurians. Also of note is that in Spearhead from Space the Brigadier notes that "Since UNIT was formed, there’ve been two attempts to invade this planet", which, as Web of Fear led to the formation of UNIT, would strongly imply that there is an unseen invasion that they successfully handled without the Doctor's assistance!

But from Season 8 onwards it all started to go a bit wrong. Noting the quote at the top of this page, their remit appears to be one akin to the X-files, yet what we see in actuality are regular pitched battles aliens interspersed with mundane tasks such as providing security various political conferences. Maybe this indicates that UNIT are not taken seriously by either the British Government or the United Nations. Regardless of the numerous alien invasions foiled and lives saved, they have their funding cut and and are taken away from the main duties to provide security for things like World Conferences (Mind of Evil) that really don't appear within their remit.

UNIT has its authority undermined though other means as well. In Claws of Axos this directly threatens the world, as UN troops are arrested and confined by regular British Army troops while Axos carry out their plans. Again, in Invasion of the Dinosaurs they find themselves under the heel of the regular army again. One wonders if the Brigadier finds himself increasingly brought into the politics of funding that requires he comply with the British establishment even where this compromises his own organisation's effectiveness. This also explains his increasing time spent in Geneva and away from UK operations in Android Invasion and Seeds of Doom.

The issue of funding might also be reflected in the way UNIT recruits replacements and makes promotions. Promotion seems pretty rare in UNIT, can't they afford the wages? And it's not just because life expectancy is short. Lethbridge-Stewart is promoted to Brigadier apparently in order to take charge of the British branch of UNIT, but remains a Brigadier into retirement. Corporal Benton becomes a Sergeant early on, and, even though he's a bloody hero though many stories, only gets a further promotion to Warrant Officer after Mike Yates is discharged. Mike Yates is the third prominent member of UNIT as a Captain. Mike Yates appears a decent soldier but is brainwashed in The Green Death. This actually makes a good story arc into Invasion of the Dinosaurs, as he's supposedly had a period of leave but falls in with the Golden Age lot. This doesn't really seem much like the Mike Yates of old, and I like to think that his experiences in The Green Death weakened his mind and made him very vulnerable to suggestion. He is, after all, discharged and not imprisoned.

As mentioned earlier, to the casual observer it would appear these three, along with the Doctor and a number of disposable squaddies entirely comprise the British branch of UNIT. But fortunately there's a large number of other officers including Majors, Captains, Sergeants and Corporals that all make one-off appearances. This only gives a glimpse that the organisation is bigger than regularly seen onscreen. For example, in the Three Doctors UNIT HQ is directly attacked and only a modest amount of troops are available to defend it. Is this all they can draw upon? Or are we to assume that they have troops positioned around the UK? The other possibility that generously comes to mind is that due to the large experience UK UNIT troops have, due to the frequency of alien invasions targeting the home counties, they have been posted around the world to train and advise other branches. This certainly seems suggested by the more international feel to UNIT in Battlefield. While this might explain the high turnover in higher ranks, and why various captains and Sergeants make single but non-fatal appearances, it would explain the general shortage of troops in the regions most afflicted by alien invasion.

The relationship between regular army and UNIT also appears conflicted. We can see that on occasion it is particularly strained, but regular forces are drafted in to assist UNIT. This is quite a blurring of lines, as UNIT's work is supposed to remain secret. How do they stop the regular army discussing what they have seen? Possibly these issues are the reason Major General Scobie is tasked with liaising between UNIT and the regular army in Spearhead from Space. How do UNIT recruit anyway? If they are an alien-fighting elite, then their selection process may be like that of the SAS. But on the face of most evidence, given their combat prowess, it probably isn't. And how do you recruit people to fight aliens without telling them about aliens? Perhaps this is a clue as to the reason why there's a high turnover of staff within UNIT; soldiers from the British Army do a short stint with UNIT before returning to the regular forces. In Scales of Injustice Captain Munro is suggested to have returned to the regular army after the events of Spearhead from space. This seems quite plausible but how they keep a lid on all the secret warfare they carry out is anyone's guess. Although, as is the case with most alien invasions in the Doctor Who universe, the activities of UNIT are an open secret while the public simply refuse to believe all evidence proving the existence of alien attacks.

Lastly it would be worth mentioning the spoof UNIT recruitment film produced in 1993. The only recruitment film in history to show soldiers dying... frequently. "Our turnover is a bit high..." it admits and testimony from one soldier "I've lost a lot of good mates in action" is hardly going to whip up much enthusiasm. Is the hazard pay particularly high? In part 2 I'll discuss all those many soldiers that have fought with UNIT, their many Captains and Sergeants, and take a guess at some sort of command structure.

Until then, raise a glass to the many unnamed squaddies who have died fighting to save planet Earth.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Dalek's Invasion of Earth - On Location

The story 'Dalek's Invasion of Earth' had extensive location work across quite a large area including the centre of London and docklands. Such locations in central London are largely unchanged and while I only took a few pictures, there is in fact a whole website dedicated to the subject but there's nothing quite like seeing a place for yourself.

I followed the sequence from episode 3 where Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun cross central London across Westminster Bridge, through Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. As one of the first stories to make extensive use of location work, they made efforts to show it off as much as possible!

The first part is on the south side of Westminster bridge. In the background there's some Dalek writing, or maybe it's Dalek graffiti which appears in several places - the vandals! Here they have preserved the wood or metal blocking the gateway by writing on a sign and attaching it. When it comes to famous monuments they write directly on it...

For a moment the group hold back, as Daleks pass over the bridge...

But then have to hurry onwards as a Dalek arrives at the bottom of the steps with Westminster clear in the background.

The group make it over the bridge and we quickly rejoin them in Whitehall. We don't see Downing Street but they do take shelter for a moment behind the statue of Prince George. Again with the Dalek Graffiti! Would the BBC get away with painting on a famous statue today?!

Upon arrival in Trafalgar Square the place is swarming with Daleks. Several shots were filmed around this area... Trafalgar Square also appeared in the montage of shots at the end of 'The Chase' where Ian and Barbara celebrate returning to Earth.

Finally a Dalek is seen coming around the corner of the Charles James Napier statue, after this the group make their way up past the National Gallery.

The Dalek graffiti is not something I've seen discussed much, but it is surely one of the few examples of their written tongue. Maybe it's numbers rather than a word or a name, who knows?

The BBC have to be commended on managing to film all these sequences without any people or traffic around. Likely early morning work, but it would be impossible today unless you filmed on Christmas Day, the city is just continuously busy and they are unlikely to close and clear such an area for a TV programme.

Also the production team actually painted on the statues, the graffiti is effectively genuine. This would never happen today, programme makers just wouldn't do this for fear of fines and complaints. Back then it was just a guy (designer Spencer Chapman supposedly) with some enamel paint, and even he annoyed some authorities according to one site I have read.