Sunday, 29 December 2013

50th Anniversary Album

I recently bought this great compilation of Doctor Who music covering the 50 years of Doctor Who.  It makes for interesting listening and is good value at over 5 hours for under £15.  Tthere's a good spread of music and avoiding too much of the New Series material which covers the last of four CDs (though I bought the download).  The New Series material is widely available with most series having a dedicated soundtrack.  Various material for the older series have been released but many are now unavailable or just didn't have a commercial release, such as that for the TV Movie.  Also with this album you can enjoy a sample from across the years, rather than a whole CD of music from a single story, for which are there are few stories I would want the entire soundtrack.

Overall this album lets you take a journey through the styles and approaches to music in Doctor Who over 50 years, given a certain hiatus in the 90s.  There are lots of tracks from the very earliest stories such as The Daleks but these were enjoyable and very atmospheric; the petrified jungle, the Dalek city.  Some favourites like the Tomb of the Cybermen music are also very pleasing.  Pertwee's era seems a bit thin on the ground but there's the Master's theme and the strange music from the Sea Devils.  I especially enjoy the music by Geoffrey Burgeon for Zygons and Seeds of Doom, so was happy to have several pieces from these, and some of the nicer sounding music from Season 18 when they first started using synthesisers a lot.  It's interesting to see how the regular use of synthesisers started with quite melodic and varies pieces in stories like Keeper of Traken and Logopolis, in comparison to some of the ghastly work by Keff McCulloch during the McCoy era.  The piece for Battlefield is quite dreadful but its inclusion with the album allows the comparison, as a journey through the music of Doctor Who is works, even when the music is bad.

There are some omissions I would have liked to heard included if possible, the strange music from the Silurians to complement the Sea Devils, the theme from City of Death, and some more Dudley Simpson from things like Pyramids of Mars (which had previously had a full release but something from this would have been pleasing).  But you can't have it all.  There are a few odd things included like a minute of two of Chumbley noises from Galaxy 4, but when the total running time is over five hours there's no feeling of losing any time to a couple of quirky entries.

Overall, a top release for the 50th Anniversary, listening to isolated scores of Doctor Who stories is more rewarding than I imagined.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner

The release of the book 'The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner' is apparently going to put into print all the things that have been rumoured and more for everyone to read.  There are always 'behind the scenes stories' that have a voyeuristic appeal old and new.  Fandom is now so large and connected online that gossip spreads faster than ever.  Secrecy is the nature of the programme, mostly keeping spoilers underwraps and maintaining a rosy image of production that doesn't include Christopher Eccleston throwing his script on the floor and call it 'crap'.  I don't know if that's true, like all stories that do the rounds, but who cares?  If it was Aliens of London I don't blame him.

But Richard Marson's book takes it so much further, into territory rather too uncomfortable given all that has come out about Jimmy Savile in the last year.  Unlike that case, I think many fans will actually be surprised by the content of this book in this book.  I'm somewhat torn between having the supposed truth about someone written, and waiting until they are dead and unable to make any response before publishing it.  According to the Mirror article, Ian Levine has said that the book would “shock many people, things went on that were horrible, corrupt, too awful to discuss”.  If I cast my memory back a number of years to the Outpost Gallifrey forum, I distinctly remember Levine making comments about JNT and Gary Downie picking up young men at conventions, but even then they were both already dead, and it seemed a throwaway comment, kicking someone who couldn't respond, among his usual bile being vented.  Maybe there's a feeling here that it's okay for fans, or certain fans, to know the truth but not for it to be put in print for a mass audience.

That' said, the majority of this book sounds like it's fun but frank account of his life and time on the show.  Various comments by contributors are positive on the publishers website, the book hopefully isn't a hatchet job focused on his sex life.  If Andrew Pixley gives it the thumbs up I'm willing to give it a go.  It's distinctly not a book alleging that JNT was a paedophile, although JNT had a preference for young men and appears to have been quite persistent on that, Richard Marson is clear to say that it was more carefree than malicious when saying that JNT's attitude was ‘go with the flow, life is a party ... I’ll try it on and if somebody says yes, that’s up to them’.  His comments on Gary Downie are less ambiguous though, claiming to have been assaulted by him on a set visit.  There are many mentions of young men involved with JNT and Gary Downie being below the age of consent at the time, which technically makes it statutory rape I suppose but they wouldn't have been below the age of consent today it seems.  It's all a bit dubious given how forceful they could be in pursuing young men, although Marson also comments that "Although I did meet some people who felt that their treatment at the hands of John and Gary was inappropriate - it would not be true to say that I've found anyone willing to testify to coercion or abuse."  Though this seems a bit hard to reconcile completely with his own account of being pursued by Gary Downie, or the fact that they did appear to take advantage of their popular position on the programme to have sex with fans.

Some of the media coverage has a distinctly nasty edge having seized upon the juiciest details.  The Mirror in particular publishes a story about the 'Doctor Who Sex Scandal' with a picture of Colin Baker, although he's clearly only there to catch the attention of readers, he's got nothing to do with the article and is accused of no wrongdoing.  There's a particular focus on the fact that they were having sex with underage men, in retrospect with the age of consent changing this seems less significant but after Jimmy Savile, any sex scandal at the BBC is worth wringing out.  In another part of the Mirror article, there's a dubious juxtaposition of the following two paragraphs together reading...

"He also claims one wealthy fan, in exchange for visits to the studio and the occasional souvenir from the set, kept Nathan-Turner supplied with escorts.

In an interview last year, Doctor Who “superfan” Ian Levine, said the book’s contents would “shock many people, things went on that were horrible, corrupt, too awful to discuss”."

Now Ian Levine isn't the only rich fan around and I've heard a few supposedly more likely alternatives, but it still stinks.  There was extensive discussion during the Leveson inquiry over the way that papers don't say something but suggest it in underhanded ways, such as publishing a piece about a footballer with a super injunction across the page from a huge photo of Ryan Giggs attached to a story about something trivial.  How you legislate against that is beyond me, but it doesn't seem as though the press are changing.

The book is the book, and only when published will we be able to digest it and get the full story for a rounded picture.  I think though, that some are keen to use this against against the show and the BBC.  In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and general hatred for the BBC from certain parts of the right wing press, there's never been a better time to attack.

Stay tuned...

Monday, 28 January 2013

Power of the Daleks

Rumours of missing Doctor Who material are always around but there seems to be a few more with the onset of the 50th anniversary.  Typically missing episode rumours grow out of nowhere, a mix of off hand comments, incomplete memories and miscommunication, and on some occasions are deliberate hoaxes.  Often, it’s the claim that collectors are sitting on them, some in ignorance but there is always the dark suggestion that some know their value but hoard them.  I'm not sure whether to think this has happened with Doctor Who, but with the amount of film out there changing hands in a private market there is almost certainly material in the hands of a few that is not in the public domain.  There’s the suggestion that given the opportunity, some people would hoard as demonstrated when someone once listed missing Doctor Who material on eBay and were contacted for the purposes of a private sale.  There was no episode available and what those interested would have done with their purchase can’t be proven of course, but it seems that given the chance, there are people who would hoard.  The other issue is that the BBC won’t pay to get their own material back, while frustrating as a fan, it’s understandable in that the BBC doesn't want to create precedent for agreeing to buy their own property back lest encouraging missing material be held to ransom.  So while missing episodes are worth a great deal, there is reliance upon the goodwill of people to return them for little reward.  Furthermore, when the episode is returned, while the collector can keep the original film it is true, but it is significantly devalued in that it is no longer unique, being eventually available on DVD.  Given that, you can see why an unscrupulous person would want to hang on to their ‘investment’ as it loses both uniqueness and value.

Episodes have been found in odd places, and many episodes exist with difference degrees of editing.  Rumours are rife of them being held in various TV archives around the world but being lost by various forms of natural or man made destruction.  There are rumours of episodes secretly shown in conventions, though these are rather more difficult to believe.  The edits made to episodes ironically survive the destruction of episodes, so several fragments of material have come back piecemeal from censors.  Episodes as a result exist in various forms of completion.  For example, there are many copies of the Time Meddler in existence with different cuts.  One of which recalls another peculiar story.  The Time Meddler was returned in 1984 with edits to the episodes and sat as such in the archives for many years.  Just prior to the programme being shown as part of the 30th anniversary repeats Ian Levine produced another copy of the Time Meddler which was a more complete copy.  Which was great, but apparently he had been sitting on it from the early eighties after being lent it by an unnamed ‘friend’ before the Nigerian recovery.  Obviously there were suspicions as to the motives of someone effectively sitting on material that was lost to the archive but Levine claimed that he was only holding onto them as a favour for a friend and as they belonged to someone else he didn't feel right to return them, even though they are, by rights, BBC material.  Levine claims that some people at the BBC knew he owned missing episodes outside their archive but that as there were strong rumours around at the time that some people had missing episodes they would only trade for other missing episodes, it was only right that he keep his own finds secret for some purpose.  Still, the safest place for missing material is in the archives and in BBC hands, not held by people hoping to use them as bargaining material or claiming to hang onto them for their mates while the BBC archive has gaps.  It's worth noting that as a result of this, the Time Meddler are the BBC was needlessly less complete than it could have been for around a decade.

Speaking of which there is currently a buzz that it isn’t a film collector or fan sitting on material, but the BBC iotself, keeping an announcement secret for the 50th anniversary.  It’s suggested that some, or optimistically all, of Power of the Daleks has been recovered.  Elsewhere I've seen Tenth Planet part 4 being named, which strikes me as being ridiculously hopeful as it is probably the holy grail of lost episodes containing the landmark first regeneration scene.  That's been the target of so many hoaxes that it actually doesn't get named that often any more, hoaxers preferring to name something more obscure and less desired, though any missing material is welcome.

Where do these rumours this stem from?  Well firstly the BBC has a little previous form on this matter making people quicker to doubt denials by those likely to be involved.  When episodes from Galaxy 4 and Underwater Menace were returned in October 2011 they were kept under wraps for a surprise screening at a BFI event in December.  Galaxy 4 part three was returned first, and a few weeks later Underwater Menace part two was found by the same collector.  But this was kept secret in the face of fandom gossip, somehow the details didn't leak out and it was eventually shown to a few hundred who had tickets to the event, the only few to have still seen them as they currently await release over a year later.  It was one of those fabled examples of episodes found in odd places such as a Church basement.  These being bought at a school fete and twenty years later handed over to the BBC when mentioned to Ralph Montagu, Radio Times’s head of heritage, who identified them.  When asked if he hoped to find more he responded “Well, one or two other leads are being pursued at the moment. More than that I’m not saying!”  This caused a little speculation that perhaps there were more leads through acquaintances of the collector who had owned these two episodes all these years.

Moving on a bit and with the hope that the BBC may sit on things to announce when it suits them there’s a much talked about rumour that Anneke Wills made mention of a discovery being being hushed by someone accompanying her.  Ah ha, conspiracy!  But the circumstances around this seem a bit vague, who heard what and where?  Basically it’s claimed that something of Power of the Daleks has been found in Australia.  This has been given substance using the above observations of the BBC handing of missing material alongside various accounts of something Anneke Wills said at a convention.  Looking around the internet these accounts are varied, she’s supposed to have said that we’re getting a ‘wonderful surprise’ for the 50th anniversary, that she said there is ‘more to come’ after Underwater Menace, that she responded ‘you’re not supposed to know’ to someone saying the episodes were back, to her saying outright whispering that it is Power of the Daleks.  In many of these accounts there are some ‘minders’ around that tell her not to speak further, which seems almost sinister considering that’s she’s supposed to be a guest at the event.  Unless she’s taken to telling everyone passing her at the convention bar, it seems impossible that all of these variations of the story are true.  Various members of the Restoration Team have denied missing material being returned.

There’s a good article on missing episodes by Ash Stewart linked below.

Tantalising rumours over the years here

And one itemising the returns of various missing materials.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Three Doctors for Nu Who

With the BBC keeping most of the details for the 50th anniversary under wraps, an my total disinterest in reading spoilers, I have no idea what is coming up for Doctor Who in 2013.  In my dreams it would be a special episode with past Doctors returning, the way of old. There will be the usual fan moans that multi-Doctor stories are a bit lame, thin on plot and just a contrived excuse for a get together.  What the hell?  That's the point isn't it?  Obviously Matt Smith would be in, and I don't think it would get much to persuade David Tennant back.  Some people say that Christopher Eccleston would never do it, but if that's true we are probably have the best chance at this moment.  Many of the complaints attributed to Eccleston refer to a production team than has largely changed, those he supposedly had disputes with are gone and the person running the series, Steven Moffat, wrote one of the stories he most enjoyed in his only season of Doctor Who.  All that and a little water under the bridge, would he be willing to come back for a single story?

I wasn't around for the Three or Five Doctors but I'm told they were very exciting by people who were young fans at the time.  Doctor Who repeats have always been thin on the ground, clutches coming along with the Five Faces of Doctor Who in 1981 and the stories chosen for repeats on the 30th anniversary.  Other repeats have been scattered across a the last decades, a Power of the Daleks here, a Genesis of the Daleks there.  The last repeat of old Who I can recall is Hand of Fear on BBC 4 when Elizabeth Sladen died.  Point being that when the Three Doctors came along, Hartnell had been out of the part for 6 years, Troughton 3 years, and neither had ever been seen in colour, only still pictures in a tiny handful of Doctor Who material.  I still have my father's 10th anniversary Radio Times, in which were episode listings which probably made it the first programme guide published for the series.  This made the Three Doctors very special, and some who were young at the time recall it being extremely exciting.

There is a big difference though between the viewer experience then and now, created by the home video age and the rise of digital channels.  Note that from the Hand of Fear repeat, old Who is now deemed BBC 4 material, to be shown alongside documentaries on Stradivarius violins, not BBC 2 as when the 30th anniversary was on, and certainly not BBC 3 where new Who is seemingly on constant repeat alongside Family Guy and programmes about yoof culture.  Still, between DVDs being sold cheap in HMV and regular repeats, new Who doesn't suffer the problem of old fans in the 70s.  Any time they want to see Eccleston or Tennant they can flick through the channels, go on iPlayer or get out their DVDs.

But although that takes a lot of the edge off seeing previous Doctors on the screen again, the fact that people still watch these repeats shows there's continued interest in them.  Furthermore, children are now growing up watching Doctor Who with no memory of the Eccleston era.  They are as much part of the past to a 10 year old now, as McCoy was to me when Paul McGann made his only appearance as Doctor Who.  To produce a new story allowing both young fans to see Eccleston in action for the first time, and for slightly older fans to see something other than reminiscences on DVD, would be grand.  It wouldn't matter if the plot was contrived because people want to see the characters in character.  It would be hugely entertaining.  The worst thing they could do is try to make a clever not-traditional multi doctor story in order to get the actors in but not have them play the roles we love them for, something pretentious and confused like Zagreus, for example.

No, Five Doctors good, Zagreus bad.  Stop trying to be clever and have fun.

As for the rest of the anniversary?  Well as I'll cover them another time, but they range from some great DVD releases, such as the Mind of Evil in full colour, a set of reprints of old novels with some dubious choices, and rumours of supposed missing episode discoveries that are being held back from public knowledge.  But reading around, these rumours span the view that there's nothing at all, to those claiming that a 'major haul' has been found.  I wouldn't put too much hope in that one.