Sunday, 9 November 2014

Worst Doctor Who Book Covers

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover but you can judge a cover by its art.  I fully intend to list my favourite Doctor Who book covers but first I have to get out the way those I dislike the most.  Some are boring while others are misconceived...

Image of the Fendahl

I think a lot of the target books have art of questionable quality, but this one stands out as just being hard on the eyes.  It's just a bit nasty with those very rich colours that clash, that yellow writing on the intense blue.  The rest isn't up to much either, the Doctor posed with a Fendahl behing him, I'm not sure if they are just placed together or whether it's supposed to depict an actual scene in the book.  I find it pretty ugly, yuck.

Set Piece

I know this is a book cover that has received criticism before.  The New Adventures had mixed standards of art too but many were pretty good.  Alister Pearson covers are generally among the best, he did many reprints of Target books for Virgin and most of the Virgin Missing Adventures range and I don't list any of that range among my least favourites because they are at least competent or very good.  The New Adventures range seems a bit more hit and miss.  Towards the end of the range they went for smaller pictures on the covers with a sort of swirly shape above and below.

Back to the cover of Set Piece, it's just awkward.  Ace is depicted in the style of a fantasy novel, sword wielding and minimal clothing.  Her face is rather expressionless, the pose doesn't seem right to my eye and she lacks a belly button too.

Thinking about Kate Orman books, The Left-Handed Hummingbird is rather odd too.  The art is ok but just what is the Doctor doing?

The Janus Conjunction

I've always been of the mind that I prefer painted and drawn art over photoshop jobs on books,  This is why I still appreciate the efforts of the Virgin NAs over many of the BBC books.  It's too easy and formulaic to find a stock photo of the Doctor and a monster, put some filters and effects and call it a day.

There are numerous covers just as the above, particularly early on in the BBC range, that are pretty basic.  The advantage of the photoshop covers is that they are safe and almost always produce a competent result that is not offensively bad, rarely do they look awful, but equally there are very few that are outstanding.  Some of the Virgin books are superb, Blood Heat and The Dark Path come to mind.

But the Janus Conjunction stands out as one of the most boring covers put on any Doctor Who book.  There is almost no feature of credit here.  It's trying to depict the eclipse that the planet in the novel is under, but you wouldn't know that just picking it up. What we have is something that looks like water going into a black void that fills the cover, as though someone forgot to put something in there.

Arc of Infinity

Dear God this cover is awful.  Apparently, or so I've heard elsewhere, Peter Davison wasn't keen on the illustrated covers around this time because of the dubious quality.  But that doesn't excuse the alternative which must have been the cheapest covers produced for any Doctor Who book.  Arc of Infinity stands out as a total failure.  Firstly it appears to have been created by someone cutting up a copy of their Radio Times and sticking the pictures on a repulsive yellow background.  Secondly, it depicts the reveal of the traitor which should be a surprise.  Wouldn't it be better to have Omega be on the cover?

This was a trend around this period.  The Visitation was the first book with a photo-cover but as it was one of the first publicity photos it could be excused, further the original art was apparently quite poor.  After this came a number of photo covers and a run of the dullest covers of Doctor Who books published.  Mawdryn Undead merely has the Doctor standing in his Tardis with a beige background.  Terminus goes for the Arc of Infinity approach by cutting a couple of photos out and pasting them overlapping regardless of perspective.  Earthshock just uses a photo on the bottom half and just gives up on the top half making it plain blue.  It also has the Doctor posing with a gun, which does happen in the story but ends up making this have a very un-Doctor Who-like cover.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cybermen on the Poppy Appeal

A surprise appearance by Cybermen and other characters was made in Leicester Square today.  We just happened to be walking that way looking for a place to eat and saw the Cybermen and 3rd Doctor lookalike on the Odeon balcony.  There were many other costumes, most were Star Wars, and were all part of a collection for the Poppy Appeal.

Fortunately they came down with their collection tins for us to get up close.  It was great to see the older styles of cybermen out.  The costumes were first rate.

I persuaded my Lillian to get her photo taken with them...

Great show and quite unexpected.  I gave them a couple of pounds towards the appeal, hope they did well as much effort was put in.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Digging Through Time - Doctor Who's oldest stars.

A few weeks ago The Thief of Baghdad (1940) was on with an appearance by Mary Morris.  I know her better as one of the Number 2s from The Prisoner, but she later appeared in Kinda, marking a huge 45 year gap between her first credited appearance in film (1937) and her eventual appearance in Doctor Who.

Part of a game we play is spotting people who have been in Doctor Who in other things to which we have taken to shouting 'take a shot'.  It's possible to cheat using the IMDB comparison page but it's more entertaining to see how many you can get out of a single programme.  Films like Flash Gordon are particularly lucrative and likely to leave you blind if you take the game too literally.

This huge amount of time between starting a screen career and eventually appearing in Doctor Who seemed enough to remark upon, and led to various questions.  What is the longest gap between someone starting their film career and later appearing in Doctor Who?  Likely to be closely linked, who was the earliest born person to appear in Doctor Who.  And what age was the oldest person to have appeared in Doctor Who?

Mary Morris is a contender on the first point, as it's actually quite difficult to immediately think of someone who was on screen before the '40s who was likely to be doing Doctor Who in the 1980s.  Taking a punt on Richard Todd who also appeared in Kinda has no such luck, only a few uncredited roles (1937) prior to 1949.  And it's these early credited roles that hold more weight as being verifiable in my opinion, so unless I say otherwise, I am basing all my claims on credited roles only.

A good a place to start as any other is with William Hartnell, born 1908 his first uncredited part was 1932 and his first credited role in 1933.  It's worth noting that Hartnell really wasn't that old when he started Dr Who aged 55.  There are many older actors born early 1900s that were to appear in Dr Who.  It's still a solid place to start as some digging was to find that 1933 is about the earliest point that many people in Doctor Who entered the film industry.  Despite Hartnell not being very old, there are not a wealth of people appearing in earlier roles doing Doctor Who.  Furthermore, these people tended to appear in early Doctor Who, so Mary Morris's 45 year record is no where near being under threat.

Around 1930 the silent era was dying and talkies became more popular.  It seems many actors simply didn't make the transition to vocal acting on film or met a language barrier being non-english.  I'm no expert, this would be my guess just looking at IMDB and early cinema, there are distinctly more foreign films in these earlier times and many actors' careers end and new ones begin.  1933 is already 30 years before Doctor Who first aired, and pushing back the years to find people appearing in earlier films who would later appear in Doctor Who is quite a challenge.  People in the middle of a career during the '30s would likely be coming to an end when Doctor Who was starting.

It's tricky just trying to think of people who are old enough, early Doctor Who doesn't actually have that many very old actors in it.  They look old, but aren't very old.  Hartnell was 55, and there are only a few older than him.  Picking obviously old people doesn't often pay off.  Michael Gough seems to have been old forever, but was born after Hartnell in 1916 and didn't appear in film until 1946.  That's not even close to our goal.  Unconvincing Dalek-made double for the Doctor in The Chase played by Edmund Warwick seemed a good stab but he was only a year older than Hartnell but didn't appear in TV/film until 1951.  To find people who were already credited in film by the early '30s requires us to dig very deep, it seems thirty years or more prior to Doctor Who even first airing really is in the distant past.

Along the way were plenty of personalities and actors worth mentioning even if they didn't make it as the oldest or earliest actors in Doctor Who.

George Coulouris was born 1903 and first in film 1933.  He appeared in the Keys of Marinus.  Notable for being in the only crossover Doctor Who has with Citizen Kane.  He worked alongside Orson Welles several times but ended up in the Keys of Marinus - groan!  All this does come back as Coulouris appears as a character in the BF audio Invaders from Mars set in 1938 which offers the in-joke of Orson Welles asking "George, what are you doing with those keys?"

Vivienne Bennett was born in 1905 and played Elizabeth I in The Chase (1965).  Her first credited acting role was in 1929 Le Secret du Cargo.  Trying to find earlier roles is becoming more and more obscure but now we're into the '20s where things get even trickier.

Esmond Knight born 1906 had his first credited role in The Blue Knight in 1928.  Now we're really pushing it back a few years.  He appeared in The Space Pirates in 1968 which a square 40 years between his first film and Doctor Who appearance, but still falls short of Mary Morris's record which now seems unlikely to be beaten.

HMS Hood
More curiosities, Esmond Knight appeared in Sink the Bismark! as the Captain of HMS Prince of Wales.  This is notable as, in reality, Esmond Knight served on HMS Pince of Wales as a Lieutenant when the Bismark was fought during WW2.  He received injuries that left him partially blind for the rest of his life.  The same engagement saw the HMS Hood sunk with all but three survivors.  Coincidentally, Jon Pertwee was among a handful reassigned from the Hood at very short notice only a couple of days prior to the battle.  After the war, the two apparently became friends.

I feel Roy Brent is worthy of mention as, while his entire career is largely uncredited bit-parts, he is the only person in Doctor Who to have appeared in the 1933 King Kong.

I find it quite astonishing that someone who appeared in the original King Kong film, was later in Monster of Peladon and even appeared in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.  As it happens, no one appearing onscreen in either the 1976 or 2005 remakes of King Kong have been in Doctor Who either new or old.  I'm suspicious that it's not the same person, but various websites do seem to support it.  No one from Metropolis (wouldn't that be great?) or Casablanca has ever been in Doctor Who, though four people from The Third Man have been.  So it's hard to guess what films will give a result.  And for the sake of pure trivia, Tutte Lemkow is the only person in Doctor Who to have appeared as the titular character of an multiple Academy Award winning film.  Who, what?  Why, he was the Fiddler on the Roof!

So after much searching I put forward the following names to answer the questions we started out trying to answer.  I may be mistaken and there could be exceptions in the New Series with which I am less familiar.

Drum roll for... Jack Bligh appeared as Gaptooth in The Smugglers.  He stands out as the earliest born person to have appeared in Doctor Who, being born in 1890 making him already 73 by the time Doctor Who first aired and 76 by the time of his appearance.  He doesn't appear in TV/film credited roles prior to the '60s but had been acting and employed by film companies in various roles.  He travelled quite widely and also fought in France during WW1.

So who was the person to have the longest gap between their first credited role and appearance in Doctor Who?

Sticking strictly to credited roles, Leslie French is the person we found to have the biggest gap between their first appearance in film and role in Doctor Who.  Born in 1904 his first credited role was in 1935 but it wasn't until 1988 at the age of 84, that he appeared in Silver Nemesis as Lady Peinforte's 'Mathematician'.  This also puts a 53 year gap between his first credit and Doctor Who appearance smashing the record of Mary Morris!

And finally, the earliest credited appearance of an actor in film that was later in Doctor Who?  Frederick Schrecker as Julius Silverstein in Web of Fear.  Born 1892, almost a challenger for the oldest person to have been in Doctor Who, his first credited part in 1926 in Der Feldherrnhugel, a silent Austrian film.

We have the earliest born person to appear in Doctor Who, the longest credited career prior to Doctor Who, and the earliest appearance in film of anyone in Doctor Who.  I guess that's it.

Or is it?

When starting this I decided I would only focus on the credited roles to define an actor's career, as that's when an actor starts having speaking roles and appear in the credits.  I had not really considered the possibility of people having very early credited careers that would go on to have have uncredited roles in Doctor Who.  Not that I intended any assumption that Doctor Who was somehow the pinnacle of their career worked towards meaning they obviously had to have a credited role.

Nonetheless, a huge achievement is shown by Vera Lennox.  She isn't the oldest person to have appeared in Doctor Who by some way, being born in 1904, but her first credited appearance is an astonishing 1921 in silent comedy Tilly of Bloomsbury.  She wouldn't appear in Dr Who until State of Decay, a staggering 59 years later.  Her role in State of Decay is an uncredited role as a 'peasant', but it is no less amazing a span of time and it seems churlish to discount it on this basis.  If you were to take Vera Lennox into account, then she is both the earliest person with a credited film role to have been in Doctor Who and the person with the longest span between that role and appearing in Doctor Who.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Breath

Right off the bat the theme music is all different and as are the titles.  They look great, I'm not so taken by the music.  Maybe it's my TV, but it seemed more tinny than ominous or deep in sound.  But between the pre-titles and opening minutes, there's plenty of excitement and interest as the new Doctor starts to show some of his new personality.  Loud, somewhat abrasive, energetic.  I think it's important that the Doctor is in contrast to his previous self.  Matt Smith's Doctor was too much like David Tennant at the beginning, he started to become his own later on but broadly there was too much similarity.  That cannot be said of Capaldi's Doctor in this.

The dinosaur seemed a bit of a waste.  It did nothing and soon died, it seems included as a gimmick to advertise the story on the TV trailers rather than serve much purpose in the story.  Also it was the size of Godzilla, it stood as tall as Big Ben and could swallow and regurgitate the Police Box with no trouble.  It was definitely identified as being from prehistoric Earth but was impossibly large.  Either they have or haven't the budget to do dinosaurs in London properly.

Moffat was indulging himself again, littered with reference to previous stories written by himself, and full of his own characters.  Vastra and company are rather superfluous, they are there to stretch out the story by half an hour and do the same jokes.  Yes, we know Strax doesn't get human biology and there is lots of inscrutable cleverness from Vastra, plus waving some swords around and a lesbian kiss.  I'm pretty bored of these characters now and Moffat insists on pushing them in continually.  Talking of Moffat rehashing old ideas and themes, this episode was 'don't breathe' instead of 'don't blink'. Really?  What next?  Monsters you have to put your fingers in your ears to overcome?

Most of these distractions got in the way of enjoying the new Doctor, who was clearly the best thing in the programme.  A smaller more personal story with Clara and the Doctor would have worked better I think, this was over long to accommodate Vastra and team not to give the Doctor more screen time.  Capaldi was hugely enjoyable in the part with his wild, but not pantomime, performance and the craziest eyes since Tom Baker.  The robot threat was pretty small potatoes it seems.  Obviously the Doctor couldn't let it go on with them murdering people for body parts, but it works as the story is giving Capaldi time to lay the groundwork for his Doctor.  The scene in the alley was my favourite, with a particularly haywire Doctor demanding the tramp hand over his coat.  Things really start to work once he meets Clara at the restaurant.  The way the characters play off each other here is at the episode's best which is why I feel the story didn't need the inclusion of so many others.

"I stole this off a tramp.  Don't smell.  You won't gag if you don't smell"
Did the Doctor push the robot or did he jump?  In an attempt to darken the series, we'll likely never know.  But it's not without precedent, if it was the 1st Doctor, he would have pushed him.  Hartnell's Doctor was a killer, see him throw an assassin from a first floor window in The Romans, or hitting a man over the head with a shovel in Reign of Terror. Tom Baker's Doctor gassed Solon with cyanide.  Also playing with cyanide was Colin Baker's Doctor when he killed Shockeye in the Two Doctors.  It's not a new thing, but I hope it doesn't become a theme as fundamentally the Doctor is a good person who kills only as a last resort and clearly finds it regrettable afterwards.

Overall, pretty good but too long given the material.  It was long because there were too many characters needing screen time, when this episode was about the Doctor and Clara rediscovering him after regeneration.  Capaldi was ace, I think we all agree on that.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

VHS Memories of Doctor Who

Currently we're reaching the end of our Pertwee one-episode-a-night marathon, and I am close to putting all the Pertwee DVDs in order on a shelf barely more than a foot long.  Two thoughts come to mind.  Firstly, that if it were not for the express purpose of watching all the Pertwee's in order, I would never have thought to purchase a number of them, such as Colony in Space and Death to the Daleks, but I'm glad for having done so.  Secondly, that the entire era takes up so little space, approximately 14".  VHS on the other hand filled my bedroom as a child, I had no where near the full set and they filled an entire bookcase even when doubled up.  They're all gone now, as the DVDs came out they were much easier to store, they had numerous features, the image quality was significantly higher in many cases.  I no longer owned a video player, there was just no point to VHS.  In the end I sold most of them to some eager young Dr Who fans at a car boot sale for 50p each, they went to a good home.  So many VHS cassettes have ended up in landfill, I hope these were watched at least once more.

False advertising?  The story only has three Daleks, one of which was gold.  For years the cover persuaded me that there were more. 
Aged about five my Dad bought me my first Doctor Who on VHS.  I can't remember which came first, it was either Day of the Daleks or The Daleks.  After this I probably had Death to the Daleks, followed by Revenge of the Cybermen and the Time Warrior and other early videos, likely Robots of Death, Seeds of Death.  One thing common to most of these early releases is that they were omnibus editions, with the episode breaks removed.  This seemed preferable at the time, but on reflection Doctor Who loses a lot from the episodes not being bookended with the cliffhangers.  Stories also benefit from being watched episodically, as my Pertwee marathon has found, in a single viewing many come off for the worse being a drawn out slog.

The Daleks was a bit odd in that it came in two cassette boxes, one black and white, the other the same in sepia tones.  Almost all double videos afterwards came in a double sized box.  The Daleks I recall was gripping stuff, aged five I loved every minute, the black and white didn't faze me one bit. My dad's comment since was that I used to enjoy the radio a lot as a child and that I probably didn't notice the lack of colour.  While colour TV was obviously the norm when I was a child 25 years ago, it typically wasn't that good by todays standards, which are a sensory overload of colour and CGI.  I wonder if I was unusual as a child, or whether young children today really are less receptive of black and white TV.  The Hartnells were only 25 years old then as compared to 50 years now, maybe the gulf has expanded more than I appreciate.
Unlike those other early VHS releases the Daleks was episodic, but had other edits.  Such as the story ending with the crew in the Tardis and fading to credits.  The cliffhanger of an explosion rocking the Tardis leading into Edge of Destruction wouldn't be restored until a much later release.  This edit was made so as to make the story seem a complete a more complete entity, and not to have a confusing end.  As with the episode breaks, I think people generally prefer the complete package.

The iconic moment of Death to the Daleks largely because the exploding Dalek picture was so widely published in early Doctor Who material.  Used again on the one of the most memorable Target novels.
I'm fairly sure my third VHS was Death to the Daleks. There's certainly a bias towards Dalek stories as clearly they thought that's what the public wanted, and that's what I was bought. They could have chosen better stories, but it's short and has Daleks. BBC Video seemed to avoid anything beyond Tom Baker at this time as well, it would be some years before Remembrance of the Daleks or Earthshock were released despite having major monster appeal.  I distinctly remember being more frightened of the Exillons than the Daleks.  It's a surprise it took so long for them to release Genesis of the Daleks, that was a real treat on VHS.  That had a radio release and is the most repeated story by BBC TV.  Note when they started to repeat old Doctor Who some time in the 1990s, starting with Spearhead they only got as far as Silurians.  Then some BBC boss decided that it wasn't doing well enough so decided it should skip to something obviously popular to get ratings.  Most popular Doctor, Tom Baker, most popular monster, Daleks obviously, thus Genesis was repeated yet again.  Everyone had already seen it or bought it by this point.

I had Revenge of the Cybermen a bit later which was a novelty as the only available Cyberman story.  The alternatives were a bit thin on the ground, even if they delved into the 1980s only Earthshock would have been suitable, Attack and Silver Nemesis are just awful continuity-fests best avoided by anyone.  Revenge was the first story to receive an exorbitantly priced home release in 1983 on Betamax, Laserdisk and VHS (with an Earthshock Cyberman).  1984 saw an absurdly butchered release of Brain of Morbius with an hour long running time.  By the time I came to the videos, they were being released for a sensible price, around £10 and often cheaper.  Revenge was quite entertaining aged six or so and my first exposure to Tom Baker's Doctor.  Baker's Doctor spooked me quite a bit, like other children of the 70s I imagine. The scene with the Doctor controlling the Cybermat to force information from Kellman made me uncertain that Tom Baker's Doctor was supposed to be the good guy.  I didn't know where he would draw the line.

Various things scared me in these stories available on early VHS, though perhaps not all the most obvious things.  The two most frightening were Brain of Morbius and Death to the Daleks.  As mentioned, the Exillons were fairly frightening, the story opens in the dark with Sarah especially vulnerable in a marooned, 'dead' Tardis.  The loss of that safe haven really does make it seem more frightening, in a normal story there's always the security of being able to flee back to the Tardis.  The crew rarely do, but it's a comfort that's always there.  That's something that Death to the Daleks actually achieves beyond its many other faults.  TO be clear, after the mid way point of episode one it becomes a lot less scary for the most part.  Brain of Morbius is similarly scary for being dark and creepy.  In that case, I was mostly scared of the Sisterhood oddly enough.  Other frightening moments include Harry attempting to stab Sarah with a pitchfork in Terror of the Zygons, the same story in which the world's scariest and bloodstained nurse stoves a soldiers head in with a huge rock.

As years went by the VHS range became more complete and the price crept up.  Not unreasonably, but one source of contention was the pricing of double video packs.  These seemed contrived for the purpose of charging far more money.  Unlike DVDs, little or no restorative work was done on the majority of VHS releases so the running time costs could not have impacted the RRP that much.  Talons of Weng-Chiang was first released on a single VHS cassette proving from the beginning that six episodes could be put on a single release.  Much later in the VHS range, the Daleks was re-released on a single cassette, all seven episodes together.  However, early on it became the norm to split six episode stories across two cassettes in a bigger box and charge £20 for a single story rather than £10.  This is the reason that I didn't have many of theses six episode stories, it's was more expensive given the content and the box was unnecessarily about the size of a house brick.

Charging double for stories with six episodes got just a bit silly with the release of Shada.  Undoubtedly there were costs involved, but the linking material was scant and ultimately you ended up with piecemeal material for six episodes that barely added up to four episodes.  Further was the revelation that, exciting as a never previously seen 'lost' story was,  Shada just wasn't very good at all.  It's been somewhat fetishised since with multiple attempts to 'complete' it.  The New Zealand fan club published a fan novel, Gareth Roberts recently wrote a novel, Big Finish did an audio/webcast and Ian Levine even produced an animated 'reconstruction' with some questionable voice acting.  You'll thankfully have to arrange a private viewing to see this last delight.

Back to the original point, the story cuttings with some linking material by Tom Baker was released on VHS at £20.  The double boxset was justified by the inclusion of a script book which I doubt anyone ever sat down to read.  The 'scriptbook' style font was wearing on the eyes, my copy was especially stiff with coarse paper and the diamond logo-shaped hole in the cover didn't help for easy reading either.  Also the book was much slimmer than a VHS, so everything rattled around inside the double cassette box which defeated the point of having a protective case.

Other boxsets were somewhat more interesting but difficult to store as they came in a variety of metal tins and rather highly priced.  Trial of a Timelord came in a large Tardis tin, which I kept after discarding the redundant VHS tapes.  If you desired consistency in the VHS designs you were in for disappointment.  The DVD are mostly uniform and do look smart when lined up together.  The VHS releases started with the diamond logo sideways on the sleeve, but later on turned upright, and then the logo changed entirely after the McGann TV movie was released and the BBC decided everything must have the Pertwee/McGann logo.  Also with all these boxsets, you ended up with things in tins or in paper sleeves rather than plastic cassette boxes, it all looked a jumble.

If you never saw this for sale..
Which brings me to another oddity.  The Hand of Fear was for years the most valued of the VHS range.  Simply it was the last release prior to the TVM, at which point the BBC decided nothing could have the diamond logo and it was promptly deleted from the catalogues.  I didn't seen Hand of Fear until it came out on DVD, as did many others I imagine, I simply never saw it for sale other than second hand for about £30.  Once the DVD came out it was worth pennies overnight.

As previous described the black and white of early stories didn't bother me as a child, no did the overall picture quality, which was atrocious on some releases.  The Restoration Team have worked wonders on the DVD range.  Recolourisation techniques have improved greatly, Claws of Axos looks good on DVD and Terror of the Autons looks gorgeous.  The original VHS releases were very blurry and fuzzy by comparison, it only becomes so apparent after having seen the DVD release.  Ambassadors of Death was a very late DVD release and ended up a curious combination of black and white, and colour footage.  Episodes would change from one to the other mid way through, the DVD is colour throughout.  It's not perfect by a long way but it greatly appreciated, as is the entire colourisation of Mind of Evil and part one of Invasion of the Dinosaurs.  The Dæmons was recoloured in 1993, and then cleaned up even more for DVD.

A stand out moment in the VHS range was the return of Tomb of the Cybermen.  The importance of this find seemed to enter the mainstream, it was featured in newspapers at the time and went on it be one of the biggest selling of the VHS range.  This was in spite of it being rushed to production and looking rough as hell.  The DVD release is a huge leap in quality.  Be careful what you wish for, a lot of fans seemed disappointed that the classic didn't live up to the mythical hype.  A similar reaction was more recently seen with Web of Fear.

As the VHS range wore on I had less and less.  This was for several reasons; I seemed to have many of the best ones, added to which I had seen a large number of the remaining stories recorded by a family friend from UK Gold.  Lastly, they were getting more expensive, whereas I had got earlier releases for as little as £8, they were now £14 as standard.  By comparison, the DVDs now are widely available for £6-7 a few months after initial release even in shops like Forbidden Planet.  They're always available, unlike the VHS that appeared for a matter of months before drying up and being unavailable.

UK Gold has its own sets of memories.  In the earliest days they only seemed to show the black and white stories on a loop.  The person recording the stories occasionally had issues with his reception and the already ropey quality of the Hartnell's was compounded by a snowstorm of interference.  The Web Planet, which is supposed to look like it's filmed through a layer of vaseline, was almost unwatchable.  Later on they started showing the stories in colour, and later they only showed the colour stories and excluded the Hartnells and Troughtons, just looping from Pertwee to McCoy.

UK Gold sometimes did odd things to mess up the schedule.  I distinctly recall watching the Key to Time season for the first time, despite its faults it does get exciting towards the end.  I was hoping for all the loose ends to be tied up but upon receiving the video for that week, it turned out that UK Gold had decided to show Planet of the Spiders in place of the Armageddon Factor.  While I didn't have a copy of this, it was a bit of a disappointment.  The following week was Destiny of the Daleks, meaning Armageddon Factor was skipped entirely.  I didn't get to see the last part of the Key to Time until finding the individual VHS for sale quite some time later.

At some point UK Gold started showing one or two episodes of Blake's 7 before each weekend Doctor Who, and it was then I was able to see that series too.  The VHS releases covered all my earliest years of watching Doctor Who and were mostly focused around the first four Doctors.  In later years I plugged most of the gaps through recordings from UK Gold.  It's a real shame that the BBC have been so reticent to repeat any classic Doctor Who.  Since it's return in 2005, BBC4 have repeated Hand of Fear after Elizabeth Sladen died, Web of Fear part 1 for a themed London Underground night, and Unearthly Child for the 50th anniversary.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Frontier Breakout!

With Frontier in Space out the way on the Pertwee watchathon, it's a visit to the Southbank centre, standing in for a futuristic prison in the 26th century appearing in episode 2.  In recent years access to the upper areas is restricted, but is currently open as a temporary garden and cafe have been opened on the roof.

The establishing shot immediately gives away the location for anyone familiar with the area.  Generally it is largely the same but some walkways have been removed including the one in the foreground.  Various signs make it appear more colourful.

The first scenes are set for the Doctor and Jo being moved from their prison cell and being freed by Draconians.

A longer shot on the walkway, probably the highest publicly accessible.

The Doctor and Jo actually emerge at ground level to the right of the above photos.  A Draconian takes aim...

In the confusion, Jo is separated from the Doctor and runs up some steps on the west of the Hayward Gallery.

Just around the corner she is again captured, a common theme in this story.  Here the steps are heavily obscured by trees as part of the gardens on the roof.

After a forced visit to the Draconian embassy, the Doctor escapes and ends up again in his cell at the Southbank centre.  This time, the Ogrons attack to break them out.

Guards have their attention drawn on the east side of the Hayward Gallery.

Looking down the steps, now painted bright red, an ogron is seen taking on the shape of a Draconian.

Ogrons bound over the steps...

And attack the west side of the gallery.

Humans wait outside the same steps as seen earlier, when Jo was recaptured, for the Doctor to burst out trying to escape the ogrons.

Lots more garden things fill the scene which is still recognisable, background buildings have changed somewhat.  The Doctor and Jo run down the steps, he points off camera and they run off screen...

To immediately crouch by the very steps they just ran from.  The production tries hard to make the location look much larger and more complex than it actually is.  The Doctor and Jo are again recaptured by the steps.  These steps have been closed off for a number of years but are identifiable behind all the fencing.  Escape, capture, escape, capture, episode two and the start of episode three heavily feature the Southbank centre as a futuristic prison on a fascist Earth.  It's large concrete structure suits the setting perfectly, if being a little obvious as a London landmark.