Wednesday, 29 January 2014

DAPOL and the Doctor

Character Options have recently changed the size of the main Doctor Who action figures, and, though I have bought far fewer in recent years, it is still a shame as I have little interest in the newer smaller figures.  The 5" range were generally of high quality and improved over time.  There were a few misses and odd choices, such as the 'old woman' figure or 'dead Cassandra' (that being the empty metal frame with no skin).  Now it seems that Forbidden Planet have the exclusive on the War Doctor and hopefully they will be able to offer Capaldi's Doctor, as every other Doctor has a 5" figure.  Forbidden Planet have exclusivity on most of the old series figures, which is where my interest in the future of the line lies.

I think the drawbacks to these new 3¾ inch figures are both in quality and their incompatibility with the rest of the range.  It seems an odd decision to change the range now, is it a way to save on costs?  The figures are much smaller than the 5" range but not much cheaper.  They really suffer on the detail though, the faces of human characters especially and they don't seem as robust.  The best one I think is the dalek, which had I owned 20 years ago would have been exterminating my GiJoe and Star Wars figures.

At least they're compatible with the Dapol range.

Dapol.  A range of toys notorious in fandom for being terrible.  Dapol is a decent model company that produces some nice kits and trains for model railways, but for some odd reason they produced Dr Who figures in the late '80s and well into the '90s by which time it could only have been fandom buying.  Initially they focused on current Who, producing the 7th Doctor, Mel, Ace, a Tetrap and Daleks in various colours.  Later they produced the 4th Doctor, Ice Warrior and K9. From what I recall there was quite a lag before they started making lots of things like Time Lords, Sontarans and Silurians, etc, into the late '90s.

Well that sounds grand, except they were almost all shocking.  It's a bit hard to be sure who the target market was.  Were they intended as children's toys?  I had several when I was young but they all broke in various ways as they were fragile and the plastic brittle in comparison in most toys that I owned that survived; GiJoe and Star Wars.  Assume they were for collectors then, as only adults were buying them after 1990.  They were certainly priced as such from what I recall.

The 7th Doctor, Mel and Ace were ok but quality seemed a bit poor.  The Tetrap had awkward joints in the arms and the wings were a piece of leather you had to attach yourself somehow.  The Ice Warrior and Cyberman were both ok if a little tall and thin.  I had several cybermen.  The Daleks were good, the proportions typically inaccurate but they are probably the most pleasing of the Dapol range.  The Police Box is also pretty good, it's a nice size and shape and well made.  It opens up to form the tardis interior and has a flashing lamp on top.  Overall a nice object.

Then there are the complete misses in the range.  The Davros would be fine if he didn't have two arms!  Later figures would have the hand removed but the range was mocked long after for this mistake (as err... I am now).  Some cheeky eBayers describe the two armed variant as 'rare', it isn't, they were bloody everywhere.  The K9 was initially released in green, apparently because the photo they had was taken with K9 reflecting the grass he was sitting on.  In some sets the Police Box was released with a console for the interior, made with five sides.  The 4th Doctor figure bares vague resemblance to Tom Baker but has neither a hat or a scarf.  The oft repeated excuse is that there was a lack of reference material, but how could people be so clueless as to make a console with five sides and K9 green?  It seems odd to make a range of figures for a TV show and then seemingly know nothing about it.

Later years they would release Silurians and a Sea Devil, which are competent and about the same standard as the Ice Warrior. A Delgado style Master was done which I really liked at the time.  The Sontarans are too tall and thin like some figures before them.  And there was a Melkur, which looks good but was a very odd choice for a figure.  I'm only forgetting the 3rd Doctor figure, which I've saved for last because it's excruciatingly awful.  One of the last released I think, it's far taller than any other figure, has a strange posture and looks barely human.

This is why our minds were blown when Character Options released the 5" figures in 2005.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Visit to the Who Shop

Last week myself and my girlfriend went to the Who Shop in East London. It's a bit of a trek to Upton Park and seems very out of the way for such a specialised shop, I assume they do a lot of mail order.  The staff were friendly and the shop was pretty much dedicated to Dr Who but there were a few other SF things too.  The draw for us was the museum which was well worth the visit at £3 a head.

The shop has pretty much everything Doctor Who related, some of it seemed rather expensive but they also have a lot of things that are older or rarely seen.  I bought a few miniatures from an out of production range I'm not familiar with; not Harlequin or Citadel.  There were a few other models and things I was interested in and might get on a return trip.  They also had a selection of the older Dapol toys that were reasonably priced, especially by what some people think they can get on eBay.  I'm not very keen on Dapol but I never got a 7th Doctor...

The museum seems almost hidden, but the entrance on the right of the shop is through a Police Box, behind is a small museum with many costumes packed into a small space and display cabinets with many smaller props that were very interesting to see.  Some are not original per se, and seem to be reproductions from original moulds or made for purposes other than actual episodes.  But most are original and go back to stories from the 60s.  There are costumes from the Crusade and Marco Polo, the Season 18 4th Doctor costume, a console from one of the stage plays, a Time Lord, a cyberman and Voc robot among others.  The cabinets are full of things, the blue crystal from Metebelis III, the Coronet of Rassilon, and various other bits used in the series.

There's an unfortunate lack of photos here, the shop doesn't have an issue with people taking photos, but they don't allow camera phones over concerns people will film the shop.  I wasn't expecting such a rule and only had my phone, so I came away with very few photos (though taken with permission).  Still, there was that cyberman model I wanted so I don't see it being too long before I make another visit.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Run! It's the Yeti!

As Web of Fear creeps gradually closer on DVD, I'm keen to look a bit more at the Yeti themselves.  I've recently bought some old Harlequin Miniatures Yeti hoping they could be used in some sort of Web of Fear game (I've even found 28mm scale tube station scenery online).  The miniatures themselves are fairly generic looking, lacking the pear shaped body of the Abominable Snowmen version (below) and the facial features of the Web version.

The costume was changed for their second appearance after a gap of only two stories since Abominable Snowmen, at least in part because the originals were too cuddly.  They lost a lot of weight around the waist and gained a large mouth and glowing eyes, also bigger claws to hold the web-guns.  Web of Fear as a story seems like the creation of a D&D random events table; "I roll a die, the story takes place in the London Underground...(roll a die)... and it's the Yeti, armed with... (roll a die)... err, web-guns"

The change in costume is clearly shown in episode 1 as the museum yeti is reactivated.  The Discontinuity Guide lists this as a 'goof' commenting "not intentional surely".  It's clearly intentional, as the Abominable Snowmen costume was obviously brought to the studio and a transition scene filmed so that it morphs into the Web of Fear version.  In fact this is one of a very few times that a monster costume changing is actually acknowledged/explained on screen.  It could be to do with these stories originally airing only weeks apart, but compare to Silurians and Warriors of the Deep, or the reworked versions of several New Series monsters which are not commented upon.

Some of the best photos of the Yeti costume come from set photos on location rather than the story themselves.  All were taken around Covent Garden on Sunday, 17th December 1967.  Probably a quiet morning, judging by the fact the only person around is one guy walking a dog.

From this photo though you get a good impression of size, and they are pretty big.  John Levene is probably under one of those.  Long after filming I saw an original Yeti prop in 1993 at the previously mentioned Museum of the Moving Image.  And t'was a sad sight, little over 25 years later it was terribly moth-eaten looking and balding.  It's clearly a Web of Fear yeti, looking at the eyes and overall shape.  It has an energy sphere lodged in its chest, these can't be seen in any photos from Web of Fear I've seen so if the suits all had them hidden among their fur it shows how much hair loss this yeti has suffered.  There are photos from filming of Abominable Snowmen that clearly show them having an energy sphere in the chest when the costume is only partially being worn.

Recently, I thought that by now, this costume is about 45 years old and surely will have nearly completely disintegrated.  Some online searches found recent photos of a yeti at the Doctor Who Experience looking almost in the same condition as my photo, but I'm not sure if it's the same one.  In fact, the Experience one might have more fur on the head.  But either way, there's still at least one survivor, and 60s monster costumes are quite rare.

Family photo; husband and wife?
As great as the Yeti look, I'm not sure they would work on modern TV, they're just a bit too cuddly looking (particularly when one puts his arm around another above) and would seem more like a huge teddy bear than actually menacing.  They don't look like much in Downtime, but that doesn't have the budget to give them a fair crack.  I think the black and white does them a lot of favours, perhaps the atmospheric approach taken to older stories works too especially the claustrophobic gloom of the tube.  They certainly look more imposing in the dark than out in the streets.  Still a classic monster which I'll be coming back to shortly when my miniatures are delivered.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Ruminations on the Three Doctors

1). The house used for the location of UNIT headquarters was used again in the Five Doctors.  There's generally no consistency in where and what UNIT HQ looks like over the series though.

2). I wonder what the story would have been like had William Hartnell taken a fuller role in the story rather than being confined to a TV screen.

3). Bob Baker and Dave Martin write the story so expect some science abuse.  In this case they mash up black holes, cosmic rays and anti-matter.  It all fits together somehow obviously

4). Liberty Hall, Dr Tyler, Liberty Hall!

5). Somewhat lacking in imagination, he walls of Omega's castle are the same texture as a Gel Guard, or possibly Omega used to hunt them and has since used them for wallpaper.

6). I've been to Cromer and it really was that flat and bleak.  The Brig is excused.

7). In the novel Omega lives in a giant golden castle.  It's made more explicit that his emotions are reflected in the atmosphere/weather, in the TV story it only rolls with thunder once when he's angry.

8). While we're on the novel check out the similarity between the Chris Achilleos art and an early issue of Fantastic Four.  I don't have a problem with Omega being like the Galactus of Doctor Who.

9). Again according to the novelisation when the dark side of Omega fights the Doctor it takes place in a roman styled amphitheatre, on the TV it's two guys slow-motion rolling around a dark room.  Overall watching the story after reading the book was a slight let down.

10). Fans had to wait decades for an action figure, but he does have a very shiny cloak a pleasing 'remove his head' pose.  They think of everything.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Wall Mounted Silurian Pelt

While browsing eBay I came upon this oddity, a section of 'skin' from a Silurian costume from Warriors of the Deep. Supposedly from Ichtar himself!  Currently it's nearly £120 with a short time to go, which shows what people will pay for a fragment of a thirty year old costume, and not even one from a good story.

Many costumes from the old show have deteriorated into poor condition, particular the monster costumes; those with latex and other things that crack and disintegrate. Cloth seems to hold up a bit better, but my memories of seeing things in exhibitions is that they are generally quite roughly made. Timelord robes I recall seeing are clearly curtain and upholstery material, so very thick and quite coarse.  The camera is surprisingly forgiving.

I was a bit sorry to see the auction above because it seemed a shame that the once compete suit had been broken up into shreds to be sold individually as I recall seeing it many years ago.  But wait, the auction claims the owner to have bought the suit at a Bonhams auction in 1991, I saw the Silurian in 1993.  Phew, hopefully he has escaped dismemberment.

I saw my Silurian about 1993 when the Museum of the Moving Image came to Bristol.  Still quite a trek from where I was living in South Wales but worth it. I was quite young but my dad sneaked a camera in, otherwise I would only have vague memories today.  The Silurian like other costumes rather loses something without a person inside animating it; shapeless arms awkwardly hanging down and the stiff pose slightly leaning backwards.  As black as the arms look in this photo, I think the fire started by a faulty K9 at Llangollen happened some years after this was taken.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Omni-rumour of the World

If this time last year you'd told me we would find both Enemy of the World and Web of Fear complete before the end of 2013 I wouldn't have given it much credibility, it wouldn't have even got my hopes up. Previously I've written about the rumours around Power of the Daleks, but it's just that, a collection of rumours and supposed conversations. These two stories appeared rather unexpected up until the days prior to the announcement.

Where this leaves what is now being described as the 'omnirumour' I'm not sure, but there are very strong rumours that Marco Polo is among further finds, at least one person claiming they've recovered multiple copies.  It's the way, you wait decades for a missing story and three copies appear at once (supposedly).  I also mentioned the fuel added to rumours by the disbelief in BBC statements because they're clearly designed to mislead.  This is especially the case after the reveal of EotW and WoF as denials were put out in the days prior to the announcement and even the company led by Phil Morris (the man scouring these archives abroad) flatly denied ever holding any material.  The result is that no rumour can be quashed, people just don't believe denials by once trusted people in the know and pick apart their wording for any ambiguity. That someone put in a Freedom of Information request to force out emails about missing material from the BFI shows the desperation some fans are showing to get solid answers, which if we're honest they have no actual right to have; the result was nothing useful learned and probably a number of very annoyed people involved in the recovery process.  That said, the BBC seems to be a very leaky ship spilling out quite a lot of rumours that turn out to be true, even on the production of the New Series episodes.

If the Omnirumour is to be believed in full, as Ian Levine first claimed many months ago, they've found almost everything - 90 episodes.  That defies credibility.  In recent months I've seen almost every missing story being suggested as having been found, other than the Ice Warriors which is not long out on DVD with animated episodes.  Rumours seem to be getting increasingly bizarre, apparently Phil Morris isn't responsible for all the finds, bits of Dalek Masterplan have been found on very early off-air recordings.  But episodes 11 and 12 are stuck together and separating them will be very difficult.  

My feeling is that there are more episodes to come, there could be quite a few if the claims that Phil Morris has recovered thousands of film cans from Africa.  But with a stock that large it will take time to open the cans and check the contents, and then find out if the contents can actually lead to something recoverable.  It wouldn't be the first time that what is in a can doesn't match the label on the can, and it is possible that the contents have spoiled leaving them unwatchable.  Though there's not just Doctor Who to enjoy, I've heard that Adam Adamant episodes have been found, and I'd like to see those too.  So hopefully, fans of many shows will have some surprises.

Both Enemy of the World and Web of Fear were available right off the bat for £10 on iTunes, that's quite magnificent when you think of it.  Never has a missing episode been announced and then made immediately available and restored.  Compare to the second episode of Underwater Menace announced a couple of years ago which is yet to receive a release.  I didn't bother buying them on iTunes because I'd rather have them on DVD.  Clearly it suits all those involved for people to buy the download and then get the proper DVD release, but I'm happy to wait as my first viewing on DVD on a big TV will undoubtedly be better than any download on a computer.  Excited as I am for these stories, I can wait.  Knowing they're safe at the BBC and restored is enough.

Enemy of the World was a story I knew nothing about, beyond it having a duplicate of the Doctor called Salamander.  I think I'm going to have to watch it again to take it all in actually.  The whole production was of a high standard, clearly some money had gone into it, and it shows what a loss some of these episodes are.  Some of the set materials in the underground base were of such a complex standard and seen for such a short period, I feel sure they must have been taken from another production.  The first episode was quite wild with a helicopters and a hovercraft on the beach and introducing Salamander speaking from the UN, Troughton putting on a dubious accent.  Episode three is probably the weakest, which is why this story has been overlooked in the past, with a small budget someone is held prisoner in a corridor saving the cost of a cell.  It's six episode story, it has padding.  Milton Johns is wonderfully slimy and over the top camp.  But the twist reveal of the underground base with people tricked into living out an apocalypse is great and unexpected, also it pre-dates the likes of Invasion of the Dinosaurs by quite a few years.  Note that Enemy of the World is written by David Whitaker, Invasion of the Dinosaurs seems to heavily borrow from that with the lead villain being called 'Whitaker'...  Overall a great story, a great find and I just can't get the image of Troughton puffing away on that cigar.

We have to wait a lot longer for Web of Fear (end of February 2014).  It's not clear exactly why, when Enemy of the World was rushed to DVD three months earlier (late November 2013) the same could not be done for Web; both were released simultaneously on iTunes.  It makes sense that Enemy is released first as it's episode 6 cliffhanger feeds into Web of Fear, but the gap has led to speculation that they have also recovered episode 3 and have been trying, and possibly failing depending on the rumour, to restore it for the DVD, or maybe they are preparing a higher quality reconstruction than that provided on iTunes.  Still that's the one I'm really excited to see, but I'm happy to wait for the DVD.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

You ham-fisted bun vendor!

Over this New Year period I've been continuing to show my girlfriend a selection of old, meaning proper, Doctor Who stories.  Previously, it had been some Tom Baker and a couple of Troughtons, but a solid introduction into Pertwee was embarked with Terror of the Autons, The Dæmons, The Three Doctors and Carnival of Monsters.  Together, while not all the best stories, these give a good feel for what the era was like, the UNIT family, introductions of the Master and Jo Grant, the restoration of the Tardis dematerialisation circuit and finally a return to normal travels in space and time.  If you're interested, her favourite was the Dæmons followed by Carnival.

I don't watch Doctor Who alone very often, I prefer it much more as a communal experience now.  As I'm already familiar with most existing stories, the joy is often seeing others watch it as it is for myself, and being able to discuss things afterwards.  It's from this that I've come to realise just how much the character of Jo Grant has provided the shape for Doctor Who in the decades to come.

It makes sense that during the 60s they had larger Tardis crews of 2-3 companions supporting the Doctor.  The stories were longer with more screen time dedicated to dialogue, and given the gruelling schedules the work load had to be spread out.  And allowing for those occasions when a cast member had a week off leaving the character in stasis sleeping under a rug or locked in a cell.  Also, characters all had their niche, the strong younger male (Ian, Steven, Jamie) could do the physically demanding work for the Doctor, the older female (Barbara) was a guide for the naive younger (Susan, Vicki).  As the Doctor became more physically able the requirement for a 'strongman' figure wasn't needed. You don't need Jamie to fight anyone when the 3rd Doctor can thrash anyone with Venusian Akido.  Also they seems to tighten up stories with four episodes being the norm and the occasional six parter.  Reducing the crew to a single companion and UNIT serving as non-companion semi-regulars is the natural progression.  In fact the six parters throughout the 70s are often a little bloated and padded leaving main characters with little to do other than go in circles.

During the 80s the show struggled with a 'crowded Tardis' as it attempted to merge both a large Tardis crew with shorter story lengths.  They didn't appear to have any reason for a larger Tardis crew either, unlike the 60s where characters had more defined roles, the early Davison era had a crew with two child geniuses and a slightly older but female character that was headstrong but not wise.  They just don't mesh like Ian, Barbara and Susan.  Furthermore, the changes in TV meant they didn't have the luxury of screen time being largely dialogue, given greater expectation on action and effects, even if it's just a Myrkra lumbering around.  Eventually they drastically slimmed the crew back by killing one of them off.  But while overcrowding the Tardis seemed an obvious problem, the show didn't actually create the 'single companion model' of the show until the 70s.  The idea of the Doctor travelling alone with a single female companion didn't come about until Jon Pertwee took on the role and Jo Grant came on board.  The UNIT regulars are semi-companions to flesh things out for much of this period and while Liz Shaw is the Doctor's only companion, they don't travel in the Tardis and there's little to distinguish her from the UNIT team.  Prior to this the only occasion in which the Doctor was previously left with a single companion was after The Savages where the Doctor leaves only with Dodo, until the War Machines immediately brought in Ben and Polly.  Yes, Dodo was, for all of a couple of episodes, the first companion to travel alone with the Doctor.

When Jo Grant was introduced, she became the single female companion approach that has been used many times since and probably considered the norm.  After her came Sarah Jane, Leela, Romana, Peri, Ace and every New Series companion.  Leela and Romana were quite different as companions go but both were of the single-female approach.  The New Series has been very unimaginative with companions, every one is a solitary female companion from contemporary Earth.  The New Series quickly established this as the standard even going as far as to introduce failed-companion Adam just to show how much it wouldn't work having a man on board long term.  Rory is the only exception, and they even killed him off for half a series to keep the Doctor and Amy alone.  The New Series women have greater issues though, in that each one superficially appears 'feisty' and 'independent' but ends up fancying the Doctor and being somewhat shallow.

But before all them Jo loved the Doctor, in her own way of course.  It was much more clearly a parental relationship, she loved the Doctor and he loved her, as a father would.  The New Series finds it much easier to have the Doctor obviously flirting with his companion in a way which would have been unthinkable when 'sex in the Tardis' was actually an issue.  But that's where the character of Jo Grant would eventually lead.  She was the first female character to have adventures alone with the Doctor and provide a somewhat vacuous blend of sexiness with a little action, and plenty of "what's that Doctor?"