Doctor Who explores the Web Planet and meets the Zarbi

The Web Planet

DrWho_Hartnell_WebPlanetStory 2.05
Written by Bill Strutton
Transmitted 13 February 1965 to 20 March 1965

Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction TV series. A cult phenomenon today, it was transmitted to over 80 countries back in the 1960’s and revered as a unique program combining the elements of fantasy, high adventure and sci-fi. In comparison to the series as it stands today, Doctor Who was geared as an educational program for children back when it first aired with entertainment a secondary concern or means to an end.

Sydney Newman’s team of writers performed extensive research before the first script was even commissioned. But in its second year, Doctor Who was a runaway hit (thanks in large part to the popularity of the Daleks).

Celebrating its 52nd anniversary this week, I decided to take an in-depth look at an often-forgotten adventure, the ‘one with the giant insects.’ Not just overlooked, the Web Planet was believed to be lost until prints were discovered in the 70’s.

Zarbip111

Phew!

Bill Strutton’s script came at a time when Doctor Who was very experimental and looking to stretch its creative muscles. Some say that The Web Planet was too ambitious and given the thrown together nature of some episodes (such as an entire race of grubs introduced to extend the story some more) in comparison to the inspired brilliance of others, I am inclined to agree.

Director Richard Martin, who had previously worked with the Daleks in their first televised appearance, excels at crafting bizarre captivating alien worlds. The costumes designed by Daphne Dare who worked on over 87 episodes of Doctor Who are outstanding. Additionally, the music (performed on glass tubes) is otherworldly and the camera effects make the studio filming unique. All of these creative factors combine to produce an adventure that stupefies the viewer and demands to be watched. This is a classic that does indeed push the boundaries of what Doctor Who can accomplish.

However… it’s all a bit of a mess.

The TARDIS crew arrive on Vortis after a fun romp in ancient Rome. The Doctor and Ian don what appear to be designer atmosphere suits and explore the planet while the TARDIS is hijacked by an unknown force and dragged across the lunar-like terrain.

They are soon drawn into a battle between the butterfly people called Menoptera and the ant people called Zarbi. Things get weird when it is revealed that the Zarbi are only operating under the control of a disembodied evil consciousness called ‘the Animus,’ represented by a tangled mass of tendrils and a creepy voice.

The plot stumbles along through SIX episodes with some truly hilarious (though unintentionally so) moments such as William Russell struggling to act with William Hartnell who is at a loss for his lines (bless the man, I know he wasn’t well but this occasion is a side-ripper in which Russell just stares at the elder actor saying “Hmm?” several times), a rogue Zarbi who rams headlong into a camera and a giggling crew member who interrupts a dramatic cave-in. I can just imagine the cast wondering aloud ‘What are we doing??!!’ Having lost his patience, Hartnell even calls out the absurdity of the situation, referring to a communication device as a ‘hair dryer.’


All that accepted, I have to admit that I have a great fondness for the Web Planet. It explores the fantastical side of children’s entertainment and sure, the giant ants are goofy but the Animus is spine-tingling. The cast is (with some exceptions) in fine form and the Menoptera are just awe-inspiring. Hardly as graceful as a butterfly, but fascinating.

DrWho_zarbi_menoptera

To make matters more interesting, the Animus is one of many disembodied evil entities called the Great Old Ones who survived the death of a previous universe. The pantheon of Great Old Ones include the Great Intelligence, the Fendhal, Fenric, the Nestene Consciousness and the Celestial Toymaker (check out this amazing resource for more in-depth information). See what you can do with a presumably silly idea and some imagination? Make it akin to HP Lovecraft’s mythology.

In case you’re wondering why anyone would be even remotely interested in this story, keep in mind that it had the highest viewing figures of the program in the 60’s with 13.5 million tuning in. Yes, the Zarbi gave the Daleks a run for their money back in the day. Writers were so enamored by the killer ants that the Doctor returned to Vortis six more times in other guises.

Given current leading man Peter Capaldi’s fondness for the classics, don’t be surprised if you see a return trip to Vortis in the near future. And after reading this, you’ll be in the more-informed cool kid club.

returntothewebplanet

The Fifth Doctor Who returned to the Web Planet in this Big Finish audio adventure.

Web_planet_comicstrip

The Zarbi and Menoptera appear in the Dr Who comic strip

Web_planet_1983_portugal_full

Doctor Who and the Web Planet book cover for Portuguese release

Early draft of the Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet script reveals surprising details

A glimpse of the animated Cybermen from the Tenth Planet DVD

A glimpse of the animated Cybermen from the Tenth Planet DVD

Due for release on DVD this year, The Tenth Planet is one of the most important of classic stories as it introduced the Cybermen and also the very concept of regeneration (then hardly detailed at all and even referred as rejuvenation by some). Acting as the scientific adviser to the program at the time, author Kit Pedler created the Cybermen as a statement on humanity’s reliance on technology as it progressed into a new age.

The Tenth Planet depicted the invasion of a race of beings from Earth’s twin planet Mondas, a world that was previously hidden on the other side of the sun until it was piloted to Earth in order to drain it of energy. The Cybermen are very primitive and at the creepiest here, cobbled together by spare human parts and mechanical enhancements. It is interesting to note that Pedler’s initial script would have built on the Cybermen’s need to transform human beings into cybernetic units in order to continue their dying race. This later became more evident, especially in the Tomb of the Cybermen in which the iconic line ‘you will be like us’ became coined.

An upcoming book on Kit Pedler will delve deeper into the Tenth Planet’s origins and the paths not taken. Here is an excerpt from the excellent website Kasterborous.com:

TenthPlanet1

I found this script and two more from ‘The Moonbase’ (known then as ‘The Return Of The Cybermen’) among a very large collection of Kit’s papers which one of his children had kept in their attic .As I looked through it, I realised it was the first draft [script editor and co-writer] Gerry Davis prepared when Kit fell ill in June 1966.
The structure is more or less the same, though a lot of the dialogue is different. Some things were cut, especially involving the Cybermen. For example, the Cybermen planned to convert [companion] Polly and the Doctor into Cybermen towards the end of the story, and kept them prisoner in what they described as a waiting room. The most eye-catching difference is what didn’t happen at the end of the episode.

The Quest For Pedler by Michael Seely is scheduled for release early in 2014. Further details can be found at www.miwk.com, or you can pre-order from Amazon for just £19.99

Available from Amazon:

Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet TP

Doctor Who, Story 29: The Tenth Planet DVD

Doctor Who: Cybermen

The First Doctor Handbook

Watching Doctor Who – Galaxy 4

The Aztecs Special Edition DVD arrived in the post today. Why am I excited about a story that I have already watched several times over?

Because of the enhanced audio and video as well as the astounding extras including a documentary on Doctor Who toys and collectibles called Beyond the Celestial Toyroom and this superb gem… a restored version of Galaxy 4.

(full review here)

DOCTOR-WHO-WILLIAM-HARTNELL-GALAXY-4-FOUR-RILLS-DVD

(Galaxy 4 art from Nick Giles)

One of the many incomplete stories, a casualty of the BBC Archive junking back in the 1970’s, Galaxy 4 is missing almost all of its four parts. Using small clips of the remaining material, computer generated imagery and the recently discovered third part entitled Airlock, fans can now watch a story from 1965, an era when the program was at its most inventive and strange (featuring the comedic Myth Makers, the epic 12 part The Daleks’ Master Plan, the historical The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, and the musical western Gunfighters). I enjoy nearly all of Doctor Who, but I have a soft spot for this era, especially as the Big Finish audio range has fleshed out the period with new stories.

I have read the Target novelization and listened to the audio CD, but actually watching this story is a delight. The script by William Emms is very basic compared to many other stories. The Doctor and his companions arrive on an alien world on the brink of destruction. Two warring factions are pitted against each other, the Drahvins and the Rills. The Amazonian Drahvins are a constructed warrior race led by the coldly cruel Maaga. They continually describe the Rills are monstrous and deadly, which the Doctor finds rightly suspicious. The Drahvins squad are childlike with barely any thoughts or personality of their own.

When a Rill is finally revealed, it is a horrifying sight that must have gotten viewers scrambling for the back of the couch. Yet, typical to form, the Rills are the benign aliens while the beautiful if cruel Drahvins are the true monsters. The Doctor has very little time to assist the Rills before the planet explodes while the Drahvins attempt to destroy the weird aliens once and for all.

The big take away from Galaxy 4 are the cute and bizarre robotic servants of the Rills nicknamed ‘Chumblies’ by the Doctor’s young companion Vicki. Bernard Lodge’s sound effects are so evocative that the Chumblies are not just another silly Dalek replacement attempt, but have a truly weird dreamlike quality. The story is reminiscent of the Web Planet, another adventure that divides fans due to its sheer oddness and child-like fantasy qualities.

Galaxy 4 was a ratings winner back in the day, attracting between 9 and 11 million viewers each episode. A story that is mostly overlooked by even the most devoted of Whovians, it is once more back in the hands of the fan community to be judged once more. We may never get the opportunity to view Galaxy 4 in its entirety, but the people at 2 Entertain have painstakingly created a unique opportunity to step back in time to 1965 and watch a rare relic of the past.

Recommended: 

Doctor Who: The Aztecs – Special Edition

Doctor Who: Galaxy Four [Hardcover]

Doctor Who: Galaxy 4 (BBC TV Soundtrack)

The First Doctor Handbook

Doctor Who: The Web Planet

Animated Doctor Who Tenth Planet gets special Australian preview

The most iconic episode of Doctor Who (after the introduction of the Daleks) is the changeover from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton in ‘The Tenth Planet.’ The four part adventure set in a secluded polar base under siege from strange cybernetic aliens is a classic in its own right, but the final part includes a moment that would go down in TV lore when lead actor Hartnell fell to the floor of the TARDIS and was fazed out of existence via a video effect, leaving an entirely new face on the screen.

(full article on The Tenth Planet here)

Sadly, all but a few short clips still exist in the BBC vault from this story, but shortly fans will have the opportunity to review this adventure in its entirety thanks to a new process of animating the missing episode. This will mark the second incomplete story to be released on DVD with animated segments filling in the gaps (Invasion and Reign of Terror being the other two). If this avenue is explore more fully, there are many more incomplete stories that could once more see the light of day and gain exposure to a new audience!

I only just learned that surviving clips and part three of Galaxy Four will be included in The Aztecs Special Edition (only the existing parts, no animated sequences), so it is an exciting time for fans of classic Doctor Who!

Currently, there are 106 missing episodes from 1963-69, mainly impacting the run of Patrick Troughton who played the Doctor from 1966-69.

DrWho_HartnellThe following stories from the First Doctor era starring William Hartnell are still incomplete: Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, The Crusade, Galaxy 4, “Mission to the Unknown”, The Myth Makers, The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, The Celestial Toymaker, The Savages, and The Smugglers

the_second_doctor_who_by_hansbrown_77-d4rcz7f

(click to visit artist hansbrown-77’s deviantart page)

From the Second Doctor era starring Patrick Troughton, these gems are lacking material: The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear,  Fury from the Deep, The Wheel in Space, Invasion and The Space Pirates.

Even more exciting news is that The Ice Warriors may be next in line!

animation-test-profile-group

(full article on The Ice Warriors here)

Via DoctorWhoNews:

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Australian fans attending Whovention: Gold this weekend were fortunate enough to see a world premiere preview of the animated fourth episode of the forthcoming The Tenth Planet DVD.

To rounds of very enthusiastic applause, a warm and appreciative crowd saw clips from the animated episode, during panels hosted by Dan Hall (Pup Ltd and commissioning editor of the Doctor Who DVD range) and Austen Atkinson of Australian based animation company Planet 55 Studios. During the panels a number of animated clips were shown, including the famous William Hartnell regeneration scene (see images below) and other behind the scenes material. Video from the animated episode will be available next week on doctorwho.tv.  Fans reacted very positively to the material, as well as to queries from Dan Hall as to whether more missing episodes should be subject to similar animation in the future. Mr Hall noted however that while the existing business model for BBC Worldwide DVD releases did not currently allow more than two episodes a release to be animated that future options for allowing the release of more animated material may become more feasible at some later stage.

Also featured on the panels were Planet 55 Studios animators Colin BennettJosh Campbell & Chris Chapman who discussed the painstaking hours of work required to recreate the missing episode of The Tenth Planet as well as the two animated episodes from the newly restored Reign of Terror DVD. Austen Atkinson confirmed that work on the animated Tenth Planet episode was likely to be completed in the next month with the DVD release due in the second half of 2013. Dan Hall also confirmed that an announcement on whether the missing episodes of the forthcoming The Ice Warriors DVD would be similarly animated will be announced in the near future, also on doctorwho.tv.

Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet part four gets animated

In its third year, Doctor Who was running into a few problems. Several change overs in the cast and production crew along with the ailing health of the lead actor William Hartnell threatened to accomplish what several monsters and mad scientists failed to do, destroy Doctor Who forever.

However, an inspired decision was hatched that prolonged the program’s life by replacing William Hartnell with another actor playing the part of the Doctor. Previously, there was some thought of replacing Hartnell earlier in another adventure, The Savages, but that came to pass. Instead, a story was written in which the Doctor defended a polar military base from alien attack at the cost of his own life. At the conclusion of the fourth part, William Hartnell underwent a bizarre transformation and arose as a new man. Actor Patrick Troughton was cast as the second Doctor (a move that even Hartnell himself supported).

DrWho_TenthPlanet_cyberman_Hartnell

(for my full article on The Tenth Planet, click here)

Due to the loss of many classic episodes of Doctor Who, all but a few clips of the Tenth Planet’s final part exist, robbing fans of the most important moment in the program’s history. All of that will change when later this year this adventure will be released in is near-entirety with an animated finale.

Via DoctorWhoTV:
The-Tenth-Planet-episode-4-animated-300x170

The Tenth Planet is to have its lost fourth episode animated for a new DVD release, BBC Worldwide has announced.

Commissioning editor of the classic DVD range Dan Hall spoke about the news at the Gallifrey One convention this weekend.

He said: “It’s a real thrill to be bringing such an iconic Doctor Who episode back to life. Without the events established in The Tenth Planet episode 4, there would be no Doctor Who as we know it!”

The missing episode features the departure of First Doctor, William Hartnell. It has been missing from the BBC Archives since the mid-1970s, and will be reconstructed using the same Thetamation process used to recreate The Reign of Terror episodes 4 and 5.

The DVD will also feature a special making-of featurette called ‘Frozen Out’ that tells the full story of the arrival of the Cybermen and the first regeneration.

The exact release date is still to be confirmed, but is expected late 2013.

Doctor Who and The Planet of the Giants

‘The Planet of the Giants’

Story 009
Written by Louis Marx, directed by Mervyn Pinfield and Douglas Camfield
Transmitted: 31 October – 14 November, 1964

A man is murdered to cover the secrets of a pesticide and its deadly side effects. The TARDIS malfunctions and becomes miniaturized in the middle of the situation. If the dangers of a country garden and common kitchen fail to kill the travelers, the deadly DN6 could spell certain doom for not just them but all of humanity. The Doctor and his friends must use all of their cunning to expose the conspiracy surrounding the pesticide and survive the experience of being shrunken in size.

An unusual tale at the time, Planet of the Giants is a clever story told on two levels; one in which two men endeavor to cover up a murder and forge certification for a deadly pesticide and the other in which our heroes survive a bizarre experience. The two threads meet in the conclusion as the Doctor and friends become instrumental in the exposure of the plot, and also manage to restore themselves to their proper size. Its part Incredible Shrinking Man, part suspenseful eco-thriller.

The story deals with the nefarious dealings of industrialist Farrow and his attempts to force his pesticide DN6 through to the market. When a government representative makes it plain that he intends to squash his plans, Farrow murders him and entraps his business partner Smithers in the act. The murder is witnessed, in a fashion, by the reduced TARDIS crew, who perceive the attack as a cannon explosion. They also encounter a number of indications of the full power of DN6 as they travel through the garden and find it all but lifeless.

The Planet of the Giants has much in common with The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a cautionary tale spotlighting the dangers of DDT. It also has a genesis tracking back to the seminal days of Doctor Who. When Doctor Who was in its earliest stages, the first adventure was to revolve around the time/space travelers being shrunken, after a brief encounter in Totter’s Lane. The craft was to have malfunctioned and placed the crew at the mercy of everyday pests as the struggled to cross through a conventional home. When this was judged as far too costly, the idea was shelved, but it would return a year later.

The story goes that script editor David Whitaker was taken with the idea of shrinking the Doctor and tried to reintroduce the concept several times. The end result from Louis Marks was not just a science fantasy, but also functioned on a much more sophisticated level, displaying the dangers of DN6 visually as the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan fought off insurmountable odds only to be almost done in by a man made threat. The very real danger that was posed by industrialists looking to make a fortune at the expense of the health of the planet and its people is well represented here.

In 1964, the program was on the edge of cancellation or some other drastic action as Carole Ann Ford had decided to leave and the three remaining cast members were making demands. The Beeb was considering the possibility that they were all replaceable, but lucky for us all producer Verity Lambert succeeded in charting the course to a successful second series. What was intended as a four parter was reduced at the last minute to three parts with episodes three and four heavily edited down to one. However, that situation has since been rectified.

Released on DVD this year, The Planet of the Giants received the five-star treatment. Surviving cast members Carole Ann Ford and William Russell were joined by Katherine Mount as Jacqueline Hill and John Guilor who practically raises William Hartnell’s voice from the grave! The missing third episode is recreated using stills, footage from the program and computer generated imagery. It’s very strange, but an audacious attempt to do something new. Directed by Doctor Who enthusiast Ian Levine, it is a very special feature that adds a certain amount of luster to the program.

The Planet of the Giants is often overlooked by fans (including yours truly) which is frankly a crime as it is a smart adventure story with an important message. It’s rare that Doctor Who can be so relevant and entertaining at the same time while also innovative in television techniques and storytelling.

A rare gem, The Planet of the Giants is well worth a second look.

Recommended:

Pre-order the Dr Who William Hartnell bust

Doctor Who: Planet of Giants

Doctor Who and The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Doctor Who and The Dalek Invasion of Earth


Story 010
By Terry Nation (and David Whitaker)
Transmitted from 21 November to 26 December, 1964

“I have been to many planets in several solar systems. Always as an impartial observer. I shall put myself against you and defeat you.”

The Doctor has finally managed to return his two companions Ian and Barbara to their home. The TARDIS has landed just next to the Thames on what appears to be a lazy Sunday afternoon. There’s no sound of traffic, no sign of people at all. When the travelers realize they are not in peaceful London of the 1960’s, it is far too late. The Daleks, the dreaded menaces of the far off planet Skaro, have come to Earth and conquered it completely… or so it may seem. Defiantly, the Doctor instructs the Daleks not to underestimate the humans. While one free human lives, the Daleks have not succeeded in their invasion. Against impossible odds, the human race makes a final stand against the alien invaders with the entire universe hanging in the balance.

Terry Nation’s epic introduction of the Daleks in 1963’s ‘The Dead Planet’ is a brilliant piece of television that still stands up today. It launched a thousand spin-offs, sequels, and plenty of merchandise. But while their first appearance is iconic in the history of Doctor Who, the first sequel raised the bar for the Daleks and set the high standard for every subsequent appearance. The Dalek Invasion of Earth was bigger, bolder and more lavish than the first Dalek story and brought the monsters to Earth for the first time.

After displaying how strange and terrifying the creatures were on Skaro, it was terrifying to see them roaming around Trafalgar Square. This is a tactic that the current BBC Wales program has attempted to do straight away and frankly it missed the mark each time. Rather than establish and tell the story of a monster’s threat, they simply appear in a contemporary setting and fall flat. But that is not the case here. In the Dalek Invasion of Earth, the monsters are seen to be just as powerful and deadly as they were before, if not moreso. Not only have they overcome their restriction of movement but they have increased in numbers and also have a massive flying craft.

Around the same time that The Dalek Invasion of Earth was on the screen, the comic strip was impressing young readers with out of this world adventure, unhindered by budget-related constraints or the inevitable failure ever week against the forces of good. Until The Daleks’ Master Plan aired in 1965, this was the most impressive and innovative adventure that the program had attempted with the Daleks. It cemented their reputation with the viewing public with images that would burn into the retinas of every viewer as it pushed the phenomenon known as Dalekmania into the fore. Ranking among the most watched programs on TV at the time, the Dalek Invasion of Earth raked in over 12 million viewers during its run, a figure rarely topped in its long history.

But never mind the importance of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, is it a good Doctor Who story?

In a word, yes, it’s a classic.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth was an invasion story told over six episodes, which usually means that there are slow points and that the story appears strained. Not so here. Nation takes his time in setting up the situation, layering exposition with tension as the Doctor and Ian investigate an abandoned warehouse only to find a corpse smuggled into a cardboard box, an alien mind-control helmet strapped yo his head. When they attempt to return to Susan and Barbara by the TARDIS, they are ambushed by a squad of similar men, blank-faced robotic slaves holding whips and truncheons. The revelation of the Dalek presence, a Dalek rising from the Thames to block the Doctor and Ian’s escape, is one of the most amazing images in Doctor Who and explains the why of the situation while wetting the audience’s appetite for more.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a vast adventure that separates the TARDIS crew into their own stories, Susan and Barbara get involved with Dortmun and the resistance, Ian and the Doctor get captured by the Daleks and are nearly transformed into robotic slaves.

The action rarely stops (again, unusual for a 1960’s Doctor Who story) with several outside location scenes cleverly filmed to appear as chase sequences as Susan, Dortmun and Jenny evade capture. While Dortmun is stubbornly confident that his specialized bombs can destroy their foes, others have appear to have lost their will to fight. Supporting characters can be seen cowering in shock while others such as Jenny are just emotionally dead inside. It’s not that odd that Jenny (initially an young girl of Indian descent named Saida) was intended as the new companion as she bears much of the story and serves as an ersatz fourth companion in places. Even the heroic fighter Tyler (played by Bernard Kay who would become a regular guest actor on Doctor Who) is brave yet only in it for himself.

After a successful raid on the saucer releasing the Doctor and Ian from the Daleks, the resistance is ferreted out. The wheelchair-bound Dortmun’s carefully laid plans come to nothing and the entirety of London is nearly destroyed in a fiery blaze when the Daleks activate a fire bomb. The reasons behind the Dalek invasion lie in the mines of Bedfordshire where slave labor toils underground. It’s a horrifying and chilling sight for the audience who narrowly escaped destruction during WWII not long before this story was screened. It seems that the Daleks are commonly tied to WWII-era iconography and it crops up here as the Daleks seem to perform the Nazi salute around the conquered city.

William Hartnell’s Doctor is usually described as an anti-hero and a crotchety old man uninterested in the plight of others. That may be true for his first appearance and for parts of his second story, but here we see a man who challenges the forces of darkness and tyranny, his hands grasping his lapels in a declaration of importance. The Doctor in this story triumphs against the Daleks, but faces a rather crippling blow as he chooses to let his granddaughter Susan go. He knows that she will not be a little girl any longer and while it is painful for her to be deposited in a post-apocalyptic world… she needs to be her own person.

Behind the scenes, Carole Ann Ford had been attempted get released from her contract as she felt the character of Susan had become a dead end for her as an actress. The other three regulars were chafing as well as their contracts were due for renewal, making this a very tenuous time for Doctor Who.

This story also displayed a grander scale of studio recordings as seen in the Dalek saucer interiors, the rebel base, subterranean tunnels and other locations, all thanks to the much larger facilities at Riverside. Four refurbished models were brought on screen along with two new models built by Shawcraft, making this one of the largest assemblage of Daleks on TV. It also introduced the first of many variations on Dalek livery with the ‘Black Dalek’ who commanded the others. A partially painted Black Dalek can be seen briefly in an earlier episode, donning a zebra stripe of black and white and being mistaken as the Saucer Commander.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth was not without its flaws, which often happened when the program attempted to stretch beyond its standard limitations. One particular example is the worrisome ‘Slyther,’ what was intended as a blood-churning and fearsome monstrosity but resulted in a rather strange cousin to Sigmund the Sea Monster, quivering with delirium tremens.  So embarrassing was the Slyther that Verity Lambert insisted that Shawcraft give it another go for the following week… without much better results.

Personally even knowing that the Slyther was a man in a massive rubber suit with deely bobbers stuck to his head didn’t make its awkward launch after Ian onto the mine car any less scary and shocking. It was a very weird effect in any case.

Script writer David Whitaker, one of the few members of the production staff to have been involved with Doctor Who nearly since its beginning, departed at the conclusion of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It can be argued that Whitaker, who would later contribute two of the finest Dalek scripts for the series to date (Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks) was instrumental in the success of the first two Dalek adventures.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one of my personal favorite Doctor Who stories as it functions on several levels narratively, tells a gripping adventure and features some of the best production values (aside from the hub cap flying saucer) seen at that time. A sterling entry into the annals of Doctor Who.

One of the most chilling opening sequences in Doctor Who history

The Doctor faces the Daleks and dares them

The Daleks have conquered London

A Roboman

Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun race through a deserted London

The Black Dalek administers orders

Dortmun explains his plan to Tyler

William Hartnell and Bernard Kay

The fearsome Slyther, enjoying a tea break

A new life ahead of her, Susan listens to the TARDIS depart

Fan trailer

Recommended:

”]

Doctor Who: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Micro Talking Daleks Invasion Earth 4 Pack Product Enterprise

Doctor Who 5" First Doctor with Dalek Invasion Of Earth 'Black' Dalek 2 Pack San Diego Comic Con Exclusive

The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book

Bring back the Mechonoids!

Doctor Who is a strange television program.

The result of deep research and development in order to craft a polished children’s program that educated as well as entertained without pandering to the audience (imagine!) or relying on stock concepts (the nerve!), it has nevertheless gone through several changes. Despite series creator Sydney Newman’s insistence that there be no BEM’s (Bug Eyed Monsters), the program was only a true success after the screening of Terry Nation’s The Daleks. The program often varied from historical drama to science fantasy and even comedy, but the monsters kept viewers coming back, specifically the Daleks. This prompted the quest to recapture this success again (and the BBC would own the rights this time).


(art by Steve Redfearn)


The first attempt at recreating the Daleks was the Mechonoids (often mis-spelled as Mechanoids), a line of robotic servants who lived in a futuristic city on the planet Mechanus. Space pilot Steven Taylor crash-landed on the planet and luckily found his way to the ‘White City’ where the man-eating fungus and plants could not thrive. There he became the prisoner of the Mechonoids. He was looked after, but not allowed to leave. Soon, he started to go a bit nutty (witness his excitement over his pet ‘mascot’ panda bear doll). With no inhabitants to look after, the Mechonoids became somewhat mad too and became aggressive. This was actually quite lucky as the Daleks invaded the White City looking for the Doctor and his companions and a battle for robotic supremacy erupted.

The Dalek/Mechonoid sequence is the high point of an otherwise light and silly adventure and was obviously very expensive. Armed with pincers and flame-throwers, the Mechonoids made short work of the Daleks, but the Frankenstein Monster and Dracula also had no trouble in that regard earlier on, so maybe these were reject Daleks…

(see my review of The Chase here)

The three Mechonoids were costly to build and only really functioned on the much more spacious Pinewood Studios. Toys were created, but with only a brief moment on screen, they became curiosities rather than rivals for the Daleks.

(vintage image from Skaro.org)


After only appearing in a single TV adventure, 1964’s The Chase, the Mechonoids (or Mechanoids) disappeared into obscurity, only resurfacing in audio format in the Big Finish drama ‘The Juggernauts’ and in the comic strips.

Just released in a stunning box set by Character Options along with two Daleks, the Mechonoid has finally been recreated in all of its awkward glory (complete with a flame-thrower arm!).

The set is available from Forbidden Planet in the UK and from Mike’s Comics in the United States.

But with the excitement over the revival of a classic monster, I challenge the BBC Wales team to recreate the Mechonoids for the 21st Century. I dare them, even!

As a side-note, I strongly advise readers to buy Dalek toys as I find them quite calming and comforting. They even sooth the most cantankerous of us!

I leave you with this amazing trailer for a third Doctor who feature film with Peter Cushing as the Doctor (and Christopher Lee as Dracula!).

Doctor Who and The Smugglers

Doctor Who and The Smugglers


Story 028
Written by Brian Hayles
Transmitted 10 September – 1 October 1966

“This is Deadman’s secret key, Ringwood, Smallbeer, Gurney.”

The Doctor has just bid farewell to his companion Dodo, a traveler who arrived and left with almost equal parts lack of impact. After defeating the War Machines and shutting down the monstrous computer with designs on world domination, WOTAN, the Doctor was eager for some solitude. Unfortunately, both Ben and Polly, a pair of youngster who had proven instrumental in his previous travails, have stumbled into the TARDIS and become unsuspecting crew-mates in the ship of time and space.

Despite his most heartfelt attempts, the Doctor cannot convince Ben or Polly that they have entered the time/space vortex and will soon land in an unpredictable place and time. Ben insists, in his cockney way, that the Doc is having a laff and walks outside to see that they have moved from the city of London to the seaside. Nevertheless, Ben is determined to find a bus or cab and get back to his ship before he is declared AWOL. Polly is less sure of her surroundings, but finds Ben’s explanation the more reasonable.

The Doctor clicks his tongue in annoyance and tries his best to be patient with these youngsters. They have in fact landed on the coast of Cornwall sometime in the 17th Century. They are about to get wrapped up in some devious developments that will threaten their lives and place them at the mercies of some of the most unscrupulous villains of the high seas.

Sailor Ben Jackson and office clerk Polly join the Doctor on his travels

New companions Ben and Polly are actually quite good in this one and handle equal parts of the ‘heavy lifting’ of the story, possibly in part to Hartnell’s poor health or in an effort to more firmly establish them as cast members in anticipation of the lead actor’s leave in the following story. In any case, they are grand. Ben is the perfect ‘lad’ of the 1960’s, brash and brave if a bit hard-headed. Polly, on the other hand, is achingly attractive and feisty if a bit of a screamer. Actress Aneke Wills had decided to play Polly against type and be more of as scaredy cat than a brave heroine. It’s an odd decision but does result in some humorous situations, especially with Ben teasing her.

It’s a shame that so little material has survived of Ben and Polly as companions on Doctor Who as it makes any opinion on their effectiveness almost entirely random. I do enjoy actor Michael Craze’s energy and his devilish attitude that often leads him headfirst into trouble and Wills is the ideal lady in distress, playing up her vulnerability to perfection.

In a turn of tradition, the entire program was actually filmed in Cornwall, far from the studio. This gave the program a different air and (working from amateur behind the scenes footage) also provided the cast a much-needed sense of a holiday. The few surviving sequences of the seaside establish a mood and setting that would have been lost had the crew filmed anywhere else.

The Doctor meets 'Holy' Joseph Longfoot and receives a cryptic clue

Finding themselves at a lighthouse, the TARDIS crew meet the very suspicious Joseph Longfoot who begrudgingly accepts them into his limited accommodations. When the Doctor helps Longfoot with an old wound, the grizzeled old man sees in the time traveler a worthy kind soul and leaves him with advise on lodgings on the mainland and a strange piece of verse that puzzles the Doctor immensely.

After the strangers depart, Longfoot is visited by Cherub, a blood-thirsty menace who interrogates and threatens Longfoot to explain who the strangers were and what he told them. Cherub is determined to find the location of Captain Avery’s treasure, some ill-gotten gold that is hidden somewhere on the mainland. As Longfoot is the only surviving member of Avery’s crew, Cherub deduces that he must know. Longfoot refuses and is soon the victim of Cherub’s blade. I must say that Cherub, played George A. Cooper, is an exquisite villain.

His dialog is superb but more importantly drips from the actor’s lips with such venom that it is caustic; ‘Just say the word, Cap’n and I’ll gut him. It’ll be like stripping the fat from a whale!’ After killing Logfoot, Cherub notices that the strangers have entered a nearby tavern and follows keenly.

Arriving in town, the Doctor and his two young companions (because Polly is dressed in slacks and a shirt she is mistaken as a boy… yep… a boy) are treated with similar contempt and suspicion but they are in a tight spot. With the tide in, the TARDIS is out of reach as it had landed on the beach. Thus, they must do their best to lay low, try not to draw attention, and stay safe. The townsfolk seem unusually unsavory and dangerous, but they must do their best. When Longfoot is discovered dead, the three strangers are the most likely suspects.

Cherub and some of his fellow shipmates arrive and rough up the Doctor and Ben, leaving Ben badly wounded and taking the Doctor to meet their Captain, the dreaded Pike. Left to her own, Polly is interrogated by the local magistrate, an officious Squire (played by Paul Whitsun-Jones who would later return in the Pertwee adventure The Mutants) and all looks grim. Ben and Polly are locked up and the Doctor comes to at the presence of Captain Pike, who earned his name on account of a long blade where his hand used to be.

Cherub threatens the Doctor with a rather cruel-looking blade

The Smugglers is loosely based on the works of Russell Thorndyke Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (developed for the small screen by Disney back in the day starring a very young Patrick McGoohan, criminally out of print on DVD). As such it is a wonderful tale of piracy, double dealings, cryptic codes and distrustful civil servants.

Hartnell may have been in the end of his career, but we should all have such talent as he. The actor positively glows in this adventure, charming Pike as a ‘gentlemen’ with flowery language and curtsies so much so that he stalls the pirate almost indefinitely from killing him! It’s the usual case where the Doctor knows nothing but the villain simply assumes that the Doctor knows some important piece of information, so our hero simply bluffs his way as far as he can, knowing that this misunderstanding is the only life-line he has!

Jamaica has no idea of the grisly fate awaiting him at the end of Captain Pike's clawed hand

Cherub may be little more than a rabid dob on two legs, but Pike is a cultivated and cultured man of violence, cutting down even members of his own crew to get at Avery’s lost treasure. Pike is a bloody piece of work, at once intelligent and reasonable yet blinded by his quest for Avery’s treasure. He also comes into contact with the Squire who, as it turns out, is running a very lucrative, very illegal smuggling operation. Both see an opportunity in their meeting and conspire a partnership.

The Doctor successfully keeps himself just out of danger while his companions play on the superstitions of the time to escape their cell, convincing their young jailer that they are in fact witches. It’s a clever and well constructed scene (if a bit cruel on their part). They encounter Josiah Blake a revenue man who is tracking the smuggling ring. Yes, their best bet is to team up with internal revenue… dark times.

Fittingly in a graveyard, the entire affair comes to a violent end

The clues that Longfoot initially gave the Doctor soon becomes useful when all parties find themselves in a graveyard full of hastily laid headstones left in memory of Avery’s crew. Thinking that part of everything is not enough, Cherub turns on Pike and it’s a shoot-out between them and the Squire. There’s so much violence in this story that many sequences were cut by the New Zealand censors. Lucky thing, too, as the cuts were retained and consist of most of the surviving material of the Smugglers.

A rollicking seafaring adventure, this would mark the second to last true historical adventure of Doctor Who (with the Highlanders closing the book on this genre in the program). As one of the many ‘lost’ stories, a fan is left with few options to enjoy this story. An excellent novelization by Terrance Dicks is available as is an audio CD. Strangely, the BBC Wales story ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ is presented as something of a prequel to the Smugglers as it involves Captain Avery… but that really doesn’t wash with me as it’s mainly bollocks.
Fan-made Trailer

As this is old Billy’s birthday, I wanted to add an image that asserts there was more to the old man than his often criticized ‘crotchety’ persona. Below is a rare behind the scenes snapshot from the Daleks’ Master Plan.

(Note: The Hartnell thumbnail comes from this etsy store)

Doctor Who – Galaxy 4

Doctor Who and Galaxy 4

By William Emms
Story 18
Transmitted: 11 September – 2 October 1965

The third series of Doctor Who is a strange time for the program as it branched away from the somewhat traditional science fantasy into absurd space drama. This period was rife with changes in front of and behind the camera as Vicki was unceremoniously written out and Adrienne Hill (Katarina), Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom) and Jackie Lane (Dodo Chaplet) arrived as the replacement companions. Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) shared the anxiety and frustration exhibited by William Hartnell at the frantic nature of these changes in addition to the revolving door that seemed to from the producer’s officer after the departure of Verity Lambert. Both John Wiles and Innes Lloyd served as producers and the script editing duties were split between Donald Tosh and Gerry Davis (co-creator of the Cybermen).

Hartnell was growing increasingly frustrated by the quality of the scripts and the level of violence. The fact that he viewed himself as intrinsic to the program’s future no doubt gave fuel to his fury and aided his reputation as being short-tempered and crotchety at times. Nevertheless, he was the longest lasting regular on the program and felt that his opinion carried some weight.

Bearing all that in mind, a story like Galaxy 4 makes perfect sense. It’s a science fiction opera with a morality tale, rocket ships, robots, bug-eyed creatures and beautiful lady warriors set on a planet about to explode, yet it seems to be missing some element. This could be on account of the changes around the production team, but in the end Galaxy 4 feels like it could have benefited from other characters, plot complications… anything.

Even so, Galaxy 4 is a charming story with an astounding musical score by Les Structures Sonorés (the same glass-tube music that graced The Web Planet), some inspired design and a talented guest cast. It’s even hauntingly close to having at least one, if not two, classic-worthy monsters.

Steven, Vicki and the Doctor encounter a robot nicknamed 'Chumblie'

After giving Steven a much-needed hair-cut (?), the TARDIS crew emerge on a blasted heath of a planetary terrain. The Doctor is unsure if it’s a planet that he had previously visited, but no dice. The first encounter with any intelligent life comes in the shape of roving robotic creations making an incessant humming mechanical noise. The weirdest part of Galaxy 4 is these robotic creatures nicknamed ‘Chumblies’ by Vicki. I know that the BBC were anxious to replicate the success of the Daleks with something similar, but… really? These creatures are just bizarre, roll about like inflated beehives then expand to make bleeping noises. The sound effects are haunting and very intriguing, but… they don’t really do much in the end.

Before the Doctor can investigate one of the Chumblies, it is attacked a band of Amazonian-like soldiers who use a sophisticated array of weaponry designed specifically to destroy it. Of course the attack proves useless and the indomitable Chumbly rolls away. The Doctor, Vicki and Steven are taken by their rescuers back to a damaged spacecraft. Inside is the leader of these woman warriors called Drahavins, the cold and conniving Maaga. She unravels a story of space-combat with the Rills who are using the Chumblies as mechanized muscle. The Rills and Drahvins are stranded on a planet that is due to explode in just ‘fourteen dawns.’ The Doctor and Steven are anxious to check Maaga’s story with the Rills, agreeing to leave Vicki behind as security.

The Drahvins that had attempted to subdue the Chumbly are actually vat-grown soldiers, designed only to kill in the unending wars that the Drahvins are engaged in. It’s surprising that they seem rather childish and emotional rather than cold and robotic as their handler, Maaga behaves. It’s unclear exactly what Emms was trying to say here aside from not judging a book by its cover, but there seems to be some kind of anti-war statement nestled within the nature of the Drahvins that I can’t manage to unwrap.

The Drahvins of Galaxy Four

The Doctor and Steven discover that the planet has far less than ‘fourteen dawns’ after realizing that the planet has multiple suns orbiting it, leaving them only two days. Strangely, their return to the Drahvin ship results in a change of hostages and Steven is left behind while the Doctor and Vicki venture forth to contact the Rills. They discover that the truth behind the Rills/Drahvins conflict is far more complex than they imagined. The reclusive Rills, described by Maaga as hideous murderous creatures, claim that they were attacked when aiding one of the Drahvins. Maaga not only attacked the Rill, but also killed her own soldier, later blaming the death on her foes.

The lack of time to resolve any of the conflict and the problem of Steven being held hostage raises some difficult choices for the Doctor. Luckily, Steven is far from helpless and manages to manipulate the Drahvins to get out of his cell… and into an airlock. Oh well. Ian Chesterton, he’s not. Actor Peter Purves retains a bitterness about this story and how it treated him as rather useless while the Doctor and Vicki wandered off and had a grand adventure. But… turn about is fair play, mate. It’s about time the male companion was shuttered away for an episode while the female took on the bulk of the leg work.

Of course, much later another male companion would receive far worse treatment when Turlough was locked in a closet of left wandering around a Dalek spaceship. Maybe male companions just aren’t as easy to write for?

The Doctor and the devilish Drahvins

Maaga is a real piece of work, wonderfully played by actress Stephanie Bidmead (no relation to the future author/script editor). Her every movement and delivery of dialog is calculated and frosty yet backed with a kind of practical manner that makes her seem trustworthy. After all, she’s the first person that the Doctor meets who has all the answers. Nevertheless, her mistreatment of her soldiers and fierce distaste of the Rills shows her horns, as it were.

By contrast, the Chumblies are downright adorable. Even though they are armed with flamethrowers and such, the Doctor and Vicki erupt into a fit of giggles every time they meet one. It’s only at the conclusion of part two when a Rill is glimpsed (if only for a moment) that the real danger becomes clear. The Doctor is always putting his nose into other people’s business, despite his claim that he ‘seldom interferes,’ but in this case he is so much in the dark and there is so much to lose. His time is limited and he is cornered by two armies determined to zap each other until the planet itself is destroyed.

Hartnell is in fine form in this story, acting every part the gentleman scientist and adventurer, standing the higher moral ground when dealing with the Rills, yet content to let the Drahvins expire in a cataclysm if their own making. I do enjoy his interactions with the pixie-like Vicki who simply sparkles on screen. Maybe it is on account of her undeniable cuteness that everyone else in the program refers to the Chumblies after she has coined the nickname?

So little is known about this story due to the almost total lack of surviving material. The lack of enthusiasm from the fan community doesn’t help, so when part three emerged last week there was a roar of confused excitement online. Fans are of course overjoyed at new material from the 1960’s, but did the finds have to be from Galaxy 4 and the Underwater Menace? No dice on Evil of the Daleks, Marco Polo or the Macra Terror? Ah well.

One of the dreaded Rills from Galaxy Four

Galaxy 4 ended rather unusually with the Doctor yearning for a rest and Vicki wondering about the events taking place on a nearby planet. The point of view then shifted to the planet Kembel where a deranged soldier mutters to himself ‘I must kill… kill!’ and stalks through the strange alien jungle.

A fan-made short film depicts this ending to the final installment of Galaxy 4 “The Exploding Planet,” bridging to “Mission to the Unknown:”

It’s worth noting that while this story stirs little to no reaction to fans today, it was ratings stunner back when it was screened, earning the highest figures between The Web Planet (yes, I know) and The Three Doctors (again… I know). You never can tell what kind of reception these episodes had when they were shown versus their reputation in the fan community today.

When Tomb of the Cybermen, previously regarded as a lost classic, was unveiled as a complete story, it was judged as a disappointment (though I still adore it). Maybe the discovery of these missing episodes will alter the reputation of Galaxy 4 and the Underwater Menace?