Under Three Hundred

The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 31 August 2015

All I Want

A couple of years ago, just before the miraculously-recovered second episode of The Underwater Menace was screened at Missing Believed Wiped, I was... um... tipped off that it might have been discovered. My delight and excitement were slightly allayed by the fact that, off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of anything that happened in it apart from a bit where the Doctor blows up a small pot. I felt like a bad fan. I’d let myself down, I’d let fandom down.


So because I have no work to do this morning, I thought I’d do the most fun thing in the world and make a list. Every missing Doctor Who episode – and the bit in it I’d most like to see.

Obviously there are lots of other exciting bits in the episodes I’d like to see, I’d like to see all of them including the exciting bits I know nothing about, but I have limited myself to one per episode.

Here goes. Hartnell first.

The Roof of the World – Marco Polo’s animated map.
The Singing Days – Susan and Ping-Cho lost in the sandstorm, being found by Tegana.
Five Hundred Eyes – Ping-Cho’s recitation.
The Wall of Lies – The mystery of the hidden door.
Rider from Shang-Tu – Wang-Lo!
Mighty Kublai Khan – The Doctor kow-towing to Kublai Khan.
Assassin at Peking – The Doctor and Kublai Khan playing backgammon.
The Tyrant of France – The Doctor meeting Robespierre.
A Bargain of Necessity – Jules coming to the rescue in the church crypt.
The Knight of Jaffa – Barbara being chased through the streets of Lydda.
The Warlords – Ibrahim the bandit.
Four Hundred Dawns – The Chumbley trying to enter the TARDIS.
Trap of Steel – Vicki throwing a rock at a Chumbley.
The Exploding Planet – The cliffhanger of Garvey in the jungle.
Mission to the Unknown – Alien delegates!
Temple of Secrets – Odysseus and Agamemnon!
Small Prophet, Quick Return – Priam and Cassandra!
Death of a Spy – The Doctor inside the Trojan horse.
Horse of Destruction – Vicki’s final scene.
The Nightmare Begins – Roald and Lizan watching the Space News.
Devil’s Planet – The Screamers.
The Traitors – The death of Katarina.
Coronas of the Sun – The Visians become visible when exterminated.
The Feast of Steven – The Christmas greeting.
Volcano – The TARDIS landing during a cricket match.
Golden Death – The Monk’s TARDIS tries out different disguises.
The Abandoned Planet – Alf Roberts as Malpha.
The Destruction of Time – Sara aging to death.
War of God – Emma Thompson’s dad as Gaston.
The Sea Beggar – Steven scales the outside of the Abbot’s house.
Priest of Death – The Abbot of Amboise.
Bell of Doom – The Doctor’s soliloquy.
The Celestial Toyroom – Dodo seeing herself (in school uniform) the day her mother died.
The Hall of Dolls – The booby-trapped chairs.
The Dancing Floor – Sergeant Rugg and Mrs Wiggs locked in a dance together, turning into dolls.
The Savages 1 – Nanina!
The Savages 2 – The lengthy transference process.
The Savages 3 – Steven facing Exorse in the tunnels.
The Savages 4 – The destruction of the laboratory.
The Smugglers 1- Location filming! In Cornwall!
The Smugglers 2 – Ben and Polly trick young Tom.
The Smugglers 3 – The Doctor tricks Jamaica by pretending to read his fortune.
The Smugglers 4 – The drunken fight between the pirates and the militia.
The Tenth Planet 4 – The Cyberman mystery.



Monday, 27 July 2015

I Love Them All

Way back in 2009 I wrote a regular column for Doctor Who Magazine. After they had published a poll of every Doctor Who story ever made, I followed it up with an article pointing out what was great - what was genuinely fantastic - about the stories that had the misfortune of finishing bottom (without exception because of shortcomings of the budget, not a lack of effort of those involved).

SMALL BEAUTIFUL EVENTS...

Last month, DWM published the results of its poll to find the fans’ favourite stories of all time. But just as there have to be winners, there also have to be losers. The turkeys. The clunkers. The Bandrils.

Except they’re not that bad. Although many of them are insanely off-beam, they’re also the most idiosyncratically Doctor Who-ish stories of them all. Whilst some of the best stories needn’t be Doctor Who at all – they could be movies in their own right – none of these stories could have been part of any other show. And, just as a pop star’s experimental b-sides are often their most interesting songs, these stories all show Doctor Who at its most ambitious and daring. None of these stories could be accused of ‘playing it safe’.

There’s something fascinating about these ‘losers’; they all had the potential to be great but took a wrong turning or fell victim to a lack of time and money. They not only make you appreciate the ‘better’ stories all the more, and make you realise how difficult it was to get any sort of Doctor Who made, good or bad... but sometimes little moments of marvellousness slip through.

They are the stories that only the fans could love. That’s what love is all about – whether it be love for a football team, a television show or a human being – it’s about loving something on the bad days as much as the good and about finding things to celebrate in the failures as well as the successes.

And that’s what this article is here to do; to celebrate the stories that got away. The stories which are as much a part of Doctor Who as The Empty Child or The Talons Of Weng-Chiang. The stories we all secretly adore.


200 - THE TWIN DILEMMA

Back when The Twin Dilemma was broadcast there was no such thing as a bad Doctor Who story. So long as it had the music and the words ‘Doctor’ and ‘Who’ at the beginning, I loved it. Only later, when I grew into an oh-so-cynical teenager, did I begin to divide the stories into classics and cringeworthies.

Which, with The Twin Dilemma, is a shame, because there’s so much to love about it. The BBC Micro graphics of the equations game. The glowing overlay when Mestor communes with Azmael. And Helen Blatch as Fabian is an ever-quotable joy; I’m convinced this story started life as a script for Juliet Bravo.

But at the heart of it is Colin Baker’s extraordinarily compelling performance. There’s the bombast – think of that triumphant moment where he’s climbing a mountaintop on Titan Three quoting Excelsior - but there’s also the beautifully-played scene with the dying Azmael. And the Doctor’s attempt to strangle Peri is as audacious as anything any other era of the show has to offer; remember his animal howl of pain as he’s confronted with his own reflection in the mirror.

So what’s great about The Twin Dilemma? Two words; Colin Baker.


199 - TIMELASH

It’s probably some kind of indictment of where Doctor Who was in the mid-1980’s that even when a story was totally original they had to pretend it was a sequel to a previous Doctor Who adventure. But that’s what fascinates me about Timelash; the little hints we get of what happened in the earlier Pertwee story where he encountered Megelen and negotiated a grain treaty between Karfel and the Bandrils. Such is the attention to detail that even the sets and costumes look like reconstructions of 1970’s originals.

Timelash also gives us one of the finest iterations of the Doctor Who staple of rebels-in-corridors. How can anyone be a Doctor Who fan and not love rebels-in-corridors? It’s part of a great tradition of rebels-in-corridors stretching back to The Space Museum. It’s part of the show’s DNA.

The other thing I love about it – besides Robert Ashby’s Borad, an excellent performance and make-up job – is the character of Herbert. I know it was only included as ‘padding’, but my favourite scene is the one where he confesses to the Doctor that he’s not terribly brave. If any scene gets to the heart of what Doctor Who is about, it’s this one.


198 - UNDERWORLD

It feels unfair to condemn Doctor Who stories for turning out badly because of behind-the-scenes problems, whether those problems are strikes, inflation or Margaret Thatcher. You can criticise a script for being so over-ambitious that it could never have been achieved on the Doctor Who budget - hello, Battlefield – but that’s not a charge you could level at Underworld. It was doing everything right up until the point where the Production Manager said, ‘What? I thought you said we were only doing five stories this year? Oh shiiit.’

So instead of lots of exciting action sequences in real-life caves, there’s lot of tedious inaction sequences against blue-screened photographs. What should have been a sci-fi Jason And The Argonauts ended up looking like an episode of Knightmare. Where K-9 has gained the ability to turn transparent at will.

But skip the middle two episodes and you’ve got a story rich with fascinating Time Lord myth-building, imagination, humour and drama. It might not have the makings of a classic, but it doesn’t have the makings of a disaster either.

And, let’s face it, there’s something rather hypocritical about Doctor Who fans criticising a story for looking cheap and having poor special effects. 


197 - TIME AND THE RANI

I don’t remember disliking Time And The Rani when it was first broadcast. I remember being intrigued by Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor – for all the bumbling,  hat-doffing and proverb-mangling, he’s utterly likeable from his first scene; this is a Doctor with a naughty wink and a cheeky grin. Who then goes on to play the spoons on Kate O’Mara’s breasts.

I also remember being rather gobsmacked by the plot – it might not make a great deal of sense, but when a story begins with someone dressing up to impersonate Bonnie Langford you can’t really accuse it of being predictable.

Time And The Rani also has some of the most preposterous dialogue of any Doctor Who story and yet what is great about it is that the supporting cast take it deadly seriously. In a way, it’s the closest Doctor Who has ever got to Shakespeare, in that the actor’s job is to try to get across an emotional reality when the lines they are given are impenetrably magniloquent. I’m thinking in particular of the scene where Beyus and Faroon learn of the death of their daughter Sarn. Donald Pickering and Wanda Ventham are the unsung heroes of Time And The Rani.


196 - TIME-FLIGHT

I suppose what Time-Flight illustrates, above anything, is that it’s important for a script to be achievable on a Doctor Who budget. So many of this story’s potentially spectacular set-pieces are sold short; not least the crash-landing of Concorde in a prehistoric wasteland which turns out to be a medium-sized shrubbery in the corner of BBC Studio 8. Similarly you have the fascinating dual nature of the Xeraphin, which was probably a very interesting Proper Science Fiction Concept before the costume designer saw how much money was left.

On the other hand, it has a great opening episode; there’s something thrilling about seeing the Doctor on contemporary Earth in recognisable surroundings. And there’s a marvellous moment where the crew emerge from Concorde into a CSO version of Heathrow which turns out to be a deliberately poor special effect because they have emerged into an illusion.

But best of all, there’s the scene with Adric, including solely so that Matthew Waterhouse would have a Radio Times credit to avoid giving away the ending of Earthshock. The poor kid’s just been killed off, he’s had his leaving party... and then they bring him back the next week to kill him off again!


195 - THE SPACE PIRATES

Okay, so The Space Pirates has a few problems. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are sidelined, spending the entire story trapped in a space beacon, a pit, and an office. There’s only enough plot for four episodes, meaning that for the first half, it’s like watching Doctor Who played out in slow motion. Most of it is missing, which means its major selling point – lots of model spaceships – becomes a major flaw as the story grinds to a halt every few minutes for some moody space-wailing. Oh, and Donald Gee is attempting an American accent.

But what’s great about it is that, pretty much uniquely, it’s Doctor Who doing ‘hard’ science fiction, where space is big and space travel is slow. There’s an unusually large amount ‘world-building’ going on – Robert Holmes has clearly thought this universe out in detail – and, with Milo Clancey and his dilapidated spaceship LIZ 79 (which would have looked old-fashioned even in 1969), he’s inventing the genre of steampunk ten years early. And, as the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe attempt to escape from the beacon, the pit and the office, there’s all sorts of fun to be had with magnets, candles, drawing pins and tuning forks.


194 - THE UNDERWATER MENACE

It’s been observed that stories containing the word ‘Time’ in their titles tend to turn out badly; the same seems to hold true for stories with the word ‘Under’. Heaven help us if they ever decide to do a story called ‘The Under Of Time’.

The Underwater Menace has a peculiar it’s-Doctor-Who¬-but-not-as-we-know-it quality. It’s like a live action comic strip, full of wacky but ultimately pointless set-pieces; it’s not so much that it has a plot with some holes in it, it’s that it has a great big gaping hole with a tiny piece of plot in it. The Fish-People and Professor Zaroff are the stuff of panels in TV Comic; the end of episode three sees Joseph Hurst trying to generate a speech bubble through the power of eyebrow movement alone.

And yet this is what is so adorable about it. It’s innocent, ludicrous and larger than life, but you also have Patrick Troughton dragged up as a fortune teller (complete with sunglasses) and Anneke Wills in a dress made of seashells.  And, for the lefties in the audience, there’s a heart-warming moment where the much put-upon Fish People decide to form a trade union and go on strike.


193 - PARADISE TOWERS

It pained me to see my beloved Paradise Towers in the bottom ten, it really did. On my poll form, I gave it ‘10’. I can only conclude that you’re all bonkers.

I know, I know, some of the performances are a little... ripe. I have no problem with Richard Brier’s Chief Caretaker, but even I wish that the Kangs were a bit more rough and urban and not quite so mannered and well-spoken. And I can see why the bit where Mel decides to go for a swim feels like a broadcast from the planet of stupid.

But I just think there’s something to be cherished about the fact that what was undoubtedly the darkest, blackest and most horrific Doctor Who story in terms of content was performed in a style somewhere between Samuel Beckett and Rentaghost. It’s daring, intelligent, and the only occasion where the character of Mel makes any kind of contextual sense. The scenes with Tabby and Tilda are quite deliciously witty and the Doctor is threatened with a 327 Appendix 3 Subsection 9 Death.

There’s never been nothing like it since... at least, not until Gridlock came along and gave us Paradise Towers Part Two.


192 - FEAR HER

Given the amount of time and resources available to modern Doctor Who, it’s quite an achievement for Fear Her to have scraped into the bottom ten. It’s an odd story; it has that not-quite-right-ness you get in 1970’s annuals; Doctor Who as imagined by somebody who hasn’t quite ‘got’ what Doctor Who is.

For all its faults – the most irritating being the fact that the money intended for a CGI cupboard monster went to The Satan Pit – the idea behind Fear Her is sound; Doctor Who on a domestic scale, taking place all in one house, about a mother and child; like one of those Japanese films with dead girls crawling out of TV sets. It’s that nagging sense of ‘if only’ which is the frustration with Fear Her; if only it had had a little more money, if only it had been directed in the style of Blink, if only they hadn’t included the Olympics sub-plot. Because it should all have been as good as the bit with the scribble monster, or the TARDIS landing gag, or the scene where the Doctor vanishes off-screen. It’s a pity they no longer do novelisations, because Fear Her deserves a second chance.


191 - THE DOMINATORS

Surprising to see this story so low in the poll. Okay, so it’s famous for being the Doctor Who where the production team got so bored of making it that they decided to finish a week early and start doing The Mind Robber instead. And it’s reactionary anti-pacifist message is unappealing, at odds with the rest of the series and in particular with the era in which it was made. And someone should have noticed that the character of Cully was supposed to be a reckless teenager, not a chubby, balding fifty-year-old bank manager in a toga.

But I think, when the DVD comes out, everyone will be kicking themselves for scoring this story so low. It’s so gorgeously Flash Gordon. The villains have catchphrases! And the Quarks are both ludicrous and unnerving; their child-like voices and delight in destruction are not so different from the Toclafane. Plus there’s the fact that any kids watching at home would be able to knock up their own, equally-convincing Quark using half a dozen egg-boxes.

Plus, in her first full story as a Doctor Who assistant, Wendy Padbury flashes her knickers in every single scene. Watch the DVD if you don’t believe me.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dizzy Miss Lizzy


A few days ago I gave a short speech to my local Labour Party in favour of nominating Liz Kendall as leader. Sadly, they didn’t, but thankfully they didn’t nominate any of the other candidates either.

Okay. I’m speaking as a supporter of Liz Kendall, but I’ll try represent her views rather than just my own – even though they are mostly the same.

Liz Kendall’s campaign slogan is A Fresh Start. But what does that actually mean? What it means is, what Liz offers is a new approach. If the Labour Party is going to win the next election it has to be a very different Labour Party. The world will have changed in 2020, the United Kingdom - if it is still a United Kingdom - will have changed, and the Labour Party has to change too.

But what do I mean by change? It doesn’t need to change its values. Liz, like all the candidates, has been in the Labour Party for years, she’s campaigned for improved maternity and paternity care; in particular, her focus is on early education because that’s where the inequality in our society begins. But to be honest, there isn’t a vast difference between Liz’s views and Yvette Cooper’s views, or Andy Burnham’s views. They could all serve in each other’s shadow cabinets.

The difference with Liz is that I think she alone has recognised the scale of the challenge the Labour party faces. And that while Labour’s principles remain unchanged, the Party will not win the 2020 election if it doesn’t change its policies. As the saying attributed to Albert Einstein goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Or as Liz says, ‘If we keep on making the same arguments that we have done over the last five years we will lose’. Labour has to radically change or it will be the party of the past.

Does that mean moving to the right? No. I don’t think it does. But in our current electoral system, the outcome is decided by the middle ground. It’s decided by floating voters. Many of whom were in favour of many of Labour’s policies. But who, on the day of the election, voted Conservative. And for one obvious reason. They didn’t trust us with the economy.

Those are the people we have to win over. Those people aren’t natural Conservatives. They are just people who will vote for whoever looks the most competent. The most businesslike.

What it comes down to is what you think the purpose of an opposition is. If all an opposition party does is oppose everything the government does, it means the government sets the agenda and all the Labour party becomes is a party of protest, of internet petitions and going on marches.

Or is opposition about being an alternative government in waiting. Which is not about opposing everything the government does. For example, when the Conservatives were in opposition, did they oppose Labour’s economic policies? No. They were cleverer than that. They agreed with our policies, to give the impression that the economy would perform just as well if they were in power. They neutralised the issue. They made it look easy. And they are still doing it. Whenever they see something that is Labour territory, they attack it and try to make it their own. They see that the living wage was popular – so they pretend to introduce it. They claim to be the party of working people, they claim to be the party of the NHS, they claim to be the party of progressive taxes.

Unpalatable as it may be, if Labour is to win we have to beat them at their own game. The only way you win a war is by going on the attack. You don’t win a war by retreating to your comfort zone. And you don’t win a war by fighting battles you have already lost. You can only win by capturing enemy territory and making it your own. Labour can only win if it is not just the party of the NHS and the living wage, but if it is also the party of business, of a strong economy, of reducing the deficit, of everything that is currently the Conservatives' territory. As Liz said in her Facebook q and a, ‘If we tell the British public that a strong economy, backing great business and sound public finances are Tory values then the Tories will be in power forever.’

And that’s the question facing us. How much do you want Labour back in power? Because I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn will deliver a victory, because to win Labour has win over the middle ground, not just its own left-wing. And I don’t think Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper will deliver a victory, because they both offer basically the same approach as Ed Miliband but without Ed Miliband.

Whereas Liz Kendall does offer a fresh start. What she offers is Labour taking a long hard look at itself, at its policies, and changing them to reflect the modern world, what people out there, the people we want to vote for us, actually want. Some of the changes Labour will have to make will not be easy, but it has to reform if it is to remain relevant. It reformed under Kinnock, under Smith and under Blair, and it can do so again. Labour can’t win by offering yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s problems. The values stay the same, we have to find new ways of achieving them.

I mean, some of Liz’s opponents accuse her of being Tory-lite. I don’t think she is. For instance, last week Liz was the first to speak out against Tory plans to limit union rights. ‘As Labour leader, I’ll oppose them. As Prime Minister, I’ll reverse them’. That’s not somebody who is Tory-lite speaking. But what worries the Tories is that floating voters will think she is Tory-lite, and will take the low-fat option. That’s why Liz Kendall is the candidate the Conservatives fear most. They look at her and go ‘Oh no, she is the sort of person who is going to appeal to the people who normally vote for us!’

That’s the sort of person we want as leader. Someone who takes votes away from the Tories.

So, in summary, I’d say the choice is this. Vote for Andy, Yvonne or Jeremy if you want a Labour leader of the opposition. Vote for Liz Kendall if you actually want a Labour Prime Minister.