Our son enjoyed this more and more with each episode. After all, it ends with an entire planet blowing up. The grownups did not. We’re just glad that he’s happy.
Tag Archives: bob baker
In 1978, Time-Life Television offered a package of Tom Baker’s first four Doctor Who seasons – 98 episodes – to American TV stations. Because they thought the show was a little too esoteric or something, they hired an actor named Howard da Silva to provide narrations, voiceovers and recaps, using a very distinctive, deliberate enunciation. Some fans collect these otherwise lost versions, I guess in the same way that some people want to collect the American prints of EastEnders with the Tracy Ullman introductions.
From time to time, when the organization that holds the rights to a show wants to assemble a new package, some rogue prints turn up. Some of the apparent master tapes of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters have introductions from a later syndication package, and, as we’ll discuss in this space soon, A&E had a big ole mess when they started showing the Tara King episodes of The Avengers in the early 1990s. In 1982, Lionheart Television put together a new package of the Tom Baker stories, offering 41 edited TV movies or the half-hour episodes. Somehow, they included the Howard da Silva print of part two of “Underworld” in the compilation movie.
I remember that when WGTV showed this in 1984, I had actually just stepped out of the room for a second and heard this weird voice, right when the Minyans’ spaceship crashes through the planet’s liquid surface. Something like “The Doctor and his friends pah-lunge intoooo the Unnnnderworrrrld…” It took me years to figure out what that dopey narration was doing on the show.
Anyway, once the Doctor and his friends plunge into the Underworld, the same thing happens that we saw in Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s previous Who script, “The Invisible Enemy.” The first episode of this story is tremendously entertaining. I liked it a lot. Good performances, good sets, a good sense of mystery. Then they step out of the spaceship in episode two and everything falls apart.
Infamously, the actors don’t step out into tunnels and caverns built in the studio. They step out into a blue screen environment of photographs of tunnels and caverns. Speaking of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, this is honestly the closest that Doctor Who ever came to looking like a late period Sid and Marty Krofft program, when they didn’t have any money either. Our son wasn’t impressed, and nobody else is, for that matter. Even with K9, this one’s pretty dull.
Old business: For those of you who remember my post about “The Brain of Morbius” and its suggestion that there were other Doctors before William Hartnell, I had said that nothing is shown onscreen to contradict it until “Mawdryn Undead” in 1983. However, an online acquaintance who goes by the handle “Forever Love” – a fantastic LP, by the way – drew my attention to an exchange in this story, where the Doctor says that he’s only regenerated “two or three times,” and not “ten or eleven.” Sounds like more evidence that my son was right and those other eight dudes we saw were the early incarnations of Morbius!
Our son liked the story’s final line – Frederick Jaeger hoping that K9 is “TARDIS trained” – so much that it overshadowed the big explosion. For me, Jaeger and K9 and Louise Jameson are pretty much the only things about this one worth watching. It’s worse than I remembered it, ponderous and boring, with some of the most poorly staged gunfights in the whole series. The next one’s better.
When I first watched Doctor Who in 1984, I missed several of the stories in season fifteen because of family travel or whatever. I missed the first three stories – “Fang Rock,” this one, and “Image of the Fendahl” – and the last one of the season. So K9 was a big surprise to me, and because when you’re a twelve year-old boy, the desire not to have other people mock your childish interests is like a survival code, it wasn’t a nice one. I couldn’t believe this show suddenly had a cute robot. He predates R2-D2, incidentally. This story was taped a month before the American premiere of Star Wars.
Seven is so much nicer an age than twelve. Our son was instantly charmed by K9. He got up and walked to the television, wide-eyed, and pointed at K9 just in case we missed it. “Look! It’s a robot dog!” He’s going to be so happy when K9 comes along at the end of this story.
I asked whether K9 is the best thing about this serial and Marie instantly interrupted “Yes!” I did warn her that this story is what happens when Dr. Science is not paying any attention at all to the script. I’ve never really cared for it either, but I’d forgotten just how good part one is. There’s a real sense of menace and mystery about the strange space infection, and I really like the design of the Titan base. The visual effects range from passable to regrettable as always, but all the other elements of this adventure – K9, the clones, the shrinking, the journey into the Doctor’s brain, that shrimp costume – are so much more memorable, mostly for all the wrong reasons, than the fabulous first episode. The dropoff is unbelievably steep.
Anyway, so this story was written by veterans Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and the memorable guest stars include Frederick Jaeger, as K9’s master Professor Marius, and Michael Sheard, as one of the infected bunch from the Titan base. This was a very rushed production and it badly, badly needed another draft of the script, preferably one where the clones wear basic orange jumpsuits and maybe some scuba gear! Episode one was far better than I remembered it, and episode two was about as lousy. But our son thought episode one was creepy and scary, and episode two has K9 in it, and would not agree.
I’ve mentioned before how I enjoy seeing how directors would return to some of the same actors. Well, the alien Eldrad first emerges as a crystalline female played by Judith Paris, but once the Doctor and Sarah take “her” back to her home planet of Kastria, she reconstitutes herself into her original male body, played by Stephen Thorne. Director Lennie Mayne had used Thorne three years previously, as Omega in “The Three Doctors.” Thorne has such an amazing voice, but the writers certainly gave him a lot of boring dialogue. It’s all ranting and raving and “I! SHALL! BE! KING!” and conquering the universe and so on.
So, going back to my own childhood and watching Doctor Who on Atlanta’s WGTV, I wasn’t able to catch every one of the compilation movies the first time around because of family trips or whatever. So I missed “The Hand of Fear” and was confused the following week because Sarah wasn’t in it. Sarah gets a remarkably unique departure. She’s the only companion in the whole of the original series who the Doctor actually leaves behind.
In the story, it’s allegedly because the Doctor’s been summoned back to his home planet, Gallifrey, and he can’t take her with him. This kind of rings hollow in the first place because nothing was stopping him from coming back to Earth to pick her up, and in the second place because later companions would get to travel to Gallifrey without incident. So even though Sarah got to return onscreen twice in the eighties, lots of people have pointed out that something wasn’t right about that. Happily, thirty years after “The Hand of Fear,” Sarah returned for a third time in the episode “School Reunion,” and this was addressed.
“The Hand of Fear” is definitely among that pile of Who adventures that start a whole lot stronger than they end. Honestly, part three’s cliffhanger has the Judith Paris version of Eldrad shot by a booby-trap missile, and part four could have just been Eldrad dying, the Doctor and Sarah exploring the dead planet by themselves, and finally going home, and I’d have been happier with it without all the ranting and threats. Sarah’s departure is the core of the story, and the male Eldrad just gets in the way of it. It’s a wonderfully sad ending, and apparently Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen wrote the scene themselves.
Unfortunately, our son didn’t enjoy this story very much at all, because he said he didn’t understand why, despite the script spelling it out very clearly, the Doctor took Eldrad back to Kastria. He has this odd habit of vaguely grumbling “I didn’t understand what that was about,” rather than asking specific questions. Once we understood the issue, his mother gave him a recap and he seemed a little more satisfied, and he was pleased when I told him that we would see Sarah Jane Smith again.
There’s a lot to like about “The Hand of Fear.” Since Tom Baker’s Doctor didn’t spend as much time on contemporary Earth as Pertwee did, it’s kind of nice to see him interacting with everyday people in 1976. There’s a lot of ordinary, everyday locations in this one: a quarry, a hospital, and a power plant. The Doctor doesn’t drive around in his old yellow roadster; instead he’s a passenger in somebody’s old Datsun or something. There is a lot of good location filming in the first half of this story, and the sets and even the choice of furniture – dig those awful plastic chairs! – make this feel more “real” than “The Android Invasion” or “The Seeds of Doom,” which were both allegedly contemporary Earth stories, did.
“The Hand of Fear” is a four-parter that was first shown in 1976. It was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was the last serial directed by Lennie Mayne, who sadly died in a boating accident a few months later. Mayne cast one of his reliable go-to actors, Rex Robinson, for the third time, and it also has a terrific guest appearance by Glyn Houston, perhaps best known as Bunter in three of the BBC’s Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations, as the director of the power plant.
Everybody comments on how unusual and how real it is that Houston’s character gets a moment to himself, completely away from the drama of the story, to phone home and tell his wife goodbye when he thinks the nuclear plant will have a meltdown and explode soon. I think this was a great decision for the scriptwriters because part two of this story is incredibly repetitive, and it breaks up all the running up and down lots of corridors. Television adventure drama rarely takes the time to give minor characters little human moments like this. There never is time, because everything that happens needs to either serve the plot or serve the stars. It may be less than a minute of the episode, but somehow it works just perfectly and really elevates the story.
I doubt our son noticed. He seemed to enjoy this one. It wasn’t very scary, although the memorable visual of the hand coming to life gave him the creeps, as it should. That one shot of the hand in the box at the cliffhanger is a remarkably good effect. The other bits where it’s crawling along the floor are the standard yellow-or-green-screen chromakey, but when the hand first moves, it’s so darn good you’re forced to question how they did it.
While I saw the runaround and repetition of part two a little wearying, he got into it. The director tried to make the story seem urgent and desperate, and it really worked with him. Part two ends with everything exploding as the disembodied hand gets carried into the reactor core and he was excited. He says that he’s kind of scared about what’s going to happen, “because this is a very creepy one,” but he didn’t hide behind the sofa this morning, either.
So we watched The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and, during the climax, my wife got off the sofa and sat elsewhere. “When you write this one,” she instructed, “make sure that you note that our son loved it so much that he kicked his mother in the head.” This I now do.
Thank heaven we didn’t see this one in a theater. The kid laughed and exploded so much over it that he thrashed and danced and punched the air and, indeed, kicked furiously. We don’t get in his way when he needs to hide from anything scary, and nor do we discourage his animated happiness, but we do chide him when he gets restless and can’t keep still. It’s never occurred to us before that we might want to tell him to calm down the happy dancing and laughing. It’s just so infectious that it’s never been an issue before! Then again, he’s getting bigger every day.
I did, however, see this one in a theater and I know all about happy dancing there. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was Aardman’s second feature film, following 2000’s Chicken Run. It seemed to be a big success, but studios, with their strange way of accounting, sometimes see these things differently and Aardman’s partner, Dreamworks, said that it wasn’t. But it made tons of money and won an Oscar and had me unable to breathe from laughing with a quiet throwaway gag right in the middle that pays tribute to Watership Down, another movie about rabbits. I don’t remember much of anything after that.
The film was directed by Nick Park and Steve Box, with a script by Park, Box, Bob Baker and Have I Got News For You‘s Mark Burton. Joining Peter Sallis in the studio this time out are Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Tottington, Ralph Fiennes as a big game hunter, and a great ensemble including Geraldine McEwen, Mark Gatiss, and Peter Kay as villagers who thought their rabbit problem had been solved by our heroes before the movie opens… and then a giant were-rabbit stalks the night.
The movie is just packed with fun allusions to old movies while also referencing the previous three shorts, for the benefit of audiences (principally American, I’d imagine) who’d never seen them. Wallace’s morning routine with the trap door floor and clothes-putter-onner gets another outing, there’s a new Thunderbirds-style launch sequence for their pest control van, and the climax is another unlikely madcap chase that pretends like it’s obeying the laws of physics. The story is Frankenstein by way of that sort of only-in-movies folk horror which features a vicar who has seen the beast with his own eyes and has a forbidden book that tells how to destroy it. It’s a great and hilarious movie, and it’s not possible to watch it without smiling and laughing, but hopefully you can restrain yourself from kicking your mother in the head.
Well, that was just about the most 1970s thing we’ve ever seen. It was terrific, don’t get me wrong, but while the grownups in the audience were certainly anticipating the Juganet to turn out to be Stonehenge, neither of us were expecting one of the kids to be transported into the future for a confrontation with the cult from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
Okay, fair’s fair, I knew they’d end up at Stonehenge because I’d read a little about this, but so did Marie, who’d never heard of this serial before we started watching it. The program just hits the 1970s paranormal bingo so precisely that not only is Stonehenge inevitable, but if the writers, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, had sold this to an American network for a movie-of-the-week remake, they’d have filmed it in Florida and made the Juganet the Bermuda Triangle.
Didn’t see the trip to the future coming, though. In fairness, episodes one through six were just so darn good that, knowing Baker and Martin’s Doctor Who track record, I’m not at all surprised they couldn’t make the end work. Bernard Archard, an actor we will see again here in just a couple of weeks, briefly appears in the future sequences, but it’s honestly a letdown.
It’s best to focus on just how good the rest of the serial is. Part six has the kids trapped in an invisible house with unbreakable windows, menaced by Goodchild’s henchman, a really creepy man who, in one of the freakiest moments ever, is shown to be a raven or a crow turned into a human. Our son was petrified and behind the sofa for most of part six. If I were his age, when the crow-man started cawwing, I’d have been right back there with him.
Overall, though, this wasn’t a big success for our son. It was too scary for him, and the ending was just too strange. It’s my fault, though. It’s a children’s serial, but six-nearly-seven is really a couple of years too young. We may come back to the HTV serials when he’s a little older. Some of the others they made (Clifton House Mystery, King of the Castle, Raven, etc.) just sound terrific, and if any of them are half as good as this or Children of the Stones, they’ll be worth the investment. I might possibly pick up New Zealand’s Under the Mountain as well. We’ll see what 2020 looks like.