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Doctor Who: Inferno (parts six and seven)

We meant to watch part six of this serial last night, but we got home too late. So we doubled up again, and really enjoyed this story. I love how the tension in part six just keeps ramping up, even with a plot that doesn’t fill its running time, necessitating a bit where characters run back to a previous location to try one more time to restart the power. It works because the actors really convey their desperation, and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigade-Leader falling apart from the stress is a great, great moment.

After that, and the fabulous cliffhanger of the sea of lava coming to engulf the hut and kill all the parallel universe doubles, the final part can’t help but feel like an anticlimax to older viewers who are familiar with the rules of drama. But it’s paced so darn well for the younger members of the audience! There’s even a bit where the grown-ups are bound to ask whether it’s absolutely necessary for Jon Pertwee to climb up yet another bit of scaffolding in this refinery, and the children will answer that of course it is; he needs to fight another green monster up there. Our son had a ball with both parts. If he uses a make-believe “fire extinguisher” to defeat my playground alter ego of “Daddy Monster,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

“Inferno” would be the last Doctor Who serial directed by Douglas Camfield for five years, damnably, and also the last appearance for Caroline John and her character, Liz Shaw. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had concluded that the character didn’t really work (they were mistaken), but the actress had already decided to leave. In 1982, she worked with Barry Letts again in the BBC’s four-part adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. She was a regular face in guest star roles throughout the eighties, and reprised her role as Liz Shaw in the four direct-to-video P.R.O.B.E. movies from 1994-96. In a 2010 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Liz is said to be working on UNIT’s Moonbase (really!), but the actress did not appear onscreen. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 71.

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Doctor Who: Inferno (part five)

There’s a story that Olaf Pooley was really unhappy with the decision to turn him into a full-fanged green werewolf. I guess he’d understood that he would be turning green and going wide-eyed like the fellows in the earlier episodes, but in part five of this story, there’s a lot more goo from the earth’s core and a lot more heat, and this all combines to turn people into white-fanged slavering dog monsters with lots of hair. Our son pronounced these guys “really scary” and they sent him behind the sofa with a shriek.

There’s a really good moment early in this episode to casually remind everybody that the Doctor’s such a great hero. I love how he goes straight into the drillhead room with Derek Newark’s character, hoping desperately that there’s a way to stop the destruction. This isn’t his fight, and it isn’t his problem, and not one person on this hellworld has shown him a second’s consideration, but he’s still immediately willing to risk his life for them.

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Doctor Who: Inferno (part four)

“Inferno” gained its wild reputation from its tone of accelerating doom, which starts very slowly and trickles through episodes three and four until it hits the amazing climax of this story, which is brilliantly directed and features one of Jon Pertwee’s best performances as the Doctor. But to be brutally honest, most of part four is very frustrating. Our son certainly felt it. As the Doctor tells the truth again and again and is ignored again and again, he shouted “He’s telling them the truth!” It’s a real sense of desperation, with our hero just not able to get out of this mess.

I think episodes three and four could easily have been combined into one and this would have been an even better six-parter. This one’s incredibly repetitive, and not just with the Doctor re-explaining the parallel world situation. We get more scenes of Olaf Pooley being obstinate in both universes, and more of the simmering desperation of Derek Newark trying to get Sheila Dunn to listen, all hammered home again and again, just in case anybody in the audience missed the previous part.

But that cliffhanger! Apparently Douglas Camfield wanted to use stock music and occasional special atmospheric effects rather than let any musician, even one he really trusted, interfere with his desire to make the increasing noise of the drill be the focus. It leaves the actors having to shout over it. The cliffhanger is brilliantly paced, with the Doctor begging everyone to listen while trying to avoid being captured again, and it ends with Pooley cornering him with a pistol while the countdown gets closer and closer to zero. I think that Barry Letts directed this one from Camfield’s detailed battle plan. It’s completely fantastic and left our son wide-eyed and breathless.

We’ll leave it there for a couple of days and give him time to wish we could see the next part right now, right this very minute.

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Doctor Who: Inferno (parts two and three)

We’re in uncharted territory now. Doctor Who had never done a parallel universe story before, and, mercifully, it wouldn’t again until 2006. It was still new-ish enough for television in 1970, even though sci-fi writers had been tapping that well for a long, long time.

Dropping the Doctor into a universe where the good guys are all villains sounds an awful lot like the famous Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” but there’s some question as to whether anybody working on Who would have had the chance to see that episode before starting work on this. It’s been suggested that Don Houghton and Terrance Dicks, as well as Trek‘s producers, were all inspired by novelists like Philip K. Dick, although I believe there were occasional episodes of The Twilight Zone that were probably the first occasions of teevee producers playing with the idea.

Since we’re all very, very familiar with the trope in the 21st Century, after a terrific chase scene, episode three of this adventure becomes almost painfully slow. It would have been incredibly important to have the Doctor talk fruitlessly about parallel universes to baddies who won’t believe him in order to get this information across to audiences in 1970. Compare that to any episode of the current Flash series. Even the first time they started screwing with alternate realities, Jesse L. Martin, playing that program’s audience identification character, understood what was going on within ten seconds and two lines of dialogue.

But then again, our six year-old is still pretty new to all this. We gave him a crash course in the concept before we watched part one – Jesse L. Martin caught on quicker – and he thought this was incredibly creepy. It’s not the green hairy men that are bothering him, it’s Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John, and John Levene being cruel and mean. He’s still not used to paying attention when the heroes aren’t onscreen, so the Pooley-Dunn-Newark-Benjamin dynamic is just random talk, but he needed all his attention to really understand what a grim situation the Doctor is in.

Incidentally, it’s often suggested that actors enjoy the opportunity that parallel universe stories present to stretch a little bit and do something different. Courtney plays a really good bureaucratic bully, and, I’m noting this here in advance for Marie to consider and watch, when he starts to crumble across the next three episodes, as all bullies do under pressure, he really shines. Doctor Who fans smile about the comfort of the eye patch and scar because it became a much-loved anecdote in interviews and convention stories, but there really is a terrific performance under that patch.

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Doctor Who: Inferno (part one)

We began the final serial from Doctor Who‘s seventh season this morning. “Inferno” is a seven-part story written by Don Houghton, a newcomer to the program, and directed by the veteran Douglas Camfield. As I mentioned a few posts ago, it appears that Camfield came straight onto this production from three episodes of the first season of Paul Temple. Badly overworked, Camfield finished all the location filming and the first of three studio sessions before collapsing. Producer Barry Letts, who had been a BBC director for several years, finished up the studio work while Camfield recovered from his heart attack. Letts ensured that Camfield received full screen credit as director; he didn’t want any indication that Camfield’s heart condition would prevent him from finishing future work.

The story, which guest stars Olaf Pooley, Sheila Dunn, and Derek Newark, along with Christopher Benjamin as the Civil Servant of the Month – this one, in a nice twist, not a complete interfering twit – is set at a research project looking for a new energy source deep beneath the Earth’s crust. But the drill is bringing up what our son calls “green goo that turns people into mean, hairy monsters.”

He was a little distracted this morning, and the first episode is very, very talky. The guest characters are kind of drawn in very, very broad strokes. Pooley is the ruthless scientist who intends to ignore anybody else’s advice or interference, Benjamin is timid and overcautious, Dunn is completely dedicated to her boss and won’t hear a bad word about him, and Newark is the action man voice of experience. Some writers have drawn parallels between this story and a popular BBC drama of the time, The Troubleshooters, about boardroom intrigue and dangerous events in the oil industry. Newark’s character is apparently the sort of tough-talking guy who’s seen dozens of people killed at unsafe drilling platforms in third-world countries that Ray Barrett had played on The Troubleshooters.

Since the focus is on these four guest characters right now, with the regulars really hovering on the fringes of the story, it was difficult for our boy to really pay attention. But Jon Pertwee nevertheless lit up every scene. He’s insulting and rude to Olaf Pooley’s character, but unlike the aggressively derisive Doctor of the previous two stories, he’s insulting with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes, because this time he’s got his own agenda. He’s siphoning power from the project’s nuclear reactor for his own project, and this subplot will take over the story very soon.

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What We’re Not Watching: Paul Temple

We’re not watching Paul Temple with our son because he’s six and wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on in it, but since this series was so closely linked around the production of Doctor Who in 1969-71, swiping its producers and sharing all sorts of talent, that I thought it would be a fun little counterpart. Unfortunately, Marie didn’t enjoy the first three available episodes, so I’ll have to find time to watch the remaining thirteen installments in Acorn’s collection some other time.

The character of Paul Temple was created in 1938 by Francis Durbridge for a BBC radio series, and he’s appeared in novels and comic strips. Mostly forgotten today, Paul Temple was a novelist who specialized in writing detective fiction who became an amateur detective himself. Accompanied by his beautiful wife Steve Trent – her real name is Louise and Steve her pen name – Temple crisscrosses Europe, always on research holidays where corpses can be found, and then he assists police with their inquiries, as Golden Age detectives did. The series is set in the present day and it’s ultra-fashionable, with ascots and go-go boots and totally glam early ’70s clothes. I honestly don’t believe the character ever had any crossover success in America, but he was really well known in Germany.

The BBC made four series of Paul Temple, each with 13 episodes, and then, in that damnable BBC way, they went and wiped all but sixteen of them. To visualize just how closely this was wrapped around the initial color years of Who, the first series of Temple began in November 1969 and finished during the transmission of “The Silurians.” Series two began just seven weeks later, while “The Ambassadors of Death” was running. The third series began alongside “Terror of the Autons,” and the last one began a couple of weeks into “The Daemons.” And if you’ve paid any attention to Who‘s end credits during this period, you’ll see a pile of familiar names working on Temple, including A.A. Englander, Ron Grainer, Dudley Simpson, Trevor Ray, Michael Ferguson, Douglas Camfield, Christopher Barry, David Whitaker, and of course the producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin.

And in front of the cameras, there’s a similar “rep company” feel. The show starred Francis Matthews – Captain Scarlet himself – as Paul Temple, with Ros Drinkwater as Steve. Their approach to crimefighting is basically to dive into any villainous plots head-first and see what happens. Their guest casts are absolutely packed with recognizable faces. Now, if you enjoy older British television, you will certainly love the really entertaining Cult TV Blog. I agree with John on lots of things, but not his position on familiar faces. For him, recognizing an actor takes him out of the experience, but I absolutely love that. We were watching the second episode available and I was racking my brain to figure who that was playing the villain under the big Jason King mustache – it was Edward de Souza – when suddenly Peter Miles, who we saw in “The Silurians” literally one week previously, came in the room. You’re also sure to recognize George Baker, Frederick Jaeger, Emrys James, Moray Watson, Catherine Schell, and George Sewell, among others.

Now, about the missing episodes situation… Paul Temple is in a really unique place because, after the first series, a West German company called Taurus Films became the co-producer with the BBC. The Beeb wiped 36 of the 52 episodes. They deleted everything from series one, and all but one episode from series two. They deleted six of the next 13, and five of the last 13. Of the eight remaining from series four, five are only in black and white. These sixteen survivors are available in a six-disk Region 2 set from Acorn Media. (Buy it from Amazon UK.)

But then last year, something surprising happened. A German company, Alive, released all 39 episodes from series two, three, and four… dubbed into German. So the visuals for these all exist, just not the original English audio. Sadly, the DVDs do not have English subtitles either, and they are numbered series one, two, and three. Then their series “three” (the British series “four”) came out with a real surprise. Not only were all the episodes in color, but there was one additional installment, “A Family Affair,” with an English dialogue option. So 39 of 52 exist in German, and 17 of these in English. (Buy this set of 13 from Amazon Germany.)

A special note for fans of Douglas Camfield: only one of the seven Temple episodes that Camfield directed is available in English, and that one in black-and-white. If you get the German sets, you can get four of the seven in color. Unfortunately, the first three that he shot were in the first series – he probably went straight from these onto the Who serial “Inferno” without a break – and seem to be lost forever.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the Paul Temple episodes we’ve seen and think it’s a shame Marie didn’t find it as engaging. I don’t quite enjoy it enough to fork out another $30 for that German set and just one more English-language episode, but that’s mainly because our disposable income is kind of tight right now. It is the sort of silly thing that tempts completists like me. But honestly, if you enjoy seasons seven and eight of Doctor Who in a sort of big picture “this is what the BBC was doing” way and enjoy the production as much as the fiction, then this is an absolutely super companion. For real fun, add the available episodes of Doomwatch into your rotation of all things 1970 and see just how busy some of these actors and directors really were back then!

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part eight)

This really long story wraps up after a pretty small and very well-staged shootout between the UNIT troops and some badly over-matched Cybermen. Subsequent adventures would see the humans outclassed and often on the losing end of alien firepower, but not here. It also sees John Levene’s character of Corporal Benton taking a larger role, apparently because the fellow who had played Sgt. Walters had got on director Douglas Camfield’s bad side. Benton would reappear a few episodes into the next season, and remain a semi-regular into season thirteen.

Our son really enjoyed this story, and it’s clearly one of his favorite Doctor Who adventures. He let us know, in his inimitable five year-old way, that his favorite moment was when the missile destroys the main Cyberman ship. He demonstrated this by rolling on his side and explaining that his foot was the Cybership, and his hand the missile. He slapped them together and thundered “Ka-BOOM!”

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Doctor Who: The Invasion (part seven)

This is such a strange segment of the story. The Cybermen aren’t in it, for starters. They only appear in the reprise of the previous episode. Frazer Hines and Edward Burnham are only in a single scene, in the set used at length in part six but only here for about one minute. I think this scene was taped along with part six so that the actors could still get a week off.

The central bit of drama is the Doctor trying to convince Vaughn that he’s in way over his head, and it’s Zoe who ends up proving him right. Over at a nearby air base, she immediately recalculates some surface-to-air missile coordinates and UNIT and the RAF shoot down the Cybermen’s incoming transport ships. So that “science machine” in Vaughn’s closet – actually called the “Cyber-Director” – ends the episode ending the alliance with Vaughn and announcing they’re going to destroy all life on earth.

Zoe is certainly amazing, but her timing might not have been perfect this time.

So it doesn’t seem like a lot actually happens in this episode, and some of it was certainly over our five year-old’s head. But there’s an ongoing, oppressive sense of worry and danger. When the Doctor goes down into the sewers to rush to Vaughn’s headquarters, our son realized that he didn’t have any of his security blankets handy – it almost hit eighty degrees today, in February!, so he wasn’t wrapped in any – and so he started chewing on his mother’s thumb because he was so afraid for the Doctor.

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