Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (part two)

Earlier today, the BBC announced the forthcoming release of their next animated reconstruction of a lost serial. “The Evil of the Daleks” was first shown in 1967, and, unusually for British television in those days, it was actually shown again a year later as a summer repeat, but the corporation soon did what they often did and junked the films and wiped the tapes for reuse. A film print of episode two was returned in 1987.

To celebrate the news, I suggested to our son that we give the surviving episode a spin and he couldn’t have agreed faster. He did briefly muse that it was a shame that it wasn’t the first installment of the serial that was available, but I reminded him that the first episodes of Dalek serials typically don’t actually have Daleks in them until the cliffhanger, and he said “Oh, yeah…”

Anyway, he enjoyed it a lot, and concluded that he was glad it was part two that was available because of a short scene where a Dalek, menacing the companion-to-be Victoria, played by Deborah Watling, warns her: “Do not feed the flying pests!” He mused “One of the reasons I like the Daleks is the mix of pushiness and slight ignorance. They don’t know what birds are… and they don’t care!” Bigots are like that.

“The Evil of the Daleks” will be released in the UK in September.

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts five and six)

As much as I’d like to claim that I’ve spent the last three evenings completely lost in the fun of escapism and remade lost sixties TV, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the future, because this release of “Fury” is attached to the real world in a specific way. I haven’t spoken much in the pages of this blog about the pandemic. We’re very, very fortunate to have good jobs and can work from home and are earning enough to pay off bills and set a little bit aside just in case the economy were to start taking a crash dive. Ordering DVDs from another country is a luxury.

I’m worried about what might start happening in the near future. Amazon UK’s international shipping prices went from “incredibly cheap” to “unbelievably exorbitant” overnight, and so I ended up ordering “Fury From the Deep” from Base.com. Within two weeks of my package arriving, Base sent a follow-up email to North American customers announcing that they are no longer shipping outside of Europe. It feels like a harbinger of bad times coming.

Sorry to have a downer of an entry. We did enjoy the story very much, and I’m so pleased with the great work by the animation team. I hope that they’re able to release another classic serial in 2021, and maybe they’ll release it to a happier world. Fingers crossed!

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts three and four)

They did a really good job in this serial foreshadowing Victoria’s decision to leave at the end of it. Perhaps Peter Bryant, who had taken over as producer, looked back at what a raw deal Michael Craze and Anneke Wills were given when his predecessors wrote out Ben and Polly at the end of “The Faceless Ones” and decided that they needed to do better. So Victoria gets plenty of opportunities to express that she is very tired of this life and sick of being terrified by monsters everywhere they go. The Doctor and Jamie are not entirely empathetic to her position on this. They’re having too much fun.

We switched to the black and white presentations of parts three and four in the new set, and our son quasi-complained that it just made it even more frightening. It really is something else; he went behind the sofa for the eerie cliffhanger to part three, and spent most of the following half hour behind it. It’s a shame that any television is lost – it should all be available for people who wish to enjoy it – but I wonder whether the loss of part four isn’t one of the greatest losses in all of Doctor Who. The audio and the animation is darker and creepier than our son was ready for, and incredibly effective. The recovery of most of “The Web of Fear” proved that Who was on fire that season telling scary, effective stories about monsters in dark tunnels with incredibly good visuals. I wish very badly that this episode still existed to see how it compares. If I could pick which of the 97 that are still lost could come back next, I think it would have to be this one.

There are some small flaws with the original production, like Robson being obnoxiously obstinate and unreasonable even before the seaweed gets him, but overall I’m incredibly pleased with this. I know how it ends – even if I have forgotten everything about Victor Pemberton’s novelization of the story for Target Books, I remember how they save the day – but I’m really looking forward to seeing it tomorrow night.

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts one and two)

For the latest animated recreation of a lost Doctor Who serial, we’re back in time to March 1968 and the six-part “Fury From the Deep.” It has a reputation as one of the creepiest and most frightening Who installments, and it delivers. This is just completely terrific. It’s set in the far-flung future of 1975, where residential huts on industrial complexes have great big videophones in the back wall between the kitchen and the sliding doors*, and where some strange and ghastly thing is crawling around in the pipes. Worse, there are very, very eerie men who wander around the complex with seaweed up their sleeves who exhale toxic gas.

The BBC, in their dimwit way, destroyed the serial after its expected sales potential had expired, with the only surviving bits some clips that an overzealous censor in Australia snipped out and sent to a government archive to show they’d done their job. How frightening was the bit they cut? Well, the animated version of the eerie men – Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill – belching gas at Maggie Harris had our son hiding behind the sofa, as indeed it should. I then showed him the original clip, included on this splendid new release, and he said “I don’t get what’s so scary about that.” Kid can find a lotta bravado in just twenty minutes.

I’m about 99% completely thrilled with the animation. Because we’re human and we quibble, I could grumble that many of the characters seem to have really long arms, and they often don’t do a good job filling the frame with the characters, and the guy who was played by John Abineri really doesn’t look like John Abineri. But that’s okay; the character’s meant to be Dutch and Abineri’s accent wasn’t very convincing in the first place anyway. Considering the budget limitations these have, I’m very pleased.

The animators also threw in their now-customary Easter eggs, including a wanted poster for Roger Delgado’s Master in the background of a scene. I made the mistake of pointing it out, prompting the kid to bellow “Why would a private industrial plant have wanted posters in it?” I paused and pointed out that it would probably make sense for any place in Britain in the 1970s to stick “have you seen this man” posters up, what with all the aircraft hangars and nuclear power plants and small village churches the Master had been blowing up. When I spotted a very familiar date as an Easter egg on some blueprints a little later, I kept my mouth shut. The eggs are cute as anything, but they will take a nine year-old viewer completely out of the experience…

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones (parts five and six)

It’s kind of the nature of action-adventure television that the hero needs to have a really good challenge in each story, against villains as resourceful as the protagonist. So in a weird way, it’s kind of refreshing to see the Doctor pitted against some adversaries who are way, way out of their league. The Chameleons did not think this thing through. The Doctor’s able to exploit a massive, massive flaw in their science and technology, and hold all but two of them hostage because these bad guys’ tech is flatly not up to the challenge of interstellar invasion. A more polished script would show these villains as desperate and pitiful rather than malevolent. It’s a missed opportunity, but I did enjoy the tables turning in parts five and six.

In fact, “The Faceless Ones” belongs to a very rare group of original Who stories – “Mawdryn Undead” and “Time and the Rani” are others – that end much more satisfactorily than they began. It’s still very unhurried, but the end of this adventure sees all the humans acting decisively and intelligently, and I like the way the Chameleons know when the jig is up. The fellow that they capture spills the beans on the operation with very little pressure, and Donald Pickering’s character, who’s been playing his main villain part as a posh airline pilot calmly ordering his subordinates around, is intelligent enough to see this is not going to end well for him, and immediately begins negotiating. It’s a shame part six is missing; Pickering and Patrick Troughton have a very interesting face-off toward the end. The animation’s as good as we can hope for, but I’d love to see those actors playing that scene.

Incidentally, while I wish that I could be only positive about the animation, I do think they missed a huge opportunity. When all two dozen of the humans who are connected to their duplicates are located, I’d love to have seen an overhead shot, from an angle much higher than the original director could actually have managed, of all twenty-five bodies laid out in the parking lot. I wish the camera moved around more in general. Why limit themselves to just what the BBC could have done in 1967?

“The Faceless Ones” is a little infamous because of the poor way that they wrote out the Doctor’s companions Ben and Polly. The producer at the time didn’t want to continue with the actors Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, so they only appear in parts one, two, and six, and only on location in the last episode, so the BBC could dispense with them as quickly as possible. The story is set literally the day after the previous season’s “The War Machines,” which means that Ben and Polly could pick back up with their old lives as though they’d never been away. It also means that WOTAN, the Chameleons, and the Daleks in the next story were all operating in London in the third week of July, 1966. The World Cup was happening in London at the same time, and Gemini X returned to Earth. Wish I could read a Who-universe newspaper from that week. The Swinging Sixties, man.

We’ll return to the David Tennant days of Doctor Who in May. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones (parts three and four)

Some of the animation in this reconstruction is really quite nice. The team does a really terrific job with airplanes, and so while I’m not completely sold on the movement of figures, I could watch what they do with jets for forty-five minutes without complaint. I do think the production as a whole is limited by the glacial pacing of the original story, and not helped by the lack of music. Black-and-white Doctor Who was occasionally like that; when they overspent in one area, like a day or two on location at Gatwick Airport, they had to cut back in another.

Our son’s enjoying it more than I am, honestly, but that’s by no means a fault with the current presentation, which is definitely a case of the best they can do with what they had to work with. I enjoyed seeing a little modern day Easter egg thrown in: the newspapers have headline stories that a menace that the first Doctor had battled the year before, the War Machines, had been defeated. That’s actually going to be an important plot point in part six. Heck, the original production crew should have dropped those newspapers in when they made this in 1967. That’d be some great foreshadowing! Otherwise, the mandate to be as accurate a presentation of the original production kind of keeps them hamstrung. There’s a bit where the RAF sends a fighter to follow the Chameleon Tours’ jet. As I say, it looks great, but if we suddenly had some Thunderbirds music as the fighter spirals out of control, it’d be even better.

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones (parts one and two)

The latest animated reconstruction of a lost Doctor Who story is 1967’s “The Faceless Ones,” although in this case the original production wasn’t completely destroyed. Episodes one and three of the serial, written by Malcolm Hulke and David Ellis, were mostly recovered – part three is missing several dozen frames toward the end – and now with animation, we can enjoy the whole thing in this very comprehensive set. It contains the original episodes, telesnap reconstructions of the four missing parts, and both black and white and color animations of all six. It was released in the UK last month; a region one edition is available for pre-order but it has not been scheduled.

“The Faceless Ones” feels kind of long at six parts. It would probably feel long at four. It’s one of those stories where the Doctor and his companions, Jamie, Ben and Polly, make a dumb decision to hide and scatter in a secure area, find something unpleasant, and have to spend an eternity getting people to listen and believe them. It’s Gatwick Airport, 1966, and Polly sees a man murdered by an alien weapon. Meanwhile, the police are becoming suspicious about reports of young people going missing on budget tours to Europe operated by a strange company called Chameleon Tours.

There’s a fine guest cast in the adventure, at least. There’s Bernard Kay as a detective, and Pauline Collins as a furious girl from Liverpool who’s looking for her missing brother. Donald Pickering and Wanda Ventham, who, in a really weird coincidence, both appeared again in a Who serial twenty years later, also have key parts. But the story feels long and is driven by foolish choices, and suffers from that tedious trope where our heroes go find somebody in authority to report a dead body, only to have the body not be there when they return. We’ve all seen that one too many times.

The kid wasn’t especially taken with it either. We watched the original part one and the black and white animation for part two, and his favorite moment was the creepy reveal of a hideous alien. They totally blew part one’s cliffhanger, by the way. The big reveal is the back of the alien’s head. I don’t know what they were thinking; the creature definitely should have turned to look at the camera and given the audience a big shock moment. But that’s this serial all over. It’s very pedestrian and slow, even by the standards of Who at the time. The kid asked to switch to the second DVD and watch the remainder of the story in color, which we’ll do tomorrow night. Hopefully it picks up!

Night Gallery 1.2 – Room With a View / The Little Black Bag / The Nature of the Enemy

From 1965-1971, the BBC produced an anthology program called Out of the Unknown. Strangely, like Rod Serling’s Zone and Gallery, the series followed a similar path from traditional SF into supernatural horror as it moved from black and white to color. Some writers contend it was at its best in the black and white years. If nothing else, Doctor Who fans can enjoy listening to many of the same sound effects and library music that the William Hartnell serials employed.

Like many British TV productions of its era, much of Unknown was destroyed, but a few years ago, the BFI put out a splendid DVD collection of all the existing episodes, including fragments, clips, and audio recordings of others. In 2018, Marie and I watched them. It’s a pretty uneven show. Most of the episodes were at least interesting. Some were terrible, and at least one, Frederik Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World,” was amazing.

The most curious one for me was an adaptation of C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag.” Only about two-thirds of this 1969 production, starring Emrys Jones and Geraldine Moffat, survive. (for more details, see here.) I thought it was incredibly interesting, went online to read more about it, and saw that Night Gallery made their own adaptation the following year. I figured I could wait and see how Serling and team did it.

The Night Gallery adaptation is radically different. In Unknown, the disgraced doctor gets as far as reopening a small clinic. The Doctor Fall of this story, played by Burgess Meredith, only has the chance to use the bag a few times in one day before he is murdered by his associate to profit from it. Meredith is superhumanly good in the part, but his associate, played by Chill Willis, just aggravated me. Serling didn’t give the character a point of view other than “argue against all plans of protagonist” and I didn’t like Willis’s tone of voice, his mannerisms, anything.

Surrounding “Bag,” there are two short stories with quick payoffs: a mean-spirited black comedy of jealousy featuring Joseph Wiseman and Diane Keaton, and a more straightforward adventure tale with a very dopey twist ending starring Joseph Campanella. This one is so goofy that it must have been made for any kids who ran across the episode, because the revelation was the first Gallery moment that our kid found remotely entertaining.

And no, the kid did not recognize Burgess Meredith. Confounded child!

Doctor Who: Mission to the Unknown

Among Doctor Who‘s many missing episodes, there is a one-off oddity made and shown 54 years ago this week, in 1965. Who was then made as a series of serials, and they were planning a mammoth twelve-episode storyline featuring the Daleks. The producers decided to take advantage of some budget and calendar hiccups and made a one-off adventure as a prologue to the Dalek epic. It didn’t feature the Doctor or his companions. It starred Edward de Souza as an outer space spy – it was 1965 after all – on a desperate mission to let the galaxy know that, after hundreds of years on the frontiers of space, the Daleks had formed an alliance with six strange alien races and were preparing an invasion of our solar system.

Edward de Souza is still with us, and a few months ago, he and Peter Purves, who had played one of the Doctor’s companions at the time, were invited to the University of Central Lancashire to see what the Culture and Creative Industries school has been doing. Each year, the staff and students collaborate on an incredibly intensive project, and this year, they recreated “Mission to the Unknown.”

Earlier today – well, yesterday, if, like this blog’s calendar, you’re in Europe – the recreation of “Mission to the Unknown” premiered on the Doctor Who YouTube channel. Click the image above and check it out! I won’t swear that it completely met our son’s expectations. We watched the trailer a few days ago and he was bellowing how badly he wanted to see that. Unfortunately, “Mission” is, like a lot of Who from its day, very slow and imaginative. It isn’t action-packed; the original production seems to have been cramped even by the low-budget standards of the William Hartnell years. It’s practically silent for long stretches, with only a few library music cues and actors projecting fear and intensity. More creepy than thrilling, the design may be dated in the way a lot of sixties sci-fi is – our hero’s tape recorder is about the size of a VHS double-pack – but you can see what kids in 1965 were wowed by.

I think the UCLAN team did a terrific job. It’s both a labor of love and, hopefully, valuable work experience for people looking to work in the film and television industry. I’m glad that the BBC and the Terry Nation Estate allowed them the privilege to recreate this.

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (parts three and four)

As I mentioned last time, I’ve kept “The Macra Terror” on the shelf for decades, never reading the novelisation or watching a telesnap reconstruction or listening to the BBC’s cassette release. I have, of course, wondered how in the world the production team could have managed a story about giant crabs with the meager resources afforded to them, and when the “Lost in Time” collection of orphaned episodes and clips was released fifteen-odd years ago, the clips suggested “not all that believably.”

In point of fact, for the eight year-old in this audience, “The Macra Terror” moved from being a behind-the-sofa nightmare of a cartoon into a laughing stock when we switched over to disk two to see the surviving footage. There are a few seconds of fragments from a home camera recording of some random moments along with some screams and shocks that the censors in Australia deemed too horrifying for audiences. The cartoon Macra is a swiftly-moving horror, but the real thing was a mostly stationary prop, kept to the shadows with arms and claws waving at the actors. While we would all prefer to have the original, at least the animation doesn’t result in the kids at home guffawing over the production.

In other words, dear Australia: thank you for censoring the story and keeping what you cut in an archive, but I promise, it really, really wasn’t necessary.

Anyway, I’m very glad this story was animated. The DVD package – and there’s an even more packed Blu-ray – contains the story in both black and white and color, along with commentary featuring the serial’s original director, actor Frazer Hines, and three of the guest cast. It’s got telesnap reconstructions of the episodes, the audiotape version that was released in 1992, and the fragments of original footage along with lots of other bonus material. I thought the story was kind of slow and lacked urgency, but the animation was fine and I’m very impressed with the presentation. I hope they have a new cartoon reconstruction in the works for 2020.

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (parts one and two)

“So what’s scarier,” Marie asked our son, “the monsters, or the colony telling everyone that there are no monsters?”

“BOTH,” he shouted.

“The Macra Terror” was a four-part Doctor Who adventure that the BBC showed once, in 1967, sold to a few other countries, and then destroyed. All that’s left is the soundtrack, some photographs, and a few fragments that the Australian Broadcasting Company censored from their copy and left in an archive to be discovered decades later. From that, they’ve built a new animated presentation. It’s not coming out in North America until October for some stupid reason. Why anyone should have to wait in this day and age, I’ve no idea. I’ve had my Region 2 DVD on the shelf for a couple of weeks now.

This has been one of the Who adventures that I’ve deliberately never learned anything about, saving it for tonight’s rainy day. It was originally shown in season four, as Patrick Troughton’s fifth story as the Doctor, with Peter Jeffrey as the “pilot” of a mining colony several centuries in the future. Everybody in the colony works hard and sings happy songs during their down time, because they’re all being subliminally programmed while they sleep to obey orders, don’t question anything, and certainly don’t say anything about gigantic crab monsters that creep around the colony at night. Ben, one of the Doctor’s companions, gets taken in by the overnight hypnosis and soon he’s parroting the official position that “there are no such thing as Macra!”

It may be a new cartoon from a 52 year-old show, but it’s still got the power to thrill and get under audience’s skin. Doctor Who hasn’t frightened our son this much in several months. This was a behind the sofa with the security blanket experience, that left him wide-eyed and very worried for Polly. “This was SUPER SCARY,” he protested.