Thursday, November 27, 2014

More Merchandise from Tarco

Tarco, who produced a rather nice range of Vending Machine figures last year, have several more items now available, with more to come in 2015.

Available now is a Sticker Set collection, comprising 6 different boxes, each containing 20 stickers.

A Dalek box
A Tardis Box
A Mixed box with Tardis, Vastra, Sonic screw driver and Vastra / Strax
A Cyberman box
A Stax box
A Weeping Angel

Each box is tiny (it has to be in order to fit in the vending machine ball) and around 4cmx3cmx2cm. Thus the little stickers inside are also tiny. Each box contains 5 each of 4 different designs, and despite the teeny size, they are all very nice indeed.




Just released is a second set of figures:

Dalek
Adipose
Cyberman
Tardis
Weeping Angel
K9

Unlike the first set of figures, which were based on the more stylised characters from the animated game, this second set are screen-designs and thus more accurate.

They are all very nicely modelled and painted - again each is only around 4cm high! The Cyberman is a little stylised, with a large chest and tiny waist, and the Adipose is of course just cute!  I like that the TARDIS is slightly smaller at the base, giving it a sort of stretched look - but this just makes it unique!


And coming late December/early January is a set of little mini-viewers, each containing 8 screenshots from the shows transmitted during 2013:
The Time of the Doctor
The Day of the Doctor
Nightmare in Silver
The Angels take Manhattan
Cold war
Asylum of the Daleks

These items are rather lovely. Each is a little tiny viewer - and those with long memories will remember the old Viewmaster sets of years past. Again the viewers are minute - around the 4cmx3cmx2cm mark, and have a small viewing hole through which can be seen the slides which are moved on by pressing a button on the top - its a mechanical action though - no batteries!

All the episodes chosen were part of the 50th anniversary year, and take in all the current staples of Daleks, Cybermen, Angels, Ice Warrior and of course the Doctor.

For just £1 each, these are rather lovely, and a nice way to remember the episodes in question.

Cheers

David

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Doctor Who: Finale!


Finally succumbed and got round to watching the two-episode WHO finale last night ... and it wasn't as bad as I feared. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. The plot made sense (of a sort) and the elements which were a little 'mad' were no 'madder' than things that the show has presented before - at least pretty much everything was explained (sort of - there are some niggles from earlier in the season which were not resolved). I liked the female Master idea, and was pleased that she wasn't as bat-shit-crazy as John Simm played him - and as the Master doesn't have a 'real' body any more anyway (after the TVM when he was a plasma snake which could take over other people's bodies - an extension of what we saw at the end of KEEPER OF TRAKEN) then there's no reason why he couldn't have a female persona. I like the 'Dark Water' idea and the Cyber-reveal (even if it was only there for that purpose), but the idea of the Cyber-nanites reanimated all the dead was a little silly - surely after a time, the bodies would have decayed to the point that there's nothing left but bone, and that's not really of much use to create a Cyberman. Likewise the Dark Water only revealing skeletons would have been better if there had been other organic tissue revealed as well - there's more in those suits than just bone (as we saw when Danny-Cyberman was revealed at the end. Their voices had changed again (as per tradition I suppose) and were more like the Judoon now ... still not a patch on the sixties ones. I thought the Brigadier bit was silly mainly because there was no explanation as to why, of all the millions of Cybermen, it's only Danny and the Brigadier who can still think independently ... and if it was *all* of them could do this, then I suspect the Cyber-invasion would never work in the first place. Unless of course that the Master's mad plan is basically fatally flawed in this regard ... in which case they should have explained that.

What the conclusion didn't do, was to explain any of the plot holes and flaws of the earlier episodes. which rather suggests that they were plot holes and flaws rather than being part of some master plan ... So overall, for me, this is certainly the weakest season of WHO ever transmitted. While Capaldi as the Doctor was brilliant, he was sidelined by the scripts and not allowed to shine. The plots were far more in fantasyland than ever before (and with no reason for this, they stand out like a sore thumb) and lacked decent conclusions and feasible (or even any) explanations throughout. The whole Clara/Danny subplot kept bubbling to the fore when it should have remained a subplot, and genuine excitement was replaced by angst and talky schmaltz ...

I can see that I need to steel myself and re-watch the season (including the episodes I've not yet seen) so I can pen a proper review of it ... noting the elements which didn't work for me and trying to explain why that is ...




Saturday, October 11, 2014

Doctor Who: Deep Breath / Into the Dalek / Robot of Sherwood

Goodness me, it's been a long time since I posted anything here ... things have been very busy however - we moved house, madness ensued, lots of work, lots of things to keep me busy and away from blogging about anything ...

But now we're settled in, and we've been watching some great stuff on telly and on DVD (I need to talk about CATWEASLE in another post!) but this one is about the new WHO on telly of course ... and trying to catch up a little.

So we have a new Doctor in the very Scottish form of Peter Capaldi. Nothing wrong with that ... Tom Baker was from Liverpool, as was Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant were Scottish, and Chris Eccleston was definitely from 'The North' ... but this is the first time that we have had such a Scottish Doctor ... with an accent broader than the actor's normal voice (whereas David Tennant used an English accent for the role).

I was sort of okay with the casting choice. I'd long thought it was time for an older Doctor anyway, and this was certainly a step in the right direction. I was interested to see how the Doctor/Companion relationship would develop since just about every one since 2005 had been a girlfriend/boyfriend sort of vibe, with the companion yearning after the Doctor like a puppydog. Not so good for the WHOish Drama, but brilliant to get character identification among the target audience who seemed to be teenaged girls ... Strange that, as all of the merchandise was targeted at pre-school kids or boys ...

Anyway, I was looking forward to it all ... so 'Deep Breath' (see what I did there?) ...

Oh it was awful. A feature-film length story which could have been so so good, but which was a mish mash of ideas and themes and old characters which ended up dragging interminably.

Dinosaurs swallowing the TARDIS and appearing in Victorian London where robots are harvesting people to use to repair themselves so their spaceship can take off again, while Mme Vastra (a Silurian), her 'friend' Jenny (a human) and Strax (a Sontaran) run about revealing themselves to everyone without even a murmur of surprise (I thought Vastra wore the veil to disguise her true nature), the robots taking the Dinosaur's optic nerve, people spontaneously combusting (caused by the robots), and a new Doctor who Clara seems so wary of (why? She knows he can change his appearance and has met several of his earlier incarnations even if you take on board the apparent idea that all her memories are like a dream to her), and Clara flirting with a bloke at School for no reason, and gratuitous violence as the robot man falls to his death impaled on the spire of a church ... and then there's the rubbish with another Scottish character called Missy ... really I could care less about that.

It was all so rushed in the wrong places, convoluted and complicated, boring as heck in other places and very uneven.

About the only thing I like was the Doctor, but even here he seemed ill at ease, stumbling through the wreckage of a plot seeking some enlightenment.

I watched the episode with several other people, and all agreed it was awful.  The next day we all watched 'Spearhead from Space' and all agreed it was brilliant and so much better than the plotless thing that we had seen the night before. It too introduces a new Doctor (Pertwee) and has monsters harvesting parts to complete themselves, it also has a coherent plot, motivation, and a Doctor who takes charge and is always watchable, even in the comic scenes ...

So not too impressed with the season opener there ... but maybe things will get better, and with Phil Ford's 'Into the Dalek' they did. Now this episode I loved. Of course we'd been here before with 'The Invisible Enemy' (when it was the Doctor's body that the minaturised Doctor and Leela have to get into - you need to watch the story to understand how and why) but here it is a Dalek which needs to have some internal corrections made, and so the Doctor, Clara and a bunch of soldiers are miniaturised and head off inside it.

The idea of a lone 'good' Dalek had been done before as well (in 'Dalek') and antibodies had been done before (in 'Let's Kill Hitler') but the script made sense, and the acting was all top notch - I loved seeing Michael Smiley as a Colonel here and loved him too as Tyres in SPACED ... What I could do without was all the rubbish with Clara and Danny Pink ... I'm just not interested in their relationship or how it develops. I'm also not at all interested in who Missy is or what this Heaven place is that dead people go to ... it's all too maguffiny for me, and obviously leading somewhere ... but I'm strangely just not bothered.

So the story pans out nicely, but the Doctor is very grumpy ... I'm not sure why he's so against the soldier girl travelling on with him just because she's a soldier ... a strange reason. But I assume that the Doctor is as he is being portrayed because of some deep seated traumas of all the events of the last few years ... including of course having his own timeline turned inside out, and having to cope with multiple Doctors and rescuing Gallifrey from a three dimensional painting, and defeating the Daleks (again) or something like that ...

I felt that the second episode should have been the season opener, it was much better plotted and paced, and actually felt like it achieved something ...

And then we're off to merrie olde England and Sherwood Forest for an adventure with Robin Hood, who shouldn't exist, but does ... and so the Doctor and Clara become embroiled in an adventure in tights, with an evil sheriff and mysterious robots.

What is it with robots this season - every story seems to feature them!  Anyway, due to public sensitivities about what was happening in the real world, a beheading was cut from the story, and with it the explanation of the title - that the Sheriff was a robot as well as the robots, and they all wanted to get gold to escape from the Earth - using the metal to melt down and create power boards for their spacecraft.

And thus the most rubbish element of all comes into play. The thought that you could actually shoot an arrow made of gold in the first place ... it would be far too heavy to go any distance at all, regardless of the skill or strength of the archer. And second ... why does shooting it into the side of the ship make any difference at all. The gold that powered the ship was made into plates - we saw them doing it earlier in the story!  So even if the arrow could hit the ship ... why did it give it more power.  This is an example of the frankly awful plotting that WHO seems to have this season. Things happen for no reason. The arrow could have hit a vital component and made the ship explode. It could have hit and killed the pilot (shades of 'The Time Warrior' - this season is borrowing from past WHO all the time, so one more would make little difference) ... indeed anything other than the explanation they gave would have worked ... very disappointing.

But overall I liked the episode. The acting is good, the characters well thought out, and the direction exciting and dynamic.  Did they ever explain just how Robin Hood - a fictional character - was alive and well though?  And while the Doctor 'flicking the bird' at Robin when he encounters him on the log is nice, is it something the Doctor would do?

So overall, two hits and one massive miss in the first three episodes of the season ... but how will the rest fare. I have to say that as a long term fan, it would really take a lot to make me stop watching ...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Destiny of the Doctor: 7, 8, 9

Continuing my run through of the DESTINY OF THE DOCTOR CDs, we come to those for the seventh, eighth and ninth Doctors ... and they are a mixed bag.

For Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor, we see him paired with Sophie Aldred's Ace for 'Shockwave' by James Swallow.  I have always enjoyed Jim's writing and this is no exception, being something of a straightforward tale of a spaceship fleeing a disaster which has engulfed their homeworld. But there is a traitor on board, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who they are.  One problem I had here was that the rehabilitation of the traitor comes a little too easily I felt. But the story is well told and performed by Aldred and has a good sense of excitement about it.

For Paul McGann's ninth Doctor, we have 'Enemy Aliens' by Alan Barnes which pairs him with India Fisher as Charlie - one of the Big Finish audio companions and one which I never felt really worked. She doesn't work here also, coming over as too proclamatory and world-knowledgeable for my liking. The story is a bit daft too, being based around a musical cue, attacking monsters, and a cross country trip by train where the Doctor conveniently turns up in a coffin, and where just about every incidental character turns out to be a spy of some sort. I didn't really enjoy it to be honest, just found it a little muddled.


Finally we have 'Night of the Whisper' by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, where we have Nicholas Briggs doing the narration chores, and, I must say, doing the most brilliant impression of Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor that I have ever heard! It is magnificent!  I loved the story here too, it seems to 'fit' the era nicely, and well done to Cavan and Mark for pulling it off.  The only issue I have is that John Schwab's American accent is very close to Briggs' own, and sometimes it's confusing who is speaking ...  but overall this is one of the better releases in the range.

There are two more to come ... and the final release got mixed up in AudioGo going into Administration ... luckily Big Finish managed to get hold of the stock and are selling the CD themselves ... so I have it ... need to listen to it ... and then I can pen my final comments on this 11 CD, year long adventure for the Doctor!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fire Burning Bright

One of the things that we really loved when we bought the house in which we now live, was that the front room had two fires in original surrounds.  One - the main one - was an old gas affair, which we had replaced with a more modern gas fire which really looks like it has coals in it, and which serves to heat the room nicely. The other, however, was an open fire, set in a beautiful original Victorian setting, with marble and inlay and bags of character.

We checked the chimney out and had it swept, and then we didn't use it!

This winter, both the radiators in the front room decided to stop working, and the room was chilly!  So earlier in the week, rather than spend money on gas and electric radiators, I got hold of some kindling and paper, bought some smokeless coals and firelighters, and set about discovering the joys of a real fire!


My Fire!

I love it! Cleaning out the hearth with metal spade-thing and brush. Scrunching the newspaper into balls, scattering crumbled firelighter brick (which smells of chemical paraffin) over them, and placing a larger chunk of the stuff in the centre ... then apply a match to the central brick. The flames burst slowly into life and the paper crackles as it's consumed. Then I place the kindling in a small tower around and over it.

The flames lick higher and when the wood is burning, I then carefully collapse the tower with lumps of the coal, building a small pile with a core of hot, burning wood beneath it.  The fire crackles and smoke is drawn up and out the chimney. It smells like autumn and comfort. Like childhood and those long, perfect evenings spent tending bonfires in the garden with my dad.

Sam and I then curl up with a glass of something red, watching the firelight playing on the glasses, the room lit with candles and flickering shadows. It's wonderful and cosy, and the fire seems to heat the room far better than the gas fire does. Indeed, because the open chimney runs the height of the house, the fire heats the other rooms too - very clever those house designers of long ago.

Every so often I'll move the coals around, add more, making the little fire bigger and more effective ... it's a strangely satisfying thing tending a fire ... sort of restful and relaxing. I love how the coals glow and crackle, how the new fuel smokes and steams for a time while it dries out and then starts to burn gently. Moreover there's a wonderful sense of calm ... just what we need in these hectic times.

I've just finished the editing and publication work on a new book for Telos called Celtic Spells - a collection of 52 simple spells (one for every week of the year), chants and meditations which guide people to a more thoughtful and spiritual association with nature and the wonders of the world around us. The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and so this newfound delight at the simplicity of a hearth fire is well timed.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Doctor Who: The Web of Fear

It's hard to explain to other people this love affair that I have with an old television show called Doctor Who. Hard to get across just what it means ... when your life is measured by the beat and track of this one show. My earliest memories are of watching Doctor Who. I remember not watching the show too - the occasions when I was not allowed to because it was too scary ('The Ice Warriors'), or when we went on holiday to Wales when it wasn't on at the same time as in England, and as a result I missed episodes ('The Daemons'). Of coming home during holidays in Cornwall to watch episodes ('The Ambassadors of Death') ... I remember which episode we watched the first time my parents got colour television ('The Sea Devils' 4 - and thus I can tell them exactly which day of which year it was: 18 March 1972) ... I remember the first episode my dad recorded the audio of because UFO  was on the other channel ('The Curse of Peladon') ... so many memories.

And yet in these days of everything being available on DVD, or streamed from your television provider of choice, it is amazing to think that there were 106 episodes of Doctor Who which did not exist ... the BBC had thrown them away, wiped the tapes back in the sixties and seventies. This left original television soundtracks, recorded by fans using a variety of innovative means even before there was a socket on the television to allow you to do that. It left handfuls of photographs - some called 'telesnaps' taken of television monitors at the time, and recording an episode in sixty or so small photographs. But no visual, moving, record.  It became something of a joke that in the BBC's Written Archives centres, they had retained the scripts, the letters, the memos, the floorplans, the designs, photographs, sketches, costume fitting details, budget sheets, timing breakdowns, lists of all the extras, prop lists, costings and medical reports ... but they threw away the programmes that they all related to!

So when old episodes of Doctor Who are located, it's a Big Deal. Capital 'B', capital 'D'. And located they have been: old film prints, created and sold by the BBC back in the day to other countries, who then cycled them to other countries ... all so that everywhere from Nigeria to New Zealand could watch this strange science fiction show. Those countries took the film prints and stored them in vaults, in cupboards, and forgot about them ... until 45 years later, when enterprising archivists and television historians came knocking on their doors asking if they could just check the corners of their storerooms, just to see what might be there ... and sometimes ... just sometimes ... something turns up.

Recently, the BBC announced that nine somethings had indeed turned up. Nine episodes of Doctor Who returned to their own archives (for these days, of course, old television is worth something ... it can be sold again and again on DVD, on Blu-Ray, on iTunes ... lots and lots of ways to make more money from shows which, in the seventies, were considered well past their sell by date).

And to someone like me ... this is just incredible news. It's like Christmas and Birthday all come at once. Something I half-remembered watching in 1968 ... and now I can watch it again!  All those years of listening to the soundtracks, hearing the voices echoing to me through the years ... and now I can watch it again ... It's a feeling that is hard to explain in words ... hard to understand unless you are a fan of something.

And so, these nine episodes, comprising one complete Patrick Troughton story - 'Enemy of the World' - and all but one episode of another Troughton adventure - 'The Web of Fear' - are suddenly there. Such a shame that the one episode of 'The Web of Fear' is still missing ... but hey, this is stuff we never thought or expected to see again!  So just one episode being returned is a major piece of news ... heck, one scene from one story would be brilliant!  But nine whole episodes! Wowza!

So I figured out iTunes, how to set it up, how to buy the episodes which the Beeb had kindly made available ... and went for 'The Web of Fear'. No point in buying episode one - that already existed and I have it on DVD ... and no point buying episode three (the missing one) as that was just the soundtrack with photographs - I have the soundtrack already ... so four episodes downloaded later, and I'm ready to go.

So we watch through episode one - I'm on the couch, feeling excited. It's a great episode - always has been - which made the loss of the remaining so much more tragic ... if they only lived up to the promise of the first ...

Then ... the new episode two. And as it starts, my heart starts to thump in my chest. I still don't quite believe it. It's all a great hoax ... someone has just done a photo reconstruction and released that ... but the titles play ... and it says 'Episode Two' and I cheer! Wow.

25 minutes later, and I am speechless ... the episode is MAGNIFICENT. There's a brilliant battle with the Yeti in the underground part way through which took my breath away completely. I love it. It's stylish and brilliantly directed. The characters are leaping from the screen, and we have lots of people to get to know, and the time in which to know them. Strangely, the Doctor is absent from the episode but it seems not to matter somehow, the set-up and build is pervasive, and he's not missed (except by the actors of course).

Next up is the soundtrack for episode three - and here, surprisingly, the pictures are much clearer in my mind, carrying directly on from episode two ... and then into the fourth part, and WOW ... it's the Brigadier (only he's a Colonel here). I slide from the couch and sit in front of the telly ... it's so engrossing. The Yeti make me jump as they spring out from behind doors. There's that incessant bleeping as the cute little Yeti models summon the things ... and the acting ... Oh the acting ...

I love Private Evans - 'Driver, I am!' - and Nick Courtney is sublime in his debut performance as the character he made his own (he actually first appears in episode three ... and strangely, his feet seen in the second episode are not those of Nick Courtney, but of another actor, Maurice Brooks). Travers is superb, Anne is brilliant, there's Knight and Weames and Arnold ... oh it's so good!

The film sequence where the Colonel and his troops battle the Yeti is awesome! Establishing in one stroke similar battles between army/UNIT and Cybermen ('The Invasion') and Autons ('Spearhead from Space'). It's tense and just so, so brilliant. And it has the same eerie music as the Cybermen do in 'Tomb of the Cybermen' ... but it works! The web guns that the Yeti have are an (unexplained) masterstroke, and the shots of people dead and covered in web are unsettling and disturbing. Kudos to writers Haisman and Lincoln for coming up with the idea that robot Yeti would have guns that fire spiderweb at people to kill them! It's a gonzo genius idea that just works so well.

We move on to the final episodes, and see sets and details that there aren't even clear photographs of!  I love the endgame where all is revealed as to who the Great Intelligence is using. And this is creepy stuff with the Intelligence using the London Underground speaker system to talk to people in hideous whispering tones, or to hear poor Travers struggling against the possession as it uses his voice (compare this with the representation in the recent 'The Snowmen' story where it's Richard E Grant looking moody, or Ian McKellen's voice in a giant snowglobe: there really is no comparison. 'The Web of Fear' gets it so completely right, whereas 'The Snowmen' gets it so sadly wrong).

The two companions, Jamie and Victoria are far better characterised and presented here as well. Jamie shows his courage and strength, while Victoria also gets to shine. It's such a shame, for Frazer Hines as Jamie in particular, that all his best episodes seemed to be missing ones!  At last, with this return, we can see more of what made Jamie tick, and appreciate the masterful interplay between him, Troughton and Debbie Watling as Victoria. It's occasionally funny, touching and often tense as these three people care about each other deeply, and go along with the Doctor's wonderful child-like sense of exploring the unknown ... I love the line in episode one where the Doctor tells them he has no idea what's outside ... but invites them to go and explore anyway. And oh, they'll need torches!

But the Doctor ... oh the Doctor. My Doctor. The Second Doctor. Brilliant and mercurial, funny and watchable, scared and yet totally in control. This was the Doctor of my childhood, of my youth. My hero and my muse. The inspiration for me to want to write and get into making films, and to succeed ... he is just so brilliant. This story, more than any other, shows just how good Doctor Who can be. It shows why, even today, I can't go down the underground in London without peering down the tunnels, half expecting to see some Yeti standing there, silently. Waiting. Oh ... and cobwebs ...

This adventure has an edge, it has a story. It has characters you believe in and care about. I don't even know what the children were called in 'The Snowmen', or what the name of the ice-lady thing was that attacked them. I don't know the name of the pub that Clara was working at ... but I still shiver when passing through Covent Garden underground station. Or Goodge Street. And Professor Travers ... and poor Corporal Lane ... This is after forty-five years!

I finished watching the episodes in a state of euphoria. I have a new favourite ever story I feel. Something which has to be among the very best that television presented in the sixties. There had to be a reason why the story was so well regarded amongst fans. Why people remembered watching it so many years later. And now we can see why ... it is truly brilliant. It is the best exponent of a traditional formula (sometimes termed the 'base under siege' story) that there is. I'd like to think that it provides something of a wake-up call to the current writers and production team to up their game ... to be beaten so soundly at every level by something made forty-five years earlier is a little embarrassing to say the least.  But I enjoyed 'The Web of Fear' to a level far higher than any of the Doctor Who stories transmitted since the show came back in 2005. And that's not just because I am a fan. It is just better.

You don't need flashy CGI. You don't need multi-million pound budgets. You don't even need expensive guest stars. All you need is a brilliant, developed, mature and thoughtful script, and a director with the imagination and drive to realise it on screen. Douglas Camfield was feted as one of the best directors who ever worked on Doctor Who and with this story we can see why. Six episodes of magnificence, of creeping horror, of bravura performances and memorable visuals and sound effects. We even get to see dead people - and that's one of the biggest shocks of them all!

I shall stop now and rest my fingers. I will be watching 'The Web of Fear' again. And again. And again. If you have any interest in sixties television. Any interest in Doctor Who, then I urge you to get this story - it's available on DVD in February 2014, or on iTunes now. Get it. Watch it. Enjoy it. Relish it. I know I have.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

2014 Danilo Doctor Who Calendars

Thanks to the lovely folks at Danilo, I have copies of the two large calendars that are available now for 2014 ...

As you might expect, there's a 'standard' one which covers the season just transmitted; but also for this year, a special '50th Anniversary' calendar covering the series as a whole.

In the one for the 2012/2013 series (Season 7 for those interested in such designations, or Season 36 ...) it follows the standard pattern of celebrating each story on each month, so we have all the stories from 'Asylum of the Daleks' through to 'Name of the Doctor' with 'The Snowmen' thrown in for good measure in December.  The art is nice and I think is all by Lee Binding (I recognise some of the images as using elements from the 'posters' used to promote each story.

There's a couple of pics at the bottom of each page too, and the whole thing is really very attractive.

The 50th Anniversary Calendar takes a similar approach, giving each month over to a different Doctor, with December featuring all of them.  The art is gorgeous and is again (I think, though happy to be corrected) by Lee. Again, it's photo collages and is colourful, well designed and evocative. I love the Troughton piece especially.

Along with the two Calendars, there's also a 2014 diary, which is basically the same TARDIS design as the 2013 one!  It's dotted with new pics of the 11th Doctor, Clara, Ice Warrior, Cyberman and so on, and is a neat little slim pocket diary!


The Tomorrow People - Original Series

Sometimes I think I must be living on another planet.  When I was a wee nipper, along with Ace of Wands, Lost in Space and Doctor Who, I watched The Tomorrow People ... a series about a 'future' race of humans who had telepathy and could teleport themselves around.

I was convinced that many of the episodes no longer existed - probably because all I could find from my friends was a black and white copy of the first story ...  but it seems I was wrong, and they do all exist. And what's more they have all been released on DVD ...  And so to the watching ...

SEASON ONE

Here we are introduced to our Tomorrow People ... there's John (Nicholas Young), who is sensible, wears polo neck jumpers and has sideburns. He's also the eldest. Carol (Sammie Winmill), who is prone to snivelling and pointing at things dramatically - not to mention teleporting herself into John's bedroom unannounced!  And finally Kenny (Stephen Salmon), a pretty useless black kid who has a lisp and who gets left to mind the base all the time. The base is run by a computer called TIM - with a brilliant voice (Philip Gilbert) - who knows everything and who can enhance the powers that the TPs have, allowing them to teleport further, talk via communal telepathic links and so on.

The first story ('The Slaves of Jedikiah') follows the breaking out of a new TP, Stephen (Peter Vaughan-Clarke), and how the others help him to understand and come to terms with his new powers. Mixed in around this is a plot by an alien called Cyclops (Robert Bridges) to try and escape from where he is trapped in his spaceship using a robot servant called Jedikiah (Francis de Woolf).  There's much to like here ... the acting from John and Steven is excellent, and sort of makes up for the dreadful overacting of Carol and Jedikiah, and the acting 'blank' that is Kenny. Helping Jedikiah are two thugs, Leftie (Derek Crewe) and Ginge (Michael Standing), and while Leftie is rubbish, Ginge is pretty believable.

The story sets everything up nicely, and director Paul Bernard does a good job of bringing it all together. This is like kid's Doctor Who in many ways - played more for laughs (the thugs all fall over themselves all the time) and not wasting time on explanations.

The second story is 'The Medusa Strain', and here Count Rabowski (Roger Booth) rescues the robot Jedikiah from space, and in a different, and much better acted, form (Roger Bizley), it tries to get its revenge on the TPs. There's a nice idea in the Medusa - a plant like thing which can mute the TP's powers, and lots of running about. Overall it's not bad, but let down a little by Count Rabowski who comes over as more like one of Lost in Space's comedy aliens rather than a serious threat.  Much of the cast spend most of the time locked in little cells here, and Peter (Richard Speight), the other captured telepath, and one of the Time Guardians, is very effete in his open-to-the-navel shirt and britches. At the end Jedikiah is sent to Mercury in the distant past ... a point which becomes important later on ...


The final story of the season is 'The Vanishing Earth', and this plays with some more nice ideas, introducing Spidron (John Woodnutt) as the main alien threat, assisted by the easy on the eye Joy/Sandor (Nova Llewellyn). Spidron is very creepy indeed - masked in a sort of Klu-Klux-Klan mask and with tendrilly fingers. His voice is sibilant and John Woodnutt does a brilliant job of making him credible and scary.  Sandor however is good when she's pretending to be a girl at the funfair (in Clacton of all places) but when she gets into her space-leotard, she goes all posh and forgets how to act. Topping the guest cast though is Kevin Stoney as Steen, another telepath who has been hunting Spidron.

There's some great scenes in the ghost train house and in an old drain at the end, and some nice location work too.


SEASON TWO

So Season Two kicks off with the producers apparently realising that Kenny and Carol were useless and so had to go ... to be replaced with Elizabeth (Elizabeth Adare), who is much better. Poor Ginge and Lefty get edged out too, to be replaced by Chris (Chris Chittell). More to the point, why does everyone play a character with the same name as the actor!

The opening story 'The Blue and the Green' is perhaps the best in the entire run of The Tomorrow People. It's an original concept - that an alien can affect the mood of people and turn them against each other via a 'weather' painting which can look peaceful or stormy ... and the idea of giving out badges which cause the wearers to side against each other in irrational anger and violence is pretty good too. The only weak element in the story is the old grandfather, played in doddery form by Nigel Pegram. The alien boy, Robert (Jason Kemp) is both creepy and sympathetic, and the idea that they are 'seeds' which need the violent emotional outburst from humanity to send them out into the stars is an unexpected conclusion. We spotted a very young Pauline Quirk as one of the schoolkids, and apparently Linda Robson is there also!

Next up is 'A Rift in Time' which brings Peter back - this time he has been captured by a creepy Roman official, Gaius (Stanley Lebor) and made to fight in Gladiator school in the 1st Century BC. The story is the first to introduce the Time Guardians, and Zenon (Stephen Jack) who is Peter's father. I guess this is their equivalent to the Time Lords of Doctor Who, only far more Children's TV than Doctor Who ever was. Here it's all silver space-outfits and beards ...  There's an annoying pile of dialogue and explanation when they try to overcome all the logical issues: how will they speak and understand ancient Roman? How will Chris come with them as he's not a TP? How will they look like the natives?  All this is covered off and is very much a McGuffin ... even when the plot demands that they lose their TP powers, John notes that, strangely, they can still understand the language and so on ... it's all a little laughable watching them twist and turn and try to explain it all ...  It's lovely to see Sylvia Coleridge making a cameo as a Museum Vase expert!  She's just as delightful as in her Doctor Who appearance in 'The Seeds of Doom' a few years later.

The story has some interesting ideas to share about changing history, but at the end, it's all resolved fairly quickly. Peter is obviously in the show for his looks as his acting is not much better than his first appearance, but the main leads are pretty strong, and even though Stephen fluffs every other line, you can let it go as it seems to fit in with the show.

The final story of Season 2 is 'The Doomsday Men' and ... oh dear ... in a move which will become increasingly prevalent, the writer, Roger Price, seems to want to put his kid actors in kilts now ... and there's a cringe-worthy scene where they talk about the fact that nothing should be worn under the kilt!  It's all a little sado-masachistic with poor Stephen being kilted and then bound and left outside in the cold ... not sure what any of this has to do with the plot mind you ...

The story as a whole is lightweight - there's a space station orbiting Earth with lots of nukes on it ... and a group called The Doomsday Men want to gain control of it to hold Earth to ransom. Quite why getting Stephen into a Scottish school helps is uncertain ... and the whole thing shudders to a weak ending.


SEASON THREE

We kick off with yet another Tomorrow Person 'breaking out' - this is Tyso, and he is as annoying as I remember at the time. He speaks in a fast falsetto and is another of the 'pretty boy' kids they liked to cast in this show.

What's most interesting for me, is that episode two is the title sequence I recorded the audio for off the telly all those years ago as I liked the title music and was compiling a sort of 'mix tape' of them for my own pleasure. Others on the tape as I recall included The Zoo Gang and the Armchair Thriller episode 'Quiet as a Nun' ...

The first story is 'Secret Weapon' and introduces a character called Colonel Masters (Trevor Bannister). Now whether this is another nod to 'the Master' on Doctor Who I have no idea ... but Masters has a creepy female sidekick (Ann Curthoys) and a plan to capture the TPs and use them as a weapon. The willingness with with Stephen reveals all their number and secrets to Professor Cawston is amazing, and the whole thing trundles off into military espionage territory - so the same sort of ground as 'The Doomsday Men'.

Next up is 'Worlds Away', and this is where some silliness starts to creep in, although the ideas that the story is playing with are good. The Tomorrow People are visited by Timus, a rep from the Galactic Federation (played by Philip Gilbert, who also voices the computer, TIM). The TPs head to a pyramid on Earth wherein there's some old equipment left by Khultan aeons ago which suppresses their powers. This is disabled, but then they head off to the planet Pyrie which has the same problem - only current. There they meet Tikno - also played by Philip Gilbert - and they have to avoid the 'Veshtakers' - Vesh being what TPs are known as on Pyrie - and destroy the pyramid. It's all good fun, though why there is a pool of water in the dungeon is anyone's guess - just to get the kids all wet I suppose!  This is the first time that the series goes to an alien planet - it's a shame it looks like Earth!  And there's a young Keith Chegwin there as one of the Vesh outlaws.

'A Man for Emily' is next and ... oh dear oh dear. I really can't decide whether this is a work of genius, or it's just the most execrably bad thing ever shown on television. A spaceship arrives around Earth carrying three humanoids: The Momma (Margaret Burton), Emily (Sandra Dickinson) and Elmer (Peter Davison). These three characters overact and ham it up so badly that it's painful to watch. With crazy ideas like 'tickling boots' to keep Elmer in line, the unlikely 'Doozlum Pin' for transporting to Earth, and the fact that they eat their mates after mating, the story is a mess of ideas and tone - the comedy is pronounced, but they also kill a shopkeeper (who Stephen brings back to life using his 'special powers'), intend to eat John alive, and can destroy the Earth. The Momma wears a silver leotard (and she's a *large* lady) while Emily wears a Tee Shirt and pair of hotpants ... Elmer meanwhile dresses in what looks like a onesey when he's not in cowboy garb. There's a comedy chase with police being bothered by bees (which is even speeded up at one point!), Tyso and Stephen mug and laugh their way through, while it's only John and Elizabeth who take it in any way seriously. It's a mad, crazy, over the top, totally irredeemably rubbish set of episodes, which only make sense in the context of children's television, where hammy overacting and throwing of mashed potato is deemed funny and acceptable. This set of episodes is so out of kilter with the rest of the series to date, that it really stands out.

The other thing which is becoming apparent is that they have no idea what to do with Tyso - he's done nothing significant since joining at the start of the season ... You can understand why Kenny was written out - he did nothing too, but he was there at the start, when presumably the dynamic was not known and understood. The show can easily be carried (and is) by John, Elizabeth and Stephen, so it's a mystery why they wanted to add someone else.

The final story of the third season is 'The Return of Jedikiah' and it's a return to the earlier stories. The robot Jedikiah was apparently rescued from Mercury by the Khultan and used to replace an Egyptian Pharaoh ... but was then mummified and discovered in the present day by an archaeologist who Jedikiah promptly kills and takes the shape of ... it then pretends to be Stephen and teams up with a magician (Ali Bongo) on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks (not sure why) and then, in this runaround episode, pretends to be just about every other cast member - leading to lots of people not knowing who anyone is, and the audience getting bewildered trying to follow the plot which back-references just about everything! Colonel Masters is shot dead (without even showing his face), the telepath, Tricia, played by Ann Curthoys reappears, as does Cawston, as does Timus and Tikno, even the original overacting Jedikiah makes an appearance (Francis de Woolfe), there's references to Peter and Kenny, the Time Guardians ... it's all crammed in here ...

The most interesting thing to me here are the similarities to the Doctor Who story 'Pyramids of Mars' which also features an alien enemy trapped in a Pyramid who can take over people's minds and bodies. The opening of the two stories is almost identical - a group of locals, along with an archaeologist break into a tomb, there's a strange light and all the locals run off in terror. The archaeologist enters the tomb and is promptly attacked and killed by the entity within who then uses their body to escape. Both stories even feature animated Egyptian Mummies! The Tomorrow People episode was transmitted on May 7 1975, and the Doctor Who story wasn't shown until 25 October 1975 ... Closer checking reveals that the location filming for 'Pyramids of Mars' took place on 29 April and 2 May 1975, with studio recording for episode one taking place on 19 May - by which time the scripts would have been completed. So it's probably just a really spooky coincidence ...

It ends the season with the Tomorrow People being taken off the Earth to attend the Galactic Trig, and, apparently, was intended as an overall end to the series. It certainly finishes in a fairly definitive way, with the Earth control room being darkened, and the credits playing against that image rather than the usual 'lava lamp' graphics.


SEASON FOUR

Another season, another new Tomorrow Person, and this time it's in the form of Pop Idol and drummer with the band Flintlock, Mike Holloway, playing Mike (where do they get the ideas for their names from!)  Mike gets involved with a Lord in the first story, 'One Law', and it's a simple affair really, with some running about, and another figure of authority in the form of the Policeman being made fun of as vain and incompetent, with some silly moments mixed in. Not really much to say about this. John Hollis plays a thug called Two Tone (he was also Sondergaard in the Doctor Who story 'The Mutants').

Next up is another good science fiction tale, 'Into the Unknown', where the TPs pick up a distress call from a rocket far out in space. They go to investigate and find a kid there Kwaan (Stephen Garlick). He is trying to get help (I think) for the FatherShip which is plunging into a strange hole in space. The commander is Tirayaan (Geoffrey Bayldon of Catweasel  fame) and the FatherShip has been taken over by sort of military thugs.  But it's not being drawn into the hole, it is being piloted there ... It's not bad this, but hampered by an episode of doing nothing but going through a wormhole, and an unexplained plot point of what actually happened to Mike at the start in the ship (he's apparently attacked by a statue but this is never referred to or has any relevance to anything else). I liked that the aliens spoke an alien language as well, but that the TPs could not translate it, and that they got cold even though they were wearing spacesuits (or Mike is anyway). This seems to be typical of the series that internal continuity is lost, forgotten or changed depending on how they feel. This is the first and only Tomorrow People story not to be written by Roger Price.

And that's it for the season ... two stories! 


SEASON FIVE

As usual we kick off with the hunt for another TP, this time a Russian spy called Pavla (played with a perfect English accent by Anulka Dziubinska who, I notice, also appeared in the horror film Vampyres!). 'The Dirtiest Business' is a strange story, very bleak and ending with something of a hardcore shock for the series as Pavla, who has had a bomb implanted in her, dies jumping from a window to save Mike's life. Not a happy ending at all!  Most strange here is that Stephen and Tyso are just not in it. Not even mentioned. I think that's a bit off to be honest - especially for poor Stephen who has been there from the start!

Following this we have 'A Much Needed Holiday' which is something of a strange piece where the TPs head for another planet for a holiday only to get embroiled in child slavery ... the kids are awful, the costumes fetishistic and the whole thing is just strange. And when two of the local kids are called Trig and Trog, you know they're just not taking it seriously! Interesting to me (at least) was that the aliens are called the Klepton - a name from the Doctor Who comics!

Finally we have 'Heart of Sogguth', a very silly story where a bunch of devil worshippers have an African drum and intent to take over the world and release a Demon from hell. It's all just daft, with Mike Holloway's real life pop group Flintlock making an appearance, and a camp and unbelievable 'manager' called Jake heading the plot to gain control of everyone except Elizabeth - even John gets affected!  There's an interesting sequence where a possessed John and Elizabeth have a stun-gun fight in the TV studio, and I felt there were shades of the Doctor Who story 'The Deadly Assassin' in Liz trying to destroy the Drum ('Assassin' was shown in Oct/Nov 1976, so 4 months beforehand) and in 'Talons of Weng-Chiang' for the studio fight (shown in Feb/Mar 1977, so just before transmission of this).

The series is now descending into the two-part format which typifies it's latter seasons, and the stories are just no good. There's no sense of purpose or of the show even taking itself seriously, and to be honest, the bleak horror of 'The Dirtiest Business' doesn't sit well with the childrens' television sensibility that the show is developing and increasingly moving towards.


SEASON SIX

Predictably, in 'The Lost Gods' we have another TP to find, and this time she's a Chinese girl, Hsui Tai (Misako Koba) who is to be sacrificed so she can be reborn in another baby - horrific undertones once more. However she really can't act and looks a lot like Fu Manchu's daughter Lin Tang (played by Tsai Chin) in the Christopher Lee films  For no good reason Liz is now offworld somewhere and out of the show - at least we get to see her on a screen and know that she has gone rather than poor Stephen and Tyso. And for no good reason John is teaching Mike to fly a glider ... It's got Bert Kwouk though so it can't be all bad. Unfortunately the classic TP underground base has been replaced with a really awful looking studio set, and the jaunting belts are now watches ... it's all going to the dogs!

'Hitler's Last Secret' sounds awful, but the story is not too bad. Michael Sheard plays Hitler, preserved in a cryogenic pod -m except Hitler is actually an alien. One of the Hitler Youth is played by Nicholas Lyndhurst off of Only Fools and Horses, and overall it's not bad. It again makes use of the theme of kids being taken over/possessed (aka 'The Blue and the Green' and 'Heart of Shoggoth') and Mike is of course the only one affected. Generally these two episode stories don't work - they are too short to develop anything and often end very abruptly.

The final story is 'The Thargon Menace' and this plumbs new depths with the most rubbish puppet robots ever seen on television, and with stupid Kids' TV character voices to boot. I wonder which meeting they were in when they agreed that these things (called 'Thing') were a good idea and good enough to show on Telly.  The plot revolves around a couple of kids who have escaped from Thargon justice ... Flyn (Michael Audreson) and Sula (Jackie Cowper) are terribly acted and barely believable ... and there's a Tin Pot Dictator too in the form of Papa Minn (Olu Jacobs)!

With each story you think it can't get any worse ... and with 'The Thargon Menace' it really hits rock bottom ... or does it!  These tales make 'A Man for Emily' look like Shakespeare!


SEASON SEVEN

'Castle of Fear' kicks off a new season with, yes you guessed it, another new Tomorrow Person. This is Andrew Forbes, a 13 year old Scottish lad who is creating ghosts at his father's Loch Ness hotel ... it's not a bad little story to be honest, nicely done, and with the main weak point being when Andrew and the other TPs stage a battle of imaginary Highlanders and Redcoats in the grounds. There's still nothing for Hsui Tai to do, and Elizabeth is now back with no explanations. Nigel Rhodes as Andrew is pretty good for his age and the tale doesn't outstay it's welcome.

Next up is 'Achilles Heel', another space adventure where a couple of aliens wanting to mine something called barlumin on Earth arrive in a ship and check in at Andrew's hotel (convenient). The barlumin removes the powers from TPs which is why the aliens want it, but they are kids' TV silly with malfunctioning translators and misunderstanding clothing and umbrellas. It all gets even dafter when all the TPs end up on the ship with their dog-faced pilot, and all have their powers removed. It's down to Andrew and his dagger to rescue the day!  I *think* the spaceship used here might be one from the Doctor Who story 'Frontier in Space' ... and one of the two aliens is played by Hilary Minster (General Klinkenhoffer from 'allo 'allo).

Finally we have 'The Living Skins' and in a bound, The Tomorrow People is back to doing what it does best - Earth-set adventures with creepy aliens and good ideas.  The idea is a retread of previous stories - teen fashion takes over the teens - so we're in 'The Blue and the Green', 'Heart of Soggoth' and 'Hitler's Last Secret' territory again, but it's well done, and the director even manages to make a bunch of orange inflatables look scary!  There's a very dodgy shot of Mike Holloway in his pants ... and the idea of John's cold defeating the aliens is taken from War of the Worlds but never mind. The idea of plasticky fashion jumpsuits being the spearhead of an alien invasion harks back to Doctor Who's Autons, and overall it's a good end to the season.


SEASON EIGHT

This season is an adventure long piece, with 'War of the Empires' taking up the whole thing. The Thargons are back - all gold this time and thankfully without a Thing computer/robot in evidence now - and they are at war with the Sorsons who look like mobile Aztec columns (they're also sort of Daleky in a way) and have silly comedy alien voices. They decide to use Earth as a base, so the TPs have to try and stop them. There's some nice stuff with Elizabeth and Timus at the Galactic Trig where we discover that the council members are a bunch of duvet-monsters with felt pieces sewn on - the sort of things that a bunch of pre-schoolers might create at playgroup one morning. Such a laughable shame - consider what Doctor Who managed some ten years earlier in 'The Daleks' Master Plan' story with the alien delegates shown there - they were imaginative both visually and audibly, whereas The Tomorrow People go for the bargain basement alien look.

The plot rambles a bit and it's very talky, but it's a sort of intelligent look at an intergalactic war and what the diplomacy might end up looking like. However for kids used to comedy aliens, bumbling policemen and hideous teen fashion, it might all be a little too po-faced.

I spotted musical cues from Doctor Who's 'Inferno' in this one too. Oh, and the Y-wing fighters (models by Martin Bower) look very Star Wars to my untrained eye. I guess that this significant and influential film is impacting on The Tomorrow People as it did with Doctor Who.


AFTERMATH

So we got to the end of the viewing, and I have to say that on balance I was pleasantly surprised. I had remembered much of the latter seasons as being unwatchable drivel, and while there are some real klunkers there, and some design and voice decisions which drag the whole thing down, overall it manages to maintain its head above water.

I think part of the problem is that the earlier stories are a) longer and b) better, so that they stick in the memory more than the latter ones. The first three seasons are pretty good ('A Man for Emily' excepted) but once we get further than this, the plots become sparce and patchy, and one wonders what Roger Price was doing all year if this was the best he could come up with for his series. The show is further hampered by some dreadful casting decisions for the leads. Nicholas Young as John is a rock throughout, a brilliant performance and very believable. Next best is Liz Adare as Elizabeth, who manages to do well despite leaving for a season to have a baby. Poor Peter Vaughan-Clark as Stephen though - excellent in the role, but dropped with no further mention of him having ever been there!  But the others ... Kenny was unfortunately poor from the start; Tyso was just annoying; with Hsui Tai ... of all the Chinese actresses available in the UK at the time, they manage to pick and cast one who can't actually speak English!  Her acting is forced and unnatural and because she is apparently speaking the words from the script phonetically (they wrote them out for her), her delivery is often hard to understand ... Andrew at the end is bearable, but like all of the non-lead TPs, they are constantly sidelined and left at the lab while John/Stephen/Liz/Mike go off and have all the fun. It's as though they thought they needed the characters there for some reason, but then had no idea what to do with them.

The show is also a strange mix of extreme Children's television with daft puppets, forced comedy voices, incompetent, bumbling police, traffic wardens and officials of all types ... but then you get some very creepy horror with young girls being walking bombs (who then die!), lots of threat and violence, and body/psychological horror of loss of identity and mind ...  it's like the show didn't really know what it wanted to be all along.

I'm so glad to revisit it though - it's been a pleasure. And now that it's being re-worked again for a 2013 audience, maybe it will manage to find the narrative consistency and drive again and deliver thrills and excitement as a whole new generation of Tomorrow People 'break out' and start to Jaunt once more.