Friday, November 24, 2023

Review: The Daleks: In Colour (2023)

Being a Doctor Who fan can be an excitement of ups and downs ... some things sound amazing and you look forward to them ... but then others just seem strange ... and then you get some PR/Hype and they sound great ...

This colourised version of the very first Dalek story, here called 'The Daleks' but actually titled 'The Mutants' by the production team at the time of transmission, sounded interesting. There's been a 'thing' about colourising black and white productions for some time, with everything from old scifi films of the 50s to episodes of old Laurel and Hardy comedies getting the treatment. Fans have been posting coloured clips from Doctor Who on YouTube for years with varying results, of course some episodes of Doctor Who which were originally in colour but for which only black and white prints existed have been colourised via a variety of clever means, and more recently AI has been used to apply colour to clips, again with varying degrees of success.

Add to this people like Clayton Hickman who has been superbly colouring black and white photos, and you have a lot of talent out there who should be able to produce something passable - at least if the BBC is then going to show it to the public!

So a colourised version of 'The Daleks' seemed like a good idea! But then we heard that it was also an edited version ... cut from seven 25 minute episodes (175 minutes) down to around 75 minutes ... so losing 100 minutes of runtime! Moreover, it was to have new dialogue from both David Graham, one of the original Dalek voices, and now 98 years old, and Nicholas Briggs, who has provided the voices for the modern Daleks ever since 2005. But there's more ... Mark Ayres, custodian of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's material and member of that amazing group of musicians, was to provide a new score ... Hmmm ... Now it starts to sound all a bit much.

Then we have Exec Producer Russell T Davies, telling us that it's all to try and make these old black and white Doctor Whos accessible to the new generation who won't watch black and white stuff ... so it needed to be edited down, made snappier and faster, using modern techniques and so on ... which all sounded good. The edit was undertaken by Benjamin Cook, writer for probably 90% of Doctor Who Magazine's Nu-Who content, and who also collaborated with Davies on his book of script development for the show. He's also done trailers for the BluRay collections and such for the series before ...

So ... a new version of the iconic first appearance of the Daleks ... was it any good?

It's always really hard to review items where friends have been involved, but as I am a reviewer/commentator on Doctor Who, and as I believe in not whitewashing things, I have to say what I think ...

Overall: I enjoyed it. I think it manages to achieve what Davies wanted: to act as a new version of the story for new fans (or ones who just won't sit through 175 minutes of black and white television). But it is definitely a new take on the story. In the same way as the animated episodes take enormous liberties with the source material to present a totally different look and feel to the episodes (even though they have the same soundtrack), this version of 'The Daleks' takes the basic storyline and removes anything which is extra to that ... But it sort of works ... it's fast and furious and moves at pace.

The colourisation is okay ... but there was always going to be conflict as to what colour things should be. Should they be the colour they were in the studio, as evidenced by colour photographs taken at the time? Or should they be the colour which perhaps they might have been otherwise?  The issue is that in the black and white days, the designers coloured things so that the shade of grey they would then appear on screen would work with all the other shades of grey in the production. This is why the TARDIS control console was actually coloured a pale green, so that it looked a silver white on screen ...

It seems that they've done a bit of a mixture ... the TARDIS console has been coloured a silvery white, so following the intention rather than the actuality ... but the TARDIS floor (and indeed the floor of the Dalek city are a blue - the colour of the actual set floors. The strangest colour decision comes with Barbara's top ... this is a bright pink ... and while the actual colour of the top she wears at the start of  the story is unknown, the one she wears at the end was actually pale blue.  

In the original story, after the Thals are killed in the Daleks' ambush, the TARDIS team return to the ship in episode 4, and Barbara then changes her outfit. The original top, which was a sort of button-up-the-back blouse, is replaced with a shirt at this point, but she still wears her skirt. In episode 5, when they are on their way to the mountains through the swamps, she has now changed her skirt for a pair of black Thal trousers. In the edited version, Barbara's outfit changes as before ... but her shirt remains a bright pink ... Ian's jumper is also the wrong shade of brown - it's too light and should be darker, as should his trousers.

Overall though the colour choices are not bad and help to enhance the story. There's some lovely elements of coloured skies and the control panels in the Dalek city are smashing.  Some of the darker shots suffer from a lack of clarity and black 'artefacts' appear around the edges of the black areas - especially noticeable in the scene immediately before the travellers meet the Daleks for the first time. At least on my big television they do!

And the Daleks. Well they look amazing. Correct colour scheme, and as in studio too. I love the new extermination effect too. The main issue with them are the voices. Nicholas Briggs' modern more strident tones stand out a mile from the original, more subtle, voices. And it grates. Especially as the very first Dalek voice we now hear is new: 'Stay where you are!' rather than the original 'You will move ahead of us and follow my directions!' Whether this new voice is a new Graham or Briggs contribution, it really doesn't work.

And this brings the next element of the production to the fore: the music. The original had a brilliantly futuristic and distinctive score by Tristram Cary, but here several key cues have been changed and new music written ... in the case of the first appearance of the Daleks, instead of a sort of long whistle as the camera pulls back, now we have more modern music added in to make it 'dramatic'. The music overall is OK, though I frowned when I heard that the opening title music had been tinkered with, but in places it is jarring - like the addition of a sort of disco beat as the travellers escape in the lift: this reminded me a little of the music in the two Dalek cinema films. There were more cues from Cary's work used also: it sounded to me like his scores for some of the other Doctor Who stories he did had been plundered (but then I have a feeling that the future scores were mostly reuses of the cues for 'The Daleks' anyway).

Either way this doesn't really matter in my ear, as they're all from the same composer and match together. It's the more modern elements with drums and guitar sounds which seemed out of place in the story ... perhaps it's what the modern viewer needs: the music to 'tell' them what to feel at each point. If so it's a shame, and, for me, detracts from the drama that is unfolding. I often feel with music that less is more ... I dislike the 'wall to wall' music landscape of modern shows, much preferring the ambient and subtle approach to scoring a film or a show. There's an adage that if you notice it, then it hasn't worked. And here I noticed it big-time.

Back to the edit, and it's inevitable that there would be some sacrifices. I understand the need for shortcutting some of the storytelling, and using the Daleks watching on their rangerscopes was a nice way to speed the plot along. It is a shame that we lost the appearance of the first ever alien monster to appear on Doctor Who: the poor Magnadon. And the food machine sequence too. I guess you can't have everything. It was also an odd, but perhaps predictable decision to show the TARDIS arriving on Skaro, scenes never in the original story (the first time we saw the TARDIS materialise was in 'The Keys of Marinus'), and the new scene here looks very strange. I suspect it was achieved through CGI, and unfortunately it looks like it. Likewise they have replaced the shot of the TARDIS dematerialising at the end with a modern equivalent ... and again it jars. Why do they have the TARDIS sort of vanishing then reappearing, then vanishing, then reappearing in time with the sound effect? At the start of 'The Keys of Marinus', the TARDIS just silently and smoothly fades into view. It also silently and smoothly vanishes at the end of 'The Keys of Marinus', and smoothly appears at the start of 'The French Revolution'. In the original shot at the end of 'The Daleks' it also smoothly vanished ... so why this up/down visual approach? It's a strange decision to have made. 

A Magnadon. Yesterday.

Other anachronistic elements include the tolling of the Cloister Bell as the TARDIS has it's little hiccup at the start: this sound was not introduced until 'Logopolis' in 1980.

Overall then, a story from Doctor Who's very beginning has been given a new life through a 2023 'makeover', with almost all elements of the production re-edited, scored, coloured and jigged to create a modern take on a certified classic. It's not perfect, but then I wonder if anything like this really could please everyone. Maybe a straight colourisation would be better ... but then you have an arguably stodgy sixties pace to try and deal with ... and there's still the question as to which colours to use - especially when some stories have little or no original colour material to work from.

Like the animations, or indeed the two Dalek cinema films, this is best viewed as an alternative take on the story, with a tweaked plot, new music, and colours occasionally so bright they make your eyes bleed ... I think there is room in the world for both/all versions. It'll be interesting to see which one(s) are attempted next!


Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Review: Whotopia: The Ultimate Guide to the Whoniverse

Sixty years!  That's a long time by any measure ... and it's how long Doctor Who has been running ... Sixty ... In that time we've had 14 Doctors, or more, depending on how you count and what you include ... many companions, monsters, villains ... lots and lots of excitement and adventure ... and merchandise too ... including books looking at every aspect of the show.

So what might be left to cover? BBC Studios/Ebury Books have released Whotopia as their offering as the 'big book' for the 60th anniversary ... and one might expect something special ... something different.

For the 20th Anniversary we had Peter Haining's Doctor Who: A Celebration ... for the 25th Anniversary it was Doctor Who: 25 Glorious Years from the same author. The 30th anniversary brought Timeframe, a glorious full colour romp through the years via the mediums of Target book cover art and ephemera, by David J Howe (yes, that's me!).

For the 40th came Doctor Who: The Legend by Justin Richards, a full colour, over-designed but slight look at all the stories. This one was firmly based in the fiction of the series, and that, sadly, is where BBC Books/Ebury seem to have been mired ever since. For the 50th Anniversary there was Marcus Hearn's superlative Doctor Who: The Vault. A magnificent look at Doctor Who through the medium of props and paperwork and other ephemera - a really original way to explore the series. But there was also The Doctor: His Lives and Times, yet another in-universe look through the series.

Pretty much everything they have published over the last twenty years has been about the fiction of Doctor Who. There have been endless books of lists, encyclopaedias of the worlds of Doctor Who, art books looking at the concepts, a dreadful atlas which documented all the fictional planets, endless picture books of monsters, aliens, planets, technology and so on ... all reusing the same in-universe information about everything that ever appeared or has been mentioned. What there haven't been are any BBC-Published books which explore the making-of or the backgrounds to the stories ... looking at the writing, the production, the artistic skills ... for some reason this sort of behind the scenes history has not been in favour.

Given that many of the books have been published by BBC Children's books may give a clue ... BBC Studios has increasingly seen its publishing aimed at young children - kids who probably have not got a clue what was happening in Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat's increasingly complex and 'Timey Wimey' television take on the show. From the annual Annual, to fan art collections, a history of the Time Lords, the companions companion and the Doctor's guide to whatever and whoever ... these books aimed at the younger market have proliferated ... and have also been augmented with novella-length fiction, again written for the younger reader ...

All of which brings us to the sixtieth anniversary ... and what could the BBC bring to the table?

Given that they potentially have unparalleled access to the show and its makers, something looking at the changing face of the show perhaps, exploring production techniques and methods through the years?  No?

Or something interviewing the producers and actors, those who make the show what it is? No?

Or something exploring how the show has touched lives and inspired people? No?

In fact, many of these elements have been explored in publications, both licenced (rather than published) by the BBC and published independently (as no license was required) ...

What the BBC have given us is Whotopia.

From a very plain cover: simple gold foil wording and circles on a dark blue background, the book is in full colour throughout, but the design is very flat and uninspiring. A flick through reveals more white space than colour and imagery ... So it's certainly not overdesigned.

What is it? Well ... it's a collection of articles, letters and other writings purportedly written by the Doctor, the companions, the monsters, the guest stars and so on. There are other smaller paragraphs written in standard third person on other more minor elements of the show. So, once again, it's an in-universe guidebook to the Doctors, monsters, companions, aliens ... and ... zzzzzzzzz

There's nothing here about any behind the scenes elements ... and stories and plots from the sixties rub shoulders with those from the recent Whittaker era ... which is nice. All the pics are in colour, with any originally black and white shots having been colourised.

But substance? Not really. It's an encyclopaedia by another name, with a handy index at the back so you can find what there is to say about Time Cabinets, Morgus, Atraxi and so on.

I can see the book being diverting perhaps for the Who-obsessed kid who, for whatever reason, hasn't managed to pick up any of the hundreds of other books published with basically the same content, and it might act as a stepping in point for said child to start exploring the worlds of Doctor Who as the episodes are all now present on iPlayer (all those that still exist anyway). Maybe this is the intention.

But what of the fans of all ages who have been diligently following and collecting the various books and DVDs over the years? A visit to any charity shop in the UK will usually turn up a variety of these publications, and eBay is chock full of them too, so they're not hard to find ... Then this book will feel very familiar and disposable.

The authors have done a good job of stepping through all the elements, and some of the writing is amusing ... Kahler-Jex explaining his back story (from 'A Town Called Mercy'), Sutekh repeating some of his utterances from the show (from 'Pyramids of Mars'), Rocco Colosanto musing on his home-share woes (from 'Turn Left') and so on. But overall, there is little substance beyond that which the source episodes contained and, as it's all in-universe, there's no context to when and where in the Doctor's travels these people and creatures appeared (aside from referencing the story titles).

As a celebration of sixty years of Doctor Who then, Whotopia sadly for this reviewer falls completely flat. It's a book which contains nothing new, and which presents no great insights into the show, or covers an area which has not been covered a thousand times before.

It's such a shame as BBC Books could and should be doing so much better. A wasted opportunity.

Published by BBC Books 16th November 2023
£30 hardback

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Review: The Evil of the Daleks Novelisation (2023)

Just when you thought there was nothing new in the novelisation arena, along comes Frazer Hines, the actor who played Jamie in the TV series, with a new book which adds a new twist to the novelisation idea ... novelising a repeat showing of a story ...

It's a nice conceit ... for the story 'The Evil of the Daleks' was repeated following transmission of 'The Wheel In Space', and before 'The Dominators', and the show even provided, at the end of 'The Wheel In Space', a little lead in to the repeat where the Doctor shows new companion Zoe the sort of thing she might face if she travels with them in the TARDIS.

Thus the book presents a straightforward and quite effective novelisation of the actual 'The Evil of the Daleks' episodes, and between each is a little piece from Jamie's perspective which shows the TARDIS trio's reactions to the events of the past story as it unfolds. It's all rather pleasant ... and a good read.

Having Hines also narrate the audio version is also effective, especially as the story presents Jamie in an excellent light - he even has an episode (5) pretty much to himself as he explores Maxtible's Victorian mansion in search of Victoria, meeting and befriending the Turk, Kemel, and avoiding the Daleks along the way ... all in the Daleks' pursuit of trying to discover what 'the Human Factor' is: what makes a human a human ... and Jamie presents all the right traits along the way.

Hines worked on the book with authors Mike Tucker and Steve Cole, and it's got a cracking cover from Lee Binding ...

If you want a signed copy, with a special bookplate from artist Adrian Salmon, then head to Frazer's own online store: ... otherwise the book is available from all the usual stockists.