About this blog

This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

2012 GC/TC Election Results

General Coordinator
Silent Hunter was the only one in the run for this position and people could choose either to vote for him or to put forward a vote of no confidence.
  • Number of people who voted: 16
  • Number of people who voted for Silent Hunter as GC: 14
  • Number of people who gave a vote of no confidence: 2
This means that Silent Hunter has been elected as General Coordinator.

Technical Coordinator

Euan Reid was the only person in the run for this position and as with Silent people could vote for Euan or put forward a vote of no confidence.
  • Number of people who voted: 16
  • Number of people who voted for Euan Reid as TC: 14
  • Number of people who gave a vote of no confidence: 2
This means that Euan Reid has been elected as Technical Coordinator.

Doctor Who Season 8 (1971): A Clash of Time Lords

We have a Josephine now. Josephines are cool.


The 25-episode eighth run of Doctor Who saw the violence and horror in the show come under media and even Parliamentary scrutiny – which in a way was a bit ironic, because the now firmly in charge combination of Letts and Dicks made a conscious effort to make the show more family-friendly than Torchwood-esque Season 7.


A number of new elements were introduced to boost the show’s appeal:

·         A new second-in-command for UNIT’s British contingent, Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin). While Sergeant Benton[1], first seen in “The Invasion”, would stay on as a semi-regular, it was felt that Yates would be a more appropriate number two for the Brig. He was also a possible love interest for Jo, but that never really went anywhere.

·         The Doctor being occasionally allowed to leave Earth and go on adventures in space.

·         Jo Grant

·         The Master


The last two warrant further discussion.


Josephine “Jo” Grant


With the decision not to renew Caroline John’s contract as Liz Shaw[2], Letts and Dicks found themselves needing a new companion. They created one of the show’s most loved characters, Josephine “Jo” Grant. A more traditional, “What’s happening, Doctor” sort of assistant, Jo Grant got a job as a civilian employee at UNIT through her diplomat uncle. She took an A Level[3] in General Science, but she didn’t say if she’d actually passed the exam. After an initial bout of ditzy and a very bad first trip that involved getting hypnotised by the Master and near suffocation via plastic daffodil, she demonstrated a high degree of competence, some reasonably good action skills and a general enthusiastic loveliness about her (if Kaylee were a Who companion, she’d be Jo), which resulted in her reappearing in The Sarah Jane Adventures, becoming only the third regular human character from the classic era to appear in the new one.[4]


Katy Manning (1949-present) was cast for the role. It’s worth pointing out that Manning was extremely short-sighted and with soft contact lenses not being widely available at this point, she found herself frequently blundering into other actors or the scenery. Watch out for the times that Jon Pertwee had to lead her by the hand. Since her time as Jo, now Australian Manning hasn’t done too much notable bar an infamous NSFW photo shoot with a  Dalek and playing the sixth incarnation of drink-sodden Time Lady Iris Wildthyme for Big Finish – although she’s still popular among the fans.


The First Master[5] – Roger Delgado


Basically wanting a Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes[6], Letts and Dicks created a new arch-nemesis for the Doctor, a renegade Time Lord known as the Master. In the first attempt of the show at an arc, this urbane mass murderer would appear in all five of the serials of Season Eight (this is not a spoiler). This version of the Master is definitely the most suave of the lot, who likes to catch up on a good book between his bouts of destruction and has a healthy respect for the Doctor.


Played by Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto, usually known as Roger Delgado (1918-1973), a man of French and Spanish parentage born within the sound of the Bow Bells[7] with extensive stage and screen experience and who was much in demand for villainous roles due to his evil looks (including his goatee) after a role in TV series Sir Francis Drake, the Master became a popular baddie for the show and would make three more appearances after Season 8.


You’ve noticed the birth and death dates by now. A planned conclusion to the overall arc that would have seen the Master sacrifice his life for the Doctor in Season Eleven was prevented in tragic circumstances. On 18 June 1973, Delgado and two Turkish film technicians were killed when the car they were being driven in to a location shoot in Turkey for a later abandoned comedy called The Bell of Tibet went off a cliff.


The five stories of this run all bar one took place in UNIT time.


Terror of the Autons (4 episodes)


The Master arrives on Earth and steals a Nestene energy unit, beginning to reanimate the Autons. His goal, to destroy humanity…


Another story from the pen of Robert Holmes (who will get his own piece in Season Twelve’s article), this is an enjoyable season opener with some truly disturbing scenes – including a killer doll and also some rather bad CSO.


The Mind of Evil (6 episodes, currently in black and white only [8])


The Master, in disguise as a Swiss Professor, creates a mind-control machine that he advertises as a method to end anti-social behaviour by removing negative impulse from criminals, but can also turn their worst fears against them and make them his slaves... Meanwhile, UNIT are providing security for a peace conference and disposing of a banned missile. You can see where this is going…


An all-action Bond-esque romp, which involved a live helicopter and a good deal of MOD assistance, this went seriously over budget (director Timothy Combe was never asked back to the series), I’d really like to see this again at some point.


The Claws of Axos (4 episodes)


A bunch of gold-skinned aliens arrive and offer Earth wonderful technology in exchange for fuel. Yep, it’s a trap and the Master is behind it…


Notable for the debut of a new, white painted TARDIS console[9] and the first interior shot since Season 6, this story has some silly looking aliens that mar a clever script and also a scene that many people think is bad CSO but actually was location filming with a blue sky. It’s a toss-up between this and the next story for weakest of the five…


Colony in Space (6 episodes)


The Doctor shows Jo the inside of the TARDIS, which promptly takes them to another planet. There they are caught in a power struggle between miners and farmers, with a powerful weapon also in the mix…


This was the first proper TARDIS trip since “The War Games” – in fact the director (Michael Briant, who did a few other 1970s serials) forgot how the TARDIS is supposed to materialise and had it just plop in and out, My review of “Colony” can be found here and here– as you can see, I wasn’t too keen on it.


The Dæmons (5 episodes)


The Master, posing as a rural vicar, summons a cloven-hoofed demon in a church basement. (That’s the description from The TARDIS Index File Wiki and it sums it up perfectly)


A fan favourite of the Third Doctor’s era, although a significant minority have a dislike of it. It’s not perfect and the end falls apart under close inspection, but when it’s got the Brigadier’s most famous line[10].



Letts’ and Dicks’ approach worked. Season 8 got an average rating of 7.9 million viewers. With a whole group of new loveable (and hissable) characters added, the show was firmly safe and next season would see the Doctor make further journeys away from Earth. As well as the return of an old foe…


[1]Benton’s first name was never given on screen, but expanded universe sources have stated it is John. Benton started off as a Corporal and ended up a Warrant Officer Class 1 (equivalent to the Command Sergeant Major rank in the US Army), holding the position of UNIT’s Regimental Sergeant Major.

[2]She didn’t even get a proper leaving scene as John was heavily pregnant by the time it came to film the new season.

[3]British equivalent to US AP.

[4][Hunter is sidestepping the question is to whether the Brig counts a companion – Ed]

[5]The first on-screen version that is. It has been established that there have been at least seventeen versions of the guy.

[6]Speaking of Holmes, note the similarities between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Matt Smith’s Doctor…

[7]Which is the requirement to be a true Cockney.

[8]The Doctor Who Restoration Team, who clean up the archive copies for DVD release, thinks they can re-colourise episodes 2 to 6 from embedded colour data in the black and white copies, but the archive copy for Episode 1 lacks the required information. Until they find some for Episode 1 or decide they’ll have to do without it, a DVD release date won’t be set – so this is currently only available in VHS.

[9]The original one, seen in colour in “Inferno” being light green to appear white on a B&W camera.

[10] “Jenkins! Chap with wings there – five rounds rapid!” Five Rounds Rapid became the title of Courtney’s first autobiography, although he wasn’t happy with it and did a second, Still Getting Away With It (I have a copy signed by the late Mr Courtney).

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Fighter Ops player award

Aidan Fal is awarded the Bluffing On No Cards award for making the Chinese break off.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Move over, Lund - Norén is in the house! (Grand Review, 'The Bridge' Season 1)

DR, the Danish state broadcaster, has a very limited budget for drama and therefore operates some pretty tight quality controls – and what do you know? They’ve done it again! Well, to be honest, this one was a team effort.


A co-operation between DR and SVT, Bron/Broen (“The Bridge” in Swedish and Danish, the title being rendered that way on screen) is a bilateral murder mystery that takes place in both nations, using both languages – they’re mutually intelligible.


When a woman’s body, or rather two halves of two different bodies, is found on the 5 mile long Øresund Bridge that links the two nations, right on the border, a pair of chalk-and-cheese detectives, one from each country, team up to investigate. A serial killer calling himself the “Truth Terrorist” is engaging in fiendish murders of society’s most vulnerable ostensibly to highlight social problems and the body count is mounting.


The two leads in this show are rotund, recently vasectomised Danish detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and icy, somewhere on the autistic spectrum, Swedish investigator, Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) – I believe there’s some playing with stereotypes going on here. While Martin, a thrice-married man with five kids and a dark secret that proves pretty important, is well developed and nicely played, the focus is largely on Saga.


Saga Norén is a Swedish combination of Temperance Brennan, Luna Lovegood and Parker from Leverage. A woman with very little social skill (her attempts at small talk are pretty funny), a penchant for casual sex before looking at gruesome crime scene pictures in front of said partner and a matter of fact way in terms of everything, she steals pretty much every scene she’s in. In a contest between her and Sarah Lund from The Killing, Norén wins every time – she’s a more interesting character than the rather dour Lund.


This being a Nordic drama, we don’t just focus on these two – a whole slew of ancillary characters turn up and we follow them as they intertwine with the story. From slimy journalist Daniel to property developer widow Charlotte to social worker Stefan and his 1970s porn star moustache, we find ourselves feeling for these characters – especially when some of them don’t make it out of the story alive.


The overall plot twists and turns grand-stylee, but it’s arguably a lot more clichéd than The Killing. I’d say more, but that would spoil the major twist of the tale. The murders genuinely are pretty fiendish and the climax, which appropriately enough takes place on the bridge itself, is simply superb. The social issues raised in this are arguably pretty much universal and a reflection of a common theme in the Scandicrime sub-genre; the reality as opposed to the image of the Nordic welfare states. Also, the theme tune, the English-language “Hollow Talk” by The Choir of Young Believers, a Danish band, is wonderfully melancholic.


Mind you, there’s a distinct dragging in the middle and this could have done with some overall tightening,


All in all, we have another Nordic hit. It’s not as good as Borgen and The Killing, but when Season 2 comes in 2013, I’ll definitely be tuning in.



Friday, 18 May 2012

Not quite a full Emm (Review: 'Doctor Who' "Mission to the Unknown" and "The Daleks' Master Plan")

Having to wait until early autumn for the next season of Doctor Who, I’ve decided to go on a bit of a classic era spree.

I’ve started with something from the First Doctor – in fact a work I’ve never experienced before. “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, all the way from 1965-66. This 12-episode epic is the second longest Doctor Who story, beaten only by Season 23’s “The Trial of a Time Lord” – a story that is basically four with an overarching plot.

Of course, there’s a bit of a problem with this one. Only episodes 2, 5 and 10 survive in video form. Never fear though, the wonderful people at the BBC released the soundtrack of this story in 2001, with William Russell (who played Ian Chesterton) providing the linking narration and doing a very good job at it.

Because it’s essential to understanding the plot, the audio release includes the “prologue” to the story – “Mission to the Unknown”.

Mission to the Unknown

This single-episode story is the only serial in the show’s history not to feature any of the regulars instead focussing on a trio of Space Security Service agents on the planet Kembel in the year 4000, as they investigate a Dalek sighting in the “Solar System” – here used to describe Earth’s sphere of space – or at least try to. For one of them is turning into a hideous plant creature. They discover a Dalek plot to take over the universe

Not a single frame of this one survives (although an unofficial reconstruction has been made – h/t Gallifrey Base) – so I’m having to use my imagination here. My brain is automatically putting this into black and white, adding the title captions and all. The effects are probably better in my mind, but they’re helped wonderfully along by this. The sound work of the Radiophonic Workshop was one of the best things of the classic era and they haven’t let themselves down here.

One of the things you notice about 1960s sci-fi, especially if you were born in the 1980s, is how seriously everyone takes it. Watch any TOS Star Trek for example – the delivery is ripe for parody and as such has been plucked many a time. However, it actually works and sells the story. You’ve got to remember that a massive war was not some abstract concept people read about in books or watched on TV – it had happened only twenty years earlier. The cast had lived through it and so had much of the audience.

This is truly superb. The Daleks are truly effective, the story is really dark and the knowledge of how this ends for our plucky heroes just makes it even better. I’m going to give the following rating for the first time for a professional work:


So, onto the main story, which followed the four-part serial “The Myth Makers”.

The Daleks’ Master Plan

Fleeing the ruin of Troy, the Doctor, Steven and Katarina arrive on the planet Kembel. They are about to enter a nightmare that not all of them will get out of alive… The Daleks have assembled a super weapon and when the Doctor steals a vital component of it, provided by Earth’s treacherous leader, the creatures chase them across space and time.

Terry Nation was a wonderful writer, who created one of the nastiest villains in sci-fi, being able to create richly-rendered worlds from simple dialogue. Unfortunately, half of this was written by Dennis Spooner (considering I’m going to pre-order his “The Reign of Terror”, I only hope that’s better). The first six episodes (which actually include one written by Spooner, the sixth one, “Coronas of the Sun”) are a gripping, dark tale, set in a galaxy that in essence stores the DNA from all its citizens, has a charismatic dictator who is secretly selling out his entire people and features some wonderful characterisations. The death of Katarina (that’s not a spoiler) must have been pretty shocking at the time and still is quite chilling – especially as the audio leaves things a bit ambiguous as to whether it was deliberate on her part.

Then we get “The Feast of Steven”. The first Doctor Who Christmas special, this farcical break in the story is just plain silly – I will just remark that you couldn’t say “It’s a madhouse! It’s full of Arabs!” today and get away with it. It was never actually sold overseas and is completely lost in video form bar a few telesnaps. We get a couple of Spooner clunkers before things get a bit better and the last ten minutes of the final episode are superb.

Personally, I’d have cut two episodes out of this.

Some elements that I think merit further discussion:
·         The Doctor: William Hartnell is on fine form, merrily hmming away and at times delivering the cold fury of a Time Lord. The fact we’ve had the other ten is really down to this one making the show popular.
·         Steven: A fine companion. A Doctor and male companion work just as well as a male-female pairing.
·         Katarina: Hopeless, totally hopeless. Never (well, almost never) recruit a companion from the BC period because he/she hasn’t got a clue about any of the technology. I’m not sure that her death wasn’t through her own stupidity.
·         Bret Vyon: A one shot character, played by Nicholas Courtney, who would play the Brigadier. A good character and well played, but a bit too generic.
·         Sara Kingdom: Jean Marsh’s one-shot (and one crucial blaster shot) character starts off wonderfully chilly, all fascistic. She gets warmer as she realises the plot of the story and her demise is very well done.
·         Magic – Mavic Chen (Hartnell fluffs the line that way): A wonderfully urbane and fiendish dictator who provides the taranium (a full emm of it!) that the Daleks need to power the Time Destructor. Kevin Stoney does a great job. Mind you, you don’t notice the “yellowface” on audio.
·         The Time Destructor – the weapon doesn’t get used until the climax; today we’d see some poor schmuck be used as a guinea pig for it.
·         The Daleks – wonderfully potent here; they don’t get killed in silly ways and generally brood menace. I found myself wondering if there are special “radio Daleks” who pass messages on.
·         The Monk: Ultimately just unnecessary.

All in all, this is a very good story, that could have been a true great but for a couple of poor episodes.


I’m planning to get the Lost in Time DVD set. It’s got “The Moonbase” in part audio, part video, so I might well give that a review as well.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Kevin Diamond wins SL Award on Accipter

Kevin 'Zuzutoo' Diamond gets the Ash Leighton Plom SL Best Award Ever for the following post on the Accipiter (an excerpt):

She hoped Tom had a better idea of what to do than she did. She figured out the monitor that showed the woman's heartbeat,
other than that the machines meant little to her. She wasn't trained to be a nurse. She did play an intern on Alderaen General but that was just a bit part for one episode. All she had to say was 'We applied the cortical electrodes, but we were unable to get a neural reaction from either patient.'

GC and TC election voting now open

You should have by now received your ballots for the 2012 General Coordinator and Technical Coordinator election, along with the latest four proposals for votes.

Please ensure we have a high turnout!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

An Baile Ur opens at Phoenix Roleplaying

Robert Longtin's new sim, a recreation of An Baile Ur from his former site, is now open.

The proposal thread is, which has a lot of information in.

Further awards from Ash Leighton Plom

Robert Longtin is awarded the slightly protracted Ash Leighton Plom SL Award for Ironic Timing in a Non-Force Sensitive's Force-Related Joke for Chief Quinok's crack about sensing a disturbance in the Force just when there happened to be a fairly major disturbance, very locally (see my award to Jay in post 50)!

Will Smith gets the GM Ash Leighton Plom Thanks for Playing Along Award for doing exactly what I'd hoped he would with a well-timed reference to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope on the Accipiter.

Nicole Rennolds follows hard on Will's heels with a GM Ash Leighton Plom Punchline Award for finishing the joke. You guys are amazing.

Dave 'Anzac' Anderson just earned the Ash Leighton Plom SL Award for Rocking It And Rocking It Hard for bringing some awesome music to an epic scene in SGB-2 in a style brilliantly congruent with his character.


Jason Wypij Force Jumps to centre stage to collect the Ash Leighton Plom SL Metafictive Award from Princess Leia (despite the metafictive chronological difficulties that would involve).



Two is only better than one for so long (Grand Review: 'Ringer')

I’m a follower of a website called TV By The Numbers, which as the name suggests, analyses TV ratings and predicts which shows will get renewed. Throughout this season, it was predicting that Ringer, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return to television after a fairly long while away, would not be renewed – and so it hasn’t been. Whether this affected by enjoyment of the show one way or another is a matter for the counter-factual history department.


Bridget Kelly (SMG) is a former prostitute and recovering drug addict, due to testify in the murder trial of Wyoming gangster Bodaway Macawi, when she is scared off by a corrupt cop and runs away to her twin sister, Siobhan Martin (also SMG). On a boat trip off the coast of the Hamptons, an upper-class area of New York State, Siobhan apparently kills herself and so Bridget decides to take her identity and her husband Andrew (British actor Ioan Gruffudd), along with step-daughter Juliet. In the process, she discovers that Siobhan has a lot of skeletons in her closest. Also, we learn that Siobhan isn’t actually dead... The door is opened to a tale of a Ponzi scheme, murder and one manipulative step-daughter.


The concept of Ringer is a very good one – in fact, Alfred Hitchcock would like the idea (he may have actually done something like this, I’d need to check). Ms Gellar does a very good job handling the two different roles she is required to play (playing two parts being a tough job for any actor), allowing us to, most of the time, tell who is who solely from her acting. Siobhan’s step-daughter Juliet is a remarkably manipulative character – I’m sure there are real rich girls like that, particularly ones who are only children. Jaime Murray, also British, provides a good supporting role as a dodgy financier.


This plot twists and turns like a bowl of spaghetti; there was clearly considerable planning to get all the balls lined up and most of them do. Some of the revelations are pretty mind-blowing and there is a particularly nice cliff-hanger to one episode that is alas resolved all too quickly.


Unfortunately, the concept isn’t one that can sustain a multi-season series. This would have worked better as a mini-series; the finale wraps up most of the story, but not all of it, as the writers were clearly not sure they would get renewed (good call that), but is arguably a bit rushed. The story was definitely running out of steam, with one lesbian affair and an increasingly genre-blind Bridget (Buffy would never been this stupid). In fact, I found myself getting increasingly impatient with this show.


All in all, a nice idea, but it couldn’t last.



Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Doctor Who Season 7 (1970): Life on Earth

Oh, great, I’m going to get killed by hideously dressed Autons!


Season 7 of Doctor Who saw a batch of changes to the show.


Firstly, it was in colour. Secondly, it had a new Doctor. Thirdly, it took place entirely on present-day-ish Earth, bar one bit. Fourth, it started in winter rather than the traditional autumn.


Before that, though, the inevitable change of production team. Bryant and Sherwin had planned to produce the entire 25-episode seventh season (the shortest one to that point), but after the first two stories, they were reassigned to work on the BBC-ZDF Paul Temple TV series[1]. Barry Letts, who had previously directed “The Enemy of the World”, became the new producer, while Terrance Dicks remained as script editor.


Barry Letts (1925-2009) would become another legend of the show – spending the entire five season tenure of the Third Doctor as producer, working with Terrance Dicks. Together, they would create some of the show’s best moments and introduce some of its finest characters. When Letts died, after a long career that involved producing many classic serials for the BBC, he had “The Waters of Mars” dedicated to him.


Before these two took over though, Bryant and Sherwin would create the Third Doctor, along with a new assistant. The latter was Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw, a UNIT scientist played by Caroline John, who looked up a load of technical terms and then found herself with a script full of technobabble. The only companion never to travel in the TARDIS, Liz was probably too clever to work as a companion (defeating a key component of the role, namely someone to ask the questions the audience are asking) – she only appears in this season, with Letts and Dicks deciding against renewing her contract.


Inspired by the Quatermass serials, they created a scenario where the Doctor would be on Earth and the aliens were coming to them. These four stories were also more adult-orientated (more like Torchwood but without the swearing, nudity or Captain Jack). While they’re all good, they’re not really Doctor Who… our Time Lord is not someone who should be confined to one place and time.


A note on the archival situation – the BBC were at this point continuing to junk the masters, so a lot of the Third Doctor stuff is basically reconversions to PAL from NTSC copies of the PAL originals for the American market, often off-air recordings. The quality is therefore a bit varied, as NTSC uses a lower number of lines than PAL. Some bits are only in black-and-white; various re-colourisation efforts have gone on over the years, with mixed success.


The Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee


Jon Pertwee (1919-1996) was a Royal Navy intelligence officer in the Second World War, who got transferred off HMS Hood three days before it was lost with all bar three of its crew in the Battle of the Denmark Strait in 1941[2]. After the war, he returned to the acting career that he had begun before it.


Pertwee had been best known previously for his role as Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in the BBC radio sitcom The Navy Lark (1959 to 1977), with Bryant and Sherwin expecting him to play the role in a comic manner.


He didn’t. The Third Doctor is a serious, technology loving man with action, who dressed as an Edwardian ‘dandy’, wearing smoking jackets and frilled shirts, quaffing wine with diplomats and generally billing a “citizen of the Universe and a gentleman to boot”[3], a markedly different style to the current incarnation. The straight approach paid dividends – Pertwee’s Doctor is one much loved by fans.


After Who, Pertwee’s next famous role was as scarecrow Worzel Gummidge in the ITV show of the same name that ran from 1979 to 1981, with two more New Zealand produced seasons from 1987 to 1989.


When he died in 1996, the British broadcast of the TV movie was dedicated to his memory.


So, here’s the set-up for Season 7. The Doctor is exiled to Earth in the late 20th century by the Time Lords, who take away his ability to travel in time. He gets a job as scientific advisor to UNIT, who are having to deal with a variety of alien menaces.


Spearhead from Space (4 episodes)


The newly regenerated Doctor arrives on a Earth during a mysterious meteorite shower. As he tries to convince the authorities he is not some crazy guy with two hearts[4], the meteorites go missing – and so do people… For strange things are going on at a plastics factory. Strange and alien things…


The first appearance of the Autons, this Robert Holmes-penned story is an enjoyable opener for the Third Doctor, creating a classic alien species that has popped up a number of times since.


Film vs. Videotape


“Spearhead” has the unique status of being the only serial of the classic run filmed entirely on location using 16mm film, due to a scene-shifters’ strike at the BBC that precluded any studio use. It therefore gives me an opportunity to discuss the unusual way that Doctor Who was filmed from the beginning until the end of Season 22 – along with a lot of BBC drama of all sorts.


Basically, the BBC filmed all their studio scenes with 2-inch quadraplex videotape. The cameras used were large and bulky, suitable for wheeling around a studio floor, but not for lumbering around a quarry (you’ve probably seen pictures of old TV cameras). For location filming, they used more portable, but lower quality, 16mm film cameras (there were some 35mm sequences though).


This therefore results in the interior scenes looking different to the exterior scenes – cleaner and higher quality. It’s something that you get used to after a while – in fact Who fans become very astute at spotting the difference and when a director is playing with the conventions.


You don’t really notice this with the black-and-white stories, by the way – many of the archived copies are “tele-recorded” (i.e. recorded from a projection) 16mm film copies, intended for foreign sale as film is a more universal medium than videotape[5].


The show went entirely to videotape from Season 23 and is now done with hi-def videotape that’s been made to look like film in post-production.


Doctor Who and the Silurians (7 episodes – yes, that is the actual title)


An experimental nuclear research facility is experiencing strange power losses, while its employees are having mental breakdowns. They’ve inadvertently awoken an ancient species, who aren’t entirely happy…


The first story written entirely by ardent left-winger Malcolm Hulke (a man never afraid to put political overtones in his work), the first appearance of Homo reptilia is a classic well-written and highly moral tale about mistrust that features some iconic scenes, particularly one at Marylebone Station in London. The Doctor’s classic


The story also marks the first use in the show of “Colour Separation Overlay” (CSO, known as chroma key outside the BBC), an early form of the vital for sci-fi technology known as ‘green screen’ where both elements, foreground and background, are ‘live’. The CSO in 1970s Doctor Who can be a bit clunky; they were getting to grips with the new technology.


The Ambassadors of Death (7 episodes. This is currently only available in black and white in VHS form, but a re-colourised version is due to be released on DVD, although no date has yet been announced)


Two manned missions to Mars go missing. When the second capsule gets back, its occupants disappear and UNIT discover the capsule is full of radiation…


Probably the least remembered story of Season 7, “Ambassadors” is unfairly ignored – it’s a very good story where things are not what they seem.


Inferno (7 episodes)


UNIT are providing security for a drilling project with the aim of going all way through the Earth’s crust with the aim of getting cheap energy, when a green liquid leaks from the project and turns those who touch it into vicious primeval creatures. That’s the least of the Doctor’s problems, though…


A story where Barry Letts had to step in at short notice to direct after Douglas Camfield (one of the show’s best ever directors) had a heart attack, “Inferno” is a true classic of Doctor Who primarily for the bit of “padding” added to get it to seven episodes - Episodes 3 to 6 primarily involve the Doctor ending up on an alternative Earth where Britain is a fascist dictatorship, featuring all the UNIT regulars in evil versions (the ‘Brigade Leader’ has an eye patch, but no moustache, for example).



During this run, the BBC seriously considered cancelling the show (the ratings were not all that good for “Inferno”, especially at a time when there were only three TV channels[6]) – Letts and Dicks actually started work on a possible replacement before getting the confirmation DW was coming back. Not happy with the current setting, they prepared to give the Doctor a little bit more freedom…


[1]Paul Temple was an amateur private created by the late Francis Durbridge, who worked with his journalist missus to solve fiendish crimes. There have been a number of TV and radio adaptations – this one was apparently the first international TV co-production, with assistance from German broadcaster ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen – Second German Television) allowing for extensive location filming in West Germany.

[2] The ship’s magazines went up from a lucky hit from the German battleship Bismarck, prompting a massive naval chase that led to the German’s sinking. The whole engagement is one of the most famous in the history of the war.

[3]To quote the First Doctor in “The Feast of Steven”, episode 7 of “The Daleks’ Master Plan”.

[4]First time this is mentioned.

[5]Doctor Who Magazine recently did a great two-part series on the foreign sales of early Who.

[6]BBC1, BBC2 and the group of regional broadcasters collectively known as ITV. ITV will be discussed in more depth later on.

Monday, 7 May 2012

April Sim Strength Rankings

Google Docs link

An average of posts for February to April is below:

Average post numbers

Counter-terrorism is back (Grand Review: 'Homeland' Season 1)

Now that Jack Bauer is emoting with ten year old kids, it’s time to call Carrie Mathison!

Based on an Israeli show whose English title is Prisoners of War (alas, I don’t have the time to watch this one), Homeland’s premise revolves around the aftermath of the rescue of US Marine Marcus Brody, played by British actor Damian Lewis, after 8 years in captivity. As Brody struggles to readjust to life with his family, including wife Jess (played by Morena Baccarin from Firefly, who has some pretty fruity scenes in the early episodes), CIA intelligence analyst Carrie Mathison, who is secretly bi-polar, acting on a tip-off from a man about to be executed in Iraq, seeks to find out whether Brody has been in fact turned by terrorist Abu Nazir…

The stage is set for a twisty tale of terrorism, counter-terrorism, betrayal, deceit and general manipulation.

One might, in fact, argue that Homeland is the spiritual successor to 24. It certainly shares an executive producer (Howard Gordon). However, there are a number of differences with the show:
·         The characters here are painted in pastel shades rather than the poster paint of 24.
·         More swearing and nudity. Jack Bauer never used the f-word.
o   US cable operates on less restrictive content rules than network shows. In fact, I’ve started to call HBO “Here’s Breasts Often” and Cinemax “Skinny-max”. This is a Showtime drama and isn’t as bad.
·         There is less magical technology and no appearances of spy satellites whatsoever.
·         The US government is depicted in a lot darker and earthier tones than 24. They’re definitely a fair bit slimier.
·         Characters do not bounce back from near-fatal injuries in twenty minutes flat.
o   This isn’t a real time show, of course.

The good elements of this – an intriguing plot, wonderful performances from Damian Lewis and Claire Danes (Carrie), plus a general sense of realism that 24 at times [At times? – Ed.] lacked. The overall 12-episode run handles the story nicely without overdoing it in terms of length, while elements of the finale reach true greatness.

The bad? Episode lengths are a bit long for my liking, the early nudity is probably overdoing it (I know I’m sounding a bit of a stuck record in this department…) and I find a couple of the key backstory elements a little unconvincing for my liking. Finally, the conclusion left a lot to be desired, even if it worked dramatically. Call it sympathy for a lead character.

Overall – an enjoyable, but over-hyped show, saved from mediocrity by some excellent performances. I’ll be back for Season 2, but they’re going to have to find a very good way to get a certain character back into the action.

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