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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, 19 June 2012

Shaken not Stirred, a history of 007: Part One - the 1950s

First edition cover of Casino Royale



2013 marks the 50th anniversary of a British cultural icon – Doctor Who. It also makes the 60th anniversary of another icon. A man who can be conjured up with a few notes from the theme tune, who has spawned a slew of imitators and reactors the world over. He likes his cars fast, his women beautiful and his villains evil.


The name’s Bond, James Bond.


I’m going to take you on a year-by-year history of the world of 007 and the real-world politics, especially in terms of espionage, that inspired it, skipping the years where not much happened, looking at the movies, the books and the games. Having seen every official Bond movie and read most of the Fleming books at least, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about the subject. Of course, I may get things wrong.


So, let us start from the beginning.


Ian Fleming, the man with the golden typewriter


Ian Fleming (1908-1964) was the son of an MP who died on the Western Front in 1917 and had a privileged upbringing. He attended Eton College and excelled. After that, he failed to get a commission in the Army or into the Foreign Office, so joined Reuters as a news correspondent. He enjoyed it, but decided it wouldn’t make his fortune, so he went to work in the City of London. There he enjoyed the high life of a young bachelor, having a lot of girlfriends or going to gamble at Le Touqet[1] at the weekends. He also liked playing bridge.


When the Second World War began in 1939, Fleming was head hunted for the job of PA to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey (generally held to the inspiration for M) getting the rank of Lieutenant Commander as a result. His Naval Intelligence work included setting up two special operations units and coming up with the initial idea for Operation MINCEMEAT[2], having seen it in a detective novel.


In 1942, he attended a U-boat conference in Jamaica (then a British colony), fell in love with the island and later bought a house there. A house he would call Goldeneye.


Following the war, he became foreign manager for the Kemsley newspaper group that then owned the Sunday Times – a role he continued in until 1959, the company allowing him three months off every year to write his novels once he’d gotten started.




As the 1950s began, the Cold War was just getting started big-time. The USSR had tested its first atomic bomb the year earlier – much earlier than anyone had expected. In fact, they’d garnered much of the information to do it from spying on the Manhattan Project and the spies were being exposed due to the decryption of Soviet intelligence[3] messages under Operation VENONA. With fears of “Reds under the bed”, a whole-scale blacklisting of those with suspected Communist links in Hollywood got under way.


Britain was still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. Its cities were in need of rebuilding, hundreds of thousands were in temporary accommodation, the Olympic Games in London two years earlier had been done very much on the cheap and rationing was still in place, including that British staple of tea.




Two British diplomats, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, disappeared, eventually turning up in Moscow. They’d been spying for Moscow Centre since the 1930s. They avoided capture because of another Soviet mole in British intelligence…




King George VI, the man who’d never planned on becoming monarch of his country, dies after a long period of ill-health. On holiday in Kenya, Princess Elizabeth is informed that she is now Queen Elizabeth II.


While waiting for his marriage to his long-standing girlfriend Anne Rothermere  (who he’d had an affair with during both of her previous marriages), Fleming finally decided to write the spy novel he’d been thinking about doing it for a while. He names the protagonist James Bond after an ornithologist and gets his code number, 007, from a signature used by Elizabethan spy John Dee.




Josef Stalin died after a stroke. In the subsequent power struggle, secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, who favoured closer relations with the West, had the rest of the party leadership turn on him, with the result being his subsequent arrest and execution.


Fleming completed his novel and with the help of his brother, got it published by Jonathan Cape. Three publication runs were required to keep up with demand.


Casino Royale (novel) – the beginning of Bond


The man is only known as Le Chiffre. He’s the treasurer of a French trade union, one controlled by SMERSH[4]. He’s taken a large sum of money from the union and blown it on the sex industry (which the government have clamped down on), so he has to get the money back through a high-stakes game of baccarat in a French casino – or die at the hands of SMERSH. James Bond’s mission; to make sure he loses.


Royale, which I re-read as the 2006 film approached, is a rather different kettle of fish to most of the rest of the canon; it’s a lot more small-scale than some of the films or even Fleming’s later work – only the second half of the film is really an adaptation of this novel. This isn’t to say it’s not highly enjoyable and the ending is pretty shocking – especially Bond’s reaction to it.




The Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll produced a much bigger than expected yield of 15 megatons. Radioactive contamination was widespread in the local area, most notably among the crew of a Japanese fishing vessel.


Fleming’s second novel had been written before Casino Royale was published. When it came out in April 1954, it too was a big success.


Live and Let Die (novel) – OK, this one hasn’t dated well


Bond is sent to New York City to investigate Mr Big, notorious Harlem criminal and SMERSH operative. As he does so, he is drawn into a dark world of voodoo and enters waters that are shark-infested: literally.


Any discussion of the Fleming novels must note that the attitudes expressed by many characters, including Bond himself, are not exactly politically correct. LaLD is the most stand-out example. The title of Chapter Five contains a certain word beginning with “N” and got changed for the US release, while the black characters here have their speech rendered phonetically in what was meant to an attempt at atmosphere but just comes across as patronising. To be honest, Fleming was probably about as prejudiced as most of British society at this point.


All this said, the book is a decent thriller (one notable review from The Observer – “Don’t blame me if you have a stroke!”) and a couple of key sequences were lifted for use in other Bond films.


The year would also see the first adaptation of a James Bond novel – for the small screen. Fleming sold the rights to Royale separately to the later books and this would have its own profound effect on the history of the series.


Casino Royale (TV) – the Climax! Episode


CBS paid Fleming $1,000 for him to adapt his first novel into a 48-minute drama (an hour with ad breaks included), which was broadcast live (yes, live) on the Climax! anthology series in . The adaptation, starring Barry Nelson as an American Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, changes quite a few things, including the ending. It went largely unnoticed at the time, then got lost until 1981, when a copy missing the ending showed up. The final bit was later found, but most video releases, including as an extra on the DVD release of the 1967 version, don’t have it…




The Eastern bloc countries signed the Warsaw Treaty, creating the military alliance known as the Warsaw Pact.


Another year, another novel…


Moonraker (novel) – No Space Trip for you, Mr Bond


M asks Bond to join him for a game of bridge with industrialist Sir Hugo Drax, who he suspects is cheating at cards and wonders why. Drax is giving the UK a free nuclear missile system[5], but strange things are going at the base in Kent, with a security officer being killed and so Bond is sent undercover to investigate. Is Drax all he seems?


Another good one – better than the film, with a couple of nice twists at the end and a suitable (if highly destructive) demise for the villain.


John Payne and Rank both attempted to make this into a film at the time, nothing came of it.




An uprising against Communist rule in Hungary was brutally put down by Warsaw Pact forces, with Soviet leader Khrushchev also declaring to the West that “we will bury you” (meaning that communism would outlast capitalism, but the phrase was taken by many as a threat). Meanwhile, Britain and France made a secret agreement with Israel for the latter to invade Egypt, allowing them to stop in as a “peacekeeping force” and take control of the Suez Canal, recently nationalised by pro-Soviet leader Colonel Nasser. International outcry from both superpowers forced the withdrawal of forces and swiftly brought down British Prime Minister Anthony Eden.


Bob Holness, later host of quiz show Blockbusters, played Bond in a South African radio adaptation of Moonraker.


Diamonds Are Forever (novel) – quality needs to be maintained


Bond travels to the US to track down a diamond smuggling ring, a journey that takes him to Las Vegas.


Probably one of the weaker Bond novels – I read it quite late on – the book is largely set in the US and gets a bit clichéd at times.




The USSR launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, a move that took the Americans by complete surprise. The public feared that this launch, using a converted ICBM, meant the Soviets could now launch a nuclear weapon anywhere on the planet – in reality their missile force was still limited in numbers and capability.


Fleming published his first work of non-fiction, The Diamond Smugglers, based on research he did for Diamonds Are Forever. It got middling reviews, but his novel would not…


From Russia, with Love (novel)


SMERSH, smarting from their defeats by Bond, decide to kill him. Shooting him isn’t enough – they want to make sure he dies in a sex scandal that embarrasses the Secret Service[7]… So, they use a pretty girl and a cipher machine as bait for 007.


I recently re-read this novel and it’s still a classic tale of espionage. Fleming’s research was extensive, most notably in the culinary department[8] and the brilliantly paced story wonderfully evokes a lost period of time. Remember for most people in the UK, plane travel was a luxury beyond their means.




The US and Canada created NORAD.


CBS asked Fleming to look at writing a Bond TV series. The thing ultimately fell through, but Fleming got a couple of outlines down and used them for later short stories. Fleming also published his sixth Bond novel


Dr. No (novel)


Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two Secret Service staff. As he does so, he discovers the activities of the metal-handed villain Dr. Julius No…


This one got a lot of negative reviews at the time, with accusations of Fleming being basically sadomasochistic[9], although it’s tame by modern standards. Personally, I found this one quite good.


Couple of key changes got made for the film – for one thing, in this Dr. No (who Fleming based on Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu[10]) is buried alive in bird droppings.




Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, overthrowing the pro-US government. Nikita Khrushchev made the first visit of a Soviet leader to the US.


The Daily Express, a British newspaper, started doing a comic-book adaptation of Fleming’s novels. I’ve “read” some of these, which have been published in compilation form – they’re quite good.


Goldfinger (novel)


James Bond, after catching the man cheating at cards with the aid of an attractive female assistant, is sent to investigate Auric Goldfinger, who is suspected of smuggling gold[11] out of the UK and working for SMERSH. Little does Bond know how just much Goldfinger loves gold…


An instant bestseller with far better reviews than the previous novel, Goldfinger contains some wonderful scenes, some of which got into the film and others that didn’t. It also contains a rather preposterous grand plan that involves an idea to blow up the vault of Fort Knox with a tactical nuke.


This one also got Fleming into a bit of legal trouble. He named people in the books after real people he knew, in this case architect Ernő Goldfinger, whose architecture Fleming took particular exception too. Goldfinger found this out and sued, at which point Fleming threatened to change the name of his villain to something ruder. The matter was settled out of court.


As the Cold War turned hotter and 1960 began, Fleming was now a best-selling author, but a film adaptation had yet to get anywhere. That would soon change. For an Italian-American film producer by the name of Albert R. Broccoli was about to enter the Bond story.

[1]An upper class resort in the Pas-de-Calais region of Northern France.

[2]A scheme that successfully diverted German forces to Crete shortly before the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, MINCEMEAT basically involved procuring the body of a homeless man from a morgue and dressing him up as a Royal Marines Major, with false papers in his pocket and carrying dispatches relating to the fake invasion plan, then dropping him into the sea off the coast of neutral Spain, where the information would eventually find its way into the hands of German intelligence.

[3]Soviet intelligence was split between the military GRU and the “civilian” organisation that went through a number of names before finally ending up as the KGB in 1954. From here on in, I’m going to refer to the latter organisation as Moscow Centre, the term used in John Le Carré’s novels and also in house.

[4]A Russian acronym for “SMERt' SHpionam” or “death to spies”, SMERSH really existed, but was far smaller than Fleming suggested and only operated as an independent organisation during the war.

[5]The UK’s nuclear deterrent at this point was bomber-based (such as with the Avro Vulcan), although 60 American Thor intermediate-range ballistic missiles were deployed in the country at above ground sites under dual-key arrangements, with the RAF controlling the missiles and the USAF the warheads, from 1959 to 1963 as a temporary measure until the US ICBM force came fully on-line.

[6]An attempt at a British land-based system called Blue Streak was ultimately cancelled due to cost and concerns about vulnerability to a Soviet first strike, as the missiles took five minutes to fuel, could not be held fuelled for long periods and putting them in silos was a political no-no due to lack of suitable places on the relatively crowded UK mainland.


The RAF then looked at buying Skybolt air-launched ballistic missiles, but multiple test failures and Robert McNamara’s opposition to bombers led to that programme being axed. In the end, the Royal Navy got Polaris missiles from the US, with UK warheads, mounted in British submarines – these have now been replaced by Trident. A tactical nuke capability remained until 1998.

[7]The Secret Intelligence Service is called the Secret Service in Fleming’s novels. MI6 has never been its official name (although it was used as a "flag of convenience") and the organisation was not officially acknowledged as existing until 1994.

[8]A contribution, it might be said, to his early death.

[9]He was apparently into that sort of thing, but that’s beside the point.

[10]The most famous/infamous of the (now pretty much defunct due to changing views) “Yellow Peril” villains.

[11]The world currency system at this time worked on a gold standard, with most currencies fixed against the US dollar, which in turn could get you a set amount of gold ($35 for an ounce). Known as the “Bretton Woods” system, this system ran from 1946 to 1971, when balance of payments and deficit issues caused by the Vietnam War led to the USA going off the gold standard unilaterally, resulting in the system collapsing and currencies “floating”.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Doctor Who Season 11 (1973/4): The Scoop of Her Life

Two much missed legends


There would be a number of departures in this 26-episode season. UNIT would cease to be a regular part of the Doctor’s life; (while they appear in three stories here, they would only appear in one the following season) with Richard Franklin bowing out as Mike Yates.


Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks[1] both decided to move on to pastures new – Letts would produce the first story of Season 12 to allow a transition (“Robot” being a UNIT story), while Dicks would continue Who-related work in a number of forms, most notably Target novelizations (in all he wrote 64 of them).


With Katy Manning already gone, the production team changing, Roger Delgado dead and with his salary increase request declined by the BBC, Jon Pertwee, at that point the longest serving Doctor to date, chose to make this season his last as well.


There were new arrivals too. Firstly, the show got a new title sequence. The “time-tunnel” sequence, created by Bernard Lodge utilising an effect called slit-scan, was inaugurated and would last through Season 17, albeit with a minor change after this season, along with a new diamond-shaped logo called the “diamond logo” by fans[2].


The other new arrival would become much-loved by fans for the rest of her life and beyond.


Sarah Jane Smith – the definitive companion


On the evening of 19 April 2011, the news broke that Elisabeth Sladen had died. It wrecked my entire evening and that of hundreds of thousands of others – very few had known that she was even ill. Her death from cancer at the age of only 65 was national news and the story on BBC children’s news website Newsround reporting it attracted thousands of tributes from her younger fans who had seen her both in the main show and spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. When “The Impossible Astronaut” aired four days later, a tribute card appeared before the episode started and a dedicated special was shown on the CBBC children’s channel – a repeat of her final story as a regular, “The Hand of Fear”, also aired on digital channel BBC4.


“Lis” Sladen, born in Liverpool in 1946, started off in repertory theatre as a stage manager who got herself acting roles by making deliberate mistakes as the former. She met her husband Brian Miller when while she was playing her first stage role as a corpse, his doctor character whispered "Respiration nil, Aston Villa two"[3] into her ear and made her spontaneously giggle (something that is known in the business as ‘corpsing’). A number of theatre and television roles followed, including a brief stint as a barmaid on Granada’s very long-running (51 years so far) soap opera Coronation Street.


Lis was not in fact the first choice for the new companion. Another actor called April Walker was cast by Letts without consulting Pertwee. The two didn’t get on and so Walker was quietly let go, being paid an entire season’s fee, with Letts using her in a 1975 production of The Prince and the Pauper by way of an apology[4].


The next set of auditions, with Pertwee approving of the choice and with Sladen at the time not knowing she was up for the role of the new companion, resulted in her casting.


Sarah Jane (although the Doctor himself usually called her “Sarah”) Smith, who would appear for three and a half seasons as a regular, was an investigative journalist and intended to be a card-carrying feminist at the time that Women’s Lib was prominent on both sides of the pond – but ultimately became a far more well-developed character. While definitely not a Buffy (Sladen could scream and get captured like the best of them), Sarah Jane’s toughness, good humour and compassion made her a winning character – while not my personal favourite companion, she’s definitely one of my top three. Sarah Jane also had a marked penchant for ending up hypnotised by baddies or the Doctor to the point it became a running gag and, odd cases (“Andy Pandy”[5] outfit from “The Hand of Fear” for example) aside, rivalling the two Romanas in the fashion department.


After her main stint on the show, Sladen (who as many noted, never seemed to really age) did a variety of other work before going into semi-retirement after her daughter Sadie was born in 1985. She played Sarah Jane on a number of other occasions, including a lot of audios, before reappearing, after initial reservations, in the Season 28 story “School Reunion”, which led to the CBBC spin-off already mentioned. This ran for five seasons – production of the show was halted during season five due to her illness and then ended due to her death, with the three completed episodes being aired in October 2011 to close the series.

A quick note – from here on in, story components were referred to on screen as “Part X” rather than “Episode X”. I’ll stick to using episode and part interchangeably.


The Time Warrior (4 parts)


UNIT are investigating the disappearance of scientists from a top secret facility. The Doctor determines that they’ve been taken to the Middle Ages and takes the TARDIS with him, not realising that a journalist has stowed away on board… When they arrive, they discover an alien warrior who is kidnapping the scientists to repair his spaceship and introducing technology that shouldn’t be present at that time.


The first story featuring the militaristic clone race called the Sontarans (or rather one Sontaran - this clip from part one shows the first appearance of one), Robert Holmes got asked by Dicks to write the first historically set story since Season 5[6] and created the creatures as a result – framing his storyline pitch as a communication between two of them as a relief from boredom. The result is an enjoyable, humorous romp, with Pertwee on fine form – the Doctor’s home world of Gallifrey is named for the first time here.


The Sontarans would make three further appearances in the classic era and have turned up in the new as well. As with the Autons, the Holmes estate partly owns these and so Bob Holmes is credited when they appear – also they appeared in a number of non-BBC video productions due to the then licensing rules about creatures not were not part of the original commission.


Invasion of the Dinosaurs (6 parts, Part One only available in black-and-white[7])


Returning to Earth, the Doctor and Sarah Jane land in a deserted London, where dinosaurs are on the loose. It’s all part of a wider conspiracy, that involves a key UNIT member…


Remembered as the one with the dodgy dinosaurs, Malcolm Hulke’s final story[8] was script edited by Robert Holmes (not credited) and actually contains some decent stuff in here. It’s just the dinosaurs, which were used sparingly, badly distract from it.


Death to the Daleks (4 parts)


The Doctor and Sarah Jane are en route for a holiday when a power drain forces them to land on the planet Exxilion, home to a rare mineral that can cure a plague and a bunch of hostile locals, where they have to form an uneasy alliance with a group of humans… and a group of Daleks…


“Death to the Daleks” gets mixed reviews, while Nicholas Briggs, current voice of the Daleks, loves it, others aren’t so sure. There’s some nice visuals here, but Terry Nation’s story is clichéd and some bad editing to deal with an over-running episode results in a very poor cliff-hanger to Part Three. Personally can’t remember much of this one.


The Monster of Peladon (6 parts)


The time travellers arrive on Peladon 50 years after the Doctor’s last visit, where a labour dispute between the government and trisilicate miners is being exacerbated by random, deadly appearances of the miners’ deity…


This sequel to “The Curse of Peladon” sees the Ice Warriors turn up for the last time – they’ve yet to make another appearance – and attempts, unsuccessfully to do a metaphor on miners’ strikes. It really suffers from a bad case of sequelitus.


Planet of the Spiders (6 parts)


In “The Green Death”, the Doctor made a brief visit to the planet Metebelis III where he “acquired” a crystal, that he gave to Jo as a wedding present. Now a race of giant spiders want the crystal back so they can dominate the universe.


A bit of a disappointing finale to the Third Doctor’s tenure really – it’s padded and the Brigadier gets some awful material in this, although a certain UNIT character gets some good development after his actions in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”. The contemporary audience research reports from the BBC generally hold the view that the story was merely tolerated.


At the end of this story, the Third Doctor receives a lethal dose of radiation when defeating the creatures – something he knew he would probably get. With a help from a Time Lord buddy, he regenerates into his fourth incarnation… The full regeneration scene can be found here. This is the first time the term “regenerate” is used and the Brig’s handling of having to deal with this again is wonderful.

All in all, ratings were a bit down on Season 10, averaging 8.72 million. Still very good, of course. One notes that today in the US this would be clocking a rating figure of well over 12, far higher than anything currently broadcasting in the country.


Pertwee’s successor, glimpsed briefly in the final shot of “Spiders”, was Tom Baker. Letts and Dicks were seriously considering casting an elderly actor in the role and created a younger male character (Harry Sullivan) to handle the action scenes, but in the end went for Baker.[9]


The Fourth Doctor – Tom Baker


Close your eyes and think of the Doctor. You might think of a grinning man with a long scarf and curly hair. The legacy of the Fourth Doctor has lasted for over three decades and until David Tennant arrived, he was easily the most popular of the Doctors – especially among Americans. Jon Culshaw frequently did him for the radio and TV versions of Dead Ringers, a British impressions show, including prank calls to Sylvester McCoy and Baker himself, even doing his voice for a small bit in a Big Finish Fifth Doctor story called “The Kingmaker”.


Tom Baker (1934-present[10]) was born in Liverpool. Leaving school at fifteen (as was allowed then), he spent six years as a monk before leaving the monastic life and joining the Merchant Navy, then going into acting. He got his break playing Rasputin in the 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandra, with a role as an evil sorcerer in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad resulting in his casting as the Fourth Doctor. This came at a good time for him – a number of roles had fallen through due to the relevant films being cancelled in quick succession, with Baker working on a building site to pay the bills.


Tom Baker’s Doctor was very much an extension of his own eccentric self. With a penchant for strange jokes, flippancy in the face of most danger (you can tell it’s really serious when he stops joking) and a loving for jelly babies, he was fully capable of fury as well. His eccentric costume, most notably the scarf (one version of which was 24 feet long!) stands out in a crowd. Much loved by the public, spending a record seven seasons in the role and careful to maintain a positive image for his fans (he never drank alcohol or smoked in public while in the role), Baker also acquired a reputation among the cast and crew for being difficult to work with – which is partly true.


Upon leaving the show, he had a brief marriage to Lalla Ward (who played Romana II alongside him) – both have remarried. A large number of TV roles and voice acting gigs have followed since, although Baker was a lot more reluctant to reprise his role than the others – he didn’t do the audio productions until three years ago.

A new Doctor with a somewhat new companion were on the TARDIS, as the show went into new and darker territory…

[1]Who were this season also working on a hard science-fiction series for the BBC called Moonbase 3 that only ran for six episodes; being a ratings and critical failure.

[2]Although the diamond background was commonly omitted from merchandise. The Pertwee era logo before this one is, in a modified form, the now standard “classic” logo, as used on DVD releases.

[3]Football results are announced on the BBC’s “final score” section in this sort of way.

[4]While it was known there had been another “Sarah Jane” for many years, Walker’s identity was only discovered in 2011 when David Brunt, doing research for the DVD info text for “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, chanced open her name.

[5]A British children’s marionette.

[6]Holmes was not happy with being given this particular set of instructions. As “payback”, Holmes as script editor gave Dicks the requirement to set a story in a lighthouse, which became Season 15’s “The Horror of Fang Rock”.

[7]While the first episode had the on-screen title of “Invasion” to disguise the fact that the dinosaurs were turning up (which the advance publicity revealed anyway) a popular fan theory that the master tape got confused with Season 6’s “The Invasion” and wiped as a result has nothing to actually back it up. While the BBC were still wiping masters at this point, quite how this one got wiped and the rest of this story didn’t remains a mystery.


The recent DVD release of this story saw an attempt to re-colourise this episode, but the results were disappointing and the end product was relegated to a DVD extra.

[8]He worked on the novelizations after this until his death in 1979.

[9]This kind of thing happened with the Eleventh Doctor. Steven Moffat stated he was looking at a Doctor in his 40s and ended up casting 26 year old Matt Smith, the youngest Doctor ever.

[10]Baker, who has noted he is probably statistically speaking, the next Doctor to die, has already purchased his gravestone and gotten it partly engraved.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Rostock update

I'm doing a ship render of the Rostock-class command carriers used by Wallenstein in Google SketchUp.

Here's the latest progress (still rough), with a Firefly for size comparison:

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Doctor Who Season 10 (1972/3): Back in the Black

The dandy and the clown, saving the universe

The tenth season of the show saw Jon Pertwee continue as the Doctor, the production team remain in place and Katy Manning continue as Jo Grant until departing at the end of the season. It almost saw the show get a new version of the theme tune as well.

The theme tune had under minor changes during the show’s history, but Brian Hodgson, Paddy Kingsland and Delia Derbyshire created a new version on a EMS Synthi 100 analogue synthesiser (a thing the size of two double wardrobes), dubbed “Delaware” after the road in the London area of Maida Vale that was home to the Radiophonic Workshop. The theme, called the “Delaware” version as well, wasn’t liked by BBC execs, who decided to keep the current theme – but not before it had ended up by mistake on a few episode copies sold to Australia[1].

There would be other changes though – the Doctor’s exile would be ended for services rendered in “The Three Doctors”, allowing him to move freely in space and time. Therefore UNIT began to appear less in the show – only twice in this 26-episode run.

The first episode of this season aired on 30 December 1972; hence the two years listed in the subject of this post.

The Three Doctors (4 episodes)

Time itself is in danger and the Time Lords realise this is a job too big for one Doctor…

The show’s tenth anniversary story, although airing nowhere near the anniversary date (the nearest story to that is actually the following season’s “The Time Warrior”), this is an enjoyable little tale – although the costumes get a bit dodgy at times. All three Doctors appear here, although William Hartnell’s role is limited to appearing on a monitor as he was too ill to do anything except read cue cards – it would be his final acting job before his death in 1975.

Treat this as a Christmas panto and you’ll enjoy it.

Carnival of Monsters (4 episodes)

Taking the TARDIS for a spin now he is free from his exile, the Doctor and Jo arrive on a cargo ship. Or so they think to begin with, as strange events occur, they actually learn they are in an alien peepshow…

A light-hearted and witty tale by Robert Holmes, this story also  features Ian Marter, who had gone for the role of Mike Yates but to pull out, who would later play Harry Sullivan, companion to the Fourth Doctor.

Frontier In Space (6 episodes)

The Doctor and Jo arrive in 2540, where the empires of Earth and Draconia are on the brink of war, accusing each other of attacks on their ships, which are in reality being carried out by Ogrons (mercenaries who worked for the Daleks in “Day of the Daleks”). Accused of being spies for Draconia, the time travellers learn that the real person behind the situation is none other than a certain bearded Time Lord.

Roger Delgado’s final appearance before his tragic death (there’s a wonderful bit where he’s seen reading H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds; even super villains like to have a read), Malcolm Hulke’s “Frontier” is a plot-heavy space opera with a big surprise at the end; I enjoyed this one considerably. In fact, more than one reviewer has noted the similarity between this one and a war in Babylon 5. Ratings were overall a bit lower than “Carnival”, though.

Planet of the Daleks (6 episodes)

The Doctor is seriously injured – having been shot by the Master. He and Jo arrive on the planet Spiridon, where they encounter one thing worse than Daleks. Invisible Daleks.

The conclusion of a short arc started in “Frontier” (the initial plan was for one twelve-parter, in fact), this story, Terry Nation’s first for the show since 1965, is to a great extent a re-do of Season 1’s “The Daleks”, even including Thals. All round good, but contains some very obvious toy Daleks in a couple of shots and some continuity howlers.

The Green Death (6 episodes)

UNIT investigate a mysterious death at a Welsh mine, where the body is glowing green. Are Global Chemicals responsible for this and an infestation of giant maggots?

Primarily remembered for the giant maggots (some of them being inflated condoms), this ecology-themed story also gets a bit patronising on the Welsh[2]. That said, there is some great stuff here and the final scene with the Doctor quietly slipping away from Jo’s engagement party[3], driving off into the distance, is very moving.

Jo’s departure concluded another successful season for the show – which averaged 8.87 million viewers, about half a million up from Season 9.

The Doctor wouldn’t be alone for long though. Dr. John Smith was about to meet Miss Sarah Jane Smith.

[1]ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in Australia was a popular first overseas sale destination for serials – for a start, ABC could pay the bulk of the residual fees that needed to go to the performers and crew, making other sales cheaper – and the show has had a long popularity Down Under, as well as in its own way contributing to the making of the show by providing some of its crew members, such as incidental music composer Dudley Simpson. Today, it is still broadcast only a couple of weeks after the UK airing and in prime time as well. More than a few lost episodes have turned up down here, as well as clips from others that were cut by Australian censors. The popularity of the show there was the basic motivation for Tegan Jovanka, of whom more later.
[2]BBC Wales now produces the show!
[3]She’s marrying Professor Clifford Jones (played here by Stewart Bevan, then Manning’s RL boyfriend), who she meets here – they would have seven children.

Monday, 11 June 2012

France 1-1 England

A just deserved draw - France dominated most of the game. Need to have those ice vests for our next game.

As for the ref... let's not get him again.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

'Castle' 4.14: "The Blue Butterfly"

Just a quick review.
Got to say that this film noir based episode is my favourite of Season 4 so far. Just wish we had more of the very good PI stuff, which I am sure the cast enjoyed doing, as the end of the episode dragged a bit.
Also saw one twist a mile off, but no-one really watches this for the cases.

Friday, 8 June 2012

All the Universe is a Stage (Review: 'Doctor Who', "The Crusade")

The Doctor sees great things ahead for Julian Glover…


Five minutes into a Doctor Who and a bunch of knights are discussing a situation in clear diction with flowing words. I think: I’ve walked into a Shakespeare play.


The second part of my classic Who watch/listen/read saw a change of plan as I decided to watch the stories on the Lost in Time DVD in broadcast order. This meant “The Crusade” comes first, way before “The Moonbase”.


“The Daleks’ Master Plan” was directed by Douglas Camfield. Watching the first episode of this, I see the director is… Douglas Camfield…


Anyway… this story, broadcast from 27 March to 17 April 1965, is from Season 2 of the first run and only two episodes (the first and the third) of four[1] survive in video form, or rather 16mm film print. Episode 1, “The Lion”, only turned up in 1999 after being found in Bruce Grenville’s film collection. In fact, it’s the only incomplete story from Season 2, a time that the show was in one of its early peaks of popularity, averaging 10.4 million viewers over the run – this story itself averaged 9.4.


The DVD includes audio of episodes 2 and 4, as well as filmed links from the VHS release by William Russell[2] in character as an old Ian Chesterton, which puts one comment from The Sarah Jane Adventures regarding him in the questionable pile.


So, cast your mind back to the spring of 1965. Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the US were just starting to get involved in Vietnam and the British public had only three TV channels. You finish watching Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon and then the next programme starts…


You’re watching the adventures of two schoolteachers who were abducted by an eccentric alien when they went to investigate the strange behaviour of his granddaughter (who he later threw off the ship) travelling with an orphaned young lady – will the teachers ever get home? What scary things will they encounter next? Daleks? Vikings? More weird ants [3]?

The story opens with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki landing in a forest just outside Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv) in 1190. A skirmish between Englishmen and Saracens breaks out, which results in Barbara being abducted. The other three go to help the wounded and run into King Richard I, getting caught up in politics as they try to get their companion back…


Title Sequence


The moment the first bit of white emerges from the bottom of the screen and the Delia Derbyshire arrangement of the theme kicks in, you know this is a title sequence unlike anything else airing on TV then or really now. Video feedback is not something most people would think of using as a basis for a title sequence at any time. The theme itself from the first 17 seasons of the show is pretty eerie - in fact, some even found the white-noise-using tune scary.


The Hartnell era title sequence doesn’t go like the later era ones or today’s version. Instead of Doctor’s face, show title, story title, writer and episode, we get the show title only, then the music fades out much earlier than today. There’s a brief bit of action, then we get a musical sting with the episode title (no on-screen story title then) and the writer appearing as captions on the screen; which explains why it was that on the audio release of “Master Plan”. It’s interesting, but I do prefer the later title sequences.




Unfortunately the BBC make a big mistake here by only including the raw audio of the two missing episodes – this results in the final bits of episodes 2 and 4 essentially being a loud of sound effects, so I had to look up the various episode endings; however, the linking narrations from Russell really help things here. Also, you’ve got to love the Radiophonic Workshop’s sound effects and Dudley Simpson’s incidental music.




The 90-minutes or so of plot could today fill a 45-minute episode with its faster pacing. The story itself, a “pure historical” with no aliens at all, is a fairly lightweight one, a sort of Saturday afternoon serial kind of tale that while having a clever thing or two to say about prejudice, is ultimately a bit forgettable. David Whitaker, while doing nine stories for the show, never really produced a true classic, but then again, never produced a clunker.


That said, the climax is a rather good one, with Ian, who has managed to get himself knighted, using said position to rescue the Doctor.


Direction and staging


Douglas Camfield’s direction, particularly during a fight scene in “The Lion” between Ian and a Saracen is good. The pacing of the opening skirmish is en par with the modern show, but unfortunately Camfield has to work with an older-style camera set up and set design. I’ll explain…


Multiple-camera set ups these days are largely limited to sitcoms when it comes to TV fiction. Not so back in the 1960s – Doctor Who’s studio scenes for much of its first run were largely done with multiple cameras, as indeed was most British television drama done in studio. This, combined with a “three-wall set” and a cast that has largely learned their trade treading the boards who play this like they’re in a massive theatre, combines to make watching “The Crusade” rather watching a play broadcast live – the camera isn’t quite in focus as episode three starts. While Doctor Who never went out live, it was recorded “as live”, complete here with rather sharp camera changes – I was reminded of Britain’s Got Talent. After listening to “The Warlords” (it’s a pity the sequence with Ian and a bunch of ants doesn’t survive), I watched episode 2 of “Master Plan” and the freer camera stuff and better design allows Camfield to do a much better job.


This one is entirely done in studio (at Ealing and Riverside Studios in Hammersmith[4]), even the outdoors scenes. The matte backdrops are noticeable, but you have to look for it.


The regulars


William Hartnell hmms away nicely here, but also demonstrates some good flashes of anger at times. One interesting thing he does here is steal contemporary clothes from a shopkeeper, justifying it on the grounds that the guy has already stolen them. That is pretty Doctorish.


Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki is, well, not all that good – there are far better companions from this era. If you listen, you notice the slight Liverpudlian lilt to her voice – these days the accent would be a lot clearer[5].


Jacqueline Hill’s Barbara Wright has a rough time of it. The poor history teacher gets abducted in episode one and not really rescued until episode 4, with villain of the piece El Akir wanting to make her a member of his harem. The cliff-hanger to “The Wheel of Fortune” [One can’t help but think of the game showEd.] sees El Akir basically threatening her with a great deal of unpleasantness and then in the following episode, in effect allowing his guards to rape her, although she’s rescued before that can happen to her. You just would not have a scene with that happening to Amy today, no way. Full credit to Hill, who gives a good performance – the terror on her face is clear when El Akir threatens her.


William Russell’s Ian does very well in this serial; he only appears in a bit of “Wheel” as Russell was on holiday, but his other stuff is very well done. An unfairly forgotten companion, that’s all I’ll say.


The guest cast


The English characters are reasonably well done and include Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom in “Master Plan”) as Joanna, Richard’s sister, who plays a key part in the plot.


Most standout of all is Julian Glover, just turning 30 at this point. Glover’s performance as a volatile Richard the Lionheart was in the early part of a long career, mostly playing villains, that has seen him grace this show twice and appear in Star Wars, Indiana Jones and James Bond – he’s most recently turned up in Game of Thrones[6].


We come to the other side and walk into a problem that proves very distracting, especially in “The Lion”. Basically, all the Arabs are played by English actors… most of them “blacked-up” (a couple of actually black extras can be seen though). “Blackface” continued well into the 1970s on British television – The Black and White Minstrel Show springs horribly to mind here, as does It Ain’t Half Hot Mum[7] – Doctor Who was guilty of it on more than one go. The serial only gets off with a caution as the Saracens are, mostly, sympathetic characters, particularly Saladin. All this said, Ibrahim, a petty criminal, is a walking cliché with bad accent to boot. While this story was sold abroad, it was never offered to the Middle East for, arguably justified, fear of causing offence.




The “pure historicals” didn’t really last past Season 4 – I can see why. The first two episodes drag badly and while things get better later on, there’s a lot better stuff from Hartnell out there. Even leaving the “blackface” out of it, I can only give this:




[1]In order, they’re called: “The Lion”, “The Knight of Jaffa”, “The Wheel of Fortune” and “The Warlords”.

[2]Russell, now 88, is still with us and might be the oldest living companion actor.

[3] “The Web Planet”, which aired before this.

[4]The main, but by no means exclusive home of the show for Seasons 2 to 4. BBC Television Centre at White City was also used, as it would be extensively from 1964 to 1989. Lime Grove got used for much of the black-and-white era as well – most of the first season was done there.

[5]Tom Baker, Lis Sladen and Paul McGann all hailed from Liverpool, but none allowed the distinctive accent full reign like Craig Charles in Red Dwarf.

[6]At that rate that show’s going, most of Equity will turn up sooner or later – Ed.

[7]BBC sitcom (1974-1981), created by renowned pairing Jimmy Croft and David Perry, revolving around the misadventures of a concert troupe in India during the Second World War. One of the key Indian characters is played by a blacked-up English actor, although in the show’s defence, he was born in the country, was partly of Indian ancestry and spoke fluent Urdu, at a time when big name South Asian actors were limited in the UK. This particular decision has contributed to the show being repeated a great deal less than Croft and Perry’s other works like Allo! Allo!, which for its part, breaks out the national stereotypes on everyone equally.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

2011 Awards

Player of the Year goes to Kevin Diamond. His various characters in multiple sims such as Greenleaf, Atlantis, and Fighter Ops are consistently well played.

Sim of the Year goes to The West Star. Quality play and consistent posting have made this the top sim for 2011.

Sim Leader/Assistant SL of the Year goes to Jason Andersen. For keeping our only Star Trek sim going and reviving our Mass Effect sim, but also is ASL for 7 other sims.

GM of the Year goes to Amanda Bond. For being the only GM to create a video to make certain all her players understood the situation, and for her ability to GM a character whose player is on LOA with the same style and mannerisms as the player would.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Doctor Who Season 9 (1972): Intergalactic Yo-Yo

Back – for the first time in colour!


Season 9 was one of remarkable stability in the show’s history. There were no changes in the production team or the regular cast. With the new formula proving to be a ratings and critical success, Letts and Dicks saw no real reason to change it. That said, the Master would appear less, as would the UNIT characters. There would be more trips away from Earth – the Doctor could leave in the TARDIS on missions for the Time Lords, but they’d always send him back to Earth when he was done – making him, as he put it in “The Claws of Axos”, an intergalactic yo-yo.


Letts and Dicks had planned to move on at the end of the ninth production block, which would actually include Season 10’s “Carnival of Monsters”, but the BBC were so happy with their performance, they were asked to stay on.


To open the 26-episode season (one episode longer than Season 8), they decided on a nice publicity-grabbing gimmick. It was time to bring an old monster back…



Day of the Daleks (4 episodes)


The organiser of a crucial peace conference is attacked in the stately home that is hosting the event by a guerrilla who then mysteriously vanishes into thin air. UNIT, who are providing security, later find the guy unconscious in the grounds. Then his mates show up – carrying futuristic ray guns. They’ve come from two centuries in the future, where the Daleks rule Earth…


A timey-wimey fan favourite of Season 9, this Louis Marks idea got the Daleks added in fairly late by Robert Sloman (Terry Nation, who had commitments on The Persuaders![1], allowed someone else to write their first appearance since Season 4 provided he had script approval and a creator’s credit[2]). That said, the BBC only had three complete Daleks to hand and could only use two for the final battle scene. Subsequently, when the DVD release came out last year, 2 entertain[3] arranged for new footage to be shot with more Daleks in.


The Curse of Peladon (4 episodes)


The Doctor and Jo take a test flight in the TARDIS, landing on the planet of Peladon. When a storm causes the ship to fall off a cliff while they’re outside, the two seek shelter in a citadel, where they are promptly mistaken for delegates from Earth assessing the planet’s application to join the Galactic Federation.


A pretty good tale with a surprise twist on the Ice Warriors and the Doctor dealing with a beast by singing a lullaby to it, it’s generally held that this story is an allegory, intentional or not, about the United Kingdom’s accession to the then European Economic Community[4]. It was domestic politics, though, that caused a significant rating drop for episode 3 and 4 – a seven week miners’ strike that resulted in domestic power cuts, laying off of workers and the imposition of a state of emergency. Said strike was the inspiration for this story’s sequel in Season 11.


Also, the King in this story is played by David Troughton – Patrick’s son, making his third appearance in the show.


The Sea Devils (6 episodes)


The Doctor and Jo go to visit the Master in prison, where they learn that ships have been mysteriously disappearing.


The first appearance of the Sea Devils, this well-remembered action story was done with a lot of assistance from the Royal Navy (much of it stock footage[5], but also actual use of bases). It features one of the only two times the full line “I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” is used.


Also, this story was screened third, but shot second – the first time Who shot its stories out of transmission order, something it is now routine for the show. Before, the gap between production and airing was too small for this to be done.


The Mutants (6 episodes)


The Time Lords send the Doctor and Jo to Solos in the 30th century with a message pod. There is a power struggle going on between the cruel Marshal that Earth has put in charge and the natives – the message will be of vital importance, if they can deliver it…


This Bob Baker and Dave Martin story was another political one, like Hulke’s “Colony in Space” from the previous season – this time the focus was on apartheid[6]. Views on this one are decidedly mixed.


The Time Monster (6 episodes)


The Master, disguised as a professor whose surname is Greek for “Master”, builds a device to try and take control of a creature who lives outside of time.


A story that I quite enjoyed when I watched it, “The Time Monster” is generally viewed by fandom as a bit silly, but it does contain a wonderful “moment of charm” (as Pertwee called them), where the Doctor relates to Jo, while they’re both tied up, a story about his childhood. Also, Dave Prowse, the body of Darth Vader, is in a monster suit in this, while the late Ingrid Pitt, best known for her Hammer Horror work, also makes her first of two appearances in the show.


The ratings, despite the miners’ strike, were good, with an average of 8.33 million, but they dropped significantly towards the end of the season.


It becomes necessary at this point to conclude with a history lesson. The 1970s in Britain were a turbulent time, with high inflation, rising unemployment, Northern Irish terrorism and frequent industrial action. The oil shock of late 1973 caused by the Arab oil embargo resulting from the Yom Kippur War[7], combined with another miners’ strike, led to the implementation of a three-day week. The Conservative government of Edward Heath called a snap election for the following February and the result was a Hung Parliament, with Labour having most seats, but second place in the popular vote. Labour leader Harold Wilson, who had been Prime Minister from 1964-70, got his old job back and called another election that October, with Labour just squeaking into an overall majority. This meant, in effect, no majority at all, with Wilson and his successor James Callaghan having to deal with militant unions who opposed their attempts to keep down wages and prices.


This was going to affect the show in more ways than one, not least in the budget department…



[1]1971 action series produced by ITC Entertainment for “ITV” (we’ll be discussing the unusual nature of that network later) in the UK and ABC in the US, starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as a pair of crime fighting international playboys. While doing very well in the UK and is considered a cult classic there, the US broadcast was put up against Mission: Impossible and did badly, resulting in the show getting axed after one season. Oddly enough, the cancellation freed Moore up to play James Bond.

[2]Nation still gets a creator’s credit today.

[3]BBC Worldwide’s video publishing firm. 40% of the firm used to be owned by high street chain Woolworths until that company went bust in 2010.

[4]Then, as now, a very topical issue. When the Labour administration of Harold Wilson came into power two years later, it held a referendum on continued EEC membership, allowing its members to campaign on either side. The national vote went in favour.

[5]British military produced footage is not “public domain”.

[6]The South African policy was a big issue at the time – in 1970, public protest forced the cancellation of the South African cricket tour of England. The strength of feeling in British media union Equity at the time can be demonstrated by the fact that when South Africa got television for the first time in 1976, the union blocked the sale of any programmes featuring its members to the country, effectively barring any British television from being broadcast there and limiting SABC to American imports. In fact, Doctor Who still has not been sold to the country to this day.

[7]Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbours and came close to nuclear use before US supplies allowed it to turn the situation about.

Monday, 4 June 2012

May 2012 ballots invalidated

Due to concerns about the structure of the ballot, the votes on the four policy proposals have been declared null and void by the Elections and Voting Coordinator. A re-vote will be held.
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