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.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Well, it was definitely slow (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.4, "The Power of Three")

A huge number of small black cubes suddenly appear all over Earth. Why are they here? The Doctor and UNIT try to find out. In between the Doctor popping off to do some other stuff.


Chris Chibnall is not doing himself a great deal of favours with this one, that’s for sure. A plot that covers a whole year of time was probably a mistake and to be frank I’m getting a little tired of the whole pop-in-and-out relationship with the Ponds. It’s over next week at any rate.


Further thoughts:


·         There’s an awful lot of padding in this story – the whole 1890 and Henry VIII stuff stood out in particular.

·         The black cubes were interesting (“The Birdie Song” was an odd one, though), but a line about the inability to cut them open would have been appreciated.

·         Matt Smith – not quite as good in this one as usual. Probably poor material, but he made the best of it.

·         Was Brian Williams really needed in this story?

·         Glad to see UNIT back and I liked the “Trap One” references.

·         Engaging in “pest control” on humanity is something aliens have done in other sci-fi, although I cannot remember what.

·         Jemma Redgrave did a great job here as Kate Stewart. It’s nice to see that the Brigadier’s legacy is carried on in UNIT.

·         If someone has their heart stopped for several minutes, they’re going to be suffering some serious brain problems afterwards.

·         Didn’t recognise Steven Berkoff under all that make-up. Did a great job there.

·         Definitely were some good bits in here, but they were mostly character stuff, instead of a limited plot that would be best served for one of the Quick Reads.




Distinctly average. This is the better of Chibnall’s two stories this five-part run, but not by much.


1.71 to the power of 3, or rather 5 out of 10

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Silent Hunter's FallFest 2012 talk is covered on Ongoing Worlds

General Coordinator Silent Hunter did a talk at SciWorld's Fall Fest on Friday 21st September. On the request of Ongoing Worlds, he has written a post summarising and expanding on that talk, which can be found here:

Ongoing Worlds blog

Friday, 28 September 2012

Newsletter coming this weekend

The first edition of Phoenix's newsletter is due to be released tomorrow or Sunday - a link will go out on this blog and by broadcast email, so please check your spam folders.

The newsletter will include:

  • An introduction from the General Coordinator
  • News on our sims, including our new Baldur's Gate one
  • An article on the cult 1970s British sci-fi series Blake's 7 
So, keep an eye out this weekend!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Jason Andersen gets two SL Awards

Demonstrating that he's not just a fine thinker on government issues, Phoenix's 2011 Sim Leader of the Year has earned himself two awards from sims he has played in - D'ni and The Triple Zero.

Keep up the good work!

A full list of all our awards can be found here.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Gunman from the Apocalypse (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.3, "A Town Called Mercy")

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in the Wild West, where the small town of Mercy is besieged by an alien gunslinger on the search for a Doctor…


This one’s a lot more thoughtful and smaller than the first episodes of this run, which isn’t a bad thing. Whithouse has produced some good stuff in the past and he hasn’t let us down here.


·         If there’s any reminder needed that the Doctor, who has terminated millions of creatures directly or indirectly in his 1,200 years, is a very complex character, this episode certainly provides it. Matt Smith delivers a complex and nuanced performance here.

·         Amy reminds us why the Doctor is best with companions – someone has to stop him.

·         There’s some nice flashes of humour in this story – the Doctor speaking horse for example, but they don’t overshadow a good story.

·         A lot of thought-provoking stuff here on guilt, justice and the death penalty. While I was immediately reminded of Josef Mengele, you can see elements of other projects that caused a lot harm to end a war e.g. the Manhattan Project. Kahler-Jex was a great, layered character, played in a way that made you both loathe him and feel sorry for him.

·         Great job from Ben Browder as Isaac. He could have brought out the ham (as could anyone), but chose not to.

·         I did find my attention wandering a little at the beginning, but not at the end. The climax was very good indeed.

·         The use of the Spanish western set that features in a lot of the classics was an inspired choice – it was instantly recognisable.

·         The Gunslinger – superb character. Performing in that much latex is always a challenge and the actor did a great job. The font on the display, as was pointed out on GB, was a nice nod to Terminator.

·         Ending was a bit of a cop-out for my liking.

·         This is a show that is highly confident in itself and its continuity. Long may this confidence continue.




Good, but by no means a classic.



Friday, 21 September 2012

'Doctor Who' Season 18 (1980/81): The Fall of the Fourth

(L-R) Going to die, going to sort of die, going to die, going to take skirt off



On the fields of Pharos at the fall of the Fourth, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked, a question that will never ever be answered – seriously, what was with flooding the TARDIS?


Those who tuned into the first episode of “The Leisure Hive” on 30 August 1980 instead of watching the big, glossy US import (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) on the other side[1] would notice something very different from the get-go.


Firstly, the theme tune had changed, with the original Delia Derbyshire arrangement ditched in favour of a new electronic-y tune done by Peter Howell. Dudley Simpson was dropped as composer with Howell and Paddy Kingsland splitting incidental duties – Kingsland’s music has come to symbolise the early 1980s for Doctor Who.


Secondly, there was a new title sequence, depicting a star field that formed Baker’s face, along with a new neon-tube style logo.


Thirdly, the Doctor’s costume had been slightly altered, incorporating question marks in the collars, with the aim to make it merchandise-able.


Fourthly, there were some new effects using the Quantel computer system and eventually, an entirely new cast…


Doctor Who’s 18th season saw a new producer and a new script editor. Christopher H. Bidmead as script editor decided to inject a “harder” science-fiction approach to the show, but would only be there for one season, as he felt he was undervalued – he asked for a 30% pay increase to see how the BBC viewed him and left when it was declined.


The new producer, John Nathan-Turner, was going to be at the helm until this particular ship sank…


JNT – the man who ended or saved Doctor Who?


John Nathan-Turner (1947-2002) is one of Who’s most controversial figures and arguably one of its most influential.


John Nathan-Turner’s contact with the arts stated in his early life and he eventually got into theatre, where he was spotted by Graham Williams and in 1968 joined the BBC. He did a variety of roles for the show and other BBC productions, eventually ending up as production unit manager (in charge of things like financial planning) on Doctor Who and All Creatures Great and Small[2]. In 1979, he was asked to become producer on DW and stepped down from the latter role.


As producer, JNT, certainly recognisable at conventions (beard, long hair and Hawaiian shirt),  was good at getting publicity, particularly when he got rid or threatened to get rid of popular elements of the show, including the sonic screwdriver. He was always very open to fans – arguably too much so; the show could be said to have been too fan-orientated. As ratings declined (not entirely his fault, as we’ll see), he was getting blamed by fans and attempted to resign as producer on several occasions, but was persuaded to stay each time. One podcaster (Dave Keep at DWO Whocast) reflected that he could have gone on several occasions and benefited his career by doing so – he possibly chose to put the show ahead of his own personal interest.


JNT remained producer until 1990 as the show was never officially cancelled, but put on “indefinite hiatus”. He resigned on the same day the production offices shut down. Remaining involved in the universe of Doctor Who (appearing in a lot of documentaries), but doing little otherwise, he died of liver failure in 2002, a year before the show’s renewal was announced.

There were other staffing changes – Barry Letts was brought in as “executive producer” to oversee the inexperienced JNT, while Ian Levine, a ‘super-fan’ who had helped with saving some of the old episodes, became an unpaid script consultant.


This is notable as the first season in a while not to feature a Bob Holmes script – JNT was determined to bring in new talent, although at times this was not the best decision..

As mentioned in the opening, this season saw a comprehensive cast clear out. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward both departed by mutual consent.


In addition, JNT decided to axe K9, feeling that the dog was making it too easy for the Doctor to solve his problems. There was a public outcry, especially from The Sun, when this was leaked, but to no avail (they claimed that they’d gotten K9 into 20 episodes of this run, but that was always the plan).


The Doctor would get three new companions in this run. In fact, by the end, he’d be having all of them at the same time in the TARDIS, which must have been a bit of a squeeze on location. I feel that I’d better do them in one go here.


Adric – The Boy Who Couldn’t


Adric can be described as the Scrappy-Doo of Doctor Who – a lot of fans don’t like him and consider him one of the worst companions of the show’s history. Joining in “Full Circle”, he was a young ‘Artful Dodger’ mathematical genius from the E-Space world of Alzarius, with a penchant for arrogance and not doing as he was told. Those who are fans of Star Trek may well think of Wesley Crusher at this point.


The role went to young fan Matthew Waterhouse (1961-) who had previously worked as a BBC clerk before getting a role in a drama called To Serve Them All My Days. Waterhouse’s acting skills arguably left something to be desired and his TV career was short – he’s focussed on theatre instead. He is the only companion actor from the 1980s not to have appeared in a Big Finish audio.


Waterhouse is also notable as the first openly gay companion actor.


Nyssa – Biochemist and Sole Survivor


Created as a one-shot character for “The Keeper of Traken” by Johnny Byrne (as such, she is not fully owned by the BBC), but promoted into a regular as JNT really liked the character, Nyssa was a young woman from Traken, an intelligent and principled, despite what happened to her father and later her planet, biochemist and general brainy woman who was also a little naïve. Silly outfits aside, she’s one of my favourite companions – and Peter Davison’s as well. She was also pretty attractive and would conclude her run in rather memorable fashion.


Sarah Sutton (1961-) started acting at 7 and got her first TV role in 1973. None of her pre-DW roles are notable and she retired from full-time acting shortly afterwards to raise her children. However, she has done a great deal of Big Finish; in fact, many of Davison’s audios are Fifth Doctor and Nyssa only.


Tegan Jovanka – The Mouth on Legs


Wanting to increase the appeal of Doctor Who down under in connection with a possible co-production deal with the Australian Broadcasting Company that did not materialise (pun intended), JNT decided to introduce a bolshie Australian air hostess, who wandered into the TARDIS looking for breakdown assistance in “Logopolis”. He wrote two possible names, “Tegan” and “Jovanka”[3] and Bidmead then promptly thought the character’s name was “Tegan Jovanka”. Tegan would be direct, brutally honest and stubborn, once describing herself as just a “mouth on legs”.


Recommended by one JNT’s friends on the grounds that she was a genuine bolshie Australian, Janet Fielding (1953-), an inexperienced actor who lied about her age and her country’s airline height requirements, won from the 100 who auditioned. Spending three years in the role and a longer time period (based on transmission dates) than any other companion, Fielding left acting to become an agent and advocate for women’s representation for television. She actually represented Paul McGann when he got the Eighth Doctor role.


Fielding also distanced herself from the show for a long while, vocally criticising it, but has since done a few Big Finish productions with Peter Davison.


John Barrowman has named a dog after the character and blogger Neil Perryman (of Adventures with the Wife In Space) also has a cat called Tegan.

JNT managed to get this run increased to 28 episodes, forming 7 four-part stories. As such, I am not mentioning episode counts for this entry.


The Leisure Hive


The Doctor and Romana visit the famed Leisure Hive resort on the planet Argolis, where the surface has been devastated by a nuclear war. There they discover a conspiracy is afoot…


An ambitious story in the effects department (it features the first moving camera TARDIS materialisation) that went way over budget, this got positive reviews at the time, but has a more mixed opinion among fans.




The Doctor is summoned to Tigella to solve a problem over the Dodecahedron, a power source that is failing and putting the planet in danger. Before he can fix it, he is accused of stealing it. In fact, an alien shape shifter is involved and is impersonating the Doctor…


This one allows Baker to play the villain and also has Jacqueline Hill (who played Barbara Wright) appear in the guest cast, but it’s seen as Season 18’s clunker, with a poor plot and acting from most of the cast. I remember very little of it.


In addition, this was used to test a new motion-control technology called ScreenSync, that helped with CSO. This wasn’t used again in the show, but the success led to use in other BBC productions.



We now come to a group of three stories universally dubbed “The E-Space Trilogy” and released together on DVD. In this, the Doctor and Romana end up in the alternative pocket universe of E-Space.


Full Circle


On the planet of Alzarius, the inhabitants of a long-ago crashed Starliner are menaced by a group of Marshmen who emerge from the marshes.


Adric’s debut is a very good story with a nice twist, although not one for severe arachnophobia sufferers who are also Romana fans. The writer of this, Andrew Smith, was only a teenager and a fan who had sent ideas into the production office. His only TV gig, he became a police officer, but having retired, has now joined the Big Finish team.


State of Decay


Arriving on a medieval world, the time travellers discover the populace lives in fear of the Three Who Rule. This trio are in fact vampires...


Originally intended for Season 15, being dropped for reasons mentioned in that entry and kept aside for later use, Terrance Dicks’ dark, atmospheric tale is a mini-classic and probably one of the best stories of late Tom Baker. Apart from one dodgy model shot, it looks great as well.


Warrior’s Gate


The TARDIS lands in an eerie white void after being hijacked by a creature called Biroc, a slave who wants to free his imprisoned race, the Tharils. It’s the gateway between E-Space and their universe, the past and the future. The only things there are a castle and a slaver’s spaceship. Team TARDIS must rescue the Tharils and escape before the void collapses.


Romana and K9 depart in an superb farewell at the end of this hard-to-follow, but very unusual and well done conclusion to the E-Space Trilogy. It’s not in fact noticeable that this story had major production problems – the scripts needed major re-writes to the point that an Agnew credit could have been asked for with some justification, there was a carpenters’ strike that delayed filming and a director with limited TV experience, Paul Joyce had a lot of problems with the cast. In fact, about half this story was done by the production assistant Graeme Harper. That’s a name we’ll be hearing again soon.



The final two stories of this run and the first of Season 19 are also a trilogy, known as “The Master trilogy” and released as the New Beginnings set.


The Keeper of Traken


The Doctor is summoned to Traken by its ailing ruler. Traken is a world of great goodness, but an evil statue has arrived and its controller is after the keystone of Traken civilisation. That evil is a Time Lord.


Nyssa’s debut story (although she does not board the TARDIS until the following tale) is probably one I need to rewatch. It’s very studio-bound and I don’t recall a lot happening, except for the haunting ending.


The Master here is played by Geoffrey Beevers, who has had a long career in British television in guest roles. He appeared in one episode of “The Ambassadors of Death” in 1970 as Private Johnson and has done the Master a few times on Big Finish, as he is the only surviving classic Master actor. He was also married to Caroline John until her death earlier this year.


However, at the end of this story, the Master steals the body of Nyssa’s father Tremas[4], played by Anthony Ainley. Ainley’s career will be covered in Season 19’s entry.




Logopolis is a planet of mathematicians who by their actions have been keeping the universe from collapsing through a build-up of entropy. When the Master interferes, the entire universe is put at risk and the Fourth Doctor will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop him…


A story with arguably the highest body count (off-screen) of the show at least in the classic era, with much of the universe, including Traken, destroyed, “Logopolis” is a pretty good final story for the Fourth Doctor, with a great air of mystery. It also marks the debut of the Cloister Bell, the gong-like “serious stuff is going down” sound that has featured a number of times since.


The final seconds of the wonderful regeneration scene can be found here.


The BBC Micro


In the early 1980s, the BBC sponsored an “educational” home computer by Acorn known as the BBC Microcomputer or just the BBC Micro, with first commercial release in December 1981, to link with a computer literacy project. The system, Acorn’s Proton, with its own programming language called BASIC, was durable (which helped with school use), versatile and very popular – with 80% of schools having one in the UK[5] and export versions being sold in the USA and West Germany – it’s worth noting that the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, which the US gaming industry took two decades to recover from, didn’t happen in Europe. One of its games, 1984’s Elite, became a classic space shooter and trader. Three official DW games were released for the system as well.


The Micro saw extensive use in BBC programmes of this era (and even turned up in Aliens), so it was no surprise that the Doctor used one in his TARDIS and the show itself used them extensively, even for visual effects.

The show began to hit serious ratings problems in this season. The ITV regions showed Buck Rogers against it for the first few weeks of the season and consistently won in the ratings when doing so. The ratings improved a bit after Buck Rogers concluded, but not to Season 17 levels – the average was only 5.9 million. Seeing a problem, the BBC moved the show for Season 19 to a twice-weekly weekday slot to avoid the still-popular show’s second and ultimately final run in the UK (it was cancelled after two seasons).


Peter Davison was going to be having a difficult three years, as the show’s decline began. Before he began, a shooty-dog almost got his day…

[1]More than one notable fan switched over during this time. Something to do with the women in tight lycra.

[2]Of which more later.

[3]After the widow of Yugoslav leader Jozip Tito, who died in 1980.

[4]Yep, it’s an anagram.

[5]Including my own in the mid-1990s.

Don't mind me, I'm just here for Nina Myers (Review: 'Covert Affairs' 3.1, "Hang on to Yourself")

My previous "Don't mind me" entry.


I’ve mentioned that I’m a fan of 24 before, so it is time for a story that you may or may not find amusing.


I came into that show for the second season, after reading a considerable amount of praise for the show in British listings magazine Radio Times. I’d actually expected it to be a slow, talky drama, not the action-fest it actually was. I also knew from the discussions about Nina Myers, although I had never actually seen a picture of her. Therefore, when she turned up in a photograph at the end of the fourth episode of Season 2, I had no idea who this woman was. Later on, she killed someone with a loyalty card, which is a memorable manner of dispatch and shortly after demonstrated, as the surviving target that there are some things that money can’t buy – for everything else, there’s hidden snipers.


Nina Myers is one of my favourite characters from the show and when I read in RT that her actor Sarah Clarke was in the third season of Covert Affairs, a show I’d pondered having a look at, I decided to check it out. If the show was no good, I could always hit the delete button.


I didn’t.

Covert Affairs, broadcast in the US on the USA Network and in the United Kingdom on female-skewing network Really (uktv’s networks have strange names) is basically Alias with more office politics and less Abrams weirdness.


Our Sydney Bristow in this affair is young blonde CIA operative Annie Walker (Piper Peralbo, who seems to be best known for Coyote Ugly, which I’ve never seen), having fewer wigs and family problems. At the beginning of this run, one of her comrades gets blown up by a car bomb and in the aftermath, she is reassigned from the division she’s spent the first two seasons working with to another division, headed up by CIA superstar Lena Smith (Sarah Clarke). Lena is a great character and Clarke steals every scene she’s in.


For her first assignment, Annie gets her gun and is sent to Marrakech, Morocco to get close to, Simon Fisher, a suspected Russian-employed British assassin. She meets up with him and after they show each other their passports (that’s not a euphemism), she starts to work her feminine charms – and has a brief foot chase as she runs away from a pair of German people trying to kill her.


Meanwhile, back in her old division, her male friend, IT technician Augie (Christopher Gorham – it was really bugging me where I’d seen him until I looked him up and found he’d been in Harper’s Island) is also moved to another, different division.


I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.

This is an enjoyable, globe-trotting spy show. The action is pretty good (what there was of it) and there is a good overall arc starting to take shape for this run. In addition, there’s some snappy dialogue and I love me some snappy dialogue.


Walker is not the strongest character out there (it’s either my nostalgia acting up or Bristow is really better) and a good bit of the office politics will take a while for me to get into, as I don’t know the characters.


Also, kudos to the production designers. It’s obviously filmed in South California, but not noticeably on the screen.




There’s a great deal of interesting stuff here and Clarke has sealed the deal. Not perfect, but I’m in for the ride.




Thursday, 20 September 2012

September 2012 referendums

Members should have received emails regarding the September 2012 referendum, which is a re-run of the previous referendum declared void due to question issues.

Please check your spam folders if you have not received it or contact the General Coordinator, Silent Hunter

Monday, 17 September 2012

Too many robots spoil the broth (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.2, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship")

Chris Chibnall has acquired a bit of a bad reputation among DW fans, mostly for two atrocious Torchwood episodes. While he’s improved recently – this one’s not going to help with his reputation at all with some people.


I’m going to do these reviews a little differently from my Eleven Faces of Who series: I’ll just point out ten things worthy of comment on this episode:


·         Matt Smith again is superb – his portrayal of the Doctor is self-aware, really alien and great fun.

·         Amy was pretty much a second Doctor in this episode – she’s clearly learned a lot travelling with the Doctor.

·         Didn’t see the point of Queen Nefertiti in this at all. While she was amusing, she didn’t really add anything to this.

·         Riddell was fun, but Rupert Graves is getting typecast these days. Does he do anything except posh?

·         David Bradley and Mark Williams did a good job with not entirely brilliant material.

·         There was some adult stuff in this – particularly the comment about ‘breaking in’ Nefertiti.

·         Mitchell and Webb as a pair of silly robots? Worst thing about this episode without a doubt.

·         Was that ‘Bad Wolf Bay’ in the beach scene? It looked like it.

·         The dinosaurs weren’t awful, but they really were just a gimmick for an otherwise limited (but reasonably good) plot.

·         Interesting choice with the Indian Space Agency. Not good or bad, just interesting.




This started off with such promise, but despite a batch of good performances, I found myself getting bored by the end. It’s trying to do too much and not doing a lot of it well.


It just avoids being a clunker, but this is likely to be the worst one of these first five.



Sunday, 16 September 2012

2nd Mass. Effect (Grand Review: 'Falling Skies' Season 2)

I was planning to do a Grand Review of the first season of TNT’s Falling Skies, but didn’t have time. So, I’m doing the second one.


For those of you not familiar with the show, Falling Skies is a Steven Spielberg-produced alien invasion show. Or rather a post-alien invasion show. Earth has been invaded by a bunch of alien nasties, who have destroyed most of the cities and the world’s military forces. Now in occupation mode, they’ve been using children as mind-controlled slave labour among other generally nasty things.


Now humanity is not the kind of people to take this lying down and various resistance groups have sprung up. Professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), who knows a lot about military history, is the de facto second in command of the 2nd Massachusetts, a bunch of good-looking rebels out to take the fight to the enemy, primarily manifested through ‘Mechs’ (heavily-armed robots) and ‘Skitters’ (six-legged-crawlers).


The plot for S2  (mild spoilers)


Following the events of Season 1, where Mason stepped onto an enemy ship and had a chat with one of their leaders, he makes his way back to the 2nd Mass. After convincing them that he’s not turned or been infected with something nasty, he’s accepted back in.


While holed up at an aircraft hangar, a woman flies in with her light aircraft. She says that she is from the new US Government, based in Charleston. On this, the 2nd Mass heads down towards Charleston, discovering along the way that the Skitters are starting to rebel…


The good

·         There are some pretty interesting characters here, most notably shady cook and ‘Bezerker’ Pope, plus troubled past Maggie. The latter packs coolness in shades.

·         The Charleston stuff, when we actually get there is pretty interesting. I found the reactions of the locals believable and their motivations understandable. What would happen if 90%+ of the human population died by alien hands is of course a great unknowable.

·         There’s some great location dressing and CGI going on here, with the areas that the group go through looking suitably abandoned and eerie. It’s amazing what a load of leaves (which would of course be swept otherwise) can do.

·         There’s a good deal of character mortality here – a couple of the regulars buy the farm during the course of this run. This should happen in a show like this.

·         We learn a fair bit about the aliens during the course of this season and it seems from the climax that things are getting a bit more complex.


The bad

·         The middle of the season is rather dull and boring. We should have gotten to Charleston faster.

·         There is some appalling shooting going on from the aliens, especially the Mechs. Not only that, they’ve got tactical problems.

·         I only learnt the names of most of the characters here and I’ve still not gotten them off pat. If I can’t remember their names, then they aren’t memorable.

·         Some of the characters are distinctly genre blind. If the possessed lady snogs one of your guys, then give him a full proper medical!

·         The Charleston stuff isn’t perfect and gets a little heavy-handed at times.


The gross

·         One regular character ends up with his body full of alien insects, which come pouring out of his mouth. That’s a candidate for nastiest death of the year.




Good, but uneven. This has gotten a third season in the US and hopefully it will improve as the plot thickens.





Tuesday, 11 September 2012

'Doctor Who' Season 17 (1979/80): The Season of Discontent

Quick, before the electricians turn the lights off!


Season 17, with Graham Williams continuing as producer, but Douglas Adams (1952-2001) doing a one-season stint as script editor, divides opinions among fans. It’s either the show at its height with wonderful dialogue or it’s a campy, silly mess. In fact, it’s probably a bit of both – there’s at least two poor stories here. Budgetary problems due to hyperinflation meant that this season (which saw the Doctor fit a “randomiser” to the TARDIS to stay clear of the Black Guardian) had to operate on a smaller scale – every penny had to count.


Mary Tamm, not happy about the direction Romana was taking, chose not to continue in the role and while willing to do a regeneration scene, wasn’t invited to do one (Williams put a false story that it was because of pregnancy, although at the start of Season 17’s production it would have been an issue). The production team decided to have Romana regenerate off-screen, pretty much, out of choice (although expanded universe theories suggest the regeneration wasn’t entirely voluntary) into someone looking identical to Princess Astra from “The Armageddon Factor”, being played in both cases by Lalla Ward…


Romana II – the blonde version


When your two leads are, for want of a better word, “dancing”, it has an interesting effect on the show – you can apparently spot when Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (who would have a brief marriage after their time on the show – the fact that Ward and Baker have never done an audio or DVD commentary together gives you an idea of how it ended) had just had a row.


The Honourable Sarah “Lalla” Ward (her father was the 7th Viscount Bangor and her half-brother is the current Viscount, so she’s a bona fide aristocrat), born in 1951. Attending the Central School of Speech and Drama, she made an appearance in the 1972 Hammer Horror film Vampire Circus, one of the better-received later films where she plays a vampire and bites small boys, then a number of TV guest roles and played Ophelia in a BBC Shakespeare production of Hamlet starring later Master Derek Jacobi.


After Doctor Who, her screen appearances have been very limited (nothing since 1993 in fact), although she has done a fair bit of Big Finish stuff including an entire spinoff series called Gallifrey. She is now married to celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins and has done some work connected with his books.


The second version of Romana is a slightly softer one. Still a snappy dresser, but friendlier with the Doctor and more experienced overall. She’s my preferred Romana  - and my favourite companion. By the end of her run in Season 18, you can clearly see that she is effectively a female Doctor.


The show was going to be getting huge ratings, but not entirely from its own success…


ITV and the Strike of ‘79


“Percy Wallington arrived home from fishing with his father that warm Saturday in August 1979. Once the family had eaten their dinner, it was time to watch television. As he pressed the button marked “3” on their TV, he settled down and saw the familiar white diamond of Southern Television”.


Today, the entity legally known as Channel Three is one single network with one on-air branding in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and southern Scotland – ITV1[1]. This was not always so. From its pretty controversial creation in 1955 until the eventual merger of most of the companies into one around the beginning of this century, “ITV” (Independent Television) was a group of 15 regional franchises, which came up for renewal every so often - getting a renewal was by no means guaranteed - London getting two of them for weekdays and weekends respectively.


Each of these networks, whose coverage areas overlapped a fair bit, had their own on-air branding and produced some of their own programming, which they often sold to the other networks – it was not unheard for a show to air months apart in different regions. National news was provided by Independent Television, whose best known presenter would be the (now-retired) Sir Trevor MacDonald, the first black British newsreader.


Some of the more famous ones and their more notable shows were:

·         Granada Television (North-West of England): Who produced Coronation Street and the epic historical drama about the last days of British rule in India called The Jewel in the Crown.

·         Thames Television (Greater London daytime): A good deal of cop shows like The Sweeney and  the very long-running The Bill[2].

·         LWT (Greater London weekend – I can still remember the switchover): The original Upstairs Downstairs[3], sitcom On The Buses and game show Play Your Cards Right, hosted for much its time by Sir Bruce Forsyth[4].

·         ATV, later Central (Midlands): Darts-themed quiz show Bullseye, talent show New Faces and anarchic Saturday morning show Tiswas.

·         HTV (Wales and the West): Robin of Sherwood, a 1990s Famous Five with Jemima Rooper as George and some other dark children’s’ stuff.


Now I’ve made my British audience all warm and nostalgic, onto the strike.


On 6 August 1979, a long-running pay dispute across the whole network that had already seen a one-day nearly national strike came to a head at Thames Television. The electricians union had been working to rule, switching off the equipment at 10pm[5], with the technicians (in the ACTT union) refusing to turn the equipment back on. When the management did it on that day, the technicians refused to work with them, the union representatives got suspended and then the technicians went out on strike, blacking out Thames. When something similar happened at HTV, the staff were “locked-out”. As secondary action was still legal at this time, when the technicians were told to return to work “or else”, ACTT staff at every other network bar Channel Television (where the unions knew a strike would kill the small station off) walked out. As Equity people were not about to start crossing picket lines, no way, pretty much the entire of ITV went off the air, replaced with a caption.


This lasted for eleven weeks, until the networks basically caved in to the pay demands and the network came back on air on 24 October (“Welcome back to ITV. I-T-V!”). During the strike, the only networks broadcasting were BBC1 and BBC2, so anything on those channels got much bigger ratings than normal, including Doctor Who.


Once the strike was over, it would take the ITV networks several months to get original programming back on the air, so the BBC continued to do very well in the ratings. However, industrial action would hit them too…

Destiny of the Daleks (4 parts)


The newly regenerated Romana and the Doctor arrive on Skaro, where the Daleks are attempting to find their long-last creator Davros to give themselves an upper hand in an interplanetary war.


Terry Nation’s final script for the show, this has K9 confined to the TARDIS without any lines due to “laryngitis” – Nation did not want the dog to upstage the Daleks. A lot of quarry filming in this one, which features the show’s first use of the relatively-new Steadicam. I watched this with commentary recently. While interesting, it’s no classic.


City of Death (4 parts)


On holiday in Paris, the Doctor and Romana sense someone has been tampering with space-time. As they investigate, they run across multiple Mona Lisas and an evil alien Count…


Finished by Douglas Adams and Graham Williams when David Fisher proved unable to do the re-writes (the story was the second to go out under the name “David Agnew”), “City of Death” is a strong contender for best story ever, a highly recommended one for introducing people to the show and the best rated story of all time – the overall average was 14.5 million, but the ratings steadily increased, so the concluding part was seen by no less than 16.1 million – over a quarter of the British population. Featuring a fine villainous turn by Julian Glover, a cameo from John Cleese, some truly great dialogue[6] and Lalla Ward in a school uniform [That’s woken the readers up! – Ed.], the serial also boasted the first foreign location shoot for Doctor Who, with filming done in Paris. The absence of K9 in this one doesn’t dent it one iota.


The Creature from the Pit (4 parts)


The Doctor and Romana land on the lush world of Chloris, which has very limited metal and is ruled over by the evil Lady Adrasta, who keeps an alien creature in a pit…


The first story filmed for Season 17, this features Ward having to tackle a script (and a dress) intended for Mary Tamm, a scene with a phallic-looking part of said creature that has to be seen to be believed and Romana getting tied up by a leather-clad dominatrix, basically making this one of the gayest stories in the show’s history. It’s also one of the worst, with a rather illogical plot and a poor guest cast.


Nightmare of Eden (4 episodes)


The TARDIS arrives on a space liner that is locked together with another ship after a collision on exiting hyperspace. A scientist on board is carrying a machine that supposedly records planets that he has visited, while some else is smuggling drugs. Then creatures start escaping from the recordings…


A surprisingly adult anti-drugs tale, “Eden” is one of those “nice idea, shame about the production” cases. Production was a nightmare, with Graham Williams having to replace the highly unpopular director Alan Bromly mid-story after the cast openly revolted and finish things off himself (Bromly, who either quit or was fired, never worked for the BBC again and retired from directing shortly after). That would be bad enough, but there’s also some rather bad acting and effects shots here, including one woman getting shot in the head and clutching her stomach, that make this one of the weaker stories in the show’s history.


It would also be the final time Bob Baker (who was not with Dave Martin for this one) wrote for the show.


The Horns of Nimon (4 episodes)


With the TARDIS needing repair, the Doctor and Romana have to save a group of young people being sacrificed to the bull-like Nimon.


This Minotaur-inspired one goes under the category of “so bad it’s good”. Baker isn’t that great, but Ward’s on fire here. The rest of the cast (with the exception of the late Graham Cowden’s Soldeed) is a bit poor,  the Nimon look silly with visible actor’s necks at times, and the corridor action gets ridiculous, but approach this in the right spirit  [or with the right spirits – Ed.] and you’ll have a good time.


[Shada] (Never transmitted)


Someone wants to conquer the universe. He just needs to find the Time Lord with the mental powers to help him achieve it, incarcerated the Time Lord prison planet of Shada. He’s got to find the place first and the only person who knows is a Cambridge professor, who the Doctor just happens to be visiting.


The season would have closed with this six-parter, another Adams-penned story. However, industrial action[7] meant that only the Cambridge location filming and the first of the three studio sessions planned were completed. By the time the dispute was resolved, Television Centre’s studios were booked solid with Christmas specials and an attempt to redo it for Season 18 failed. The story was never completed – although some footage got used in “The Five Doctors” in lieu of Baker actually being in it.


“Shada” as a result has acquired a sort of mythic status in the fandom that it possibly wouldn’t have had if it was actually transmitted. It has therefore had quite a few “completion” things done on it. 

The completed footage with linking narration by Tom Baker got a VHS release in 1992, some New Zealander fans did a fan novelisation of it (Target Books never reached an agreement to do an official one) that Adams approved of in retrospect, the BBC did an online webcast with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor with an older Romana II (with Leeson playing K9) and an official 2012 novelisation by Gareth Roberts. In addition, ‘super-fan’ Ian Levine[8] has done an animated ‘recon’ of the missing scenes with most of the surviving cast, but the BBC has for whatever reason declined to commercially release it and he won’t put this on-line as he does not want to get sued.

Season 17 clocked an average of 11.2m million viewers, still a record for Doctor Who. The strike boosted episodes have a mean of 14 million, a staggering figure, but even the non-strike episodes averaged 9.4, higher than the previous two seasons.


After three years of hyperinflation, a problematic star and capped off with the “Nightmare of Eden” fiasco, Graham Williams decided to quit as producer. His successor was going to take the show in a controversial new direction as time began to run out for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor…

[1]Northern Ireland and the rest of Scotland still have UTV and STV respectively. The latter, which covers the old Scottish and Grampian regions, recently spent a few years in a colossal legal row, now settled, with ITV that resulted in a number of programmes from each network not being aired on the other.


There are three other national ITV channels airing on Freeview.

[2]Running from 1984 until 2010), after the 1983 pilot drama called Woodentop, being twice or once weekly for most of the time, The Bill was set in a fictitious area of East London called Sun Hill and revolved around the cases of one relief of the local station. Known for innovative hand-held camera work, doing the “walk and talk” well before Aaron Sorkin’s works and killing off a prodigious number of regulars particularly in its later years, the show (which I watched regularly for nearly the last decade) had the majority of British actors make at least one guest appearance in it – Keira Knightley appeared once in her early career. Also Georgina Moffett had a fairly long stint as the annoyingly stupid daughter of one of the detectives, while Graham Cole, who spent 25 years in the series as PC Tony Stamp, was in a number of monster suits in the 1980s.

[3]A recent BBC1 revival was axed after two seasons.

[4]Recently knighted, “Brucie” is the host of the original British version of Dancing with the Stars, Strictly Come Dancing (the shows in fact share two judges). His long career has seen him host a spawn of two-part, audience-concluded catchphrases like “It’s nice to see you, to see you… Nice!” and “You get nothing for a pair… Not in this game!” that most Brits would instantly recognise.

[5]A common practice in the BBC as well.

[6]“What a wonderful butler! He’s so violent!” for example.

[7]Over, it seems, who was responsible for the operation of the Play School clock!

[8]A highly contentious figure in the fandom. A very successful record producer, he has helped in the recovery or retention of a number of episodes, but his involvement as script consultant on the show in the 1980s upset a lot of people. More on him later.

Made of Oswin (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.1, "Asylum of the Daleks")

Either Steven Moffat is going timey-wimey again or Jenna-Louise Coleman is playing two roles in Season 33….


The opener of Season 33/7, the third Matt Smith season, sees the Doctor, Amy and Rory kidnapped by the Daleks. They are sent to the Asylum of the Daleks, where a junior entertainments manager of a Starliner is marooned and the craziest Daleks of all can be found…


Title Sequence


We’ve got a minor update to the title sequence, with a new and improved logo, along with a different title font. I like this one – the old logo was a bit too chunky.




Nothing here was really standout noticeable. This is good, because one shouldn’t generally notice the music at the expense of everything else.




This is Steven Moffat’s first Dalek story (they’ve featured in small roles in a couple of his others) and he delivers a great one. A twisty tale full of emotion, drama and soufflés, the Moff certainly knows how to write them. I’d imagine some of the scenes will cause nightmares, but that’s common place for his ones. The ending, which effectively resets a lot of things and deals with a big problem that had been an issue for a while.


The 50-minute duration was just the right length for this story as well, but it did take a little long for things to get started. I also liked the subtle call-backs, along with the Amy/Rory developments.


Direction and staging


A very well directed and dressed tale with a lot of atmospheric scenes and memorable sets. I don’t know how many Daleks they actually used for this, but it seems like a lot, even discounting all the CGI ones.


No ropey effects either, which is always a good thing.


The regulars


·         The Doctor – Matt Smith is comfortably at home in this role, demonstrating his Doctor is a well-rounded character with bravery, smarts and a certain style that sets him apart from the others, while clearly being the Time Lord.

Amy – It’s a shame that Karen Gillan is going soon, as Amy was great in this episode, demonstrating the reasons why the Doctor recruited her on board as well. I liked the “Scotland” line.

Rory – Also a shame about Arthur Darvill, who is also leaving. His subtle and restrained performance, along with his clear love for Amy, made this one of his best performance.


The guest cast


Dropping Jenna-Louise Coleman into this nearly four months early was a surprise that wasn’t leaked and I’m glad it wasn’t as well. Her Oswin was intelligent, witty and flirty. I hope her as yet officially unnamed companion character is like this or just as good. Mind you, I don’t like her name. Oswin just doesn’t sound right for her.


The rest of the guest cast were pretty good, most notably the Dalek agent at the beginning.


The Daleks


I think that the Daleks demonstrated a suitably strong degree of menace and for once their plot, along with the requirement for the Doctor, was actually logical. The new Dalek methods of operation (don’t know why they’ve not used the Nanocloud on anyone else, though) are suitably chilling and their actions with one of the guest cast are the stuff of nightmares. Something notable happens here, but even that isn’t a huge dent on this.




A highly enjoyable season opener, with some great atmosphere. It just falls short of a 9 due to minor flaws, mostly at the beginning. There have been better stories all in all, but not a huge number.


Roll on the rest of the run!




Monday, 10 September 2012

New space game coming from Chris Roberts, creator of Wing Commander

At 15:00 BST today, this site went live (access code: 42). While we don't have the full details of the game, they'll be coming in 30 days time.

Could be something very good - Roberts has been away from the gaming world for a while.

Simming Fall Festival: A message from Charles Star

Hello! On behalf of this year's chairman, Jonathan Swift, I just wanted to post a note about this year's Simming Fall Festival (or FallFest for short), which will take place on September 21st. In case you've never heard of FallFest, it's a one-day festival, sponsored by Ongoing Worlds, that's dedicated to everything role play. Geared for both European and American timezones, we'll have a full day of discussions, trivias, and games. And the best part is: Everyone is invited! That includes YOU!

We're still looking for hosts to help flesh out the schedule (http://www.simmingleague.com/wiki/index.php?title=2012_Simming_Fall_Festival).
So if you have an idea for an event you'll like to do (whether it's a sim, trivia game, or discussion), email me at star.idf@gmail.com and we'll get you added. If you'd instead just like to come by and join in on the fun on September 21st, we'll see you then.

So let's get the word out... tell your friends! And tell your sims!
See you all there!

Charles Star
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