2013-02-24

50 Years Of Doctor Who


Fanboy Slap-fight Across Time and Space


Since the writing of this opinion piece yesterday, Rogue Cyberman’s twitter account, @roguecyberman has been locked, and his blog,  www.roguecyberman.com is no longer active.  It was my intention to include links in the body of the article so that you could read the correspondence between the various parties, but now that looks to be impossible until such a time that the blogsite is up and running again, which admittedly may be never.

Any Doctor Who fan worth his jelly babies knows that the back catalogue of what I refer to as “Classic Doctor Who” is far from complete due to  the short sighted, wanton destruction of many stories by brainless public sector drones in the 1970s.

Over the years a number of episodes thought lost forever have been recovered from various sources, both local (to the UK) and foreign, in large part due to the efforts of Ian Levine and others.  The flow of recovered episodes in the last ten years or so have slowed to a trickle, and Who fans, myself included, for the most part have, if not given up entirely, certainly hold little hope of any more big discoveries of lost episodes.

The Macra Terror, one of the Lost Stories thought found.
Recently I discovered on twitter, a gentleman in the UK who goes by the net handle Rogue Cyberman.  At some point last year, he offered a 25,000 pound reward for information leading to the recovery of lost, presumed wiped and burned episodes of Doctor Who.  From what I read on his blog, he seems to have had some success, and since January 2013 has been in contact with a private collector in Kent who has in his possession a number of various “lost” stories from Patrick Troughton’s era.

In his attempt to get these stories released to fans, Rogue Cyberman has been lambasted and flamed beyond belief on social media, by Ian Levine and various who fan sites calling him a fraud, a liar, and a hoaxer based on very little evidence in my opinion.

I have no desire to step into the middle of a protracted fanboy slap-fight, as its absolutely no fun getting between two slightly overweight, greasy haired virgins who don’t quite grasp the martial tactics involved in fist fighting.  To get between them one runs the very real risk of personal bodily harm when all three of you crash to the ground in an uncoordinated heap, that in the end resolves nothing.

Is it the perceived “commodification” of these lost episodes based on Rogue Cyberman’s offer of reward that has all these fanboy’s knickers in a twist?  Or is it just jealousy because he’s had some (alleged) success where so many others have failed?

I certainly don’t know, but if the end results are that we as fans of the programme finally get the chance to see some long lost Who stories, does it really matter how, or from whom they became available?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.





2013-02-18

50 Years Of Doctor Who


In addition to the monthly 50 years of Doctor Who DVD reviews, I will occasionally throw in a review on New Releases as they become available of which this is one…


Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror  Story No. 8
Directed by Henric Hirsch
Written by Dennis Spooner

“The events will happen, just as they are written.  I’m afraid so, and we can’t stem the tide.  But at least we can stop being carried away with the flood!”

In an attempt to return schoolteachers Ian and Barbara back to 1963 England, the Doctor accidentally lands the Tardis in 18th century France in the middle of one of the bloodiest periods of the French revolution.  The Doctor and his companions, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are soon separated, and must use all their guile, cunning, and knowledge of history to reunite with each other and get back to the Tardis, while at the same time avoiding a date with Madame Guillotine!

The Reign of Terror is the second “incomplete” story after Patrick Troughton’s The Invasion, to be released on DVD with animated reconstructions of its two missing episodes.  Is it successful?  To be sure, even to spite the apparent budgetary limitations that required the re-use of a great many animated sequences, as well as some quite frankly odd stylistic choices that include some very modern looking quick back and forth “MTV” style cuts, ultra close ups and animated foreground objects that are far beyond what would have been seen on the programme as it originally existed.  Overall however it is wonderful to have this story complete for viewing after all these years.

As was usual at the time of shooting, the Doctor Who production team was booted out of BBC Television Centre, so the fantastic sets needed for the story had to be constructed in the short, narrow space of Limegrove Studios.  This forced the set designers to be extra creative to be able to fit the rather ambitious set pieces into the unusually shaped studio.  Limegrove Studios was disliked not only for its odd shape, and the difficulties that came with building sets and shooting there, but also that the studio lights tended to heat the space up so much that the emergency sprinklers would go off causing delays in shooting.

The picture and sound are fairly decent considering the nearly 50-year-old source material.  Once again props to the hard work put in by the Doctor Who Restoration Team in making this story look as good as it does.

Extras are a little thin on this release, possibly due to the expense in producing the animated episodes, but it does include audio commentaries on all episodes, with Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Neville Smith (D’Argenson), Jeffry Wickham (Webster), Caroline Hunt (Danielle), Patrick Marley (Soldier), and the Production Assistant Tim Combe across episodes 1,2,3, and 6.  A commentary on animated episode 4 by actor Ronald Pickup (Physician), and lastly a commentary on animated episode 5 by “Missing Episode Hunters” Phillip Morris, and Paul Vanezis.  A 25 min making of documentary is also included, as well as the usual PDF materials and a “Coming Soon” trailer for The Ark in Space Special Edition coming to region 1 in March.  Curiously absent from the release is any kind of substantive documentary on the animated segments.  I would have liked very much to see interviews with the animators, information about the company involved and perhaps an overview of the process from concept drawings to finished product.  Unfortunately all we get are a couple of far too brief (2 and 3 minute respectively) virtual set tour, and animation design gallery featurettes that merely whet the appetite for a more complete documentary.

Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror is a decent release that’s thin on extras, but its always awesome to get a previously incomplete serial released.  I tend to think that further animated reconstructions of incomplete stories may be dependant on the success of releases such as this one, so if you are a fan of Doctor Who, be sure and pick it up.  The Reign of Terror gets 3.5 guillotined heads out of 5.



2013-02-16

50 Years of Doctor Who


The Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition Story 37

Directed By Morris Barry
Written By Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis

"Our lives are different to anybody else's.  That's the exciting thing.  Nobody in the universe can do what we're doing."

In the 1970’s, short sighted, left wing bureaucrats at the BBC decided it was a better idea to destroy art rather than retain it for posterity.  Thus began the systematic wiping, and burning of a massive number of 1960’s era Doctor Who stories.  Subsequently, the tireless efforts by Ian Levine and others have managed to recover a number of stories thought lost forever.  At this time 106 episodes of the series are still missing and presumed destroyed.  One of the stories believed lost forever by this indiscriminate, destructive rampage was story 37, The Tomb of the Cybermen.  Fast forward to 1991 when all four parts of the story on 16mm film were found in Hong Kong and returned to the BBC.

The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), and new companion Victoria (Deborah Watling), land on the planet Telos, homeworld of the Cybermen, just as an expedition from Earth uncovers the entrance to an ancient control centre, leading to a frozen tomb.  Ignoring The Doctor’s warnings, the archaeological party enters the ancient tomb, springing a trap set by the Cybermen and awakening them from their 500-year slumber…

The Doctor tries to convince them not to be stupid... they don't  listen.
To say Tomb is the best story from the Troughton era (1966-1969) is a bit of a no-brainer, and not just because 15 of 21 stories that exist from his tenure are missing some or all of their episodes.  Certainly when compared to duds like The Krotons, and The Dominators, Tomb comes out on top every time.  But considering the brilliant work being done these days in restoring missing episodes with animation and existing audio recordings, like The Invasion, and The Reign of Terror for example, who knows?  Maybe someday we’ll have more than just six stories to compare to.

I’ve never liked the description “cosmic hobo” when describing Patrick Troughton’s Doctor.  To me that evokes an image of someone who does nothing, and lives off the taxpayer, complaining about how bad “the Man is keeping him down.”  Instead I think of him more as the “Lonely Traveller” who uses humour to mask his keen intellect, and the darkness that simmers just below the surface.  In this way there are certainly similarities between Troughton’s performance as The Doctor, and David Tennant’s interpretation some 37 years later.  Troughton was unique in having the opportunity to reinvent the character for the first time.  Instead of William Hartnell's interpretation as the grumpy old man who was more than happy to let both friends and enemies know he was the most intelligent being in the room, Troughton’s Doctor was content to allow his enemies to think him a fool, to allow them to underestimate him before turning the tables on them.  He could be silly and harmless one second, deadly serious the next, much to the chagrin of his enemies, who often found out too late just who they were dealing with.

The story features strong performances by Troughton, Hines, and Watling as well as the supporting cast, especially Shirley Cooklin as Kaftan, and  Michael Kilgarriff who’s mere physical presence  as The CyberController is a sight to behold.

Tomb is not without a sort of na├»ve charm as well, considering what most people know of modern archaeology, some of the character’s actions will evoke a slight chuckle, number one being the way these alleged “scientists” from the far future decide the best way to uncover the entrance to an ancient tomb is through the use of a MASSIVE amount of explosives!  Then once inside, they flit about for fifteen minutes taking notes before declaring they have all the information they need.

The Cybermen defrosted after 500 years!
The picture quality looks fantastic, possibly better than it did when first broadcast thanks to the tireless work of the Doctor Who RestorationTeam and their latest VidFire processes.  The sound is very good as well, dialog is clear, and sound effects and music are fantastic for a 44 year-old programme recorded in mono.

The 2 disc set’s extras impress as well, and feature two commentary tracks as well as a documentary on the history of the Cybermen, and a terrific making of documentary and much more.

The combination of one of the best Doctor who stories of all time, along with terrific picture and sound, and a fabulous suite of extras get Doctor Who The Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition FIVE Cybermats out of FIVE!




2013-02-09

Lond Ho Adventures


May Long Part 3



The night surrounded them on all sides, swallowing the boys in darkness.  Everywhere outside the weak, yellow circle cast from the beat-up red and white Eveready torch was black as pitch, and seemed to be closing in like the trash compacter walls on the Death Star.  Bill, Hunter, and Paco tripped and stumbled over tree roots, and half-buried stones, cursing at the shock of sudden drops, humps, and invisible gopher holes.  At the rate they were going, this latest trip to the lavs was bound to take them all night.

The first trip had been at dusk, and just that little bit of light had been enough to make it a simple exercise.  This latest trip happened at some point after 01:00, and if it weren’t for Bill stumbling on yet another root, a flash of light might never have found the men’s toilets just off the path to their left.

Paco pushed between Bill and Hunter, claiming the right of First Pish™ and within seconds they could hear a contented “Ahh…” as Paco relieved himself.  Bill went next, handing the Eveready over to Hunter.  The door swung shut behind him on its creaky hinges and rusted spring mechanism.  He waited a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, as much as they could anyway.  Bill was surprised at how very little the outhouse seemed to stink compared to earlier in the day.  He had been expecting a great, horrid stench monster to assault him relentlessly, punching him over and over in the olfactory senses until he was at last forced to hold his breath.  He opened his fly and let loose his stream, and it was good.  Ah beer, he reflected always merely rented, and never owned.

Hunter was last, and when he was finished, Bill fished out and distributed a handful of KFC wet-naps.  He had been picking them up and hoarding them for the past month in preparation for the trip, and needless to say the boys were grateful as the camping area had no running water anywhere that they could find, and the water in the RV wasn’t running for some reason.

“Finished?”  Bill asked when it looked as though the boys were done wiping their hands.  “Right, give ‘em here.”  Hunter and Paco handed the balled up bits of napkin back to Bill who opened up the outhouse door, and tossed them down the hole into the piss-stanky abyss.

Their eyes must have been getting used to the dark, because it seemed they weren’t tripping over everything, every few steps.  Paco stopped suddenly, so suddenly in fact that Bill almost ran into him.

 Hunter looked around, and said in the voice of Ren Hoek, “What EES EET man?”

“Look up.”  Paco said, pointing.

Bill looked up and saw mostly branches and trees, thrusting skyward, gently waving in the cool night breeze.

“I think he’s looking for Predator!”  Hunter joked.

“The stars you fakking morons!”

Bill and Hunter looked up, way up and stood gobsmacked.  Through the gaps in the canopy of trees the billions of stars of the Milky Way stretched out into eternity across the night sky.  It was more stars than any of them had ever seen before, having all grown up in cities where the light pollution made such sights impossible.
 
“Holy-“ Hunter began.

“-shit.”  Bill finished.

“It’s incredible indeed…”  From Paco.

Hunter didn’t know how long they were staring up at the sky when Paco suggested they head back, but thought it must have been at least ten minutes.

The boys made their way a little further down the trail when Paco made a sharp left onto a smaller path.

Bill needed to know, “Where you taking us?”

“Shord-cut!”

Bill, Paco and Hunter were five minutes in to the so-called “shord-cut” when Paco stopped again.  He silently reached to his chest and fingered the polished stone meddalion he wore on a leather strap around his neck.  He was staring straight ahead, listening…

Hunter stepped up beside him, and said quietly, “What is it?”

Paco said nothing and continued to rub the stone pendant around his neck.  Now Bill was on his opposite side.

“Paco,” Bill said, and again Paco said nothing, “Paco!  What the hell is wrong with you?”  Bill was beginning to feel a little alarmed.

Paco looked over at Bill as if surprised to see him, then finally spoke, “There’s something in those trees, to the left I think.”

Both Bill and Hunter froze.  Could it be a bear?  A mountain lion?  They had no idea and both squinted intently in the direction Paco was staring.  A minute passed, and finally Paco  looked down, taking his hand off the polished stone pendant.

“I guess it was nothing guys.”  Paco took a few steps forward and stopped again.

“What’s up?”

“Not sure Hunter, maybe just a feeling… it’s scaring me though.”

Hunter’s neck hairs were standing on end, he chuckled nervously, “That’s bullshit!  I know you Paco, and you ain’t afraid of no man!”

Paco looked over at Bill, then Hunter, “Something out there is waiting for us… and it ain’d no man!”

A sudden rustling of leaves, and snapping of twigs behind them had Bill and Hunter scared shitless as they spun around ready to face whatever it was that was coming out of the woods for them, only to be blinded by the intense light of a large Maglight™ flashlight.

“Where the hell have you idiots been?”  The voice was Sara’s.  She lowered the flashlight, Catelyn was standing beside her with her own mini version of the quadruple D-Cell Maglight™ that Sara was carrying.

Catelyn twisted the light off and clipped the mini torch to her belt, “What kept you?  You were gone ages!  The we heard you crashing about and whispering.  You realize you’re only a few meters from the campsite, yeah?”

Paco spoke up chuckling, “We got lost, it was Bill’s fault.”

“Says the man that was in the lead!”

“Ah, whadareyagonnado?!”  Paco laughed.

Bill looked over at Paco, “You were in on this weren’t you?  You and the girls set this up to scare the shit outta Hunter and me!”

Sara laughed, “Come on guys, we’re just through here.”  She led them down a small path, and in seconds they were back at camp.

*                                   *                                   *

Bill was shivering in his sleeping bag, covered with two blankets, but still freezing even  as the sun came up around 05:30.  He looked over at Hunter who was curled up with his back to him, fast asleep in his blue and grey Spalding® sleeping bag.  He didn’t look to be freezing like Bill was.  Indeed Hunter had said the night before that the Spalding® was supposed to be good up to –15c.  It was nowhere near that cold, but Bill’s old, raggedy Coleman® bag wasn’t what it used to be, that and the manufacturer had made no claims, as far as he knew as to how warm it would keep him.  Bill pulled his Canadian Forces Parka over the blankets and tried to reposition himself.  The ground under the tent wasn’t exactly soft, more hard, lumpy and uncomfortable and it reminded Bill how much he hated nature.  Give him his waterbed, and a proper roof over his head any day over this.  He shook his head in disgust.  Ferchrissakes!  Now I have to piss! 

Bill threw the covers off and pulled on his four-hole Doc Martens, grabbed his parka, unzipped the tent and headed to the outhouse.

It was another hour before Hunter awoke in a haze.  He rolled over and noticed Bill was gone.  The sun was heating up the interior of the tent nicely and Hunter could hear someone outside tending to the morning fire.  The sound of a beer can top popping made Hunter grin.  Bill’s getting an early start on things I see… He rolled back over and closed his eyes for a moment thinking he could sleep all day.

There was a rustling outside the tent and the sound of the zipper opening and closing.  Hunter thought it must be Bill coming back in for something.  Clothes rustled and hit the floor, Hunter decided to pretend to sill be asleep.  If Bill was changing, he would give him his privacy.  Cool air touched his back ad Hunter’s sleeping bag was unzipped.  Hunter’s eyes were wide open.  He laughed a nervous laugh.

“Hey buddy, I’m all for keeping warm, but I think it only fair warning that I’m naked in here!”

A voice that was not Bill’s whispered into Hunter’s ear, “Well that’ll save us a bit of time then.”

Hunter rolled over, “Kate!”

Catelyn smiled and crawled into the Spalding® with Hunter, as naked as he was, then zipped it up behind her.

“Hello Sweetie!”

“Hunter started babbling nervously, “Is that your catch phrase now because I have to say I kind of like,"

Catelyn shut him up with a kiss.  The time for talking was apparently over.

When Hunter woke up again it was around 10:00, Catelyn was gone and the tent was unbearably hot inside.  Hunter threw on some clothes and boots and stepped out, feeling good for the first time since arriving in this bug infested wilderness.

Sara, Paco, and Catelyn were sitting by the fire, which was huge, way bigger than it should have been in Hunter’s opinion, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Paco was reading his book, Sara was pounding yet another Rockaberry 2L, (how many of those did she bring?) and chatting animatedly with Catelyn.  Hunter stopped by the cooler, the ice was mostly melted now.  He reached in and grabbed a beer, then put it back as he was feeling an almost overwhelming need to urinate.  Halfway down the path to the loos, he ran into Bill coming the other way.

“Hey man, you’ll never guess what happened!”

“You fucked Kate in the tent.”

“Uh, okay how did you…?”

“You think that thing is soundproof?”

“Ah, yeah of course not.”  Bill turned around and they walked and talked, Hunter continued, “Well it’s been a few years since we were together… but maybe it’s time again.”

“Time for what exactly?”  Bill knew the answer before asking.

“Time for Kate and I to get back together.”

Bill was unconvinced, “Really.  And how does she feel about this?”

“Nothing was said, but I’m sure we’re both on the same page.”

“On the same page eh?  Last month you said you were over her for good, and now one fuck later and you’re suddenly back together.  Look Hunter, you’re my friend, my closest friend, and we’ve known each other for a long time,”

“Sometimes it seems like an eternity..” Hunter joked.

“AND I know that you seem to have got more than you bargained for on this trip already but…” he trailed off

“But what?”  Hunter needed to know.

Bill stopped, the sounds of the campground surrounded them, birds sang, grasshoppers buzzed and chirped, the noises of other campers laughing, the crackling and popping of fires.  “I just think that things aren’t going to go the way you hope.  This isn’t some lame ass RomCom where the two incompatible lovers live happily ever after together.”

“I know that.” 

“Do you?  Just be careful okay?  That girl’s like Loki.  I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her.”

Hunter continued walking, and Bill followed, “Low Key?  I don’t know who or what that is.”

Bill was exasperated, “Loki, the trickster, brother of Thor, from Norse mythology!  Jesus man, you gotta pick up a book once in a while!”

They came up on the outhouses, Hunter opened the door and could hear they flies buzzing around inside, “Well, Bill I tell you I got a different feeling this time, we’re both older, more mature.  I think she’s looking for a real relationship now and I think we may just be able to make it work.”

Bill turned back towards the path, “If that’s what you think then you have to go for it,” he paused, “but I have a bad feeling about this.  It can only end badly.”

Hunter nodded grimly, and stepped into the outhouse.

*                                   *                                   *

The RV was gone by the time Hunter got back to the campsite.  A feeling of alarm crept up into his guts.  Could they have left him behind?  No they wouldn’t, of course not.  They certainly wouldn’t have left the cooler full of beer if they were leaving for good.  He stopped by the cooler and grabbed a beer.  Catelyn was sitting on the picnic table with her feet on the bench smoking one of her Pall Malls.  Hunter walked over to the tent and opened the flap, reaching into his rucksack he pulled out a pack of chocolate flavoured Phillies Blunts, he slid one into his mouth, then pulled the rucksack over his shoulder.  He went to the picnic table and sat down beside Catelyn, and lit up his cigar.

“Where’d they go?”  he motioned toward where the RV had been parked.

“When did you start smoking?”

“What?  I don’t know, before I moved into Lond Ho, just after college.  Why do you care?  You’ve been smoking since high school!”

“Oi!  Don’t get your knickers in a twist!  I was only asking!  They went into Canmore for some groceries because apparently nobody remembered to bring any food…”  She looked at Hunter with a crooked smile.

Hunter put his rucksack down, flipped open the top flap, and pulled out an old, battered, Toshiba twin deck cassette player.  The machine had certainly seen better days.  He had it since the ninth grade and it had been everywhere with him.  Most recently Hunter took it on a trip with Bill to visit their friend Jeri at the Alberta College of Art where it had sustained a kicked in speaker grill, and more than its share of paint and Rhoplex™ spatter.  Still to spite the years of blasting punk-rock and general abuse, it worked pretty well.  Hunter put in a tape marked “Punk Mix 1138” and pressed play.  “Hateful” by The Clash burst from the speakers.  He took a pull from his cigar and blew a smoke ring, feeling relaxed for the first time in ages.

“You know I never actually enjoyed camping.”  Catelyn said, lighting another Pall Mall

Hunter looked at her, the freckles across the tops of her cheeks and nose even more visible in the bright sunlight, her thick cascade of ringlets seeming to sparkle golden as they flitted about in the light breeze.

“We did go, mind you but camping really not the same in England.  We’d mostly just go spend the weekend at a caravan park in Skegness.  Once during school break we spent some time at my uncle’s cottage near Penrith.  I mostly recall being bored quite a lot of the time while my brothers snuck bottles of ale and the adults played cards.”  She took a drag of her smoke, then flicked her ash into the fire.

Hunter spoke, “I never did much either as a kid as far as camping goes.  I seem to recall we had a tent trailer.”

Catelyn looked confused, so Hunter explained, “It’s like a small caravan with canvas sides like a tent, it folds out so you can sleep in it.”

Catelyn nodded, “Oh, yes okay I’ve seen one of those before.”

Hunter took a long swig of beer, “Anyway, for someone who doesn’t like camping, you were pretty wicked prepared.”

She smiled, “Oh yes, once again you forget how clever I can be.  I guess it’s because you’re always so used to being the smartest bloke in the room.  I did my research before coming out.  No point in being caught unawares is there?”

Hunter nodded, “You’re right about being prepared, but I never forget how smart you were, uh, are.”

“Which brings us to why I came out here with you and your mates,”

Hunter cut in, “I think I may have an Idea…”

She put a white gloved hand over his, “Oh, I’m not quite sure you do,”

Hunter interrupted again, “Lets just out with it okay, you want us to get back together and my answer is yes.  Of course.  Absolutely.”

“Wait,”

“I mean it might be a little hard for our friends to deal at first but,”

“Stop it Joe.”

He looked at her.

“That’s just not on.”

‘What?”

“We are NOT getting back with each other!”

“But this morning,”

“Hunter we CAN’T get back with each other.  Period.”

Hunter was annoyed now, he had it all planned in his head, and now it was falling apart around him, “Why the hell not?”

Catelyn steeled herself, took a deep breath, looked Joe Cornelius Hunter straight in the eyes, it was the conversation she had been dreading all weekend, and now it was happening, she spoke. 

“His name is Omar, he’s forty-one years old, he’s an oil executive, I’m marrying him next month.”

Hunter’s jaw dropped open as the ash fell from his cigar and disintegrated on the ground below.

Holy crap!  Who knows what could happen next??!!  Tune in March 9th for Part 4 of Lond Ho Adventures: May Long!

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