Saturday, 19 February 2011

Doctor Who The Lost Stories Season One

The Nightmare Fair
A visit to Blackpool pleasure beach ensnares the Doctor in another of the Celestial Toymaker’s fiendish games…
On set anecdote: The crew found it highly amusing when Nicola Bryant threw up all over Colin Baker on the roller coaster!
DWAS: ‘I thought the location work was especially good! What a shame they couldn’t get Michael Gough back as the Toymaker but at least we can take some comfort in the return of old Taren Capel!’
Ratings - Episode One: 7.7m/Episode Two: 6.8m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘Think of the effect that this story is having on the children! They will be going to Blackpool pleasure beach expecting to be tortured by a Chinese Mandarin!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… After listening to The Nightmare Fair I am in two minds about the Lost Stories. On the one hand I want them to be as authentic as possible so it feels like we are literally skipping into season 23b but on the other hand I want them to be as slick and as confident as Big Finish’s usual output. Graeme Williams story opens on a great location and genuinely innovates the Toymaker with an unforgettable, unexpectedly affecting conclusion but much of what comes between is quiet, talky and unmemorable. The performances of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant feel totally authentic and David Baillie steps into Michael Gough’s shoes effortlessly and the production is the usual high standards. I’m not sure what to make of this story to be honest, I enjoyed it for nostalgic reasons but I don’t think it stands up to the best of Big Finish’s usual output: 6/10

Mission to Magnus
The Doctor and Peri visit a planet ruled by women and encounter both the Ice Warriors and Sil!
On set anecdote: Watch out for the scene where John Nathan Turners dog Pepsi tried to sniff Nabil Shaban thinking he was a giant lump of…well you know.
Christopher (God) Bidmead: ‘Thank goodness I am writing a script shortly! Looks like we are heralding back to the Douglas Adams era of too much silliness! A talking turd! Knocking a planet out of orbit? Dear oh dear…’
Ratings - Episode One: 8.0m/Episode Two: 7.5m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘A planet ruled by women who want to quell the violence inherent in their male counterparts. Why can’t Doctor Who always be like this?’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Wordy, clichéd, silly and stupid…who gives a shit? This story is an absolute laugh riot! Lisa Bowerman directs Mission to Magnus with a lightness of touch which ensures it is a very smooth ride and extremely reminiscent of the confidence of the Williams era. Fresh performances, funny lines, insane levels of inventi
veness (oh right you can handle a time travelling police box but knocking a planet out of orbit is just ridiculous!), lots of great monsters and a general sense of crazy exuberance make this an incredibly fun slice of hokum. The story turns on its axis at the cliffhanger and becomes something quite different in the second episode ensuring the story keeps delivering. Turn off your critical faculties, this feels astonishingly authentic as though it has literally stepped from the mid eighties and should be thoroughly enjoyed as a lively and delightful breath of the past: 8/10

A visit to medieval England is not quite what it seems…
On set anecdote: The Hearne’s antlers kept falling off and had to be glued on again…that’s why there is only one in some scenes.
DWAS: ‘We are not amused. We do not like Colin Baker and would ask the BBC to stop making good stories like this so we can continue to complain.’
Ratings - Episode One: 7.8m/Episode Two: 9.0m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘To me I think it’s astounding that people with brilliance in many ways couldn’t have extended their awareness! Big scary monsters with skull faces and horns indeed!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Now that is more like it! Leviathan is a magical little script that keeps peeling away layers of meaning as it progresses. The first episode is full of great mysteries and pleasingly turns out to be one big con and you would think that after the big reveal of the Leviathan it might rest on its laurels but the story continues to innovate until its conclusion.
The Doctor has a multitude of problems to juggle up and as a result he is more incredible than ever for not breaking a sweat and even Peri gets lots to do. Its written and directed as though it could have been made at the time but unlike the first two stories it would also stand up remarkably well today, a pacy, intelligent, thoughtful story with more than enough going on to keep you thinking throughout. Extremely impressive: 9/10

The Hollows of Time
The Doctor drops in on an old friend and finds that an even older friend is waiting for him…
On set anecdote: Anthony Ainley was reportedly too busy to play Stream because he was at the Ashes…
Stephen Hawking said:
‘What a brilliant slice of science fiction. I thought it was gripping!’ What everybody else said: ‘Umm…what was that about?’
Ratings - Episode One: 8.2m/Episode Two: 6.6m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘Giant woodlice that burrow through the ground! This time they’ve gone the whole hog and included a child in the action! This show must be cancelled!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Utterly inexplicable, here you have a story with a mysterious villain who dish up some indecipherable technobabble for unknown motives! The Hollows of Time starts off well with an intriguing flashback structure, the Doctor and Peri going on holiday and promises of some Tractator action and then singularly fails to do anything interesting with all three. This isn’t a piece of drama where the plot services the characters and we go on journey with them, it’s a science lecture where the characters are sacrificed to the nonsensical, illogical plot. It’s a pity because the direction is evocative and the performances are very good but I have rarely heard an audio where the script has singularly destroyed any chance of enjoyment. This was a real shock to me because I adore Castrovalva and Frontios but The Hollows of Time is singularly Bidmead’s worst ever script (I even preferred Renaissance) and one of the most turgid excuses for a story in Doctor Who canon: 3/10

Paradise FiveThe Doctor and Peri work behind the scenes to bring down the Paradise Corporation…
On set anecdote: They had terrible trouble getting the animatronic cherubs to work properly. Interference with the cameras meant that they went haywire on the set much to the amusement of the actors!
Butlins chipped in with this announcement: ‘We would like to assure all of our guests that we are not in the habit of selling our visitors into slavery although
we cannot promise that the camp isn’t run by a pair of ladyboys.’
Ratings – Episode One: 6.0m/Episode Two: 7.7m/Episode Three: 7.8m/Episode Four: 8.2m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘This story was ticking along nicely with a very pleasant visit to a holiday camp in space. And then they go and turn perfectly responsible, learned adults into children!’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Another impressive entry in the lost stories season, if we had had a season with stories like Leviathan and Paradise Five we would have been declaring the mid eighties as the renaissance of Doctor Who! This is a quietly menacing story that keeps the mystery of the Paradise Machine and what has happened to the previous guests at arms length leaving you desperate to know what has happened. The Doctor is more playfully commanding than ever and Peri gets the chance to take centre stage and question her direction in life, in both cases it is gorgeous characterisation. It takes the unusual approach of keeping the anonymity of the high dimensions warfare and concludes with no easy answers for the cherubs and in both cases it is highly effective and thoughtful. PJ Hammond’s ideas are top notch, Andy Lane’s scripting is witty and perspicacious and Barnaby Edwards’ provides his usual stellar direction. A special mention for Gabriel and Michael; beautifully played gay villains who top the ‘I wish they could return’ list: 9/10

Point of EntryChristopher Marlowe is seeking an audience with Devil…
On set anecdote: Nicola Bryant received a letter from the Royal Household commending her on her performance as Queen Elizabeth.
What the Australian censor said: ‘Unfortunately this 100 minute Doctor Who story will be transmitted between 5.35pm and 5.40pm with all the offending material removed.’
Ratings - Episode One: 8.0m/Episode Two: 8.8m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘Now they really have gone too far! Tongues being excised! Devil worshipping! Out of body experiences! Aztec blood sacrifices! Is this show being scheduled for after the watershed or is it still being made for children?’
Doc Oho’s reviews chips in with… Wow. Astonishingly mature storytelling and the pinnacle of the lost stories season; Point of Entry combines theatrics and devilry to create an unsettling, dark mood with moments of genuinely chilling horror. This is the story of Marlowe bewitched by the Devil, looking for a sinister muse to shape Faustus and bringing an alien menace to fruition that is laced into Earth’s bloody history. Marc Platt has written his best script yet, an ominous historical atmosphere of storms, screams and sacrifices and John Ainsworth direction offers moments of spine chilling terror. Barbara Clegg’s pitch was the per
fect change of scene for this science fiction heavy season and gives Peri her best material yet. People have bemoaned that this story is too long but I wouldn’t lose one second of its brooding piquancy: 10/10

The Song of MegapteraOn set anecdote: The animatronic whale went crazy and slapped its wet fin right in Colin Baker’s face!
A spokesperson for Greenpeace said: ‘We find it appalling that whaling should continue so far into the future. The human race will never learn…’
Ratings – Episode One: 7.7m/Episode Two: 8.4m
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘An ecological theme. I whole heartedly approve.’
Doc Oho’s Reviews chip in with: Not quite as strong as the last two but a fine story nevertheless, The Song of Megaptera plants the Doctor and Peri in a desperate situation from the first scene and explores the nature of the Galeen and their industry with considerable panache. There are some amusing characters to keep the story ticking over and an awesome shift in location inside the whale halfway through the story. The Galeen are one of the most imaginative races we have encountered yet and it is wonderful that we got to see them televised last year. Coming after the subtle and terrifying Point of Entry this is a complete change of pace, lacking the atmosphere but far more exciting and considering the gestation period this story has had it is astonishing that the end result is this entertaining and thought prov
oking. It’s a story that sees the Doctor and Peri at their best and proves they are made for each other, and the show: 8/10

The Macros
The Doctor and Peri are cut down to size...
On set anecdote: JNT reportedly stormed onto the set and bellowed at the poor actress playing Osloo ‘not enough Thatcher! Give it more Thatcher!’
DWAS: ‘We are appalled that during her guest appearance in her own script, Ingrid Pitt did not get her tits out once. Speaking as Doctor Who fans she must realise this is the only way we get our kicks.’
What Mary Whitehouse said: ‘I am proud to announce my position of script editor of Doctor Who. Next season: Trial of a Time Lord!’
Doc Oho’s Reviews chips in with: Listening to extras on this story it is really disappointing to hear that The Children of January was originally supposed to end this run because it would have made a far more impressive job of it! Much like the first season of Jago & Litefoot this is a disappointingly unclimactic ending to what has been a fantastic season of stories. What we have here is two disjointed plots that are brought together without finesse with the emphasis on the least interesting (the events on Capron). Irritatingly the story keeps offering potentially interesting avenues (heading to a micro world, the sailors returning from he dead, the Doctor and Peri trying to stop the experiment) but fails to follow up on them and all roads lead back to Osloo who is one of the most useless characters to ever turn up in a Big Finish story. She’s every crackpot villain the show has ever produced, every corny line, all the lack of motivation and craving power for its own sakes we have been subjected to over the years mushed into one cringeworthy, empty baddie. There are some lovely directional touches, the music is fine but the tension is sorely lacking in this uncomfortably plotted and ill-characterised finale: 4/10

The Lost Season has turned out to be a total success in my eyes, mirroring almost exactly my feelings of season 22! I am far more enamoured with Colin Baker’s debut season than a lot of other people seem to be and just like this season I find there is a handful of classics (Vengenace on Varos, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks as opposed to Leviathan, Paradise Five and Point of Entry), some entertaining adventures (Attack of the Cybermen and Mark of the Rani as opposed to The Nightmare Fair, Mission to Magnus and The Song of Megaptera) and a few stinkers (Timelash/The Hollows of Time/The Macros).

The Celestial Toymaker is haunting Blackpool pleasure beach, Sil is playing two sets of aliens off against each other to make maximum profit (Lalalalala), a medieval village exists within a huge spaceship, a sinister holiday company is sacrificing its guests to extra dimensional beings, Peri is lost on the astral plane, our heroes are trying to save the life of a magnificent space whale and the Philadelphia Experiment is explained – this is a year of bold, imaginative concepts and colourful stories. The genres hop about like a good season of Doctor who should from surrealism to hokey science fiction, from historical fantasy to chilling horror. Point of Entry aside there does seem to be a lighter, less violent touch to the season – the two stories that we know were commissioned are much less graphic and more fun than anything from season 22. There is humour in abundance; Sil’s wonderful turn of phrase, the brilliantly camp villains Micheal and Gabriel, the Warriors Gate-esque guards in Megaptera – the stories are really pepped up with some very funny moments.

Most importantly this is a wonderful year for the much-maligned (within fandom) sixth Doctor and Peri which expertly bridges the gap between their acerbic relationship in season 22 and their gentler one in 23. You can gradually feel the sixth Doctor softening throughout the season and with an abundance of good material he really gets to own his era once more. He discovers the secret of the Toymaker, tackles his old nemesis Anzor, discovers a rapier wit in swordplay, visits more old friends, goes behind the scenes to bring down Paradise Five, manipulates the astral plane and saves the life of Megaptera. He is a hero through and through, witty, clever, thoughtful and superbly played by Colin Baker who is getting a thrill out of finally bringing these stories to life. Peri gets some fine development too, she finally gets to enjoy her time with old Sixie but also ponder how she got to where she is and comes to the conclusion at the end of the season that this life is too exciting to give up. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the producers of the Lost Stories have finally given Peri the sort of material she deserved in the series.

A couple of duds but the majority of the first season of Lost Stories are very well written and made. For plugging a gap that the fans were denied and proving this could have been a very strong year for the series, these stories are too good to miss out on.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I love the 'On set anecdote' for The Macros - very accurate!