Review: Doctor Who – Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom


The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who is an event that certainly has some scope, an event with so much ground to cover it often becomes difficult to truly do justice to the matter in hand or please a very demanding audience. Over the past six months we have seen a huge range in terms of actual celebration, from celebrating the founders and innovators of the show with An Adventure in Time and Space to whatever it was The Day of the Doctor celebrated, there have been hits and misses (hello After Party) along the way and of course many memorable moments.

Yet for us, the truest and best celebration of Doctor Who didn’t have a million pound budget or millions watching around the globe.. And that was The Five(ish) Doctors, made with fans in mind, clever, knowing and with a wink and a nod, it reminded us of the of old Peter Davision line “for some people, small things are what life is all about.”

Which brings us to Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom, a 42 minute documentary funded through Kickstarter that looks at the very heart of Doctor Who – the fans themselves.

Interviewing a host of individuals, from academics and members of the production team to ordinary fans, from writer Rob Shearman and actress Louise Jameson, the interviewees explore how their lives have been affected by Doctor Who and in particular by their or others fandom of the series.

The documentary effectively shows the generational impact of the show, from those who first saw the show on its debut such as Louise to those who came in later in the original series’ run, from those new to the show to the future young fans, they’re all here with some many different, yet familiar stories.

The tales of huddling around the TV set over Saturday dinner to fervently collecting old VHS tapes will be familiar to many, from conventions covered in mud to fans creating their own fan projects and cosplay, the stories are both heartwarming and positive, it being something of a nice change to hear from many of the people we don’t usually get to see within these celebratory documentaries. For while it’s always interesting to hear Rob reveal the inception of Dalek or Louise talk about her time on the show, it is the fan’s stories that are maybe closest to our heart and own experience.

Covering everything from prop making to conventions, the documentary manages to pack an incredible amount into 42 minutes without ever appearing to skim over a section or leave anything unsaid. It’s scope is highly impressive and one it manages to pull off effectively, charting the development of fandom from it’s inception to today, leaving the viewer wishing possibly that the length was just a little bit longer.

50 Years of Fandom is an excellent example of what can be produced at the grassroots level by fans through funding sources such as Kickstarter, such projects being touched on in the documentary itself. As the show rightly points out, Doctor Who is today ran by the “fanboys” and our next producer might well be already producing fan films and documentaries just like this one. A fine advert for Kickstarter as a medium for fans to get their project into production and one we support utterly.

“I think that’s the very best of fandom, the communities it creates”

Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom is a warm and affectionate tribute to fandom in this anniversary year. Positive and heartwarming, the documentary shies away from any negativity and will bring a smile to the face of any fan involved in fandom. Interesting stories and personalities with a healthy mix of the old and the new, Celebrating 50 years comes highly recommended and it available now from Flip the Switch Media at this link or directly below:



Retro Review: The Moonbase


1967: Year of Haight and Ashbury, Country Joe and the Fish, and Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.

Everyone has their own theory of when “Doctor Who as we know it” began. Is it An Unearthly Child (The actual beginning)? The Daleks (It’s got Daleks in it)? Marco Polo (The regular cast start to get along)? The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Returning monster, companion leaves)? The War Machines (Contemporary Earthbound adventure)? The Tenth Planet (Hello Regeneration)? The War Games (The Time Lord reveal)? Or even The Green Death (The Doctor mopes over Jo leaving)?

I think it begins with The Moonbase.

Here’s some reasons why.

A base, under siege.

Female companion shows strong heroic streak (albeit between bouts of coffee making), whilst mouthy male companion is fairly ineffectual.

Larks with spacesuits on the lunar surface

Monsters that creep up on you and stay mostly hidden until a big reveal.

Returning Monsters that aren’t Daleks.

The Doctor has finally started acting like the Doctor we know.

A few stories into his tenure, Patrick Troughton stops dressing up, dumps the hat, and gets to grips with the part. He’s the definitive Doctor, as the character crystallises here and becomes the basic template for Doctorish behaviour. Yes, Hartnell originated the part, and he definitely has his fair share of defining moments. But, his Doctor also tries to brain a caveman with a rock, nearly gets everyone killed on more than one occasion due to his selfish curiousity, and is mostly interested in getting back to the ship and getting away. He’s not the heroic, never-cruel-or-cowardly figure we’re used to. Troughton’s Doctor is occasionally dark and manipulative, but he’s a hero, as opposed to an observer who gets swept up by events.

Famously, his oft-quoted speech in Episode 2 sees the moment where the Doctor finally stops being a tourist, rolls up his sleeves, and assumes the mantle of full time hero. The dialogue he’s given is slightly dry and stilted in places, and occasionally he talks like Hartnell, but this is where Troughton truly starts to shine, whether quietly trying to move on before exploring the Moon, removing a Moonbase worker’s boot, or squaring up to the Cybermen. There’s a brilliant blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when Polly tells him she’s seen a Cyberman, and a look of disquiet flashes across his face, as if to suggest flinching at the memory of his recent regeneration. Nice touch, Pat. It’s easy to forget what a new thing regeneration was back then.

The Moonbase is very much a sequel to The Tenth Planet, transplanted from snowy wastes to the Moon, and shot through with additional doses of cold war paranoia. In some ways it’s almost a photocopy. There’s a grizzled, distrustful authority figure leading a motley group of scientists, the unhelpful voice of International Space Control over the “radio”. And, of course, there are Cybermen, accompanied by their unofficial early theme tune, Martin Slavin’s Space Adventure, the little piece of stock music that kept on giving.

It’s fair to say that many viewers in ’67 didn’t see their return coming, after debuting only a few months earlier, not even the Daleks made such a speedy return. Drastically redesigned, these Cybermen also sound different, and also behave very differently to their oddly flamboyant predecessors. They don’t sweep in and announce themselves like in The Tenth Planet, they’ve snuck in (through….er…..a hole in the wall…best not to give this too much thought), and have been picking off the crew through a fake plague. Visually, they’re more impressive (especially on the lunar surface), but perhaps most importantly, these are the Cybermen that everyone remembers, the sneaky ones, lurking silently in the shadows or under sheets in the sick bay.

This is the kind of Cyber behaviour that the modern series tries to evoke with varying success, lurking behind plastic sheets in Army of Ghosts or in the fitting rooms in Closing Time. The Cybermen are a funny one really. Almost every iteration of them is criticised for different reasons. The Tenth Planet ones look ridiculous, but seem to have gained in popularity over the years based on how weird they are. The ones in Wheel in Space sound funny and there’s only two of them. The Invasion ones hardly say anything and have silver DMs and wetsuits. The Revenge ones are camp. The Earthshock ones are too emotional. The Five Doctors ones are too short and too easy to kill. The Silver Nemesis ones are too shiny, the RTD-era ones are too big and clunky, and the Nightmare in Silver ones are too fast. There’s just no pleasing us where our Cybermen are concerned, except perhaps for the ones in Moonbase and Tomb. They strike a chord somehow, despite the presence of obvious Kirby wires and foam, and the fact you can barely understand what they’re saying.

The Cyber-plot to take over the Moonbase and mess up Earth’s weather by sabotaging the Gravitron doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, especially when it’s entirely dependent on whether or not you take sugar. In fact, the story seems unusually fixated with hot beverages. The ‘plague’ is transmitted by sugar in coffee, the hole the Cybermen enter the Moonbase through is covered by bags of sugar, and a breech in the hull is plugged by a tea tray. Yes, that’s right. A tea tray. Due to the dodgy science I’m guessing Gerry wrote that bit.

What’s more effective is that they’re lurking around in the dark and they want to get us. Others have commented on a “Reds Under The Bed” vibe here, with the Cybermen cast as saboteurs or enemy agents. Unlike the Nazi parallels with Daleks wanting to destroy the unlike, the Cybermen want to convert you and make you like them, so maybe Pedler and Davis saw them as Communist Analogs as well as a comment on spare part surgery.

The plot in general is fairly basic, and the guest cast aren’t bad, although only two of them do much talking, Hobson and Benoit.

No, Andre Maranne is not putting it on, that’s actually a real French accent, possibly exaggerated to make him seem even more French. He’s even got a rather natty scarf on. He is so French I’m surprised he doesn’t attempt to woo Polly with the promise of a picnic by the Seine on the basis of his enthusiastic introduction to her. Clearly no-one up here’s seen a woman in a fair while, but no-one else seems that bothered.

Patrick Barr as base commander Hobson is a sturdy example of that old Doctor Who standby, Serious Leader In Charge Of a Big Science Thing. The only jarring thing about Hobson is that he’s distrustful of The Doctor and Polly and suspects them to be saboteurs, but oddly seems to trust Ben when he has no reason to. Maybe it’s because Ben’s a sailor, but the Doctor’s a bohemian drop-out, and Polly’s a girl. Considering the era in which it was made, the crew of the Moonbase is quite multicultural, albeit all male.

That said, it’s almost as if Hobson is actually ticking boxes with his recruitment strategy as whole countries are represented by individuals “France? Check…” “Denmark? Check….” They also multitask as scientists who take turns cooking and doing the general dogsbody work, as there’s not many of them to start with. An honourable mention should go to the very camp space suits used by both the TARDIS and Moonbase crews. They’re brilliantly kitsch, with both fishbowl helmets and goggles, and any scene involving them is fun, but are unconvincing with their amusingly flimsy looking oxygen tanks. It’s a shame as the rest of the design on this story is pretty good.

There’s a crowded TARDIS here, with three companions, and, as with most of Doctor Who’s history, the writers struggle to accommodate all three. What is most apparent is that three stories in, the production team have no idea what to do with Jamie yet, rendering him unconscious and keeping him mostly out cold for much of the story, only occasionally rambling in delirium about the “McCrimmon Piper”. No wonder the Cybermen keep rejecting him, the poor lad comes across as a bit of a loony. Oh well, at least he’s allowed inside the Moonbase. If this were the 80s he’d have spent several episodes in the TARDIS, possibly unconscious, like Nyssa.

Ben and Polly pretty much swap roles here. She’s impressively proactive, asking the right questions to advance the plot, and mixing her Cyber-killing “Polly cocktail” considering the less enlightened time this was made in, although this is undercut by her merrily heading off to put the kettle on, and when she tells Ben that going after the Cybermen is “Man’s work”. Ben on the other hand seems out of sorts and feels redundant, and traipses round after the Moonbase crew in search of odd jobs. He should have stayed on, Hobson’s good at finding odd jobs for people. I like Polly, Ben’s ok, and Jamie’s great, but the Doctor and companions aren’t gelling brilliantly. Jamie has yet to find his feet as a character, and Ben and Polly don’t quite click with this Doctor, who’s much more suited to the later boy-girl formula that starts a few stories later with Evil of the Daleks.

The missing Episodes 1 and 3 have been animated by Planet 55. In my opinion this is the best animated reconstruction yet, bettering even The Invasion. The simple yet moody style of animation suits the Cybermen very well, and the notoriously elusive facial expressions of Troughton are captured far better than in previous efforts by Cosgrove Hall and Qurios. It also somehow feels less jarring when returning to live action. Director Morris Barry does pretty well in scenes involving Cybermen and the film sequences on the lunar surface, but otherwise his direction is a little flat and the pace isn’t exactly rip-roaring for a four parter. The ending is fun, with Cybermen being thrown back into space, but it’s over quickly, and for all the innovations this story brings, a well wrapped up ending isn’t one of them.

Overall, The Moonbase isn’t in itself a classic, but it has a lot to give with, and most importantly it gives us the classic Doctor Who we know and love, with a brilliant, unpredictable Doctor, and scary monsters that hide in the shadows, and in our beds.

Retro Review: The Web of Fear


Well, it appeared after months of rumours three months ago, and it’s still weird to say this…….

At the ripe age of thirty-seven, I can watch (nearly) all of The Web of Fear! It carries on past Episode 1! I blink and it doesn’t disappear from my iTunes! It lives!

The five year old version of me with his well-thumbed Target novelisation would have gaped. The fourteen year old me who nagged his Uncle to tape the orphaned episode 1 as part of the Who weekend on BSB (remember them?) would’ve possibly burst. The late-twenties me who saw Web 1 repeated on a BBC4 night about the London Underground would’ve likely drank a yard of ale, and probably already had before sitting down.

I’ll be interested to read DWM’s DVD review of this after Matthew Sweet’s recent iTunes release piece, as for me this was the biggest anniversary treat of last year. We were given some lovely shiny new gifts in the anniversary year, and I’m by no means the first to say this, but the return of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear is nothing short of a miracle, as unless you were carefully following the Omnirumour, or one of those in the know during the recovery/restoration process, you just couldn’t have seen this coming.

For so many years Web has existed only as blurry telesnaps and crackling soundtrack, and seemed such a remote, lost thing. The version I, and so many other children of the 70s grew up with was Uncle Terrance Dicks’ Target effort, still falling to bits in my bookcase to this day. That famously atmospheric first episode has been a frustration for many years, because before October it opened and closed with cliffhangers that we hadn’t a hope in hell of seeing resolved from either side.  We all know that TV of the time wasn’t designed to stand up to repeated scrutiny. That’s why nobody under fifty was likely to have even seen Web before October. And what we can see now, a slight lag of pace around the Episode 5 mark, a wobbly Perspex pyramid and a slightly rubbish final battle scene aside, is for my money the tightest bit of 60s Who we have.

Director Douglas Camfield gets it absolutely right in terms of pace, camerawork, lighting, and action. You really believe those tube tunnels go on forever. Camfield famously fell out with house composer Dudley Simpson at a dinner party and refused to hire him for any of his Who episodes, so the music comes from stock, and ranges between Bartok, music you’d normally associate with Cybermen bursting through clingfilm, and some otherworldly radiophonic shimmers. The redesigned Yeti impress, they’re now making no pretence at being real Bigfoot, and are imposing, shaggy and violent, with their big glowing eyes and mangy fur. They’re counterpointed nicely by the disembodied whispering voice of the Great Intelligence, which echoes through the tunnels in a wonderfully creepy manner.

Yes, the Intelligence’s scheme to absorb the Doctor’s brain is a bit vague, but it’s presented as part of an unfolding mystery right from the off. The supporting characters are well-drawn, only cowardly welsh Driver Evans grates a little. You have the return of The Abominable Snowmen’s Professor Travers, an early prototype of the modern day recurring character-that’s-not-quite-a-companion.

Here, the aged-up Jack Watling gets right into being curmudgeonly and argumentative, and looks to be having a whale of a time. Shame about his “zombie” acting when possessed by the Intelligence, but hey, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if something a bit off-centre didn’t happen every other week. He’s joined here by daughter Anne, cool, smart, attractive, even a little flirtatious….a sort of prototype for Liz Shaw. She decided she would be a scientist, and would have made a good companion. On top of them you have dependable old Staff Sergeant Arnold, no-nonsense Captain Knight, odious reporter Harold Chorley, and some mysterious Colonel called Lethbridge-Stewart….

Ah, the Brig. Yes, I know he’s not The Brig yet, but let’s call him The Brig here. It doesn’t matter about his rank – he’s The Brig already.

Unfortunately his first appearance is in the missing Episode 3, represented here by the soundtrack and unfortunately not very many stills, a lot of them quite blurry. As a result Nicholas Courtney’s debut performance is a little hard to judge. The telesnaps and stills don’t capture him at his expressive best, he sounds a bit higher pitched than normal (which could, to be fair, be the soundtrack recording) and that familiar Brig twinkle is absent from the photos, where, no doubt caught mid-line or expression he unfortunately looks a bit frog-eyed. However, come episode 4, and there he is, fully formed, full of authority and that customary playful twinkle.

It’s striking how young Courtney looks here, even compared to his return eight months later in The Invasion, and surprising how much he gets stuck into the physical rough stuff, we’re so used to seeing him deskbound, overseeing missile strikes, or bickering with the Doctor in the lab. He’s set up here as a shady figure. We’re kept guessing as to whether or not he’s the mole working with the GI right up to Episode 6. He’s allowed a rare moment of despair and remorse after returning as the sole survivor from the superbly shot Covent Garden battle sequence with the Yeti. What with the eerily empty shots of London and the sense that Lethbridge-Stewart’s only just escaped with his life it put me in mind of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

All the death throughout makes it feel quite real, right from the off when an impatient Captain Knight tersely answers Chorley’s inane questions on the offscreen death of his former C.O. He looks like he would rather knock Chorley’s teeth out. Compare this to the complete lack of any form of emotional reaction to all those casualties in the Tombs of Telos from anyone (bar Toberman when Kaftan dies, and even that’s coaxed out by the Doctor, who clearly just wants to go home), it’s a minor but quietly grown up moment.

Speaking of the mole, the obvious suggestion apart from The Brig is the aforementioned Chorley, as the finger of suspicion is pointed at him a few times, if only due to his character winding up the others so much that they wish it was him, but this falls a bit flat when he disappears for two whole episodes. It’d be interesting to be a fly on the wall at the original broadcast to see what viewers of the time reckoned. Thanks to the novelisation I know what’s going to happen, but to my eyes reliable old Staff Arnold (played by Jack Woolgar) starts to telegraph his guilt by looking increasingly shifty before his eventual reveal as the Intelligence’s vessel.

The companions come off well here. Jamie is well established by now and he carries a lot of the action with his usual aplomb. Victoria usually gets a bad rap for her screamy shrillness, but Deborah Watling does pretty well, perhaps rising to the occasion a bit more than usual when given an opportunity to act opposite her Father, Jack, and doing a good job of looking brave, but scared.

Patrick Troughton is at his nuanced best here, from slapstick to the deviousness we saw from him in Tomb of the Cybermen. What we had of him before was great, but the more we see of him, the more he uncoils. He’s having a rare old time in Web, there are so many little moments, be it thumping Yeti on the back or tipping away Evans’ tobacco so he can pocket the tin. He’s absent in Episode 2 (on holiday), but more than makes up for his week off when he returns, it’s just a shame that you don’t seem him as a moving image again until Episode 4.

What’s becoming ever more apparent with the return of Enemy and Web is that Doctor Two is a bit of a rogue, the old devil. This Doctor would have gone to town in the modern series, he has none of the awkwardness of Eleven, or the ever-so-up-himself-ness of Ten, but Two would have got in an awful lot of trouble given half a chance. Maybe it’s Pat himself coming through here, Two seems much more keen on girls than most of his successors on the basis of these two stories alone.  Much has been made of his introduction to Astrid in Enemy, but am I the only one to note him flirting with Anne Travers as they work on the Yeti control device? It’s all in the eyes.

Another parallel, which Pat-fan Matt Smith would no doubt love, is the Doctor’s annoyance at the end when the Intelligence has been dispelled back into space.

Everyone’s patting him on the back for saving the day, but he sees it as a failure as he planned to absorb it and put an end to it forever. It shows a shade of darkness to this Doctor, obviously the Intelligence is a disembodied bodysnatching thing as opposed to a living creature, but isn’t that sort of…..genocide?  No wonder the Time Lords exiled him later on for showing such a ruthless streak. Maybe Web-fan Mark Gatiss had this scene in mind when writing 2010’s Victory of the Daleks, his reaction here echoes Smith’s at the end of that episode when the Daleks get away.

Unlike the fairly routine “Daleks-eradicated-forever” move that was pulled more than once in 60s Who, this ending was clearly leaving it open for a further, possibly final return for the Intelligence. As we now know, its eventual return in The Snowmen wouldn’t come for 44 years due to writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln’s well documented fall-out with the production team over their troubled scripts for The Dominators, later in 1968.

We know that Web is a beginning of sorts, but it’s more than just a dry run for the UNIT era and your classic “Earth Invasion” story which would become the norm later on. This is the fully concentrated form of what we call “Classic” Who.

All the ingredients are here – a familiar location, tunnels, scary monsters, foam, humour, action, body horror, returning characters, the slightest hint of a story arc with the returns of Travers, the GI, and the Yeti, and a Doctor at the peak of his powers. There’s even a bit of ham in Jack Watling’s dodgy “Possessed” acting for us fans to have a bit of a giggle at.

This one’s got it all, and I for one am thrilled that it’s back, and that it carries on past Episode 1.

The Web of Fear is available now on iTunes as well as to preorder from Amazon and other good retailers.

Retro Review: The Ambassadors of Death


Doctor Who’s 1970 season is perhaps better remembered for stories such as The Silurians with its moral ambiguity and Inferno’s journey into a parallel universe. Yet between those two stories is a forgotten little gem dealing with astronauts, manipulation and the threat of interstellar war. A story called The Ambassadors of Death.

The story can be seen an alien invasion take on The Silurians. Both stories have similar beginnings with UNIT helping out a UK scientific establishment which brings the Doctor and Liz into a crisis. Both stories have scientists in the establishment being involved with the aliens at the heart of the crisis, the aliens in turn are not what they seem, and the Doctor finds himself caught in the middle while trying to prevent an all-out war.

What separates this story from its immediate predecessor is the action packed nature of the story. While Silurians very much limited itself to the scientific center, the caves and immediate area around it for the most part there is no such constraint on this story.  Locations change frequently throughout all seven episodes, helping to give the story enough scope to make it not only stretch across them but never be boring. It also features a large number of action sequences. These include battles between UNIT personnel and the forces of the story’s antagonist (in episodes one, two and seven respectively), a car chase in episode three, numerous attacks by the aliens and even the Doctor being launched into space in the one time the Doctor left Earth this season. The result is the most action packed story of the season.

The second lies in the motives of the story’s antagonist. While Silurians was centered around egos and power plays by various characters which caused the situation to get worse, this story centers around one man  and his perceived threat of an alien invasion. General Carrington (played by John Abineri) manipulates everyone around him ranging from the Minister of Technology, members of the British space program and indeed the space-suited ambassadors themselves by having them commit attacks to encourage the perception of an impending invasion. Carrington’s motive isn’t one of ego but one born of his sense of “moral duty”.

All that leads to a rather surprising ending. After Carrington’s plan is foiled and he is arrested, he walks over to the Doctor and tells him “I had to do what I did. It was my moral duty. You do understand don’t you?” The Doctor answers back simply “Yes General. I do understand.” This is especially surprising if you consider that Carrington’s plan isn’t too far removed from the Brigadier sealing up the caves at the end of the previous story.

In fact, this story finds the Brigadier on the Doctor’s side as Carrington’s intentions become more and more evident as the story progresses. Perhaps the ending suggests that both the Doctor and the Brigadier have learned that sometimes their ways aren’t the best for a particular situation as illustrated by the fact that Carrington was simply doing what he thought was right as he claims.

The DVD presentation of the story is just as strong as the story. The DVD presents the story for the first time in full color since the 1970s and improves upon the VHS release a decade ago that partially restored the story. Due to the quality of the original source material, there is are some slight changes in quality between some of the episodes and indeed at a couple of points within episodes themselves but the overall quality of the color restoration more than makes up for the occasional fault. There’s a wealth of expected special features including an audio commentary moderated by the ever excellent Toby Hadoke (and which also features Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John), an info text subtitle commentary and a well produced making of documentary that looks at the story’s difficult development and production. All of which helps to make the DVD release all the better.

While less remembered than the stories it’s sandwiched between, The Ambassadors of Death holds up well. It’s well paced across seven episodes, features plenty of action sequences, yet also looks at the dangers of a misplaced sense of duty in an ever changing world. This story then, rather than Silurians or Inferno, perhaps serves better as the template for the era that was to follow: action/adventure but dealing with bigger issues as well. Rarely would it be done better.

The Ambassadors Of Death was released on DVD in 2012.