Monday, September 16, 2013

DVD Review: The Ice Warriors

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors Special Edition 2-DVD Set  (Main Feature: 143 min)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on September 17, 2013. SRP $34.98 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 4:3 Mono black & white (Main Feature)

For those who do not want to believe a large cache of missing Doctor Who episodes have been returned, we get another release that takes missing episodes and gives it new lease on life by being animated. This time we look at the very first story to feature that race from Mars known as the Ice Warriors. It supports a tremendous guest cast, generally looks really good and is considered an all-time classic from the famous Season 5 “Monster Season” of Doctor Who. This seems to have everything but yet I find that I have always been underwhelmed by the story.
I go a long way back with The Ice Warriors. When I was younger and was into the whole video tape-trading culture, we were extremely happy when we heard the discovery of Episodes 1,4,5,6 of this story found at BBC Television Centre in 1988. It actually surprises me that such an important piece of television history can just be hiding in a closet in a building. I would have thought something like that could have been in a foreign TV vault in somewhere like Hong Kong or Singapore. It could perhaps be stored one room over from The Tomb of the Cybermen which would be found 4 years later from this story.

It was a given that I would get a copy of these episodes at some point and I did but it took a lot longer than I would have thought. In 1990 I got my first copy of the story. It was a camera copy. For those who live in the world of digital downloads, the idea of a camera copy must sound horrific. Because the broadcast standards were different between the UK and US (PAL vs. NTSC), an NTSC camera would have been pointed at a PAL TV screen to make copies. It was so much easier and cheaper than paying money to get the stuff professionally converted. Though the problem was that picture quality was crap. The frame rates wouldn’t line up between the PAL monitor and NTSC camera causing the picture to flicker. If that wasn’t bad enough, the copy that was leaked from the BBC had burnt-in window timecodes and other data stating the name of the story and other pertinent information. To avoid that showing up on the camera copy, the person who did it zoomed the camera in on the monitor to make sure none of that was on the screen. As you can imagine, it cut off a ton of people’s heads on the screen. When I got this copy, I was unimpressed with the story. Camera copies never really bothered me before but this was horrible. It was hard to watch and I disliked the story.
Later that year, I got the converted copy that was the full frame it was meant to be but had all of that window-burn information on it that was really difficult for me to get past. Over the years, I got higher quality versions of this story and finally in 1998 BBC Video in the UK released one of the coolest VHS releases of the range surrounding the story of The Ice Warriors. It had all 4 episodes re-mastered, a cut down reconstruction of episodes 2 & 3, clean audio of those episodes on a CD, a booklet about The Ice Warriors, and finally a documentary about one of  my favorite subjects about Doctor Who, The Missing Years. This was the first time I had ever seen a documentary all about the missing episodes of Doctor Who. It even included The Underwater Menace Episode 3. We are spoiled by what is put on DVD releases for the series now but at the time this was a treasure trove, and still is. Yet, the story still did nothing for me. Why is that?

The story literally takes place after The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria leave Tibet in their last story The Abominable Snowmen. This story is set in the future and there are ice glaciers about to roll through the UK. It’s the start of second ice age and the World power uses ionization to keep the glaciers back. That right there seems to be the main plot but it really isn’t. This threat still lurks after the Doctor leaves. He doesn’t change a setting on the sonic screwdriver and fixes the Earth before he leaves, he accepts this as how the Earth is during this period. There is one glacier that is threatening the lives of many people. There is a scientist who should be at the base trying to solve the issue of the glaciers but he is gone. This is the scientist Penley. Penley is the genius who has been working at the base but has had enough with the leader of the base Clent and has now left to become a scavenger along with the anti-technology scavenger Storr. Clent himself is an overbearing pompous man who has to do everything by the book or what the base computer tells him to do. He is not able to relate to people the way a leader should and is considered almost a machine himself since no one seems to be able to relate with him.
We enter the story with hysteria going on in the base. There is a malfunction and everything is going critical with the ioniser possibly leading to a gigantic meltdown. Without Penley, who just recently left the base, Clent is left with working with people at the base who is not nearly qualified. Clent promotes Miss Garret, Penley’s assistant, to take his place on the spot. It is a pretty awful time for a promotion considering they are facing death.

The TARDIS lands outside the base on its side. The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria have a great little scene of them trying to get out of the TARDIS which really shows the chemistry that has been created between the 3 of them. They enter the base and I think Troughton gives one of his best “Doctorish” moments when Victoria tells him they should get out of the base and the Doctor just looks at her and says no, they should stay and investigate. He delivers this line with childlike curiosity almost seducing his companions to stay with him and play.
The three of them wander into the room of chaos where Clent and Garret are trying to figure out the situation. Once again, we get a classic Troughton moment where we see this little man running around in a fur coat trying to figure out how to fix this catastrophe. He takes everyone off guard yet he subdues the situation.

Meanwhile, scientist Arden makes a discovery. In a glacier they are taking samples, he finds a man frozen in the ice. It is perhaps some caveman. Arden disobeys just about everything Clent says and brings the “Ice Warrior” back to the base. At the base, Clent has been drilling the Doctor about what he knows about being a scientist. Clent is eager to find a replacement for Penley. For some reason, the Doctor accepts the challenge of being Penley’s replacement. It’s just about this time that Arden returns with his warrior in ice. The Ice Warrior is set to melt while the team goes for a briefing. The Doctor notices that there is an electronic circuit attached to the warrior which concerns the Doctor so he decides to go find Clent to warn him of what he found. As Victoria and Jamie sit around discussing the type of clothing Victoria should wear, the Ice Warrior comes to life.
This is just Episode One and while writing this up, I am thinking this story sounds great. It sounds really cool and atmospheric so why does it bother me so much? I don’t even find the pacing of the story all that bad. It takes a while for things to get going. Episode Two is almost completely dedicated to Victoria and Ice Warrior leader (the one in the ice) Varga to wander around the base. The story does take it’s time. The problem is that it is loud with a lot of annoying sounds. I know that sounds like a horrible reason to like a story less but that is one thing that has always annoyed me. The very first scene with Clent and Miss Garret are really loud. They keep yelling at each other. They talk over each other and it is really hard to understand what is going on.

Now, I am sure this is the point where someone will come in and tell me that there is a reason for that. The base is in trouble, things are not going well. In a real situation people will be talking over each other. It really bothers me in this story, it has always bothered me. Television needs to have dialogue that is understandable. Also, I am not a fan of the operatic attempt of song that opens each episode.  Sometimes it works. Sometime the eerie echoey song while heard in the depths of the ice caverns are very effective. That is the perfect tone but often the music is overused and (to me) almost laughable.
Apart from the main cast, I find everyone else pretty unremarkable. I like to think it is because they all work for Clent and have zero respect for him. They are tired of the situation and tired of him. It doesn’t make them any more likeable. I think I actually have the most sympathy for Clent. He is at least trying. He thinks he is doing the right thing. He is almost a serious version of Gordon Brittas. He thinks he is doing the right thing but in doing so he fails. It’s is as if he has learned his whole life from a book without any human interaction. Arden is a selfish guy who ends up sacrificing someone who works for him because he finds this warrior in the ice. He makes light of the situation. Yes, he does show remorse for the loss of a colleague but it’s too late.

Miss Garret is a non-event who looks like she walked off the set of Hi-Di-Hi. She is in a tough place. She is asked to take over from Penley even though she is woefully underskilled and tries her best. She is proud of the opportunity yet knows what it entails. Then 5 minutes later, a complete stranger walks in and Clent gives her new job to him. Skorr is a ridiculous character. He hates science and technology. This story takes place in the future and I find it hard to believe a character like that would be around. He also seems to barely tolerate Penley. He really is a miserable man.  Yet, the one who I have the least compassion for is Penley.
Penley is a deserter when the world needed him the most. He hates Clent yet Clent isn’t that bad. General Cutler in The Tenth Planet is a lot more unreasonable than Clent. I would hate to see how Penley would react working wth him. Dr. Barclay looked horrified having to work with Cutler. I understand that Penley is not cut out for the job he had and circumstance probably brought him there but his meltdown could have cost everything. Even when told how important he is to everything, he didn’t really care.

It’s pretty sad that I am rooting for The Ice Warriors to win. Varga is pretty impressive. He is the definitive version of an Ice Warrior to me. There is that shot of him with the glacier behind him that I love and it is one of the most iconic photos of Doctor Who in the 1960s. I can understand why in future stories they changed up the Ice Warriors to having a “leader” that is a different species from the Ice Warriors. Unfortunately, this is the first and last time until Cold War that the typical Ice Warrior was seen as a leader instead of just soldier. Varga is intelligent and impressive. During the filming prior to the studio recordings of this story, the look of the Ice Warriors change significantly. The helmets take on a huge change and it is for the better. The new helmets are sleeker and gives the appearance of being more mobile than the previous ones. You see the previous versions at the end of Episode 1 and also while Victoria is being chased by an Ice Warrior in the ice caverns.
I think the design of the story is pretty good. I think the main computer in the base is less successful but it is not a row of reel to reel tape machines which is smart because we really have moved on from that technology. I think something that is British and not only necessarily in Doctor Who is the constant use of manor houses in stories. The base is located in a manor house. Here we are in the future and this manor house is in a protective dome, kept safe but still in use. This is very British and I love it.

I think the highlight of the design is the ice cave system that leads to the Ice Warriors’ ship. It is hauntingly beautiful with shiny reflection of lights while Victoria plays a potentially dangerous game of hide and seek with an Ice Warrior. This has always been one of my favorite sequences only made better with a distinct echo when Victoria speaks or screams. This is where the sound design is great on this story.
This story is directed by Derek Martinus and I really love his work. I think the Ice Warriors is my least favorite of the stories he has directed but there are some visually great moments such as the aforementioned sequences in the cave.

Something unique to this release is the animation of Episodes Two & Three of this story. We all know that some Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s had been destroyed. As a way to recreate these episodes for us to enjoy, the BBC have commissioned production companies to animate these episodes. We have now seen it on The Invasion, The Reign of Terror and some have been able to buy The Tenth Planet but the general release isn’t until November.
The animation on these episodes have been done by a different company called Qurios. The previous animations have been done by Planet 55. It is interesting as the animation is s vastly different from Planet 55’s offerings. Maybe it is not fair to compare but I do think it is an interesting study. The animation done by Qurios is headed by Chris Chapman. He has been producing content for the DVD range for some time. Some of the most recent stuff he has been involved with are the really nice documentaries on the Spearhead from Space Blu Ray release.

The animation for The Ice Warriors is very simplistic. I think this is good and bad. One good thing about it is that the characters always look the same. The consistency level is there. The downside is that generally we get the same looks from the characters. Planet 55 really does a lot to give us different angles of characters yet the downside is that many times the characters look drastically different shot to shot. At their best, the character art from Planet 55 is amazing, almost stunning and at it’s worse it is horrible. For Qurios, it is consistent throughout but the characters look like they were designed by a team who worked for Hanna-Barbera in the 1970s. It is up to the viewer to decide if they like that. I personally still have mixed feelings.
The overall flow of the episodes is a little stiff. The characters are basically “puppeted” in After Effects or something similar. Some shots really tell us that such as when Varga hits Jamie at the beginning of Episode Two. The way Jamie falls in kind of funny. Speaking of Varga, I am not a fan of how he looks in this. All of the Ice Warriors including Varga are overly simplified and just don’t seem to be even the right height. That really kind of takes the fun out of it for me.

It’s sort of difficult because I know I am being perhaps overly critical of the animation style just as I was very critical of Planet 55’s first attempt with The Reign of Terror. Maybe I want these to succeed so badly that I want them to be the best they can be. That being said, this is probably the best it could be based on the technique they chose to animate this story. I know there was a possibility that The Reign of Terror animation could have been produced the same way (not by Qurios) and seeing it in action, I seem to prefer the (still troublesome) style of Planet 55 for more of a fluid feel. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to seeing more with Qurios and I would rather have this than nothing at all. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and critique the hundreds of hours individuals have put into making this the best it can be; I understand that doing these episodes is a huge undertaking.
Here are some comparison shots between animation and telesnaps:

Finally, although the story doesn’t move me, you couldn’t ask for a better guest cast. Peter Barkworth is very commanding in this. Barking out orders I still seem to have the most sympathy for him. Barkworth always reminded me in a far off way of Patrick McGoohan. Odd, I know. Peter Sallis shows up as Penley. It is probably a toss-up between Last of the Summer Wine and Wallace & Grommit for what Sallis is most known for. That voice is instantly recognizable. Angus Lennie as Storr will be seen again on DVD in Terror of the Zygons coming up in a month or so. I think the actor is great but I loathe his character in this story.
Probably the best known actor for the time but one that few people would have recognized while watching would have been Bernard Bresslaw. Bresslaw was making a big name for himself in the Carry On film franchise. He was a house hold name. I think it takes a lot of courage from the production team to get a big name like that and completely cover him up in a costume. It is because of Bresslaw we had the distinctive whisper voice of the Ice Warriors with the SSSSS. It’s just like I said earlier, I think Bresslaw playing Varga is the most iconic of all of the Ice Warriors.

Audio Commentary: I thought the approach to the audio commentary was really interesting with this release. Episodes 1,4,5,6 was a “live” commentary with Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Sonny Caldinez, Designer Jeremy Davies, and grams operator Pat Heighman. Episode 2 had a different approach with archive interviews making up the commentary. This included Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Barkworth, Wendy Gifford, make-up supervisor Sylvia James, writer Brian Hayles, director Derek Martinus, and costume designer Michael Baugh. Episode 3 commentary was a nice commentary with Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton. Throughout all of it was the voice of Toby Hadoke to keep it all together. Episode 2 was a nice experiment that I felt worked out well. It is a great way to use archive clips some of us never heard before. For the stuff many of us have heard, like the Brian Hayles stuff, it is contextual and makes perfect sense for being included. Episodes 1,4,5,6 is perhaps not-surprising a lot of fun. Frazer and Toby have a great repertoire and Debbie takes a lot of bantering from Frazer. Although Pat sounded a little nervous at times trying to get a word in about what he does, his and Jamie’s contribution are invaluable. I love hearing about how Doctor Who was produced in the 1960s. Sonny is enjoyable too as he was in so many other things than just The Ice Warriors. Frazer, Debbie and him worked together not too long before on The Evil of the Daleks.

Cold Fusion (24 minutes): This is the making of The Ice Warriors. These making of programs have held a generally high standard over the last few years. There isn’t a lot that I learned from this but I know there will be a lot of people who will gain a great insight from watching this. I found it interesting that the designer, Jeremy Davies, thought he did an alright job on the sets that were meant to be made of ice. I think they are gorgeous and I am glad people have been able to see his work and enjoy it.
Beneath the Ice (10 minutes): This is the making of the animated episodes of The Ice Warriors. We get the story of how Chris Chapman initiated contact with Niel Bushnel and Chris Chatterton. There is one thing that is very clear from this and that is they have a passion for what they do. They didn’t seem to know what The Ice Warriors was (apart from Chapman) when they started but for anyone who thinks animation is easy, these making of pieces on these discs should provide enough evidence to show it is a lot of work.

VHS Links from the 1998 video release (19 minutes): This is a nice bit of nostalgia that even includes the BBC idents which is a plus for me. Thanks for always including the cool stuff like this!
Blue Peter Design-A-Monster (10 minutes): I love the Blue Peter segments included and I have always loved how Blue Peter was a champion for Doctor Who. I have seen a snippet of this in More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS but it is nice to see the full clip. It’s a pity there isn’t any footage of Troughton taking part in the judging. That would have been gold! That being said, I am really happy with what I got!

Doctor Who Stories – Frazer Hines (Part Two) (13 minutes): More of Frazer Hines from 2003 giving us a little bit about himself. This is a prime example of why I love these releases. This didn’t need to be included but they wanted to include because they knew we would like it and it would fill out the disc. I love it!
Animated Original Trailer: This is taking the audio for the original trailer specially produced in the 1960s with new dialogue and performances from Peter Barkworth and Peter Sallis and made into an animated trailer. It is a nice curiosity; I am not sure it is entirely successful but the biggest hurdle to jump over is the quality of the original audio which really is not great. There is nothing that could be done about that unless a new source of this recording came to light.

The DVD is rounded off with the usually excellent production subtitles, photo gallery and PDF materials.

It comes in a standard double disc Amary case with a nicely composed cover by Lee Binding. What Lee does is not the “classic” pose of a monster that I might expect to see on a cover but tries for something different. I love the iconic images but I think these images of the  Ice Warriors look great on the cover. It’s visually striking and not the standard images we would expect.
When reviewing these releases, I should really just say that they are excellent. For the amount of work and care that go into them it really does feel churlish to make a complaint at all. I have some non-Doctor Who releases that I will watch and wonder “what are they doing?!” but with the Doctor Who releases, if there is something I don’t agree with, someone with explain with a competent answer to explain the ideology behind the decision. We are lucky, this is an excellent release.  Support the range and buy this!

Next Week: I continue my preview/review of Foyle’s War Series 8 with The Cage and I am also super excited as I am about to start watching Series 7 & 8 of Poirot on Blu Ray. These are all being released by Acorn Media.
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Foyle's War Review: The Eternity Ring

I have been waiting since March for new episodes of Foyle’s War. This is the amazing series that took place during World War II focusing on retired Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. What was fun about the series was how it took place during war-time England but wasn’t always about the war or Nazis. It was about everyday people in the UK who still were criminals but maybe for different reasons. Maybe the war turned them into criminals to survive. The first 7 series took us from early years of the war and taking us to the end. As the war ended, it not only felt like a new life awaited the people who lived through the war but also to us, the viewers.

I have been lucky enough to get my hands on the upcoming Acorn Media Blu Ray of this series and thought I would approach the review differently than usual. If you are a US fan of Foyle’s War you know that it will make its PBS debut on Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday September 15th. It also will be making its debut on the really wonderful streaming service Acorn TV on September 16th ( and the Blu Ray arrives to purchase on September 24th.  I figured over the course of the next three weeks I would review a new episode of Foyle’s War each week prior to air and hopefully some people will find that interesting.
There is one thing that is quite prevalent with the start of Series 8 of Foyle’s War and that it is truly a new world. World War II is over but that doesn’t make everything better. Things don’t instantly go back to how they were before and nothing will ever be the same again. There is an eye-opening moment when Sam and her new husband Adam are talking about the rationing that is still going on and she remarks how odd it is that they have to still ration after the war has ended but they won the war. As a civilization today, could we do that? The year is 1946 and the UK is war-torn especially in London. A way to take care of the displaced population whose homes were bombed out, pre-fab homes were built as way to keep people in housing.

When we left Christopher Foyle at the end of Series 7, he was off to America. He made a bit of a fuss over there but as he gets off the boat back in the UK, there are people waiting for him. The group of men is led by Arthur Valentine who works alongside Hilda Pierce. We have seen her before in the series and she has been forced to bring Foyle into MI5 to help investigate a suspected Soviet Spy ring called The Eternity Ring located in the heart of London.
As mentioned above, things have changed a lot since Series 7 and we actually start this episode off with a bang, literally. We are privy to seeing Professor Fraser, his wife and a man named Max Hoffman in Jornado Del Muerto in New Mexico where we see the very first test of the atomic bomb in 1945. It’s a great effect and tells us that things are very different in the world of Foyle’s War. It’s these same people we catch up with a year later as Foyle needs to investigate Professor Fraser in regards to the Eternity Ring. He is extremely patriotic and hates Stalin which makes the investigation more difficult. Still, information is being leaked. Before Foyle is allowed to begin his investigation, he is shown a photo of an actual hand off of information between the Soviet spy Gorin and the person working for Professor Fraser. It is Sam, Foyle’s friend, who is believed to be a spy.

I have been waiting for new episodes for a while and this did not disappoint. Written by the creator of the series, Anthony Horowitz, this is a great episode of the series that feels like Foyle’s War but takes us in a new direction. I think I am really going to like this new series. One reason is that I feel, at least so far, that it is more focused than Series 7. Series 7 was great and in fact that was where I started to watch the series, before going back and watching all of them, but the 3 main characters Foyle, Sam, and Milner were living different lives during the post-war and it was becoming a little tenuous for them to meet up or interact in episodes. I was also disappointed in what the character Milner became in Series 7. With what I have seen so far of Series 8, it is in some ways a re-boot without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Milner is out as the focus of the series has now shifted.
The series has moved onto to a new war for Foyle. The Cold War. This revelation is hit over our heads a lot during this episode. I call it the Goldeneye effect. Basically in that film we are told ad infinitum about how the Cold War was over and James Bond was an old relic from a bygone age about 70 times. This is the reverse; we are told that this is a new war that the Soviets have started. Maybe people spoke like about the Cold War like that back then, I obviously don’t know but it seems like much. What I did learn from this episode was that the term Cold War was coined by George Orwell in 1945 after the first Atomic bomb was dropped. Of course Foyle’s War always educates me in some way.

I really liked this episode. It was hard to get used to some of the changes. We get new opening credits and a new take on the theme music. New credits are virtually the same as the old but updated to incorporate the Cold War. The new theme music is growing on me but I prefer the more traditional approach that we are familiar with on the old version. We have new characters to meet. I thought the direction of the episode overall was good. To me there was one big hiccup where something was made so obvious that it gave away its importance too early on in the story. It actually ruined the surprise for me and I felt it could have been done in a more subtle way. I would be interested to see if other people pick it up.
Michael Kitchen returns as Christopher Foyle. This is what I have been waiting for since March. There is nothing better on TV than watching Christopher Foyle question the accused. Kitchen always underplays Foyle. When he gets mad it is never about raising his voice but one always knows what he’s thinking from the way he looks at people or the cadence of his speech. He is always a treat to watch. If there is ever a re-make of one of my favorite British TV series Quatermass, he would be an awesome Quatermass. As usual with most episodes there is a point that Foyle explains to the criminal (and us) what is going on. He explains what he knows about the situation and how he knows it. This is always a highlight to the episodes because Kitchen delivers these scenes so well.

Honeysuckle Weeks returns as Sam Wainwright. She is married now to Adam. She met Adam at the beginning of Series 7 in The Russian House. They ended up working in a hotel that Adam owned that literally fell apart at the end of the series. Adam, who is now played by Daniel Weyman, is going into politics. He needs his wife to be by his side since perception is everything. It is a new life for both of them. Sam is the same girl she has always been so one wonders how she got messed up with spying for the Soviets….
Ellie Haddington returns as Hilda Pierce. She is a mysterious lady who always turns up in strange places that surround espionage. She is not quite the ally of Foyle’s as might be expected. It is always good to see her in these episodes. We first saw her way back in the episode War Games. Tim McMullan plays Arthur Valentine. He is the person that meets Foyle as he returned from the US. He has a secret that would have been a big deal in 1940s England.

I love programs that recapture the look of the 1940s. It is done very well here. I looked online and I saw some people posted some goofs made in this episode in regards to historical detail and they called these goofs sloppy. I would disagree. There is a lot that goes into these episodes. As we get further away from the 1940s, the harder it is to recreate it. The series is filmed in Ireland and the attention to detail, the way I see it, is pretty awesome. I just sit and take in the sets, the roads, the atmosphere; everything that makes this series so special.
I watched this from the Blu Ray set. I was first sent the DVD which looked nice but then I received the Blu Ray which is absolutely gorgeous. The attention to detail is phenomenal and I feel this is truly the correct way to watch this series.

Foyle’s War Set 7 Blu Ray and DVD are available on September 24th.  Both sets retail for $49.99. Don’t forget to give Acorn TV a try ( It’s a great streaming service for wonderful British television and extremely affordable. I started to use it when writing reviews for DVDTalk and still use it. For one low price, I have access to a great selection of television.  Let me know if you have any questions about it. Apart from that, support Foyle’s War by watching this weekend on PBS!

Next week: Foyles War Series 8 Episode 2 The Cage. I also will be publishing my review of Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors from BBC Home Entertainment with the two missing episodes animated.
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

50WHO: Remembrances of the McCoy

This is the eighth part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

I know for many fans, especially in the UK, the Sylvester McCoy era of Doctor Who might be some of the worse in the entire history of the series. I would like to respectfully disagree. By the time McCoy joined the series, it needed help. Colin Baker had been unceremoniously fired from the role he so loved and Eric Saward publicly resigned from his role of script editor. This was all after a rocky return to the air after an 18 month hiatus. Things needed to change.
When McCoy joined the series, there was still one old-school story left to be made which was Time and the Rani. In some way, the series was starting over. There is a difference in tone between the end of The Trial of a Time Lord and the start of Time and the Rani. Of course a lot of that can be traced down to visual and musical difference but I really felt that JN-T wanted to give the series a new start. Leave all the negative behind-the-scenes problems behind him and focus on a fresh start.  So many people believe that a real fresh start would have been his resignation but there appears to be all kind of reasons why this wasn’t going to happen.

It’s funny because with every point I make with what I like about the era, I can hear in my mind people from who posts in discussion boards who hate this era countering why the point I made is crap. For example, Andrew Cartmel. I really think that Cartmel was a breath of fresh air to the series and came at the right time. The series worked very well before with traditional storylines but the landscape of television story telling was changing.  Cartmel had a pretty strong idea from the start with what he wanted to do with the series. I think a major example to show how the times had changes is the fact that JN-T allowed these changes to happen at all. It would appear that JN-T held a pretty tight leash on Saward but Cartmel was able to do some very different things. Cartmel wanted to provide an arch to seasons but not like The Trial of a Time Lord where the arch was really strong throughout all of the stories. The story archs would bring more mystery back to the character of the Doctor and lay foundations that would be further explored in the Virgin books series.
When I read fans who hate this era speak to it, they generally say it’s shit or rubbish. I wonder how many of these fans hate the new series too? I could see a lot of new series fans who have never watched the classic series identify more with Season 25 & 26 than some of what many people believe are the more classic seasons. Amongst some of these fans is pure vitriol towards the McCoy era. I rarely come across anyone who is OK on the McCoy years. This may be a little controversial but I feel many of these fans who hate and I choose the word hate very carefully would prefer the series never evolved from the Hinchcliffe era (or insert your favourite era here). The music is shit because it is not Dudley Simpson who I personally felt lost the touch around Season 15. When Doctor Who changes for these fans (and this really covers any era), their childhood gets stripped away from them. There goes their security blanket. Now keep in mind, I am talking about the fans who will purposely respond to a fan who says they enjoy something of the McCoy era only to remind them it’s shit. There are plenty of people who do not like the McCoy era simply because they don’t like it. The difference is they are not holding anti-McCoy parades in their neighborhoods. I think there is nothing wrong with not liking every single aspect of Doctor Who but the way some fans act when the name McCoy comes up is ludicrous.

I feel, at least at the time, the McCoy era was very well received in the US. Of course the same fans who hate McCoy will also tell us that JN-T was pandering to the US market. Perhaps he was but the series never felt more accessible to me. This came at the right time as I was about to get into the life of fandom in a way I have never done before and nothing was ever going to be the same for me again.
As I mentioned many times before, I got involved with a fan club called The Whoniversity. I joined the club in January of 1986 but I got more involved with them in September of 1988. That previous July I took part in the convention Time Festival which was amazing fun and I never quite got over it. All these years later, I still look at it as one of the greatest events I have been to in my life. It was a ton of fun for me. When I started to take an active role in The Whoniversity, it was at a time of leadership change within the club. So I started to get involved when new people were taking over. These people seemed to be pretty cool and our shared interest went further than just Doctor Who.

Lowry Library
Even though he wasn’t the President of the club he still basically ran it, his name was Roger. You may remember Roger from previous articles such as this one. He had a real strong (and correct) idea of how to get more people involved with the club. To start with, we would do monthly meetings at a library. To make it accessible to everyone, we would alternate the meetings at two separate libraries in different parts of town. The first of these meetings would be held at the Lowry library. The first meeting/party was held in November of 1988. We weren’t sure how many people we would get to this party. Things are so different now than they were back then. Doctor Who is infinitely more known now.
Roger thought a major draw to the party was having some videos that no one would have seen. This would have been at the time Season 25 was being broadcast. If you have ready any of my other articles, such as The Tape Traders, I talk about a “friend” that I had back in the day. I write about him here. This “friend” was one of a few people in the Twin Cities to get copies of some of the rarer video items. The quality of his videos back in the day was just about better than anything available but that doesn’t mean it was great. To him, video trading was a way to make money. He came to an arrangement with Roger that if he could get free ads in The Whoniversity newsletter for selling some of his Doctor Who collectibles, he would provide videos for our parties. It seemed like a fair deal but my “friend” soon started to not like this arrangement. Who knows why? I really don’t know why.

This party took place before I was included on the staff for The Whoniversity. Eventually I joined the staff as the guy who would get all the videos for the parties and etc. Like I said, for this party I wasn’t on the staff though I wanted to be a part of things very badly.  Roger took care of getting the videos for the party and from our “friend”. Thinking back on it now, Roger did an awful lot for the parties, in fact everything. I am sure other people joined in to help in some way but Roger really was the driving force in this and I don’t think many of us really appreciated the work he did on these parties.
We had a real scoop for our first party. It was showing Remembrance of the Daleks. This was a huge deal because it was only November and we had a copy of it; it was only shown in September on BBC1. That was an amazingly short time at that point. I suppose it is hard for people to remember or some people realize now in the age of digital downloads how long it would take to get these episodes via the tape trading circles. It was considered really good to have a copy of something that aired in the UK a few months after it was broadcast. That was certainly better than the broadcast of the stories on PBS. I don’t think we got the broadcast of Season 25 & 26 until 1990 on KTCA. By that time, I had seen the episodes hundreds of times from my episodic copies from BBC1. If someone would have told me in 2013 we would be getting new episodes of Doctor Who on a national cable network the same day as the BBC broadcast, I would have said you were insane. That’s science fiction!

Our copy of Remembrance of the Daleks wasn’t the best but by no means was it the worse. It was a few generations down from the original PAL tape but it was much better than my copy of Season 24. By the time we get to Season 26, I had my own contacts in place where I would be getting episodes directly from the PAL tape that was sent to the US for some friends. I should probably throw in a disclaimer now that although those copies of Season 24 & 25 were not great,  I was thankful to have a copy of those stories and thankful that friends wanted to give me copies.
Speaking of copies, I have also talked about in the past how I hated making copies of videos for anyone else. Someone kept bugging us for a copy of Remembrance of the Daleks and to fill the tape with whatever else rare we had. They kept bothering us so we made a copy of the story. By that point we had Silver Nemesis too. To fill out the tape (going from VCR to VCR) we played the opening title sequence of Silver Nemesis in real time but as soon as the actual story started up, we hit fast forward search on the VCR. So the episode was being copied but everything was in fast forward. Everyone was moving very quickly with no sound. As we get to the cliffhanger we revert back to regular speed just in time for the end credits. We laughed our asses off. What a bunch of jerks!

Anyway back to the party, I met people there I continue to know to this day. Even one of them often posts comments to this very blog! Hi Dave! Even though Roger got a copy of Remembrance of the Dalek, he wouldn’t show it to me until the party because he wanted to keep the surprise. Of course I desperately wanted to see it but I waited. It was worth the wait. Season 24 to me was experimental; Remembrance of the Daleks was kick ass. Ben Aaronovitch messed with everybody with what they knew about not only the Daleks but Doctor Who. There were a ton of Dalek props in the story. More than I have ever seen in any previous story. The Imperial Daleks were gorgeous looking. I love the gold & white colour scheme. They sounded great and we got a look at one of the coolest Dalek props ever, the Special Weapons Dalek. It could blow up multiple Daleks at once!  Really bad ass! Aaronovitch also confused us with who Davros was in the story plus bringing back some proper mystery to the character of the Doctor. “And didn’t we have trouble with the prototype.”
Everyone at the party was suitably impressed. I was also able to create a trivia contest that people could take part in for some prizes. Someone questioned me on one of my questions on the quiz but they were wrong and I was right. In their face!

It was around that time, as I was taking a more active interest in The Whoniversity in that I wanted to be able to do a review of a story and provide content to the club’s newsletter. I was a fan who wanted to get involved! It was at the party that the editor of the newsletter, Mike, said it would be OK if I wrote a review of Remembrance of the Daleks especially as I had just seen it at this party. I had never written anything public before, I was only 14 and this was a big deal for me as it felt like a lot of responsibility. I wrote it and sent it to him. I admit it wasn’t anything great but he sent it back to me; I was in for a shock. I had typed the review, it was very short probably around 500 or words. What I got back had so many colours of revision lines on it. Mike went through and destroyed it. Apparently I broke every law there was for grammar. Like I said, it was my very first review and probably better written than the other reviews on this site but he was merciless. I never forgot it and decided not to write for the newsletter again apart from one other time. We didn’t have people lining up to write for the newsletter so I thought this was a little much. Mike did it because he thought he was helping me. Roger, who basically ran the club or at least guided the direction of it, thought Mike’s revisions to be extreme. Like I said, I wrote one other piece for the newsletter and that was a review for the local convention PolarisCon which, coincidentally had Sylvester McCoy in attendance.
Waiting for the local convention put on by Time Space & Fantasy over the 4th of July every year was pretty special. The work that went into it up to the event was fun and seeing it all come together was really great. Some of my best memories were from this second convention (the first for all intents and purposes was Time Festival). I could write a whole article on this convention alone. The Thursday before the start of the convention, we were preparing The Whoniversity poolside cabana suite for the convention. Everyone else in the room went off to get supplies and I was left to kind of watch stuff. Suddenly Sylvester McCoy strolls up and I was in awe. I didn’t know what to say or do. I knew my friends were coming back so I wanted to try and keep him at the cabana. We had some small talk, as one does, and he was telling me about wrapping up production on The Bestiary which would eventually be named Ghost Light. Little did I know that this was the final story. Finally my friends came back and we basically forced him to watch one of our music videos.

We had this off-shoot of The Whoniversity called Whoniversal Productions. We made videos. We had a music video collection that we would call Hi-Fi Sci-Fi where we would take clips from episodes and put them to music. This sort of thing is popular with the kids on You Tube these days. It was the Sammy Davis Jr. track “The Candy Man” cut to clips from The Happiness Patrol. There is a scene in the story of the Doctor singing “As Time Goes By” which we included in the video. McCoy hates that scene and tells us how awful an experience it was and somberly leaves the cabana suite. This is the first of a few awkward experiences we had with him over the weekend.
As a club, we interviewed him on video outside our suite later in the weekend. We have him hold my question mark umbrella which he picks at throughout the entire interview only to take a huge chip of paint out of it. His reaction is great when he realizes what he had done. Later that night, we go to the Cabaret which is where the guests of the convention and other people with talent ranging from some to none come together and try to entertain a brutal audience. McCoy comes on stage to do some act where he plays the spoons on the breasts of the female emcee and does some trick with hot dogs. The culmination of the trick is that the hot dogs are thrown into the audience with Roger catching one. Roger thought, and I concur, to have fun with this. So after the Cabaret, Roger goes up to Sylvester McCoy  with the hot dog and asks him to sign his wiener. Of course, as I am typing this I am still laughing. McCoy wouldn’t have any of this at all. He quickly said no and turned away from us. Awkward experience number 2 done and dusted.

The final night of the convention after everything wrapped, my friend Peter suggested I go with him to the hotel restaurant while he gets a meal. I already ate but decided to go along to keep him company. After about a half an hour, Sylvester McCoy comes into the restaurant with his “handler” for the convention and sits with us and we all start to chat. As often is the case at conventions, when a guest appears it isn’t too terribly unusual for more convention goers to appear and join into the conversation. A woman joined us who I had known for a little while and stuck around. Sylvester decided he had enough of all of us and took his leave. I was grateful for the short time we had together. This woman thought he was amazing which I thought was fair. He seemed pretty nice. So, the woman took her leave of us too.
Peter and I went to the bar where some of my other friends like Roger joined us. Other people I knew pretty well joined us too. Suddenly Sylvester McCoy appears. I thought this was great, he changed his mind! He even offered to buy us all drinks. Because I was a minor, I only had a coke. There were maybe 8 to 10 of us. More the merrier because the same woman from earlier also came back. McCoy decided to excuse himself for a second time and left. Little did I realise the woman left again too. He came back by himself and told us that the woman had been following him everywhere all weekend as well as the anniversary cruise that past November. She had an obsession with him. Once again she came back and McCoy took off.  A few minutes later, McCoy returned with the woman trailing right behind him. Finally in a very loud voice he says to her, “Would you stop following me around, you are making me very uncomfortable!” All conversation in the room stopped and everyone stared at them. The woman started to cry, apologized and then ran off. McCoy made his apologies to us and decided to end his evening because he was also upset over the incident. That was number 3.

As it transpires, she went on the 25th Anniversary cruise and was enamored by McCoy. So much so that she felt that was the highest moment of her life and was going to jump from the ship to her death. She had to be talked down from jumping by many people including McCoy. McCoy only said he would do the convention if security could keep her away from him which they didn’t. There were incidents all weekend culminating into him blowing up at her. I know who this woman is and she is a very nice person. It seems like she is now happy and she, herself, is in a better place than she was in July of 1989.

Sylvester McCoy receives a Whoniversity T-Shirt. He was genuinely happy about it.
I have seen McCoy many times since then. We never spoke again but I couldn’t help thinking that those few conventions after PolarisCon I would see him at that he would remember me by sight and he was reminded of that terrible evening. I know I was every time I saw him.

Next 50WHO article: I look at the original Doctor William Hartnell. There are so many stories that cement Doctor Who during this period it may be puzzling that I actually choose The Tenth Planet to write about for this article. Yet, for me, it was an obvious choice!
Next week: A review for Prime Suspect and for the newest Doctor Who DVD release, The Ice Warriors.

Have a great week!

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