The first four episodes of Doctor Who are included on an extra DVD that comes with the BBC film about the creation and early days of the series, An Adventure in Space and Time. I’ve already reviewed the pilot, “An Unearthly Child,” which aired in late November 1963 and introduced two UK schoolteachers and the general public to a mysterious and somewhat cranky old man from another planet who traveled around time and space with his teenaged granddaughter in a police box. Now it’s time to see what happens after that.
In its very earliest days, each individual episode of Doctor Who was given its own title; it wasn’t until later that all the episodes covering one storyline had an overall name. I’ve decided to go through all three of these at once.
Cave of Skulls
This episode picks up where An Unearthly Child left off, with the Tardis sitting in a desolate, sandy landscape and the shadow of a human figure nearby. We now see that it’s a caveman; the flashback that follows reveals that his name is Kal and gives us the situation that sets the plot up. In short: Kal is a scheming outsider who has recently come to the local tribe, and sees a situation he can take advantage of.
Among this tribe, the one who can make fire is their leader, but the last Firemaker has died and didn’t pass on the secret. His son, Za, has no clue how to go about it and sits pathetically rolling what looks like a humerus (upper arm) bone between his hands over a pile of twigs and invoking Orb, the sun god to give him flame. Uh, no.
This 1954 episode of the otherwise long-forgotten suspense TV show, The Web, is one of the special features on the DVD for the documentary about Dan Curtis, The Master of Dark Shadows. It’s noteworthy because it was written by future Dark Shadows writer Art Wallace and its story bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the soap opera’s earliest plots. Viewers of the show will find a lot that’s familiar here.
The House begins when a stranger (Charles Dingle) enters a bar in a small New England fishing village. He tells the bartender that his name is Walt Cummins and talks a bit about warm, English beer to indicate that he’s a traveler, before mentioning that he’s been here before but not in many years.
Would the people he used to know still remember him? In particular, he asks after a woman who lives in a big house at the edge of town, Elizabeth Stover (not Stoddard).
Sure, says the bartender, Mrs. Stover still lives there with her daughter Louise even though the place “is about ready to fall down”. The funny thing is that Mrs. Stover refuses to leave her house, has stayed there for 25 years since her husband John walked out and took her jewelry with him. Everyone in town supposes that she’s waiting for him to come back some day.
Mr. Cummins smirks and says that he’ll be “a real surprise” to her.
The primary focus of this recent documentary about producer/director Dan Curtis is of course on Dark Shadows–as its title declares. Fair enough, since that is his most famous work and what he’s best remembered for. Fans of the show, such as myself, will be its main audience. I think that most of us will come away from viewing it satisfied in that respect.
But pretty much all the rest of his film and TV work is given disappointingly short coverage.
When he was 13, Dan Curtis’s mother died quite suddenly in front of him; this tragedy was a fact I’d never known about him before, but it’s where his story begins. Barbara Steele, who worked with him on Winds of War and War and Remembrance, and played Dr. Julia Hoffman in theDark Shadows Revival, calls it the “defining factor of his life.”
Steele is one of many people interviewed for this documentary. Others include the surviving members of the original Dark Shadows cast and show’s writers, Curtis’s secretary Rita Fein, his two daughters, ABC executives, media historians, and surprisingly Whoopie Goldberg.
This is a 1999 short film by Bryan Moore (who also stars in it), about the tragic Dr. Muñoz, who suffers from a peculiar medical condition that requires him to exist in an extremely cold room to survive.
First, a somewhat amusing story. I hadn’t seen the movie before I bought it. When the DVD arrived a few weeks ago, I popped it into the player and selected the “Duo-Chrome” option over the black-and-white version and started watching. There was no spoken dialog. Was this a silent film, like the excellent Call of Cthulhu? If so, then it was strange that there were no title cards or musical score; if you’re going to reproduce the feeling of a 1920s period film, you definitely need these elements, not just have no sound.
Then I had a look at the extra features. No sound on them either.
After some troubleshooting, I worked out that one of the ports for the audio connection on my TV was faulty and I plugged it into another one. Sound at last! At least I didn’t need to go out and get a new DVD player or television.
Now that I’ve viewed both versions, I do prefer the Duo-Chrome one. Colored tints on film is a special effect from the silent era. The sepia on the daylight scenes give this story an old-timey feel, but the dark blue tint on the scenes in the doctor’s cold, cold room may be my favorite thing about this film.
One of the extra features on the DVD/BluRay set forAn Adventure in Space and Time is an extra disc containing both the rejected pilot for Doctor Who and the version of “An Unearthly Child” that aired on the BBC on November 23, 1963, as well as the rest of the first storyline.
While the script of both versions is pretty much the same, I’m going to make note of interesting differences between one and the other as I go through the story that introduces us to the Doctor and his original companions.
Tardis scene: Rejected Pilot
Tardis scene: Aired Version
We start with a policeman on patrol a foggy night outside the tall, closed wooden gates of a scrapyard belonging to I.M. Foreman. He doesn’t go inside, but after he walks on, the camera “pushes” the gate open to show us something that the policeman would have found strange and remarkable: a contemporary police box sits quietly humming among the bits of scrap metal and a number of creepy-looking manikins or statues.
“This is the BBC. The following program is based on actual events. It is important, however, to remember that you can’t actually rewrite history–not one line. Except, perhaps, when you embark on an adventure in space and time…”
This TV movie, made for the BBC in 2013 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who, is about that show’s origins and the people both aboard the Tardis and behind the scenes who made it what it was. For nerdy, long-term fans like me, it’s a delight.
After the opening announcement above, the story begins with a police box sitting by the side of a country road at night. A car drives up and stops. The old man inside (David Bradley, playing William Hartnell, the first Doctora) sits quietly for so long that a policeman emerges from the box to tap on the car’s window, ask if he’s all right, and to tell him he’ll have to move on.
Cut to Mr. Hartnell in his dressing room at the BBC, smoking fretfully and telling the stagehand who knocks on his door to “sod off”. He doesn’t want to go out.
In the studio, an original-style Cyberman hangs around beside the Tardis, also smoking while the stage crew throw fake snow over everything. They’re waiting to start shooting the scene, whenever their star is ready.
Tell him to get his skates on,” the Cyberman says impatiently. “Some of us have got a bloody planet to invade.”
People who are up on their Dr. Who trivia will realize that the Cybermen made their first appearance in “The Tenth Planet,” William Hartnell’s final episode as the Doctor before he retired from the show.
Which explains why he doesn’t want to come out and finish up his last day on a job he’s loved.
When he does finally emerge, costumed and ready to do his scene on the interior Tardis set, the Tardis starts up and the camera zooms in close on the “Year-Ometer,” showing us that it’s 1966. The numbers flip backwards–65… 64… until it’s 1963.
I remembered this movie being much better than it is. Now that I view it again after a lapse of nearly 40 years, I think that some of what I recall actually came from a novelization that I read around the same time; there are scenes and snappy bits of dialog not in the DVD version that I have. I’m sorry they didn’t use whoever wrote that for this screenplay.
In 1980, Fade to Black was Dennis Christopher’s follow-up after the success of Breaking Away. I had a mild crush on him after that film, and he is easily the best thing in this one, playing a shy film geek who one day snaps and starts to identify too closely with some of his favorite screen legends. But he’s got a difficult and somewhat incoherent script to work with.
The DVD I bought of this film comes from Italy; it’s in English, but there are captions in Italian that pop up to translate any street signs, book or film titles, or other text that appears on the screen. Thinking of this as gialli helps me cope with the incoherence and some of the other plot problems. If you watch enough Italian horror, you get used to it not making any sense. Plus, it’s got the elaborate sort of set-piece murders that Italian horror movies enjoy so much (but without all the gore).
Although the Dark Shadows 1991 revival series was favorably received when it started off, it soon lost its audience–quite literally, since episodes were frequently preempted by news reports during the first Gulf War; viewers didn’t know when they could see the next one. Sadly, the show was not renewed.
I’ve finally gotten to the last episodes in my own recent, belated viewing.
The 1790s storyline has progressed more or less as expected, with only minor variations in the details. Although there are some nice touches here and there, it’s in the modern-day story that the real twists come–including one event that completely astonished me, and which I wouldn’t dream of giving away to anyone who hasn’t seen the series.
Episode 11: Vicky’s Trial & Josette’s Fate
In the previous episode, Josette agreed to leave Collinwood; Vicky convinced her that if she didn’t stay to die at Widow’s Hill, then Vicky herself would be saved and be able to return to her own time.
In spite of these good intentions, Josette’s resolution doesn’t hold up once she discovers that Barnabas is still over at the old house. So happy is she to see him again that all thoughts of Vicky and her own documented fate go out of her head. Once he reveals that he’s become a vampire, she even offers him a bite of her throat.
Zeke and Hazel, and Cecil and Victoria are at last reunited, along with any surviving friends they’ve picked up during their respective adventures in Parts 4 and 5.
Pieces of the incredibly ancient technology recovered from the equally ancient ruins in Australia were copied and shipped to the Penhew Foundation via Shanghai, a city which happens to be the home of a cult named the Order of the Bloated Woman. Given some of the things that have happened in the last two parts, this name is particularly disturbing.
Shanghai is also where Jack Brady was seen alive after his supposed death 5 years ago. Since he was the one member of the Carlyle Expedition who didn’t enter the Bent Pyramid, there’s a chance that he might not only have crucial information to thwart the cultists’ fiendish plans, but may be willing to help them.
While Hazel and Zeke are occupied in Kenya with the events of Part 4, Victoria and Cecil travel to their next destination aboard the yacht of Victoria’s good friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt III.
“Neily” Vanderbilt sums up this phase of the investigation:
“Victoria’s cousin had a friend… who thought there was a cult in Australia… and apparently he was interested in rumors about a buried city somewhere out in the desert. And someone in Australia ships strange machines from Darwin to that company in England which makes new copies and ships them to China.”
So it’s off to Darwin we go.
At a dive bar in Darwin, Cecil chats with an aborigine, who tells him something about the Cult of the Sand Bat and the Buddai, who sleeps beneath an ancient city in the Great Sandy Desert “until he’s ready to wake up and devour the world.”
Victoria and Neily meet up with a cheerful young pair of Australians, Penny and Mark O’Brien. All the way back in Part 1, Hazel spoke with an archeologist at Miskatonic University about enormous and incredibly old stone blocks out in the desert; he has arranged for the O’Brien twins–his niece and nephew–to guide Hazel’s friends on a trek out into the desert, once they learn that that’s where the original versions of those “strange machines” that were shipped to the Penhew Foundation in the UK are coming from.