Madame Vastra, the prehistoric Silurian lizard-lady and Victorian detective, made her initial appearance on Doctor Who along with her cheeky Cockney wife Jenny and the battle-loving but lovable Sontaran Strax in the episode A Good Man Goes to War. We first meet them as old friends of the Doctor’s, which for a long time led me to believe I’d missed an important episode.
The trio appeared in several subsequent episodes during Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, as well as in Peter Capaldi’s introductory story. I know I wasn’t the only fan who wanted them to have their own spinoff series, solving bizarre mysteries on the gaslight streets of 1890s London, but a period costume drama with science-fiction style special effects, plus two of the three stars in heavy alien makeup every week was more than the BBC was willing to budget for.
But these expensive production difficulties disappear with audio drama. Big Finish has done four boxed sets of stories under the title of “Heritage,” featuring Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey, and Catrin Stewart as Vastra and her companions. The first set contains three adventures and a bonus disk.
When I attended the NecronomiCon in Providence last summer, I had the opportunity to view a number of the Film Festival candidates and to offer my opinions on some of them, if not an actual vote on which ones I thought were the best.
So I’m not surprised to see some of the films on this latest DVD from the Film Festival, although I am a little disappointed that other short films I did like were not included.
This German adaptation of The Colour Out of Space is a wonderfully done 10-minute stop animation film with some interesting live effects: Steam rises from the tea kettle, smoke or mists curl around within the rooms of an old house and, best of all, blue goop drips upward from between the slats of the wooden floor.
Ammi Pierce is writing in his journal as if he’s addressing his long deceased friend–presumably Nahum Gardner, although that name is never used.
In this version of the story, there was no Gardner family to be afflicted by whatever came in with the meteorite from outer space, and what happened 50 years ago occurred on a remote farm that Ammi and his friend worked together. It also appears as if Ammi has been living in the old house alone ever since the disaster, with the glowing meteorite sitting in a back room.
The meteorite’s glow projects silent images upon the wall; Ammi watches and remembers that day when it came shooting down from the sky and crashed into the well. Ammi looked away from the light, but his friend was drawn toward it, even fighting Ammi when he tried to stop him from going to the well to meet his doom.
At last, Ammi takes a sledgehammer and goes out to deal with the meteorite once and for all. Hitting it isn’t really a good idea, but I suppose at this point he’s past caring.
One of my earliest reviews on this blog was of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s film version of Lovecraft’s story. HPLHS has returned to The Whisperer in Darkness a second time for the latest episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.
This audio play is especially noteworthy in that it’s been produced, rehearsed, and recorded during these months that much the world has been shut down by the COVID-19 virus; since in-person meetings were impossible, the work was done by a number of individuals in separate locations.
While the film version of The Whisperer in Darkness expanded on Lovecraft’s original short story, adding new characters and a third act after Albert Wilmarth’s panicked exit from the Akeley farmhouse, this audio adaptation is trimmed down, even for a DART drama.
Wilmarth’s correspondence with a man who claims to have proof that old legends of flying creatures from other worlds living in the remote hills of Vermont are not only true, but that these beings still exist, as well as his subsequent trip to Vermont are told via “found footage.” Most of the recordings are in the form of wax Dictaphone cylinders dated from the winter of 1927 through September 1928.
I saw Robert Lloyd Parry, self-described storyteller, perform twice last summer at the NecronomiCon in Providence, Rhode Island. Seated in a darkened theatre lit only by candles, he didn’t simple tell us stories, but rendered highly dramatic recitations of M.R. James’s ghostly tales with character voices, one or two props, and expressive emotion whenever the narrative called for it. He was the surprise sensation of the Con; I wasn’t the only person present who’d never heard of him before, but came away a fan of his work.
When I found out earlier this year that some of his performances were available on DVD, I ordered a couple. The one I was most interested in getting a copy of was Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad, the first story I saw performed in Providence.
You can read MR James’s original story online. I’ve also previously reviewed the 1968 BBC adaptation starring Michael Hordern as the rationalist Professor Parkins, whose views on the supernatural are drastically altered when he finds an ancient whistle and accidentally summons a spirit that forms a body for itself from the sheets on the spare bed in his hotel room.
Three of the four Doctors have reached Rassilon’s Tomb in the tower with their companions–Sarah Jane, Tegan, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
Amid some companion complaints and inter-Doctor badinage, the three Doctors examine and eventually translate the ancient inscription on a squat obelisk, which contains a welcome and an obscure warning. Only Dr 1 has any idea what the latter might mean.
While Sarah Jane and Tegan helpfully tie up the Master (he was knocked out when the Brigadier slugged him), the Doctors then turn their attention to the task which they all came here to perform: lowering the forcefield that keeps the Tardis from moving so they can exit the Death Zone and get back to their respective times. There’s a control panel on the wall behind them, and it’s Dr 3 who gets the job done by “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.”
Once the Tardis is free of the forcefield, it disappears from the misty countryside where it’s been parked just in time to avoid being blown up by another group of Cybermen, thus evading the least suspenseful menace in the entire show (and there have been some pretty tepid menaces).
Turlough and Susan arrive to join the others, although I’m sorry to see that Drs 2 and 3 evince no interest in seeing Susan again. She’s their granddaughter too and they haven’t seen her since they were Dr 1. You’d think they’d at least say Hello. Continue reading “The Five Doctors, Part 4”
This tense and suspenseful story about the return of a young girl’s possessive lover–long after she’d grown up and given him up as dead–is another episode from the 1980s ITV series, Shades of Darkness. It’s based on a short story by Elizabeth Bowen.
In 1916, Kathleen was engaged to Keith Cameron, a somewhat forceful and intense young pilot. One evening at a party in her parents’ home he took her aside and quietly told her, “I’m off to war, but I shall be with you sooner or later. You need do nothing but wait.” He made her promise, although we never hear what exactly she promised him she would do.
“An unnatural promise,” Kathleen (Dorothy Tutin) recalls in voiceover, much later in her life. “I could not have plighted a more sinister troth.”
He grabbed her by the wrist, twisting her arm up to kiss her hand. Frightened, Kathleen broke away from him and ran back to join the others at the party.
Some months afterwards, Keith’s mother telephoned to tell her that Keith was shot down while flying a mission over France. He was reported as missing, believed killed.
Kathleen grieved, but lived on. Years passed. Eventually, she married a writer named William Drover (Robert Hardy) and had two sons, the elder of whom Robert (a not-yet-famous Hugh Grant) is now grown and has joined the RAF to fight in WWII. Robert, home on leave, wants to marry his girlfriend Anne right away before he returns to duty. While watching the young couple courting in the garden, Kathleen remembers her own wartime romance.
The Drovers have been living out in the country during the first years of the War because of the Blitz. Now that the bombing seems to be over, Kathleen is taking a trip to London to visit old friends and see how their townhouse in Kensington has held up. As long as she’s at the house, she intends to pick up a few things they left behind there, including some books her husband wants as references for a history he’s currently working on.
Most of what follows is a detailed picture of wartime Britain during the summer of 1941. There are ruins of bombed-out houses, surviving houses crowded with unusual boarders, plenty of people in uniform on the streets, rationing of food (Kathleen brings some carefully packed eggs from her own chickens with her as a gift for a friend).
One might almost take this for a drama about life during the War… except that when Kathleen arrives at her Kensington home–which is undamaged apart from some cracks in the walls and plaster dust over everything–she finds a letter addressed to her on a table in one of the rooms upstairs.
A clean square in the dust on the table in the front hall shows that the letter was lying there first. The doors were locked and the windows are intact.
How did it get there? Kathleen wonders. Did the caretaker bring it in?
One way or another, three of the four Doctors trapped in the Death Zone on Gallifrey have made it into the Tower. Dr 3 and Sarah Jane are heading down from the top, while Dr 2 with the Brigadier, and Dr 1 and Tegan go upstairs. The chamber containing the tomb of that legendary Time Lord Rassilon must be somewhere between.
As they go along with their respective Doctors, Sarah Jane and Tegan each express a dreadful feeling of foreboding, as if they’re walking into disaster. Dr 3 tells Sarah that he feels it too; it’s the Mind of Rassilon reaching out to them as they get nearer to his tomb.
To demonstrate Rassilon’s powers, even though he’s been dead for quite some time, the Doctors run into a few minor obstacles. This is also the show’s opportunity to get in a few more old companions who were available.
Dr 3 runs into Liz Shaw and Mike Yeats, formerly of UNIT. In answer to his question, they assure him that “the little fellow with the checked trousers” as well as his other selves are just ahead, waiting for him. They need his help. He believes them at first, but when he tries to go back to get Sarah Jane, whom he left sitting on the last stairway down, before going on with Mike and Liz, they try to stop him. Dr 3 then realizes that they’re only illusions and runs back down the corridor the way he came.
Fake Liz screams “stooopp hiiim” in a creepy echoing voice before both she and Fake Mike disappear.
Dr 3 now has his doubts about Sarah Jane too for a moment, but aside from being a bit more cranky than usual since she rolled down that ridiculously undangerous hill, she’s been perfectly normal. They head down another corridor.
When Tegan expresses her feelings of dread and danger, Dr 1 pooh-poohs it and tells her he doesn’t feel any such thing. It’s all illusion. Just ignore it. And he marches on, unperturbed. Tegan shudders but follows.
Unnoticed by them, the Master is sneaking up the stairs behind them.
Trapped in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, two out of four Doctors are hiking toward Rassilon’s Tower with a companion.
The other two? They’re having a tea party inside the Tardis, although I don’t see any actual tea. Tegan and Turlough are enjoying what look like green cocktails. Susan’s apparently got some lemon meringue pie. There’s also a lavish fruit bowl.
It’s just a little scene, but whenever I watch episodes where Doctors and their future and/or previous companions meet up, I wish that everybody would hang around for a little while after the adventure is over and have a reunion party in the Tardis. This is the only time anything like that happens.
By the time we join them, Susan has had time to catch up with her Grandfathers (as far as I can tell, Dr 1 and Susan didn’t mention the Dalek). The two Doctors are now discussing their plans.
Another interesting thing about the scenes between Drs 1 and 5. Dr 1 has always been something of a cantankerous old Time Lord and doesn’t seem to like very many people. In The Three Doctors, he called Drs 2 and 3 “the clown and the dandy” and goodness knows what he would have made of Dr 4. But he likes this future self, calls him “my boy,” and isn’t at all tetchy during their conversations. He does have some run-ins with Tegan, however, as subsequent scenes will demonstrate.
Dr 5 brings up a primitive computer graphic image of Rassilon’s Tower on a screen on the Tardis’s control panel. There are three ways to get into the tower: Above, Between, or Below, as Dr 2 will sing later from an old Gallifreyan nursery rhyme.
The initial plan is that Dr 5 and the two women will walk over to the Dark Tower, pick an entrance, and go inside to shut off the forcefield generator and release the Tardis. Dr 1 then intends to bring the Tardis over to them in the tower so they can get out of here. I don’t think they’re aware yet that Drs 2 and 3 are wandering around nearby, but Dr 1 will pick them up on the Tardis sensors shortly.
The trio sets out, but they don’t get far before Dr 5 meets the Master and stops for a chat. He doesn’t believe the Master is there to help any more than Dr 3 did and Tegan, keeping a safe distance with Susan, doesn’t have any reason to trust the Master either (remembering how he shrunk her Auntie and pushed Dr 4 off a radio telescope, which is how she ended up here in the first place).
None of them notice the Cybermen coming down the hillside, until the squad has almost marched on top of the Doctor and Master. When they try to run, the Master gets zapped and knocked out. Dr 5 takes the transporter beacon, which the Master showed him during their conversation, uses it, and finds himself in the Time Lords’ Inner Council chamber.
When the Master comes to, he’s surrounded. He quickly makes friends with the Cybermen by pretending that he’s there to help them. Unlike the Doctors, the Cybermen believe him. Cyber-Suckers!
Actually, it’s only four Doctors, and one of them is a substitute for the late William Hartnell, who had passed on several years before Doctor Who‘s 20th anniversary, when this 90-minute special episode was made.
Not only does this story involve getting all the Doctors together; the show’s creators seem bent on getting anybody who was involved in it during its run to date and was available to appear in it somewhere. There’s a lot activity being juggled between different groups of characters. I’m going to break my review up into sections.
But first, a short history of me and Doctor Who. In the early 1970s, our local PBS station began to air all the episodes of a given story on Sunday mornings. My little brother watched them, and was a much more keen viewer than I was.
The first episode I ever saw was of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. I haven’t been able to identify which story that was; I believe the Doctor’s companion was Liz Shaw, and what I would later know to be UNIT was fighting off an alien invasion. Aside from that, I don’t recall much except that it was the first time I’d ever heard a British telephone ring. While I rather liked the Doctor’s sense of style, I didn’t take much interest in the story and only saw bits and pieces of subsequent stories until The Three Doctors. I started watching regularly during Tom Baker’s era and through Peter Davison’s, and those are the stories I still have the greatest affection for. (It helps that I’ve had a crush on Peter Davison since I was 17… going on 40 years now.)
This 20th anniversary show is one I remember watching when it first aired in 1983. We usually saw episodes of Doctor Who a year or two after they were shown in Britain, but this one actually aired in some parts of the US before its UK debut.
Since The Three Doctors, I’d been interested in the idea of Doctors meeting Doctors, the contrast of personalities even though they were the same person. It’s an idea I’m still partial to.
To include something of William Hartnell, the show begins with a clip of the First Doctor’s farewell speech to his granddaughter Susan, in which he promises that he’ll come back and they will see each other again.
The story proper opens with the current Doctor (Peter Davison, or Dr 5) and his two companions Turlough and Tegan* having a bit of a holiday in northern Wales, not far from Portmeirion. Dr 5 calls it the Eye of Orion and says it’s the most tranquil place in the universe.
This tranquility is not to last long. It wouldn’t be much of a show if it did.
In ghost stories of old, little ghost-girls were more likely to be sweet, sad, and sympathetic than scary. Such an example can be found in this episode of the 1980s UK anthology series, Shades of Darkness, based on a short story by May Sinclair.
I’m not familiar with the original story, so I can’t judge this as an adaptation. I found it a moving tale about a dead child who isn’t haunting to seek revenge, but to try to reach her guilt-stricken parents.
Late in 1926, a young man named Garvin, no first name given (John Duttine), has come to the countryside seeking peace and quiet to work. He’s trying to write a book of county history–which county isn’t made clear, but it’s Oop North and from the accents I’m guessing Yorkshire.
Mr. Garvin has been staying in the village, but the room he’s in overlooks the schoolyard and there’s too much noise whenever the children are outside playing. The local doctor, MacKinnon, has recommended a nearby farm which might be willing to take a lodger. Garvin walks out to the farm to meet the Falshaws, a gruff middle-aged farmer, his wife Sarah, and a simple-minded niece, Rachel.
Would they be willing to give him a room? That “depends on the missus,” Falshaw says bluntly. There are no children at the farm at the moment, but there will be one in a month or so. Mrs Falshaw is expecting.
Mrs Falshaw doesn’t object, and Rachel shows Garvin to the empty room upstairs. At first, Garvin tries the door of another room down at the end of the hall, across from the Falshaws’ bedroom, but that door is locked. He does like the room that Rachel takes him to; spacious enough, and with a big window with a view of the yard. He’ll just go back into town and get his books and things.
“It’ll be all right,” Rachel assures him. Until then, Garvin didn’t think there was anything to be worried about.