Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 2

The Survivors

Barbara meets a DalekWhile Barbara is meeting her first Dalek (although we don’t get to see it) at the end of Part 1, the Doctor, Susan, and Ian eventually return to the point where they entered the city. When Barbara doesn’t turn up, they go in search of her. Along the way, the trio comes upon a room containing monitoring instruments that appear to be in use; among these is a Geiger Counter, clicking rapidly.

So now they know all about the dangerously high radiation levels they’ve been wandering around in for the last two days and understand the significance of the ashen soil, the dead and crumbling forest, and this apparently empty city. They also realize why all of them have been feeling so strangely tired.

The Doctor posits that a neutron bomb would cause such devastation, but leave the buildings intact. I remember there being talk of neutron bombs back in the 1980s, but didn’t realize that the idea of such a nuclear weapon was around in the early ’60s. Whatever type of bomb caused this, it’s urgent that they hurry back to the Tardis and go to another place and time where they can be treated as soon as possible for radiation sickness.

Ian mentions that they must find some mercury, and the Doctor makes a confession: there’s nothing wrong with the little fluid link gizmo; he nobbled the Tardis just so they would have to come and explore the city. But now that he’s in danger, he wants to go and leave Barbara behind.

Back in the Stone Age story, I said that this version of the character is more like Dr. Smith than any Doctor I’m later familiar with–and here’s another example. But he isn’t as camp.

Susan and Ian refuse to go without Barbara, and Ian has the fluid link, so it’s useless for the Doctor to go back to the Tardis alone.

The argument turns out to be moot in any case. Before they can go anywhere, they are surrounded by oversized, xenophobic,  metal pepper-pots that hysterically shriek “Exterminate!

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 1

Meet the Daleks

I’m not going to blog-review all of Doctor Who the way I did Dark Shadows. I haven’t even seen all of Doctor Who and I don’t intend to. But after reviewing An Adventure in Space and Time and the very first episodes featuring William Hartnell that came along with it, I thought I’d look at more of these earliest episodes of a series that’s been running for slightly longer than I’ve been alive, as well as some of the other more important or interesting ones along the way.

Starting with this story that made Doctor Who a hit back in 1963 and introduced a pop-cultural icon to the world.

It’s a long story, covering seven episodes, each with its own title. I’m going to take them one at a time.

The Dead Planet

This first episode begins where the rather lackluster Stone-Age storyline left off: the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and their two reluctant Radiation companions, Susan’s schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, have just landed on a new and unfamiliar planet. They go to freshen up before heading outside to explore. Unseen by them, the radiation monitor–which was reading a normal level when Susan checked it a minute earlier–now rises up into the Danger zone. The group leaves the Tardis, oblivious to the radioactivity all around them.

But they do observe its effects on the environment. As they walk through  the strangely white forest, they discover that the soil is all sand and ashes and, while there is a breeze, the trees don’t move; Ian easily crumbles a branch with his fingers. They find a dead creature that looks something like a spiny armored lizard, with scales of metal. 

At the edge of the forest, they see a vast city that appears to be empty.

Metal lizard

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Dr. Who: The first episodes

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.

Last

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.

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An Unearthly Child

One of the extra features on the DVD/BluRay set for An 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 version
Tardis scene: Rejected Pilot
Tardis scene: aired version
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.

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Doctor Who: An Adventure in Space and Time

“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…”

On the Tardis set

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.

Smoking Cyberman

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.

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Kolchak: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…

This isn’t one of my favorite episodes; I usually skip over it on the DVD. But I’ll bet that Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, likes it more than I do. He’s always attributed the inspiration for his own show to his teenaged watching of the Kolchak series, and you can certainly see some inspiring points in this particular episode.

Carl Kolchak sits at his desk in the INS offices, speaking into his pocket tape recorder:

SpaceshipI knew this would be more than the biggest story of my career. It was the biggest story in the lives of everyone on this planet. I fought for the story, fought harder than ever before.

I wanted people to know, to be prepared–if you can be prepared for something like this…

As usual, Carl’s story of bizarre happenings in the Chicago area begins with a murder–not a woman or a man this time, but a cheetah at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The big cat is attacked by some unseen menace in its cage one night (and I wonder what they were really doing to the poor thing to make it look so agitated).

When his editor Tony Vincenzo tells Carl about the cheetah being “missing” the next morning, he says that this is old news. He’s confused it with a “missing” panther from the day before. When Tony corrects him, Carl recalls that a panda died at the same zoo last week, and this pattern interests him enough to pursue the story.

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DVD Review: Horror Express

I recently mentioned this as one of my favorite movies. Since I wrote a brief review of it a long time ago, I thought this would be a good time to drag that out, revise and extend it a bit, and repost it.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing disapprove I love Horror Express more than is reasonable. It stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but it’s not a Hammer film. Hell, it isn’t even Amicus or Tigon.

It was produced by a Spanish studio with a little help from Granada TV, and filmed in Spain; beyond Cushing, Lee, and Telly Savalas, there are few actors in the cast whose first language is English. The whole thing was filmed without audio, and the actors’ voices dubbed in afterwards.  Fortunately, the three stars have dubbed their own voices–it would be too weird if they sounded like someone else.

The story begins in China in 1906. Professor Saxton (Lee) is leading an expedition for the Royal Geological Society, when he discovers an apeman frozen in ice—he calls it a “fossil” even though there’s plenty of flesh left on those very old bones. He intends to cart this important find back to England on a trans-Siberian express train.

A rival scientist, Dr. Wells (Cushing) happens to be at the Shanghai train station at the same time (according to the signs around the station and dialog, it’s Shanghai; the caption at the beginning of the scene says it’s Peking). When Wells learns that Saxton’s discovered something remarkable, he’s eager to get a peek at it, but Saxton has the crate securely fastened shut with big chains and a padlock.

The big, padlocked crate draws attention from other people as well. A thief tries to pick the lock to see if there’s anything worth stealing inside, but he winds up lying dead on the station platform with his eyes glazed and white, as if he were blind. After this incident, a Rasputiny monk declares the contents of the box evil; he demonstrates it by failing to draw a cross on it. Saxton sneeringly dismisses this as a trick using some kind of special chalk or hypnosis. I think that the monk just didn’t press down hard enough.
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CD Review: The Colour out of Space

The Colour out of Space is closer to science fiction than horror than most of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, although it certainly has its horrifying aspects. This 1927 short story considers what lies out there in the vastness of space, unknown and incomprehensible to humanity; like the narrator, one may feel “an odd timidity about the deep skyey voids above” by the end of it.

Arkham newspaper article about the meteorite

The story begins with a meteorite that crashes on the Massachusetts farm of Nahum Gardner in 1882.

Scientists from nearby Miskatonic University come out to examine it, and discover an object too soft to be metal but possessed of peculiar properties. Not that they have much time for testing. The meteorite shrinks rapidly and, after several lightning strikes during a storm, disappears completely.

Yet something remains behind. That autumn’s crops grow extravagantly large and glossy, tinted with an indefinable color that reminds everyone of the fragile globule found inside the meteorite–but all the fruit is inedible. The next year, the plants grow stunted and brittle. Tree branches seem to move even when there’s no wind. Wild animals near the farm behave strangely and appear to be subtly deformed. The livestock that isn’t able to flee becomes ill and starts to shrivel, turning grey and brittle like the plants. The whole farmyard glows faintly at night. And although the water from the well is obviously contaminated, the Gardner family continues to drink it.

At first glance, this could be an early story about the effects of exposure to radiation; this being Lovecraft, however, there’s more going on than a mere environmental hazard. An active and conscious entity has taken up residence in the farm well and is draining the life out of everything organic in the vicinity.

The text is online at http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/thecolouroutofspace.htm.

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CD Review: The Shadow out of Time

Original Astounding Stories cover of 'The Shadow out of Time' In 1908, a Miskatonic University political economics professor named Nathaniel Peaslee collapsed while giving a lecture to his class. When he regained consciousness, he had no memory of who he was, was badly coordinated, wore an odd expression, and spoke in a stilted, archaic style as if English were an unfamiliar language. His wife and children, convinced that this wasn’t Nathaniel at all, were horrified and had nothing further to do with him.

In his new personality, Peaslee pursued a very different sort of life, absorbing knowledge on a variety of subjects from the abstruse to the childishly simple. He made mysterious trips all over the world–Arabian deserts, the Himalayas, the Arctic–and contacted several occult leaders during his travels.

Then, in 1913, he built a small, strange machine in his Arkham home. An anonymous phone call requested that a doctor come to tend to him; when the doctor arrived, Peaslee was unconscious and woke slowly, speaking words from the lecture he’d been giving in 1908. The original personality had returned, with no memory of what he’d been doing for the last 5 years.
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CD Review: At the Mountains of Madness

I’ve been meaning to go on with reviewing the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre dramas produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I’ve had the boxed CD set for years, but time passed and other things got in the way… until I was doing a Matt Foyer-fest this past weekend and included A Shadow over Innsmouth; I realized it’d been awhile since I’d listened to any of the others, some of which Foyer also has smaller roles in.

At the Mountains of Madness is one of Lovecraft’s larger stories in length as well as scope. We’re no longer in the narrow streets of witch-haunted Puritan towns crowded with gambrel-peaked roofs, nor in the claustrophobic New England hills with their own ancient legends. This story is set in the vast, frozen wastes of the Antarctic. It’s about a team of explorers who discover what appear to be remarkably well-preserved specimens of an early but sophisticated form of life that lived on Antarctica millions of years before it was covered in ice. But in spite of their great age, these Elder Beings aren’t quite dead yet. In fact, they’re feeling much better.

It’s a story filled with adventure–dogsleds and aeroplanes, wind storms, monstrously high mountains, a lost city, giant penguins, and a thrilling chase scene with one of the usual Lovecraftian nightmare creatures. There’s been a recent attempt at a film version, but it seems to be lost in production limbo.

The story is available online at http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/mountainsofmaddness.htm.

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