Tag Archives: Cybermen

Very British Sci-Fi

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It is perhaps an indication of the renewed popularity of Doctor Who, that UKTV Drama has kicked off a new year with a daily teatime showing of some of the classic shows not in the omnibus format in which they used to show the programme at weekends, but as it was originally made in 25 minute episodes.

The one difference though is that whereas in the past they always started at the start of the colour era, with Jon Pertwee stories, this time they’re kicking off with Robot, Terrance Dicks reworking of King Kong – probably most obvious in the final episode – that marked the beginning of Tom Baker in the title role.

Although there are some really obvious bits of model work at times, it’s still quite an entertaining watch, including some classic bits of script that mark it out as very British, such as the conversation between the Brigadier and the Doctor about how Great Britain was the only possible choice as the country to hold the nuclear secrets of the superpowers…

So why start out at this point? The answer is fairly simple if you look at what comes up later in the first Tom Baker season. After The Ark in Space next week we then get a run of classic monsters.

First off is The Sontaran Experiment – monsters who are going to appear again in the next season of the new Doctor Who. Then we get the classic and fan favourite Genesis of the Daleks where the Doctor is sent back in time to destroy the Daleks before they are even created – where Terry Nation makes absolutely no attempt to hide who he based the creatures on – and where the Doctor makes a fateful decision. After that we have the Revenge of the Cybermen, which it has to be said, isn’t regarded by a classic by a lot of fans, and finally that season finished off with the first and only appearance of the Zygons – favourite monster of the current occupier of the TARDIS, David Tennant.

So compared to the modern series it may have some really dodgy special effects, and wobbly sets, but this was the era that was enough to inspire most of the current production team, and of course David Tennant himself, to the extent that more than a decade after it’s demise they brought back the series that is so successful now. If alternatively you’re only interested in “nu Whoâ€? as SFX christened it, you’ve only got a couple of weeks to wait before Torchwood returns on 16th January – this time with a pre-watershed re-edit to help in those homes where the content of the show was ruled unsuitable for the younger Who obsessives and they were banned from watching – and Doctor Who itself is due to return for a fourth series in the now familiar late spring/early summer run.

Invasion

One of the many treats for Doctor Who fans this Christmas, particularly those who appreciate the original series is the release on DVD of The Invasion an eight part adventure for Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor featuring the Cybermen.

As the story opens, the Doctor is having problems with the TARDIS, which materialises above the dark side of the moon. Unfortunately it’s presence is not welcome, and a missile is launched at the time machine, with the the Doctor evading it just in time. The TARDIS comes to rest in a cow filled field, and with the Doctor needing parts to fix the fault, the TARDIS crew have to go off to find someone to help. The Doctor and his friends head for London to look up an old friend, but find that he has gone away, leaving his home in the care of a Professor Watkins and his niece – but Professor Watkins has disappeared whilst working for International Electromatics. The Doctor goes to investigate, and discovers that Tobias Vaughn, the sinister head of International Electromatics is working with the Cybermen to conquer the world. Vaughn believes that he can use the Cybermen, who he believes want only the natural resources of the Earth in order to gain power, and has been using Cyberman technology to infiltrate key government roles in order to keep his plan secret. Over a number of months he has been bringing the Cyberman army to Earth and hiding them in the London sewers. However the Cybermen have other plans, and want to convert the entire human race to Cybermen, and tell Vaughn that he can only lead the Earth once he has been converted. Ultimately Vaughn realises that he cannot control the Cybermen and joins with the Doctor to defeat them.

If that plot seems somewhat familiar, it should, as it is remarkably similar to the plot of Rise of the Cybermen, a similarity I commented on at the time that episode was first shown. Aside from the difference that John Lumic the sinister head of Cybus Industries creates the Cybermen in the later story, a significant number of plot elements are the same. The take-over in both stories is by means of secret circuits in electronic devices, in both stories the wealthy industrialist believes he can control the Cybermen but ultimately can’t, there are even quite subtle similarities, for example in both stories the industrialists have a loyal assistant who doesn’t want to be taken over, and in both the industrialists whilst having been augmented by cyber-technology, ultimately do not want to be fully converted. The production team for Rise of the Cybermen acknowledged the similarities between the two stories by naming the transport company that move the Cybermen International Electromatics after the company in the original story.

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The major selling point of this DVD though is that this is the first release of the complete story. Whilst The Invasion was released on video in 1993, the missing first and fourth episodes were replaced with Nicholas Courtney explaining the missing plot, this time, as I mentioned a few months back the missing episodes have been recreated using the original soundtracks of the episode which have been preserved, and animation produced by the team at Cosgrove Hall.

I have to say that the new animated episodes look great. Ironically in certain respects I think they look better than the original episodes. For example the strange alien machine that Vaughn uses to communicate with the Cybermen first appears at the climax of the first episode, so appears animated, and looks decidedly better than the shot of the actual prop that appears in episode two. Having said that, the big disappointment for the animators I bet was that they didn’t get much opportunity to animate Cybermen, as their first appearance in the story is in the final scene of episode four. Certainly you can understand why the animators chose the scenes they did for the initial trailer now.

That actually serves to highlight one of the big differences between The Invasion and modern Doctor Who – this is very slow burn. The presence of the Cybermen is not revealed until the very end of episode four, with the first four episodes being the Doctor investigating International Electromatics, and whilst you subsequently discover that he gets pretty close, the monsters don’t actually appear. Episodes four to eight are the Doctor dealing with the actual invasion, complete with creepy encounters with Cybermen in the sewers, and the iconic images from the story with Cybermen on the steps of St Pauls. Strangely enough though for such a long story, elements of these episodes seem decidedly rushed – on several occasions you get key moments in the defeat of the invasion which are referred to but not seen, and even the final scene where the Doctor and his friends leave to a new adventure seems very quick. Maybe I’m just getting rather used to the longer character moments we have in the new series.

Having said that, it is an excellent story, and it is great to be able to see the whole thing once again. The story came at a key moment in time for the series. Patrick Troughton had decided to leave, and with the advent of colour TV, the producers had decided to make the series more Earth based, because they believed (rather as the team does today) that they didn’t have the budget to do alien worlds justice. As such The Invasion can be seen as a pilot for the UNIT stories that followed during the third Doctor era. So as both a key point in the development of Doctor Who, and a great story in it’s own right, it is a definite must own purchase for a Doctor Who fan.

An Episode of Two Halves

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Doomsday, the final episode of the series of Doctor Who, which was broadcast on the BBC last night was very much an episode of two halves. On the one side you have the big battle of the enemies, with the Daleks and Cybermen doing battle, the Cybermen looking to conquer the Earth, and the Daleks very much focused on their own mission to activate the Genesis Ark. Alongside this we have the much more personal stories of the Doctor and Rose, and also the Tyler family who thanks to a bit of jumping between parallel worlds, are finally brought back together.

As to the discussion as to whether the episode could live up to the hype, I think it did. If you look back to the discussion in the comments following my posting last week, you’ll see that there were a number of theories based around whether the death of Rose would be metaphorical. Russell T did play with the audience somewhat, in the way that as he has done before he tries to get Rose to a place of safety, but she comes back to help, and then she is saved from death just in the nick of time, but in such a way that she can never get back to the Doctor. Interestingly in the Doctor Who Confidential following the episode Russell T confirmed that they never considered actually killing the character. In a comment that certainly reveals some of the ethos behind the current series he stated that he wants the series to be about hope, and that killing a popular companion would not fit with that. However he then went on to describe their difficulty in finding a way to split the Doctor and Rose, as it would have been totally out of character for Rose to leave willingly. Certainly it is at this point that you realise quite how much work has been put in to getting all the Tyler loose ends tied up nicely, even down to the fact that the parallel Jackie Tyler and Mickey are put out of the picture ready to provide a nice happy end to the whole Tyler story-lines. Indeed the moment when Jackie finally meets Pete definitely raised a smile around here.

In terms of the Dalek and Cybermen story-line, this gave us quite a bit of action, with Cybermen taking on human soldiers, and later the Daleks taking on the Cybermen. There were also, as Beth commented, some pretty catty lines from the Daleks at times, probably considered unnecessary by a number in the fan community I would guess. One good thing was that there wasn’t the Dalek/Cyberman team up. The moment when the Cybermen offer an alliance in the trailer actually occurs when the Cybermen realise that they cannot match up to the firepower of four Daleks – indeed the comment is made that they couldn’t survive the firepower of just one – and offer an alliance. The Daleks turn it down point blank, and continue with their mission to activate the Genesis Ark, which turns out to be a Time Lord prison ship holding millions of Daleks. After this, the Daleks and Cybermen are swiftly dealt with thanks to the rift, with the Doctor setting things up so the two armies are sucked out of this dimension. Needless to say, the tradition of leaving things open for a rematch is maintained, with the Black Dalek escaping just in the nick of time.

This then leaves a good chunk of the episode to tie up the Rose story-line. At the height of the battle, Rose has fallen towards the rift that is sucking the Daleks and Cybermen out, but is at the last moment saved by Pete, who appears from the parallel world one last time and takes her back. A split second later the rift is closed and she cannot get back.

After this we find out why Rose is stood on a beach at the opening of the episode – she has heard the Doctor’s voice calling, and this is where he appears to say his good-bye. In typical Doctor fashion it is actually a beach in Norway, rather than the UK, resulting in the Tylers going running across Europe. But the Doctor says that he has enough power to send this last communication, and Rose declares her love for the Doctor, but the transmission ends with the Doctor in mid-sentence of his reply.

Having said that, we immediately are straight in to the set-up for the Christmas episode, with barely a pause for breath, as the Doctor looks up from the console to find a bride (played by Catherine Tate) stood in the console room. Bearing in mind that the TARDIS is millions of miles from Earth at this point, in orbit of a super nova to power the transmission, it will certainly be interesting to find out how she got there – only about 170 days to wait!

Army of Ghosts

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So after two episodes which were to a large extent filler, last night we got the first of the two part finale to series 2 of the new Doctor Who. If, like my brother in law you’re reading this having not seen the episode, I’ll urge you to stop now, as a little further down I’ll get into a discussion about next weeks episode that gives out the big part of the end of this episode. I have to say that I did spot the clue to what it was last week, but when I watched Army of Ghosts for the first time I’d actually forgotten, and was definitely an edge of the seat moment when it happened!

You could certainly see where the budget had gone this week. The opening sequence was actually a voice-over from Rose, firstly talking about her boring life before she met the Doctor, then you get a quick flashback to her meeting with the Ninth Doctor, before some new footage of Rose and the Doctor, including a really impressive composite shot looking down on the two of them stood outside the TARDIS on an obviously alien planet, surrounded by mountains, with strange winged creatures flying around. Sadly that was the last we saw of that planet, as we then get a very subdued looking Rose stood on a beach, with the voice over talking about the Army of Ghosts, a war, and this being where she ‘died’.

At this point, some may be wondering why I’ve put died in quote marks, when it has been pretty widely leaked that Rose is to be killed off in the next episode. The reason is that it struck me when watching the episode again, that it trailing it so obviously at the beginning of this episode implies that her death may not be quite as people are expecting. Bear in mind that Billie Piper at one point this year confirmed that she was coming back next year – so maybe her death is actually going to be metaphorical. Perhaps something happens next episode that changes her opinion of the Doctor so much that she is heartbroken, and unable to continue travelling with the Doctor. This then explains the standing on the beach scene, the fact that it is Rose doing the voice over in the past tense, that she is still alive to tell the story, rather than speaking from beyond the grave. Of course that would also have given her the opportunity to have come back for a third season if she had wanted. Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see until next week, as there is nothing this week to indicate one way or the other how her character’s story will be resolved.

After the credits, we’re a long way from the strange alien planet, as we’re back in contemporary London, with Rose returning home with her dirty washing (obviously no washing machines in the TARDIS) so we get a little bit of domestic stuff to introduce the ghosts of the title.

The ghosts have apparently been appearing, quite harmlessly for a number of weeks, with Jackie believing that hers is the ghost of her dead father. The Doctor flicks through the channels on the TV, determining that it is a global phenomenon. This also gives an opportunity for the Barbara Windsor cameo, as in a nod to the ex-Eastenders actors in the cast for this weeks episode, particularly Tracey-Ann Oberman, who played Chrissy Watts, the Doctor flicks over to an episode of Eastenders with Peggy Mitchell demanding that the ghost of Den Watts, who of course Chrissy killed off in Eastenders, leaves her pub. Certainly for those fans who were having nightmare visions of the Doctor walking into the Queen Vic or something, it was probably at most an annoying interlude, and certainly the Doctor and Jackie exchange afterwards raised a giggle here.

Anyway, the Doctor of course is sceptical, and realises that these are something leaking through from a parallel world, and sets about trapping one of the ghosts to track down the source of the dimensional disturbance. Having located the source, he takes the TARDIS, with Jackie an unwitting passenger, to try and find out what has been going on.

The source is in fact Torchwood, the organisation set up by Queen Victoria back in Tooth and Claw, and one of whose purposes is to protect the British Empire from the Doctor. However, they also have a mystery that they realise that the Doctor is the only person who can help them to solve. This leaves the Doctor in a slightly odd position, in that he is effectively a prisoner, but at the same time being treated well. This gets to the point where he asks at one point “Am I a prisoner?� – “Oh yes!� comes the matter of fact reply.

The mystery is a large sphere, which although it is visible, can not be detected by any sensors. It is giving off no heat, no radiation, nothing. It seems that it is this that is partially responsible for the Army of Ghosts. The sphere came through a rift, high above London, resulting in Torchwood building a giant tower (Canary Wharf in London) to reach the rift. In the basement is the sphere, with Torchwood scientists trying to find out what it is. However Torchwood have discovered that the rift is also a source of energy, and are experimenting, trying to harness the energy of the rift to generate power for the UK. The Doctor identifies the Sphere as being a void ship, a ship that could travel between universes. However he urges Torchwood to send it back through the rift and not to open it.

It transpires that as a side effect of the Torchwood experiments over the past couple of months, ghosts have started to appear whenever the rift is opened. It quickly becomes clear to the Doctor that the ghosts are not as benign as everybody thinks especially as even when the order is given to stop one of the experiments some of the staff carries on regardless. After this he quickly discovers that it is the parallel universe Cybermen that he first met earlier in the series who are using the rift to invade parallel worlds, and that the millions of ghosts that appear are in fact millions of Cybermen. The Cybermen succeed in completing the transfer, providing an almost instant victory without even a shot being fired.

However, then comes the twist. As the transfer reaches full power, suddenly the inert sphere becomes active, with Rose, a Torchwood scientist, and Mickey – who has followed the Cybermen through the rift – trapped in the same room. The Doctor realises that the Cybermen do not have the technology to create the sphere. This is confirmed by the Cyber-Leader, who says that they do not know the source of the sphere, but have merely followed in its wake. So with Mickey and Rose expecting something Cyberman like to step forth from the sphere, it is a bit of a shock when something else, but just as familiar comes out of the opening sphere – a group of Daleks, including our first sight in the new series of a black Dalek.

Although this probably comes as a surprise to many non-fans, this is the first time in the TV series that the two monsters have appeared together on screen. However from the glimpses of next weeks episode, they certainly aren’t working together. In amongst the shots of Cybermen and Daleks fighting each other, we get tantalising hints as to what is going on. Whilst the Cybermen are intent on world domination, the small group of Daleks are up to something else. In one of the clips we see them moving a large container, which gets referred to as ‘the Genesis Ark’, possibly an attempt to resurrect the Daleks wiped from the universe at the end of the last series? Of course if the Daleks have survived outside space and time, maybe that gives hope to the Doctor that his people, the Timelords have survived too.

So how was the episode? All in all I thought it was pretty good. Torchwood wasn’t overly impressive, partly because aside from Tracey-Ann Obermans somewhat annoying character, most of the other Torchwood staff were fairly swiftly taken over by the Cybermen, Torchwood mainly being there as a vehicle to bring the Daleks and Cybermen together ready for Doomsday next week. Certainly it does leave quite a lot to be sorted out next week, and with the confirmed departure of one major character, some really big questions over who is going to be left by the end of the series. Indeed the only confirmed person remaining is David Tennant himself!

Incidentally, did anyone else spot the Mac laptop in the episode? For some strange reason the IBM desktops in use, still had prominent IBM logo’s visible, however the Mac laptop had a Torchwood logo slapped over the top of the Apple logo on the lid – very strange.

BBC to Re-Animate Old Doctor Who

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Back in the seventies, in order to clear out space in their archives, the BBC cleared out a lot of their old recordings, including a significant number of episodes of Doctor Who. Of course with the advent of the home video recorder, and subsequently the DVD player in the eighties and beyond, the BBC are now making a lot of money by selling old Doctor Who stories to fans, but of course with some episodes missing, that leaves them with a problem. Currently there are 108 missing episodes. Although there are pictures from all the episodes, and off air recordings of the soundtrack, many of which have been packaged up for the fans, it’s not the same as having an actual episode.

As a result, the BBC have recently announced a new advance, in November they are to release the Invasion – the story that brought us the iconic images of the Cybermen on the steps of St Pauls. Rather than having linking material as with the video release, the BBC have contracted Cosgrove Hall, previously responsible for the animated adventure Scream of the Shalka, to reconstruct the missing episodes as animation. The BBC are hosting a tempting 30 second trailer – certainly it will be interesting to see quite how the story comes out, and whether it will be a viable option for recreating the remaining missing episodes, as close to their original form as possible.