Archive for the ‘BLOG EXCLUSIVES’ Category

The Troughton Era

Thursday, February 28th, 2013








The years of the clown

In 1991 I was lucky enough to be at the first Manopticon convention inManchester.  It boasted two Doctors in attendance, the author of this Blog’s favourite: Colin Baker, and my Doctor:Jon Pertwee.

On first, rascally Baker told a Two Doctors anecdote about his co-star, Patrick Troughton which garnered prolonged, thunderous applause that must have shaken the venue’s foundations. “You hear that, Pat?” shouted Baker, casting his eyes heavenward, before grinning and adding “Good, Pertwee will hear this and think it’s for me!”

Whether Baker ever knew that Pertwee wickedly returned the favour the following day with an equally rapturously-received Troughton recollection from The Three Doctors is not on record.

The point is: everybody loves Pat.  Of all the ‘classic Doctors’, the Cosmic Hobo never seems to have endured the ‘cooling-off’ period which the others have; never had to suffer the slings and arrows of capricious fandom.   And anyone who’s ever seen Troughton, in anything, can see why.  Whether it’s opposite Christopher Lee in Scars of Dracula, or Gregory Peck in The Omen, is abundantly clear he could hold his own against the very best in the business.

Opposite the likes of Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury however, he didn’t just have to hold his own, but seemingly support entire last-minute and rewritten stories, brace hours of near-identical bases under siege and carry drab set-fulls of interchangeable characters.

There, I’ve said it.  I’m sorry: while I unhesitatingly agree that Patrick Troughton and the Second Doctor are a sublime creator and creation, but that doesn’t mean all his episodes were too; as hard as many might want to believe.  The reputation of Troughton’s run seems ironically enhanced by the fact that so little remains.  This scarcity of evidence has led many to smile fondly at the memory of masterpieces almost none have actually seen, even after the hard lessons not learned following the recovery of Tomb of the Cybermen.

We often forget how close the end credits of the tenth instalment of The War Games came to being our last Who ever.

I admit I’m shallow: the murky, stagey, shouty remains of the Sixties are never the first place I go when looking to watch some Who.  And I also know the dangerous ground on which I walk, recalling well that fateful interview that Matthew Waterhouse gave DWM, when he committed the cardinal sin of giving his honest opinion about a certain Troughton-era companion.  The vilification young Adric received in the following month’s letters page even caused DWM to distance itself from Mr Waterhouse’s personal views.

Despite some assertions that Troughton is not entirely ‘in character’ throughout, The Three Doctors remains one of my favourite Second Doctor stories.  Unhindered by his traditional monochrome baggage, he’s delightful: puckish, feisty and his irreverence and smoke-screen frivolity lend the story it’s funniest and most memorable moments.

I love the Second Doctor as much as any of the others, possibly more so as he always tried to give my own favourite a hard time, and I still love him.  But like any other incarnation, his stories are far from perfect, his companions far from flawless and his monsters some way from being universally convincing.  The Second Doctor: not the Messiah, just played by a very, very good actor.

Zeus Blog wishes to distance itself from the personal views of Mr Hughes.


The Hartnell Era

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

“I have been a stranger in a strange land” Exodus 22:2

Here’s the thing: I used to – even until quite recently I’ll admit, believe that a deep and enduring interest in Sixties Who was the last refuge of the ageing fan. When all fascination for the action and wit of the Seventies, the flash and sting of the Eighties and the promise of the Nineties had dried up, the retiring and increasingly embittered Who enthusiast would at last turn his or her dried and cynical self away from the recent past and find solace in the fuzzy monotone folds of the Hartnell and Troughton years, there to shuffle themselves to an endless sleep or, worse, bitterly reject the innovations of later Who – that of my generation and those immediately following, as cheap and flimsy, lacking the weight and interest of the Early Years. My suspicions were deepest when fans younger than myself started the same drift – easy enough to explain in older followers, I thought, who might have genuine memories of the black and white show as televised on various local stations or even in the Mother Country, but younger fans? Surely this was just an attempt to be cool and rebellious? A wilful spurning of the values and energy we’d enjoyed as teens and later?

I can’t speak for those fans, but I can speak for myself. In the past two years I’ve become a Sixties Who lover. Of course I’ve got older, having crossed the boundaries of middle age. I love the Seventies and Eighties no less, I hasten to add; but I now love the Sixties more than I ever did. To me they are indeed broader, deeper, and more intriguing. They are the innovative years, and their Doctors are fascinating and alien, their companions all the more human for the contrast. Sixties stories with their reduced score and longer episodes are drawn out, contemplative, with nervous pauses and great moments of silence. They are of an era of stage, both in location and performance – their performers (Hartnell in particular) are more clearly cut from the stage and occupy the studio floorspace with an eye to an intimate audience. There’s little that’s post-production here; the special effects are either practical or in-camera, the spaceships are models and the monsters makeup and costume. It is low-tech, but I really don’t mind that. It was known to be low-tech in its own time; its success was due to its imagination, as it has ever been.

And what imagination! The idea of space and time in the Hartnell era is markedly different – the Doctor and Susan refer to themselves as outsiders, travellers, and (because of course the term hadn’t been invented yet) there is no mention of either of them being masters or Lords of Time. They don’t even have control over their Ship – pointedly so in The Edge of Destruction where the machine (for it is in this era) turns on them in a strange attempt to warn them of a more imminent and external danger. The threat from outside is a recurring motif – the alien, the distant world with an unnatural ecosystem, the altogether unfamiliar. The Universe is an immediately unfamiliar and sometimes hostile place, something for all companions to first explore, then negotiate with week after week, before finally finding their place in it – there’s no overfamiliarity with the cosmos or knowing meta-commentary of the new series companions here; the likes of Ian and Barbara, Vicki and Steven are themselves interlopers, small figures on an enormous and threatening landscape. There’s little cosiness here at all, I find – no recurring old friends to reconnect with or rely on for comfort, and there’s every reason to believe that when the Doctor promises Susan he’ll return to her at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, he really won’t. And then there’s history, an extra dimension to be explored and negotiated, where the series’ early lessons of interference and free will are exercised (The Aztecs) and the Doctor’s morality – perhaps then a reflection of his own helplessness to turn the wheel of time, is brought to the fore (The Massacre.) To accompany a mad man in his time travelling box may be one thing, but to be effectively trapped in one beyond the control of its mercurial and sometimes aloof owner is quite another. For the first few stories of Doctor Who’s first year the adventures of Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor are as much about surviving their journey in the Ship itself, and of course in doing so, surviving each other.

I’ve been saying for some time now that when this formula is applied correctly, classic Doctor Who can be astonishing, akin more to the theatre of its age presented in challenging locations, where the drama is as much caused by human conflict, madness, fear, paranoia, intolerance than its bizarre circus of humanoid aliens, who often work best as a reflection of the darker side of human nature: avarice (the Voord), intolerance (the Daleks), revenge (the Monoids). Sixties Who is humanist drama, and, bereft of Time Lords or a Doctor who sees the Universe of time and space as his plaything, it is an existential one as well. Like the best Science Fiction it speaks of the human condition, and like much of the media of its decade the Hartnell Era is informed by Britain post-war, it is by nature and to its credit a product of its time.

If you want to see where Doctor Who began and where it could yet go, you should watch its beginnings.


Caroline John

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

 The Pertwee UNIT roster grows ever thinner, a fact that saddens more with each passing. Few if any fans would have known the extent of Caroline John’s recent illness, her death and funeral being kept strictly between family and friends. As fans we might pretend ownership of Doctor Who and all who appear in it, but times like these serve to remind us that, indeed, beyond the screen and the stage there are real lives, private and sensitive, with families and loved ones to whom our idols and familiar faces mean something altogether different, and much, much more.

As Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, John’s time in the series was admittedly brief, but notable for being an era of change – the first full-colour Doctor, grounded literally and figuratively by his Time Lord masters, and saddled with a semi-military institution with whom he would occasionally spar and pit his will in frustration. A brief tenure for sure, but Season Seven remains a classic, its strength exemplified by the fact that two of its stories (Spearhead from Space and Inferno) have been and will be ‘revisited’ respectively, while Ambassadors of Death waits in the wings, the colour being patiently put back into its cheeks. Liz may be gone, but we’ll see her again very soon, and a new generation of fans will meet her fresh and as close to how she was meant to be seen as modern technology will allow. Inferno is a revelation in itself, offering John a rare dual role, and to this writer at least, seems an appropriate release to have a dedicated extra to its outgoing co-star.

‘Outgoing’ is not a term you might otherwise describe Liz Shaw. Cambridge-based, and as much conscripted into UNIT’s service as the Doctor, her partnership with the Time Lord is characteristically professional; not yet is there the fatherly warmth shared between Pertwee’s Doctor and Jo Grant, but then Liz was not cut from the same cloth. A professional, she required a professional respect from the Doctor, and looked to him less for protection. Feminism, that modern equivalent more often attributed to Sarah Jane Smith is as equally a character trait of Liz Shaw – we just weren’t around enough to see it come to the fore; or perhaps amidst the sound and drama of Season Seven it’s in there, another element in a fascinating and changing shift in the series format. For herself Caroline John was far from outgoing as far as her character was concerned. John eschewed the fan convention circuit until the early 90s, mistakedly assuming that fans either wouldn’t know her or be interested in Liz. The opposite proved true, happily, and John’s return to Who‘s fold was heralded as interesting and welcome as those of Tom Baker and Paul McGann. For her change of heart Liz Shaw was embraced by fan creators, given her own spin-off series in the PRoBe fan videos (recently re-released on DVD), and the character appeared in both the New Adventures and Missing Adventures. Of these it’s Gary Russell’s The Scales of Injustice that gives Liz her first ‘departure’ story, trusting a more fitting exit than the between-seasons disappearance the TV series offered. Alternatively, Jim Mortimore’s Eternity Weeps closes Liz’s story even more, daring to write her out in a story with Silurians, science, and the Moon, where the TV series also last left her in a too-brief mention in the Sarah Jane Adventures.

John’s audio work needs mention, too, as it’s not yet complete. Later this year Big Finish’s last Liz Shaw Companion Chronicle, the fittingly-titled The Last Post will be released, and we have three other CCs to accompany it, effectively doubling Liz’s tenure. The actor’s reading of Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography should also be noted; an effective and affecting reading that neatly ties the Pertwee Era together with a story shared by two companions from either end of the Third Doctor’s time on Earth. In this way we can hope that Doctor Liz Shaw will continue to live on in Who, not as a brief-lived companion, but as an essential catalyst to a changing Time Lord life, and another very strong, intelligent and independent woman in the Doctor’s life who fought her corner when she could, and chose not to be left behind, but to find her own destiny outside the Doctor’s shadow.

Caroline John’s portrayal of Liz is crucial to our understanding of the character – a clear break from the space orphans of the past, her Liz is an Earthly Woman, the essential human alongside an increasingly alien Doctor. We’ve not had a companion like her since, and Doctor Who is a sadder world without Caroline John in it.

Deus Ex Scriptor

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Recently, a commentator on this very blog said “‘Deus ex machina’, at least among fans, would appear to translate as: ‘I didn’t like the ending’…” Can’t entirely deny that right now, so let’s examine it! Moreover, let’s stick with the new series.

As everyone knows, ‘Deus ex machina’ means ‘god from the machine’ aka the tendency for a ‘god’ to be lowered (via a ‘machine’) at the end of ancient Greek plays to solve all ills. More modernly, as the OverthinkingIt article on this very topic in Doctor Who , it means “any time when something or somebody who has not been a major part of the story so far shows up at the end of a play, movie or TV show more or less at random to dictate how it ends, usually making everything the characters have done up until this point seem irrelevant by comparison”.

I think, for Doctor Who, we can perhaps be more specific. “An ending where a previously unseen plot point gives the Doctor god-like powers beyond that even of his sonic screwdriver.” Not entirely accurate, as we’ll see in the next paragraph, but it’s what it feels like. This is where the ‘I didn’t like the ending’ translation comes from, namely the unseen plot point. Surprise! With one bound he was free! Another translation is ‘Cop out!’

Let’s not dance around the issue, and cut to the first, best example. In this case it isn’t entirely unforeshadowed, and moreover doesn’t happen to the Doctor. Yep, we’re talking Rose in The Parting of the Ways . She gains the powers of a god due to the power emanating from the machine . How more a literal insertion of the phrase can you get? It originally referred to the stage device, it wasn’t a story point, and there it is, as in your face as possible!

This, to me, is the most egregious example possible. It’s RTD going ‘I turn Rose into a god because I can’t think of another way to solve this problem’ (and possibly ‘because I fetishise her’ but that’s a different topic). (Fine, I’ll acknowledge that RTD could have easily come up with a different ending, and it did lead to the amazing ending of the Ninth Doctor… but he didn’t!) The fact that this is just so obvious and in your face makes it not ‘post-modern’ or ‘deconstructionist’, it’s just annoying in levels too large to ignore.

The other obvious example is in, of course, The Last of the Time Lords . You too can become a god if everyone chants your name! No amount of technobabble logic can get away from the sheer effrontery of the Tinkerbell solution which gives the plot equivalent of whip-lash. Fie! I cry, Boo! It doesn’t give the Doctor other powers (other than the ability to ignore the laser screwdriver) or lead to his death, nor even the Master’s end, so there is no greater meaning as in Rose’s transformation, it’s just to get him back from Dobby-form.

(And while these are RTD examples, the end of The Forest of the Dead doesn’t give much hope that the next production crew won’t deify the man.)

Does ‘Deus ex machina’ = ‘I didn’t like the ending’? Maybe, but there is cause.


Burn Notice!

Sunday, May 10th, 2009


You hear a lot about Smith in the new series. Doctor John (both of them we guess), Sarah Jane, Mickey, Mister – it’s a regular Smith City. Also Joneses – the whole fandamily of them. Noone ever mentions the Browns, and that among a few other things is what’s wrong with NuWho, because if you neglect the Browns you miss out on the great stuff our new cub reporter in the UK, Stu ‘Foo’ Brown sends us. A cut above yer actual Metro article and Chiswick zeppelin, that boy Foo knows how to rock the party. Viz this scoop:

 ”So, my partner is out having a haircut at a salon in London, just around the corner from Forbidden Planet. I get a text message saying “You are going to be so jealous” followed by “I’m sitting next to Owen”. Owen who? Ohhh, THAT Owen. I ask her to get his autograph with the text “You ducking joking. Ask for an autograph. Please. And say that he was my fav”.

Half an hour later, text received “It all done” and lo, I am the proud holder of an autograph (no hair though).


It also turns out the stylist’s wife does the hair of Tosh. A case of hair together, die together? I’ll let you know if I manage to get Naoko Mori’s autograph!”

He signs his name “Blu”? Who knew?

Foo has sent us more great stuff which we’ll post soon!

Ladies and Gentlemen…

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

…we have a Water Of Mars cloister bell a-coming. (inviso-text for those who don’t want to be spoiled)

Full review of Planet of the Dead to come…

Beige on Beige?

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

The following article was originally published in Baz! No. 1  

baz1smallIt could be said that we get the Doctors we deserve. We certainly seem to get the man for the age – each Time Lord to date has been, unavoidably, a fair representation of his creators’ and audience’s times – the Sixties hobo, the Seventies Soho, the Noughties Emo. But spare a thought for the early-decaders, the cusp-trippers who have one foot in each decade; is Pertwee truly indicative of the era that kicked off just as he did? Isn’t Hartnell more a symptom of repressed post-war Fifties UK than fellow traveller to his swinging successor? And didn’t fan necromancy make the seventh Doctor more a Nineties antihero than an Eighties one?  Indeed, it was as recently as January that next-up honcho Steven Moffat described Colin Baker as ‘The Eighties’. There’s no denying Tom was The Seventies – he nearly spanned the decade, but where does that leave Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor? Well… 

I’ve come to believe that some Doctors are less spectacle than place-keeper. For better or worse and surely not with intent, their lot is to warm the benches – Ecclestone will soon be all but forgotten, McGann now exists almost purely as a fan construct. Pity the poor sod who had to follow Tom Baker’s reign of tenure – and yet for the Fifth Doctor much of what went before is what makes this incarnation. He is the deliberate antithesis of what came before, stripped of colour and anarchy, studied and mannered, lost in a crowded TARDIS. His regeneration begins, fittingly, with an identity crisis and the unravelling of his predecessor’s visual touchstones, and we’d not see a frock coat, big hair or shouting until his innings were done and the next man was up. He is the rest between gulps, the smoothing of the pitch.

There’s an unsure quality built in to the Fifth Doctor, as if the man doesn’t quite believe he is who he is supposed to be. Likely the actor wasn’t entirely sure, employed to be ‘not Tom’ and soon to discover that contrary to expectations he was also to be ‘not Bill’ and ‘not Pat’, and so we are left with a performance which never takes off, never finds itself for three years. There’s little to pin on this Doctor; no wonder what he got literally was virtual celery, the calorie-less vegetable. He also got swamped – by companions (the mouth, the nerd, the skirt), by attempts at sexed-up science, by his predecessors and in the case of his new script editor, by his guest stars. The caricature of most Doctors, the early ones at least, is usually a scene stealing, attention grabber; but that’s not the case of the Fifth Doctor – he is incapable of stealing the show, it isn’t in his nature. So we get the other caricature – the Wet Vet, the reactor rather than the achiever. Bad things happen and people suffer or worse.

Still, perhaps blending in with one’s surroundings can be the smartest thing to do – it certainly never hurt the actor’s career to be identified less with the role. But try as I might I can’t get ‘behind’ this Doctor. He is age-wise my Doctor, of course, but I could never claim to be entraced, frustrated, entertained by this quite inoffensive and powerless version. And I can’t shake a feeling of unease every time the man who portrays him falls back on the easy head shaking mock weariness when discussing or contemplating his garish replacement. I don’t want to say I don’t like this incarnation, but I do find him unremarkable, a strange idol for the manic man-child of the hour. Edwardian in dress and manner, he is Eliot’s Prufrock at the TARDIS helm. On the cusp of something, perhaps, but defined as in his fate by the things over which he has the least control.


Unlucky Lumbars

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008



Blogging can be backbreaking work. But there was no need for him to take it so literally.

Not even a year on from an arm-breaking effort in his own back yard, Peter A has upped the ante with a weekend accident on a friend’s trampoline, landing with some force on a stationary obstacle and fracturing his vertebra in the process (L1 for those of you keeping score at home). After a two-day stay in hospital, he’s now home and braced-up, on heavy medication and muttering feverishly about “making a man” out of all the various x-rays of limbs collected over the life of ZeusPlug (score to date: a head, lower torso and an elbow).

His message: apologies for the delay in Fast Return and new series reviews; normal service will resume shortly.




A very sneaky peek

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Behold the Season Four trailer, in all its phone-cam goodness!

S4 trailer

Newtons Sleep Book Launch

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Come one o’clock today, several of us congregated at  the Toi Pōneke Gallery in Wellington for the launch of the first of a new line of Faction Paradox books published by locals Random Static.  Faction Paradox, for the unaware, originally spun off from the BBC Doctor Who novel range, but are now doing very well on their own, thank you.  As usual, you can read about the series in any good encyclopaedia.

Once everyone was gathered, Kelly from Random Static began proceedings, and soon the ghostly image of author Daniel O’Mahony appeared on the wall to read us excepts from the novel.

Daniel O’Mahony

Although the decidedly dodgy connection lost a word here or there we got the gist, and dispensing with the video for an audio only experience seemed to help.  After some amusing voices from Mr O’Mahony, the book was officially unveiled.  The author couldn’t be there in person, but cover artist Emma Weakley was on hand to sign books.

Newtons Sleep can, of course, be ordered from Random Static’s website.