Thursday 28 February 2013

Those we lost in February

February draws to a close, and we head into March (or, alternatively, Troughton Month heads into Pertwee Month), and while I have had a good February overall, as evidenced in my previous post, the worlds of comedy and telefantasy have not been so happily served. February has turned out to be quite a shocker, with no fewer than four very notable individuals being taken from us.

The one that made the biggest splash in the media was, of course, the sad passing of sitcom legend Richard Briers, aged 79. For all his many, many years in both comedic and straight acting, he will always be best remembered as Tom Good. This news somewhat overshadowed the death of Elspet Gray, who was lost the very next day. Elspet Gray, the Lady Rix, died aged 83, and played a great many roles in her long and varied career, including parts in Fawlty Towers and The Black Adder - she played the queen in both the original pilot and the first full series, there named as Gertrude of Flanders. Her death did cast a sad shadow over the stage version of the classic historical comedy I saw with friends late in the month.

Gray was, with her husband Baron Rix,and their children Louisa and Jamie Rix part of a family that was a major part of British comedy in the 20th century. Another actor, this time born into an acting dynasty was Robin Sachs, who died earlier in the month, aged just 61. He'll be best remembered as the villainous Ethan Rayne, Giles's rival in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but played numerous roles in various US telefantasies including Star Trek: Voyager, Babylon 5 and even Galaxy Quest (rather brilliantly, he was underneath a ton of lurid green rubber as the evil alien General Sillar).

Beyond acting, but still in the realms of telefantasy, we also lost Raymond Cusick, a hugely respected designer who worked on the earliest Doctor Who productions. His most famous creation was, of course, the Daleks, having taken a very vague description from scriptwriter Terry Nation and turned it into a design classic. He was criminally unrecognised as the true creator of the Daleks, a sci-fi icon; Nation got 50% of the rights, while Cusick, a BBC employee, got a small bonus. Such are the ways of the BBC. Cusick was 84 when he died, and oddly enough, when the news broke I was in his home town of Horsham.

Four people who contributed to some of the most wonderful television I have ever enjoyed, and all of whom were linked in peculiar and unexpected ways. Cusick's last credited work on Doctor Who was on the epic serial The Daleks' Masterplan, although it's possible he performed some design work on the following serial, The Massacre. This story included among its cast one Leonard Sachs, already father to Robin. Almost twenty years later, Sachs Sr. played Borusa in Arc of Infinity, alongside Elspet Gray as the Time Lady, Thalia. Briers didn't appear in Doctor Who until 1987, in a ridiculous turn as the villainous Caretaker/Kroagnon in Paradise Towers. He later appeared in the second series of Torchwood; Robin Sachs made a brief appearance in the fourth.

Briers never appeared in Blackadder, but he did appear opposite Rowan Atkinson in Mr. Bean. Gray was supposed to return as Thalia in The Five Doctors, but was unavailable, the character Flavia being created to replace her. That special episode of Doctor Who featured Lalla Ward, albeit only in archive footage; she played Helga, the twin sister of Robin Sachs's character Heinrich, in the movie Vampire Circus. Her one time husband, Tom Baker, also appeared in the archival footage in The Five Doctors, and would later appear in Monarch of the Glen as Donald MacDonald, brother to Hector MacDonald - played by Richard Briers. Briers's co-star in The Good Life was the wonderful Felicity Kendall, who later starred with Elspet Gray in Solo, playing mother and daughter. Baker and Ward appeared together in Destiny of the Daleks, battling Cusick's legendary monsters, and in the next story, City of Death, they briefly encountered John Cleese, who was of course the lead in Fawlty Towers when Elspet Gray made her appearance, and has created and appeared in so many series and films I suspect he could be linked to all four of the departed with ease.

Any more intriguing links between these fine artists? Any anecdotes or unusual information? I'd love to hear more about them all. I raise a glass to them all.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

February Fun

So, yes. February. In principle, I can't stand February. In England, at least, it tends to be the coldest, shittiest month, full of snow, sleet, sneet, and any other kinds of ice-cold precipitation. The other day, actual flakes of ice fell from the sky, crunching underfoot like crisps (ice crispies, if you will). It's a horrible month, and I curse the fates for choosing it to hold my birthday.

Still, as Februaries go, this was a pretty good one, with a good birthday. The weather held off for the most part, so I haven't had my plans scuppered by the usual inability of the rail network to cope with even the lightest covering of snow. At the very beginning of the month I had a week off, and used it well, visiting my very good friend Sekai in London, and my sister Becca and her gentleman Jim in Reading. Much fun was had, only slightly marred by the vicious man-flu that attacked both me and my sister over that weekend. Friday night that week was spent, on my part, shaking in bed with delirium, talking to people who weren't there and sobbing quietly to myself. My brain isn't in tip-top condition at the best of times, and it takes only a relatively mild fever to set it cackling and gibbering to itself.

Nonetheless, fun was had. Chinese food, fine ales, charming coffee shops - just the ticket. From Reading, sister and gentleman and I took to the road and visited the Living Rainforest in the small settlement of Hampstead Norreys. It's a wonderful place, a big shed full of jungle, managed by volunteers as an educational trust. Birds happily saunter around the complex among the visitors, while monkeys, tortoises, enormous monster cockroaches and one very laid back crocodilian live safely in enclosures. It's a very cool place.

Since then, I have enjoyed some other things, beyond stewing at work. On the 20th two fine friends and I went to Fareham to see Interalia Theatre (they of the Doctor Who stageplays) perform Blackadder on Stage. Two hours of classic Adderism, one episode from each series. Sean Ridley made a rather young and handsome Blackadder, but was absolutely spot on in the role, giving a snidely snivelling performance as the original Black Adder and a sardonically charming turn as his three successors. The rest of the cast were also excellent, particularly Nick Scovell channelling the ghost of Stephen Fry as Melchett (yes, I know Stephen Fry is still alive, which just goes to show what an achievement this is), the rather gorgeous Alexandra Maclean who made a perfect Queenie, a smashing Shadow and and a brilliant Bob, and Paul Denney as a boisterous, roisterous Flasheart. But really, they were all terrific - and what's more, following the format they can do five more performances!

And then it was birthday time. I was taken out for two birthday lunches (one on the day itself, one the day after, I'm not an animal), and went to see the excellent 2-Tone/Ska tribute band Mainly Madness and got some skank on. I got clothes and books and films and sweets, and a dinosaur projector torch. I'm so glad they still make those things. I used to have a Ghostbusters one, but the dinosaur version gives it a run for its money.

My greatest contrafibularities to all involved in a fine month. Thank you all.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

DINO SORE: Iguanodon, Iguanodon't

Sketch of the original K. tilgatensis jawbone

I happen to live in quite an interesting place, as far as paleontology goes. The science was basically invented in England, and a lot of discoveries happened in the south-east, down my way. Piltdown, home to the notorious hoax the Piltdown Man, is just a few miles east of me, while the south coast provided a host of fossils that were important to the developing field.

However, my favourite Sussex paleontological fact is the discovery of Iguanodon, in 1820, by Gideon Mantell (or possibly his wife, but that's a matter for debate and very old gossip). Iguanodon was discovered in Cuckfield, specifically in Whiteman's Green on the edge of Tilgate Forest. I, along with most of the people I went to school with, was born in Cuckfield, which is very, very close to where I live. Well, that original find, and even the slightly better one later in Maidstone, Kent, which was named Iguanodon anglicus, was some pretty scrappy material. Not much use for describing Iguanodon, so the type species, used as the basis for its description, was changed to Iguanodon bernissartensis, a later, much better, European find (it's the whole herd of them found in an old Belgian coalmine, which puts the English finds to shame).

Not how it actually looked.
This left I. anglicus in a bit of a funny position, and it's now considered a bit of an anomaly, and not really counted as 'proper' Iguanodon, even though it was the original discovery. Not good enough I say, but them's the breaks. I. anglicus is officially nomen dubium, although I will always consider Iguanodon to be the Cuckfield dinosaur. It was also only the second dinosaur scientifically named and described, after Megalosaurus and before Hylaeosaurus, the three genera which formed the basis for Richard Owen's new grouping, the Dinosauria.

However, sometime after I. anglicus was found, Mantell returned to Tilgate Forest found some more bones and teeth, but never got round to analysing them. So they sat in a museum storeroom for 150 years till some paleontologists got round to looking at them properly. They were almost certainly Iguanodon bones, but the 2010 scientists (Andrew MacDonald, Paul Barrett and Sandra Chapman) decided they couldn't name it as part of the now dubious I. anglicus. So they created a new genus for it, something which happens rather too frequently in paleontology. However, I just adore the name they chose for this genus and species: Kukufeldia tilgatensis. So Cuckfield is still recognised, back-translated to a thousand-year-old Middle English version, as the name of this version of Iguanodon. Which I think is pretty cool.

Saturday 23 February 2013


Another interesting star system discovered, this time by a crowd-funded astroseismological project. Kepler-37, 210 light years away in Lyra, has three observed planets, all on the smaller, rocky end of the scale. K-37b is the smallest exoplanet yet known, only about the size of the Moon! Surely we're going to have some kind of exo-dwarf-planet debate soon, if tiny ones like this are turning up? It's all on Wiki.

In a vaguely related note: I hereby suggest that any planetoid discovered that has its own moons should be named Gozer, and the moons Vinz Clortho and Zuul. Vigo and Ivo Shandor may be reserved for any further moons (after that we'd probably have to start raiding Real Ghostbusters characters).

Anyway, it's my birthday. I'm off to have fun.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Doctor by Doctor #2

The Cosmic Hobo

Patrick Troughton, 1966-69

Getting two Doctor Who fans to agree on anything is virtually impossible. There is, however, one thing that almost every fan agrees on, a single consensus viewpoint for the bulk of fandom, and it is this: Patrick Troughton was amazing. As we look at in the first of these essays, William Hartnell never played the ‘first Doctor’ during his time on the series; he was simply the Doctor. Peter Cushing had shown in the Dalek movies that someone else could play the character, but he performed a straightforward take-off of Hartnell’s old inventor. As Hartnell’s replacement, Patrick Troughton was faced with an incredibly difficult task. Recasting the lead actor in a successful series is always a gamble. To their credit, the production team on Doctor Who in 1966 made the decision not to cast a Hartnell-like old geezer, and instead chose a well-regarded character actor to create an entirely new take on their central character.  They even refused to make him the centre of his own show at the off, deliberately wrong-footing the audience with an unexplained transformation and a strange, sinister opening performance that offered no comfort for his companions or the viewers.

 It’s certainly arguable that Patrick Troughton is the most talented of the actors who played the Doctor in the original run (only Peter Davison can really contest him that title). It’s difficult to point out just what’s so wonderful about Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor. His performance had a subtle charm that, apart from the occasional moment of slapstick, was beautifully underplayed. The word often used to describe him is mercurial. He often stands at the edge of scenes, interacting with people and events from the periphery, yet his magnetic performance still allows him to dominate proceedings. So much of his performance lies in little tics and gestures, making the second Doctor notoriously difficult to portray in prose. It’s Troughton’s performance that brings the second Doctor to life as something far beyond the generic Doctor a quick description of him might imply.

The second Doctor was a very different character than the first, but not a wholly new character that some commentators suggest. Much of the second Doctor’s character is a development of the first’s. As the series had gone on, Hartnell’s Doctor had developed from an acerbic, selfish character into a proactive adventurer with a strong sense of humour. Under Troughton, the Doctor continued to develop in this direction. The second Doctor is very much the ultimate expression of this direction in the Doctor’s character. Any pretence at non-interference is now gone; the second Doctor is concerned wholly with vanquishing the evil of the universe.

Saturday 16 February 2013

WHO BOOK-QUEST #2: The Menagerie by Martin Day

So, for our second Doctor choice, we’re stepping back ten years to 1995, for an entry in Virgin’s Missing Adventures series. I’ll be chopping and changing ranges a bit for this series of reviews. I can’t say I really knew anything about The Menagerie, Martin Day’s first Doctor Who novel. It’s a bit of a forgotten entry from the latter days of Virgin’s remit. So I can’t really say I was expected anything in particular from this novel, so I guess in that sense I wasn’t disappointed – but I can see why it’s been forgotten.

The Menagerie is set right at the end of the second Doctor’s TV era, just before the grand finale of The War Games, not that this makes any particular difference to the story. Day is not an author who strives to recreate the era he’s invoking. This is a Virgin novel through and through, more like the New Adventures than the TV series in style and content. There’s plenty of violence and sex, the latter being something that you certainly wouldn’t expect to find in a Troughton serial. That’s not to say I’m against such an approach. A faithful pastiche is only one approach to a missing adventure, and putting familiar characters in entirely unfamiliar situations and story styles can be just as rewarding, indeed more so. For the most part, Day manages to capture the three regular characters well, and although the Doctor and Zoe can lapse into dreary technobabble exposition occasionally, Jamie is note perfect. Plus, after saving dozens of young ladies on TV, he finally gets his just rewards and gets his end away, so good for him.

It’s just a shame that in general the novel is such a mediocre effort. It rattles along briskly enough, but the prose is uninspiring, with some truly dreadful lapses into portentous dialogue and banal simile. There are some interesting ideas, but none of them are well explored; the world the TARDIS crew visits is based on religion and a belief in magic, with science outlawed as heretical, but there’s little conception of how a society like this might actually work. Day creates a variety of alien species to populate the novel – four races that make up the Menagerie of the title – and while any one of them might have made for an interesting point of focus, none of the four is given any development beyond a few surface details. Instead, a great deal of time is spent politicking between rather uninteresting characters with bizarre names, saying things like “The Way of Kuabris will not be destroyed!” and “They will feel the true might of the Brotherhood of Rexulon!” and other cod-fantasy nonsense.

The only part that really stood out for me were Zoe’s adventures, during which she is put through the hellish experience of imprisonment, followed by being sold into slavery and eventually ending up as part of a travelling freakshow. There’s a great deal of colour to these sequences, although it’s fairly unbelievable that Zoe gets over her horrible experiences just as soon as she’s met a few decent folks and has problems to solve, turning quickly into the walking computer she was in her weaker moments on television.

Sometimes you pick up a book you’re unfamiliar with, and it’s an unexpected delight, other times, you wished you’d never found it. The Menagerie is, thankfully, not as bad as all that, but it’s a very disjointed, underwhelming affair.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Red Dwarf Retrospective 1

SERIES I - 1988

The End * Future Echoes * Balance of Power * Waiting for God 

 Confidence and Paranoia * Me^2

Twenty-five years ago, on the fifteenth of February, 1988, Red Dwarf made its debut on BBC2, having spent five years being rejected by the powers that be. British television wasn’t really going in for science fiction in those days. Doctor Who was almost at its end, there were a few children’s shows, and some American imports were on their way over, but that was about it. Cinema was full of it, but TV? The prevailing attitude at the BBC was that sci-fi was a dying genre, and sci-fi comedy was a sure-fire road to failure. Yet Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and their champion, agent and producer, Paul Jackson, managed to get the damned thing greenlit. Even then, it was almost scuppered by electrician strikes. It’s a miracle it ever got made at all.

The cast weren’t who the writers had originally envisioned; we’ve all heard the stories of Alan Rickman and Alfred Molina auditioning, bringing to mind some strange parallel world where they have just starred in Red Dwarf X while Craig Charles and Chris Barrie are critically acclaimed movie stars. The four main characters ended up played by an impressionist, a stand-up comedian, a dancer and a poet with no prior acting experience. The show was tragically cheap, sets painted in a dowdy uniform grey that made the khaki uniforms look vivid. It was slow, strange and clearly an anomaly in the BBC’s evening schedules. It was also an instant hit.

It was years before I saw the first two series of the show. I came to Red Dwarf with series six, and the repeats I saw were mostly from later series. Videos from the third series onwards were pretty easy to find, but the earliest volumes, which were actually released later, were harder to track down. Perhaps they weren’t expected to sell so well. It’s true that, coming to the opening episodes from this perspective, there is a marked difference in tone and production style. There’s a gentler pace, with more emphasis on character than madcap ideas and spectacle. This is something the series never completely let go of, but in these early days Red Dwarf was very much a sitcom set in space, and not, as it later became, a sci-fi series with jokes. These may sound the same, but the difference is clear to anyone who watches, say, an episode from the first series followed by one from the fifth.

That’s not to say the show wasn’t high concept, though. A vast mining ship slowly cruising through the solar system; stasis booths that freeze people in time as punishment for infringing ship regulations; the extinction of the human race but for one unworthy survivor; people resurrected as holograms, unable to touch the world around them; a man descended from cats; breaking the light speed barrier and catching up with the future; living hallucinations and the manifestations of Confidence and Paranoia… There were certainly plenty of sci-fi ideas, many of them wholly original.

At the heart of it though, Red Dwarf stuck to a simple sitcom formula: two dysfunctional blokes who can’t stand each other, trapped together. An inveterate snob and an incurable slob, with nothing to keep them going through the mindless drudgery of their lives but their own animosity. Sure, we also had Danny John-Jules as the living embodiment of feline nature, Norman Lovett at his deadpan best as the ship’s computer Holly, and occasional star spots from Mac MacDonald, Claire Grogan and Mark Williams (surely now the most famous actor from those early days, although Craig ‘Confidence’ Ferguson probably eclipses him in the States). But at the heart of it, underneath the weirdness, the one-liners and the futuristic profanities, Red Dwarf was about two lowly vending machine maintenance men who absolutely, positively, couldn’t smegging stand each other. For that, and the show’s success, we have to thank not only Grant and Naylor, but Chris Barrie and Craig Charles. The smegheads.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

REVIEW: IDW Ghostbusters 2 & 3

The guys behind these new Ghostbusters comics have some twisted imaginations. A man vomiting green, glowing bats; rampaging ectoplasmic chimps; the ghost of a conjoined twin, complete with its own little foetus-babies, bobbing around in its translucent belly… there’s no shortage of wild, gross-out imagery in these latest trade collections from IDW. Volume 2, ‘The Most Magical Place of Earth,’ collects issues 5-8, with volume 3, ‘Haunted America,’ collecting volumes 9-12. All are written by Erik Burnham, with artwork by ‘Dapper’ Dan Schoening and colours by Luis Antonio Delgado, with further materials from Tristan ‘T-Rex’ Jones.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Miscellaneous cool things

A short time ago I reviewed Big Finish Productions' seventh Doctor special release, UNIT: Dominion. What you may not know is that I was also lucky enough to win a selection of signed script fronts from the chaps at BF. They arrived today!

Signed by Sylvester McCoy, Alex MacQueen, Tracey Childs, Beth Chalmers and more, plus a little card signed by Nick Briggs (Time Lord 1). A lovely little extra to add to my enjoyment of this audio saga.

My past has come back to haunt me this month. Ten years ago(!) I wrote for a Doctor Who fanfic series called The Ninth Doctor Adventures or NDAs (we only had eight Doctors back then). The chap in charge, James Allenby, has resurrected and revamped the series as Doctor Who: Darkpaths. He's even unearthed my story, 'Putty Love.' It's very, very strange seeing this again. I really, really hope I've got better at writing in the intervening years. Still, it does feature a Doctor based on Richard O'Brien.

I've been watching a lot of Sherlock these last couple of months. I'll be writing an article on the series for Television Heaven, once the site has undergone its revamp. So I've been watching all the episodes, making notes, and watching again with commentary. Plus, interspersing them with the occasional Rathbone movie, just for fun.

Also, Being Human. Series five has kicked off, and the first episode, although it was a little swamped with the setting up three new adversaries, was rather excellent. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how this series progresses. Only six episodes this time, I understand, rather than the usual eight, but that just means I'll get working on my article for Television Heaven too. (Yes, I've a few things planned. Expect some more Doctor Who and Quatermass as well, in time).

Also, it's Pat Troughton month! I've been listening to The Power of the Daleks and The Shadow of Death, and reading The Menagerie. Which serial shall I watch? Torn between The Mind Robber and The Invasion. Maybe I'll find time for both. Expect the next 'Doctor by Doctor' essay in short order, plus more reviews before the month's out.

And... Red Dwarf! The twenty-fifth anniversary is imminent!

Sunday 3 February 2013

REVIEW: Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective

She’s a young girl from the north, trying to make her way in the big city. He’s a pretentious, sexually ambiguous rock star who might just be telling the truth when he claims to have come from another planet. Naturally, they make a fabulous team.

Paul Magrs has created yet another fun and frivolous set of characters in Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective. Vince has actually appeared before; he popped up in both Enter Wildthyme and Magrs’s story ‘Hang Onto Yourself,’ in Obverse Books’ Bowie-flavoured release Lady Stardust. This was later, of course. Now it’s 1972, The Curse of Peladon is on the telly, and Vince Cosmos is gearing up to release his latest album and set the glam world on fire. As long as the Martians don’t get him first.

Bafflegab – the audiobook production company formerly known as Cosmic Hobo – bring Vince and his comrades to life in what is, I hope, the first in a series of cosmic chronicles. Vince is played by the irresistible Julian Rhind-Tutt, but he isn’t the star of his own show. This is Poppy Munday’s story. Lauren Kellegher brings Poppy to charming life as she tells the story of how she came to meet her glam rock idol and be drawn into his absurd world. Not that her world is that sensible to begin with; this is a reality in which the War of the Worlds is historical fact, and unless Vince can stop them, they silver-eyed Martians are set to conquer the Earth once and for all. Vince, an unapologetic synthesis of David Bowie and Iris Wildthyme, is a performer who can spout nonsense about his inspiration being dragged out from the galactic ether, and might even be speaking the truth. But probably not. Poppy is the perfect foil, starstruck but practical and simply adorable.

With a gorgeous seventies-inspired soundtrack provided by Edwin Sykes and Paul Morris, note-perfect performances from a cast that includes Katy Manning, David Benson, Alex Lowe and Margaret Cabourn-Smith, and Paul Magrs’s beguiling turns of phrase, this new release is tremendous fun. Given the option, pay a few extra quid and get the CD over the download – it’s worth it for Stuart Manning’s wonderfully retro case design. I very much hope that there are more adventures from this starman on the way.

Saturday 2 February 2013

WHO REVIEW: The Reign of Terror

Before we get stuck into Troughton month, here’s one last bit of Hartnell to enjoy: the final serial from the show’s very first season, just released on DVD. The Reign of Terror, occasionally known as The French Revolution (but not often) is one of those poor unfortunate sixties serials that was subject to the BBC’s junking policy. Episodes four and five of this six-parter are long gone, but have been recreated for this release, animated to match the original soundtrack by Big Finish and Theta Sigma. This is only the second time a story has been reconstructed this way, the first being The Invasion, which came out ages ago.

I wasn’t especially familiar with The Reign of Terror. I’d seen the surviving episodes a few years ago on Daily Motion, but they clearly hadn’t sunk in all that well. Watching them properly here, I’m pleased to find the story is better than I recalled. It’s a treat to have a release like this; for most of us, it’s almost like having some new Hartnell Doctor Who, after years of watching The Daleks and other well-worn titles again and again. The first three episodes are slowly paced, setting up much of the nature of the environment the TARDIS travellers find themselves in. The pace picks up in parts four and five, with episode six adding a rather drawn out coda. Typically, it was the best two episodes that got junked, so it’s hugely beneficial to have them restored here.

This is old-style, purely historical Doctor Who. Pick a well-known period of history, plonk the Doctor and crew down in it and see how they cope. It’s the first script for the series by Dennis Spooner, who became known for the more comedic, ‘rompier’ style historicals like The Romans and The Time Meddler. In his first go, though, he sticks more closely to the more serious style of The Aztecs, alberit not entirely. The companion characters really go through the ringer here. Ian and Barbara always seem to suffer in the historical stories. Both of them, and Susan, get themselves locked up in the second episode, awaiting execution. In fact, Susan suffers the most, seemingly slumping into a depression that is enough to stop her even considering escape; the fact that she believes the Doctor to have been killed probably has a lot to do with this. Ian and Babs are more proactive, leaving Susan sidelined for much of the later episodes. They get themselves caught up in the treacherous local politicking, with plenty of double-crossing and gratuitous interrogation going on.

The Doctor is on great form here, though. At the beginning, he’s in a particularly bad mood, determined to kick his human passengers off the ship and refusing to believe that he might have failed to bring them home to twentieth century London. This in spite of his failing to get them anywhere on purpose in any previous TARDIS trip. All things told though, it seems he’s actually trying here, and 18th century France isn’t really that far out. He’s a complete bitch to his companions until Ian offers to take him for a quick jar or two to say goodbye. Eventually this leads to the Doctor being left unconscious in a burning barn. Happily, a plucky young lad named Jean-Pierre is on hand to rescue the old man. He’s one of the unsung heroes of Doctor Who.

Once he gets to Paris to look for his friends, the Doctor rises to the occasion, setting himself up as a Regional Officer, and acquiring the most pimping hat he will ever wear. It’s not long before he’s inveigled his way into the prison, taken charge and began working out how to get his companions out of their various predicaments. Unfortunately, there have already been several escape attempts and rescues by this point, so things get rather complicated. Hartnell is fantastic in his guise as the arrogant official, though, wittily dodging trouble and putting himself on top even when confronted with the top dog himself, Robespierre. It’s classic Doctor.

There are plenty of Spooner-ish moments against the miserable backdrop of revolutionary France, so things don’t get too grim. The Doctor gets caught up in a work party of road-diggers, leading to a Chaplin-esque routine in which he outwits the greedy overseer and leads to the first of two occasions in this story where he twats someone over the head with a blunt object. Barbara gets a little romance with the double-agent Leon Colbert (played by Edward Brayshaw, later to be the War Chief opposite Troughton’s Doctor), and is wise enough to take a longer view of history than Ian, who immediately despise the backstabbing, violent world they’ve all found themselves in. in the final episode, the two of them find themselves dragged up as an inn-keeping couple and arranging for a very odd meeting with someone who’s supposed to be Napoleon.  Plus, there’s a comedy gaoler who sounds like he’s from Yorkshire (presumably he’s from the same part of France as Jean-Luc Picard).

The animated episodes work well, and it really does help to have the full story at last. The animation fits nicely with the original footage, although it is cut somewhat faster, and does skirt the uncanny valley on occasion. Those two episodes up the pace of the story, which is, on the whole, rather slow, even for this era of the series. Nonetheless, this is a great release, both for completists like myself, and for anyone with an interest in the early days of Doctor Who who might enjoy experiencing a lost adventure.