Classic Doctor Who back on air in USA

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I’ve had a TiVo for a long time (14 years), and one of the cooler features is that the service learns what you like, and will record other programs besides the ones you tell it to, thinking you’ll like them. So tonight I’m looking through the recorded shows, I found an episode of “Doctor Who”. Which immediately got me thinking, well, what is this? So I played the thing. Much to my shock it was black and white! And then I discovered it originally aired on Nov 23, 1963.

HOLY CRAP! Classic Doctor Who was on TV here – local to me, and on free over the air TV, too. Not a national network like SyFy (what a dumb name), but a local channel. So I looked at the guide listing, and indeed, they’re showing classic Doctor Who.

In a 30 minute time slot, twice at night in prime time in my Time Zone – one at 7PM and one at 7:30PM (and again on weekends). It is US commercial television, so there are commercial breaks. In Unearthly Child 1, they had a commercial break right at the point where Ian & Barbara went into 76 Totters Lane. There was a second break right after the Tardis took off near the end of the episode.

But hell, I was absolutely flabbergasted that not only was classic Doctor Who on TV here, but on free over the air TV on a (very) local TV station here.  I didn’t even know Classic Doctor Who was being sold in the United States.

4947528The station it is being shown on here is Channel 31 in Dallas, who goes by the odd call sign of K31GL-D. They’re what’s known as a “low power station“. The specific digita subchannel (31-4) is part of a national network called “Retro Television Network“, that shows various old TV shows. But it’s usually things like Dragnet, Bonanza, Starsky & Hutch, etc..  But they had bloody Doctor Who, and 60’s era classic Doctor Who as well!  I’m absolutely stunned.

So I looked around, and apparently this has been in the works for a bit now, but I didn’t discover it until today – found it quite by accident when, as I said, my TiVo recorded the first episode as a suggestion.

Even though I own virtually all of this on DVD, I’ll likely record all of it anyway, because TiVo recordings count in ratings, and besides, one could always use another excuse to watch classic Doctor Who.  I’ll support this being on the air as best I can.

Huzzah to the Retro TV network for the first real, honest to God return of classic Doctor Who to US television since the show returned in 2005.

You can view a page that shows you all of the Retro TV affiliates around the United States on this page.

Geeky stuff:

There is no proper guide info for the episodes, so all the episodes say “Doctor Who”, and have this as a description:

“Tue 08/05/14 07:30 PM on 31-4=K31GLD4, Duration = 30 mins, originalAirdate: 1963-11-23
A mysterious traveler can visit any point in space and time.”

So if you have a digital service like a TiVo, or rely on guide information, it won’t tell you what episode is airing, unfortunately. I might try and contact the network about that.

Anyway, they have a trailer out, and have some discussion about this on their Facebook group.  Check it out.

Press Release

Chattanooga, Tenn. (July 10, 2014) – Luken Communications is excited to announce the highly-anticipated debut of Doctor Who on Retro TV on Monday, August 4th. Beginning with the very first episode of the series, “An Unearthly Child,” fans of the science fiction classic can find two episodes of Doctor Who back-to-back every weeknight at 8:00 PM ET/PT on Retro TV.

Doctor Who follows the adventures of the Doctor, a Time Lord who faces a variety of foes while travelling through time and space in the TARDIS, his iconic blue police box. Retro TV will be showcasing the series’ classic run, featuring the first seven incarnations of the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.

“We’re excited to set a fixed point in time for the arrival of classic episodes of Doctor Who on Retro TV,” said Matthew Golden, Luken’s Vice President of Production. “These meticulously restored episodes will bring the history of the Doctor to the U.S. in a way that viewers have never seen before.”

In addition to the weeknight schedule, a two hour encore block will air on Saturday evenings as part of Retro TV’s new Sci-Fi Saturday. Starting at 6:00 PM ET/PT, viewers can enjoy the supernatural anthology One Step Beyond, Doctor Who andMystery Science Theater 3000.

Now in its 51st year, Doctor Who, a BBC production distributed by BBC Worldwide North America, holds the Guinness Book of World Records title as the longest-running science fiction television show in the world. Doctor Who has received an institutional Peabody® Award for “evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe”, was nominated for multiple BAFTAs, garnered awards from the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain and the Royal Television Society, and was recently named Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Best Cult TV Show Ever.

About Luken Communications:
Luken Communications is a Chattanooga, TN-based broadcast group with networks including Retro TV, The Heartland Network, The Family Channel, PBJ, Frost Great Outdoors and TUFF TV.  Luken Communications offers diverse, family-friendly programming on its networks reaching approximately 80 percent of all U.S. households via a blend of over-the-air, cable and satellite television.  For more information about Retro TV, please visit www.WatchRetroTV.com orwww.facebook.com/WatchRetroTV.

At the Movies History: Siskel, Ebert, and the Rest

UPDATE Oct 2, 2013: Another small update to the page covering Richard Roeper’s assignment to the late Roger Ebert’s spot at the Chicago Sun Times.  That’s at the bottom, and brings things up to current again, as far as I’m aware.


I’ve long been a fan of the old “Siskel & Ebert” movie review shows that I recall watching as far back as the late 70’s. Back then it was the only way to get reviews of that nature. However, as the years have gone by, there’s been a lot of politics, and changing of technical shows. Not to mention the death of Gene Siskel, and the departure of Roger Ebert too due to severe health problems.

I looked up the show’s lineage, and have pieced together bits of it.  Apparently, I got it right, because after I posted the January 2011 incarnation of the article, Roger Ebert himself saw it, and said this about my article on Facebook.

This is the best history of the full 35-year sweep of the show.

I was blown away by that.  That Roger himself thought I did a good job on this piece was one heck of an ego stroke.  I mention this not for the ego of it, but to let you know this isn’t a casual article that only mentions small bits here and there.   I spent a lot of time on this, and am proud of the fact that I “got it right”.

Anyway, to the article.  The title graphics were nicked from Wikipedia, no way could I come up with those on my own. :)

IN THE EARLY DAYS…

SNEAK PREVIEWS

Originally known as “Opening Soon.. ..at a Theatre Near You” (1975-1977), this original incarnation was produced locally (truly, it was local only) in Chicago. It was a monthly movie review show with Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. After a couple of successful years in local programming, it was decided to take the show national. So, in 1977, it underwent something which is a recurring theme over the entire legacy of the show, a formal name change. The “Opening Soon” name was dropped, and it was renamed to “Sneak Previews”. It was first distributed through PBS in 1977, and ran for five years with Siskel & Ebert at the helm of the show.

They left in 1982 over what appears to be contract disputes (I have no memory of this, I was 17 at the time). The show continued on for quite awhile after Siskel & Ebert left. The final episode aired in 1996, 14 years later. Siskel & Ebert left the show in 1982. The show continued on with other hosts (Jeffrey Lyons, Neal Gabler, & Michael Medved) from that point. Gabler lasted from 1982-1985, being replaced by Medved, who ran through till the end. Jeffrey Lyons was the longest tenured person on the show, lasting 14 years.

I sort of remember this tenure. I was more interested at this point in Siskel & Ebert, so I followed them to the new show, and sort of not watched the other guys who were with the old show. I remember Medved fairly well, the other guys not so much – so I did watch it, but really, I was more interested in Siskel & Ebert.

AT THE MOVIES WITH SISKEL & EBERT

Siskel & Ebert founded this show after departing from the original incarnation. Technically (and legally) this was a separate show. The original was produced by WTTW in Chicago, and this show was produced by Tribune Entertainment, again out of Chicago.

While I don’t have any specific recollections about Show 2 over Show 1, I do have a vague recollection of thinking around that time that “Hey, this is really Sneak Previews, just called something else because some people got pissy over money”, so I was more intersted in this for the nebulous concept of “this is the same spiritual show, even if legally it is not”. Anyway, this show carried on until 1986, when again apparently Siskel & Ebert left over contractual reasons.

And again, it carried on without them, only not nearly as successfully as Sneak Previews. This version of the show only lasted four more years (until 1990), with hosts Rex Reed, Bill Harris, and later on, Dixie Whatley. What’s amusing about that is that both Harris & Whatley also had tenures on Entertainment Tonight, and from what I recall, the show under their direction was less about movie reviews in the way Siskel & Ebert had done it, but more of a general entertainment thing, still with a lean towards movies.

SISKEL & EBERT AT THE MOVIES

This gets somewhat confusing. Technically this show ran from 1986 until August 14, 2010. It originally in 1986 with Siskel & Ebert. The original title of the show bears this, going under the name “Siskel & Ebert and the Movies” from 1986 through 1999. The last episode with the two of them together was Jan 23, 1999. So it ran quite a long time with Siskel & Ebert as hosts. That is the bulk of the time. However, in 1999 it starts getting confusing.

SISKEL & EBERT AT THE MOVIES

Gene Siskel announced in February of 1999 that he was taking some time off to deal with a brain tumor, and less than three weeks later, he died of that. There was the tribue to Siskel by Ebert immediately after that, and then Siskel’s chair was filled with a series of co-hosts.


ROGER EBERT AND THE MOVIES

Ebert kept going with guest hosts – some were serious attempts at getting a new host (AO Scott, Michael Phillips), some were not (Harry Knowles, Martin Scorsese). The original title was kept until Sep 4, 1999, when it was renamed to “Roger Ebert and the Movies”.


EBERT & ROEPER AT THE MOVIES

The guest host thing continued until Ebert picked Richard Roeper as the permanent replacement for Gene Siskel, and the show was renamed again on Sep 10, 2000 to “Ebert & Roeper At the Movies”. I grew to really like Richard Roeper, some did not. Here’s what I have to say about that… With Gene Siskel gone, that is NOT coming back, so you have to move on. Roger Ebert was still there, and this was still the same program, so you have to accept change. You have to accept SOMEONE. Granted, Richard did a better job than just “being someone”, I’m speaking to those who say he will never be Gene Siskel. No he won’t. But that’s not the point. Ebert & Roeper were NOT going to be Siskel & Ebert. What made that show great from 1975 through 1999 died with Gene Siskel. Given that, I was really behind the selection of Richard Roeper. As you watched the guest stars, you got the feeling more and more they were leaning towards either Richard Roeper or AO Scott, guys who were guesting way more than anyone else at that point.

EBERT & ROEPER

The title was yet changed again in the name of length to “Ebert & Roeper” in September of 2001. The show stabilized under this format and lasted for about five years this way.

This went on until 2006, when Roger Ebert had his thyroid problems, and was knocked off air for those reasons. The 2006-2007 season was completed with guest hosts for Roger.

AT THE MOVIES WITH EBERT & ROEPER

For the return of the 2007-2008 season, the show’s formal name was changed again to “At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper”. On April 13, 2008 Michael Phillips was named the permanent on air replacement for Roger Ebert, although the name remained “ATM with Ebert & Roeper”.

It was short lived, though as Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert said on July 21, 2008 that they would both be leaving the show over contractual and format reasons. Roger Ebert took the “Thumbs Up” with him, as it was a copyright owned by Siskel’s widow and Roger themselves, that did not lie with the producers of the show. It probably had something to do with the fact that the thumbs up/down had disappeared from the show some time before they formally checked out. That’s probably part of what contributed to the “artistic direction” remarks we saw around the separation.

Although, in researching this article I ran across an article where Richard Roeper clearly calls out Ben Lyons as being “stupid” and being the reason he left the show. Wow.

And so it ends..

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AT THE MOVIES (goes into the toilet)

On July 22nd, 2008 it was announced that the new hosts would be Ben Lyons & Ben Mankiewicz. This was widely disparaged by long time fans of the show (some going so far as to create a Stop Ben Lyons website), and it proved to be true, as their incarnation of the show was generally regarded as completely awful. The show’s format was changed, expanded, and bore little in common with the Siskel & Ebert lineage it held (legally). Mankiewicz wasn’t all that bad, really. However, Ben Lyons was SO awful, it just drug the whole thing down. Had Mankiewicz been paired with someone else, he might still be there.

One interesting note – Ben Lyons was the son of Jeffrey Lyons, who was one of the replacements for the original Siskel & Ebert show Sneak Previews. That doesn’t justify anything, Ben Lyons was still damn awful, despite that quirk to the show’s past.

I actually had recorded the final Two Bens episode the same weekend the new hosts came on (see next bit). The final Two Bens episode had gotten better then the absolute crap it was when they started, it had elevated itself to “pretty bad” from the spot it was in earlier in the season.

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AT THE MOVIES (gets some cred back)

The two Bens experiment was fortunately realized as bad by the producers, and on Aug 5, 2009 it was announced that the two Bens would not be returning for the 2009/2010 season, which started on Sep 5, 2009. They were replaced by A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. Both were guest hosts for Roger Ebert during his health problem period; Phillips being named the brief permanent replacement for Ebert in 2008. Much was made in the press for the change in hosts about going back to “serious reviews”, and “serious writers”. If that was the case, then why did they just not bring back Richard Roeper with Phillips, and restore it to the way it was before the Two Bens came onboard? Probably too many bridges burnt there. Anyway, Scott/Phillips are a welcome return to form, will definitely be watchable. Some of the post Ebert changes remain, but it’s mostly back to the way it was (if not with the same hosts).

As I write this, the first two episodes have aired with Scott/Phillips. It’s definitely good again. Given they legally can’t use thumbs up/down, the “See it, Skip it, Rent it” sort of works. I’ve seen some backlash against that, but I find my wife and I saying a lot that we will wait for a DVD release to watch a movie, won’t spend the boatload it now costs to see a movie in the theatres. They have kept the “chair” motif from the two Bens era of the show, the old movie theatre / balcony idea is gone. Shame, as I always felt that added to the aura of the show.

I used to have a video here of Scott & Phillips talking about themselves before their year of the show aired.  However, when the show went off the air, the archive of old videos was taken offline.  This included.  If I ever find it elsewhere, I’ll put it back.  :(

Another thing I found out in researching this article is that the official site for the “At the Movies” show has a huge archive of video reviews of movies they’ve reviewed over the years. I’m unclear if it’s every single movie they’ve reviewed, but wow. That’s a massive past video archive, and it’s a blast to run through and look at movies I liked in the past to see what they said. It’s also a good tool to find out how different the various eras of the show were. Check out the review of Dragnet from 1987 with Siskel & Ebert, Batman Begins in 2005 with Ebert & Roeper, Casino Royale in 2006 with Roeper & AO Scott, Ratatouille in 2007 with Roeper & Katherine Tulich, Indy IV in 2008 with Roeper & Phillips, Twilight in 2008 with the two Bens, and finally Scott & Phillips’ entire show from the weekend before I wrote this story (The Informant, The Other Man, September Issue, Whiteout).

UPDATE: Scratch that.  Turns out when the show went off the air, Disney removed the glorious archive of old videos.  Damn shame.  I really wish they could have kept that.  Was a wonderful archive of old work.

So the original show started by Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert in 1986 is still going now under the name “At the Movies” with rather respectable hosts going forward. This bodes well for the (legal) legacy of the program. However…

AT THE MOVIES (gets canceled)

When I wrote the last section of this document, the new incarnation of the old show had just started with Phillips & Scott. I watched several, the quality was quite good. While it wasn’t Siskel & Ebert, it was the legal show they started, and I felt good about the future with these guys.

So it came as quite a shock on the morning of Mar 25, 2010 when I learned that this will be the final season for “At the Movies”. It started many a year ago, and the article i read today said that this season (the 24th year) will be the last. That’s pretty sad, and a lot is being written today about how much the legacy was good, and it was. I’ve had a season pass for the show on my TiVo for a few years now. Going back into the old show, through the two Bens (although I almost never watched it), and this now final season. The reasons given for the show being canceled are probably valid, as they’re business reasons. Not the hosts, and not the idea. There’s virtually no syndicated shows like this left that aren’t infomercials. That’s part of the problem, I think. Here in Dallas, the show is on at like 1AM on Monday morning (Sun night), and leads off a block of overnight infomercials. The show was never treated well (and this was even before the two Bens year) in syndication. If it was on at a “real” time, I bet you the show would still be around.

My brother and I used to watch it back in the 70’s, so it’s pretty sad that it’s finally finishing. I’ll definitely miss the show, but as one of the articles I read today said.. At least having AO Scott & Michael Phillips there at the end means the show can die with some dignity. Had it been the two Bens at the end, it would have a different feel.

The show ended in August of 2010, and I had hoped they could have gotten Roger Ebert to make an appearance, but that didn’t happen.  I really had hoped.  Still, the last 10 minutes or so of the episode was dedicated to a segment on the legacy of the program, it’s shown below.

That’s it.  “Show 3” is finally done after all these years..

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TRYING TO GET OFF THE GROUND AGAIN

The time after Ebert & Roeper walked away from the show was spent with a few attempts to get the “old show” off the ground again. Here’s what I know about those, which I label “Show 4?” (I wrote this section in the fall of 2009, so some of the text could be a little off when it talks about Show 4 still happening)…   There ended up being a true “Show 4” in 2011, but that’s not the same.   Here goes…

EBERT & ROEPER PRESENT
“TALKING MOVIES”… NO WAIT..
“TWO THUMBS UP”.. NO WAIT…

It was stated at the same time when Ebert & Roeper left At the Movies that they would have some new show. That announcement was made on July 21, 2008. They said something like it would be announced “soon”, and would restore the legacy of the original Siskel & Ebert show:

TALKING MOVIES

Right when Roeper & Ebert departed, I set up a Google News Alert for “Richard Roeper”. I wanted to be told when their new show was talked about. Nothing happened with it after that. It was a dark time, as the old show was only on with the two Bens. Then on June 12, 2009, my alert sent me the following text:

The Thumbs will be returning to television in a new program named Talking Movies, with Richard Roeper, Michael Phillips and Christy Lemire. …

The alert stopped there, as they don’t email you the whole thing, just the first line or so. So I clicked on over immediately and found the link was a 404 Not Found. It had been taken away. What I suspect happened was someone was prepping an article about that, and it got published to the RSS feed, and then deleted before anyone (well, almost anyone saw it). This happens to me a lot when you use RSS feeds as your primary source of access to websites. Anyway, the link was gone, and I could not find anything online about this story other than this link, so I wasn’t sure what happened here, exactly. Whatever this “Talking Movies” was, it never got off the ground. I don’t know Christy Lemire, but Richard Roeper & Michael Phillips were the hosts who held the spiritual line of sucession going back to the Sneak Previews days of the 70’s, so it felt right to have them together. Both were hand picked replacements for Siskel & Ebert (by Ebert themselves), so I’ll buy them as the carriers of the flame.

EBERT & ROEPER PRESENT
“TWO THUMBS UP”

But again, nothing happened. It just sat there. On September 7th, 2009 I had discovered that Roger Ebert & Richard Roeper had been working on a website project called “Two Thumbs Up”. It had the URL of http://www.twothumbsup.tv. It appeared from what I could tell to be an internet based version of the old TV show. However..

When I saw it in Sep of 2009, it was stale, and had been abandoned more or less, there was nothing current when I saw it. I don’t know when it went online, either. This snuck out there with little fanfare, or I would have heard about it, since I was looking for info on them. Either I totally botched it, or this really was a small time thing. Either way, not much appeared to be going on with it, although Christy Lemire’s name was still attached to it.

On the day I wrote this section of the article (Sep 15, 2009), I went to grab a screen capture of the site for use here, and discovered it had gone. I have no idea what happened now. If you go there, you get a “Forbidden” error, which generally tells me one of two things. Either the site’s server has a serious configuration error preventing you from seeing anything, or someone just nuked the entire content off the server, and there’s nothing for it to show. Either way, whatever this experiment was, it appears to be gone.

The trademark is still in use, though. If you look at Roger Ebert’s current reviews, they’re called “Two Thumbs Up® reviews”. So it’s still out there. But how it will manifest itself on TV?

What’s going on, guys? What happened to the “coming soon” (In the summer of 2008) show that was going to restore the legacy of Siskel & Ebert? Some of us are still waiting, and as you can see by this article are still paying attention. While the old show is in capable hands with Scott & Phillips, I want the Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert show to return. It was said that it would be Richard Roeper & Michael Phillips with Christy Lemire on screen. Well, Phillips has another gig now, so he’s out. No matter who is picked as the other host, what the heck is going on with THAT?

UPDATE NOVEMBER 29 2009:
ROEPER GOES IT ALONE

It appears that the attempt at Show #4 has failed, and will not be happening. The why of that I’ll get into in a minute, but we do have some solid new stuff.

First off, on Nov 24th, I found an article saying that Richard Roeper was going to be getting back to the movie review thing. He isn’t on a new show (like we expected), but he’s going to be doing movie reviews from his website, and via some unspecified “deal” with the Starz cable network. The reviews will appear weekly on his website, they will then be on Starz. I wonder if they’ll be sandwiched in between movies akin to what is shown by Leonard Maltin on DirecTV. Anyway, it appears from what I read that he’ll be doing this by himself. While I’m eager to hear what he has to say again, part of what made him work I think was being with someone else. We’ll have to see how they go. Here’s a quote from Richard about the “new venture”…

“I’m so excited about this new project,” Roeper said Monday. “As much as I loved doing ‘Ebert & Roeper,’ this will have much more of an unfiltered, uncut, viral feel. As someone at Starz put it, they wanted ‘Roeper uncut.’ If a film is a piece of shit, I’ll say it’s a piece of shit. I love the idea of seeing the movie and turning around immediately and telling you what I think about it in a conversational manner. In some cases I’ll be recording reviews right there on the street as I’m exiting the theater or the screening room.”

There was a minor stink about it the next day from Roger Ebert thinking that Roeper thought he was censored on Ebert & Roeper, and I could see that, but Richard came out with a retraction saying that was not the case. Still, it made for an interesting bit of back and forth for a day there around Thanksgiving. :) One final amusing thing, Richard’s website says “Richard Roeper & the Movies” – nice throwback name. Richard had an intro video initially posted on his website (but was later removed – I don’t know why). It parodies the recent movie, Paranormal Activities. It’s here:

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So Richard will be doing movie reviews. That likely brings an end to the hope that the old phoenix will rise from the ashes, as he’s now gone off on his own without Roger Ebert. Or does it? Ebert can never be on TV again (not regularly anyway), so he’ll need a “friend” to be on camera, which I assumed would be Roeper. However, in Roeper’s article he does leave the door open a bit for a return to syndication, which I’d realy like to see. Hopefully it’s with Roger Ebert and the thumbs. That needs to come back.

Which brings us to the other part of the update. Roger Ebert finally spoke out about all of this stuff, the old show, Richard Roeper, the two Bens, etc.. There was a really great journal update by him here detailing a ton of stuff. If you’ve read this far, you need to read that article too. Roger goes into issues of his own health, what happened behind the scenes after his boot off the air from thyroid cancer, and talks about other names (Philips, Scott, others) that could have been permanent replacements (some of that is covered above).

But the sad part is how Roger talks about the end of his incarnation of the show – the point where the “producers” decided on destroying the old classic balcony stage instead of donating it to something like the Smithsonian. I didn’t realize that kind of stuff happened.

But the final nail was when the studio hired AO Scott and brought back Michael Phillips to host the show, Phillips went to Roger Ebert’s house personally to tell him. I thought that was classy. Apparently Roger offered to the producers the legal return of the thumbs and his own endorsement of the show (which would have brought a nice closure to all this), but he was rebuffed, saying “the show has moved on”. That’s sad. That’s really sad.

Roger also goes into far more detail on “Show 4” (my term, not his) than I knew of. The reason THAT didn’t happen is due to the economy according to Roger. But he says the show can probably still happen, and from what Roger said, it seems to be more than a “glimmer”, but not exactly a raging inferno waiting to break out either. But I remain hopeful that the original show’s lineage (if not the legal version of it) will rise from the ashes.

Whatever Roger Ebert ends up doing, whether it be with Christy Lemire or Richard Roeper, or someone else, I think there’s enough room for their show, and Roger’s old show still going on with Scott & Phillips. I’d watch both for sure.

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IT’S 2010: NOW WHAT?

Well, it’s now late March 2010 as I write this, and it was just announced that the old Siskel & Ebert show (now manned by Scott & Philips and called “At the Movies”) will be gone come August. Is that truly the end? Apparently not.

First off, before I get into that, I wanted to mention the appearance by Roger Ebert on the Oprah Winfrey show. I am most definitely NOT a fan of Oprah Winfrey, but I brought myself to watch the show (or at least this part of it) that Roger Ebert was on. To my knowledge, it was the first appearance by him on TV since he was knocked off the air at his old show with Richard Roeper. I had seen pictures of him since, and was aware of his condition. But seeing him can be hard if you’re not used to that kind of thing. I was glad I tuned in, as his story is seriously cool that he’s been able to fight past all that’s happened to him, is cancer free, and all that. The bit where his voice was recreated by a company using tons of his old commentary DVD’s and whatnot was really quite awesome. This appearance was like a big step back for me, as he got to announce his own Oscar picks in his own voice for the first time in ages. The Oprah Winfrey website has videos of all this stuff online (for now, anyway). I suggest you go check them out here.

UPDATE: In April 2011, I found this video which was recorded at the Ted conference.  Roger & Chaz were there, and Roger talked about all his surgeries, what happened to him, and all that.  It’s pretty detailed – definitely moreso than the Oprah video.  Check this out.  I had never heard most of this stuff before.  Just what happened to his carotid artery (seven ruptures).  Wow.

I mention all that, because I think it ties in somewhat to something he announced today that the old show he was talking about awhile ago is still going to be happening. I found that as quite a surprise.

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THE TRUE “SHOW 4”:
EBERT PRESENTS
AT THE MOVIES

On Mar 25, 2010 Roger Ebert had another blog post (man, this guy can write well), this time about the cancellation of “At the Movies”. He talks about the past with Siskel again, why the show was gone, it’s (as usual) a fantastic read. But for someone like me, the real gold here was the announcement that he is still going to be doing a new show.

Roger talks about how he didn’t think it would work if they were just doing the same show as it always was. Which is kind of why I think the old show finally was canceled. It effectively was the same show from all those years ago, just a different tone and flavor, but the format was the same. Roger’s new show according to him will cover “New Media: Television, net streaming, cell phone apps, Facebook, Twitter, iPad, the whole enchilada.”. That’s good to see. I think if Roger just brought back the old format with new hosts, then it probably too would fail.

I also liked this text which Roger wrote.. “”At the Movies” was one of the last survivors of half-hour syndication. It didn’t fail so much as have its format shot out from beneath it.” He even goes on to mention everyone who has hosted the show (which is Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Richard Roeper, Michael Phillips, AO Scott, Ben Mankowicz, & Ben Lyons).

The show will be produced by him and his wife. He wants to make appearances, and says his computer voice can be used to keep him “on” the show, even if he can’t physically appear. He mentions they know who they’ll cast as face talent (Christy Lemire perhaps? Her name has been attached to his for awhile now). He’s not giving details, but this is the most forward I’ve seen Roger Ebert be with a replacement show since he left the air.

Some of what this new show will be like was presented in September 2010. It was announced who was going to be on the show, what it was going to be like, etc. So much so that a “demo reel” showing what it might be like was produced. I’m assuming this was done in order to shop the program to people. Same goes for the show logo above. I’m unclear if it was intended to be the final logo or not, but it was there, so I’m using it in the story. The aforementioned video is still available online. You can check it out here:

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The announced show in September 2009 was going to have two talking heads. Christy Lemire (AP News), who has been attached to Ebert for a few years now, and Elvis Mitchell (of NPR Radio). These were going to be the primary folks on screen. Ebert himself, while unable to speak would make a regular appearance via the use of his computer created voice, as demonstrated on the Oprah Winfrey show.

There were going to be other contributors as well. I’m guessing this is the part where they talked about changing the format around a bit. When the two Bens came on in the old show, they added a bunch of other people, and I didn’t think it worked too well. Granted, there they all tried to talk at the same time. This will be more of a “contributor segment” kind of thing. So it could work better.

The whole list of names that was announced was:

  • Roger Ebert
  • Christy Lemire
  • Elvis Mitchell
  • Kim Morgan (sunsetgun.com)
  • Omar Moore (popcornreel.com)

To be honest, I didn’t know any of them. Christy Lemire I knew only in that her name was attached to other attempts to revive this show, but really – these are all newcomers to me. That was a LITTLE bit of a concern to me personally, given I didn’t know any of them. But obviously I’d be watching.

So the show sat that way for awhile. There was a Facebook group set up in September 2010 for fans (myself included) to discuss the show, but it never really got going. That incarnation of the show had the logo shown here (with the white head and glasses). I presumed that was going to be the show’s logo as it was on the Official Facebook group. Looked legit enough. Had an “artsy” feel to it.

But not much happened for awhile. For the remainder of 2010, it was pretty quiet. I’m guessing there was a ton of behind the scenes stuff going on. They had to sell the show, build sets, etc, etc…

But given the at times tortured history this show has had, we couldn’t get to launch without some other drama rearing its head, could we?

2011: Ebert Presents “At the Movies”

So we finally get to January 2011. The launch of the new show. While the precise date wasn’t yet set, it was found out in mid December actually that the previously announced host of the show (Elvis Mitchell) was no longer with the show (Link). No reason was given for this change – read the link for more. A few weeks later, it was also announced who his replacement was. It’s a 24 year old kid named Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. Another person I knew nothing about. This is not a Ben Lyons move here, to hire a “kid”. Ignatiy has movie credentials – in fact, there was a good story published at the same time about the kid. You can read that here.

The only thing that article leaves me with is that the kid is kind of a movie snob. Back in the Siskel & Ebert days, I always got the impression that Ebert himself liked the “common, popular” movies like an Iron Man, or a Terminator or something along those lines. What I’ve read about this Russian kid is that he’s more into arty films. I wonder if he’ll like these more “popular” films at all, or if it will turn into a “Lemire likes the popular stuff, the kid won’t” dynamic before you even hear them say anything about a movie. Granted, that’s an unfair assumption on my part, but as I write this text, the show is three days away from its first episode premiere. I’ll give the kid the benefit of the doubt, but what I read tells me he’ll be the “Siskel” in this pairing. We’ll see. Elvis Mitchell wasn’t on a street corner selling pencils after this move, he was announced as the lead movie review person for the website “Movieline”, so he’s doing fine.  Well, he was for awhile, anyway.  I read on April 24, 2011 that he had been terminated from movieline.com – you can read more about that here.

Another interesting point is the show had a subtle name change. Since it was announced many months ago, it was called “Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies”. It’s now called just “Ebert Presents At the Movies”. It’s a subtle change, but I wonder – if Roger dies, I have to assume that his wife will retain control over the show, it’s copyright, and all that. I wonder if the simple removal of ‘Roger’ from the title is something to do with that. I could be reading into it way too much – and I admit that. But it does make me curious about the subtle name change.

As long as I’m talking about the name.. When the old show went off the air after Disney canceled it, they owned the name “At the Movies”. Now, the name “At the Movies” has been around for a long time. Going back to “Show 2”, it was ued, and then again in “Show 3” (the really long part of the history), and the name morphed a lot during the Show 3 years depending on who was hosting it, but “At the Movies” was in there. I wonder if Roger Ebert bought the rights to the name from Disney, and owns it, or he is just licensing it at this point. I realize that’s a highly anal point, but from a purely legal standpoint, I can’t imagine him just “using it” like that, one would think Disney legal wouldn’t go for that. I’ve asked about that point, I’ll be curious to see if I ever get an answer on it.

The week of the premiere, some pictures were posted of the recording of the first episode (which originally was going to be a “Best of 2010” segment, but changed to a standard show at the last minute), and the old “movie set” is back. Check out the pictures below, which if you look at them, remind me a LOT of the set as it was when Ebert & Roeper were on the show. There are two additional pictures available as well as significantly larger versions of the pictures available at this blog post from Roger Ebert.

Going back several hosts, I always wondered if the “movie theatre set” for this show was capable of actually projecting movies. Given this set was built using modern tech, one would think it’d be easy enough to build something into the set where you could actually watch movies on it. It would be a laugh, that’s for sure.

As I said before, the new show premieres in four days. As I write this, it’s Jan 18, 2011. Roger Ebert is back. The movie theatre set is back. The Thumbs are back! Sadly Gene Siskel is not. Neither is Richard Roeper. But I’ll be there checking it out too, as it does feel like the old show’s proper lineage has returned. When the last show ended, I said that I enjoyed what was being done by AO Scott & Michael Philips. I did really enjoy them. The one negative against them is that they were mostly the same person – what made Siskel & Ebert work best was they were NOT, and had conflicting opinions. This new show is definitely different in it’s presentation, and I hope that the old feel of Siskel & Ebert (and Roeper) is there as well. Just NOT the feel of Ben Lyons. Barf.

As a taste, the opening credit sequence for the new show was posted online just a few days before the premiere. Here it is:

Post Launch Show Reaction

I updated this entry in April 2011, four months after the new show has premiered.  I will say.  The new combination is like no other that has come before them, the two Bens included.   The first couple of episodes I watched with interest, but I have to say I held a feeling of “is this going to work?”  Neither was bad, although Ignatiy was young, that’s for sure.   As the weeks have gone on, I feel they’re working better together, although there’s not a ton of confrontation with each other.  Not that I expected a row like we used to get from Gene & Roger, but they have a little too much in common, at least in terms of what they seriously don’t like.   Ignatiy, for his age, likes an obscenely high level of films that I’d venture the majority of people watching the show have never even heard of.  He loves a ton of imported films, which isn’t in and of itself weird, but he seems to have command of films from 80 years ago, something you’d think a 22 year old wouldn’t have any clue about.  Not that he’s Ben Lyons young, he obviously knows his movies, and I’m sure that’s why he was chosen.  But he tends to skew towards “artsy” films, as I theorized he would before any episodes aired.  It’s not as a clean cut as that, he’s liked some films I was surprised he would, but generally I’ve found Ignatiy & Christy tend to like the films you’d expect them too.   I guess I was hoping for a bit more in the surprise department.

It’s a good show, and it’s Friday night prime time slot helps.  My wife and I have watched many episodes, specifically to see what they had to say about some new movie.  They still hit the popular new movies (as of this writing, Rio & Hop were of interest – hey, we have a six year old daughter!), so it’s good to see them cover that, in addition to the deeper, and in Ignatiy’s case, the obscure.

Also, the secondary cast isn’t on as much as I would have expected.  They way they were billed in the promo, I got the impression they’d be on a lot.  They are on, but I was expecting one of them weekly, which really isn’t happening.  Also, the list of secondary names is much larger than we were originally told it would be.   Outside of Ebert, Vishnavesky, & Lemire, the secondary players are:

  • Alison Bailes (More Magazine & NBC’s Today Show)
  • Dann Gire (Chicago Film Critics Association)
  • Jeff Greenfield (CBS News)
  • Nell Minow (Movie Mom for beliefnet.com)
  • Omar Moore (College writer, attorney, film critic)
  • Kim Morgan (Sunset Gun, MSN Movies)
  • David Poland (Movie City News)
  • Kartina Richardson (mirrorfilm.org)
  • Matt Singer (IFC News)

So there’s a lot of contributors, as opposed to just the original two we were aware of.

But, the best part is that Roger Ebert is on the air weekly.  He’s not in the seats, he’s in a segment called “Roger’s Office”, where he is shown at his desk typing, and his review is read.  Originally it was said that Roger’s own voice would be used, but I’m guessing it was decided his computer generated “Roger Ebert Voice” wasn’t good enough for a three minute speech like that.   Most of them have been voiced by Bill Curtis, although his wife Chaz has done a couple.  The video used of Roger appears to be stock, I’m not sure if they film that each time or not.  Be nice to see him out in the seats sometime.  Still, it’s a great thing to have Roger Ebert back on a movie review program, even if he can’t be the same Roger (physically) we knew from the past.

There’s also a really good website for the show, where the new episodes are posted weekly.  This is helpful, as a few times here in Dallas, episodes were missed due to PBS pledge drives.  Plus you can look back on older reviews, watch them again, interact with fans through Facebook and all that.  It’s very well put together.  It’s available at http://www.ebertpresents.com –  I wish it had the old show’s long history of reviews, but Disney owns all that, sadly.  :(

So four months in, I’ll give the show a thumbs up.   It’ll take some time to grow into the powerhouse I think that Siskel & Ebert was.  Not that I think these two will get like THAT, but good, smart movie discussion is always welcome.  We certainly get that here for sure.

EBERT PRESENTS GOES DARK

After several months, I was enjoying the heck out of Ebert Presents.  Seeing Roger back on TV, even in his reduced capacity was great.   I grew to like the team of Christy & Ignatiy.  They mostly skewed the way I thought they would, but they’d occasionally surprise me with their picks.

Then all of a sudden my station (KERA-TV in Dallas) stopped showing  the program.   I contacted whoever was handling media for Ebert Presents, and they took note of it, as apparently I wasn’t the only person who complained.  And not just about KERA as well, there were other channels with this same issue.   KERA didn’t even relocate the program elsewhere, it was just “dropped”, although KERA denied they had removed it.  I don’t have their email handy, but it was something along the lines of looking for the “right slot” for it.   Now as I understood it, prime time is dictated by PBS nationally, so that didn’t ring true.   IMO, I think they felt the Friday at 7:30 (Central) time slot was too “prime” for a show like Ebert Presents.

So for me, the show went off the air about halfway through the first series.  That was disappointing.  Given they made the episodes and reviews available online, I could still see what they said, but that wasn’t the same thing.  I missed the show on my TV – which is where it really belonged.

So it was some big disappointment that in late December, Roger & Chaz Ebert announced that there would be no Season 2 – at least not straight away.   Apparently Roger & Chaz paid for the financing for Season 1 of “Ebert Presents” out of their own pockets, with the idea that they’d find corporate financing during the season.   Well, it didn’t happen, and the show officially went “on hiatus” in the last week of December 2011.   They were insistent that they weren’t canceling it, they wanted to continue, but couldn’t continue to pay for the show’s production out of their own pockets anymore.

That’s disappointing for sure, but I can understand it.  Don’t like it.  But I understand it.   There was a blog post by Chaz Ebert on Dec 29, 2011 detailing all of this, and included a few pictures, including one from their wrap party.

NOTE: I used to have a video here showing a highlight reel of the Ebert Presents show, but the uploader no longer has their Youtube account, and I cannot find the video.  It used to have Youtube ID cga5UZYCnlc.

As we went through 2012, that was the status of the show for a long time.  “On Hiatus”.  I’d periodically inquire on the Facebook page, lots of fans were screaming “Kickstarter”, and various other ideas for financing.  But it never happened.  In fact, during the whole of 2012, it felt like the time when we never got any news about Ebert & Roeper after they left “Show 3”, and we had the Two Bens (that still frightens me) all over again.  The lack of information was definitely disheartening.

Ebert Presents Staff Photo 2011

END TIMES

So we roll on into 2013, and not a whole lot of action, much like 2012.   At the start of April 2013 (Apr 2 to be precise), Roger posted a blog entry entitled “A Leave of Presence”.   Roger detailed that his cancer was back.  I recall reading back when he last had treatments and whatnot that if it returned he wasn’t going to go through treatments, and just let it go.  That wasn’t his mindset anymore, as he stated in this blog entry that he was going to finally launch a kickstarter campign to bring back “At the Movies”.   He talked about a new project called “Ebert Digital”, and was moving forward on several fronts, while still battling his returned cancer.  Things were looking up.

Then just two days later, it was announced he had died from his long bout with cancer.  It seemed a surprise given the announcement of just two days ago.   But one can’t be truly shocked by this, Roger has been sick for a long time.  That he battled through it as triumphantly as he did was nothing short of amazing.   That we got another season of the old girl “At the Movies” at his own expense was a treat.

So many people have written so many things about the death of Roger Ebert, that I don’t know what I can write unique here.   If you’ve read this far down the page, then you should know I’ve been a fan for a long time, and have read and watched his work for 35+ years.  I think this entire blog entry would stand as my memorial for Roger, especially given he endorsed it himself.

FUTURE?

Well, if you had asked me on April 2nd, I would have said that we might have some real news about a return of “At the Movies” later this year.  Then Roger died two days later.  His blog said they’d start a kickstarter in a couple of weeks.   I think at this point, we should consider the show not gone, but delayed even further.  Nobody in their right mind would want to go to Chaz now, “So, about that show…”    I want it back as much as anyone, and I want Christy Lemire & Ignatiy V back as hosts, as they were both hand picked by Roger to be the keepers of the flame – the old Siskel & Ebert legacy.   They need to return when the show does.

I’m going to sign off – I will update this again at some point in the future if there’s ever any news regarding the future of “At the Movies”.  I hope there is.  But if there is not, I enjoyed the ride, going back to the 70’s, and was thankful to see “Siskel, Ebert, and the rest” on my TV, talking movies.

Until then, the balcony is closed.

Ebert Saved the Aisle Seat

Roger's Empty Seat

 

IN REMEMBRANCE

So there we are.  The full, and somewhat twisted history of the Siskel & Ebert movie review show. Many names, many incarnations, I know I’ve covered it all, and more importantly gotten it right – due the “blessing” that Roger himself gave this article back in January of 2011.

I’ll leave you with some amusing videos I saw on Youtube of various funny bits from episodes over the years. These show that Richard Roeper & Roger Ebert could still complain at each other like Siskel & Ebert did, they weren’t the bland pair that I’ve read about over the years. Enjoy.

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The Newspaper in 2013

After the death of Roger in 2013, there was a hole left at the Chicago Sun Times.  No matter what happened to Roger’s voice, his mind was still there, and his hands worked, and in this digital age, that meant he could still work, and work he did.  Produced movie reviews all the time, and after he died, well, the newspaper still needed someone to cover that hole.

To this, they tapped Roger’s friend and long time co-host Richard Roeper to handle Roger’s old slot at the Sun Times handling reviews.   This was announced on September 12, 2013, and according to the stories was a ‘multi year deal”.  Which tells me that the newspaper itself isn’t planning on going anywhere – a bold prediction in this day and age when newspapers are folding left and right.

Roger’s widow Chaz had this to say about Richard’s appointment to Roger’s old job at the Sun-Times..

Chaz Ebert, widow of the late critic, released a statement congratulating Roeper, whom she called “Roger’s colleague and our friend.”

“Roger would have been as thrilled as I am over the news because he thought Richard was a top-notch writer and a hard-working journalist and movie reviewer,” she wrote. “On a personal note, I want to thank Richard for his support and friendship during Roger’s last hospitalization. Richard’s willingness to fill in for Roger at the Chicago Sun-Times meant so much to Roger and gave him the freedom to concentrate more on his treatments. I wish Richard continued success. The paper is fortunate to have him.”

This is a good move, IMO, and one that long time fans of the “At the Movies” series can probably all get behind.   There’s a few news stories announcing this move.  You can read them here, here, and here.

But what about the main TV show?

A Future?

A mere MINUTES after I posted the Apr 7, 2013 update, someone posted on the official Facebook page for “Ebert Presents..” and when asked if the show was going to continue, they posted this..

“For all please stay tuned. It was and is Roger’s wish for the show to continue, so please stay tuned.”

That’s a nice little postscript.  Looks there will be a future update somewhere down the line.  :).

Doctor Who Length of Service

This is text I wrote to go with an infographic I did that appeared in an article on Kasterborous regarding length of service time for each of the 11 Doctors.  Here is my full, overlay anal text to go with the infographic. [Read more…]

The Sensorites Review

My Review (01×07)

The Sensorites is a story that for the longest time I used to skip.  In my earlier days of Doctor Who fandom, I was into the 80’s stuff, and didn’t get a chance to see the Hartnell and Troughton era material until 1986.  When I finally did, there was a lot of it at once (given the realities of lost stories at that time).  When I did get to see the Hartnell stuff, for some reason, I always blew off the Sensorites – I don’t know why.  I did watch it, but my teenage self probably felt bored with this story.   When came to rewatch it for this review series, I found a much better story than my memory remembered.

Now, I’m not going to claim it’s one of the greatest stories, because it’s not.  But it has a lot of points I wish I had paid attention to earlier.   This story has elements that we see many a time later on in Doctor Who, one of which is the society that doesn’t seem too bad, has a nice ruler, but has a subordinate that is power mad, and wants to kill the Doctor and his crew.   In fact, even at this point in the show’s history (7th overall story, 31st overall episode), it’s been repeated.   It’s a much used plot point.

Anyway, the Doctor and his crew land on a spaceship they think is adrift – they find the crew dead, only they turn out not to be.  They’re under the power of a race called “The Sensorites”.    They are a race with a very odd look.  That’s probably down to practical matters of 1964 television, but their face is an odd look, perhaps why I never liked the story in the past.  Still, they had some interesting characteristics.   They were very sensitive to loud noises, and they were totally blind in the dark – and when that happened, they were also frightened.  Kind of like a reverse weeping angel.  heh.  Anyway, they mostly looked the same, and they were distinguished (to us anyway) by insignia and sashes on their clothing.  It marked their rank in their society.   Eventually, it’s discovered that a council of elders is on the planet below the ship was orbiting.   The Doctor is compelled to help, because the Sensorites have stolen the lock to the Tardis door, and the Doctor can’t get in.

This is a bone of contention over the years – the Tardis lock, keys, and whatnot have changed appearance both visually and with function.  It’s been told at times that only certain people can open the doors, and the key has looked more “Gallifreyan” at times, other times it’s a plain old key like you and I would have on our keychains.  In this story, the Sensorites just burnt the lock out, preventing the Tardis doors from opening.  Granted, it’s very early on in the show’s run, so the future history hadn’t been invented yet.  Can’t fault them for that, but it is the first story where the door lock is messed around with.

The story moves down to the planet where the Doctor discovers that there’s a sickness, and Ian succumbs to it.  The Doctor thinks he was poisoned, and set about trying to save Ian, and also the Sensorites at the same time.   It’s during this that the aforementioned “power mad subordinate” comes into play.   There’s also a side plot where the Doctor has to go to an aqueduct to look for the source of the poison.    Eventually things are sorted out, and the proper bad people are sorted out, the Doctor gets his Tardis lock back..

I know I’m glossing over a lot here, but if this story does have a fault, it’s that it didn’t really need to be six episodes.  Watching them it doesn’t drag too much (Well, a little), but it probably could have been tightened up a lot with two less episodes.   Still, as I said above, there’s a lot of bits I like in this story..

First and foremost, is the Susan Foreman character.  As we all know, Susan’s original character design was that not of just a teenage girl, but one with a more fleshed out character.  That the development didn’t happen is what led Carole Anne Ford to leave the show early on in the second series.  This story, however, is one that shows what the character could have been like if they didn’t quickly de-evolve the character into a screaming young girl.   Susan in this story showed mental capabilities that she didn’t show before.   I never DISLIKED the character of Susan, but generally, she was there to be captured, rescued, etc.  She wasn’t like that in this story, so I’d say this is probably her best overall story, except possibly the first episode of Unearthly Child.

I also enjoyed the human character of “John”.   I thought his acting of someone whose mind had gone and was on a slow road to recovery was well realized.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “Strangers in Space” – June 20, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Unwilling Warriors” – June 27, 1964
  • Episode 3: “Hidden Danger” – July 11, 1964
  • Episode 4: “A Race Against Death” – July 18, 1964
  • Episode 5: “Kidnap” – July 25, 1964
  • Episode 6: “A Desperate Venture” – August 1, 1964
  • Director:  Mervyn Pinfield (Episodes 1-4)
  • Director: Frank Cox (Episodes 5-6)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: Peter R. Newman
  • Production Code: G

Story Notes

  • This is the first story to show a continuous camera shot that started inside the Tardis console room, and followed the characters out the door and into the scene to be played.   Given the practical production issues in 1964, it meant constructing the spaceship set right outside the Tardis set.  But this was the first to do that.  The flip side of this is the first ever Doctor Who story to go the other way, have characters talking outside the Tardis, go in the door, and continue inside the Tardis set was MUCH later – first happed in “The Snowmen”, on Dec 25, 2012.   There was a third angle, a sideways shot that tracked the Doctor from the console room out the door into an exterior scene (“The End of Time Pt 1”), but that was just the Doctor, and there was no dialogue.
  • The first story where the past television adventures are recalled.  The first scene of episode 1 recalls how “it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junk yard”.   mentioned the prehistoric caveman stuff form Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Marco Polo, Marinus, & the Aztecs.
  • The Doctor refers to himself as human in Episode 2.
  • This story refers to his “heart” (as in not having two).  Although, the idea of the Doctor having two hearts didn’t come up until 1970 during Jon Pertwee’s first story, “Spearhead from Space”, anyway.
  • Russell T Davies said in a Doctor Who confidential episode for “The Impossible Planet” that he wanted the Ood to resemble the Sensorites in a “neighboring cousin” kind of way (my words, not his).
  • Episodes 4 & 5 of this story were Jacqueline Hill’s “vacation” time, although Barbara does appear via some inserted footage filmed during other episodes.
  • This story was originally called “Mind Control”.
  • The actor Stephen Dartnell appears in this story as “John”.  He was previously Yartek in “Keys of Marinus”.
  • John Bailey played the Commander in this story – he later appeared as Edward Waterfield in “The Evil of the Daleks”, and again as Sezom in “The Horns of Nimon”.

Future References

  • This story is referenced in the 2009 episode, “Planet of the Ood” when the 10th Doctor is looking at a star chart for the galaxy the Ood-sphere was in, and he said “I’ve been to this solar system before.  Years ago – ages!  It’s close to the planet Sense-Sphere”.  Sense-Sphere is the planet from the Sensorites.
  • Susan describes Gallifrey (then just called “our home”) with almost the same dialogue that is used in the 2007 episode, “Gridlock” when the 10th Doctor describes Gallifrey to Martha Jones.

In Summary

This is a story that I overlooked early on in my “career” of being a Doctor Who fan.   While I’d be lying if I said it’s one of the best, it’s better than I remembered, and is definitely worthy of being checked out, if for no other reason than to watch the performances of Carole Anne Ford (Susan) & Stephen Dartnell (John).  I thought the sets were well done given it’s 1964, and there was a wide variety of them – it wasn’t just the spaceship.  The Sensorites themselves were interesting if not a “great” alien race. Overall, I give it a 7 out of 10.


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The Aztecs Review

My Review (01×06)

For Doctor Who story #6, we come to one that’s in my opinion one of the strongest of the entire First Doctor era.   The Aztecs was when I first started watching Hartnell era Doctor Who the earliest “perfect” story.  In my mind back then (1986), it was perfect.  Obviously, as I’ve had some years to digest it, it’s not “perfect” perfect, but back then, it was far superior in my eyes to any other Hartnell story I had seen.    This is an opinion I still share today.  The Aztecs is spectacular.

In fact, I sat down tonight to watch it on DVD, prepared to do what I did for the other stories before this in the series.  That’s “take notes”.  I did that, so I wouldn’t forget various parts to talk about.  Halfway through Episode 3, I realized I never took any.  I was engrossed right from the start.   I’m going to sound like a broken record with this one, but for the William Hartnell era, this is as good as it gets.  If you will watch one first Doctor story in your time, make it this one.

The first time I ever watched this, was immediately brought in.  That the Tardis crew appeared from the inside of an Aztec tomb was fascinating.  Why Doctor Who never took that kind of angle with historical pieces – where the crew was made out to be some sort of God because of their mere appearance was something I thought has always been a possibility ripe for picking.  It’s done here, and first Barbara & Susan appear, and start talking about the Aztec culture.   Barbara is quick to point out that this kind of thing was her speciality in school.   Much has been made over the years of how Susan was rather quickly reduced to a screaming teenager very quickly in the show’s run.  Not a lot is said about Barbara being a teacher too often, either.  This is a story where she gets to play to what the original character’s design was (much like the next story, The Sensorites was for Susan).   Anyway, Barbara is captured when she wanders out of the tomb, but is placed on high as a reincarnation of their God merely because she’s wearing a bracelet that she picked up from inside the tomb.

That’s a bit of a flimsy excuse to believe in someone, that they’re wearing a bracelet, but it’s quickly forgotten about.  Barbara decides to try and change history by trying to convince the Aztecs that their concept of human sacrifice should be abolished.  This is where we get Hartnell’s famous “You can’t rewrite history – NOT ONE LINE!”.   Wonder what the First Doctor would think about all the mucking about with “time can be rewritten” in the modern show.  :)

After Barbara tries to stop the sacrifice, the chief priest of sacrifice, Tlotoxl immediately calls her a false god, and tries to depose/kill her.  She’s backed by the high priest of knowledge for awhile, and from there is the drama of the rest of the story.  Barbara and the other characters have gotten themselves into a situation and they can’t get out, because the tomb is locked from the outside – you can’t get back in there.  So they are mucking about until they can find a way to get back inside the tomb and to the Tardis and escape.   In the meantime, all four characters get involved in various individual stories, and while they’re mostly separate from each other physically (but not all the time), all the plotlines intertwine very nicely.   It’s not like all four lead actors don’t interact, they do.  But they all have their own paths and trails to follow.   Initially, the “Servants of Yetaxa” (What the Tardis crew are called by the Aztecs) are allowed to roam freely around the Aztec village, hence their getting involved with other characters. It’s a very well constructed, very well intertwined story in my eyes.   Here’s a few remarks about the individual characters.

  • Susan – I’ll mention her first, because she IS the most separate.  Carole Anne Ford had her “vacation” from the show here, and was gone for two episodes.  She does appear in those episodes via small filmed bits that she presumably did during Episode 1 filming (which she’s in fully).  Susan spends most of her time in a “seminary” of sorts, to prepare her for Aztec culture.   She’s the most disconnected from everything, although her seminary stuff is brought into play in Episode 4 when she refuses to marry the Aztec human sacrifice.  As she broke their law, she’s to be punished.
  • Ian – Ian ends up the target of Tlotoxl, and he is set up as a great warrior, and to combat Ixta, their chosen leader of their armies.  The two are supposed to battle to find out who is stronger to lead the armies.  Ian uses an interesting trick where he defeats Ixta with just his thumb in front of the High Priest of knowledge, and they’re all amazed he could defeat a warrior with just his thumb.   Ian mostly spends his time around with Ixta, and has a few battles.
  • The Doctor – The Doctor is considered an “old man”, so he’s treated with reverence.  He spends most of his time talking with folks in a “Garden of Peace”.  His best moments are with an older woman from the tribe, called Cameca.  The Doctor is being just nice to her, but accidentally ends up getting engaged to her.  He actually plays that engagement for their benefit a little.  He initially I think saw it as funny, but when he had to mine that relationship for his own benefit, I got the impression he felt bad about that.  Not quite as in your face with the emotional stuff as say, something more recent like the 10th Doctor being turned human, and having to break the heart of a human woman.  It was like that, only more tame.   Still, there was some wonderful acting by William Hartnell in this story.
  • Barbara – Well, she’s the focal point of the story, and spends the overwhelming majority of the time in the temple, and the area right around it.  She actually is rarely seen going anywhere else except the temple sitting room, and the area right outside it.  She does make one appearance in the village at one point, but is a pretty immobile character in this story.   Her character’s arc is basically to keep from being discovered as a false god, and not be killed.  Barbara was never my favorite character, but I thought Jacqueline Hill did quite well in this one with emotional range, and anger, and disgust and all that.

The physical battles are a weak point in the story – the big combat pieces don’t seem like terribly good fighting segments.  They’re OK I suppose, given it’s 1964 here, but it’s the one letdown for me.

There were a few production realities of 1964 that crept in here.  The extreme smallness of the recording studios played into things more than once.  At least twice by my account the camera that is being used to film a closeup ran into part of the set, and there was some pretty bad shaking of the cameras.  Once was a closeup on the High Priest of Sacrifice, and the camera hits the scenery pretty bad. Also in the village when Tlotoxl tries to frame Ian by making it seem he attacked the High Priest of Knowledge, the same thing happened again.   There’s also a shot in Episode 4 during one of the battles where you can see the edge of the set floor.  :)   These don’t detract from the strength of the story, but they are pretty noticeable technical blunders from 1964.  I only point them out because you’ll probably see them too.  They don’t bother me at all though.  Minor chuckle on the camera wobbles, but hey – 1964 BBC Sci-Fi.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Temple of Evil” – May 23, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Warriors of Death” – May 30, 1964
  • Episode 3: “The Bride of Sacrifice” – June 6, 1964
  • Episode 4: “The Day of Darkness” – June 13, 1964
  • Director:  John Crockett
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: John Lucarotti
  • Production Code: F

Story Notes

  • This story re-used the final shot from Episode 6 of “The Keys of Marinus” when the Tardis departs Marinus.
  • The Doctor ended up keeping the brooch given to him by Cameca.  He initially was going to leave it in the tomb, but picked it up and took it with him when he entered the Tardis to leave.  Not a real “fact”, but a note I liked.  :)
  • Early on in Episode 1 after Barbara was crowned , William Hartnell walked to the wrong spot on the floor, causing himself to deliver his dialogue from behind Barbara’s Aztec headdress.  The camera man had to move the camera unscheduled to pick up Hartnell for the remainder of the scene.

Future References

  • This story was not directly referenced on screen in televised Doctor Who, however…  in a Big Finish audio play (Relative Dimensions) with Paul McGann as the Doctor, he and Susan got together, and the Doctor gave Susan a bracelet from this story.
  • The actor who played Tlotoxl (John Ringham) would appear twice later in Doctor Who in another Hartnell story “The Smugglers” as Josiah Blake, and in a Pertwee story “Colony in Space” as Robert Ashe.
  • The actress who played Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh) would turn up in the Tom Baker story, “The Keeper of Traken” as Katura.

In Summary

The author of this story (John Lucarotti) apparently put a lot of research into the Aztecs to get things right.  Apparently their clothing had men with not a whole lot more than loincloths, and women were topless.  They took a bit of liberty with clothing, given the programme’s audience, but apparently a lot of effort was put into getting things right with this. It shows in my opinion.  The characters are strong, it’s a well constructed story, and it looks good (save for the technical realities of 1964 TV).   The art design is quite well done, I loved the way this looked and felt.   As I said earlier, it’s the strongest William Hartnell era story there is, and I’m quite QUITE pleased we have it in full (*COUGH*Marco Polo*COUGH*).

10 out of 10.  Best Hartnell story there is, front to back.

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The Keys of Marinus Review

My Review (01×05)

For Doctor Who story #5, we come to a story that I always had memories of liking, but upon recent viewing, I didn’t like it nearly as much.  That’s “The Keys of Marinus”.   As this story started, it was the fifth overall story, and the 21st episode of the series.  Marinus was the first repeat for a writer.  Terry Nation of Dalek fame, also wrote Marinus, and that actually brings me to my first point.

Episode 1 of this story has a feel much like his previous story, “The Daleks”.  Not exactly the same, but somewhat similar feel in ways.  For example, both stories start out with the Tardis crew landing somewhere desolate, and exploring the area, finding some building/structure, and setting off to explore it.  Something happens, they get separated, and so begins the adventure.  That’s mostly the end of the comparisons, as the stories have much different structures overall, but I felt the opening part of Marinus before we meet any of the characters of the story bore a resemblance to Episode 1 of “The Daleks”.

Once the Tardis crew gets inside the large building, we have some corridor sulking until they meet up with each other again.  Although Ian was the last.  Ian’s prowling around results in one of the more unintentionally funny moments here – in what might be one of the least convincing special effects the show has done.  At 13:50 into Episode 1, Ian is having a fight with a Voord (more on them later), and ends up knocking him through the wall.  The DVD commentary says that it was felt that wasn’t a satisfying ending to the fight, so it was decided to have the Voord fall down a hidden panel into a large drop down into the sea of acid that the Tardis crew found earlier in the episode.  That’s all well and good, but they didn’t want to send a stunt man down a long drop like that, so they basically threw a cardboard cutout of some sort down a hole and filmed it.  Thing is, the dummy looks like a piece of paper when it turns sideways, and you can see it’s only two dimensional.  Arms and legs all stick out – it makes me laugh every time.  Presumably wasn’t meant to be funny.

Anyway, all the crew finally gets together and meet up with a man named “Arbitan”.  He is the sole keeper of a machine inside the large building, which is used as a mind control device (called “The Consience”).  It’s explained that it was originally used for law and order purpses, but evolved into something else akin to a mind control device.  To keep it from falling into the hands of the Voord, five “Keys” were scattered around the world, hidden well, so that the machine couldn’t be used.  It apparently has been fixed to keep the Voord under control, but any attempts to retrieve the keys have resulted in no luck, people have died, or just not been heard from, and Arbitan being the last one can’t go, so he tricks the Tardis crew into going for him.  That’s the key of the adventure.  It’s what I latched onto early on as a strength of the story, but now I feel it does the story a disservice.   The reason for that is Episodes 2, 3, & 4 all are self contained stories.  I initially liked the variety of that, but upon recent viewings felt it was a problem, because the episodes WERE so short.  You couldn’t develop much of anything.  Episodes 5 & 6 were tied together, with the last 10 minutes or so of Episode 6 dealing with closing out the Arbitan parts from Episode 1.  The various stories had some good ideas, I just felt the lack of screen time kept them from being all good on their own.

Here’s the various Key stories…

Key 1:  Arbitan had that key, so that was already there.

Key/Episode 2:  The crew were in a place where they appeared to be in opulent luxury, but it was in fact a place of squalor, and everyone was controlled by these “minds in a jar” (that looked somewhat like the Gamesters of Triskelion from Star Trek).  They got away simply because the mind control device used on them fell off of Barbara’s head while she slept.  Odd that anyone was kept under control given how easily it fell off in the episode.

Key/Episode 3:  I liked this idea the best, because it was a forest where the plants were the villian, and they were attacking people, and destroying buildings.  I liked this concept the best of all the individual ones.   It was well produced, and some of the terror seemed legitimate, as opposed to fake acted terror.

Key/Episode 4: This one took place in a snowbound hut, and the Tardis crew (minus the Doctor, more on that later) had to outwit a local who wanted to steal their valuables, and uh.. “Have his way” with Barbara..  Liked this one the least.   Part of it is the wristbands the crew wore to go from key to key took them very far away from where the key actually was in this segment.  When they found it, the cave it was in was randomly discovered, you never got the feel that they intended to go there, so it felt like they should have never found this key.  There was however, one piece I liked.  The key itself was locked in a block of ice, and to melt the ice and get the key would also mean melting and waking up four frozen guards who were guarding the key.  I thought this was a nice puzzle to be solved.

Key 5/ Episodes 5/6: This one took the form of a trial, where Ian was accused of someone who stole the key.  In fact, we see the key immediately right away in the episode, and then spend all of Episode 5, and half of Episode 6 on a trial to clear Ian of a charge of murder.  The Doctor acted as his defense attorney.  This one was a bit stronger than the others, but that’s mostly due to the additional screen time, they could do more with this one.

Once all the keys were finally retrieved, the Tardis crew went back to Arbitan only to find out that the Voord had taken over, and killed Arbitan.   Ian tricks a Voord who was masquerading as Arbitan, and the crew eventually get away, saying goodbye to a few of Arbitan’s helpers they picked up along the adventure.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Sea of Death” – Apr 11, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Velvet Web” – Apr 18, 1964
  • Episode 3: “The Screaming Jungle” – Apr 25, 1964
  • Episode 4:  “The Snows of Terror” – May 2, 1964
  • Episode 5: “Sentence of Death” – May 9, 1964
  • Episode 6: “The Keys of Marinus” – May 16, 1964
  • Director:  John Gorrie
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: Terry Nation
  • Production Code: E

Story Notes

  • This was the first story that we saw the Tardis materalize anywhere from the outside.  All previous Tardis landings to this point were shown (if they were shown at all) from the inside of the Tardis.
  • Terry Nation has written a lot of Doctor Who.  Only two stories didn’t have Daleks in them.  This was one – The Android Invasion for the Fourth Doctor was the other.
  • In Episode 4, some stock footage of wolves is shown in the snowy areas.  This footage of wolves comes from the 1956 Russian Film, “The Grey Robber” by Boris Dolin.
  • Ian is still wearing his outfit from Marco Polo.
  • The Voords were yet another attempt to create a popular villain like the Daleks.   They also had very little screen time, and never returned, so what motivated them or anything like that is pretty much a mystery.
  • The cover art for the Target novel has some errors.  The Tardis is grey, not blue, and the light on top is red, not white.

Future References

  • Several actors from this story reappeared in Doctor Who later on.  The Voord leader Yartek was played by Stephen Dartnell.  He was in The Sensorites as the troubled John.  Fiona Walker (Kala), was later Lady Peinforte in Sylvester McCoy’s “Silver Nemesis”.  Donald Pickering (Eyesen) was later Capt Blade in Troughton’s “The Faceless Ones”, and Beyus in Sylvester McCoy’s first story, “Time & The Rani”.
  • If anyone knows of a more direct reference to a future story, please let me know.

In Summary

I feel if this had say just four keys to find, and not five, perhaps dropping the plot of the “Snows of Terror” episode, this would have been a lot stronger.  I like the “variety in the story” concept here a lot.  Just felt the individual bits weren’t served as strongly due to the lack of screen time.

Still, it’s worth a view.  It’s not like it’s awful, despite the laughable effect in Episode 1.   I’d check it out, I just don’t expect it to be on many fans’ lists of Top 10 Episodes.

 

I give it an 7 out of 10.   If I had written this review some years ago, it might have been an 8, or even a 9.  But it hasn’t aged as well for me in my Summer 2012 viewing of the story.

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This was released on DVD in late 2009/early 2010, depending on where you live.  Below are some ordering links:

 
 

New to Who

As Doctor Who approaches it’s 50th anniversary next year, BBC America has put out the call for people to write their “New to Who” stories – basically what got you into the show originally.   Given BBC America is running just the modern show, I suspect the majority of the people’s responses will be about the revived series.  Hope to see some classic series stuff in there.  Decided to write mine, but there’s zero chance it will fit on Twitter, so it’s here.

Back when I was in High School in Philadelphia (1979-1983), I used to hang out at a friend’s house on the next street over a lot.  Given the time, we used to play a LOT of Atari 2600 games.  I bring that up, because his mother used to be into Doctor Who.  I never ever stopped and watched, because I wasn’t interested in hanging out with my buddy’s mom at all, so I have no idea what stories those were (but for some reason Seeds of Doom comes to mind).  However, on occasion, I’d stop and watch the title sequence to Doctor Who on the way back to the videogame area.  From what I remember, it was mostly Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker, because in the early 80’s, that’s all we’d get in the US.  Hartnell & Troughton didn’t start over here till 1986 (on NJN), and while I think Davison was over here, most PBS stations at the time ran them in order.  Started at Spearhead, ran through what was out there, and then recycled back to Spearhead.  If there was something new, it’d get tacked onto the end for when they’d get through the cycle again.   But given the time I usually got there after school, Doctor Who would be starting, and I always got a kick out of the theme song, so I’d watch that, and then head upstairs.  Never watched the show.

After I graduated High School (in Jun 1983), I stopped hanging out with this friend, and later on in the year, I recalled the Doctor Who thing.   I have a vague memory of an announcement by my local PBS station about an anniversary special coming up, as this was the 20th anniversary.  So I decided to watch the anniversary show as my “first episode”. Watched it by myself, cold – no “mentor”.  That’s right – my FIRST Doctor Who story was the Five Doctors.  Quite confusing as heck for a first timer, but that’s where I got onboard.  It was a strange story as your first, since it had a ton of characters, and your enjoyment of the story was based mostly around what you might have recalled about these characters from their past appearances.  Not so much the story in front of you, as it was just there to serve all the cameos, for the most part.   But I did enjoy the confusion of all that, so I decided to look into the show’s past.

Given there was no World Wide Web in late 1983 that I could use, you had to go to the physical library to look things up.  In late 1983 in Philadelphia, there wasn’t a ton of books out there on Doctor Who – so it was slim pickings.  That’s why the Peter Haining books were such a godsend back in those days – especially to this new fan.   I LOVED those books, because they were my main source of researching and reading the past.  When the show came back in 2005, there was a book that came out (and then got one update), and I have to say, it really reminded me of the old 80’s Haining books.  It was called “Doctor Who: The Legend” by Justin Richards.  That had a great feel for me back to a time when I was “New to Who”.

I pretty voraciously consumed what I could find back then in terms of available stories.  That’s why I loved the old Creation Conventions so much.  Back in those days, it would take upwards of TWO YEARS for any new Doctor Who stories to make it onto one of the three PBS stations I could get in Philadelphia.   They’d usually bring a new story or two with them to a convention, so you’d watch it there.   There wasn’t pirate video on the Internet like there is today, but I was one of the guys who used to import PAL videotapes from England, and have them converted to NTSC format, so you could watch them in the US earlier than PBS would show them.  Took those tapes to several Doctor Who fan club meetings, where everyone would watch them.  It was far more enjoyable when a “new story viewing” was a communal experience like those were.   If you were a person who was into Doctor Who like this back in the 80’s, then you MUST MUST MUST seek out the extra on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD called “Cheques Lies & Videotape”.  It’s all about being a fan back then, and  it talks about importing videotapes from other countries – it’s simply a MUST SEE if you were a US Doctor Who fan back in the early mid 80’s.

I dated a couple of girls in the 80’s around/after high school who were into Doctor Who.  My eventual wife also got tortured by my 1980’s Doctor Who obsession back in the day, but she put up with it, she didn’t actively enjoy it.  Although, she does thoroughly enjoy the revived show.  She will run screaming from the living room if I put on the 60’s stuff, however.   Doctor Who remains to this day my all time favorite TV show (The second was Dallas, which also relaunched itself in 2012).   I don’t recall ever being frightened by it truly, but that’s because I started watching it when I was about 18.  I’m 47 now, so I’ve been with the show for awhile.  I was pained when it ended in 1989.  Teased in 1996 when it almost came back, and was quite ecstatic when it returned for good in 2005.

Current TV show head writer and producer Stephen Moffatt relayed his introduction to Doctor Who, and I rather enjoyed his story.  Check it out:

Marco Polo Review

My Review (01×04)

For Doctor Who story #4, we come to a story that both surprises me, and pisses me off.

Marco Polo is the first of the “lost” stories of the 60’s era of Doctor Who. Lost as in the BBC erased the tapes of it in the early 70’s, due to their thought at the time that they’d never need it again.   Much has been made of the junking of Doctor Who episodes, so I won’t go into a ton of detail on it.  However, if you want an excellent read on that subject, look up the book “Wiped!” – it’s entire tome is dedicated to every angle you can think of regarding lost Doctor Who stories.  OK, perhaps it’s not long enough for the proper usage of tome, but it’s a great read.  Of all the stories that were lost, this one is particularly annoying, because records show it was sold overseas more than any other, and yet no episodes survive.  It’s also one of three stories where not a frame of episode footage exists.  For most of the other lost stories there’s small clips, and fragments of video you can see.  Not this one (also Mission to the Unknown & The Massacre) – nothing exists.   Still, I digress…

Marco Polo was a surprise to me, because for this series of reviews, I finally sat down and “watched” the whole story, all seven episodes.  I say “watched”, because this brings up another thing, “Doctor Who Reconstructions“.  When I say I have every Doctor Who episode, it’s subjective.  For the lost stories, what fans have done is taken the existing audio (which is retained for every episode), and married it with photos taken from the episode(s).  Watching those are only for the hardcore fans.  It’s OK, but definitely not for everyone.  Still, it is the only way to see lost stories like “Marco Polo”.  OK, I’m done digressing…

So I watched the reconstruction of Marco Polo, and I have to say, I was surprised at how well this story was.  I always knew of it’s legendary status, but to “watch it” (the best you can in 2012), brought a surprising amount of joy.  A lot of long stories from the 60’s suffered from pacing problems.  This one most certainly did not.   This story had proper pacing much in the way that “The Daleks” did not.  While this was seven episodes, it never felt stretched, padded, or sagged too much.  Every story sags somewhere, even the best of them, but you hardly noticed it with this one.   That brings me to the “pissed me off” part.  That the story was THAT good annoyed the heck out of me, because you can’t see it properly.   What makes this interesting to me as one of the Doctor Who historicals is that it doesn’t merge very much science fiction into the historical stuff.  It’s pretty much devoid of time travel, and the usual trappings of Sci-Fi.  For the most part, the Doctor Who historical stories never did much for me.  I’m not the only one, as they stopped for a very long time after Hartnell left.  They did I believe one in Troughton’s era, and then no more until one short one in Davison’s era.  But this one worked, despite the huge handicap of being missing, and having to watch basically seven episodes of still pictures as a replacement.

The story starts out with the Tardis crew landing near where Marco Polo is, and finding their caravan, which was going to see Kublai Khan across the Gobi desert.  Marco extends hospitality to the crew, and they even tag along the Tardis with them on the back of a wagon.  All seems well, until Polo decides to use the Doctor’s caravan (the Tardis) as a gift to Khan, and refuses to return it.  That pretty much sets up the rest of the story, where the Doctor and crew were trying to get back to the Tardis and leave.   Because of them being unable to, they’re trapped into the drama that is Marco Polo and his chief, Tegana (Jovanka? Har Har Har).   Their conflict lasts the entire story, and doesn’t seem paced.  Tegana hides his desires well, and isn’t suspected for quite some time.

About halfway through the story, the Tardis crew could have escaped, but Susan blew it, by wanting to say goodbye to her friend in the story, Ping-Cho.   The crew are caught, where if Susan had just went when she should have, they would have extricated themselves from the story.  But no, this being television drama, that wasn’t about to happen, and we got a few more episodes until they finally left in the end.   Actually, Susan had something to do in this story.  She had her own “Companion” (Ping-Cho), and she actually was fairly integral to parts of the story, and wasn’t just standing around or screaming, which was nice.

One of the more interesting bits I liked are the Doctor creating water from condensation inside the Tardis.  Real science in play there.   Not “The Doctor looking like a magician”, real science.

There’s plenty of characters in the couple of locations the story stops in, and they all look well dressed – I have to say, this was a very good looking story.   Again with the “Arrrgh” in not being able to see it.   That is pretty consistent, I really liked the look and feel of the story.  From the drama about water storage, to finding where Tegana’s accomplices are hiding out, to finding where Polo hid the Tardis keys, to the kidnapping of Barbara, meeting Khan, palace battles, there’s a ton of different subplots that all weave together quite nicely.

I know I’m not going into a ton of detail on the individual episodes here.  Part of that is because I’m writing this about 6 weeks after watching it, but even if I wrote it the next day, I’d kind of mesh it together, because this is one of those stories that works for me when I think about it as a whole piece, not individual parts as such.  I know that sounds weird, but I’m having a hard time relaying my thoughts about this concept from my head to the keyboard.  But I will say this.  It was very enjoyable, as the first time I had ever “watched” it all the way through was on reconstruction, I probably couldn’t fully appreciate it, but I definitely did not consider it an “Oh God, I have to force myself to watch this”.  I really enjoyed the story.   You might too, provided you can put up with watching a reconstruction.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Roof of the World” – Feb 22, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Singing Sands” – Feb 29, 1964
  • Episode 3: “Five Hundred Eyes” – Mar 7, 1964
  • Episode 4: The Wall of Lies” – Mar 14, 1964
  • Episode 5: “Rider From Shang-Tu” – Mar 21, 1964
  • Episode 6: “Mighty Kublai Khan” – Mar 28, 1964
  • Episode 7: “Assassin at Peking” – Apr 4, 1964
  • Director:  Waris Hussein
  • Director: John Crockett (Episode 4 only)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer: John Lucarotti
  • Production Code: D

Story Notes

  • This story was unique (I believe) in that all of the individual episode titles were mentioned somewhere in dialogue in their respective episode.
  • This was the first Doctor Who “historical” story.
  • This was the second of two Doctor Who stories directed by Waris Hussein.  His first was “An Unearthly Child”.  He never returned to the series.
  • Several actors from this story appeared in later Doctor Who episodes.  But the most recent one is Zienia Merton, who played Ping-Cho (shown to the right).  She later on appeared in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode, “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” as a character named “The Registrar”, and she had several scenes with Doctor #10, David Tennant.
  • The DVD box set called ‘The Beginning” that also contains the first three Stories, contains a condensed reconstruction of Marco Polo.   That reconstruction is just 30 minutes total.  It’s an interesting way of condensing the story, as the original version was 7 episodes of 25 minutes each.  30 minutes is very condensed.
  • This story was originally considered as the source material for the Peter Cushing Doctor Who theatrical movies, but the Daleks were eventually chosen.
  • The story has an on screen narrator, who talks overtop of a map showing the journey of the characters.  This is otherwise unheard of in Doctor Who.
  • This story was supposed to appear third, but delays forced “The Edge of Destruction” into production in that slot.

Future References

  • The Doctor gets a walking stick from Kublai Khan, which gets used in a few future stories after Marco Polo.   If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same walking stick we see in this famous screenshot from “The Aztecs” a few episodes down the line.
  • This story is loosely referenced in the 11th Doctor story, “The Big Bang”.   Marco Polo is said in the Big Bang to have brought the Pandorica to the Vatican.  Given the Pandorica flew, and therefore was a “flying box”, it’s a loose reference in that Polo was fascinated with flying boxes in both stories (although it’s not known if he knew the Pandorica could fly).
  • In the Fourth Doctor story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, the Doctor says he had not been to China in about four hundred years.
  • In the Second Doctor story, “The Power of the Daleks”, the newly regenerated Second Doctor tells Ben & Polly that Marco Polo was a friend of his, and that he had visited China in the past.

In Summary

I very much enjoyed this one.  It’s a crime that it is missing, and if the modern show ever wants to go after it’s own past, I’d love to see them remake this with Matt Smith.  They won’t, I’m sure, but it’s a great story, and I’d love to see it updated.   It is hard to take somewhat because of it’s status as a reconstruction, but if you can bring yourself to get through it, I think you’ll find a lost gem from the earliest years of Doctor Who.

 

I give it an 8 out of 10.  I would have given it a higher grade, but the fact that you can only see it as a recon is a strike against it, and had it been six episodes, it probably would have been a perfect length.  I did enjoy it at 7, but what one less episode might have removed what little “story sag” there is, for perfection.

External Links

Purchase Links

You can’t actually buy this one as such, because of it’s lost status.  You can, however, pick it up as an extra on the “Beginnings” Box set, of which you can get some links below.

It was also released on CD some years ago, both on it’s own, and then later on in a box set with several of these missing stories in it.

You can also get it as a reconstruction, see the Recons page in the links section above.

  

The Edge of Destruction Review

NOTE: This review originally appeared on Kasterborous here on May 27, 2010.

My Review (01×03)

A Doctor Who adventure that takes place in the TARDIS? The travellers unsure what is going on? No, it’s not Amy’s Choice – it’s The Edge of Destruction, from 1964…

When I was a little kid, I loved the original Star Trek (I was 1 when it started). My favorite stories were ones that showed other parts of the ship, and particularly ones treat took place completely inside the ship. Modern TV calls something like that a “bottle show”; a story that saves money. But for me as a kid, I just wanted to see other bits of the Enterprise. I loved shows like that. So when I got into Doctor Who, I scanned the back catalogue of episodes, and found a distinct lack of that kind of story. One episode in Tom Baker’s era was like this (Episode 6 of Invasion of Time), and just one full story, an old William Hartnell story. That was it. So that was a bit disappointing. But when Hartnell’s stories started airing in the US around 1986 or so, I looked forward to The Edge of Destruction for this reason – it was an “all on the ship” show, which lends to one of this story’s names, Inside the Spaceship (although I prefer the more common The Edge of Destruction).

This story was the third story overall, following directly from the wildly successful original Dalek story. It was designed to explore the characters interactions with each other. The Doctor at this point was a rather cantankerous fellow, even for the First Doctor. It starts off innocently enough with the travelers around the TARDIS console, and for some reason unknown, at the time, they’re knocked unconscious and lay on the floor of the TARDIS, which was kind of an odd start to the episode. As they start to come around, they obviously wonder what happened to them to be knocked unconscious. On top of that, they don’t seem to recognize their current situation, or all of each other. The Doctor is the worst off, with his head being cut in the fall and spending a decent percentage of time of the episode unconscious. Something that seems to happen a lot to Hartnell as his time in the role went on.

The early part of this episode seems to feature Barbara a lot in a mothering role to the other characters. I point this out, as it seemed well, I don’t know. I start to say weird, and then it isn’t, and I start to say “in character”, and it isn’t either. Not entirely sure how I feel about that.

As they come around, strange things start to happen. Susan goes to get a glass of water from some sort of food/drink machine, and is told the machine is empty when it was not. The doors of the TARDIS open and close on their own when people walk towards them. Another was the fault locator saying every single thing was wrong with the TARDIS simultaneously. All of these things are later on shown to be clues towards the final resolution of the story. One of the more notorious bits was Susan trying to attack Ian with a pair of scissors, which she freaks out over and stabs the bed a ton of times. If you watch the extras on the DVD for this story, Verity Lambert admits the scissor stab bits were something that were probably better left out. This goes on until the characters all suspect each other of sabotaging the ship, or being under alien control or just outright mutiny. Even up until the point where the Doctor threatens to put Ian & Barbara off the ship. At which point Barbara loses it, and yells at the Doctor, calling him a “stupid old man”. Other strangeness was Ian trying to strangle the Doctor. This all carries on for awhile – pretty much through most of Episode 2 as well. The crew mistrusts, threatens, and says a bunch of rude things to each other.

One of the better moments in this story is a dialogue by Hartnell towards the end of part two. Hartnell is known for his frequent muffing of his lines. Due to the production values of the time, a lot of these are left in. However, there’s a couple minute speech by the Doctor where he pulls it off well, and is one of the better moments of the Hartnell era in terms of his own acting. Shortly after said speech, the overall plot is resolved, and everything is made well again. I won’t divulge exactly what it was, but look out for some handwritten words on the TARDIS console, which were allegedly there to help Hartnell locate specific spots on the console during filming.

There’s also some strange contradictions to other established bits of Who lore in this story, however, since it’s just the third overall, and the 12th & 13th overall episodes, that can be forgiven, I suppose. Ian mentions “his heart”, implying that he has just one. I forget where exactly it was established for sure that the Doctor had two hearts – I think it was Pertwee’s first story. Susan also says “the ship can’t crash, it’s impossible”. This has been shown to be false, as it has crashed a few times over the years, most recently in Matt Smith’s debut The Eleventh Hour.

As I said earlier, this story served to galvanize the TARDIS crew as friends. They were more companions by situation up until this point. After the problems were resolved, there’s a rather nice scene or two at the end where the Doctor makes up with Barbara, and there’s some fun with throwing snowballs and whatnot, which is a direct lead-in to the next story, Marco Polo.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Edge of Destruction” – Feb 8, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Brink of Disaster” – Feb 15, 1964
  • Director: Richard Martin (Episode 1) & Frank Cox (Episode 2)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer: David Whitaker
  • Production Code: C

Story Notes

  • The Doctor namedrops Gilbert & Sullivan as someone who gave him the coat that Ian wears at the end of the story.
  • The Tardis is supposed to have a “memory” of all previous adventures, something loosely referred to in the 11th Doctor story, “The Doctor’s Wife” when the Tardis (in human form, aka “Sexy”) says that she can archive console rooms both past and future.

Future References

  • Parts of this story have been used in other stories further down the line – way down the line in the series. The biggest one of which is that the TARDIS itself is seemingly alive – or at least can think for itself. It is eventually revealed that the ship itself was the cause of all the strange happenings to try and hint the crew as to the real reason behind all the strange happenings. This was used later on many times in the show’s future. A specific TARDIS “feature” from this story was that the power of the TARDIS is under the console, something that was used later on in Eccleston’s run a few times. One of these times was in Boom Town where the TARDIS itself manipulates time to turn Margaret into a Slitheen egg. You could also extrapolate this into perhaps the TARDIS turning back time and reviving Grace & Chang Lee from death in the Eighth Doctor movie. There’s also the time in Eccleston’s final episode where Rose looks into the TARDIS console and get the power of time and space inside her, too. The Confidential episode for that story references “The Edge of Destruction” and this concept too as inspirations for these specific plot points.
  • This story is also one of only two times that I’m aware of we see a bed in the TARDIS console room. The other time was when Pertwee was knocked unconscious at the end of Frontier in Space going into Planet of the Daleks. Oddly enough, both beds come out of walls – “oooh, so modern looking!”
 

In Summary

In all, this story is a somewhat overlooked story from what I can gather, but it was important in establishing character relationships, and somewhat unintentionally (I gather) responsible for putting forth a few show concepts that are still in use now in 2010. When I reach for an early series DVD or whatnot, this isn’t the first one chosen, but there are some great points here to see. Give The Edge of Destruction (or Inside the Spaceship, or whatever you want to call it) a shot. You might enjoy this long ago small scale bottle story as much as I did.

I give it 9 out of 10, as I’m a sucker for “all on the ship” stories like this.  It’s not perfect, so it doesn’t get 10.

External Links

Purchase Links

  • Amazon.com DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)
  • Amazon.co.uk DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)