I'm Andy - I started travelling back in 1999 and fell in love with it straight away! Since then I have been to 84 different countries all over the world and visited every continent except for Antarctica. I love to visit places that are a bit off the beaten track - some of my favourite places include Central Asia, West Africa, India and Iran.
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Karen Gillan is about to star in a new series for ABC in the US. The series is called ‘Selfie’ and from the promo doing the rounds, Karen appears to be the main star of the piece and she appears to be playing a severe narcissist.
It might not be the cup of tea that most Who-fans tune into, but it looks to have the potential to be funny and at a guess, popular. The only thing that’s disappointing is to hear her doing an American accent. This writer would like to see people on the whole using their own accents when working abroad. It works both ways across the pond (did you see what I did there?) lest we forget ‘Evolution of the Daleks’. Don’t get me started on fake Australian accents.
I reckon I’ll tune in and give it a go. What do you think?
A couple of days ago now it was the anniversary of Jon Pertwee’s death. 18 years since the third Doctor passed on from this universe to the next. And recently I listened to a podcast, and then read a thread on a forum, where it seemed open season on Pertwee and his era. So I wanted to take a chance to tell the world that there are plenty of Pertwee fans out there who to this day love the five years he gave us, and umpteen appearances he made after he left the role.
I mean heck, the guy actually appeared in a fan-made film trying to explain the transition from Second to Third Doctors! The ‘showman’ never failed to come back when asked, and he never stopped giving back to the fans. And for fans that take their fandom as seriously as us Doctor Who fans, that deserves great kudos.
Criticisms rage about his era that Pertwee was too ‘establishment’, his stories were too formulaic to ‘Bob Baker and Dave Martin were crap’. Hmmm. What can I say? I have a few friends for whom Pertwee is the ultimate Doctor, for me it is Troughton. But one of the reasons I love Troughton so much is the way he worked with Pertwee in The Three and Five Doctors. When I started to watch Doctor Who regularly, it was the 80s and Pertwee had an almost full series of repeats shown at 6.30pm. He and his era sucked me properly into the show, after I’d seen one Colin Baker episode and read a few of the Target books.
Spearhead drew me in, Ambassadors pulled me along and Inferno was a great big hook and I have never looked back. I even like most Bob Baker and Dave Martin stories, and I think ‘The Mutants’ is the most underrated Doctor Who story there is, bar ‘The Gunfighters’. This writing team was responsible for some of the most different and creative stories from the Pertwee and Tom Baker eras. ‘The Mutants’ may feature a couple of bad performances, but at the same time directly attacks British colonialism. And the Third Doctor is NOT on the side of the Overlords – he still sticks up for the underdog, the downtrodden, those treated unfairly. The Claws of Axos is an amazing amalgamation of ideas and visuals, and I will always LOVE ‘The Three Doctors’ despite its shortcomings.
Pertwee IS establishment quite often, but always expresses rage and dismay at bureaucracy and pen pushers. Some have said that his Doctor wasn’t ‘nice’, but I never got that. The way he worked with Katy Manning showed a very soft and caring side to the Doctor. He was a man who was flamboyant, yet completely and utterly dependable. As a young kid, whatever the Doctor and Co were facing, you knew the Third Doctor would win out. And as for the rapport with Delgado, the way the two worked together – we have never and will never see better Doctor/Adversary matchup. That is clear.
Say what you like, Pertwee is not my favourite of all, but will always be one of my favourite Doctors. He has magic, a soft side, he was dynamic, funny at times, deadly serious at others. And in the early years right through to today, no Doctor has delivered speeches quite so well. See – ‘The Mind of Evil’, ‘The Time Monster’ and ‘Planet of the Spiders’. So, grab some cheese and a bottle of the finest wine you can find in Style’s cellar and drink a toast to Jon Pertwee. I salute you sir!
So. Peter Capaldi. That guy, you know, he’s the next Doctor. Number 12, or 13 or perhaps technically 14… (THANKS Moffat). Anyway, as is natural when there’s a new Doctor, I want to know more. We really haven’t seen him yet apart from a very brief appearance at the end of ‘The Time of the Doctor’ and an even briefer one in ‘Day of the Doctor’.
When Matt Smith was announced, I bought the DVDs for ‘Party Animals’ to see what we were getting. Peter Capaldi is widely known for ‘Malcolm Tucker’, the Director of Communications for an unnamed party in ‘The Thick of It’. I soon heard that Tucker swears a lot and is an angry man, but beyond that I didn’t know much at all. So recently I watched ‘The Thick of It’ – from start to finish.
It’s not a long series – 24 episode encompassing 4 seasons and 3 specials, the first two series are a mere 3 episodes each, and I have to say, pardon my French, it’s a fucking good series! Like ‘Party Animals’, it’s a political series, and like ‘Yes, Minister’, it’s a satire. But it’s more than that. Now, a word of warning, if you do go down the path I did and watch it, the camera work is NOT smooth. In fact after two episodes I was seriously sick! I got used to it and I’m sure they backed off with the style of camera work after the first series – people complained about it.
Now – if you don’t like swearing, it’s not for you. Because it’s not just Capaldi’s character who swears, it’s pretty much the whole cast. The humour is a bit black at times, but it is a genuinely funny series, the sort that at the same time makes you think ‘it could really be like that’. MPs bumble and fumble and make mistakes, office staff act as if they are in control of everything, when in fact it’s character’s like Malcolm Tucker pulling all the strings and barking, nay shouting orders.
If you don’t know much about British politics and civil servants, then you’ll probably learn a bit. You’ll be shocked, then you’ll laugh, then you’ll be shocked again. The whole cast are simply brilliant, and as the series progresses we see the opposition (presumably meant to be the conservatives) in action, and in series four [SPOILER ALERT] they are in government. Their Director of Communications is very different to Tucker, trying to be ‘zen’, but losing the plot regularly and lapsing into aggressive craziness.
To try and find the perfect analogy is difficult. It’s one part ‘West Wing’, one part ‘The Office’, one part ‘Yes, Minister’ and one part ‘Red Dwarf’ – with a bucketload of swearing thrown in for good measure. Three things are clear about Capaldi from the series. He is a brilliant actor, his Doctor might be more aggressive but he won’t be playing him like Tucker, and Capaldi runs funny!
Do yourself a favour, if you like political satire at all, watch this series. I seriously had no idea how brilliant it was until I did.
We had reached one of the most controversial episodes that remains missing, The Feast Of Steven!
This special episode, perhaps the least likely to turn up as as far as we know it was never telerecorded, also features William Hartnell breaking the ‘fourth-wall’ when he addresses the audience directly to wish them a happy Christmas. This goes to show the extent of the restrictions to how the show was made back in the day that they didn’t have the money or time to simply edit it out. I thought it was a rather endearing twist to the episode myself, and remember looking for it in the novelisation back when I was a kid!
The Daleks’ Masterplan then continues on after this one episode interruption, moving toward its dramatic conclusion. Dennis Spooner writes the last five episodes and reintroduces the brilliant Peter Butterworth as the Meddling Monk. Once his part is done, the final two episodes turn very serious again as Sara Kingdom dies in one of the most dramatic deaths in Who-history. What must have been difficult at the time for the production team, Jean Marsh is aged to death in front of the UK audiences eyes. Just UK eyes though, the 12-part serial, offered as only 11 with ‘The Feast of Steven’ not included for overseas sale, is the one Doctor Who story (along with ‘Mission to the Unknown’, its prequel) not to be bought or screened outside the UK. The Australian censors felt it required too many cuts to be suitable for the audience and so the preview tapes were never more than that. It remains the least likely group of episodes to turn up, yet we do have three of the twelve which have been found since the 80s (and whispers of as many as four more having possibly been found).
After The Daleks’ Masterplan, we get a very brief idea of what Wiles and Tosh wanted to do with the show. VERY brief. The first move was to cut back the length of the stories. Seasons three and four bear this legacy. Notice that only Dalek stories in these two seasons are more than four parts, with only one exception, The Faceless Ones in season four.
The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve follows on the heels of the massive Dalek story, and is possibly the most mysterious of all stories. No telesnaps, about 3 or 4 pictures, it is regarded as somewhat of a classic and is one of the stories I most want to see returned. It is written by John Lucarotti, or at least credited to him. Lucarotti was responsible for two historical stories in season one, Marco Polo and The Aztecs, two stories of a decidedly serious nature, and highly regarded for the time. I feel sure The Massacre is in fact the best of his three, however, is it really his?
Donald Tosh rewrote the story extensively, and apparently Lucarotti was not happy with the finished product, believing it strayed too far from his original concept. Lucarotti had wanted to write a story set around the Viking invasions, but Tosh quite rightly had pointed out that they had already been there (The Time Meddler). The result was a story about a less well-known part of history, ending in a shocking massacre which gave the story its title.
One of the reasons for the massive rewrite was William Hartnell. He needed a holiday, and I think Tosh wanted to limit his involvement in the story because he was experiencing failing health and becoming increasingly harder to work with. In fact, Hartnell and Wiles had huge issues at the time and never got on.
People are interested to see Hartnell as ‘The Abbott’ in this story – he played dual roles in The Massacre, something that hadn’t been tried before. The Doctor and the Abbot never meet, in fact the Doctor only appears in the first and fourth parts, and the Abbot in the third episode, with a very brief appearance at the end of episode one. Episode Two only has a short scene featuring Hartnell as the Abbot, this was the episode he was absent from.
In fact, the Abbot doesn’t feature that much in the story at all, so Hartnell gets a good break, and you’d have to think that historical were easier on him anyways, as he wouldn’t need to remember as much technical jargon as the science fiction based tales. Having said that, the Doctor returns as a bit of a tour-de-force in the final instalment, ‘Bell of Doom’. He insists on leaving Paris promptly to Steven and refuses to take Ann Chaplet with them. Steven gets very angry when the TARDIS materialises and goes off in a huff. William Hartnell then delivers a speech that is both beautifully written and delivered. It might just be his finest moment playing the Doctor.
The choice to introduce the new companion in a fleeting scene in episode four however is somewhat mystifying. The idea that Ann Chaplet, a character Steven tries to help in The Massacre, is an ancestor of Dodo Chaplet is used as an excuse for welcoming the first of two companions to be called Dorothy (Dorothea) as a crew-member makes little sense. She wanders into the TARDIS after she’s just witnessed an accident to get help. Before she knows where she is the TARDIS has taken often. She then forgets in an instant the accident, tells the Doctor she has no parents and seems perfectly fine with going off for adventures. It comes across as extremely rushed and last minute.
Dodo is the new companion, with little to no back-story and the rushed introduction. Jackie Lane played the part, perhaps the most elusive of Doctor Who actors since. She does not appear in any of the extras on the DVDs, although she did record a ‘myth makers’ video back in the 1990s. In this way she is something of an enigma. Apparently she remembers very little about her time on the programme, but is not ‘anti-Doctor Who’. Her leaving would be handled poorly off screen, and even worse on.
The Ark would be her first proper story, a story we can still enjoy today. Watching it as a story in the middle of a plethora of missing episodes, you could be forgiven for thinking she’d been around for a while. It’s been documented that her accent started off as being ‘regional’, and then was toned down to be more generic. These were production directives, not choices made by Jackie Lane. It’s a fair start for a new companion – she nearly wipes out the human race with a cold in her first full story!
Although there are some major issues with The Ark, the costumes and the Monoids principally, it has a grand sort of vision and the production team did well with sets and creating a jungle in space. Unfortunately the Monoids didn’t look all that good, and in the second half of the story they turned into typical monsters with corny lines and a ‘security kitchen’ (who doesn’t love the security kitchen though, that is surely pure gold!). We were getting an idea though of the Wiles and Tosh direction. Sadly, this is it for them.
John Wiles had had enough of the series, and especially William Hartnell. He and Tosh had wanted to change the actor, which they planned to do during ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, but a new producer had already moved in, in the shape of Innes Lloyd. With him he brought in Gerry Davis who replaced Donald Tosh who decided to leave after he realised that Lloyd’s ideas for the series were very different to his.
The Celestial Toymaker is a story which was written three times. Firstly by Brian Hayles, then re-written by Donald Tosh, and finally by Gerry Davis. Allowing Hartnell a few more weeks holiday, episodes 2 and 3 only feature his voice (pre-recorded) and a hand. It’s a somewhat odd story, of which only the fourth episode exists today. It’s perhaps the least interesting of the four, consisting of a lot of dice-rolling, but Michael Gough is fantastic in it.
Move on next to the last script commissioned by Wiles and Tosh, the much-maligned The Gunfighters. Donald Cotton’s second script may cop a lot of flack, and they certainly played that darned song far too often, but I think this is a wonderful piece of television. The design utilised a very small space especially well, there are some great performances especially from William Hartnell, and more than anything, it’s just a lot of fun. Despite beliefs to the contrary, it did not garner the lowest ratings for the time, and despite a few dodgy accents, it stands out as one of my favourites, if not my favourite, Hartnell adventure. I fear its reputation as a dud preceded it being available for general consumption and fans had already judged it to be a turkey without giving it a chance.
Innes Lloyd was busy at the time shaping the series and decided the historicals would have to go. We would only get two-more before Black Orchid in 1982, and they would both follow a different model from Cotton’s humerous take on the show. The emphasis would be on adventure which would drive The Highlanders and especially The Smugglers.
Lloyd wanted to make his mark on the show. He continued the policy that Wiles had installed of keeping adventures to four episodes though, for the most part to the near-end of season four. He wanted to shake up the cast, and in the space of a few adventures the entire main cast would leave and be replaced, including William Hartnell.
The first to go was Peter Purves, in The Savages. The story, by Ian Stuart Black, is another completely missing tale set on a world in the far future. Interestingly, it is a very thought-provoking story (it could be argued that most of the stories Lloyd oversaw were not aiming to get the audience thinking that much) with strong anti-slavery themes, exploring class and exploitation. Peter Purves didn’t particularly want to leave, but his contract was the first to expire. At least his exit was pretty decent, unlike Dodo’s. The Savages would also see individual episode titles abandoned in favour of a story title with the episodes numbered, the format that would survive until Doctor Who was taken off-air in 1989.
The War Machines, also penned by Ian Stuart Black, is often held up as the first example of a ‘UNIT-style’ story. Returned in full (bar a few cuts) in the 1980s from Nigeria, we can at least see this story today. Poor Dodo gets hypnotised by WOTAN and sent to ‘the country’ before the end of the second episode, never to return to even say ‘goodbye’ to the Doctor. Anneke Wills and Michael Craze are introduced as Polly and Ben, the new kids in the TARDIS. We have a modern-day setting, which we haven’t really seen since Planet of Giants, a story where the Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara didn’t interact with another character.
They seem to have been experimenting with this story, and to be honest it’s not all very convincing. The use of ‘Doctor Who’ instead of Doctor will infuriate fans for the next forty-seven years for example! Innes Lloyd was looking for something to replace the Daleks, but the War Machines’ design (which is all one could expect on that budget) would fall far short of capturing anyone’s imagination. But it is a story which deals with a fear of computers, before it’s time perhaps. Unlike The Savages though, there was a lack of a ‘deeper’ message. It’s a straight forward adventure, rather fun at times and clunky at others, especially dialogue. Polly is portrayed as a hip, ‘swinging sixties’ girl, and we even have scenes set in a night club (the hottest night spot in town). You kind of feel that Dodo doesn’t belong there, and then the Doctor turns up at the club too!
And that was how season three finished up. Season Four would see a greater change as Hartnell would be convinced to leave the programme and would be replaced by Patrick Troughton. The Cybermen would be a feature of the next season, making their debut and soon racking up a second appearance. The Daleks also would get two stories, the second intended as their final story. We would see two new companions go as Michael Craze would get the similar sort of treatment that Jackie Lane had received.
Season Three is regarded as a season where the show waned. The ratings did fall in the third season, especially for the historical stories, but actually I think some of the best 60’s Who comes from the third season. The programme is in a state of flux, changing, evolving, finding a way to survive, and new tales to tell. Season Four would see things settle, the ratings improve, and a model for Season 5 be developed. The injection of a new lead actor in the role of the Doctor would provide the ratings lift the show needed. The exciting times were not about to end.
For those of you reading, you may not know Rob Lloyd, but he is an incredibly talented actor and comedian, and also a massive Doctor Who fan to boot! Born in New South Wales, Rob now lives in Melbourne where he has been on stage many times. Part of the comedy duo ‘InnesLloyd’, Rob has a passion for improvisation.
Rob has found a great deal of success in the last few years, in 2013 his one man show enjoyed packed houses and rave reviews in Australia, so it took it overseas to Edinburgh, appearing in the Fringe Festival.
Rob is now busy touring his latest show, ‘The Science of Doctor Who’, combining Doctor Who and science in a show doing the rounds in Australia. Rob help conceive and also hosts the show. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions from me.
Andrew: Rob, how long have you been performing and what drew you to the stage?
Rob: I’ve been performing professionally for over 13 years, ever since I moved to Melbourne in 2000, but I’ve been performing since I was 5 years old.
It’s hard to explain what drew me to ‘the stage’, I remember I loved playing make-believe and dress-ups as a kid but I never really saw that as an actual job…I was to busy wanting to play for the Australian cricket team.
However I remember at the end of Year 7 in 1990, we were given our list of subjects to choose for Year 8 and on that list was Drama. I thought to myself, ‘I can do make-believe as a subject?’ I decided then and there that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Andrew: Can you tell me a bit about your new show, ‘The Science of Doctor Who’. How it was conceived, the process of creating it and your role in the show?
Rob: In The Science of Doctor Who I host the show with three scientists. I introduce scientific theories explored in the TV show Doctor Who and the scientists explain whether they are possible or not.
It’s also hugely interactive, audiences are encouraged to bring their mobile phones and tablets and answer certain questions that are placed on the huge screen.
It all came about when RiAus, a science-communication based organization that I had previously worked with approached me to co-write and devise this show.
Andrew: Have you ever done a Doctor Who themed show before? Can you tell the readers a bit about that show if you have? (wink wink )
Rob: I have done another ‘Who-based’ show. It’s a one-man, comedy show called WHO, ME.
That show deals with my obsession with Doctor Who and I put the show on trial to see whether it is innocent or guilty of ruining my life.
I’ve toured it all around Australia, New Zealand, and Edinburgh…hopefully to the US later this year.
Andrew: How long have you been a Doctor Who fan and how did you become a fan?
Rob: I got into Doctor Who quite late, when I was 17 at my first year of university…oh yeah…I know how to party.
My closest friend at the time was dealing with a messy break-up and needed some distracting. So I got him to tell me about his favourite TV show Doctor Who.
After that five hour conversation I knew everything about Doctor Who and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Andrew: Can you tell the readers the details of your show? Dates, where to get tickets, plans to tour outside Australia and the like!
Rob: The Science of Doctor Who is currently on its national tour.
We kicked everything off in Perth last weekend (April 26th) next we’re off to Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide then finally Melbourne.
We’d love to tour it further, to other capitals in Australia, maybe even New Zealand or further…it just depends on the reaction to this initial tour.
This is the first in a series of articles looking at the seasons most devastated by missing episodes.
Most Doctor Who fans know about the missing episodes, I would hope. 97 episodes are missing from the archives of Doctor Who, spaced out over the first 6 years when the show was shot on black and white video tape and then transferred to 16mm film for overseas sale. October saw the announcement of 9 of the then 106 missing episodes returned in the form of four episodes from ‘The Web of Fear’ and five episodes from ‘The Enemy of the World’, both classic season five stories.
When we look at what years are most represented, we can see that season one is missing 9 episodes, season two 2 episodes and season six 7 episodes. This means that 79 episodes come from seasons 3-5, and those are the seasons these articles are going to be about. Why? Because I think they come from a really interesting time in Who history, and frankly not so much is known about them. Less episodes means less DVD releases, which in turn means less interviews and knowledge about this crucial time in Doctor Who history.
Over these three years we see firstly the first and second changes in producership, the first change in lead actor, the phasing out of historical adventures, two actors playing companions left out to dry (if not four), constant changing of the format and much more. It’s a fascinating time – perhaps the most interesting in the first 26 years. It’s a time I crave more and more knowledge of. No one wants the missing episode rumours to come true more than I do, but we are in a holding pattern right now, waiting for a possible second announcement of more finds, and it seems the perfect opportunity to examine the era and see what it is all about.
Today, I write about the third season of Doctor Who. Verity Lambert and Dennis Spooner left the show after ‘The Time Meddler’, a pseudo-historical and the first story which saw the Doctor with a different team than the show had started with – Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) and Steven Taylor (Peter Purves). I for one liked Vicki, I felt her character was much better for the show than Susan who had, in my opinion, cried and screamed her way through most of her episodes. Vicki had more of a spark, was more mischievous and didn’t scream nearly as much. Steven Taylor presented immediately as a strong and physical male companion.
John Wiles and Donald Tosh were the incoming producer and script editor respectively. They came in with some stories already commissioned and planned – principally ‘Galaxy Four’ and ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’, and considering the size of the second story, they would have to wait a long time before they could really start to shape the show with their own ideas.
One thing is clear – they were not fans of the longer stories. If you see the illuminating interview on ‘The Gunfighters’ DVD, Tosh clearly considered ‘The Daleks Masterplan’ was a hindrance to them moving the series in the direction they wanted to.
Not to mention they had a lot of issues just getting Nation’s scripts in for the first six episodes, which he delivered very late before he was flying off to the States. ‘Galaxy Four’ didn’t thrill them that much either, a story that Peter Purves’ considers one of his least favourite.
Thought completely lost bar a six minute clip from episode one, an episode was returned (Episode 3: ‘Airlock’) late in 2011. In fact it was a surprisingly interesting episode. There’s a great sense of play with the Chumblies, and Maureen O’Brien gives a particularly good performance. The reconstruction produced by Loose Canon is an amazing job considering there were no telesnaps from this story, but it felt a very slow, uneventful tale. The new reconstruction on ‘The Aztecs’ DVD, albeit a cut-down one, moves a lot faster thanks to the returned episode.
Then there was ‘Mission to the Unknown’, there are at least two animated versions out there on Youtube today, but we have no telesnaps nor existing footage from this one-episode Doctor-less story. Again an idea struck on by Verity Lambert before she vacated the producer’s chair, this was almost a 25-minute trailer for ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’. It was a good way to give William Hartnell a break too, instead of having the Doctor disappear mid-story for an episode. Once we hit the following story, Wiles and Tosh are starting to have an influence on what we see.
Donald Cotton wrote two wonderful season 3 scripts in my opinion, both with a healthy dose of comedy and the tongue in cheek, and with fairly brutal endings. The first was ‘The Myth Makers’. Who better to come up of the idea of the Trojan Horse than the Doctor? There’s a lot of wit in this script, some great by-play between the Doctor and Odysseus, and a very bloody ending. Somewhere in the midst of everything, Vicki falls in love and decides to stay in ancient Troy.
The first departure of the era, and Maureen O’Brien was written out without her knowing it or indeed wanting it, which did not endear Tosh or Wiles to the lead actor in William Hartnell at all. In fact, watching the reconstruction, Vicki’s decision to stay in Troy could probably have been handled a lot better on screen too, let alone off screen where she basically found out by reading the script.
Unfortunately all we have are a few publicity photos and some 8mm off air footage shot by a guy aiming his camera at his TV screen. I’ve often felt this was a bit of a ‘forgotten’ tale, it’s not one many fans talk about. I think if it were to turn up, however, people would find this to be a pretty cracking and enjoyable tale. It also has a couple of the best individual episode titles of all. ‘Horse of Destruction’ is rather good, but it is certainly trumped with ‘Small Prophet, Quick Return’.
What followed Vicki’s departure was a complete debacle. Adrienne Hill was cast as Katarina, a hand-maiden in Troy it appears hastily written into episode four, ‘The Horse of Destruction’, to be the new companion. I haven’t the foggiest idea why. She lasts five episodes including her first and becomes the first Doctor Who companion to die in the show, as she opens an airlock when being mauled by a desperate criminal in Episode Four of ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ – ‘The Traitors’.
Tosh says that they quickly realised she wouldn’t have worked as a companion because she came from too far back in human history and the Doctor would have had to explain everything to her. I’m not sure exactly how quickly they realised, but they sure killed her off pretty quickly and I wonder if she was originally planned to (and written into) subsequent episodes of the story and then taken out by Donald Tosh. Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh) acts as a sort of companion for the remainder of the story, but is such a stark contrast to Katarina it seems impossible that it was the same part with a bit of tweaking.
These sort of changes indicate exactly how close to transmission decisions were made and script received. Wiles and Tosh now found themselves embroiled in the 12 part behemoth they never wanted, and they also realise that episode 7 is going to fall on Christmas Day. ‘The Feast of Steven’ was written by Nation (strangely episode 6 was written by Dennis Spooner, who would go on to complete the serial) and features a decidedly comic turn as the plot is sidelined for a week so that those who miss the Christmas episode wouldn’t have a problem following the storyline.
Just like ‘The Feast of Steven’ broke the ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ into two parts, it does the same with my discussion of season 3. That’s where we will pick up next time.
Last year, around the anniversary, I read an article in which someone on the net ranked every single Doctor Who story ever televised. I don’t remember that much other than it was very Nu-Who centric (8 of the top 10 I think) and, more shockingly to this ‘old school fan’, MY all time favourite story was ranked a lowly SIXTY-SECOND. That would be The Talons of Weng Chiang.
The two criticisms of the story that I remember were, firstly that the main villain didn’t do much until part five. To me that was an odd criticism, odd that it WAS a criticism. Did they hate the original Star Wars trilogy because they had to wait until Return of the Jedi to see the Emperor? Secondly that the story was racist, principally because of the way it portrayed Chinese people and that they had a British actor playing Li Sen Chang.
Ok, yes I am going to dive in here. It may not be wise, but I am going to have a crack at defending these issues, because for me Talons is the epitome of a brilliant Doctor Who story. It’s wonderful on so many counts, and I will not be changing my opinion of this story any time soon.
Firstly, it’s an historical piece. We see the attitude towards Chinese people in London in the Victorian era. It would be inaccurate to portray English and Chinese as best buddies at the time. It just wasn’t so. Is there an issue then that the Chinese characters in the story – Chang and his henchmen, are the antagonists? In the context of one story, certainly not. If it was a trend throughout the history of Doctor Who, then certainly. In fact the real criticism should lie in the fact that throughout the first 26 years of the show, it was very European-centric. It certainly was.
The issue then with the casting of John Bennet as Chang.
David Maloney had to find someone capable of taking on the part, and it was undoubtedly the most important casting decision for the serial. Perhaps people on the other side of the Atlanic image that each part was cast after a director saw dozens of people, but the truth is that BBC television in the 1970s was produced with a very fast turnaround. A lot of lead roles in the shows were cast by the director calling on someone he had worked with before and knew could do the role, as was the case here.
Take a look at Philip Martin’s ‘Gangsters’ television series from around the same era, and you will see that there were only a small number of Asian actors doing the rounds in Britain at the time, and many struggled to give convincing performances in English. The talent simply was not there, and if it was, the actors were not ‘known’.
Think of it another way. Look at The Enemy of the World, Episode One. Three Australian characters hunting Salamandar with the most appalling Australian accents imaginable. It’s not considered racist, but bad acting. Same can be said in The Gunfighters, and don’t start with American attempts at being British or Australian!
To be a character actor means to stretch your limits, and play parts that are not like you at all. People play Russian, Mexican, and so on. But when a race which looks slightly different to the actor playing it is concerned, THEN it’s a racist move in casting. I’m sure the actor didn’t see it that way. Bennet was stretching his talents to play what was a very difficult role. He had to master the showmanship of the character too don’t forget.
Imagine if a Japanese person was cast in that role. Is it suddenly more acceptable? Possibly it is, the guy playing Sulu in the latest Star Trek franchise is from Korea. Yet, to be fair I am still living in Japan and a lot of Japanese, Chinese and Korean people don’t get along. There’s a history revolving around war, mistreatment and many other things. People who have been living here for over 300 years, whose forefathers came from Korea or China, still have that stamped as their ethnicity on their birth certificates. I can imagine that to some, it would have been MORE offensive to cast a Japanese actor in the role, if one capable had been found.
And if they had gone out on a limb (and at the BBC in the 1970s it really would have been) and cast a Chinese actor to play Chang, and he hadn’t delivered a convincing performance, fans would criticise the casting and the actor FOREVER. Don’t forget the casting of Rick James as Cotton in The Mutants. Poor guy earned the tag as ‘the WORST actor’ in the show’s history. Personally I never thought he was bad until I heard it mentioned on the DVD.
In the Hartnell era, there are far worse examples of casting white people in other roles. Mavic Chen is one that people often remember. I had no idea he was supposed to be Chinese to be honest, I figured he possibly wasn’t human with the prosthetics and long fingernails.
But then there’s ‘The Crusade’, featuring a number of classically trained and extremely competent actors playing Arab roles. You know, I don’t have an issue with the casting, only with the ‘blacking up’. I don’t think it was necessary. For Chang, it was, and to be honest as a kid I had no idea the actor wasn’t Asian.
I think John Bennet gives a wonderful performance. An actor should be tested, pushed, and extended to her or his limits, and he was. Today, you surely could find a Chinese actor in Great Britain capable of taking on the role. You would have the chance to cast the net widely to find the best person for the job. It was not the situation back in the 70s.
For me, The Talons of Weng Chiang is the perfect blend of all things that make good Doctor Who. The Doctor-Leela relationship is explored best in this story, it mixes science fiction with history, the sets and location shooting are glorious, it blends comedy with horror, the costumes are brilliant and it includes the best double act in the shows’ history with Jago and Litefoot. And the casting is perfect. Deep Roy, Christopher Benjamin, Trevor Baxter and especially John Bennett.
Holmes. Hinchcliffe and Maloney have told a story about a man who is Chinese. At no point do they say he does what he does, acts the way he does (or his minions either) because they are Chinese. No sweeping generalisations are made about Chinese people.
All that happens is we get an absolutely wonderful story.
What do you think? Am I out of line here? and if so, why? Please comment!
This is an opinion piece from Andrew Boland and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of troughtonismydoctor.com