50 Years Of Doctor Who

Doctor Who: Shada Story No. 109

Written by Douglas Adams
Directed by Pennant Roberts

The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward), and K-9 arrive at St. Cedds college in Cambridge to help an old friend, the retired Time Lord, Professor Chronotis find an ancient Gallifreyan artefact.  Skagra, an insignificant intergalactic mad scientist, is also after the artefact, an item that could unlock the secrets of Shada, the lost prison planet of the Time Lords, and if he succeeds, it could mean certain doom for all of Lifekind!

This is the DVD release of the unfinished, unbroadcast fourth Doctor story that fell victim to the insanely powerful trade unions that basically ran the U.K. with an iron fist in the 1960's, 70's and 80's.  In those days the unions would strike at the drop of a hat, basically whenever they felt like it, and for very little rhyme or reason, and it was one of these strikes that killed Shada.

I first saw this story in all it’s reconstructed glory back in the early 1990's when it was released on VHS, and to be perfectly honest I remember very little of it, besides it taking place in a college, and Tom and Lalla punting down a canal.  The latter I probably only remember because of its inclusion in the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors.  So one might say I went in with “fresh eyes” so to speak, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.  I wish it had been completed so I could watch it in its entirety.  The location work is brilliant and the story is clever and quirky, everything you could want from a Douglas Adams Doctor Who tale.  The DVD version is basically the same as the VHS release, but with the benefit of digitally re-mastered picture and sound.
The Doctor, The Professor, and The Time Lady
Shada was the last Doctor Who story penned by the brilliant Douglas Adams, who was also serving as script editor at the time.  What can one say about the genius that brought us The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that hasn’t already been said?  I mean who else but Douglas Adams would have come up with the idea of an invisible spaceship landing in a park?!  A terrific gag that Leonard Nimoy would later steal when he made Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  What else can be said about Adams, except that he was a brilliant artist, taken from us far too early.

This three disc set includes a heap of extras including a making of doc, the 2003 BBCi/Big Finish animated web-cast version of Shada starring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, and Lalla Ward as Romana.  Also included is the 27min retrospective, Strike! Strike! Strike! that brilliantly encapsulates the nearly constant battle the programme was fighting with the uber powerful labour unions.  For anyone who doesn’t understand the damage that out of control labour unions can inflict on an industry, this documentary alone is worth the price of the DVD.  Having said that, if unions hadn’t shut down the production in 1970, then Spearhead From Space wouldn’t have been shot completely on film, on location, and wouldn’t look nearly as wonderfully cinematic as it does.  Additionally, the DVD set contains the 1993 anniversary documentary, More Than 30 Years in the Tardis, a lovely retrospective on the late Nicholas Courtney, the first part of an interview with the series’ first producer Verity Lambert, and much more.
More Than 30 Years in the Tardis

Why should you revisit this story?  Well for one thing, you may not have seen it before, it’s written by Douglas Adams, it has an awesome slate of extras, and did I mention Douglas Adams?  For these reasons, Shada, gets FOUR invisible space ships out of FIVE.


Lond Ho Adventures

May Long Part 5

Catelyn Elisabeth Tottenham sat in silence across from Paco in the dining booth of the Winnebago.  She slowly, deliberately removed her white smoking gloves, then crossed her arms across her chest.  She looked just about as annoyed as Paco had ever seen her, and that was saying something.  She wiped a tear from her eye.

Paco was annoyed by the silence, “What’s the fakking problem?”

Catelyn almost screamed at him, then collected herself.  Raising her voice would have been quite improper, “Hunter of course!  I came all the way out here on this trip to see him, and my friends for possibly the last time, and he has to ruin everything!”  She looked out the window, tears flowing freely down her face now, “Look at him!  He’s been sat there all afternoon listening to music and sulking!”

Paco looked out the window to where Hunter and Bill were sitting, then turned to Catelyn, “First, stop trying to use tears to bring me to your side,” Catelyn opened her mouth to protest, but Paco wasn’t finished, “My superpower in my immunity to fakking bullshit.”

Catelyn spoke up quickly, “I’m not crying, it’s just all the smoke.”

“You’re INSIDE!”

“Yes, well…” She fell silent again, and placed her hands on the formica table-top, locking her fingers together as if in prayer.

Paco continued, “Second, you’re the one who fakking told him you were getting married after you slept with him!”  He was curling his hands into fists over and over as he spoke, “How the fakk do you expect him to act?  You were the love of his fakking life!”  Paco wasn’t really angry, but he would be damned if he was going to let her turn this all around on Hunter, as if he had done something wrong.

Catelyn shook her head, golden twirls bouncing across her face, “So this is all my fault is it?  Are you taking the Mickey?”

Paco looked out the window again, distracted, it seemed to him like it was nearly the tenth time this weekend Hunter was playing Drawing Flies on the stereo, “No, but I am saying that you should share some of the blame.”

Kate flattened her hands out on the table and looked down at them, her fingers were showing some pale yellowing between the first and second knuckle.  She picked up the gloves.  “I wear these white gloves so I don’t get nicotine stains on my fingers, but just look at them… it doesn’t seem to help anymore.  No, I suppose you are right Wolfman.”

Paco Villa Lobos blinked.  It had been ages since anyone had addressed him by that particular nick-name.  “Nobody has called me ‘Wolfman” since high school, but of course I’m fakking right about this.”  He squirmed his way out of the booth and started fumbling through a box of cassette tapes.  Paco never kept anything in its original case, or in any kind of order alphabetical of otherwise, (a fact that drove Hunter bonkers every time he visited Paco!) so it was always a struggle to find anything he might have been looking for.  Paco up-ended the beat up cardboard box and dumped the tapes into the empty sink and began going through them feverously.

“Do you need a hand over there?”  Catelyn wanted to know.

“No, its fine I got it!”  Paco flipped the black cassette tape over in his hands, stepped to the side door and shoved it open, leaving Catelyn sitting at the table, slipping her smoking gloves back on.

“Oi!” she called after him, but he was already half way to the picnic table where Bill and Hunter were drinking beer and discussing tofu.  She heard Paco say something about Pixies being the greatest band in the world or something to that effect.  If anyone had asked her she certainly would have disagreed with that particular statement, as she had always been partial to bands like Squeeze, and Yazoo.

Paco was back in the RV, “Come on Cat, lets go eat a fakking hot dog!”

Catelyn stood up and thought it was funny that no matter how many times she corrected him, (“I prefer ‘Kate’ actually”) that it never seemed to sink in with Paco.  Or maybe he just wasn’t listening.  She stepped outside, just in time to see Sara stumble over to the bushes and throw up.  Oh shit, she thought, best go help her with her hair!

*                                                           *                                                           *

“You don’t mind, do you Hunter?”

The next morning Hunter was staring at a scantily clad Sara who lay beside him in the bunk above the Winnebago’s cockpit.

“Of course not.”  How could he?  He rolled over and felt Sara cuddle in closer, wiggling her ass into his morning wood.  She was asleep in minutes, as Hunter lay beside her, eyes wide, until eventually he too slipped off.

Sara awoke a few hours later and climbed out of the bunk.  She checked the clock in the tiny galley; it read 10:17am.  She then padded barefoot to the back of the Winnebago and grabbed her little suitcase.  Sara pulled off her black sports bra, shuffled out of her pyjama shorts, and stood naked for a moment, letting the cool air give her gooseflesh.  She giggled mischievously to herself, knowing full well that if Hunter was awake, that he might have been watching her, she looked over her shoulder only to see him still asleep, his back facing her.  She felt a pang of disappointment as she dug around to find her deodorant stick and quickly gave her underarms a roll, she could feel the prickliness of the hairs growing back after three days of not shaving, this got her even more excited about getting back to the city.  She fished out her green tartan mini-kilt, her last pair of clean panties, and an oversized, somewhat threadbare, faded black jumper that had been pulled on and off so many times that the neck hole had been stretched out to such a degree, that it often slipped over a shoulder.  She pulled the big sweater on over her naked torso, then pulled on the panties and kilt.

Hunter woke up as Sara was getting the last of the buckles fastened on her mini-kilt.

“Morning Hunter!”

“Hey sweets, how ya doing?”

“Awesome!  Ready to head home!”

Hunter nodded, this last day hadn’t come soon enough.  He pulled on his black jeans, and what he thought was the least smelly t-shirt from his army green rucksack.  He ran some deodorant under his arms and slid off the bunk.  He stepped into his boots, not bothering to lace them.  Sara was lacing up her ten hole Doc Martens when Hunter stepped out the door.

“Wait!”  Sara called out, “Hold the door!” 

Hunter paused as Sara exited the RV, he shoved the door closed and looked around the campsite.  To his amazement, practically everything was already packed up.  Bill and Kate were folding up the tent, and Paco was packing up the last of his gear up into a storage bay on the side of the Winnebago.

Paco looked up, “Hunter!  Get your shit together!  We’re leaving in an hour!”

Bill called out in his best Richard E. Grant impersonation, “An hour?  I need at least three hours for lunch!”

Paco stopped what he was doing and turned to Bill, “Lunch?  What lunch?  There’s no fakking lunch!”

“Hey man, relax I’m quoting Withnail & I ferchrissakes!  This whole weekend for me has been one big homage to my favourite film!”

Paco closed and locked the storage hatch, “I’ve never seen it.”

Bill couldn’t believe it.  He dropped his end of the tent and started to walk away.

This did not go down at all well with Catelyn, “Oi!  What are you playing at?”

Bill gave a dismissive wave of his hand, “Relax darlin’ it’ll get done.”

Catelyn threw down her end of the tent, red-faced with rage, “OI!  Listen here William, I’ve had just about enough of your snide, passive aggressive, comments this weekend!  You do NOT get to call me ‘darling’ right!  I have a name, and you will use it yeah?!”  She was right up in his space, eyes wide and angry, tears streaming down her cheeks.  Bill put his hands up as if in surrender, and took a step back, she looked totally demented, and he didn’t want any part of that.

“Oh, hey Kate, I’m sorry, I…”

Catelyn took a look around and realized everybody was looking at her.  The trees felt like they were closing in and she could barely breathe.  She spotted Hunter standing by the RV.  All at once things were clear to her.  He was her touchstone, the reason she came out camping on this long, nearly endless weekend of uncomfortable wretchedness.  She wiped the tears from her face and straightened up.  She pulled the front of her jacket down and shook the hair from her eyes, then went straight for Hunter, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him from the campsite and down toward the gravely road.

Paco watched them go and walked over to Bill, “What the fakk was that all about?”

“None of my damn business,”  Bill said, “so, what everything I’ve been doing and saying to be funny this weekend was completely lost in you?”

“It would seem so.”

“Awesome,” Bill said, not meaning it.

“Ah, whadareyagonnado?”

Hunter tried to pull his arm free, but found Catelyn must have had some kind of serious kung-fu grip on him or something.

“Hey!  What’s goin’ on?”

“Just walk with me for a moment.”

“Sure, but could you,” she let go of his arm, “thanks.”

Instead she took hold of his hand and started running, pulling him along with her.  Hunter remembered a high school dance that seemed a century ago, sipping smuggled-in Southern Comfort, and running down the hallways, through the trenches of paint chipped lockers, always just one step ahead of the chaperoning teachers.  Back then he was in the lead, pulling Kate along, and the only thing in front of them was the future burning in the distance like the western sun disappearing behind the Rocky Mountains, turning everything golden.  Now it was the future, it was 1993, and they were still running, the western sky was grey with clouds, and tiny puffs of dust and gravel burst into the air with every step.

Catelyn eventually slowed down as they reached a small green space in the middle of the campground.  In the centre of it all, a roofed, half-walled cooking shack stood on a concrete slab.  A huge, beat up cast iron, Buddha belly stove sat dominating it’s interior.  A circle of picnic tables surrounded it, and around back was a children’s playground, complete with slide, see-saw, monkey-bars, merry-go-round, and a huge “A” frame swing set with well worn wooden platforms attached to thick, heavy chains.  Kate stopped at the swings and sat on the dried out wooden seat, it’s paint long since worn away smooth by decades of butts both young and old, sitting, swinging, and sliding on and off.  She wrapped her white gloved fingers around the heavy chains and looked up at the steely grey clouds thickening in the gloom-bruised sky.

Hunter took the swing beside her and sat down hard, catching his breath.  They sat in silence for a few minutes, Hunter staring down ant the dusty, compacted earth beneath his feet.  He tried to imagine how many pairs of shoes had scraped the ground over the years.  It was a pointless exercise of course, the camping area had been around for thirty, possibly forty years, so it had be thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps millions.  How many kids had broken arms, sprained ankles, or ground gravel into the palms of their hands, or knees jumping from these very swings?  He had no idea, what mattered was the present, the moment Catelyn and he were sharing that exact yoctosecond.  Hunter looked up as finally she spoke.

“It’s funny but It just occurred to me that this could be the last conversation we ever have.”

“What’s funny about that?”  Hunter asked.

“Not humorous, just… I don’t know, strange lets say.” 

“Okay, whats the deal?  Why did you insist on coming out here with us?”

“I didn’t insist I just asked.  Nicely.  And Paco said I could.  Anyway, it has been a few years since I last saw you, not counting that time downtown at the mall, when you tried to hide from me, maybe four years is it?”

Hunter’s eyes glazed over, he remembered all right… coming home from school for Christmas break, showing up at the front door of Kate’s parents house, her elderly father answering the door…

“Can I help you young man?”

“I’m here to see Kate,” he walked past the old man, uninvited, then down the steps towards her basement bedroom.

“Catelyn is entertaining a guest right now, perhaps you could return at a later date?”

Hunter was already at the bottom of the stairs and right outside Kate’s bedroom door, he knocked once and walked in.

“Hey Ka-“ The greeting caught in his throat, in front of him, across the room on the bed, Kate is naked on her hands and knees getting a right royal rogering by some tan ,blond,  super buff, shaved-chested, surfer dude.

“Hunter!  Uh, it’s no, uh, what it appears?  Uh!  Perhaps?”

The surfer dude smiles and continues pumping away, he says in an Australian accent, “Actually, it is what it looks like there mate!”

Hunter chuckled a little at the memory, “What was his name again?  Chad? Chas?”

“Trevor,” Catelyn said, face flushing with embarrassment of the memory, “Yes that was all a bit awkward wasn’t it?”

“I can laugh about it now,” Hunter said, “Okay so why this old Arab guy?  Why are you getting married so quickly?”

“Omar and I have been together for almost a year, so it’s hardly fast!  And honestly did you really believe I came out on this trip just to get back with you?  After all these years?”

The clouds above were looking ominous, Hunter thought they might be in the path of another May snowstorm.  “Fine, but why this guy?  And why not me?  What’s wrong with me anyway?  I’m intelligent, I’m good looking, I got a fuck site more talent than half the writers that get published today…”

Catelyn began swinging, throwing her legs forward and pumping them back, pulling with her arms, then just as quickly she stopped, planter her feet in the hard packed dirt and skidding to a halt, “You’re an artist Hunter, and no I’m not taking the Mickey either.  You know I’ve read your work and always enjoyed it, but I’ve just never had the temperament to be with an artist.  Your highs are so very high and your lows, so bloody rock bottom… I’m a person that needs stability in my life.”

Hunter was nodding, “Ah, of course now I get it, a rich old guy!  It totally makes sense.”

“Don’t say it like that, you’re making it sound so lurid!  He’s forty-one he’s not ‘old’ for god sakes!” 

“And you’re twenty-two!”

The conversation was not going the way she had hoped, she had to take control of it, make him see her side of things.  “Besides it’s not about the money he makes, it’s about security, and stability.  Omar’s a lovely man and I hope you can meet him some day.”

Hunter was gobsmacked, “What?  Yeah that would be awesome wouldn’t it!  Are you sure you’re not taking the Mickey?”

“I’m being honest with you Joseph, I came out here this weekend because I really want you to be happy for me, and for us to hopefully be friends again.”  She was facing him, hopeful eyes wide, but rimmed with red from the earlier tears.

Hunter sighed, it was over and there was very little left to say, “No.  I can’t be your friend Kate, not anymore and to be honest I’m having a very hard time trying to be happy for you right now, but maybe I’ll get there, eventually.  Or maybe not at all.  Time will tell, it always does.”

Snowflakes began to fall from the dark grey sky, big, fat, fluffy, heavy, wet snowflakes of the kind that always fall in the mountains just when you think spring has finally arrived.

Hunter chuckled, then spoke without thinking, “This reminds me of Macross episode 35 when Minmay is sitting on the swings as the snow is falling, thinking about the man she wants to be with for the rest of her life.”

Kate looked at him, and shook her head.  “Just for once all I wanted was an honest, adult conversation with you and all you can think about are cartoons?  And you wonder why we can’t be together.”  She regretted it the second it came out of her mouth, but by then it was too late, the damage had been done.

Hunter pushed himself off the wooden swing bench and stepped away, heading back towards the campsite.  Clearly, this time there was nothing more to be said.

Kate looked away from him, down at her legs, a cold wind blew in from the north ruffling her heavy, grey, winter school skirt.  The heavy snowflakes began falling with greater urgency as she gripped the chains a little tighter, an little harder, dreading the ride back to the city, wondering if she would come out of this ill fated expedition with any friendships intact at all.  She stared out towards the mountaintops in silent contemplation as the cool wind gave her legs the gooseflesh.  This was it.  She had made her choice and was satisfied with it, even if it meant she would never see Hunter, Bill, or Paco again.  She stood up from the swing, the song Return by Siouxsie and the Banshees suddenly popped into her head.  She must have heard it at some point on Hunter’s stereo this weekend.  She walked back through the blowing snow, back to the gravely road, and followed Hunter back to the campsite.

Hunter dumped the last of the water from the beer cooler on to the fire pit causing a massive gout of steam, smoke and ash to erupt, Mt. St. Helens style from the pit.  He closed his eyes and turned his head as the brunt of it blew past his face.  He stirred the ash with a long, thick pointed branch, and seemed not to notice when he drew a face with X’s for eyes in the sodden ash. 

A half hour later they were on the highway headed back to Calgary.  Bill was passed out in the back, and his snoring could be heard even over the road noise.  He had been asleep ten minutes in, and would a few weeks later comment to Hunter that it was the best sleep he had all weekend.  Catelyn and Sara sat in the booth playing noughts and crosses on a yellow legal pad, while Hunter rode shotgun up front.  As the outskirts of the city hove into view, the sun finally cracked through the dense meringue of grey clouds revealing a bright azure sky.

“…so the idea came to me in a dream, and its about this kid, he’s an orphan see, and one day when he’s like twelve or something, he gets an invite to this special school in the Rocky Mountains or something, and get this, it turns out it’s a magic school for wizards and witches, and the orphan kid, maybe he’s called James or something, ends up getting in all sorts of adventure through Jr. and Sr. high school.

Paco shook his head and looked doubtful, “And this is what?  A kids book?”

Hunter nodded, “Yeah, at first, but I’m not gonna write down to them, it’ll be just like my regular stuff, only without all the sex and swearing.  The fantastical subject matter will be for kids yeah, so what do you think?”

Paco stared straight ahead at the road, “It’s a fakking terrible idea.”

Hunter was shocked, he thought it was a great idea, with huge potential, “Really?  Why don’t you like it?”

“Ah, kids books don’t sell!  You gotta be true to yourself!  Keep writing what you know!”

Hunter nodded, “Yeah, you’re right.  Wizard school in the mountains!  As if anyone would want to read about that!”

*                                                           *                                                           *

Bill Williams and Joe Cornelius Hunter sat on their respective ends of the dusty, beige patio sofa gazing out across the spring skyline.  Bill was in the corner, jammed as deep as he could get himself into the gritty cushions, the farthest he could get from the wrought iron railing, thus in his mind just about safe from accidentally toppling over the edge to his doom.  Hunter never suffered such fears, and would sometimes even sit up on the railing just to torment Bill.

Hunter took a puff from his chocolate aroma Phillies Blunt Cigar, “So do you think with all the extra weight from the cooler and the beer that the structural integrity of the balcony could be in some way compromised?”

Bill blanched, “Do.  Not.  Even.  Joke about that.”  He finished his beer and pulled another from the cooler in front of them, being careful not to slam the lid closed.

Hunter grabbed another beer and slammed the lid shut just to see Bill’s reaction: a twitch, closed eyes, a deep breath, and a scowl in Hunter’s direction.  He smiled, scratching at the mosquito bites on his arms, “Well, that was a dreadful weekend in the country!”

Bill lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, “Without a doubt, but at least we have plenty of leftover beer.”

“Nice,” Hunter nodded, “you always see the good in the bad, I like that.”  He raised his can to Bill, who did the same.

“So,” said Bill after a swig, “what have we learned?”

“Never trust a British chick?”  Hunter answered too quickly, “Why did I think it was a good idea to try to get back with her?”

Bill exhaled cigarette smoke towards the sky, “Because you never learn?”

“Because I never learn, yes.”

“You can’t go home again Hunter, but you can hang out there for the weekend and get your end in.”

Hunter took a long thoughtful draught from his beer, “But at what price my friend, at what price?”

Bill took a final drag from his smoke and crushed it out in the glass Pied Pickle ashtray the boys had liberated on a previous misadventure, “Well, live and learn my friend… at least we lived!”

“There’s that charming optimism again!  Yes, at least we lived… but you know with all the mosquito bite I took I think I might have malaria!”

“You should be so lucky!”

High up on the rooftop of a building across the street from London House Flats, something invisible watched.  A shimmer, that would have appeared to Bill and Hunter as nothing more than a heat mirage, flickered, flashed, then disappeared…

Next Time!  An All New Lond Ho One Shot: An Evening At The ‘Corn! 



50 Years Of Doctor Who

Doctor Who: The Ark In Space Special Edition Story #76

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Rodney Bennett

The Ark In Space is another recent release from the Classic Doctor Who series DVD range.   The slow burn, sci-fi/horror tale by the late, great Robert Holmes finds The Doctor, (Tom Baker), Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen), and Harry (Ian Marter) arriving on Space Station Nerva several thousands of years in the future.  While The Doctor and Harry explore the seemingly deserted station, Sarah is taken away by forces unknown and placed in suspended animation.  As Harry desperately searches for a resuscitation unit for Sarah, he instead stumbles upon the horrifying remains of a giant, mummified, alien insect.

I first discovered Doctor Who back in 1983 or so when the local PBS station began broadcasting the programme daily at 18:30, with a feature length “omnibus” edition on Saturday night.  I can’t say if this story scared me, but it certainly left an impression.  I recall an underlying feeling of dread creeping into my guts as the story unfolded, and I felt genuinely concerned for the characters as the true horror of their predicament became clear.

Kudos to Robert Holmes for crafting a truly terrifying tale that is essentially Ridley Scott’s Alien on a miserly BBC Television budget, a good four years before Alien would hit the big screen.  Holmes is distinguished by being not only one of the best over all writers of the Classic Who era, but also the most prolific, having written a total of sixty-four episodes of the programme, including fan favourites, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and The Caves of Androzani.  Two stories that are so good, they almost make one forget his first commission for the series was The Krotons! 
This is peculiar...


This story also represents a departure for the show, as it leaves behind the Earth-centric U.N.I.T stories of the Jon Pertwee years, and introduces darker, horror elements into the series that would become something of a staple of the Classic programme, and continue to be used in New Series episodes like Blink, and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. 

Once again the video quality is amazing for a programme first broadcast over thirty-five years ago, thanks to the hard work of the Doctor Who Restoration Team.  The audio is the original mono, completely digitally re-mastered by Mark Ayres to remove all hiss, pops, and audio drop-outs, leaving dialogue crisp, and sound effects and music clear.

Extras include an audio commentary recorded for the original 2002 DVD release with Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe, a 30min “Making Of” doc, optional CGI effects, the 70min “TV Movie” version, and much more.

Fancy Schmancy CGI

Why should you revisit this story?  Come on!  It’s basically a less expensive, brighter lit version of Alien, before Alien WAS Alien, only without all the blood and swear words!  And it’s written by one of the best writers in the history of Doctor Who: Robert Holmes!  Rent it, borrow it, or buy it, but definitely watch it when you have a chance.

Doctor Who: The Ark In Space Special Edition gets FOUR mummified space wasps out of FIVE.

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