50 Years of Doctor Who

June is Sixth Doctor month and I had wanted to do a review of Story No.141 The Two Doctors, but this title has been pulled from stores and discontinued because of a featurette that contains a few seconds of Jimmy Saville footage.  That said, lets get on with this months Sixth Doctor DVD review of…

Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos Special Edition Story No.139
Written by Philip Martin
Directed by Ron Jones

The Doctor (Colin Baker), and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arrive on the planet Varos  in order to acquire the rare mineral, Zeiton-7 needed to repair the TARDIS.  Varos, a dangerous world where the government controls it’s citizens through extreme reality TV, and direct democracy can prove deadly for politicians.  Soon the Doctor and Peri are captured and accused of being alien infiltrators, and must fight for their lives in the Punishment Zone, while at the same time trying to save the starving citizenry from the machinations of the repugnant, reptile-slug Sil, played with a gleeful, villainous abandon by Nabil Shaban.

Full of action, violence, and a concept that is really ahead of it’s time (reality TV as we know it today didn’t exist back in 1985), I find Vengeance to be possibly the strongest story of Colin Baker’s tenure in Doctor Who.  Its nice to see a story that works on more than one level, on one hand a violent, horrifying story with a wickedly amoral alien monster stirring the pot, and on the other a thought provoking, and intelligent story about TV violence and the public’s desensitization to it, and the role of government in society.  The performances by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are excellent as usual, with only the occasional exception being Nicola’s dodgy American accent, but that never really bothered me as much as it does other fanboys.  The story also features the first television appearance of Jason Connery (son of Sean Connery), and the first appearance of Nabil Shaban as fan favourite villain Sil who would later return to the programme in Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp.  It’s a shame we didn’t get to see a lot more of his character in the programmes remaining four years. I quite enjoyed Vengeance on Varos, and if you choose to revisit the story, you will not be disappointed, its certainly my favourite Sixth Doctor story by a wide margin.  It’s not that his other stories are bad, (with the possible exception of Timelash) they are for the most part actually quite decent, but Vengeance is the one that tends to stick out in my mind when I think of Colin’s Doctor.  Indeed, so-called “reality” shows of today should take a hint from Vengeance, I mean imagine how watchable Big Brother could be if at the end of the week the viewing audience got to torture and kill the losing houseguest!  Yeah, you’re right… it still wouldn’t be worth watching. 

A Rainbow of Fruit Flavours!
Okay, now lets address the 600lb gorilla in the room: Colin Baker’s costume during his tenure is bloody awful, the poorest, of poor taste, its quite horrid really.  Colin himself even mentions his distaste for the outfit in the audio commentary.  The character of The Doctor is so over the top as it is, the costume doesn’t need to be as well.  My theory about the multi coloured/patterned costume has to do with show-runner John Nathan-Turner, who had a terrible dress sense and a particular affinity for Hawaiian shirts, and I think he wanted to force his own personal, hideous sense of “style” on the world, but who knows?  Having said that, The Colin Baker Years tend to get a bad rap generally from fans on the online forums, some of whom actually believe his tenure to be the weakest of the series as a whole, but I disagree.  I generally enjoyed his work as the Sixth Doctor, and think he never got the chance to shine, and this is the fault not of Colin, or the writers, but one man only: BBC executive Michael Grade.  It was Grade who at the end of season 22, when stories for season 23 had been commissioned, and some of them actually completed, decided to put the kybosh on the next series of stories, cancel the programme, then take off on vacation to avoid the inevitable fallout the announcement produced.  After returning from his holiday and finding thousands of letters from fans demanding the show’s return, Grade, ever the politician, back-peddled and said the programme was only to be “rested” for 18 months, and would in fact be returning.  Albeit with a considerably smaller budget, and the fewest number of episodes in the history of the programme.

The DVD itself has a massive selection of fantastically re-mastered audio tracks which include the original mono, a new 5.1 Dolby Digital track, an mono “studio” track, and two isolated score options in mono and 5.1 for those that like listening to just the music while watching a video.  The video quality is quite decent as well with the exception of a few soft scenes that tend toward the fuzzy side, but who knows if this was a mistake, or part the original intention of the Director and his DP.

Extra features include an amusing Audio Commentary featuring Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Nabil Shaban, Nice of Nasty? a 29min Making Of documentary, 17mins of Deleted and Extended Scenes, another instalment of the doc series Tomorrow’s Times, the regular trails and continuities, PDF materials, and much, much more.

Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos Special Edition gets FOUR horrifying reality shows out of FIVE.


Lond Ho Adventures

Hey fellow travellers on spaceship Earth!  It's been a crazy couple of days with the massive floods here in Calgary, but the show must go on right? To all of those displaced by the emergency, stay safe, my thoughts are with you.  And to all who might want a laugh, here it is, the first of a new three part Lond Ho Adventure...

With Great Anarchy… Part 1

The plastic, day-glow, orange dart blazed well past the shiny, red and black rubber Satan doll that hung above the TV, bounced off the ceiling and fell behind the cheap, IKEA entertainment stand, lost forever.

Joe Cornelius Hunter, Bill Williams, and Paco Villa Lobos had been playing Shoot the Rubber Satan® game for the last hour, trying not to move around too much in the heat.  It had only just struck 12:00 noon but the temperature was already close to 90F outside.  The cheap fan Bill had brought home from work wasn’t doing much beyond moving the warm air around the room.  All the windows, interior doors, and patio doors were wide open in case a breeze decided to blow through, not that it had, but there was always a chance.  Paco suggested they head over to TD Square, or Banker’s Hall and wander the malls, because at least they were air-conditioned.  This suggestion was greeted with derision from Bill, and indifference from Hunter.  Bill suggested they head down to the Unicorn Pub instead if the point was to get out of the heat, at least then they could get their drink on.

Paco shook his head, “Always the fakking Unicorn with youse guys!”

The red devil turned gently in the air currents of the room, its smirking face seeming to mock Bill, Hunter, and Paco as they sat in the almost sweltering heat of Flat 1401 of London House.  Of course none of the inhabitants of the apartment building actually called it London House, partially because half the letters of the main sign were burned out, but mostly because they just liked calling it Lond Ho.

Bill tossed the blue, plastic Uzi shaped dart gun over to Hunter who caught it and reloaded it from a pile of darts sitting on the arm of the Big Chair.  He pulled back the black know to cock the spring, aimed carefully at the red rubber Satan, squeezed the trigger, and with a SNAP! the toy blew apart in his hand.


Paco chuckled and Bill just glared with incredulity, a smile slowly creeping over his face.  The oscillating fan blew a slightly less warm puff of air into Hunter’s face, blowing the scruffy blond hair from his eyes.  He opened his hand and let the broken pieces fall on to the cardboard box they used as a coffee table, and his eyes fell upon the smashed pane of glass in the window above he fan.  Bill followed his gaze while Paco lit up a cigarette.

“What the fuck is wrong with me?”  Hunter said to no one in particular, as he slumped back into the Big Chair.

“You need an itemized list?”  Bill said, “That whole Bella fiasco was certainly…” he looked up, searching for the word.

“Disruptive?”  Paco suggested, blowing smoke out the open patio slider.

Bill shrugged, “I was going to say totally fucked up beyond words, but ‘disruptive’ works too.”

“Jonny told me she was trouble, but I didn’t listen to him.  I thought I could take care of her… fix her maybe.”

Paco blew out a lung full of smoke, “Some toys are too broken to fix.”

A fortnight back, while Bill and Hunter were at a weekend Punk Rock festival in High River, an angry, crazy Bella used her spare keys to enter Flat 1401, where she proceeded to completely trash the place.  She broke the old IKEA coffee table, snapped one of the doors off of the entertainment stand, broke dishes and drinking glasses, tossed everything on to the floor, knocked over the video shelf, then wrote various obscenities in black Jiffy Marker all over the boys respective mattresses, then threw the keys through the window.  She was probably trying to send them though both panes, but only managed to break one.  Hunter mentioned at the time he was happy he didn’t have to head down to the mezzanine roof to find the keys.

Paco stubbed out his cigarette and stepped back inside, where he abruptly, and without warning, spat on the carpet.

Bill went from zero to apoplectic in a yoctosecond, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!”

Paco fell lazily backward onto the chesterfield, “Ah, whadareyagonnado!”

Bill was standing now, “Well you’re not gonna SPIT on the carpet!”

Paco brought his size 11 down over the gob of bubbly saliva, rubbing into the carpet with his paint spattered, steel toed boot.  Hunter didn’t understand why Paco didn’t just spit outside on the patio, or over the railing for that matter.

Bill shook his head and looked into the mocking eyes of the rubber Satan and sighed.

“I think an afternoon at the ‘corn.”

The Unicorn Pub sat in the basement of an old, sandstone heritage building called The Lancaster.  It was the oldest Irish style pub in Calgary and both Bill and Hunter had been haunting it’s dark corners since they were seventeen.  The staff was friendly, the atmosphere pleasantly moody, and the beer, while not as dirt cheap as The Warehouse, was certainly of a higher quality, and was in no way what one would call expensive.  Throw in the occasional drink special, and happy hour prices and it made for a rather pleasant, and inexpensive afternoon.

The boys got themselves stuck in at a booth in the corner along the hall that led to the rest rooms.  Paco and Bill were both on their second Molson Canadians, and Hunter was working on his second One Horn Ale, and each had an extra half-pint glass for the jug of water that sat in the centre of the small, round table.

“I don’t know how you can drink that dark beer Hunter,” Bill shook his head, stubbing out his DuMaurier King Size.

“Sweet.  Fucking.  Jesus.  Unlike the two of you uncultured Philistine oafs, I prefer my beer with a little more character than a plain, boring, watery lager.”  Hunter took a sip of his ale.

“Says the guy who drinks fakking Molson trip-ex!  Gimmie a fakking break!”  Paco chuckled.

Hunter turned to Paco, “Listen, when I buy beer for home, I’m buying it to get pissed up.  Taste doesn’t enter into it.  Maximum alcohol content for minimum price is the goal.  When I’m down the pub with friends, relaxing I prefer a beer with flavour, and character, and this brown ale has both of these.

Bill lit up another cigarette, “Well, that’s us told.  Oh shit Hunter I almost forgot, I have something here for you.”  He reached into his black rucksack and rummaged around for a few seconds before pulling something out that he kept hidden under the table for the moment.

 “What you got under there?”  Hunter tried so see what he was hiding.

Bill spoke, “Remember when you were telling me about the new 5” Star Trek men?”

“Yeah.”  It was only a week previous, so even Hunter would have trouble forgetting that conversation.  He had been lamenting the fact that a small company called Playmates was doing a big Star Trek line now, when the last time he had seen a Star Wars figure in stores was 1985.

“Well here ya go,” Bill brought his had up and placed something on the table in front of Hunter, whose eyes went wide.

“Ah, no way!  Lt. Worf!  In Season Three uniform!  This is totally awesome!”  Hunter snatched up the figure from the table and immediately began working the limbs and twisting the head and waist.

Bill smiled, “I also got all the rest of his accessories in my back pack, including communicator stand, Klingon Knife, and firing phaser, in case you were wondering.”

“Cool, thanks man!”  Hunter looked happier than Bill had seen him look in a very long time, and all because of a little plastic spaceman.

“Lemmie see that,” Paco said, holding out his hand.

Hunter looked wary, but relented handing over the figure and taking a long draught from his pint, draining it down to half a glass.

Paco moved the figure’s arms and legs and twisted the head around, “Ah!  Beam me up Scotty!  We got a problem!  Ahh!  Pew! Pew!

Hunter was fretful and clearly uncomfortable with the way Paco was playing with Mr. Worf.

After a few seconds he could take no more, “Look, firstly Star Trek TNG phasers don’t go ‘pew! pew!’ It’s more of a faashew!  Not to mention, Scotty is from the Original Series, not Next Generation.”

This stopped Paco dead.  “You saying I can’t play how I want to?”

Hunter shook his head, “No, of course not, I’m just saying you’re playing wrong.”

Paco looked down at Mr. Worf, then back at Hunter, “Only one thing for it then.”  He made to hand the figure back to Hunter, then at the last second, dropped it into his pint glass.

“Ah, nice.  Very mature,”  Hunter said, fishing Mr. Worf from his pint glass.

“Says the guy who still plays with dolls,” Paco retorted.

“Yeah, yeah, slide over, I’m going for a slash.”

Bill caught the waitress’ eye and ordered another round for the table, as Hunter stalked down the short hallway to the Gents.  The waitress turned and headed back toward the bar and behind her, making a bee-line towards the booth was none other than Crazy Bella.

“Oh, shit,” grumbled Bill.

“This is unfortunate,” said Paco with a crooked smile.

“Hunter here?”  Bella snapped, stepping up to the table, hands jammed into the pockets of a voluminous black cardigan that was several sizes too big for her.

“No,” Bill said, “Haven’t seen him.”

“I think he’s at the Warehouse,” Paco offered in an attempt to quickly see the back of her.

Bella wasn’t buying it, “Whatever, I know all you assholes stick together.  What is he at the bar?”  She looked over, and not seeing Hunter there concluded he was in the washroom, “He’s taking a piss isn’t he?”  She turned and headed down the hall and stopped: Hunter was exiting the Gents.

As the door swung closed behind him, Hunter looked up, ah shit.  Best get it over with, he thought and headed back up the hall towards Crazy Bella.  

“What the fuck are you doing here?!  Why are you always following me?!”  Bella demanded, standing in front of Hunter, blocking his  way back to the booth.

“What do you mean what am I doing here?  This is my local!  You don’t even live around here!  And don’t flatter yourself honey, I’m certainly not following you.”  Hunter shot back.

“You’ve been telling people things about me!  Talking behind my back!  Turning everyone against me!  It won’t work you know!”  Her tiny hands were balled into tiny fists.

“Sweetheart, I don’t know what the fuck you’re on about, I’m not turning anyone against you.  You’re paranoid.  By the way, why did you break into our place and trash it?  Are you out of your mind?  What were you thinking!”

She flipped out, and started shouting, and swinging her fists at Hunter, “DON’T YOU FUCKING CALL ME FUCKING PARANOID YOU FAGGOT FUCK!”

At this point the shouting had caught the attention of Big Sally the Bartender, the wait staff, and a few of the other patrons.

Hunter caught her flailing arms, “It might be time for you to go.”

“Don’t you fucking touch me you fuck!”

Suddenly Paco was behind her with a pint glass full of water, Hunter could see what was coming, let go of Bella’s wrists and stepped back.

Paco spoke, “Cool off ad shudafakkup you crazy bitch!”  He poured the water over her head.

Bella stood there, staring unblinkingly at Hunter looking for all the world like a tiny, pathetic drowned rat, her eyes seething with anger and hate.  Hunter almost felt sorry for her as Big Sally the Bartender scooped her up under one arm and literally carried Bella kicking, and screaming from the pub.

Bill, Hunter and Paco, were halfway finished their third pints when Big Sally stopped at their booth.

“So, care to explain the tiny crazy bitch in my pub?”  Big Sally had been a bartender at the Unicorn for as long back as Hunter and Bill had been drinking there.  She was 6’2” and had the swashbuckling look of a lady pirate about her.  She laughed easily and took no end of pleasure in giving the boys the gears about everything from Hunter’s dress sense (or lack thereof) to Bill’s choice in beer (or as she called it, swill).  Was it any wonder why she was the boys favourite bartender? 

Hunter put down his pint glass, “She’s an ex, apart from that, I wouldn’t even begin to know how to start to explain what that was all about.”

Big Sally laughed a mighty pirate laugh, “Well, maybe you should try to pick your girlfriends with a little more care, or maybe even do a background check for family histories of mental illness or something!”  She laughed some more and headed back towards her bar, Thick, strawberry blonde ringlets bouncing  as she went.

Hunter pounded back the last of his pint, and Bill did the same, they stood up.  “You coming?”  Bill asked of Paco.

Paco shook his head, “No, I’m gonna hang around here for a while.  See ya.  Don’t get too crazy.”

“Why not?”  Bill wanted to know.

‘Because with great anarchy comes great responsibility.”

“Gee, thanks Uncle Ben!  Later,” Hunter said, jamming the 5” Worf into his pocket.

Bill and Hunter stepped up to the bar and paid off their tab with their server, said their goodbyes to Big Sally, and headed up the stairs.

“Where to now?”  Hunter wanted to know.

Bill pushed the door open, and both boys were hit with a wall of sunlight and heat.  “My buddy who works down at the Bear and Kilt owes me a pint or two, and methinks it’s just about time to collect…”


50 Years of Doctor Who

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil Story No. 56
Written By Don Houghton
Directed By Timothy Combe

“Thank you, Brigadier.  But do you think for once in your life you could manage to arrive before the nick of time?”

Evil renegade Time Lord, The Master (Roger Delgado), posing as Professor Keller, has built a machine that can suck the evil out of the minds of even the most hardened of violent criminals.  When The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) arrive at Stangmoor Prison for a demonstration, all hell breaks loose, as the machine is revealed to be an alien parasite that can project deadly hallucinations into the minds of those around it.  As it turns out, The Master is using the alien parasite to hypnotize the prisoners into helping him hijack a deadly nerve gas missile, in order to destroy an important peace conference and send the world spiralling into war.  So, not convoluted at all right?  Don’t worry, there’s some cracking good action sequences that will make you forget about the absurdity of The Master’s plot in no time at all.

The Mind of Evil, or Evul as the spine on the region 1 DVD reads, (Honestly BBC Worldwide, if you need a Copy Proof-reader, or Quality Control Manager, I know I could do a better job, so gimmie a call!) is the second story of the eighth season of Doctor Who, and one in which new producer Barry Letts was determined to put his stamp on.  Its with the introduction of a reoccurring villain, The Master, (played with wonderful Moriarty-esque wickedness by Roger Delgado) and the UNIT “family” of the Brigadier, Jo Grant, Mike Yates, and Sergeant Benton, that the Jon Pertwee era begins to really hit its stride.  Having said that, I think most Who fans, and even then script editor Terrence Dicks would agree that having The Master as the main baddie in all five season eight stories was a mistake, I know by the season’s fourth story, The Colony in Space,  I was already bored with him.  Oh look, it’s The Master again!  I’m about to have a heart attack from not being surprised!  I’m not to saying he isn’t a fantastic villain, just not every story please!

Fabulous Quality Control!

I only remember seeing maybe two or three episodes of this story back in the 1980s when KSPS, the PBS station out of Spokane that broadcast Doctor Who in my area showed it, probably because I had a hard time getting into the Pertwee stories at the time.  Having mellowed considerably on the Pertwee era since then, I was actually quite looking forward to this release, if for nothing else but to finally see it restored to glorious full colour.

The Mind of Evil contains some tremendous location shooting in Kent, including three days at Dover Castle which served as the exterior location for the fictitious Stangmoor Prison,  as stuffy government bureaucrats at the time refused to allow the production to film in or outside a real prison.  The UK Department of Defence however were extremely helpful with the production, loaning a real (unarmed of course) Thunderbird 2 SAGW missile from the 36th Heavy Air Defence Regiment, as well as a number of troops to play The Master’s minions.  The armed forces also assisted the production by allowing shooting at RAF Manston for the scenes taking place at Stanham Airfield.  Other location work included Cornwall Gardens in Kensington serving as the exterior for UNIT HQ, and the peace conference site was shot at the Commonwealth Institute, also in Kensington.

By this time (1971) Doctor Who was allowed to shoot regularly in the massive BBC Television Centre studios, and it is obvious.  The extra space allowed designers considerably greater freedom in building sets than they had in the 1960s when Who was relegated to the tiny, uncomfortable confines of Lime Grove Studios.  The interior prison sets are particularly good, and give a sense of scale, and realism heretofore unknown in previous seasons of Doctor Who.

This is also the first time since its initial broadcast that The Mind of Evil has been seen in full colour!  Episodes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were restored using chroma dot colour recovery technique that has been used for other black-and-white Pertwee era stories like The Ambassadors of Death. The tele-recording of episode 1 did not contain any chroma dot information and had to be meticulously re-coloured manually by Stuart Humphryes and the Doctor Who Restoration Team, and the results are really quite stunning.  The audio is digitally remastered from the original mono and is probably as good as it’ll ever sound, I certainly could find no problems with the presentation.

The extras are a bit skimpy on this two disc set to be honest, but they do include an audio commentary with actors Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Pik Sen Lim (Chin Lee), Fernanda Marlowe (Corporal Bell), director Timothy Combe, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrence Dicks, and stunt arranger Derek Ware.  The Military Mind, a fairly decent 22min making of documentary, Now and Then, a short doc that revisits the locations, and a 24min doc about BBC Television Centre shot in 1971.  Also included are the usual PDF materials, production notes, and a trailer for the upcoming blu-ray release of the only Classic Doctor Who story to be entirely shot on film, Spearhead From Space.

Why should you revisit this story?  If you are a fan of Pertwee era Doctor Who, it’s a well written story with some fantastic action, awesome location shooting, and great performances, plus it’s finally in freaking colour!  But because of a disappointing lack of significant extras, I can only give Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil Three deadly hallucinations out of Five.

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