The Unknown Soldiers: Ten of the best Doctor Who walk-on parts.

Originally posted on The Fan Can, 20 June 2012

You don’t have to be Toby Hadoke to know your Michael Sheard from your Cyril Shaps. It’s just part of fandom’s sweetly obsessive nature that we file and digest the names of Who’s guest actors. But spare a thought for the jobbing ‘supporting artists’ (that’s extras in old money), famous for 15 seconds and for whom roller caption credits were rarely due…

Constance Carling in Spearhead from Space

One of the first clues that all is not as it appears at Auto Plastics is the wax-faced, expressionless secretary played by Constance Carling. As wife of BBC producer Alan J W Bell, Carling racked up uncredited walk-ons in numerous episodes of Z Cars and Last of the Summer Wine. Eagle-eyed Monty Python fans may recognise her as the Crunchy Frog-scoffing theatregoer sat next to Eric Idle in the series one sketch, ‘Red Indian at the Theatre.’

Harry Fielder, The Face of Evil, et al

Harry ‘Aitch’ Fielder is the Zelig of ’70s and ’80s British telly, having turned up as an uncredited tough guy in pretty much everything. His IMDB page credits him with almost 300 film and TV appearances from Yes Minister to Minder, including (count ’em) 13 Doctor Whos and ten Blake’s 7s. Listen out for ‘Aitch”s brief appearance on the commentary of The Face of Evil DVD where he livens up the proceedings considerably.

Derek Ware in The Ambassadors of Death, Inferno, Claws of Axos, et al

HAVOC (as in ‘Action by’) head honcho, Derek Ware, cornered the market in stuntman antics back in the day. Notable Who bit parts include a Stan Laurel lookalike who gets bumped off in The Ambassadors of Death’s comically inept warehouse fight scene, only to regenerate in a later episode. There’s also a two-for-one in Inferno where he not only plays half-Primord Officer Wyatt, but also doubles as the guy he knocks off the tower in a spectacular stunt fall. His golden moment though is as everyone’s favourite pushbike-stealing, gibberish-grunting tramp, Pigbin Josh, in The Claws of Axos. Oo, and furthermore, arr.

Sian Pattenden, Mawdryn Undead

In episode four of Mawdryn Undead, poor old Nyssa and Tegan are de-aged by the titular, noodle-bonced weirdo. Young Nyssa was played by Lucy Benjamin, aka EastEnders’ Lisa Fowler and one-time real life squeeze of onscreen boyf Phil ‘Sontaran’ McFadden. More interestingly, appearing beside her is Sian Pattenden as young Tegan, who later made her name as one of Smash Hits’ best writers during its heyday before graduating on to the NME, The Face and The Guardian. Pattenden blogged about her memories of appearing in the serial on The Guardian website (have a gander here) and gamely attended 10th Planet’s signing event for the Black Guardian trilogy DVD release.

Trevor Ray in Doctor Who and the Silurians

Assistant script editor on the series at the time, Ray (and several other members of the production team) gave the middle finger to Equity by swelling up the ranks for the scenes of the Silurian plague hitting London – he appears as the ticket collector. Ray was no better off credit-wise behind the camera, as his production role was uncredited. Ray also wrote techno-pagan HTV classic Children of the Stones and appeared in the classic Play For Today, The Flipside of Dominick Hide as bisexual Alaric.

Not Harold Pinter, The Abominable Snowmen

A long-running, urban myth in Who fandom was that the late playwright Harold Pinter played Tibetan monk, Ralpachan, in The Abominable Snowman, credited under his acting alias of David Baron. The notion of an acclaimed writer riding high on the success of The Birthday Party and The Homecoming slumming it for a bit part in a cheap and cheerful kids show is a delicious one, but sadly the myth is a load of Yeti balls. The more prosaic truth is that at the time Pinter was writing The Basement, and the character was played by an actor of the same moniker. Ho (pause) hum.

Timothy Blackstone, Genesis of the Daleks

One of the Thal soldiers in Nerry Nation’s masterpiece had a colourful history that would have had Mary Whitehouse and Jean Rook reaching for the smelling salts if they’d known about the kind of undesirables infiltrating their least favourite teatime show. Timothy Blackstone was, simultaneously, one of Britain’s few hardcore porn stars. His credits include the bizarre Diversions, where he’s rogered senseless by smut starlet, Heather Deeley, who proceeds to chop off ‘little Timmy’ and fellate the dismembered member. Brother of MP Baroness Blackstone, he hit the headlines in 2003 when he was fined on two charges of insider dealing.

Terry Walsh, Planet of the Spiders

When Lupton zaps a hapless hovercraft owner during Planet of the Spiders’ interminable chase scene, the poor bloke meets his maker with a beaming smile akin to someone who’s just caught the punchline to a particularly ribald joke. It’s stuntman, Terry Walsh, and he’s visibly overjoyed at having been given a speaking part for once.

John Levene as a Cyberman in The Moonbase

Our very own Nicholas ‘masterclass’ Craig, John Levene’s first encounter of the Who kind was as a Cyberman in The Moonbase. But such was his raw, primal energy as third Yeti to the left in The Web of Fear that the Who team could no longer ignore this young promising actor’s star quality and it was only a matter of time that fame and fortune came beckoning as Sarge Benton in the UNIT years.

Christien Anholt, The Curse of Fenric

A credited, speaking part so not an extra per se. Young Christien Anholt makes an early TV appearance as Corporal Perkins in The Curse of Fenric, a story set in a parallel universe where WWII soldiers appear to be entirely casted by gay porn franchise, Bel Ami. I blame the producer. Anholt’s father was Tony Anholt, best known by cult TV spods as Verdeschi in Space: 1999 and Charles Frere in Howards Way where his co-star was his second wife, Tracey (Fires of Pompeii) Childs. Anholt Junior enjoyed C-list success playing second fiddle to Tia Carrere (of Wayne’s World fame) in schedule-filler, Relic Hunter, although his career high remains having Georgina ‘T Bag’ Hale sticking a butt plug up his ass in Preaching to the Perverted.

Original post here

The Almost Doctors: We list the Doctors that might have been…

Originally posted on The Fan Can, 24 September 2012. With artwork by Blane William Traynor.

We list the Doctors that might have been…

almost

During its five decades, 11 actors have come to be known as Doctor Who. And we wouldn’t have it any other way (well, except one or two, tops). However, with the exception of Doctors Six and Ten, not all of the actors cast were the first actors to be offered the role. The Fan Can presents the Doctors who could have been…

First Doctor: Geoffrey Bayldon

Baffling that when JNT was casting around for someone to fill William Hartnell’s shoes in celebratory beano, The Five Doctors, he chose Richard Hurndall as his less-than-uncanny likeness. Geoffrey Bayldon – who at least shared a resemblance – had been channelling variations on the First Doctor’s cantankerous, wizardy persona for over a decade in Catweazel, Worzel Gummidge and Look & Read mini-drama Sky Hunter! When Big Finish cast Bayldon as an alternative First Doctor who never left Gallifrey (as part of its ‘Unbound’ range in 2003), Geoff casually revealed that he had been offered the role back in 1963! Other actors considered for the role back then included Leslie French, who later appeared briefly in Silver Nemesis, and Hugh David, who went on to direct Troughton serials The Highlanders and Fury From The Deep.

Second Doctor: Michael Hordern

Hordern, whose rich, oaky voice memorably graced Paddington Bear, Cosgrove-Hall’s Wind In The Willows and sob-fest Watership Down, was one of a handful of actors approached to replace Hartnell as the Doctor. Hordern’s tweedy, avuncular charm certainly feels very Doctorish, but light years away from Troughton’s scruffy, rabble-rousing, classless beatnik persona that makes the Second Doctor’s era more anti-establishment than that of his patrician predecessor. Other actors offered the role at the time included Valentine Dyall, who would have been even more bat-shit terrifying than Hartnell ever was.

Third Doctor: Ron Moody

Moody was top of outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin’s list of candidates for the first Doctor to appear in 625-line colour. Moody declined the offer, riding high from the award-winning Oliver! but he later regretted the decision. Given that Pertwee defined the Third Doctor so much, bringing to the part his love of action, gadgets, gurning, comedy voices and “moments of charm,” it’s a tantalising ‘what if’ to think how a different actor could have turned him into a completely different beast. We’re pretty sure Moody would have been spell-binding, given how his gravitas as Rothko elevated Into The Labyrinth from complete tat. Check him out as Hawk in Flight Of The Doves, alternately funny and scary and man of many faces, for a slight taster of what might have been.

Fourth Doctor: Graham Crowden

The stakes were even higher when Pertwee hung up his velvet jacket for the last time in 1974 after carrying the show through a consistently popular period, and Barry Letts looked far and wide for suitable actors to carry the baton. Carry On man candy Jim Dale was one such choice, seven years before we eventually got a youthful Doctor, while comedians Richard Hearne and Michael Bentine were also in the running. Hearne could have taken the show into a cul-de-sac of tiresome comedy slapstick, while Bentine wanted complete creative control – unimaginable for a show with Doctor Who’s hectic schedule. On the outside edge was Graham Crowden, at the time mainly known as part of Lindsay Anderson’s repertory company and who wouldn’t have been a million miles away from Letts’ eventual choice – both Crowden and Tom Baker have a great line in dangerous unpredictability. Somewhere in a parallel universe, is a version of The Horns Of Nimon with Tom Baker chewing the scenery as Soldeed and calling Lalla Ward a meddlesome hussy…

Fifth Doctor: Richard Griffiths

Griffiths, best known to most as that terrible c*nt Uncle Monty and muggle Vernon Dudsley, was originally approached to play the Fifth Doctor by JNT. It’s an intriguing bit of casting from a modern perspective, where an unattractive middle-aged Doctor is unlikely to happen, let alone one of Griffiths’ monumental girth. One can get a brief inkling of how Griffiths would have fared from his time as the chef turned sleuth in Pie In The Sky, like the Doctor righting wrongs as an occupational hazard rather than an appointed role. Now I’m imagining his TV spouse Maggie Steed as companion! I’m in.

Sixth Doctor: ?

You’ll have to use your imagination for this one, as Colin Baker was John Nathan-Turner’s only choice for Doctor, his audition taking the form of a wedding reception the producer happened to attend, as detailed in Trials and Tribulations, Ed Stradling’s ace documentary of the messiest period in Doctor Who’s history. Of course, if Nathan-Turner had bothered to audition someone, as opposed to hiring a bloke because they were a bit funny at a party, Who’s telly life in the late 1980s would have been very different.

Seventh Doctor: Ken Campbell

For the third time in six years, JNT found himself casting a new Doctor. Sylvester McCoy got the gig, but an early contender was avant-guard theatre misfit Ken Campbell, who actually discovered McCoy when he became part of Ken Campbell’s Roadshow in the 1970s. Campbell, who died in 2008, is best known as self-styled wit Roger in the Fawlty Towers episode, The Anniversary. Andrew Cartmel considered Campbell’s audition performance “too dark,” perhaps vindicated as his 1988 CITV series, Erasmus Microman, was canned after one series after sample audiences found the character disturbing.

Eighth Doctor: Liam Cunningham

Pretty much every English actor desperate for a career reboot auditioned for the Universal TV movie, from Anthony Head, Robert Lindsay and John Sessions to dimly remembered ’80s TV stars Paul Bown (Watching) and Rob Heyland (One By One). The Fan Can has gone for relative outsider, Liam Cunningham, as our Almost Doctor #8, a vastly underrated Irish actor who later came to prominence alongside Chris Eccleston in Jude and is now starring as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones. Might have given writers of BBC Books’ Eighth Doctor adventures something more to get their teeth into than McGann’s wet-nosed puppy.

Ninth Doctor: Hugh Grant

Given how the rumour mill went into overdrive with the announcement of the new series in 2004, it’s hard to – as David Bowie once sang – “tell the bullshit from the lies” with Digital Spy and The Sun touting Bill Nighy, Alan Davies and Eddie Izzard. There’s little doubt that RTD had always gambled on Eccleston stepping up, but Hugh Grant later confessed he’d been offered the role and regretted turning it down after seeing how the show took off. Ecclescake was fantastic, but it could have been interesting given that the real, prostitute-bothering, News International-baiting, Grant is clearly a more complex character than his foppish, floppy-haired screen persona. Grant briefly essayed the role of the Doc in Moff’s love/hate letter to Who, The Curse Of Fatal Death, along with perennial tabloid favourite Doctor Joanna Lumley.

Tenth Doctor: ?

As with Big Col’s casting in 1984, there was only one man standing. As if Tennant’s virtual audition on RTD/Gardner production Casanova and his voicing new series curtain raiser, A Celebration, wasn’t enough of a fucking big clue. You can’t help thinking they should have cast Richard Griffiths anyway, just to spare the world from endless squeeing and slash fiction on Gallifrey Base and LiveJournal.

Eleventh Doctor: Paterson Joseph

Pint-sized Scots powerhouse, Robert Carlyle, was rumoured to be in line for Doc 11, something he’s strenuously denied ever since, although he could have been saving face if it’s true he skipped the trip of a lifetime for the flop Stargate: Universe. RTD speculated that Russell ‘Pob’ Tovey and Harry Lloyd showed promise as potential Doctors, while The Sun quoted Bendmydick Cuminmysnatch as saying he “didn’t want to be on school lunchboxes.” One inescapable rumour was that Paterson Joseph – that’s Johnson from Peep Show to you – was in the frame. Joseph coyly admitted that there was “some truth” in the rumour. To quote Robin Hood: Men In Tights, “Why not? It worked in Blazing Saddles.”

Original post here

13 Who Jazz Funk Greats! Doctor Who’s more out-there musical moments

13 Who Jazz Funk Greats Doctor Who’s more out-there musical moments

Originally posted on The Fan Can, 5 July 2012

The various eras of Doctor Who are defined by the in-house style of its incidental music, from Dudley Simpson’s chamber orchestra arrangements in the ’70s through to Murray Gold’s cinematic grandeur, via the series’ brief flirtation with rastabillyskank. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, so here’s The Fan Can’s tip of the hat to some of the show’s more unconventional musical offerings…

The Sea Devils
Relentless barrage of white noise that was the result of a life and death struggle between sonic terrorist Malcolm Clarke and the Radiophonic Workshop’s massive EMS Synthi 100. Anticipates, at various points, Throbbing Gristle, Metal Machine Music, Frank Zappa’s Jazz From Hell and – in its calmer moments – Eno & Fripp’s No Pussyfooting. A BDSM specialist’s shag tape.

The Leisure Hive
Analogue synth porn! Peter Howell brings Doctor Who screaming into the dayglo 1980s, as part of JNT’s über-stylised approach for season 18, by covering season opener The Leisure Hive wall-to-wall with a lush soundtrack that’s equal parts Jean Michel Jarre, early Human League and Wendy Carlos. 1981 in a bottle.

Inferno
Not so much a score, more a collection of atmospherics, culled from stock music cues by Radiophonics pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson – throbbing, pulsating and humming whorls of ambient electronic sound that complement the industrial setting of the story and its apocalyptic visions of a nightmare parallel Earth.

Survival
Dominic Glynn’s score features atmospheric swathes of ambient rock guitar possibly inspired by the instrument’s use in BBC drama productions of a similar vintage such as Edge Of Darkness (1985), The Life & Loves Of A She-Devil (1986) and Northanger Abbey (1987), and which complements the story’s dreamlike, sensual feel (i.e. the bits not featuring Hale & Pace).

Full Circle
Melodic electronica from the fingertips of Paddy Kingsland, at times so reminiscent of his score for The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy that when the Deciders introduce themselves in episode three, one half-expects Vroomfondel and Majikthise to turn up. Bonus points for K9’s jazz bass riff, which sounds like a Ronnie Hazelhurst fill on Valium.

Doctor Who And The Silurians
Carey Blyton (yes, he is a relation to Enid) decided a distinctly “organic” sounding instrument would best complement the prehistoric origins of the Silurians, and made prominent use of the crumhorn, an umbrella-shaped medieval reed instrument of limited range that here sounds uncannily like Pigbin Josh busking on a kazoo.

Death To The Daleks
Carey Blyton’s eccentric score for late-era Pertwee Parrinium-fingering yarn – widely maligned for the Daleks’ less than menacing comedy jingle – is suitably effective for the celestial sounds that accompany the reveal of the Exxilon City and the discordant, wheezing, droning Temple music and Satanic wassailing during the sacrifice ceremony. Most sinister use of horns in pop culture prior to Kenny G.

The Mutants
Unloved, Pertwee-era, Earth Empire yawn-fest has one thing to recommend it, and that’s a weird, atonal and otherworldly score by Tristram Cary. Not one for your new girlfriend’s mix CD (unless she really, really likes Aphex Twin) but greatly enhances the scenes on the scorched wastelands of Solos.

The Web Planet
The production team opted for something suitably avant garde for this ambitious stab at an all-alien story by raiding the back catalogue of obscure oddball French duo Les Structures Sonores – literally sound sculptures, yer actual musique concrete realised on metal and glass.

Earthshock
Malcolm Clarke gets all A Clockwork Orange on yo’ass, with metallic clangs, prostate-rattling bass reverb, sinister icy chimes, trebley whines and squalling, sibilant squelches. It’s the perfect accompaniment for one of the most kick-ass Doctor Who stories.

Remembrance Of The Daleks
Picking the best Keff McCulloch score is akin to choosing your favourite venereal disease, and indeed common sense dictates that a story set in 1963 isn’t the best bedfellow for the sort of compressed, tinny synth stabs favoured by the Pet Shop Boys and Eurythmics at the time, but for me it’s as part of the story as Pamela Salem’s big bouffant.

The Daleks
The aural legacy of the story that changed Doctor Who’s fortunes overnight are the Radiophonic sounds Thal Wind (who knew the fey Aryans were martyrs to indigestion?) and Dalek Control Room, two FX cues which have had more comebacks than Lulu. The latter’s distinctive heartbeat sound is still employed in Dalek serials to this day, causing much fanboy pants-soiling when heard as Rose woke up on the Daleks’ mothership in The Parting Of The Ways.

Original post here

Who’s The Daddy? Doctor Who adventures and the stories that inspired them.

Originally posted on The Fan Can, 18 June 2012

A great man – or was it Ben Aaronovitch? – once said, “Talent borrows, genius steals, Doctor Who lifts it wholesale from the back of a lorry.” Through its history, Doctor Who has treated accessible popular culture as a pick ‘n’ mix stall of ideas and influences to milk of at will. But how many of those stories that wear their inspirations on their sleeves measure up? The Fan Can cherry-picked a random selection of stories to put it to the test.

Paradise Towers / High Rise

It’s well documented that writer Stephen Wyatt drew inspiration from JG Ballard’s High Rise part of his Shepperton trilogy, in which a state-of-the-art apartment block, locked away from the outside world, goes feudal, with a feral underclass on the lower levels and the petit bourgeouisie upstairs resort to primal decadence and barbecuing dogs (yum yum). Elements creep through, constrained by the Galloping Galaxies budget and tone of 1987 Doctor Who, but it seems to us that Wyatt was more likely inspired by Mary Mungo and Midge and Monty Python’s “Architect Sketch” with a bit of Micky Dolenz’s sci-fi kidcom, Luna, thrown in for the Kang’s pseudo-nadsat.
Verdict: FAIL.

Robot / The Avengers: The Mauritius Penny

Tom Baker’s first story involves the machinations of a group of political fanatics attempting to overthrow the Western world’s governments. 1962 Avengers serial, The Mauritius Penny, by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, involves the machinations of a group of political fanatics attempting to overthrow the Western world’s governments. Says Tel, “I was genuinely unaware of the similarities between Robot and Penny.” Sounds a bit disingenuous given that Harry Sullivan turns up halfway through Robot pretending to be a man from the Ministry, complete with John Steed bowler hat! FYI, The Seeds of Doom also drew freely from another early Avengers, The Man Eater of Surrey Green.
Verdict: PASS

Pyramids Of Mars / Chariots Of The Gods

Pyramids is often hailed as a homage to “Curse of the Mummy” romps such as Hammer’s Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, and a lot of uninformed fans have fallen for it. A nice bit of misdirection from Hinchcliffe and Holmes – as Alan Barnes points out on DVD extra Serial Thrillers, if that was the intention, Sarah would have turned out to be the spitting image of Scarman’s dead wife or an Egyptian pharaoh. The story is more indebted to Erich von Daniken’s Chariots Of The Gods which postulated that ancient civilisations were in fact the work of aliens. A very trendy alternative philosophy in the ’70s that Doctor Who had already flirted with in Colony In Space and Death To The Daleks.
Verdict: PASS

Spearhead From Space / Invasion

Little-seen but much mentioned in Who reference tomes, Spearhead From Space took a cue or two from 1966 sci-fi film Invasion. Not coincidentally, both stories are by Robert Holmes. Worth a look, if you enjoy amusingly dated parochial Brit sci-fi romps like The Night Caller and From Beyond Outer Space, it’s pretty xenophobic (the aliens are, to all intents and purposes, oriental) but the chief connection is that it takes place at a country hospital, as does the first episode of Spearhead. No exhibitions of minor civil servants at Madame Two Swords or gurning strangulation via rubber octopuses.
Verdict: FAIL

The Robots Of Death / And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (that’s Ten Little N****rs for non-PC types) has been often cited as a reference point for Robots Of Death. In truth there’s nothing much to unite the two stories. The former sees a set of strangers gathered together on an island off Devon randomly picked off one by one, while the survivors search their guilty pasts for a possible reason why, whodunnit and which one of them could be next. Alternately, Robots sees a bunch of spoilt, big hat-wearing gits systemically bumped off by their robot serfs all the while unaware that the biggest git of all is conveniently absent for most of the story. A less immediate influence, to the casual viewer, is Frank Herbert’s Dune, whose backstory of rivalling dynasties attempting to corner the market in spice-farming mirrors that of the the sand-mining Founding Families of Kaldor City.
Verdict: FAIL

The Deadly Assassin / The Manchurian Candidate

It’s widely opined that The Deadly Assassin owes a huge debt to The Manchurian Candidate, originally a novel by Richard Condon and then a film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra. It’s a load of buggery bollocks, as revealed in spite of itself by an exhaustive (and exhausting) DVD extra, more in line with Kennedy conspiracy theories – hence the pointed use of the acronym CIA for the Celestial Intervention Agency – and more indebted to Frankenheimer’s 1966 thriller Seconds, with its themes of brainwashing and artificially constructed realities.
Verdict: FAIL.

Doomsday / His Dark Materials

Parallel worlds are an old sci-fi and fantasy trope, and visited in Who-land back in 1970 for Inferno, but it’s something explored in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which has an affinity with Nu-Who’s questioning playfulness about science and magic that must have struck a chord with avowedly atheistic RTD. Pullman himself considers the tear-jerking finale of Doomsday, with the Doctor and Rose separated by parallel realities, a direct steal from his novels. “I was flattered,” Pullman told Newsround. “That’s how stories work. I borrowed things for His Dark Materials and he took my ending to fit his story. That’s fine.”
Verdict: PASS

Ghost Light / The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Ghost Light is tit-deep in show-offy cultural references, some trenchant – the nods to The Turn Of The Screw, Heart Of Darkness and Pygmalion – and some just plain egregious (the self-indulgent “Who was it who said Earthmen never invite their ancestors to dinner?” demands the unbidden response, “Your former script editor – we see what you did there!”). The biggest influence, however, seems to be Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show – the observatory, a smatter of cross-dressing, a cannibalistic punchline to a tense, blackly comic dinner scene and a finale where the house (piloted by its underlings) turns into a spaceship. Poor old Light, his mission was a failure, his lifestyle was too extreme.
Verdict: PASS

In summary: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results.

Original post here

Before Captain Jack… Classic Who’s Lavender Mob

Originally posted on The Fan Can, 30 April 2012

Because it wasn’t NuWho who invented homosexuality.

Harrison_Chase
Captain Jack is a character that would never have happened in the original Doctor Who. Certainly not as a semi-regular companion, let alone lead hero in his own spin-off series. Brazenly gay/bi/pan/whatever (labels as we know them don’t exist in Jack’s native century), Jack’s a chiseled poster boy for NuWho’s liberal agenda of putting all-inclusiveness into the laps of its teatime family audience.

But is this entirely new? On the surface, the number of obviously LGBT characters in Classic Who can be counted on one hand – the pronoun-defying hermaphrodite Alpha Centauri – but reading between the lines… Jack – You Are Not Alone.

Marco & Guiliano (The Masque Of Mandragora)

Without a doubt, the single, most homoerotic relationship in Classic Who is Marco and his companion Guiliano (the latter played by a young Tim Piggot-Smith, in his second Who gig). There’s no Brokeback Mountain-style, spit-for-lube scene, which would probably have finished Mrs Whitehouse off, but it’s a sensitively underplayed depiction of a very intimate relationship between two geezers. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe makes it clear that Marco fancies Sarah in the Target novelisation, but I don’t buy it. Neither does Count Federico, who tries to hit Marco where it hurts by torturing Guiliano and threatening to have him cut up into tiny pieces.

Adam Colby (Image Of The Fendahl)

Put simply, Adam Colby is super, thanks for asking. He’s the epitome of what Canadian gay comedian, Scott Thompson, calls the “alpha fag”, dismissing every situation that falls before his path with a withering, “colour me bothered” one-liner. From his acidic put-down of the Doctor as “some sort of wandering Armageddon peddler,” to his eye-rolling reaction to Fendelman’s fiendish time computer, “I always say, if you’ve seen one jukebox, you’ve seen them all…” Colby isn’t flaming, but he is quietly fabulous, and his demeanour provides sharp relief in a story where his colleagues are giving it plenty of melodrama.

Harrison Chase (The Seeds Of Doom)

Ostensibly, Chase is your typical, epicene supervillain – he’s so utterly monomaniacal, any kind of gratification or desire has been transferred into his singular obsession, in this case plantlife. But he is – and there’s no PC way of putting this – a screaming queen. He’s one nostril flare away from the full Kenneth Williams when he’s losing his rag over his “incompetents,” like a theatre luvvie bitching about having to slum it in local rep. Actor Tony Beckley had “previous” with this kind of role, having played Camp Freddie in The Italian Job and Peter the Dutchman in Get Carter. Chase is essentially an aristocratic bastard version of these two turned up to 11.

Amelia Rumford & Vivien Fey (The Stones Of Blood)

There’s a lot of knowing fun to be had and eyebrows to be arched with Professor Rumford and Vivien Fey’s unconventional partnership. Their cosy living arrangements at Rose Cottage (house speciality: sausage sandwiches before bedtime), as well as trouser suit-wearing Vivien Fay’s camp asides about the uselessness of men, and of course the fun to be had with a bicycle seat… Lest we sound too much like sniggering schoolboys, it’s clear from the DVD production notes that writer David Fisher did his background research for this story, and thus worth noting that one of Vivien’s aliases is “Mrs Trefusis,” aka Violet Trefusis, the English socialite and writer who had a longstanding love affair with Vita Sackville-West (romanticised in Virgina Woolf’s gender-bending fantasy Orlando).

Professor Whitaker (Invasion Of The Dinosaurs)

In Genesis Of The Daleks Peter Miles nailed camp menace to perfection with a Herr Flick of the wrist; in Dinosaurs he’s a nondescript bad guy, but Malcolm Hulke, presumably in a fit of end-of-term “Screw you Barry and Terrance, I’m going home!” frivolity, made Whitaker as gay as a window in the Target novelisation. If he’s not giggling girlishly, casually waving a manicured hand or admiring the Doctor’s physique, he’s nominating Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward as his time-scooped, desert island dishes. The Incredible Hulke also had similar fun in his novelisation of The Green Death, projecting a pseudo-gay relationship between BOSS and his conduit Stevens, with the supercomputer at one point intoning the wedding march (“Do you, Stevens, take this computer…”), and on another occasion quoting – yup – Oscar Wilde.

Dr Judson (The Curse Of Fenric)

According to writer Ian Briggs, scientist, Dr Judson, was partly inspired by Alan Turing, pioneer of computer science for his work on the ENIGMA codes. In Fenric, Judson is embittered by his disability, whereas Turing struggled with his homosexuality. The Target novelisation – very much of a prototype of the New Adventures – adds an extra dimension to the relationship between Judson and Commander Millington, when a flashback to their schooldays reveals that it was Millington’s sexual jealousy that led to the “accident” that caused Judson’s disability. Turing himself met the Eighth Doctor in BBC novel The Turing Test, and in a later novel The Domino Effect, the Doctor claims that Turing was “more than a friend” (!)…

Colin & Robin (Arc Of Infinity)

Basically, episode one is an extended homage to European gay porn. A travelogue shot on cheap-looking videotape following two young backpackers’ attempts to find somewhere to bed down for the night accompanied by a naff synth score, deciding to try their chances in a “pump house” (“No one ever comes here, except the odd gardener during the day” – ba-chicka-wow!). There’s a bit of awkward banter leaden with sexual tension (“Are you really going to sleep like that?” “Well, what’s the matter with that?” “You’re still fully dressed.” “I’m not taking any chances!” “At least take your socks off!”), and then the chicken arrives… (okay, it’s more of a turkey…) There are gayer moments in JNT-era Who – the skinheads in Silly Nemesis, Nyssa spending a whole episode making a vibrator – but not many.

Original post here 

A Buyer’s Guide To The Wider World Of Python

It does what it says on the tin. Originally posted on now-dormant cult TV website The Fan CAn, 18 June 2012.

MontyPython_PersonalBestBox

Where next after you’ve finished the series and the movies?

So you’ve got the complete Flying Circus box set. Which is nice – although not as complete as you may have been led to believe, suckers. Where next? We’ll assume you have the films…

ESSENTIAL:

The Best Of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (2Entertain)
Python compilations are best avoided. The thing about Python was not so much how the sketches worked in their own right but how they fitted into the manic flow of each episode, complete with callbacks and contrasts, no matter how ratty or uneven the episodes were. But, this does contain a longer version of The General Public Are Idiots/BBC Programme Planners from series four than can be found anywhere else, and all the extra stuff from BBC2’s Monty Python Night broadcast in 1999 including the very rare Euroshow 1971 sketch in which the Fish Slapping Dance originated.

Ripping Yarns (Network)
A splendid package from the ever-reliable Network – all nine episodes of Palin and Jones’ pitch-perfect homage to Boys’ Own adventure serials, with some handy extras and a detailed booklet.

Fawlty Towers (2Entertain)
Reissued and repackaged in various media ad infinitum, the most current DVD box set is the one to go to for, digitally remastered and with various extras culled from Gold’s Fawlty Towers: Reopened weekend including contributions from the reclusive (and still snoggable) Connie Booth.

How To Irritate People (Prism)
A one-off 1969 TV special, produced by David Frost for the American market, starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke Taylor and Michael Palin. Lots of proto-Python stuff here, including many mother-baiting sketches, the Car Salesman skit (which was retooled as the Dead Parrot sketch), two sketches tweaked for Python (Take Your Pick, Silly Job Interview) and the classic Airline Pilots sketch (“I’ll do the worried walk”).

Monty Python Live! (A&E, US)
An American DVD box set, rather handily containing Parrot Sketch Not Included (20th anniversary compilation that does actually work, thanks to some skilful editing and inspired clip selection), the Hollywood Bowl film, and the first of two absolutely superb and incredibly surreal TV specials the Pythons made for ZDF-TV Bavaria (German with English subtitles).

Life Of Python (A&E, US)
Another American DVD release (sometimes included in the NTSC boxed set) – duplicates the Monty Python Night material but also contains the second of the two German shows made for ZDF-TV, which is essential.

The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (Second Sight)
Eric Idle’s finest hour and a half, thanks in no small part to the talents of Neil Innes. A pitch-perfect pastiche of the Beatles story, with every Pathe interview, film clip, interview and knowing voiceover – a study in detail of how to tell the Beatles story with affection. Rent out Tony Palmer’s All You Need Is Love for a cue by cue pointer sheet for influences on key scenes.

The Secret Policeman’s Ball: Complete Edition (ILC, 2005)
Bumper box-set of all the Amnesty International comedy and music galas, from 1976’s Pleasure At Her Majesty’s to The Big 3-0 (1991). A rich crop of live performances by various Pythons and fellow Oxbridge luminaries such as Peter Cook, alongside then-rising stars from the alternative comedy circuit and members of the rock aristocracy. Across the six discs on this (now deleted) collection are legendary performances of crowd pleasing classics (Dead Parrot, Cheese Shop, Four Yorkshiremen) and more obscure delights such as a medley of Python courtroom sketches (with Peter Cook standing in for Eric Idle, the only Python conspicuous by his absence from these charity shows), Top Of The Form and the 1948 Show sketch Bookshop, with Connie Booth in the role originally performed by Marty Feldman.

OF HISTORICAL INTEREST:

At Last The 1948 Show (Boulevard)
In 1990, five compilation episodes of this sketch show, written by and starring Cleese, Chapman, Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke Taylor, were found. These appear (in very pants NTSC quality) on this DVD. The show is raw proto-Python, with Cleese at his “deranged headmaster” best, Brooke-Taylor inventing the pepperpots, and sketch after sketch defining Python tropes before Python existed. It’s not the DVD it could have been; most of the episodes exist as off-air audio recordings, many exist half-complete, and several have been reconstructed (one even aired on BBC4’s Missing Believed Wiped season), so we’re hoping someone else has a crack (come on, Network!).

Do Not Adjust Your Set (Boulevard)
In 1969, schoolkids waiting for their beans on toast got Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, David Jason and Denise Coffey arsing about without even once condescending their juvenile audience, while the Bonzo Dog Band provided the music weekly. Kids today! As with the 1948 DVD, a handful of shows (or bits thereof) were put out onto DVD, but the Do Not Adjust Your Stocking (where Terry Gilliam debuted with his “Christmas Cards” animation) is notable by its absence, as is anything from the second series.

The Magic Christian (Universal)
Cleese and Chapman had a hand in getting this adaptation of Terry Southern’s novel to the screen, and while a lot of the scenarios are Southern’s own, there’s a lot of business here that filtered into the first season of Python which went into production soon after. Cleese and Chapman turn up in the Sotheby’s and Boat Race scenes respectively.

The Rise & Rise Of Michael Rimmer (Digital Classics)
More Cleese/Chapman-script doctored insanity. A project David Frost lumbered them with, before star, Peter Cook, turned it into a thinly-veiled satire of Frost himself (predating Python’s own attacks on the man who rose without a trace); the Election Grandstand scene is a very tame first draft of Election Night Special from Python series one.

The Best Of Marty Feldman (2Entertain)
The very skimpy highlights here are Cleese and Chapman’s classic Bishop sketch (“You get up there and tell Him you’re agnostic, He’ll smash your teeth in, in His infinite mercy!”) and a bit of Gilliamation and Palin and Jones in a football sketch. Plus those interminable Day In The Life Of silent movie sketches Python spoofed as The Dull Life Of A City Stockbroker.

Frost On Sunday (Network)
Part of David Frost’s triumvirate of LWT progs, Sunday was a testing ground for sketches that ended up in Python, to Frost’s detriment: both Nudge Nudge and The Mouse Problem were offered for, but rejected from, this show. But you do get to see Michael Palin as early Python staple, LF Dibley, in this case claiming to be Julie Andrews.

Six Dates With Barker (Network)
A series of one-off comedy plays (with Ronnie Barker assuming a number of roles) of note to Python fans is the Chapman-penned The Odd Job Man, later retooled into a film with Chapman taking Barker’s part, and John Cleese’s Come In And Lie Down starring Michael Bates, with Barker as an insecure psychiatry patient who is a blatant dry-run for Basil Fawlty’s defensiveness and paranoia.

The Two Ronnies, Series 1-4 (2Entertain)
The various Pythons gave a helping hand to their Frost Report muckers, Ron and Ron. Palin and Jones co-authored Slap Up Party, Library, Grublian and Hello, and Cleese appears in a remix of The Three Classes and New Fads. Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Palin and Jones contributed various bits to early shows (some new, some recycled from Cambridge days) but nothing notable for the Two Ronnies “classic” era.

Doctor At Large (Network)
LWT’s Humphrey Barclay picked up the option to turn the Doctor In The House franchise into a sitcom and it ran and ran. Cleese and Chapman wrote the pilot episode just before cracking on with Python, but contributed to later seasons, with Chapman’s experiences as a medical student providing some inspirations. This set includes No Ill Feeling, about a ratty hotelier and his shrewish wife, inspired by the Pythons’ experiences staying at the Hotel Gleneagles while filming Python series two in Torquay. And thus Fawlty Towers was born…

INESSENTIAL:

Monty Python’s Personal Best (Sony)
Another American produced unit shifter, it does at least include the uncensored Prince And The Black Spot animation and Terry Jones’ new edit of The Killer Joke (basically the same as the movie version, so ho-hum). Tends to use the NTSC dubs of Python shows, so picture quality is not always great.

Romance With A Double Bass (Liberation)
John Cleese. Connie Booth. Chekhov. Nudity. More fun than it sounds, but Cleese is inodordinately proud of it. Possibly ‘cos his then-missis is in the nip.

AVOID:
John Cleese – The Strange Case of the end of Civilization as we know it
The Strange Case Of The End Of Civilisation As We Know It (White Star, US)
Cleese as Holmes with Arthur Lowe as Watson. Not as good as you’d think, and this was Cleese’s second crack at the super sleuth. Not as bad as the Cook/Moore Baskervilles but what is, short of an aneurysm?

Monty Python: Almost The Truth: The Lawyer’s Cut (Eagle Rock)
The concept is great, a Python documentary in the style of the Beatles Anthology, and to be fair the Pythons themselves are never less than fascinating talking heads, being the most intelligent, witty, sharp and thoughtful people to ever create and discuss comedy, but you can get all that undigested on the bonus disc of extended interviews, and in truth it doesn’t tell you much that the 50 minute 1989 Omnibus Life Of Python did more economically. And what about the albums?

You can read the original feature here, via the Wayback Machine, or here

Nuzzing In Ze World

With the recently announced DVD release of the earliest surving episode of Patrick Troughton era Doctor Who, The Underwater Menace, this seems a timely moment to share my report of the public screening of the newly recovered episode, alongside Galaxy Four: Air Lock at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts venue in 2012. Originally posted on The Fan Can, 20 May 2012.

Last November, Doctor Who fans were given a truly unexpected early Christmas present when the BFI screened five minutes of a missing-believed-wiped episode of Galaxy Four, and a whole episode of another lost story The Underwater Menace.  How do you top that?  By teaming up with BAFTA Cymru to present a special screening of both episodes in full, in various states of repair thanks to the Restoration Team’s Paul Vanezis and Peter Crocker, down the other end of the M4 corridor at Cardiff’s swanky arts venue Chapter; complete with a panel consisting of companions Peter Purves, Fraser Hines and Anneke Wills and special guest Steven Moffatt, chaired by Gary Russell.
2012-05-09 17.11.23The great thing about Doctor Who ‘events’ is that, contrary to the longstanding cliché that Doctor Who fans are introverted antisocial nerds (Well, OK, that’s not entirely without foundation…) they’re very jolly affairs – said jollity usually being relative to the proximity of a bar.  I made my way towards a small array of gentlemen in checked shirts who at first glance appeared to be a George Lucas cosplay group but on closer inspection turned out to be chums of mine from the moxie end of the fandom spectrum and pretty soon it’s a mini-con minus the con – catching up, sharing a bit of banter, quaffing bevvies and scoring a convention bingo full house when Anneke Wills descended to bestow loving hugs on all and sundry.  The great thing about the Who community is it’s pretty egalitarian, fellow fans mingle with the ‘professionals’ – brand manager Edward Russell here, an off-duty Tom Spilsbury there – because we all love the show.  There’s very little of an ‘us and them’ atmos, it’s quite unlike any other pop culture phenomenon.  Only Steven Moffat and his very secure hair cut a somewhat unapproachable figure, hovering at the end of the bar with his current wingman, Caro Skinner.
We’re all a bit too self-conscious to admit that, when it comes down to it, we’re here to sit down and watch fifty minutes of ancient television, but it is pretty exciting – new-to-our-eyes old school Who, with some hardcore Chumblie action to boot!  This is a big deal.
Gary Russell introduced our special guests and Edward Russell gave a cursory bit of spiel about the significance of these recent finds – stating that the episodes might appear on iTunes in the next month or so – and Galaxy Four: Air Lock is cranked up from the projection room.  It’s not in the major league of classic Who stories by any means, but it’s always a joy to see Maureen O’Brien as the keen and gamine Vicki, with those saucer-like eyes of hers, and William Hartnell is just INSANE – his approach to his dialogue borders on freeform jazz, riffing variations on ‘quite so, quite so’ and other Billy-isms, so laid back he’s practically horizontal in the face of any situation remotely approaching urgency, and an absolute riot when ordering the Chumblies about.
The real revelation with Air Lock is how well director Derek Martinus works with some very obvious limitations.  He’s no Douglas Camfield, but it’s a very effective piece of direction for early Who – there are some very effective overhead camera shots, cross-fades and superimposed images, and a stylish dissolve to a flashback scene.  The real revelation of seeing this episode as opposed to listening to it on the CD is Stephanie H. Bidmead as chief Drahvin, Maaga.  She’s an imperious space bitch of the first order and steals the episode with a monologue that, on audio, has never been given any merit, but delivered straight to camera, is a hypnotic soliloquy that deserves wider praise.
2012-05-09 20.18.23There’s a drastic tonal shift as we go headlong into ‘The Underwater Menace’ Part Two.  Barely two years separate this from ‘Air Lock’, but that’s only about the same period of time that divides ‘Beatles For Sale’ from ‘Revolver’, and the effect is not dissimilar.  The Fab Four had gone from rhyming moon and June and spoon to turning off their mind and floating downstream, and here the show’s relinquished its atmosphere of benevolent Reithian values in favour of something more liberal and liberating; with its first outright anarchic Doctor, a general sense of lightening up and – Heaven forfend! – companions and supporting characters (two rebel miners of indiscriminate dialect) that sound like ‘real’ people.
The Underwater Menace has won more caveats than kudos on the evidence of its previously sole surviving episode, thanks to the Fish Peoples’ farcical aquatic ceremony and that infamous cliffhanger, but Part Two suggests that earlier episode wasn’t a misjudged misfire all along, but how the story was pitched all along; and a template for what has defined Doctor Who at its best ever since –a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, takes the piss out of authority and wants to have a good time in the most inclusive sense.  As Peter Purves observed in the panel afterwards, Doctor Who was always ‘quirky’ but when Troughton came along, it became ‘funny’.
Ah yes, Troughton.  In one word, that’s the difference between hearing The Underwater Menace and experiencing it onscreen.  The Trout doesn’t have much material to work with – and the joy of watching this episode is seeing how he fills his part with so much business that just doesn’t come across on audio.  There’s his delightful ‘oopsie’ faux-clumsy expression after ‘accidentally’ sabotaging Zaroff’s electronics, his little mime when indicating that the Professor is one sandwich short of a picnic, his donning a sou’wester, and his sheer expressive glee when offered a chance to don some outrageous headgear, complete with a ‘How do I look? Oh, please yerselves’ moue that’s pure camp.  Troughton glistens throughout, and it’s a revelation not only jusy how young Troughton looks and but also uncannily he resembles Iggy Pop on the cover of Lust For Life.
Air Lock is an episode to be appreciated rather than enjoyed, but The Underwater Menace Part Two provided no end of enjoyment from the guests and the audience alike, how could it not?  Troughton defining the role on the spot, absolute dynamite from beginning to end, with the hottest trio of companions full-stop.
A fun and friendly Q&A panel followed – the rediscovery of these newly found episodes providing a freshness to the banter that meant well-polished convention and DVD commentary anecdotes were at a minimum.  Peter Purves was full of praise for William Hartnell and provided some fascinatingly detailed and interested recollections into the studio production of Galaxy Four, as you’d expect from a man who has proved to be exceedingly informed on his DVD commentaries, and wittily self-deprecating on his limited contribution to the episode (“I thought I slept very well in this one”).  Anneke Wills was, as ever, an experience – utterly lovable and barking mad; and Frazer Hines  a hoot, his spot-on Troughton impressions momentarily made it as if the good Doc was in the room with us.  Spooky.
Steven Moffat deferred to the companions for the most part of the chat, save for when called to comment on the similarities and differences between ‘60s Who and NuWho.  The ‘commonality’ between Troughton and Smith was mentioned, of course, as was what an utterly different beast the show was then, production-wise, to now. The retrospective, fannish nature of this event also allowed his fan side to creep through, although still side in side with his dour exterior, best summed up in his reflections on what we had been watching that evening:
“When you watch that stuff, you can’t be objective like an ‘ordinary person’ – I don’t think there’s an ordinary person in this room!  I don’t see it as something from long ago, I see it as something I love, and there’s NOTHING wrong with that.  But can you imagine making Doctor Who ‘as live’ now?  Well, continue imagining, ‘cos it ain’t gonna bloody happen on my watch!”
Post-screening, inevitably notes were compared on this brilliant evening.  The general consensus was that while neither episode could be described as classic Doctor Who – more of a table wine than a vintage – there was only so much justice experiencing the audios can do to these stories, and that it was the little bits of purely visual business, from Derek Martinus’ direction to Patrick Troughton’s dumb-shows and Anneke Wills’ fantastic false eyelashes, that make all the difference between listening to Doctor Who and experiencing it, in sound and vision.
The last word goes to the Moff, when yours truly collared him at the bar for a soundbite for this website:  “Delightful – brand new old Doctor Who!”