Kate O’Mara: 1939 to 2014

British actress Kate O’Mara passed away on March 30th at the age of 74. Because of her strikingly aristocratic good looks and air of cultivation, O’Mara was quite often cast as strong, ruthless, icy women. Her best known role is probably portraying Joan Collins’ sister on Dynasty in the mid-1980s. Now I’ve never really seen that series, outside of the odd episode,but from what little I know about it, with its hellaciously bitchy catfights, O’Mara was probably right at home on that show.

In the world of sci-fi, though, O’Mara is most famous for portraying the renegade Time Lord known as the Rani on Doctor Who. The creation of writers Pip & Jane Baker, unlike most of the Doctor’s foes, the Rani wasn’t out to conquer the world or anything like that; all she wanted was to be left in peace to conduct her scientific researches. The problem, though, was that the Rani was completely lacking in any kind of morality or empathy for other beings. She looked upon the universe as one vast laboratory, its inhabitants mere test subjects for her experiments. O’Mara played the part perfectly. She was a brilliant adversary for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, with his crusading zeal against tyranny & injustice. “The Mark of the Rani,” broadcast in 1985, is one of the strongest stories from Baker’s all-too-short tenure as the Sixth Doctor on television.

The only real drawback to the serial is that Pip & Jane Baker were told to incorporate the Doctor’s arch-nemesis the Master into their script. The result is that O’Mara ends up spending more of her screen time engaged in petty squabbling with Anthony Ainley than she does dramatically sparring with Colin Baker.

Kate O'Mara as The Rani, having glommed some fashion tips from Joan Collins... well, it was the 1980s!
Kate O’Mara as The Rani, having apparently glommed some fashion tips from Joan Collins… well, it was the 1980s!

Unfortunately the Rani’s next appearance two years later was in “Time and the Rani,” which usually ranks pretty damn low on fan polls. It’s a hastily thrown together production that literally tosses Sylvester McCoy into the role of the Seventh Doctor, giving him no time to find his feet. To be honest, it’s one of those rare examples of Doctor Who that you would probably never want to show to any non-fans, because it would leave them wondering what the hell was wrong with you for liking the series. To O’Mara’s credit, she is one of the few positive aspects of “Time and the Rani,” even if she’s forced to spend part of it masquerading as Bonnie Langford… no, just don’t ask.

O’Mara’s last televised appearance as the Rani was in 1993 in the infamous charity special “Dimensions in Time,” which was basically a case of cramming as many surviving Doctor Who actors as possible into the space of 15 minutes, filmed on a shoestring budget, while simultaneously tying in with popular British soap opera EastEnders. I’ve never actually seen “Dimensions in Time,” but its reputation precedes it.

I think is really says something about O’Mara’s abilities as an actress that even though two of the Rani’s three televised appearances are quite awful, the character nevertheless left an indelible impression on the series’ fans. Certainly it’s a regrettable that the Rani was never brought back in a better-written story, either on television or in the Big Finish audios. She did have one opportunity to reprise the role, in the audio drama The Rani Reaps the Whirlwind, released in 2000 by BBV.

Kate O'Mara: Hammer Glamour

Of course, Kate O’Mara’s career was certainly not limited to just Dynasty and Doctor Who. In 1970 she appeared in two of Hammer Studios’ horror films, The Horror of Frankenstein and The Vampire Lovers. In the later of those two, she famously fell under the erotic vampire seduction of Ingrid Pitt.

O’Mara was an incredibly prolific actress on British television from the mid-1960s onwards. She made three separate appearances in the Roger Moore series The Saint. In the Jason King episode “A Kiss for a Beautiful Killer,” O’Mara memorably played a fiery Latin American revolutionary who is inevitably attracted to Peter Wyngarde’s secret agent turned bon vivant novelist. In the mid-1970s O’Mara was a regular on The Brothers, portraying air freight manager Jane Maxwell, who crossed swords with corporate raider Paul Merroney, played by a young Colin Baker himself.

Among O’Mara’s most recent television roles, her most prominent was on Jennifer Saunders & Joanna Lumley’s hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous. O’Mara portrayed Patsy Stone’s even more unpleasant sister Jackie. I always thought that was brilliant casting.

Peter Wyngarde and Kate O'Mara
Peter Wyngarde and Kate O’Mara

It seems that, like many actors & actresses who are often cast as villains, in real life O’Mara was seemingly a pleasant individual.  In an interview last October, she commented…

“I’m actually quite a nice person. It’s to do with the way I look, an uncompromising sort of face, brusque delivery and voice, and I think the combination of all that.”

O’Mara also expressed an interest in returning to the role of the Rani…

“I’m a much older woman and there’s a huge population of older people who, if they’re watching television, they can’t watch Hollyoaks. If you put a much older woman in Doctor Who, they can identify with it. I think it’s quite an interesting concept and if you remember things like Grimm’s Fairytales, the older woman is often the villainess, often the terrifying figure – why I do not know, but often she is. I think it’s an idea to be exploited.”

It is unfortunate O’Mara never had the opportunity to once again portray the iconic character she brought to life. However, she definitely leaves behind a legacy of dramatic, larger-than-life performances.

New York Comic Con 2013: a convention report

I really had not planned to go to the New York Comic Con this year.  But at literally the last minute, i.e. Wednesday afternoon, Michele surprised me with a ticket for Thursday.  I knew that once again I was going to be on a really limited budget.  So I decided to just pick up a handful of comics and maybe a couple of sketches.  Mostly I brought along comic books I already owned to get autographed.  And I took a few photos.  My digital camera went bust a while ago, so I had to rely on my crappy cell phone camera.

The first person I went to see in Artist Alley was Joe Staton.  I actually did the exact same thing last year.  What can I say?  I’m a huge fan of his work.  This time around, I really wanted to pick up a copy of the E-Man trade paperback that reprinted the Charlton Comics stories from the 1970s.  This collected edition actually came out in 2011, but the last couple of years when Staton had it for sale at the show, I just didn’t have the money to get it.  So I decided that this year it would be the very first thing I’d purchase.  I ended up breezing through the book, it was such a fun, entertaining read.  I’ll probably do a post about E-Man sometime in the near future.

Joe Staton
Joe Staton

Scott Hanna was also at the show.  I think he does really great work.  He is one of those embellishers who usually attempt to stay faithful to the style of whatever penciller he is working with.  As such, I think that his contributions to the finished art are not as readily identifiably to the casual eye.  Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned in my Thinking About Inking post, there have been instances where his impact is demonstrable, and always in a positive way.  At NYCC I purchased a page that he did for the miniseries Avengers: Celestial Quest, inking Jorge Santamaria’s pencils, which features one of my favorite characters, Mantis.

Two other people who had a table in Artist Alley were Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, the creative team behind Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures, as well as their self-published Aw Yeah Comics.  I think their work is so cute and funny and adorable.  Yeah, I know, I also like very dark and serious stuff, as well.  But the thing is, I’m into a wide range of material.  If everything in the comic book biz was grim & gritty, it would be extremely boring.  Diversity is the spice of life.  I got several comic books signed by Art & Franco, as well as sketches from both of them.  Art drew a cartoony version of the Teen Titans’ demonic foe Trigon.  Franco sketched a funny Darkseid vs Streaky the Supercat piece.

Franco
Franco

The one other piece of art I got at NYCC this year was a really nice sketch in my Beautiful Dreamer theme book.  It was drawn by Derek Fridolfs, whose work has appeared in Justice League Beyond and Batman: Li’l Gotham.  You can view it, and the rest of the art I picked up, in my galley at Comic Art Fans.

While I was at the show, I also had the chance to see several other creators, among them Bob Layton, Steve Ellis, Alex Saviuk, Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, Tim Vigil, ChrisCross, Jim Salicrup, Vito Delsante, and John “Roc” Upchurch.

Before I knew that I was going to be at NYCC, I had decided to get a ticket for a related event on Friday night which was being organized by Barnaby Edwards of the Doctor Who New York fan club.  Colin Baker, who portrayed the Sixth Doctor on Doctor Who, was doing a question & answer session and signing at the Stone Creek Bar on East 27th Street.  Also present was writer & actor Nicholas Briggs.  In addition to being heavily involved in the Big Finish audio plays, directing many of them, Briggs has famously voiced the Daleks, Cybermen, and various other aliens, both for Big Finish and on the television series itself.  I was really looking forward to meeting both gentlemen.  There was a third, surprise guest, as well: director & producer Jason Haigh-Ellery of Big Finish.  For someone such as me, a huge fan of the Doctor Who audio adventures, this event was a real treat.  I think that Baker has done extraordinary work reprising his Doctor at Big Finish, and both Briggs & Haigh-Ellery have really brought extraordinary levels of professionalism to these productions.   It was also a great opportunity to meet in person several of the people I know online from Facebook and WordPress.

Nicholas Briggs and Colin Baker
Nicholas Briggs and Colin Baker

Of course there were some amazing examples of cosplay at NYCC.  This is where I wish I had a proper camera, so I could have taken more pictures.  I even saw someone dressed as Walter White from Breaking Bad.  I was wondering if anyone was going to do that!  Anyway, here are a few photos of fans in costume that really stood out for me.

It’s always interesting when you see somebody cosplaying as a somewhat more obscure character.  This guy was dressed up as the supervillain Clock King.  In addition to a super-authentic costume, he actually had a working clock on his mask.  Now that is what I call attention to detail!

NYCC 2013 Clock King
Clock King

Here is a lovely lady who was turning heads on the main convention floor, dressed up as a steampunk version of G.I. Joe villainess the Baroness.

NYCC 2013 Steampunk Baroness
Steampunk Baroness

And for this one I really wish I had been able to take a much better picture.  Here were three gals cosplaying as the most famous female agents of SHIELD, namely the Black Widow, Sharon Carter, and Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine.  Jim Steranko was at NYCC, and I wonder if he had a chance to see his creation, sexy spy Val Fontaine, brought to life.  Sorry for the blurry quality.  Trust me, this trio looked fantastic in person.

NYCC 2013 Agents of SHIELD
Black Widow, Sharon Carter, and Val Fontaine

I had a good time at this year’s New York Comic Con.  After she got out from work, Michele joined me at the show and we hung out there for a few hours.  But, at the end of the day, I was exhausted and kind of broke, so I’m glad that I was only there for one day.  Anyway, thanks again, Michele, for the surprise ticket.  I really appreciate it.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Regeneration

I think that last week’s announcement that Matt Smith will be departing from Doctor Who at the end of the year must have caught a fair number of people by surprise, me included.  Up until that point, it seemed a pretty sure bet that Smith would be playing the Eleventh Doctor for at least another full season.  The news that he would only be around for two more stories – the 50th Anniversary special and the 2013 Christmas story – before regenerating, was actually quite disappointing for me.

Okay, admittedly, four years ago, when David Tennant announced that he was leaving Doctor Who, I also felt let down.  I honestly thought that no one could possibly fill the shoes of the actor who had given the best portrayal of the Doctor since Tom Baker.  And, y’know, Matt Smith’s first year on the series almost confirmed my fears.  It was a wildly uneven set of episodes.  But by the time 2011 rolled around, it was clear that both Smith and showrunner Steven Moffat had found their feet.  Since that time, I’ve really been thrilled by the Eleventh Doctor’s adventures, so much so that, once again, I find myself asking that very same question: why can’t he stay around for just a little bit longer?

For my next role, I will be starring in a remake of The Red Balloon. Geronimo!
For my next role, I will be starring in a remake of The Red Balloon. Geronimo!

Thinking about Smith’s departure has got me reminiscing about the whole regeneration thing in Doctor Who.  It is a truly brilliant concept, one conceived way back in 1966 by script editor Gerry Davis and producer Innes Lloyd as a means to replace the ailing William Hartnell.  The Doctor’s ability to renew himself in such a drastic manner has enabled the series to last an amazing half century, with a number of truly talented actors playing the main role.

Of course, it has been a long time since anyone in the viewing public has been surprised by a change-over in actors, as the BBC publicity machine inevitably announces each forthcoming recasting with much fanfare.  I expect that, in Britain at least, the first and last time anyone might have actually been surprised by the Doctor changing was when “The Tenth Planet” was broadcast in October 1966, and Hartnell transformed into Patrick Troughton in the closing seconds of the final episode.

It was a different story here in the States, at least for a while.  In the early 1980s, before the Internet, news about Doctor Who was much more difficult to come by.  Heck, when I first began watching the series on my local PBS station in 1983, as far as I knew Tom Baker was the one and only actor to have ever played the role of the Doctor.  After catching a handful of his episodes here and there, I finally figured out what channel & time the series was airing, and began following it each weekday night at 6:00 PM on WLIW Channel 21, beginning with “The Horns of Nimon” episode four.  Yeah, not an auspicious start, I know, but when you’re seven years old you can be a lot less critical of these things.

I quickly became a fan of the series, watching the entirety of what I now know was Season Eighteen.  And, after several weeks, there came a very odd four part story titled “Logopolis” which ended with the Doctor plunging hundreds of feet off a space telescope where, sprawled on the ground, surrounded by his friends, he somehow transformed into a young blonde-haired man.  And at that point I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on!

That next night, sitting through episode one of “Castrovalva,” I was very unsettled.  As the altered Doctor seemed to be losing his mind, I kept wondering why they had gotten rid of the guy with the curly hair.  And, once this blond-haired fellow began unraveling the Doctor’s trademark scarf, yep, I was utterly horrified!  Nevertheless, I stuck it out, and three nights later, by the end of episode four, I was thinking to myself, “Maybe this new guy will work out after all.”

Who needs a scarf? Not me!
Who needs a scarf? Not me!

It must have been a few weeks later that I finally started to understand that this was something that had happened on the show before.  I was at the local Waldenbooks, where I discovered that there was an entire line of Doctor Who novels adapted from episodes of the television series.  And on a lot of the covers were individuals other than Tom Baker.  I realized there must have been other versions of the Doctor before him.  This was soon after confirmed for me when “Earthshock” aired on WLIW.  In episode two the Cybermen viewed archival footage of their past encounters with the Doctor, and we saw not just Baker, but also Hartnell and Troughton.

Inevitably I did become a big fan of the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.  Looking back on it, as David Tennant would say a number of years later, he was my Doctor.  So, eventually, “The Caves of Androzani” episode four aired on PBS, and the Fifth Doctor, seemingly dying, announced “I might regenerate. I don’t know. Feels different this time.”  And, once again, my jaw dropped.  Oh, no, I thought, now Peter Davison was leaving the show!  Darn it!  Next thing you know, the Doctor has become this very brash fellow who, with a smirk, in response to a confused Peri’s question about what has just happened, informs her “Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon.”

And, as an aside, yes, once I was able to view Colin Baker’s episodes, I ended up becoming a fan of his Doctor, as well.  As I have said before, he gave such an underrated performance on the show.  Nowadays, it’s a real joy listening to the Big Finish audio plays where he reprises the Sixth Doctor.

But, getting back to my original point, this was the very last time I was surprised by the Doctor regenerating.  I think that, unless you live in a cave without an Internet connection, it’s just impossible not to know ahead of time that so-and-so is leaving the series.  This means that, even though Matt Smith’s departure will not be airing for another six months, we know he is on his way out.

Of course, we still do not know who has been cast as the Twelfth Doctor… at least not yet.  I’m sure the news will be announced any day now.  Just as I’m also sure that I’ll do my usual shtick of bemoaning that the new guy isn’t as good as Matt Smith was, at least until I see him in a few episodes, at which point I’ll probably become a huge fan.  And so it goes!

Doctor Who reviews: Timelash

Recently, Michele was working on a paper for school that examined how H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine influenced Doctor Who.  It was an excellent piece of writing.  I cannot believe that I’d never before noticed how significantly Terry Nation had borrowed from Wells when writing the first Dalek storyline, i.e. the Daleks equal the Morlocks, the Thals equal the Eloi, etc.

So, as she’s working on this paper, I happen to casually mention to Michele that on one occasion the Doctor actually met H.G. Wells.  Oops!!!  Suddenly she wants to see this story.  I tried to explain to her that “Timelash” is not a well regarded Doctor Who serial.  In fact, one commentator went so far as to point out that the title is an anagram for “lame shit.”  Michele was amused by this, but undeterred.  So I popped “Timelash” into the DVD player, and we watched it.  She ended up laughing at most of what came up on the television screen.

As I’ve written before, I am a big fan of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, and on the whole I find his brief tenure on the series to be very enjoyable.  Even so, I will readily admit that “Timelash” is not an especially good story.  That said, I will argue that it is rather underrated… which basically translates to my saying that is nowhere near as awful as most other people claim!  Certainly Baker himself is in fine form, bringing his brash, argumentative, authoritative Doctor right to the forefront.  It definitely suits this story, given that he is handed a pair of larger than life adversaries to verbally fence with in the forms of the Borad and Maylin Tekker.

Doctor Who: Timelash DVD
Doctor Who: Timelash DVD

The plot by Glen McCoy definitely has potential, exploring what happens when the Doctor returns to a planet several decades after he had a prior (untelevised) adventure.  We very rarely see the lasting consequences of the Doctor’s actions anywhere, so this trip to Karfel offers us a chance to examine how a previous encounter with the Time Lord can affect a civilization for good or bad.

The main villain, the mutant Borad, is actually a novel, intriguing foe, one who is well played by actor Robert Ashby, with an excellent make-up job realizing the character.  Considering the Borad survives the events of “Timelash,” albeit as a deposed despot left to spend the next several centuries swimming about Loch Ness, I’ve always hoped that one day he would turn up again in another story.  Given the generally poor perception of “Timelash,” I doubt that Steven Moffat will be dusting off this vintage baddie any time soon, but there are still the Doctor Who audio plays and novels.

I think the main area where “Timelash” fails is in the budget.  It definitely had a very cheap, shoddy look about it, with plain sets and very drab costumes.  One of the worst offenses has to be the inside of the Timelash tunnel itself, which looks horribly tacky and is so obviously a glittery Styrofoam wall.

I really cannot fault McCoy for any of this, though.  He was a relatively new writer who had never worked on Doctor Who before.  In this case, I think the lion’s share of the blame should be laid at the feet of script editor Eric Saward.  It is all well and good for Saward to bemoan the fact that producer John Nathan-Turner forced him to work with a succession of inexperienced writers.  But it was Saward’s job to look at McCoy’s script, point out to him what was not achievable on the limited money allocated to the show, and suggest other alternatives.  Saward seems to have abdicated his responsibilities, though, content to let McCoy’s ambitious vision be poorly realized on a shoestring budget, all the while blaming JNT for the substandard end result.

Paul Darrow Timelash
Paul Darrow takes it to eleven as Maylin Tekker

I was also extremely underwhelmed by how the Doctor’s companion Peri was portrayed.  Nicola Bryant, as I’ve observed in past blog posts, was often handed subpar material to work with.  But this has to be one of the character’s all time worst stories.  Except for a few scenes where she’s squabbling with the Doctor, poor Peri spends nearly the entire serial running from trouble, getting captured, being left tied up, and screaming for her life.  Makes me appreciate how the character has been handled on the Big Finish audio plays all the more.

As I mentioned earlier, the Doctor meets H.G. Wells in  “Timelash,” although for almost the entire story he is just a young man named Herbert.  It’s only in the very last scene that the Doctor discovers his full name, and realizes that he’s probably had a huge impact on the future author.  There was definitely — and again I use the word — potential to a fictional encounter between the Doctor and Wells, the real-life writer whose influence on the series cannot be denied.

Regrettably, the meeting between the two does not come off especially well.  For most of the story, Herbert is written as a naïve bumbler who is in way over his head, as well as a bit of a wet blanket.  I think David Chandler gives it his all, though.  I had always hoped, as with the Borad, that we would see another meeting between the Doctor and Wells, hopefully when the later was an older, more seasoned individual.  I think Chandler expressed interest in reprising the role.  Even though that never did occur on television, Wells does meet both the Tenth Doctor and the Victorian incarnation of Torchwood in the comic book special The Time Machination by Tony Lee and Paul Grist which was published by IDW in 2009.

H.G. Wells meets Torchwood in Doctor Who: The Time Machination
H.G. Wells meets Torchwood in Doctor Who: The Time Machination

Before closing out any look at “Timelash,” I would be extremely remiss if I did not mention Paul Darrow in the role of Maylin Tekker.  To say that it is a broad performance would be a vast understatement.  Reputedly this was inspired by Colin Baker’s appearance as a larger-than-life space pirate, Bayban the Butcher, on Darrow’s series Blake’s 7 a few years previously.  When Darrow was then cast in “Timelash,” he apparently wanted to see if he could out-ham Baker’s earlier performance.

I honestly do not know if Darrow’s over-the-top villainy should be considered one of the most risible aspects of the serial or if it takes a mediocre production and rockets it into high melodrama.  I will tell you this, though: I half-suspect the reason that that there’s so little scenery in “Timelash” is not the result of budget problems but due to Paul Darrow chewing it up.

Doctor Who reviews: The Reaping

Continuing to discuss performances by Colin Baker in the Big Finish audio plays, today I’m taking a look at “The Reaping,” written by Joseph Lidster. I originally listened to it three years ago. The main reason why I decided to re-visit it now is the book Chicks Unravel Time, published by Mad Norwegian Press (you can see my December 4th blog entry for more info on that).

One of the excellent essays in Chicks Unravel Time is “The Problem With Peri,” written by Jennifer Pelland. In it, Pelland takes a look at the unfortunately subpar use of the character of Peri Brown, the Doctor’s companion in the mid-1980s who was portrayed by actress Nicola Bryant. Pelland, in examining Peri’s portrayal during Season 22 of Doctor Who, noted that she unfortunately served as a poor role model, especially in comparison to the other strong female characters seen on the screen that year.

As I have said before, the Big Finish audios have given Colin Baker a chance to shine, providing him with a higher quality of scripts to work with. This has allowed him to really demonstrate just what he could have done if he had been given material this good to work with on the actual show. Well, the same, fortunately, applies to Nicola Bryant as Peri.

I very much agree with the sentiments addressed by Pelland in her essay. Peri was often ill-used throughout much of her time on the show. She was constantly whining & complaining. Often her relationship with the Doctor was written to consist of little more than squabbling. All that, and the producer seemed more interested in sticking Bryant in costumes that showed off her cleavage than in giving her well-written dialogue. The writers of the Big Finish audios have done a great deal to rectify these problems with the character of Peri.

It is implied in Peri’s debut story “Planet of Fire” that she has issues with her family. She certainly does not get along with her stepfather in that serial. This is fertile ground for Joseph Lidster to explore in “The Reaping.” His script delves deeply into Peri’s background. We finally meet her family and friends, and find out about her relationships with them, relationships that have been severely strained due to her long absence while she was off traveling with the Doctor.

Having just sat through “The Reaping” again, I was certainly impressed with the depth and nuance of the material. The script certainly gives Nicola Bryant a great deal to work with. I would go so far as to say that Peri received more character development in “The Reaping” than she did during her two years on the television show.

Doctor Who: The Reaping
Doctor Who: The Reaping

Thousands of years in the future, the Doctor and Peri visit the Gogglebox, an archive of humanity’s history archived in the hollowed-out Moon. A curious Peri decides to check the records concerning her home town of Baltimore, Maryland in the 1980s. Coming across a news report from that time, Peri learns that the father of her good friend Kathy has been brutally murdered. Shocked and upset, Peri has the Doctor take her back to Baltimore in September 1984 for the funeral. At the graveyard, Peri is reunited with her mother Janine. And all is not well.

Peri, as the audience knows, has been traveling all about in time & space with the Doctor for the last two years of her life. But from the point of view of Janine back in 1984, her daughter just up and vanished one day, with a word to no one, and could not be bothered to telephone or even send a letter to let her mother know that she was safe.

Janine is played by Claudia Christian, who appeared on Babylon 5 as Commander Susan Ivanova for four seasons. I really enjoyed Christian’s performance on that series, where she made Ivanova one of my favorite characters. Christian does an equally good job in “The Reaping,” playing an angry & disappointed mother whose dissatisfaction with her daughter turns to amazement as she learns what Peri has really been up to all this time.

Bryant, likewise, does excellent work in her portrayal of Peri, who is grief-stricken at her friend’s loss, and deeply hurt by her mother’s disapproval. The character experiences an emotional gauntlet in “The Reaping,” and Bryant really brings her to life.

The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is also explored. We see that, underneath all of the bickering, the two care deeply for one another. At one point, fearing the Doctor might be dead, Peri admits to Janine and Kathy that the Doctor is her best friend. I wish we had seen the friendship between the two characters explored to this degree on the television show. My compliments to Lidster for delving so deeply and movingly into their relationship.

As a quick glance of the cover to “The Reaping” will show, the Cybermen are the villains of the story. Even though they are actually used rather sparingly, they are nevertheless very effective. Inserting them into the mundane domesticity of 1984 Baltimore makes them appear even more alien and menacing than usual.

Lidster taps into the simultaneously horrific and tragic nature of the Cybermen. The Doctor sadly retells the Cybermen’s origins, how in order to survive on the dying planet Mondas, they slowly but surely began replacing organic flesh with metal, plastic, and computer circuits. Their cybernetics was a means to an end, a desperate gamble for survival. But they ended up replacing too much of themselves, and lost their ability to feel emotion. Survival became an end unto itself, as they marched out across the galaxy, determined to convert all organic life.

That is exactly what the Cybermen are doing in “The Reaping.” Their numbers severely dwindled after multiple defeats, they want the Cyber race to survive. And so they travel back in time to convert all of humanity. They see this as an improvement, believing that the elimination of messy feelings & emotions will end chaos and bring about order. That is the true horror of the Cybermen. They don’t want to conquer the world or destroy it; instead, they wish to transform everyone into logical, emotionless Cybermen. In so many ways, that is a fate worse than death.
In the classic serial “Tomb of the Cybermen,” the Cyber Controller coldly informs a group of captive humans “You belong to us. You shall be like us.” Lidster has the Cybermen in “The Reaping” reiterate that chilling pronouncement.

On the whole, “The Reaping” is a very strong story. But there are a few weaknesses. The Cybermen’s plan seems to rely on a couple of big coincidences. The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and cuts off potential future storylines. And there is at least one unresolved subplot left dangling.

On that last point, I realize Lidster was setting things up for a semi-sequel, “The Gathering,” which is the next entry in the Big Finish audio series. I still haven’t listened to that one yet. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to pick it up at some point in the future.

In any case, despite a few criticisms, I found “The Reaping” a well written production, with quality acting by Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Claudia Christian.

Doctor Who reviews: Davros

I mentioned in my last post that I really feel Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor was underrated, and how he was much better served by the Big Finish audio plays, most of which contain extremely high qualities of writing and acting.  I remember listening to one of Baker’s earliest Big Finish stories, “The Marian Conspiracy,” written by Jacqueline Rayner, and actually thinking to myself “Wow, if only he had gotten material half as good as this to work with when he was on television, he would have been remembered as one of the best actors to play the Doctor.”

Another excellent Doctor Who Big Finish story starring Colin Baker is “Davros.”  It was released back in 2003, but I unfortunately kept putting off getting it.  It took meeting the story’s author, Lance Parkin, last month to finally motivate me to order a copy.  I listened to the story yesterday, and was absolutely riveted.  Parkin does an amazing job writing not only the Sixth Doctor, but also Davros, the infamous creator of the villainous Daleks.

Davros made his debut in the 1975 television serial “Genesis of the Daleks.”  Many viewers, including myself, consider “Genesis” to be the very best appearance of the character.  Writer Terry Nation, with likely a great deal of input from script editor Robert Holmes, crafted a truly Machiavellian figure, a brilliant but twisted scientist, a fascist with a god complex who sought to remake the universe in his image via the Daleks.  Actor Michael Wisher brought to life this brilliantly-scripted individual in a fantastic performance.

At the end of “Genesis,” the Daleks turned on Davros, seemingly exterminating their creator.  He was, of course, later brought back to life.  But many fans of the series have long felt his subsequent appearances were quite lacking, that he had been reduced to a one-dimensional ranting megalomaniac.  In the original series, I think the only time the writing for the character ever came to approaching the quality of “Genesis” was in “Revelation of the Daleks,” by which time the character was being played by Terry Molloy.  “Revelation” saw a return to some of the guile and subtle machinations that had characterized him in his debut.

Doctor Who: Davros
Doctor Who: Davros

In his audio play “Davros,” Lance Parkin appears to have drawn much from both “Genesis” and “Revelation.”  He gives us a Davros who is a magnetic, chilling figure.  Returning to play Davros in the audio format, Terry Molloy does a superb job, making his character extremely compelling.

Set between the events of the television stories “Resurrection of the Daleks” and “Revelation,” the audio play sees the seemingly-dead Davros retrieved by Arnold Baynes, amoral CEO of the galactic mega-corporation Trans Allied Inc, and his wife Lorraine.  Arnold Baynes, who is played by Bernard Horsfall, is a futuristic titan of finance, a space-age robber baron who regards himself as a man who is simply providing the people of the galaxy with the products they need.  Like most corporate figures, he honestly believes he is a good man, doing a necessary job, regarding capitalism as the ideal economic form to regulate human life.  Baynes makes sure the employees of TAI have their lunch breaks, and finds the idea of spying on them to be morally repulsive.  Yet if he occasionally has to arrange an “accidental” death, his conscience is unbothered, just so long as it is for the good of the company.  Baynes is unperturbed by Davros’ status as the creator of the Daleks and a war criminal, regarding that as past unpleasantness.  If Davros can apply his scientific genius to helping TAI develop new technologies, to increasing the company’s vast fortunes & holdings, then that is all that matters.

Lorraine Baynes, voiced by Wendy Padbury, also has her reasons for wanting to give Davros shelter.  A revisionist historian, Lorraine regards Davros as a pioneer and a visionary, a titanic intellect who has been unfairly maligned by posterity, labeled as “evil” and made the scapegoat of the Daleks’ atrocities.  There is a great deal of hero worship at work on her part.  She hopes to write the definitive history of Davros and the Daleks, and is soon probing her new guest for information about his past on the planet Skaro.

Into the picture comes the Doctor, who was investigating an unrelated matter involving TAI.  The Doctor is naturally horrified at the idea of the Baynes reviving Davros and giving him a position of corporate power.  He was present on Skaro, and saw first-hand the treachery and violence that Davros engaged in to ensure the creation of the Daleks.  Unlike the Baynes, who are blinded by profit and idolatry respectively, the Doctor knows full well how dangerous Davros can be.

Unfortunately, the Doctor is unable to impress upon Arnold Baynes the urgency of the matter.  So he hits upon a different stratagem: he offers himself as an alternative to Davros.  If TAI needs a genius, well, the Doctor is willing to lend his services.  However, to the Doctor’s dismay, Baynes has another proposal: he will hire both of them.  And so the Doctor, in order to keep an eye on Davros, agrees to become TAI’s newest employee, with one of his greatest enemies as his co-worker.  This leads to some very interesting verbal fencing between the two, this time not across the battlefield, but the work table of the laboratory.  Parkin writes absolutely riveting dialogue for the Doctor and Davros.  Both Baker and Molloy fully rise to the occasion, turning in superb performances.

Davros Martin Geraghty Doctor Who Magazine 335

One of the things that have often been examined over the years is what, exactly, is the appeal of the character of Davros?  Yes, his visual design is fantastic.  He is literally a half-human, half-Dalek figure.  But there is certainly more to him than that.  I think a great deal of what makes him compelling is his seeming limitations, and how he overcomes them.  Here is a crippled, blind, one-armed figure trapped in a wheelchair which serves as his life-support system, aided only by artificial senses.  Yet this apparently pathetic, insignificant being is unstoppable.  Throughout his original appearance in “Genesis,” despite his severe diminished physical condition, he continually triumphs.  Through force of will & strength of personality, utilizing guile & cunning, he bends others to his will.  When necessary, by adopting an unassuming, humble personality, he causes others to severely underestimate him.  Through his intellect, Davros repeatedly outwits the Doctor and all his other rivals in “Genesis.”

Parkin brings all of these characteristics back to the fore in his script.  Davros comes across as an incredibly dangerous individual, constantly scheming & coercing.  Throughout much of the story, he claims that he sees the Baynes’ offer as a chance at redemption, to make up for his myriad horrific crimes.  And the strength of Molloy’s performance is such that you never really know if Davros is being sincere.  He sounds genuine… but at the same time, the Doctor knows full well that Davros is incredibly charismatic, a master of manipulation.   And so the listener is constantly kept guessing.

I was left wondering if Parkin’s writing had influenced Russell T Davies when he penned the 2008 television episode “Journey’s End.”  In it, Davros refers to the Doctor as “The man who abhors violence. Never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.”  This seems to mirror a scene early in Parkin’s story.  The Doctor, discovering the Baynes are attempting to revive Davros, pleads with them to kill him.  Davros snaps into consciousness and tauntingly says to the Doctor “You are weak. There’s the switch. End my life. You, not them! Do your own dirty work. End my life if you have the stomach for it!”  And when the Doctor cannot bring himself to kill Davros in cold blood, Davros mockingly laughs in his face.

Reflecting on this dark, chilling story, something occurred to me.  It has been long been said that Davros created the Daleks in him image.  Physically that is apparent.  But Parkin, through a series of flashbacks to Davros’ early days on Skaro, reveals that there is more to it than just appearance.  Just as Davros removed from the Daleks the ability to feel such emotions as empathy and pity, so too has he done so with himself.  In the audio play, Davros continually claims to be unable to feel love or affection.  When he does experience any sort of regret or guilt at the monumental atrocities he has engineered, he dismisses this as an insignificant biological or chemical process of his body, one he instantly regulates via the drugs dispensed by his life support system.  And so Parkin establishes both the similarity and difference between the Daleks and their creator.  The Daleks are evil due to circumstance, a result of the removal of their ability to possess certain emotions, depriving them of what we would label a conscience.  Davros, on the other hand, is evil by choice, because he has willingly discarded or suppressed those emotions in himself.

“Genesis of the Daleks” still remains the iconic Davros story, probably the best use of the character.  That said, I would certainly have to put the “Davros” audio play at a very close second.  The writing by Lance Parkin, and the performances by Terry Molloy & Colin Baker, made this an unmissable production, one I recommend to any long-time fans of Doctor Who interested in the character of Davros.

Doctor Who reviews: Attack of the Cybermen

I have always felt Colin Baker was one of the most underrated actors to have portrayed the Doctor.  A lot of this had absolutely nothing to do with Baker himself, but was due to outside factors beyond his control.

First of all, Baker’s debut Doctor Who story “The Twin Dilemma” was not particularly well-received.  I personally think it was a decent effort.  Most other fans have a much less positive view of that story, though.  The main problem with it was the decision by the production team to have the Doctor experience a traumatic post-regeneration crisis which causes him to behave in a dangerously unstable manner for the majority of that story.  One especially ill-considered aspect of this was having the Doctor, in a fit of paranoia, attempting to strangle his traveling companion Peri, portrayed by Nicola Bryant.  Even though the Doctor was not in control of his actions, and he quickly realized that he’d made a dreadful mistake, I think this one particular scene left a really bad first impression of the Sixth Doctor with many viewers.

Second, as I understand it, Baker wanted to play his incarnation of the Doctor as a darker, more alien figure.  Accordingly, he had hoped to have a somber, austere outfit to suit this characterization.  Instead, the producer of Doctor Who saddled Baker with the opposite: a tacky, tasteless, multicolored monstrosity of a costume.

Third, in the mid-1980s, the then-management of the BBC apparently had little confidence in or love for Doctor Who.  The show was not receiving the support it needed to function as an effective production.

Nevertheless, despite all these obstacles, I believe Colin Baker did the very best he could, and I look back quite fondly upon his all-too-short tenure as the Doctor.

“Attack of the Cybermen” is Baker’s second serial, and it is a tremendous improvement over “The Twin Dilemma.”  Really, a very strong argument could be made that “Attack” should have been Baker’s debut story.

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen DVD
Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen DVD

The credits for “Attack of the Cybermen” list “Paula Moore” as the author.  In reality, it was written by script editor Eric Saward, with a plot assist by continuity advisor Ian Levine.  The reasons for Saward not getting credit are complicated, and are covered in “The Cold War,” a making of feature on the DVD.

The plot of “Attack of the Cybermen” is, admittedly, a bit complex.  The Doctor’s old foes the Cybermen have traveled back in time to 1985 to prevent the destruction of their home planet Mondas, an event chronicled in the 1966 serial “The Tenth Planet.”  Crossing their path is the alien mercenary Lytton (icily portrayed by the very effective Maurice Colbourne), who had previously been stranded on 20th Century Earth in the Saward-penned “Resurrection of the Daleks,” broadcast the year before. Onto the scene come the Sixth Doctor and Peri, who have detected Lytton’s distress beacon.  The Cybermen capture them all and take them back to their base on the planet Telos, last seen in the classic 1967 serial “Tomb of the Cybermen.”

As you can see, there are a lot of references to previous Doctor Who stories in “Attack of the Cybermen.” I guess a newcomer to the show could be confused.  Luckily, I had already read the novelizations of “The Tenth Planet” and “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and seen “Resurrection of the Daleks” on television.  So I was pretty clear about what was going on when I first viewed “Attack of the Cybermen” in the mid-1980s.

Admittedly, there are a couple of confusing plot points that didn’t get cleared up for me until a few years later, when Saward novelized “Attack of the Cybermen.”  But that’s minor, and this story is a lot more straightforward than, say, “Time-Flight,” which is nearly impenetrable.

In any case, I do like Saward’s writing on “Attack.”  His dialogue is cracking and clever, containing very memorable, often humorous lines.

Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen novelization by Eric Saward
Attack of the Cybermen novelization by Eric Saward

One odd thing about “Attack of the Cybermen” is the animosity the Doctor has towards Lytton.  The two of them barely met in “Resurrection of the Daleks.”  But in “Attack” the Doctor acts like he knows Lytton well, and cannot stand the sight of him.  Admittedly, the last time the two saw each other, Lytton did take a shot at the Doctor, barely missing, so that could explain some of the Doctor’s anger.

Baker does a good job as the Doctor in “Attack of the Cybermen”.  He has mostly settled into his new incarnation, although, as Peri puts it, he is still somewhat “unstable” from his recent regeneration, prone to the occasional mood swing and temporary absentmindedness.  Baker’s Doctor is brash, egotistical, flippant, and sarcastic.  But on several occasions we see that underneath all the bluster, he is a caring, sensitive individual with a burning desire to set right injustice and oppression.  And, when confronted with his mistakes, he is contemplative and remorseful.  From this story, it is apparent that there was tremendous potential to Baker’s Doctor.

The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is also better written here.  It is still a bit too adversarial, perhaps, and Peri is on the whiny side.  But Baker and Bryant are given much better material to work with here than in “The Twin Dilemma.”  You can start to get a slightly better indication that, despite the dramatic changes to the Doctor’s persona, these two are still friends and do like to travel together.

The direction on “Attack of the Cybermen” is top-notch.  Matthew Robinson, who also worked on “Resurrection of the Daleks,” really has a good feel for action sequences.  He also frames a great many of his shots in an incredibly striking, inventive angles, really helping to drive home the drama and tension.

It is also to Robinson’s credit that he was the one who suggested making the alien Cryons female.  Despite Saward’s arguments against it on the DVD making of feature, this was a clever decision, as it really puts them in contrast to their towering, emotionless cyborg foes.  There were very few female non-humans seen in classic Doctor Who (fortunately that unbalance has been somewhat rectified in the current-day show) and so the Cryons really are striking.  In spite of their apparently delicate appearance, they’ve been waging a relentless guerilla campaign against the Cybermen, making them one of the series’ most admirable alien races.

I like that in “Attack of the Cybermen” Saward brings back something that really had not been addressed in the series since the 1960s.  The Cybermen were once human, but they allowed themselves to be overcome by their own technology, becoming emotionless cyborgs, and now they seek to do the same to other organic life throughout the universe.  In this story, the danger of being killed by the Cybermen pales in significance to the possibility of being captured & converted, with death being a preferable alternative.  That is really what helps to make them horrifying monsters.

“Attack,” like a number of other stories by Saward, is quite violent.  A lot of people have complained that Saward’s violence is gratuitous.  Perhaps at times it was.  But a look at Doctor Who history shows that, from the very beginning in 1963, many stories had high body counts (especially the ones with the Daleks).  The difference is that typically characters would be killed off by a laser blast or disintegration ray, a bloodless death.  Saward, on the other hand, demonstrated in his stories that killing is a nasty, messy, violent business.

Another difference is that, before Saward’s tenure as a Doctor Who script editor and writer, most stories’ casualties were not particularly well developed.  This is especially blatant in the early 1970s, when numerous UNIT soldiers would be wiped out by whatever alien menace was invading Earth that month.  The majority of those killed were nameless grunts who would die ten seconds after coming onto the screen.  There was no real impact when they got killed.  In contrast, many of the characters Saward killed in his stories were developed beforehand.  They had names and personalities, and we would get to know them before they were dispatched in a particularly awful manner.  When they died, it often felt genuinely sad and tragic, a real waste of life.  Saward didn’t glamorize violence; he showed how brutal and ugly it really was.

Things get violent: Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) is tortured by the Cybermen
Things get violent: alien mercenary Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) is tortured by the Cybermen

There is some great incidental music in “Attack” by Malcolm Clarke.  He is one of my favorite Doctor Who composers from the 1980s, composing excellent scores for such Peter Davison serials as “Earthshock” and “Enlightenment.”  His work on “Attack” is just perfect.

On the other hand, the story has some very weak set design.  The Cybermen’s base on Earth looks too similar to their command center on Telos.  When the story cuts between the two, there’s some confusion over which location is which.

More significantly, the Cybermen’s tombs on Telos look nothing like they did in “Tomb of the Cybermen.”  In 1985, “Tomb” was missing from the BBC archives (it was fortunately re-discovered in the early 1990s) but there were photos of the sets available.  So if the designers wanted to, they could have easily checked to see what the Telos tombs looked like.  Instead, they re-designed them completely.  It’s very jarring, especially nowadays when “Tomb” is easily available for viewing.  Besides, the 1967 sets look much better than the 1985 ones.

The DVD of “Attack of the Cybermen” has a lot of great extras.  Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Terry Molloy, and Sarah Berger provide an entertaining audio commentary.  The aforementioned “The Cold War” feature is an informative half-hour behind-the-scenes piece.  “The Cyber Story” is a 23 minute history of the Cybermen, with plenty of clips.  I enjoyed being able to view a couple of minutes of “The Tenth Planet.”  I’ve never been able to watch that serial, because (as far as I know) it has never been broadcast or commercially released here in the States, as the final episode is missing. Maybe one of these days it’ll finally be recovered.  Either that or the BBC can redo it in animated form, as they did very effectively for the missing episodes of “The Reign of Terror” and “The Invasion.”

In any case, while not perfect, “Attack of the Cybermen” is a very good, entertaining, intelligent story.  The acting is top-notch, and Matthew Robinson’s direction is solid.

As far as Colin Baker goes, in addition to this story, also check out “Vengeance on Varos,” “Mark of the Rani,” and “Revelation of the Daleks” to see him in top form.  And, if you have the opportunity, pick up some of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays he has starred in.  I plan on doing write-ups on at least a couple of those in the near future.  They really do demonstrate what Baker can do as the Doctor when given very well-written material to work with.