Monday, December 28, 2015

Was Leela black?

Tonight and tomorrow, BBC Four is repeating the 1977 Doctor Who story The Face of Evil, in which Tom Baker's Doctor meets a new friend - Leela, played by Louise Jameson. I interviewed Louise two years ago for Doctor Who Magazine's essential guide to the companions, and with the kind permission of DWM editor Tom Spilsbury, here it is as published...

"How do I say this?" muses Louise Jameson, who played the Fourth Doctor's companion Leela in 1977 and 1978. "I adore Tom Baker now. I want that to come across in what you put. But at the time, on the show, he behaved very badly towards me and I was very unhappy."

This is surprising given that Leela was perhaps the toughest companion ever to travel in the TARDIS. A fearless warrior from a savage tribe in the far future, she loved to fight the Doctor's enemies and even, sometimes, kill. Indeed, she was named after a terrorist who'd been in the news – Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

"Oh really?" laughs Louise.

She didn't know?

"Certainly not back then. I based Leela on a three-year-old who lived upstairs from me and on Bosie, my then dog."

How was Leela like a dog?

"Bosie was highly intelligent, instinctive, inquisitive," Louise explains. "She was a bassenji whippet terrier. Bassenjis have huge ears and fantastic hearing, and she'd –"

Demonstrating, Louise whips her head round, suddenly alert.

"That came from my dog."

Commenting on Leela's eagerness to kill (rather unusual for a Doctor Who companion), Louise confirms that "Tom hated it. You remember that speech of his in my first story? 'No more Janis thorns – ever!' We wrote that in the rehearsal room."

But maybe he was right to object. Louise considers. "At the time I was too connected to just me and my role to really have an opinion. Now that I'm a writer-director-producer and all those things... No, I don't think he was. Leela needed educating but it could have been done over a more interesting story arc than just one speech."

Louise explains that it wasn't merely Leela's character that Tom Baker objected to. "He wanted to travel alone and refused to be part of the audition process, even though he was invited. Pennant [Roberts, director] read the Doctor's lines. He said he gave me the part because I 'made him work'."

So when did Louise first meet Tom?

"After my final audition, very briefly. Philip [Hinchcliffe, producer] and Pennant took me to the BBC canteen for lunch. Tom was filming that day so they called him over and we shook hands across the table. He was still in costume, that great scarf and coat, and he nearly knocked everything over. Then off he went. The next time was on set at Ealing on the first day of filming. We had a tiny rehearsal in my dressing room where we both made suggestions, with Pennant as referee. Then we were filming it."

What suggestions did Louise make? She takes a moment to remember.

"I didn't understand why Leela didn't run away when she saw the Doctor – who she thought of as the Evil One. I wanted something behind me so I had no escape route. Tom didn't like that and Pennant came down on his side so I had to find a reason to stay. It wasn't difficult: Tom is so charismatic. I thought, 'She's in the presence of danger but her instincts tell her he's not dangerous and her curiosity wins out.' I don't think I've ever told anyone that!"

Louise is a committed follower of Stanislavski's theories on acting. "You need a clear objective for every sentence you say and a clear obstacle to saying it," she explains. "That's where the drama appears. Her desire is to run but this man is fascinating so she can't quite leave."

What tradition of acting does Tom come from? Louise's eyes go wide.

"That's such an interesting question! Tom is very cerebral. He's got the most extraordinary voice, and he's very aware of it. But he'd laugh if you asked if he followed Stanislavski. So would Colin Baker. Yet if you look at their work, I think they follow the rules to a tee. All my work is based on that method." She grins. "It comes into its own when you're working on scripts that don't quite cut the mustard, helps you find a way to make them work."

Louise also refers to Stanislavski when asked about Leela's costume – or lack of it.

"It didn't seem gratuitous. She lived in the jungle and the rest of the tribe wore skins too. But I was very naïve then. It didn't occur to me that I would become some kind of sex symbol. But Phillip knew that taking Leela's clothes off was a good move." She laughs again. "It added 2.5 million to the viewing figures."

In her third story, Leela swapped the skins for a full-length Victorian costume, and in Horror of Fang Rock wore jeans and a jumper. "But they realised the value of Leela in a leotard, so that didn't happen again!" Does she regret that, looking back? "No," she says. "If you want to establish a character, it's good to wear one costume throughout."

Did she ever worry about the message it sent, or her responsibility as a role model to the women and girls who were watching? Louise shrugs. "I worry about the text and whatever it takes to honour the writing. If that means stripping off, putting on a corset or pretending to be a man – I just do it."

So how did it affect her – becoming, to use her own phrase, a sex symbol? Louise smiles. "I have this catchphrase: I helped many a young man through a difficult phase in their lives. I find it quite flattering, to be honest. Though that's probably not the PC thing to say!"

To begin with, Louise wore contact lenses to make her blue eyes look brown. In pictures from an early make-up test, her skin looks very dark. Was Leela intended to be the show's first black companion? It was still fairly common for white actors to "black up" – in Leela's third story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the white actor John Bennett was made up to look Chinese.

Louise is candid. "It was never specified with Leela. Quite honestly, in those photos I think the make-up woman just didn't get it quite right. The dark eyes were because, I was told, Leela meant 'dark-eyed beauty'." Again, she considers. "There was always an hour and a half in make-up before I was allowed on set. I wasn't black but it was more than a tan. One of my sons is mixed race – dual heritage we say now. I think I was meant to have that kind of skin."

Louise left Doctor Who at the end of her contract, declining to stay on for another season or to return in 1980 for Tom Baker's final stories. Yet now she's playing Leela alongside him in audio plays for Big Finish. So what's changed?

"I love Big Finish," she enthuses.

But what about Tom, who made her so unhappy? She shrugs. "He said sorry. That's all it took. Now we get on brilliantly. He's a pussycat – and I'm more sure of myself. And despite everything we were – and still are – hugely admiring of each other's work."

He's never difficult to work with? Her eyes glitter as she smiles – a fierce look that's all Leela.

"He wouldn't dare..."

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Infinite Monkey Cage

Excitingly, I am a guest on the Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 on Christmas Day. It's a special episode devoted to the science of Doctor Who, which I know a bit about. The blurb goes like this:
"Brian Cox and Robin Ince celebrate the festive season with a look at the science of Doctor Who. Swapping the infinite cage for the TARDIS, they are joined on stage by comedian Ross Noble, Professor Fay Dowker, Oscar-winning special FX director Paul Franklin, author and Doctor Who writer Simon Guerrier and the Very Reverend Victor Stock. They discuss the real science of time travel, the tardis and why wormholes are inaccurately named (according to Ross!)."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Five Who Fans



My distinguished colleague, Dr Marek Kukula, and I were interviewed by the high-brains called Five Who Fans earlier this year, about our book, The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who. We responded in our usual highly polished and professional manner.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DWM 2016 Yearbook

Out in shops from tomorrow is the 2016 Yearbook from the magnificent fellows at Doctor Who Magazine.

Amongst all the fun, there's my interview with stunt co-ordinator Dani Biernat (who I also worked with on the short film Modern Man) about being dropped on her head, and featuring a missing scene from The Zygon Invasion.

There's also my round-up of the awards Doctor Who has been nominated for in the past 12 months.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Out now

My novella Fall Out is now available to buy. The blurb goes like this:
When the world died, they turned out the lights.

Jack Bedford may be the rightful King of Britain, but he’s going to have to work for it. In the years since the Cull wiped out most of the human race, the beleaguered island has survived invasions, murderous cults and civil wars. Now, the dozens of tribes and communities who have gradually formed out of the chaos, painfully rebuilding in the aftermath, stand on their own; uniting them will be an uphill battle.

A fresh disaster may give him the chance to prove his leadership. Heysham power plant, in Lancashire, has suffered a catastrophic meltdown, the aging safety mechanisms failing after years of neglect. Hundred have been killed or fatally poisoned.

An emergency council is called. There are nine more plants in the UK; how many are close to failure? What must be done to make them safe? Can the emerging leaders of Britain set aside their differences to deal with the threat?
Also out now is Doctor Who audio adventure The Black Hole, starring Rufus Hound as... well, that would be telling. But I should like a hat like that.
On a research station near a black hole, time keeps standing still. Investigating the phenomenon, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria discover a power far greater than any of the monsters that have challenged them on their travels... The Doctor's own people.

With the safety of thousands balancing out the need to flee, and a policeman from his home planet working at his side, the Doctor reluctantly finds himself involved in a race against time.

But nothing is ever as simple as it appears. And if you can use the Doctor's compassion against him, you have the makings of a perfect trap…

Written By: Simon Guerrier
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/Doctor Who), Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield), Rufus Hound (Constable Pavo), Janet Dibley (Commander Flail), Anthony Keetch (The Seeth). Narrated by David Warner.

Sound design and music Toby Hrycek-Robinson, cover art Tom Webster, producer David Richardson, script editor John Dorney, executive producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Davros and other villains

NYDER:
I've heard Davros say there is no intelligent life on other planets, so either he is wrong or you are lying.

DOCTOR:
We are not lying.

NYDER:
And Davros is never wrong about anything.

DOCTOR:
Then he must be exceptional. Even I am occasionally wrong about some things. Who is this Davros?

Genesis of the Daleks by Terry Nation (1975)
The latest essential edition of Doctor Who Magazine celebrates Davros, creator of the Daleks, and other deadly masterminds and megalomaniacs. I got to have pizza with Davros's best (and, um, only) friend Nyder, who told me about his penchant for villainy and singing with Dusty Springfield (see below). I also spoke to the team being the stage show which reunited Nyder and his bezzie, The Trial of Davros.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Unsung Live in London

Tomorrow night (Tuesday, 20 October), I'll be at Unsung Live, which promises to be an,
"evening of storytelling for fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror and all the bits in-between".
I'm reading an odd science-fiction story called "The Case of the Retiring Magnate". The line-up includes David Hartley, Cassandra Khaw and Robert Sharp, and the event is organised by the nice people at the publisher Unsung Stories.

(I'd meant to post something an age ago about a book of theirs, The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley, which tells of a world where all women have died out. It's not right to say I "loved" it - it's really unsettling, the relative passivity of the narrator adding to the feel of a nightmare.)

ETA: Unsung have posted photos from the event, and Andrew Wallace reviewed it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Prosthetics: from script to screen

Out in shops now, Doctor Who Magazine #292 features the second part of my interview with Kate Walshe, SFX producer at Millennium FX. This time, we go into detail on the creative process on the first four episodes of the current series (The Magician's Apprentice, The Witch's Familiar, Under the Lake and Before the Flood), explaining how what's written in the stage directions of scripts gets transformed into icky and effective monsters.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The LEGO Book of Love

I'm one of the writers of I Love That Minifigure, a book published this month and devoted to LEGO characters old and new. Researching it was truly a labour of love. I adored LEGO as a kid and still wear the LEGO Space emblem with pride, despite being quite ancient.

By coincidence, the Lord of Chaos has just got into LEGO in a big way, chiefly as the result of that fine fellow Ned Hartley sending us the first issue of his new LEGO Star Wars Magazine.

(Once we'd constructed a miniature X-Wing and Slave I, the Lord of Chaos also wanted to see them in action, so we've worked our way through the Episodes IV, V and VI, and I am told I must take him to see Episode VII when it comes out. You can imagine my distress at this prospect.)

Then on Monday, I discovered the big box of Star Wars LEGO I thought I'd given away years ago in the big clear-out of the house before his Lordship's arrival. There has been much rejoicing.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dead of Night

To mark 70 years (and 26 days) since its premiere, I've written about Dead of Night for the new issue of the Lancet Psychiatry.

Ealing's extraordinary psychological thriller - or horror film - has haunted audiences ever since, and led astronomer Fred Hoyle to come up with his "steady state" model of the universe. (He coined the phrase "Big Bang" to dismiss a rival theory, though it's the one we consider now to best fit the evidence.)


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Radio Times and the Cybermen

Marek and I had a lovely time at the Radio Times Festival on Friday, discussing the scientific secrets of Doctor Who. It was especially exciting (for me) to get asked questions about the science in Time and the Rani (1987) and Silver Nemesis (1988). We were also interviewed for the Radio Times website.
(I wish I'd said "you can become much angrier," but oh well...)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fall Out

Abaddon Books have tweeted the cover of my forthcoming ebook Fall Out, released in November. It's part of their Afterblight Chronicles range (about a world struggling to survive after a devastating plague), and picks up from the end of Scott K Andrews's acclaimed School's Out trilogy.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Series 9 costumes and monsters

Doctor Who Magazine #491
Image by Gavin Rymill 
The super new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out in shops now. As well as exclusive previews of the first four episodes of series 9, I interviewed costume designer Ray Holman about Peter Capaldi's fetching red coat and designing the look of Matt Smith's Doctor, and there's the first of a two-part interview with Kate Walshe, SFX producer at Millennium FX, about making disgusting monsters.

Plus there's a feature on Big Finish recasting Doctors and companions, which includes me and Elliot Chapman on the new Ben Jackson. All this and posters, jokes and an insightful review of The Macra Terror. Cripes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ben and Polly in Doctor Who

My new Doctor Who story The Yes Men is out now, starring Frazer Hines as the Second Doctor and companion Jamie McCrimmon, Anneke Wills as Polly and introducing Elliot Chapman as Ben Jackson (a role originally played by the late Michael Craze).

As a vital part of the writing process (or was it prevarication, who can tell?) I watched all the existing Ben and Polly TV episodes and listened to the soundtracks of the rest. On the off-chance it's of interest, here are my thoughts...

The War Machines
The Doctor's new companions
What a delight this story is. There's a special thrill in Doctor Who fighting the internet in 1966 - when the very idea of a computer attached to a phone line was an outlandish, scary concept.

It's also striking to see the First Doctor strolling about in the London of the (then) present day. In the three years that Doctor Who had been running when this story was first broadcast, the TARDIS had landed in the present before - the Doctor lives there in the very first episode and sends his granddaughter to the local school, and later we briefly glimpse the present day in Planet of GiantsThe Chase, The Daleks' Master Plan and The Massacre.

But The War Machines, right at the end of the series' third year, and nearly 150 episodes in, is the first adventure fully set in the present and with the Doctor able to interact with people there, and it creates a template for a lot of Doctor Who to come. Russell T Davies' first scripts for "new" Doctor Who in 2005 used the same idea - monsters invade contemporary London and make use of its newest landmarks, while a real-life news presenter comments on events to add a sense that it might actually be happening.

There's something thrilling about the Doctor interrupting a press conference, arguing with MPs and giving the army their orders (indirectly). It's fun seeing him in a nightclub - something I expect the new series would be more wary of now (they certainly wouldn't do the Jimmy Savile joke). I adore Hartnell's daft performance as he's rung up by the evil computer and it tries to scramble his brain. But is it so ridiculous? Something similar happens in the "hard" SF thriller Snowcrash, with a computer recoding people's brains.

Poor companion Dodo is hypnotised and then written out of the series without very much ceremony midway through the story. It's a brutal exit - she and the Doctor don't even say goodbye. The production team seem far more interested in new creations Ben and Polly. Ben's sulky and cross and his dialogue is riddled with glottal stops. Polly's a secretary who likes clubbing and nice clothes, and is as cheery as Ben can be down. He thinks she's posh - and calls her "Duchess". Their class and attitude makes a nice contrast.

In fact, it could have been the start of a different series: the Doctor disappearing in his police box at the end, leaving Ben and Polly to have trendy, sci-fi adventures in contemporary London. Sir Charles Summer (played by William Mervyn, whose son Michael Pickwoad is the production designer on Doctor Who today) would have sent them on special assignments that the usual authorities couldn't get involved in.

Or maybe that's what they got up to when they returned to London after their travels with the Doctor. What about it, Big Finish?

The Smugglers
I'm only sleeping
This is the first story of the fourth series, and that introductory scene in the TARDIS, explaining the concept anew is lovely. It speaks of a production team making a fresh start: the companions contemporary and real whatever strange adventures they might face.

Polly is posh and says "Jolly well", "super" and "fantastic" - it's clear why Ben calls her Duchess. But she's resourceful, contriving her and Ben's escape in episode 2 by using the local people's superstitions and pretending to be a witch. It's fun that just because she wears trousers everyone assumes she's a boy: it neatly avoids any chance of the cliche that she'll be a damsel in distress.

Ben is a clear contrast, all "And we're away, mate," "yobbo", and "'ang on". And he's the one knocked unconscious and made helpless. They use Ben to make Polly more proactive and independent.

It's not the most exciting story but there's plenty to enjoy. It clearly owes a lot to Winston Graham's Poldark books, and I wonder how modern Doctor Who might riff on the latest incarnation of Poldark as played by Aidan Turner. There would have to be a monster. In fact, compare it to the linked The Curse of the Black Spot (2011), which explains what happened to the Captain Avery whose treasure everyone is seeking in this story.

I don't know the Poldark books but wonder if (or hope) the character of Jamaica is based on someone in them, so that the uncomfortable racist cliche is a reference back to the source material rather than something the production team introduced themselves. Because the attitudes to race in the programme at the time are complex, as we see in the next story.

The Tenth Planet
Krang the Cyberman
Polly compares the TARDIS wardrobe to Carnaby Street. We already know (from Marco Polo) that it can supply practical clothes for wherever they might end up in time and space, but now it - and the series - have a sense of contemporary style.

Again, 1960s Doctor Who has a broad canvas even when on Earth. Having been to China and South America, France, Italy and the Middle East, we're now at the South Pole. Compare that to how the show of this time rarely visits the UK. It makes later Doctor Who look almost parochial.

Setting the story in 1986 rather than the far future makes it more real - though Ben doesn't think it's that close, speaking of 1986 as being "still at sea". There's an effort to make this near future international, with different countries and races on screen. Star Trek was doing something similar - but wouldn't be seen in the UK for years. So was it something in the air, a general vision that the future would be more and contentedly mixed? It seems to be linking the confidence and swagger of the space programme with progressive social ideas.

As we discuss in our documentary, Race Against Time (an extra on the DVD of The Mutants):
"Doctor Who's fourth year clearly made an effort to employ more black and Asian actors. The babbling, superstitious pirate, Jamaica, might be a terrible stereotype in 1966's The Smugglers, but that's not true of the next story, The Tenth Planet. 
Set in the far-off future of 1986, the cast of The Tenth Planet included the respected Bermudan actor Earl Cameron as astronaut Glyn Williams. The script specified Williams as Welsh; director Derek Martinus didn't change the script to accommodate his choice of actor, recognising that the astronaut could be both black and Welsh.
(A point I got from the inspiring chapter on the subject in Gary Gillatt's Doctor Who: From A to Z (1998).)

Ben recognises "CO" as Commanding Officer and describes himself as "Able Seaman Ben Jackson, Royal Navy". Though he's in the merchant navy, that made me wonder about his military experience. We don't know Ben's age, but the actor who played him, Michael Craze, was young enough not to have done national service.

Then note in episode 2 Ben's horror at having to kill a Cyberman, insisting that he was forced to do it. There's also his horror at General Cutler's bloodlust. It doesn't seem likely that Ben has killed before. Would the death of the Cyberman haunt him?

The Doctor seems to have met the Cybermen before. Is there an untold story for Big Finish to explore, or is it simply that he remembers (some of) the events of The Five Doctors (1983)?

In episode 3, Polly offers to make coffee. She's less practical and proactive in this story than in The Smugglers, but uses making coffee to get information from the crew. When asked if she's scared, she replies "I am rather." Note: she's resourceful, brave and inventive, but that doesn't mean she's fearless or "strong".

Ben carries a penknife (he just calls it a knife). He's knocked out - as he was in The Smugglers - and again Polly tends him. He refers to Cybermen as "geezers", and says of Polly, "Take it easy love".

A big problem with the story is that events largely happen despite the Doctor and his companions being there. That's in part due to the necessary rewriting around William Hartnell's absence from episode 3. But I think the writers were more interested in their original ideas: the Cybermen, the Arctic base, the state of the world in the near future. Plus there was no script editor to rein them in (since he was one of the co-writers).

And, oh, the loss of episode 4, where the last minutes play out with little dialogue and only atmospheric sound. How strange and eerie were these final moments of the First Doctor?

The Power of the Daleks
In a Dalek's sights
I've talked before about the brilliance of Ben and Polly doubting that this new bloke can really be the Doctor, and that his identity is confirmed by the most unlikely source: a Dalek. In fact, there's a contrast between the companions: Polly believes it's the Doctor, Ben doesn't.

Watching these stories altogether, and getting the context, a new thought occurs to me: that the famous and oft-repeated shot of a Dalek's eye view of the Doctor is an echo of The War Machines, when the First Doctor grips his lapels and doesn't flinch as a robot menaces towards him. Is this consciously making a contrast between the two incarnations?

The story is all about people being people they're not: the Doctor, the Daleks, the base's leaders. Ben and Polly - who we've known for a relatively short while - are the only ones to be who they claim. They're our fixed points in this story.

There's a rare snippet of information about Ben and Polly's lives before they met the Doctor: we learn that Ben grew up opposite a brewery.

In episode 2, Ben says, "Of course the real Doctor was always going on about the Daleks" - but when? The last time they were spoken of was at the beginning of The War Machines, when he mentioned them to Dodo and then remembered she'd not met them either. Ben and Polly weren't there. Each story has run directly into the next one, so there's been no gaps in which to have that conversation.

Ben's dialogue is still very distinctive: he says "Nuts!", "Me ol' china" and "Are you off your 'ead mate?" I double-underlined the Doctor's dialogue:
I know the misery [the Daleks] cause, the destruction. But there's something else more terrible. Something I can only half remember.
Later, his memories of meeting Marco Polo are a bit mixed up, too, as if that adventure happened to someone else. That's a big influence on my script for The Yes Men.

In episode 3, just as Polly instinctively believes the Doctor is who he says he is, she also trusts Quinn without any particular evidence.

As well as the recorder, the Doctor carries a magnifying glass. That's surely a link to Sherlock Holmes, making the Doctor more of an investigator, an active participant.

And there's the first use of catchphrases: "When I say run, run like a rabbit." Episode 4 introduces "I'd like a hat like that."

In episode 5, Polly describes Ben as "a real man", in contrast to Kebble. The suggestion is that Ben can handle himself in a fight, though what evidence has Polly seen of that?

The Highlanders
Meeting Jamie
This is a great story for Polly, where's she independent and resourceful, chiding Highlander Kirsty in episode 1: "There must be something we can do... Crying's no good." In episode 2, she continues: "Didn't the women of your age do anything but cry?"

Polly can also be mean, telling Kirsty, "You're just a stupid peasant". Though perhaps that's her frustration at their predicament, or a way of getting Kirsty to be more helpful.

But Polly has a cruel streak, clearly relishing it as she blackmails Ffinch and calls him "Algy dear."

The Doctor's disguise in episode 1 is another new trademark for this Doctor.

Ben describes Inverness as a "right rat hole".

Jamie is a piper - but do we ever hear him play the bagpipes? At the end of the story, the Doctor says he'll take Jamie with him in the TARDIS if Jamie teaches him to play the bagpipes, but again that's never picked up on in the TV show. (I's something that's gone into The Yes Men.)

Jamie believes in bloodletting. It's, "the only way of curing the sick."

The Doctor with a gun
It seems especially odd in episode 2 to see (in the screengrabs from the missing episodes photographed by John Cura) this incarnation of the Doctor wielding a gun and at such close quarters. Though he does admit, "I'm not very expert with these things," it's a reminder that the "rules" we think of about this incarnation - and of Doctor Who more generally - have not been established.

In episode 4, Ben at last gets a chance to be resourceful, using a Houdini trick he knows to flex his muscles and escape. (The Third Doctor does the same thing in Planet of the Spiders, citing Houdini as a friend, so perhaps there's a story to be told about Ben learning the trick from the man himself.)

Jamie doesn't escape with his friends, he stays behind in Scotland to help the Doctor and the others across the glen and back to the TARDIS. The story was rewritten at the last minute so that Jamie joins the TARDIS, but I find myself wondering how it originally went. Did he escape with Kirsty? When he leaves the Doctor and returns to Scotland in The War Games (1969), is there any chance he'll catch up with her?

The Underwater Menace
Zzzz
Episode 1, scene 2 has the Doctor and his friends discuss where they might go next. Polly and Ben don't seem to be enjoying their adventures: Polly wants to go home to London and Ben is still bothered by his encounter with the Daleks. The Doctor hopes to see prehistoric monsters (again, perhaps there's a story in that.)

Note the short journey times in the TARDIS - since The War Machines, they leave one adventure behind them and are then straight into the next one, with little time to chat let alone have other adventures in between (which is bad news for Big Finish).

In episode 1, Ben calls Polly "love", and says, "You speak foreign". Jamie speaks Gallic. Polly of the Doctor, already recognising the tropes: "I've never seen him go for food like this. It's usually hats."

The story is set sometime after 1968 and the general consensus is that it's 1970, because the next story is set in 2070. Again, it's a near future setting, a touch of reality in what's otherwise a peculiar fantasy. There's no attempt to explain Zaroff's suicidal plot other than him being a mad scientist.

In fact, for all script editor Gerry Davis had recruited ophthalmologist Dr Kit Pedler as a scientific adviser on Doctor Who for this run of stories, surely The War Machines, The Tenth Planet and this one show an inherent technophobia, with science something dehumanising and to be feared.

There's another disguise for the Doctor in episode 2. In episode 3 the Doctor describes himself as "A man. Almost 5' 9", black coat, baggy trousers and a bowtie."

When Zaroff falls ill, Polly is again (instinctively) trusting, as is the Doctor. It's Jamie who thinks (correctly) that Zaroff is faking.

In episode 4, Ben calls the Doctor (jokingly) a "berk" and says, "He ain't normal, is he?" But note his dismissal at the end: "Zaroff, 'oo cares about him?" He was haunted by having to kill a Cybermen, so has he changed as a result of his subsequent experience, especially with the Daleks? Or is he simply prioritising, and is more worried about Jamie and Polly?

Jamie calls Ben "Benjamin" and feels safe inside the TARDIS - a set up for a gag as the Doctor loses control. The Doctor says he's never previously wanted to take the TARDIS anywhere in particular, but the strong suggestion here is that he can control the ship. (As we learn, they're only sent off course because of the Gravitron.)

The Moonbase
Groovy space gear
The first episode of this is a keenly felt loss. How I'd love to see the Doctor and his friends in spacesuits bounding across the surface of the Moon.

Ben knows there are 200 million miles from Mars to the Moon (in fact, the distance changes as both bodies orbit the Sun at different rates, but the average distance is about 240 million miles, so he's pretty much correct). He also seems to know about radiation - in episode 3 he says the temperature inside the Gravitron's thermonuclear powerpack "is about 4 million degrees."

Ben teases Polly for being a nurse - though she's looked after him twice when he's been knocked unconscious.

In episode 2, Polly recognises the Cybermen even though they look different - again, she's instinctive. In episode 3, the Cybermen recognise the Doctor despite his change in appearance (they might remember him from forthcoming stories The Wheel in Space and/or The Invasion, which take place before the events of this story).

The Doctor says he took some kind of medical degree in Glasgow under Lister in 1888. He certainly knows how to use a pathology lab. Does that mean he knows Madame Vastra? It's 1888 when we meet her in A Good Man Goes to War (2011), so perhaps it's the Second Doctor who rescues her.

It's fun when Hobson talks about the Cybermen: rarely for Doctor Who (at least until it came back in 2005), do events of previous stories become part of Earth history. They are quickly forgotten.

Note also that it's another multicultural, multiracial future. How outlandish would it have looked at the time that everyone in space is wearing tee-shirts? Speaking of which, this is the story where Jamie wears a polo-neck for the first time - which he'll continue to do for much of his time in the series. Is that, then, futuristic clothing?

The Doctor's conversation with himself in episode 3 is interesting: it seems as if we're hearing his inner thoughts, which is another breach of what we'd now think of as a "rule" of Doctor Who.

In the 1990s, a clip of the Doctor asking Polly to make coffee while he tries to puzzle out the mystery was used on documentaries to illustrate the sexism in the series. Yet in context I don't think that's fair. For one thing, both Ben and Polly are trying to be useful. Ben is asked to tidy up, which he clearly thinks is demeaning, and then gets in everyone's way. Polly is happy to help, and her coffee is what leads the Doctor to his revelation about how the Moonbase crew are being infected. Her positive attitude leads to the solution.

What's more Polly is again the one to come up with a way to stop the Cybermen, taking Jamie's suggestion of "holy water" and suggesting nail varnish remover instead. It's nicely worked out between the three companions. Polly isn't sure it will work and says, "I'm gonna try an experiment" - so Ben calls her "Professor". He's the one that knows nail varnish remover is made of acetone (Polly doesn't know that). He's the one who reworks the fire extinguishers for the "Polly cocktail" they're making. At least in the animation of the missing episode on the DVD, it's Polly who takes out the Cybermen.

But something's about to change. On the making-of documentary on the DVD, Frazer Hines (who plays Jamie) says The Moonbase was the final story not to have been written directly for him, that up till this point in the series he was largely taking lines from Ben and Polly or being left unconscious. He says things changed with the next story - but, as we'll see, I think that was at the cost of Ben and Polly

Actors Michael Craze and Anneke Wills only had six weeks left on their contracts at this point, which were not renewed. The same production team who created Ben and Polly and wrote such dynamic, fun stuff for them seem to have decided not to keep them on, and it's as if they then lose interest.

The Macra Terror
Waaah!
There's some fun stuff early on as Polly goes for a shampoo and Jamie resists but is flattered by the attention. We learn Ben has been in the Mediterranean - another rare bit of detail about his life before The War Machines. The three companions wear uniforms, and Polly says Jamie looks "super".

Ben is hypnotised so that he looks forward to work, the suggestion being that he usually drags his feet, and a reminder of the gloomy soul we met in his first story. In fact, I think he's changed a lot since then.

Polly is horrified by Ben's betrayal, and there's some interesting conflict about how much he's been taken over: he redeems himself by offering to let Polly escape from the Macra, then denies he did so to his masters. Later, the Doctor picks up on that: "I always knew you were a tough customer." It's a reminder of what Polly said in The Power of the Daleks about Ben being a "real man", though that's not something we often see.

Jamie refers to his friends as a "lassie and an old man". Just as the Doctor had a defining speech in The Moonbase about evil needing to be fought, here he declares that "bad laws were meant to be broken." It's a new dynamism: the Doctor as an active participant hero.

Polly becomes a miner, working with the men, but when the Macra attack she's a lot more screamy than she's ever been before. I suppose there's an argument that that's a fair response to the continuing stress of all she's been through since meeting the Doctor. But I think she's written here as a more generic and less interesting character.

There's fun in episode 4 when Jamie is required to do a "gay and cheerful dance" - again which we can't see because the episode is missing. At the end of the story a dance festival will be held every year in the Doctor's memory - and he gets a majorette's hat. He and his friends dance their way out and away to the TARDIS, which would be fun to see. It's nice to finish a story with them enjoying themselves for a change.

The Faceless Ones
Bye bye!
This story does not follow on directly from the end of the last one - the only Ben and Polly story not to do so, so the only one with a clear gap into which Big Finish or anyone else might insert new stories. Note, too, that Polly's hair has really grown since The Macra Terror, suggesting a lot of time has passed.

It's great that episode 1 exists to watch after so many missing episodes, and what sights it offers. The location filming at Gatwick is properly thrilling - bold and contemporary and real. It still feels relevant - taking the ordinariness of cheap flights and making it weird and scary.

Polly is so upset about the dead man they discover (despite all the death she's witnessed on her adventures) that Jamie hugs her. Is that out of character, or a symptom of her exhaustion?

The Doctor again has his magnifying glass, and his shuffling, bow-legged walk is so comic - and distinctive. It's not an original thought, but how much do we miss from these stories by not being able to see what he's doing?

Just as Ben was hypnotised in the last story, Polly is hypnotised in this one. No one mentions that fact (perhaps because The Macra Terror was for them a long time ago).

Jamie says "kiddin' on", "lassie" and "greet". He steals Samantha's ticket by kissing her. On the plane at the end of episode 4, he runs off to be sick - and that's consistent with his earlier fear of planes as "flying beasties". But we soon learn he's being smart, using the "sickness" to hide and so find out what's really going on. Again, he's intelligent if ignorant. Yet whereas he spotted Zaroff faking his illness, here he's surprised by the double of his friend Crossland.

Samantha Briggs refers to the brainwashed Polly as a "stuck-up thing", and it seems especially unfair that that isn't corrected - this being effectively Polly's last episode (because she and Ben only appear briefly at the end of episode 6, in pre-recorded scenes). Would Polly and Samantha have got on? I crave more adventures with Samantha as a companion, and love her response on seeing the real Pinto: "Flippin 'eck!"

She rocks it -
Sherlock's mum in episode 4
I wouldn't mind Wanda Ventham's Jean Rock as a companion, either. Perhaps there's a spin-off series of strange alien murder mysteries for Rock and Briggs to solve.

Though we don't see Ben and Polly for most of the rest of the story, they're often mentioned - and the Doctor insists in episode 4 (without any evidence) that they're still alive. It's odd to think of those episodes being recorded, and Patrick Troughton insisting that we'll see his friends again while knowing they've already left the series.

It shows how well established Jamie is that when he appears as a Chameleon in episode 6 and has lost his Scottish accent, it is really creepy.

Blade shoots Chameleon Janice, and there's a notable lack of judgment from the Doctor about all the humans and Chameleons killed in this story. Also, does Blade's original stay behind for the bargain to work?

And then we're back to Gatwick, where Ben and Polly realise that it's the same day on which they met the Doctor in The War Machines.

Just as with Jackie Lane as Dodo, Michael Craze and Anneke Wills left the series midway through a story, but it's nice that this time there's a prerecorded sequence so they can goodbye at the end. It still feels a bit abrupt and brutal - they've been missing for four episodes and then we just have time to wave them off.

Polly wants to stay in London "a bit", rather than leave the TARDIS. Ben says of being back home that, "it's good to feel normal" - chiming with what he said about the Doctor in The Underwater Menace. The Doctor rather makes the decision for them, saying they're lucky to get back to their own world.

Which is odd since he's the reason they left their world in the first place, and because the strong suggestion in The Underwater Menace is that he can control the TARDIS if he wants to. So is he lying so that they don't feel bad about leaving him?

The Doctor tells Polly to look after Ben, and off they go. What became of them? (A long time ago, I tried to address how Polly might have struggled to return to ordinary life in a short story.)

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Jamie are plunged straight into their next adventure. There are few gaps between the stories for the next year...

Monday, September 14, 2015

50 years of Thunderbirds

Out in shops now is a special 116-page magazine celebrating 50 years of Thunderbirds. There are profiles of all the original episodes and the two films, plus interviews with cast and crew - including an interview with the late Gerry Anderson being published for the first time.

I worked on a few bits of the magazine, speaking to artists Graham Bleathman, Steve Kyte and Andrew Skilleter about their comics work, replica puppet maker Vaughan Herriott and replica model maker David Sissons.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Blake's 7: Remnants

Out today is Remnants, a special episode of Blake's 7 what I wrote, starring Paul Darrow as Avon and Sally Knyvette as Jenna. The blurb goes like this:
"'They’re dead. Blake, Cally, Gan, Vila... All gone.’

After a disastrous mission to the planet Laresh, most of the crew has been wiped out. Avon and Jenna are the sole survivors, reunited aboard the Liberator.

But what happens next? With their plans in tatters, do Blake’s Two stay together… or go their separate ways and seek refuge in a galaxy pitted against them?"
 Excitingly, the release is part of the announcement of loads more Blake's 7 coming next year.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Mr Holmes

The new issue of medical journal the Lancet Psychiatry boasts my review of the film Mr Holmes starring Ian McKellen as an aged and decaying Sherlock. It's a follow-up to my piece on the Museum of London's recent Sherlock Holmes exhibition.

Also of interest in the new issue is a review by Deborah L Cabaniss, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, of the Pixar movie Inside Out:
"This stunning and popular movie should be required viewing for anyone in the mental health field."



Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Music of Doctor Who

In shops today is a splendid new special edition of Doctor Who Magazine, devoted to the music of Doctor Who.

It boasts comprehensive features on the various theme tunes, the composers of the incidental music, songs and library recordings used in the show, and the music the show has inspired. There are lots of photographs of synthesisers.

I've written a short piece talking to three fans inspired by Doctor Who to compose their own music, and here are the four videos listed in my article.

1. Allegra Rosenberg performs "Say Hello (A Doctor/TARDIS Trock song)":



2. Amanda Palmer marks Doctor Who's 50th anniversary by performing "Say Hello" with help from her husband Neil Gaiman (who wrote the episode that inspired the song) and Arthur Darvill (who played Rory in that episode):



3. Scott Ampleford's latest score (and narration) for the Doctor Puppet series:



4. Stephen Willis's latest production with the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Science Museum late, 26 August

Me, m'colleague Dr Marek Kukula and our chum Samira Ahmed will be at the Science Museum late event on 26 August, which is free and rather good. As the blurb says:
Attention, big kids - join us at the Science Museum this Wednesday 26 August and step back into the wondrous world of childhood. Explore the scientific secrets of Doctor Who, uncover the meaning behind types of play and learn how the food your mum eats affects your tastes.

Come and enjoy our famous bubble show or make your very own mutant teddy at one of our interactive workshops. Plus, don't miss regular attractions including live music, the Punk Science comedy show and the best silent disco in town.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

At Nine Worlds

Mostly for my own convenience, here is my schedule for the Nine Worlds convention from tomorrow, all in County C&D:

Friday, 11:45 - 13:00
Doctor Who - The Doctor Changed Your Life: how did that happen?
What influence, large or trivial, has Doctor Who had on your life? Has it changed how you see the world; ignited new interests; made you unwisely stick with chemistry all the way through high school because you really wanted to be Liz Shaw when you were seventeen? What has your experience been of the fandom? What does being a fan of Doctor Who mean to you?
Panel: Simon Guerrier (mod), Amy, Sarah Groenewegen, Hamish Steele

Friday, 18:45 - 20:00
Doctor Who - Science! Why does it matter?
Doctor Who has often been described as a science-fantasy show rather than a science fiction one, but there's been many an attempt to get some proper science in there. Does getting the science right matter? Can we forgive the moon being a giant space dragon egg? Why doesn’t the Doctor call himself a scientist these days? Has the science, or lack of, in Doctor Who inspired or disappointed you?
Panel: Duncan Lawie (mod), Abigail Brady, Simon Guerrier, Marek Kukula

(At the same time, the Dr will be in Connaught A with the panel Historical Heroines: the women from history that we admire.)

Sunday, 10:00-11:15
The Books of Doctor Who: just how many are there anyway?
Over the past fifty years there've been a truly terrifying number of Doctor Who books published. From the Target novelisations of the classic series stories to the New Adventures of the nineties, the record-breaking Eighth Doctor Adventures, and the tie-ins of the New Series. What great stories can be found in Doctor Who books? How have the books influenced your views of Doctor Who?
Panel: Simon Guerrier (mod), Adam Christopher, Paul Cornell, Sarah Groenewegen

(At the same time, the Dr will be in County B on the panel Story Translation and Archaeological Museums: changing environments, changing audiences.)

Sunday, 11:45 - 13:00
Is History a Science? - the view from Doctor Who
In their book, The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, authors Simon Guerrier and Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, address this question, looking at how history functions in the world of Doctor Who. In conversation with Tony Keen, they will explore these issues further.
Panel: Simon Guerrier, Tony Keen, Marek Kukula

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Front Row

Last night, I was an interviewed guest on Radio 4's Front Row, talking about TV and films influenced by the nuclear bomb - it being 70 years this week since bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Last night's Front Row is available on BBC iPlayer, and my bit starts at 10:56.

(The Radio 3 Sunday Feature documentary I produced, HG and the H-Bomb, is also still available on iPlayer.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

At Conway Hall

I had a lovely time at Conway Hall on Wednesday night, where m'colleague Dr Marek Kukula and I were grilled by Samira Ahmed on the ethics and science of Doctor Who.

You can listen to the talk - minus the five clips I chose to illustrate stuff - as a Conway Hall podcast: London Thinks - The Science and Ethics of Doctor Who.

More events related to the book still to come. I'll be at Aston Manor Road Transport Museum on 23 August.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hansard from before there was Parliament

Cobbett's Parliamentary
History
, vol. 1 (1806)
Hansard is the official report of parliamentary debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords (I work a bit as a reporter in the Lords). So it's a bit surprising to learn that the first speech reported in its history dates from before there was even a Parliament. To explain this odd fact, we need to understand a bit about how Hansard began.

For a long time, it was against the law to publish the votes and proceedings of Parliament. That was seen as a threat to parliamentary privilege. MPs might be less likely to speak openly in debates if their words were to be shared outside the Chamber.

However, there were those prepared to risk prison to publish anyway – because they thought it would be profitable and/or because they thought it was right to hold Parliament to account. As early as 1675, there were full transcripts of debates.

Some publishers went to prison, but while individual publications were stopped others continued undaunted. Four times in the 1700s the ban was reaffirmed in law. Publishers wriggled round these strictures by printing reports months after debates had taken place or while Parliament was no longer sitting, or by inventing satirical reports from imaginary Parliaments. Even with real debates, what reporting there was could be selective and inaccurate – which didn't help win over MPs.

Finally, in 1771, after a campaign by the radical MP John Wilkes, permission was given for the publication of verbatim – word for word – reports. Such reports became a regular feature in newspapers.

William Cobbett,
National Portrait Gallery
In 1802, William Cobbett began to publish Parliamentary Debates, which compiled these accounts from different newspapers. In 1809, Cobbett employed a new printer, Thomas Curson Hansard, who took over the publication from 1812. Hansard made many improvements to the speed and accuracy of his reports, such as employing reporters directly rather than copying reports from elsewhere. In 1829, his name appeared on the reports – which is why they're known as Hansard today. Last week, Hansard published its 3,000th bound volume of debates.

But before handing his publication to Hansard, Cobbett had seen another opportunity: to collect reports of Parliament from the more distant past. This he did over 36 volumes in – to use its full title – Cobbett's Parliamentary History of England. From the Norman Conquest, in 1066, to the year, 1803. From which last-mentioned epoch it is continued downwards in the work entitled “Cobbett's Parliamentary Debates”. Since the history and the debates make up one continuous work, Hansard reaches back to 1066, before there was a Parliament.

Cobbett tells us in his own preface that he compiled his history from,
“the Records, the Rolls of Parliament, the Parliamentary or Constitutional History, and from the most reputable English Historians.”
Despite these exemplary sources, he also bemoans having had to work his way through an,
“immense load of useless matter, quite unauthentic, and very little connected with the real Proceedings of Parliament”,
which included battles, sieges and even the entire contents of pamphlets. His history is, then, a distillation of earlier reports, concentrating on what was said, by whom, where and when.

Though the title of his history claims that it begins with the Norman conquest, the first date given is 1072, where he tells us that,
“William I, at the instigation of the pope, summoned a national synod, to determine the dispute betwixt the sees of Canterbury and York about supremacy.”
We're told this happened at Windsor, but not what was said or how the matter was resolved.

Henry I
National Portrait Gallery
The next account, from 1106, is the first reported speech in Hansard. Speaking in London, William's son Henry I makes the case why he should be king and not his older brother Robert. But how accurate can that report be? Cobbett tells us the source for this account is the Benedictine monk Matthew Paris (c. 1200-59), whose Historia Anglorum – a history of England from 1070 to 1253 – is thought to have been written between 1250 and 1255, or 150 years after King Henry gave his speech.

Note that Cobbett doesn't tell us what clinched Henry's claim to the throne over that of his older brother. The English barons and the church had complained of bullying behaviour under the previous king, William II. To gain their support, Henry agreed to sign the Charter of Liberties or Coronation Charter – the first time that a king stated that his powers were subject to the law.

Admittedly, those promises were largely ignored by Henry and his descendants for the next 100 years, but it set a precedent for events to follow. Henry's great grandson, King John, also found himself forced to agree concessions to the nobles, and in 1215 he placed his seal on Magna Carta – the great charter.

Historians argue about the significance of Magna Carta, but one thing it established was a Great Council, with representatives from the counties, cities and church, that would take charge of taxation and could – if it had to – stand against the king for the benefit of the country. There had been councils of nobles before, but always subject to the king.

Having agreed to Magna Carta, John then ignored it – and the barons turned to the French Prince Louis for help. There was war – with castles besieged at Dover, Windsor and Rochester. For a brief while, it looked like the barons might win and Louis become king of England.

But John died in 1216. The barons thought they would have more control over John's nine year-old son, Henry, than over French Prince Louis. Henry III was crowned king on the condition he agreed to the great charter. He reigned until 1272, during which time his council first became known as “Parliament” – meaning “to speak”.

In addition, a rebellion in 1265 by Henry's brother-in-law Simon de Montefort led to what's often referred to as the “father or Parliaments”. For the first time, it wasn't the king who decided who sat in Parliament. Instead,
“from each county four prudent and law-worthy knights”,
were chosen by election. The right to vote was given to men who owned land with an income worth 40 shillings or more per year. For the first time, people in the country – if not a huge number of them – had some say in how it was run.

It didn't last, but we can see in that father of Parliaments – as well as in Cobbett's accounts from the reigns of Henry III and Edward I – the beginnings of Parliament as we know it today. In Cobbett's account of 13 January 1223, we have the first recorded speech of a non-royal person in Hansard, from the king's councillor William Briwere. We can see decisions being made by agreement not decree, and – as in 1279 – that the church dared not speak against decisions made by Parliament. We can see the king using Parliament to give his decisions – such as his verdict on Llewellyn – extra weight and authority. We see government referring to precedent, basing their actions on how things have been done before.

So these earliest entries from Hansard give us a sense of the changing terms of power, the early, faltering steps towards the Parliament we know today.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I'm in the Guardian

Spotted by the Dr, me and Dr Marek Kukula feature in The Guide in this morning's Guardian newspaper.


Samira Ahmed will grill us about the science and ethics of Doctor Who (and the chapter of our book devoted to the Time War) on Wednesday night at Conway Hall at 7.30 pm. Tickets from

Monday, June 29, 2015

HG Wells and the H-Bomb

This Sunday at 6.45 pm, Radio 3 will broadcast the new documentary I've produced with brother Tom, HG and the H-Bomb. It's a pick of July's radio and telly, according to those nice people at BBC History Magazine. Blurb as follows:

HG and the H-Bomb
Sunday Feature

Samira Ahmed unearths the extraordinary role of HG Wells in the creation of the nuclear bomb 70 years ago - and how a simple, devastating idea led to the world we know today.

In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, Wells imagined bombs that destroy civilisation and lead to a new world order. But his "atomic bombs" - a name he conceived - are grenades that keep on exploding.

How did this idea become a reality? Samira discovers the strange conjunction of science-fiction and fact that spawned the bomb as Wells mixed with key scientists and politicians such as Lenin and Churchill. Churchill claimed Wells was solely responsible for the use of aeroplanes and tanks in the First World War. Thanks to Wells, Churchill was also ahead of many in writing about the military potential of nuclear weapons - as he did in his 1924 article for the Pall Mall Gazette, "Shall We All Commit Suicide?"

In London's Russell Square, Samira retraces the steps of Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard who conceived the neutron chain reaction. Amid the bustle and noise of the capital in 1933, he suddenly realised how to exploit the potential of nuclear energy and - because he'd read Wells - the devastating impact it would have.

But what could he do? How easy is it to keep a secret in the scientific community, with war looming? Once a dangerous, world-changing idea exists, is it possible to contain it?

To find out, Samira speaks to nuclear physicist Dr Elizabeth Cunningham; Graham Farmelo, author of Churchill's Bomb; Professor Lisa Jardine; Andrew Nahum, chief curator of "Churchill's Scientists" at the Science Museum, London; and Michael Sherborne, author of HG Wells - Another Kind of Life.

Readings by Toby Hadoke
Presenter Samira Ahmed
Producers Simon and Thomas Guerrier
A Whistledown Production for BBC Radio 3.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Black holes and explosions

Two new things! First, the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out today. As well as interviews with Ingrid Oliver and David Warner, it includes my chat with chief special effects blower upper Danny Hargreaves.

I was inspired by this short clip on the BBC's official Doctor Who site of Danny blowing up the head of a Cyberman for the serious, scholarly purpose of supporting British Science Week. We talk physics and chemistry and the Kandyman.

Also, those luminous lovelies at Big Finish have put up cast details and released Tom Webster's gorgeous cover for my new Doctor Who adventure, The Black Hole - which is out in November. Despite the best efforts of Rufus Hound's especially distracting moustache, people have noticed his hat. Whatever can it mean?



Monday, June 22, 2015

Yuri Gagarin's autograph

The Dr asked me to write something for the blog she runs exploring the archives of the Croydon Airport Society. She chose a booklet, "Soviet Man in Space" that she thought was my sort of thing. And it is - especially when its cover boasts the autograph of Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space.

Read my post, Croydon Calling: Soviet Man in Space.

Unrelatedly, I was recently interviewed by Will Barber for The Consulting Detective site about The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Time and Space

A couple of very good books read recently.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North is near-on impossible to put down. It's about a bloke called Harry August who, when he dies, lives his life over again - but remembering everything that happened before. He can change small things - such as going into different professions or marrying different people - but the big stuff like the Second World War or his mum dying young from cancer is rather set in stone. And Harry's not alone, either - there's a whole network or "oroborans", looking out for each other and passing messages to one another forward and backward in time. Including a message from the future that the end is coming, and increasingly quickly...

It's one of those books that starts with a brilliant, ridiculous idea and plays it out perfectly logically, but then adds ever more thrilling developments. To say more would only spoil it, but gosh it is good.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield is packed full of fascinating detail about the counter-intuitive nature of working in Earth orbit. For example, there's this moment in November 1995, when Hadfield was on a space shuttle that docked with the Russian Mir space station. It was an extremely complicated bit of orbital mechanics, but they docked successfully - and three seconds early.
"Only we couldn't get the hatch open. On the other side, they were kicking it with all their might. But the Russian engineers had taped, strapped and sealed our docking module's hatch just a little too enthusiastically, with multiple layers. So we did the true space-age thing: we broke into Mir using a Swiss Army knife. Never leave the planet without one."
Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (2015 [2013]), p. 191.
But the book aims to find life lessons from Hadfield's experience that we can all benefit from, so there's lots of home-spun advice about why it's good to sweat the small stuff and to be prepared. An example is Hadfield learning "Rocket Man" on the guitar on the off-chance that he met Elton John (which he did) and was invited to play something with him (which he wasn't).

I found Hadfield's drive and goal-orientation a bit wearying, but he's an extremely amiable, likable guy - and quick to recount his own failures and mistakes, such as that time one of his colleagues got a face-full of his nail clippings. He's also got a very accessible style, coolly acknowledging the weirdness and danger and randomness of his day job. And it's hard to not like the guy responsible for the first ever music video recorded in space.