Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Aztecs"

Aired May 23 - June 13, 1964

Episode 1 – The Temple of Evil
Episode 2 – The Warriors of Death
Episode 3 – The Bride of Sacrifice
Episode 4 – The Day of Darkness

Story 6

Written by John Lucarotti
Directed by John Crockett


Landing in 15th Century Mexico, the travellers find themselves inside the tomb of Yetaxa, one-time High Priest of the Aztecs. Upon leaving the tomb and heading into an antechamber, the door swings shut behind them, cutting them off from the TARDIS. Found by the Aztecs, they are spared from certain death when Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, spies that Barbara is wearing the bracelet of Yetaxa, which she absentmindedly put on while in the tomb.

Autloc proclaims Barabara to be the reincarnation of their god, though Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice, has his doubts. In order to keep her friends safe, Barbara plays along. Susan is allowed to remain with her as her handmaiden, while Ian is chosen to lead the Aztec army as her representative, which creates a dangerous enemy out of Ixta, the previous leader. The Doctor meanwhile, is sent to the Garden of Peace with the other Aztec elders, where he begins a flirtation with a wise woman named Cameca, partly in order to discover a way back into the tomb.

Barabara, who specialized in Aztec history when training as a teacher, has an ulterior motive. Believing that the Aztec practice of human sacrifice is what doomed their society, sets about trying to change history by ending the practice. This immediately puts her at odds with Tlotoxl, who begins plotting her downfall, as well as the Doctor, who passionately tries to persuade her of the folly of changing established history. 

During the solar eclipse at which the Perfect Victim's sacrifice is due to take place, Ian and Ixta fight on the roof of the temple, where 
Ixta falls to his death in the streets below. Meanwhile, the Doctor has constructed a pulley system to open the door and uses it to gain access to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Cameca part, with Cameca giving him a seal to remember her by. And Tlotoxl resumes the acts of sacrifice. 

Barbara and the Doctor reconcile their earlier argument, with Barbara heartbroken that she couldn’t save the Aztec society. But, in convincing Autloc of the barbarity of human sacrifice, the Doctor tells her that she did make an improvement in the life of one man. And that is something. The TARDIS crew go on their way, the Doctor remembering to bring Cameca's seal with him.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

RIP - Nicholas Courtney

Sad news from the world of Doctor Who. Nicholas Courtney, the actor who played fan favourite character Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, has died at the age of 81 following a long battle with cancer.

Courtney first played Lethbridge-Stewart in 1968, appearing opposite Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor in The Web of Fear. He was a regular army Colonel then, but he returned later that season in The Invasion, newly promoted to Brigadier and heading up an international organization called the United Nations Intelligence Task Force, or UNIT.

When Troughton left the series and the Doctor regenerated into his third incarnation, played by Jon Pertwee, it was decided that the character would be Earth-bound for a time, and would work with UNIT. Courtney became a series regular during this era, his formal and somewhat pompous military bearing creating a good contrast to the Doctor's eccentricities. Over time, he would be brought back again and again, to fan delight. He appeared opposite all of the classic series Doctors, with the exception of Colin Baker's sixth Doctor (although he did appear opposite the Sixth Doctor in audio productions and a charity special).

Oddly enough, The Web of Fear was not his first appearance in Doctor Who. He had first appeared on the series in The Daleks' Master Plan, a 1965 serial starring William Hartnell as the Doctor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"The Keys of Marinus"

Aired Apr 11 - May 16, 1964

Episode 1 – The Sea of Death
Episode 2 – The Velvet Web
Episode 3 – The Screaming Jungle
Episode 4 – The Snows of Terror
Episode 5 – Sentence of Death
Episode 6 – The Keys of Marinus

Story 5

Written by Terry Nation

Directed by John Gorrie


Arriving on a mysterious beach, the travellers initially explore without a care in the world, until they discover the beach is made of glass and the sea is not water but deadly acid. They soon discover they are on the planet Marinus, and meet Arbitan, who lives alone on the island as the keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a powerful computer that was developed many years ago to maintain law and order across the planet by making its people incapable of committing a crime. However, a splinter group called the Voord, led by the evil Yartek, have found a way to resist its effects, and now plan to invade the island and use the Conscience for their own purposes.

As a defence mechanism, Arbitan has removed four of the fiver operating keys from the Conscience and scattered them across the planet, making it impossible to effect any changes to the way the computer operates. However, Arbitan has managed to discover a way to modify the machine so that Yartek and the Voord will no longer be immune, and so he needs to recover the keys. 

Though initially resistant, the Doctor and his companions agree to go on a quest to retrieve the keys, using Arbitan's wrist-mounted travel dials to teleport from place to place on the planet. They first find themselves in the city of Morphoton, where they must free themselves from the hypnotic power of its citizens, then they find themselves trapped in a jungle ruin and besieged by vicious plants. They then have to escape from a murderous hermit in an icy wasteland and defend Ian from a murder charge in the city of Millennius. 

Though they successfully find and bring back the keys to the island, Arbitan has been killed by Yartek. The terrorist seems to trick Ian into handing over the keys, but Ian has swapped the final key for an imitation. When Yartek attempts to use the Conscience, the machine explodes, killing him and his Voord followers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Marco Polo"

Aired Feb 22 - April 4, 1964

Episode 1 – The Roof of the World
Episode 2 – The Singing Sands
Episode 3 – Five Hundred Eyes
Episode 4 – The Wall of Lies
Episode 5 – Rider From Shang-Tu
Episode 6 – Mighty Kublai Khan
Episode 7 – Assassin at Peking

Story 4

Written by John Lucarotti

Directed by Waris Hussein (Episode 1-3, 5-7)

& John Crockett (Episode 4)


Arriving in Central Asia in 1289, Ian realizes that the footprint could be just an ordinary one enlarged by the snow melting. A more serious problem soon presents itself as the Doctor reports that the TARDIS has developed a major fault: all the lights have failed, the water supply has been affected and the heating is inoperative. As Barbara points out, they are now in danger of freezing to death.

The Doctor and his companions encounter the famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo, and join his caravan as it makes its way from the Pamir Plateau, across the barren Gobi Desert to reach the court of Kublai Khan in imperial Cathay. Polo is accompanied by a young woman named Ping Cho who is to be married to an elderly aristocrat, and Tegana, a warlord in the service of Khan's rival Noghai. Polo seizes the TARDIS, intending to use it as a gift to persuade the Khan to allow him to return home after many years in his service.

Having witnessed many incredible sights, repaired the TARDIS, and survived a variety of dangers orchestrated by the duplicitous Tegana, they eventually arrive at Kublai Khan's Summer Palace in Shang-tu, where the Doctor strikes up an extraordinary friendship with the now-aged ruler. They move on at last to the even more sumptuous Imperial Palace in Peking, where the travelers manage to save the Khan from an assassination attempt by Tegana.

In the confusion that follows, Polo gives the TARDIS crew the key in gratitude. It is also revealed that man Ping Cho was to marry has died, leaving her free of her duty and in the care of the Khan. The TARDIS crew make a quick goodbye and the Khan and his court watch as it vanishes before their eyes. In thanks for his loyalty, the Khan releases Polo from his service, and allows him to return to Venice.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Missing Stories

A Scene from The Daleks' Master Plan, a missing serial
Perhaps the most frustrating part of being a fan of classic Doctor Who is the simple fact that not every story exists in its original form. Over 90 episodes, starting from the show's debut in 1963 through to 1970, are missing.

To many new viewers, particularly those in North America, this seems inconceivable. How could any television show, particularly one as popular as Doctor Who, have entire batches of episodes missing? After all, aside from some live television from the 1950's and 60's, we in North America have a pretty complete archive of most of our television history.

But in England this is not the case. During the 1960s and 1970s, the BBC and other British television networks had a policy of wiping or "junking" film and videotape copies of their shows. This was done for various reasons, some economical and some in the name of a simple lack of space. But no examination of Doctor Who can be done without taking a look at this era, so I thought it would be best to give a quick explanation in order to provide some context.

Doctor Who is certainly not unique in this situation, and indeed, in some ways its popularity has made it more fortunate than other series (about which more later). ITV wiped its earliest episodes of The Avengers. Such BBC staples as Steptoe and Son, Z-Cars, and Dad's Army all have complete eras missing.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"The Edge of Destruction"

Aired Feb 8 - 15, 1964

Episode 1 – The Edge of Destruction
Episode 2 – The Brink of Disaster

Story 3

Written by David Whitaker

Directed by Richard Martin (Episode 1) 

& Frank Cox (Episode 2)


Ian and Barbara awaken after being knocked unconscious by the turbulence. Clearly suffering from sort of amnesia, and acting very strangely, they try to make sense of their surroundings. When Susan comes to, she acts even more bizarrely, going so far as to threaten to stab Ian with a pair of scissors, and being unable to touch the console without experiencing pain. The doors to the ship open and close of their own accord while the TARDIS is in flight, and the scanner begins to show the travellers images of danger.

The Doctor awakens, suffering from a head wound, and immediately is suspicious of Ian and Barbara. He accuses them of sabotaging the ship deliberately, and threatens to throw them off. Barbara, the only one that seems to be coming to her senses, tries to calm everyone and convince them that they are in danger.

The Doctor discovers that a piece of equipment called the Fast Return Switch is malfunctioning, and it's forcing the ship back to the creation of the universe, and to its own destruction. The strange disturbances and their bizarre behaviour is the result of the TARDIS attempting to warn them of the danger. The Doctor repairs the switch, saving them all, and the experience has caused him to finally accept Ian and Barbara; he apologizes to them, and the travellers are finally becoming friends.

The TARDIS materializes on a snowy mountainside, and the women find a massive footprint in the snow.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"The Daleks"

Aired Dec 21, 1963 - Feb 1 1964

Episode 1 – The Dead Planet
Episode 2 – The Survivors
Episode 3 – The Escape
Episode 4 – The Ambush
Episode 5 – The Expedition
Episode 6 – The Ordeal
Episode 7 – The Rescue

Story 2

Written by Terry Nation

Directed by Christopher Barry (Episodes 1, 2, 4, & 5)

& Richard Martin (Episodes 3, 6 & 7)


The TARDIS has materialized on the planet Skaro, an alien world ravaged by a brutal war between two races, the Daleks and the Thals. After the Doctor contrives to remain on the planet and explore even after it proves dangerous, the travellers are nearly killed by the radioactive atmosphere and captured by the Daleks, malicious creatures who have protected themselves from the radiation by encasing themselves in armoured travel machines. The Daleks attempt to force the travellers to aid them in a final effort to eradicate the Thals, who have become agrarian pacifists struggling to survive. 

After escaping the Dalek city, the Doctor and Ian convince the Thals of the need to fight their enemies and prevent their own extinction. The Daleks plan to irradiate the planet, which will wipe out all life other than themselves.

The travellers come up with a risky plan of attack. Ian, Barbara and a group of Thals will approach the Dalek city from the mountains, a dangerous route but one that is undefended. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Susan and the remaining Thals will mount a frontal attack as a diversion. The two-pronged approach succeeds, and the Doctor's team deactivates the Dalek defences, allowing the others to destroy the power source for the city, killing the Daleks.

Leaving their newfound and grateful friends, the Thals, all seems well. But then the ship lurches suddenly and the travellers are hurled to the floor….