Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Doctor Who 50-50: Part 18 - 1979

"I don't think he's a stupid as he seems."
"My dear, nobody is as stupid as he seems."
The Countess and Count Scarlioni discuss the Doctor, City of Death

On Screen
The search for the Key to Time continued into 1979 with 'The Power of Kroll'. This story would be the last written by former script editor Robert Holmes for five years.  In the brief he was given, Holmes was told to include the biggest monster ever seen in the series' history.

Holmes duly obliges with the gigantic Kroll, a swamp creature that has grown to gigantic size and is being worshipped as a god by the native Swampies.  And what has caused Kroll to grow?  Perhaps not surprisingly, it's the fifth segment of the Key to Time which Kroll has eaten.  Fortunately the Doctor is able to retrieve the Segment from within Kroll and he are Romana and on their way.

The epic finale of the Key to Time season was 'The Armageddon Factor', which sees the Doctor, Romana and K9 travel to the warring planets of Atrios and Zeos in search of the final segment. They discover that the war has been engineered by The Shadow, a agent of the Black Guardian - the opposing number of the White Guardian that the Doctor encountered at the beginning of the season.

Princess Astra, the Doctor and Romana

The sixth segment of the Key to Time turns out to be disguised not as an object but a person, Princess Astra of the planet Atrios.  She willingly gives up her existence to become the Segment once more and the Key to Time is finally complete.  The Black Guardian (played by the original Man in Black, Valentine Dyall) tries to trick the Doctor into handing over the Key but the Doctor, deciding that it's too powerful for anyone to have, breaks the Key  up and scatters it again through time and space.

The Black Guardian

That ending might have some people wondering what the point of finding all the segments was if they simply going to be scattered again a few minutes later.  Which is a fair point but I'm not sure that the season could have ended any other way.  There's no way that the Doctor would allow anyone to have an object as powerful as the Key so it's not a great surprise that he breaks it up again.

One other outcome of this season is that the Doctor, Romana and K9 are now on the run from the Black Guardian. The Doctor even fits a 'Randomiser' to the TARDIS so that no one, particularly the Black Guardian, knows where the Doctor is going.  It's an interesting idea - the Doctor hasn't really been on the run from a powerful enemy before - but it's one that, unfortunately, is largely ignored over the next year or two.

Doctor Who was once again on it's holidays until September of 1979.  Over its Summer break there were a couple of important changes both in front of and behind the camera.  Mary Tamm, playing Romana, and John Leeson, voicing K9, both decided to leave the series.  Neither character were written out but both were re-cast.

The change in K9's voice was the less major re-cast.  David Brierley was the actor hired to be K9's new voice with the change explained by saying that K9 has somehow caught laryngitis!  The re-casting of Romana was a slightly bigger deal.  As Romana was a Time Lady, the explanation for her change in appearance was simple: regeneration.  Romana's regeneration takes place off-screen at the beginning of the first story of Season 17, 'Destiny of the Daleks', in a scene written by the series' new script editor, Douglas Adams.

This scene has had its fair share of criticism from some fans because it makes the idea of regeneration into a bit of a joke.  When the Doctor regenerates it's portrayed as, literally, a life-changing event.  When Romana regenerates however it's the equivalent of trying on outfits in a clothes shop.  In the scene in questions she 'tries out' several different bodies before settling on one that looks a lot like Princess Astra from 'The Armageddon Factor' - hardly surprising given that both characters are played by the same actress, Lalla Ward.
The Doctor and the new Romana

Aside from introducing the new Romana, 'Destiny of the Daleks' also marks the return of the Daleks and Davros, both last seen back in 1975's 'Genesis of the Daleks'.  The TARDIS has landed once again on the planet Skaro, centuries after 'Genesis', where the Daleks are searching for their creator.

Davros, if you recall, was last seen being exterimanted by his own creations but it turns out he's not dead at all, just resting.  The Daleks  need him because they are losing a war with the robotic (and comically Seventies-looking) Movellans and they think that Davros will be able to turn the tide.  The Doctor gets involved and, not only manages to stop both the Daleks and Movellans but also captures Davros as has him sent to Earth to face trial for the Daleks' crimes.

The TARDIS travels to present-day Paris for 'City of Death', a hugely popular story co-written by Douglas Adams and producer Graham Williams.  Thanks to an ITV strike, this story also has the distinction of being the most-watched Doctor Who story ever with over 20 million people watching when it was first shown.

The story has a surprisingly complex plot which I don't think I can do justice to here.  In brief though it involves three different time periods, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Mona Lisa, a man ripping his face off, a detective who likes punching people and John Cleese.

One other notable thing about this story is that it marked the first time that the series had filmed abroad.  And the production team really went out of their way to showcase this, with lengthy sequences of the Doctor and Romana running through the streets of Paris.

The next story in the season, 'Creature from the Pit', seems to be fairly self-explanatory story title, featuring as it does a Creature in a Pit. One might assume that it's some sort of mindless, evil monster but, in fact, the Creature is an alien ambassador who has been imprisoned in the pit.  It's up to the Doctor to rescue the ambassador and prevent a diplomatic incident.

The final full story of the year was 'Nightmare of Eden', which tackles the subject of drug abuse and drug trafficking - not subjects that you would usually expect the series to tackle.  The story sees two spaceships collide in hyperspace, fusing together.  The collision has been caused by the pilot of one of the ships who is addicted to a powerful drug.  The Doctor, Romana and K9 have to help separate the two ships and also find the source of the drug.

The year closed with the opening two episodes of 'The Horns of Nimon', but I'll talk more about that next time.

On Audio

1979 saw the release of an LP and cassette version of Genesis of the Daleks.  This was in essence the original soundtrack of the TV story from 1975, albeit reduced to just one hour in length.  Tom Baker in character as the Doctor narrated certain parts of the story - mostly action scenes and those parts of the story that had to be edited down to fit the running time of the LP.  

In Print

1979 was a busy year for books.  It was also a particularly busy year for Terrance Dicks.

As ever there were a number of Target novelisations published this year.  Of the seven new books published, five were written by Dicks: 'The Robots of Death', 'Image of the Fendahl', 'The Invisible Enemy', 'The Hand of Fear' and 'Destiny of the Daleks'.  The 'Destiny...' novelisation is particularly noteworthy as it set a new record by being published just a month after the story was shown on TV.

Dicks was also busy writing 'Junior Doctor Who and the Giant Robot' as well as writing and editing two non-fiction books: 'The Adventures of K9 and Other Mechanical Creatures' and 'Terry Nation's Dalek Special'. 'Junior Doctor Who' was not, as you might expect, a story from the Doctor's childhood, but a revised version of Dicks' novelisation of 'The Giant Robot', aimed at an even younger audience than the original book.  The other two books contained histories of K9 and the Daleks respectively along with puzzles and other fun activities.  The Dalek Special also contained a short story written by Terry Nation.

This heavy workload seemed to be taking its toll on Dicks however as several of the novelisations produced this year were incredibly short, in particular 'Destiny of the Daleks' and 'Robots of Death' where the page count barely scrapes into three figures. 

The two other novelisations published this year were 'The Ribos Operation' by Ian Marter and 'The War Games' by Malcolm Hulke who had the unenviable task of trying to squeeze ten episodes of TV into around 140 pages.  Sadly Hulke died in July 1979, three months before what would be his final book was published.

The novelisations also made it across the Atlantic for the first time, as several of the Target books were reprinted in the US.  These American editions had new covers (including a new logo), Americanised some of the language (jelly babies became jelly beans) and included special introductions written by noted SF writer, Harlen Ellision.

Finally, as ever the latest Doctor Who Annual was also published in September.

In Comics

And so we reach the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.  The very last Doctor Who comic strip in TV Comic was published in May 1979, bringing a near 15 year relationship to an end.  The strip went out with a whimper rather than a bang as that final strip was a reprint of an earlier story with Tom Baker's face drawn over Jon Pertwee's.

Five months later, though, the comic strip was back this time in its new home of Doctor Who Weekly, or DWW.  This was the first time that a dedicated, regular magazine had even been produced for Doctor Who  The strip was the centre point of the magazine and, to highlight how important the strip was to the magazine, three top British comic creators were brought in to work on the strip.  They were writers Pat Mills and John Wagner and artist Dave Gibbons.

All three came from having worked on 2000 AD - indeed Mills and Wagner launched that comic and were responsible for the creation of amongst others, Judge Dredd.  Although all three would go on to have very successful careers after their stints on the Doctor Who strip, it's Dave Gibbons who's probably had the greatest success, going on to illustrate Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' in the mid-80s.

Mills and Wagner had submitted a few story ideas to the TV production team a few years earlier, none of which came to anything.  The four strips these two wrote for DWW are adaptations of these ideas and, if they're accurate adaptations of what the writers intended then I can see why they weren't produced for TV.  Their comic strips are incredibly ambitious and they certainly wouldn't have been able to make them for the TV series at the time.

The first strip, which ran for 8 weeks from October to December 1979, was 'The Iron Legion'.  This saw the Doctor discovering a parallel world where the Roman Empire had never fallen and where robotic legionnaires enforce the law and invade other worlds, enslaving their populations.  This empire is being secretly controlled by a winged, demonic being called Magog.  It's down to the Doctor to expose him and destroy his hold over this alternate Earth.

Unlike the TV Comic strips, which generally had just two pages an issue, the comic strip in DWW had 4 or 5 pages each issue, which meant bigger stories and more space for the artwork to 'breathe'.  There are great images in this strip, including a couple of full-page panels, which adds to the scale of the story. Another big plus is that the Doctor is actually given a personality or, to be more precise, the personality that he has on TV, something that the TV Comic Doctor was somewhat lacking.  Oh, and he's actually called 'the Doctor' here rather than 'Doctor Who'.

Following 'The Iron Legion' came 'City of the Damned', the first four parts of which were published in December 1979.  The story sees the Doctor arriving in a city where all emotion is illegal.  As the year closes he's fallen in with a group of rebels, each of whom represents a specific emotional state, and he's become enemy number one of the villainous Brain's Trust who rule the city.

In addition to the main Doctor Who comic strip, Doctor Who Weekly also had a second back-up strip.  Although not featuring the Doctor, these strips would focus on his various and foes.  The first such strip was called 'Return of the Daleks' and I think you can guess which enemies that featured.  This story ran for 4 issues and was followed by an intriguing story called 'Throwback: the Soul of a Cyberman'.  As its title suggests, this concerned a Cyberman, called Kroton, who due to an accident, rediscovers his emotions and ends up leaving his fellow Cybermen and venturing out into space alone.

The focus in these early issues of Doctor Who Weekly were the comic strips but there was also room for a few articles. The first issue for instance included an articles on the Daleks and a profile of William Hartnell.  Other issues published this year had articles on other monsters that the Doctor had faced, such as the Krynoid, and detailed synopses of the early First Doctor stories.  Issue 7 introduced a letters page, entitled 'Who Cares!' and one of the first letters printed came from a young fan called Matthew Waterhouse.  Watch out for him in the next year or so...

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