Doctor Who – Silhouette

silhouette-richardsThe twelfth Doctor comes to print with three little hardbacks offering jolly romps that sit nicely alongside the current television series. The first to be given the Jolly Lion treatment is Silhouette by Justin Richards.

time and space

Clara is given the choice of destination, but the Doctor poo poos her suggestion (which is cheerfully in keeping with the recent Robot of Sherwood episode) and they go in search of a mysterious post-nuclear spike in Victorian London. Most of the action takes place at the Frost Fair around a Carnival of Curiosities. We also get to see a couple of pubs and a disused factory.

who and the crew

The twelfth Doctor is suitable prickly, with bloodshot eyes straining and not smiling very much. Clara is witty, tolerant and they are clearly very protective of each other throughout.

The cover reveals this to be an adventure with familiar faces beyond the TARDIS crew. In turn Vastra complains about what it is like to be a lizard in human society, Jenny talks of life in service and Strax enjoys violence and weaponry whilst getting the best lines and funniest set pieces.

humans vs aliens

The tagline on the cover is “ANYONE CAN BE A WEAPON…” and we are shown three variations as the plot develops. The title character, Silhouette, has a power over paper that sees a number of characters face difficult situations involving origami birds. Strax investigates the deaths of a number of angry people, where the only link appears to be an undertaker who hangs around at the scene.  The third weapon shows you exactly what you want to see, creating some of the most challenging sequences in the story.


love, lust and loss

Vastra and Jenny are underwritten, with no mention of their relationship at all, save for Jenny being the maid in Vastra’s household. There’s a little romantic epilogue for two of Richards’ own creations, which is harmless enough.

The body count is suitably spaced out through the narrative. We get the set up of a locked room murder in the prologue for Vastra to get involved, a manhunt to interest Strax and another new friend gets bumped off along the way.

style or trial?

The TV show doesn’t seem to have referenced the Shadow Proclamation for some time, so to suddenly have them being talked about seems a little jarring, but that said, shameless cameos are all the rage these days. One sequence involves what might as well be more than half a dozen past Doctors putting in an appearance, which is justified within the narrative and seems to be a trademark of the Capaldi era.  At some point it will be nice to have him on screen without a reminder of the men who have played the part before.

Aside from these kisses to the past, there are at least two interesting mysteries here that will keep the reader guessing. The Frost Fair and Carnival are nicely sketched to be a colourful backdrop for the alien plan to play out. It all builds to an explosive ending.

magic moments

Justin Richards writes a story than you watch rather than read. His grasp of Clara is such  that you cannot help but see Jenna Coleman in scenes of jeopardy, with a chapter where she investigates an empty factory being tense and standing out as a high point.

The writing of the Doctor and Clara relationship is at its best in and around the Carnival of Curiosities, with Clara seeming to have to apologise for him at every opportunity. His interference in a card trick raises a smile and ensures that the light relief is shared out among the characters and not all left on the shoulders of Strax. There is plenty of humour along the way, particularly when it comes to Clara’s need for food.

Come the end, the pace of the last few chapters allows the reader to learn the alien’s plan, watch it fast become a reality and then, in two locations, see it come undone. It reads like the last ten minutes of a televised episode and offers the right pay off. Exactly what you want from a Doctor Who novel. Satisfying.


Dear Colin Baker…

Dear Colin Baker,

My first memory of live theatre was aged 13, seeing you as Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the Princess Theatre, Torquay. I only wanted to go because you were in it and you had been in Doctor Who. It was wonderful, and you weren’t the Doctor at all. I thought you were great. I was right.

Amateur Theatrical Faces...
Amateur Theatrical Faces…

These days I dabble on the amateur stage myself, appearing in pantomimes and recently being part of a show at the same Princess. I can’t help but think back to seeing you all those years ago and knowing that you are a big part of the reason that away from my day job I like to play at treading the boards.

Like any self-respecting fanboy, I have kept in contact with your various performances for Big Finish. Audio drama has become may favourite form of storytelling, you are all to blame. I have reached a point in life where I like to think I prefer your non-Who work to the Who, because it offers the chance to hear you playing somebody different. I am probably kidding myself, Breaking Bubbles contained some lovely material, with the sixth Doctor at his best!

Jolyon first met Colin in the late 1990s. In those days he thought waistcoats were cool. He was wrong.
Jolyon first met Colin in the late 1990s. In those days he thought waistcoats were cool. He was wrong.

I want to thank you for posing with me for the picture that heads this blog post. Just weeks after the ‘Timewarp’ convention in Weston-super-Mare, this image still raises a smile. I also post here an earlier photograph from a Weston-super-Mare convention. This picture is the first time I met you, I was not yet 18 years old. I was one of the unnecessarily overawed overenthusiastic fanboys meeting a Doctor for the first time.

When it comes to conventions, I will not now push in front of the next generation of fans who stand in awe of meeting a Doctor. Nowadays there is something nice about being at these events, to just be in a room with actors from a TV series that I have enjoyed, and whose performances I continue to enjoy today. There’s also something about the Doctor Who family that is so wonderfully tolerant of us fans, as it’s only at these gatherings we see the extent to which we really do come from all walks of life.

But what I love about meeting you now is that I am no longer there to meet the Doctor.  Every time I am delighted to have met you, the actor and the gentleman. Meeting you is better than meeting the Doctor. It is always a pleasure.

Your work continues to provide me with an escape at the end of busy days, for which I am grateful. Strangely, I have never found the way to communicate these things appropriately. I’m sure this isn’t the way. But it will do until I find a better one.

Thank you.


Annie - NEWTS

Annie – NEWTS

Annie - NEWTSIf ever there was a show I thought I wouldn’t enjoy, it was the thought of going to see ‘Annie’. I can count on one hand the things I knew about ‘Annie’ before seeing it. Firstly, there’s a little girl with ginger curls. Secondly, she’s an orphan. Thirdly, there’s a song in it about tomorrow being a day away. That’s it. That’s what I bring to the party. And yet if you mentioned ‘Annie’ to me before last night, I would have groaned.

The junior section of the Newton Abbot and District Musical Comedy Society performed ‘Annie’ from Wednesday 7 May to Friday 9 May 2014 at the Alexandra Theatre. With Claire Holden directing, choreography by Claire Robinson and John Amery, musical director, they produced a show that everyone should be proud to be a part of.

Alice Patten took the title role, bravely donning the curly wig and leading the way from the first scene with strong vocals, presenting a confidence in the spotlight and an eye for comedy in scenes where she put herself forward for adoption and later mimicked Warbucks during a man-to-man chat as she followed him around the stage.

The company of orphans appeared to have lots of fun singing ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’, and caused one member of the audience to say out loud, “Isn’t that from Austin Powers?” To my shame, he was vocalising a thought that had been in my head, going to show that you always know more songs from these old musicals than you think you do.

Charlie Parr brought a charming vulnerability to Warbucks, the big businessman looking to adopt Annie. Alongside his secretary, Grace, played by Naomi Wade, they were the heart of the show, bringing life to a storyline which is best enjoyed by not thinking about it too much. Finding President Roosevelt (Callum Beavis) turn up on Christmas morning to help find Annie’s parents may seem odd, but it does offer you the chance to picture Elliot Ness being taken off the Al Capone case to lead the FBI in a quest to… no, it’s bonkers, don’t think about it and enjoy the songs and dances.

The song that grabbed me was ‘Easy Street’, which had the funniest choreography and what I can only describe as three performers giving it beans. Carly Cutts as Miss Hannigan shone every time she set foot on stage and this song demonstrated the real pleasure you can take from playing the bad guys. Joined by Seth Turner as Rooster and Georgie-Mai Hedge as Lily, they squeezed every laugh they could out of the material and there was a part of me that ended up wanting them to succeed in their despicable plans for Annie.

I was very taken with the rotating scenery that took us from the orphanage, through the streets of New York to Warbucks’ house. The most enjoyable use of a prop came from either Bradley Swinbank as Fred McCracken and his handling of the ventriloquist dummy, Wacky, or Miss Hannigan and her bottle.

The production had nice characters, lively ensemble numbers and some ridiculous scenarios played with total conviction. The NEWTS have opened my mind to ‘Annie’ and I should remind myself of this performance every time I dread going to see something I think I won’t enjoy.

Last Review from the Alexandra Theatre: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

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When we are Married - Teignmouth Players

When We Are Married – The Teignmouth Players

When we are Married - Teignmouth PlayersThe Teignmouth Players have been celebrating fifty years in theatre with a week performing J. B. Priestley’s popular comedy, ‘When We Are Married’. Between Monday 28 April and Saturday 4 May 2014, the Carlton Theatre has seen the fifth staging of this script from the Players, directed by Jenny Brittan.

The story that involves three couples, married on the same day twenty five years earlier, discovering at their silver wedding anniversary that their marriages may not have been legal. As each considers the implications, they go through a range of emotions from the shame of the scandal, through the excitement of newfound freedom to the fear of what they might lose.

We cheer Annie Parker, played by Laraine Ferguson, as she tells pompous Councillor Albert Parker (Phil Wesley-Harkcom) how stingy and dull she has found him. We cheer Herbert Soppitt, played by John Miles, as he rises from hen-pecked by all to flirt with Annie and take control of the domineering Clara (Yvonne Tilley). We boggle at the thought that Alderman Helliwell, played by Jon Miles, might leave Maria (Sarah Mallett) to spend a dirty weekend with the made up and hair dyed Lottie Grady (Dawn Crawford) but just for a moment it looks like he might…

These characters are all so wonderfully realised that the audience invests in them with a mixture of accepting historical values whilst comparing them to how we are today. It is a story that holds up well to the test of time, for now an audience can laugh at the idea that their not being married is a scandal, rather than the scandal itself. To what extent Maria would be so forgiving today or whether Annie would be so ready to return to the status quo, I am not persuaded, but it doesn’t take away from the life these actors bring to some classic material.

The stand out performance outside of the main three pairings came from David Warren as Henry Ormonroyd, a photographer who gets more blotto through the course of the evening. His physical performance was endlessly watchable and his was the character you looked forward to seeing as the alcohol intake took its toll.

Just one disappointment from the production, which shows how theatre and society has changed in fifty years, with onstage smoking detracting from the action. Firstly, the smoke broke the fourth wall, drifting out from the stage into the auditorium (no backstage crew could be expected to control this!). Secondly, the drifting smoke noticeably increased the amount of coughing in the audience, whether a real reaction or psychological for those coughing, it was suitably distracting. Thirdly, I’m afraid it just made the Carlton smell in a way that public buildings haven’t for a number of years. No doubt Councillor Parker would call me a soft southerner, but this is one occasion where a special effect would have made for more comfortable viewing – anything that stops your audience watching or thinking about the performance itself must surely be a bad thing.

Aside from this, the audience seemed delightfully badly behaved, whooping at kisses, cheering domestic violence as husband slaps wife and laughing at anything that might suggest the breakdown of marriage or slag off Torquay! It is clear that there is no drop in standards and The Teignmouth Players are having, rather than a golden anniversary, something of a golden age. I am quite convinced that every time I leave the Carlton, I have just experienced something very special and witnessed a production that improves on the last. Whilst the their time at the Carlton is coming to an end, this is a company whose next fifty years appears to be in safe hands.

Last review from the Carlton Theatre: Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Last review from the Teignmouth Players: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice


She Stoops To Conquer – TOADS Theatre Company

P1010725Maggie Campbell directs the latest production at the Little Theatre, Torquay, that of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer’. The performance, which ran from 12 to 19 April 2014 opened before a black curtain, with masked players entering to allow the audience a taste of the beautiful costumes and wigs that had been sourced for the week.

With the curtain removed we travel from wardrobe to scenery with the opportunity to appreciate the work of the team behind the scenes who have risen to the challenge of creating a world more than two hundred years old, brought to life by some enthusiastic servants moving the furniture during the scene changes.

The ‘She’ of the title is Kate Hardcastle, played by Lydia Dockray, who awaits the visit of Charles Marlow, a potential love match. Marlow, played by Jon Manley, is a man delightfully bawdy among girls of the lower class and incredibly shy among the ladies of the upper class. In order to see if Marlow can be the man of his reputation, Kate must take on the role of a servant within her own home, a circumstance made easier by events that play out around her.

This central pairing works nicely, as Dockray delivers both a refined Kate looking for a bit of adventure, coupled with a barmaid Kate who plays her man to perfection, complete with comedy yokel accent. Manley underplays his nervous scenes effectively, whilst appearing the perfect predator as he falls for Kate’s deception. This pairing is the strength of the play, not least because they clearly understand everything that they are saying and can communicate those things clearly to the audience.

The comedy pairing of Mr and Mrs Hardcastle, played by Roger Heath and Anna Reynolds, wear the largest wigs and provide the largest performances on the stage. They have some of the funniest material to deliver, as Mr Hardcastle is mistaken for an innkeeper and Mrs Hardcastle is repeatedly mocked for her efforts to hide her age through a mixture of deceit and her efforts to keep up with the latest fashions. The pair are the butt of many jokes through the evening, and present characters that are a pleasure to laugh at.

Among the youngsters, the one to watch is Jonathan Hurd, whose characterisation of Marlow’s friend Hastings raises the character above that of friend to the hero. His reaction with mild confusion to the things going on around him, together with his repeated use of the comedy double take, squeezes a laugh from the unlikeliest of moments. Becca Lamburn brought a quiet dignity to Constance Neville, whilst Peter Hubble offered a Tony Lumpkin most effective when paired as a booby alongside his mother Mrs Hardcastle. This is best demonstrated in a scene in a field in the middle of the night that brings some of the best laughs of the evening, not least as Mrs Hardcastle crawls crawls across the back of the stage.

The production successfully takes the audience to another era with a simple humour found in mistaken identity. A familiarity with the source material was beneficial, as some of the jokes were lost along the way, but all in all, it looked pretty and had moments of comedy magic – especially when the servants were around to move the play along.

The picture that heads this review has been rudely stolen from the Facebook page belonging to TOADS at the Little Theatre

Last review from the TOADS Theatre Company: Time Was


Doctor Who – The Aztecs

IMG_1930As the nation wakes up to news that the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, will be leaving Doctor Who at Christmas, the Jolly Lion reaches the sixth outing of the first season of the series, The Aztecs.

time and space

The Doctor succeeds in getting Ian and Barbara back to Earth. Well, I say succeeds. The TARDIS lands in Mexico in the 15th Century, which is still a long way from home. The space they land in is within a tomb.

who and the crew

It shows something of Barbara’s development in the series that she is still finding dead bodies the moment she steps out of the TARDIS, but no longer screams at them. Here she gives an excited “Look at that!” She then starts grave robbing and pushing open the nearest door. Of the team at the moment, she remains the one with the big spirit of adventure, she was the first to turn her travel dial on Marinus too. She loves it.

Ian, no doubt getting cheesed off with standing aside and watching the guest characters fight, finally gets to play the warrior. Meanwhile, Susan the alien schoolgirl goes to Aztec school and the Doctor sits in the local care home and checks out the ladies.

humans vs aliens

The joy of these historical stories continues to be the way the team show us how alien our own history can be. Barbara gets to walk in and play god to an ancient culture. She wants to end the human sacrifice, which she considers barbaric, but the Doctor is quick to tell her not to interfere.

The society they find has two leaders, Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, and Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice. Whilst Tlotoxl is presented as our villain, he’s wonderfully played by John Ringham, all I can see is Penny’s dad from ‘Just Good Friends’, and he is probably the hero of the piece, acting the rest of the supporting cast off the screen.

love, lust and loss

The Doctor shamelessly flirts his way towards the information he wants. He meets Cameca in the Garden of Peace, a resting place for the over 50s. There he gets engaged over a cup of cocoa and plays the relationship through to its thrilling conclusion.

In contrast, Susan is offered the chance to marry the human sacrifice. It would have been a very short marriage, as he was due to be killed by the end of the week. Even so, she refuses to have her husband chosen by somebody else. She gets suitably uppity about it.

style or trial?

Susan reminds us of the danger of time travel when you don’t do your legal research in advance. Not familiar with local customs she faces whipping, piercing with thorns and no doubt death for her heinous transgressions. It’s a good job her history teacher is a god with a very specialised knowledge of Aztec culture, Barbara to the rescue.

Oh Barbara, it’s any excuse to play dress up. If it isn’t pulling on Thal trousers, it’s popping on a Chinese hat. Here she steals a bracelet then robes up with a big flowery hat as Yetaxa. Ian isn’t far behind, but in the costume stakes, he doesn’t get much in the way of fancy headgear until the last episode – where we wouldn’t want to recognise the use of a stunt double.

moments of magic

Bored with the guest stars doing all the fighting, Ian is finally given the chance to take centre stage and fight. And good grief is there some tedious hand to hand combat in this story. We have three fights across four episodes, but they’re not the most exciting. The last one is damaging though, as this is the first time we see one of the TARDIS crew kill a man. It is just a little bit shocking.

And then there’s one line tucked away in an argument between Barbara and the Doctor that suggests a bigger back story for the Doctor than ever before. As he tries to prevent her from interfering in the Aztec history, he says, “What you are trying to do is impossible. I know, believe me, I know.” Another layer to the mystery, he and Susan are exiles, cut off from their own people, but why? What did he do? What did he try to change?

3 reasons this is the greatest doctor who story ever made

Jacqueline Hill. This is Barbara’s story, as she faces the big question – What’s the point of travelling in time and space if you can’t change anything? – not happy with being a space tourist, Barbara wants to use the TARDIS as the chance to make a difference. Yet she comes unstuck, lying to Autloc, who has put his faith in her. She is magnificent.

Tlotoxl. It may be that he is painted as the villain because he wants to kill the TARDIS crew, but like Tegana before him, he is only trying to expose our heroes as liars who are a threat to his future. His confrontations with Barbara where she pulls a knife on him then later she admits that she isn’t Yetaxa are extraordinary.

The sets. Ordinarily I get caught up in characters or action, but this is BBC world building at its best. Barry Newbery’s work is bigger than ever – helped by them having more space to work in than usual.

everything i need to know for life i learned from doctor who

  • “How glad… I’ll tell you how glad I am to see you later.”

Sometimes it’s better to focus on the matter in hand.

  • “Better to go hungry than starve for beauty.”

Well, it may not be true, but it’s a fun one to wander around saying to people.

  • “What better way to destroy your enemies than to let them destroy themselves.”

By ‘themselves’ I think Tlotoxl meant ‘each other’, but in its simplest form, do nothing and hope for the best seems like the procrastinator’s dream.

The ordinary edition of ‘The Aztecs’ is still available from Amazon, so too a special edition that has been cleaned up a bit, and includes the rediscovered third episode of ‘Galaxy 4′ – but I won’t be getting to that one for a while! For those who can’t cope with black and white telly, why not dabble in the audiobook read but Ian Chesterton actor, William Russell!

Previous Doctor Who TV Review from the Jolly Lion: The Keys of Marinus

Next Doctor Who Review: The Sensorites


Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus

IMG_1890Back to DVD for the fifth adventure of the first season of Doctor Who, with a six part journey that appears to have caused the production team no end of challenges.

As the TARDIS crew lands on Marinus, they are sent on a quest to recover some keys, taking them from a land of acid seas to jungles, snowscapes and a city where the law is far from innocent until proven guilty – but can Ian prove he didn’t do it…?

time and space

So we’re on the planet Marinus and we get to visit Morphoton, a temple in the jungle, some ice caves and Millenius. I’m not overly sure when we are, but it probably isn’t important.

who and the crew

The Doctor takes some gentle ribbing for not having a colour scanner in the TARDIS. Ian and Barbara get the chance to take centre stage as the Doctor leaves Susan in their care for a couple of episodes. They waste no time in palming her off onto the guest stars so that they can have some chilling adventures of their own.

Susan is firmly established as the first strong female lead in the series, screaming at: a door, some blood, some trees, a plant and some ice in consecutive episodes. It is only when she is threatened with death that she stops screaming at things, choosing to sob instead. In the circumstances, we can forgive her that. And anyway, I’m being unfair, she very bravely slid along a stalactite to repair a rope bridge, and that has to be seen to be believed, it’s harrowing stuff.

humans vs aliens

The crew are stranded from the TARDIS when Arbitan puts an invisible barrier around it. Arbitan’s amusingly powerful like that. It’s a shame though, as he appeared to have had a good run at keeping the alien Voord out of his pyramid, until the end of episode one.

Voord themselves are quite simple knife-wielding creatures, easily tipped through secret panels (dying with a scream and a splosh) and indulging in a bit of dress up when the mood suits.

Ian and Barbara meet a talking brain in a jar...
Ian and Barbara meet a talking brain in a jar…

The more interesting villains are the Morphos, brains with eyestalks in glass jars.

There are humanoid locals wherever you go. Some are friendly, like Sabetha, daughter of Arbitan, others are less so, like Vasor. In the city of Millenius, we see a corrupt police and justice system, where it’s difficult to trust anyone.

love, lust and loss

Sabetha and Altos find love in the law books...
Sabetha and Altos find love in the law books…

Altos and Sabetha show that legal research can be one of the most romantic thing people can do together.

Ian is certainly getting an eyeful of the serving girls in Morphoton and Vasor might be overdoing his approach on Barbara. There some chaste hugging to keep warm when Ian and Barbara arrive in the snow, and there’s a bit of domestic violence in the marriage of Kara and Aydan in Millenius. Actually, ‘a bit’ is an understatement when things come to a head, but I’ll be gentle when it comes to spoilers.

Poor Sabetha loses her father, but the touch of a hand from Altos and it looks like she’ll be fine.

style or trial?

Accepting that The Keys of Marinus has a bad reputation, it turns out to be a lot of fun. The constant changes of location means we have the challenge of looking for the villain of the week, what Susan will scream at next and wondering why they don’t just keep using their travel dials to move on.

This is Doctor Who meets the Crystal Maze, with Arbitan as Richard O’Brien. Ian and Barbara both get locked in twice in the jungle zone, Barbara gets locked in with a rapist in the ice cave zone, then Ian gets locked in for murder and Susan gets locked in and held hostage in the Industrial Zone. Finally, the Doctor leads them all back to the Crystal Dome, where Altos and Sabetha manage to get locked in, clearly they didn’t realise how the show used to work.

moments of magic

In Morphoton, Barbara wakes up to find that she is no longer fooled by the beautiful surroundings. But how can she persuade the Doctor, Ian and Susan, when they have just enjoyed a good breakfast?

In amongst the dazzling moments in this story come the Doctor admiring a rusty mug, believing it to be a piece of scientific equipment, a door that grabs you with real arms and a foot operated robot that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the old Doctor Who exhibition at Longleat.

3 reasons this is the greatest doctor who story ever made

The Time Dials. Wrist straps that allow you to travel in space. Presumably these would be adopted by Captain Jack Harkness and his people some day down the line.

Barbara. Trapped under a net with a ceiling of spikes crashing down towards her, Jacqueline Hill sells some fairly shoddy effects with her cry of “Ian! Help me!”

William Hartnell, refreshed from two weeks holiday, steps into the action with Ian having been found guilty of murder. “I need a man to defend me,” says Ian. “I am that man,” says the Doctor. Enough to inspire any man to work in criminal defence (even though the Doctor does go on to lose the trial – but points for effort and for securing an early adjournment!)

everything i need to know for life i learned from doctor who

  • “If you’d had your shoes on, you could have lent her hers.”

If you’re out exploring a glass beach and acid sea, always wear shoes. You never know when your friend might lose her shoes in an acid pool, necessitating your lending her your shoes.

  • “You can’t apply Earth’s standards.”

When on alien worlds, take what you’re offered and don’t worry. Unless there’s a danger you’re in a town where there’s a risk your mind might be being controlled by brains in jars. Then apply Earth’s standards, and tip the brains out of the jars.

  • “I can’t improve at this very moment…”

Know your limits. Especially when it comes to learning lines. The Doctor goes on to correct himself, “I can’t prove at this very moment…” too late old chap, Freud has taken your dignity in that scene.

Previous Doctor Who Book Review from the Jolly Lion: The Sorceror’s Apprentice

Previous Doctor Who TV Review from the Jolly Lion: Marco Polo

Next Doctor Who Review: The Aztecs


Doctor Who – Marco Polo

IMG_1900It’s a good job that the Jolly Lion has been dabbling in the audio dramas like Quinnis and Hunters of Earth alongside the televised adventures.

The fourth adventure of Hartnell’s first season is missing from the BBC archives, which leaves anyone looking to enjoy the complete history of Who having to reach for the audio recordings.

IMG_1888Fortunately, the Jolly Lion’s exploration of these early years has tied in with a special release from the Doctor Who Magazine, including all of the telesnaps from the missing Hartnell episodes.

Telesnaps for six episodes of Marco Polo survive, as Waris Hussain ordered images from the episodes he directed. YouTube is full of odd reconstructions, but I have been happy to follow the pages of pictures along with the soundtrack to experience this bizarre and highly regarded jewel from the early years of the show.

time and space

The TARDIS has been directed to Earth, in Cathay, 1289, the time of Kublai Khan.

who and the crew

Ian is hopeful that he and Barbara have returned home. Right planet, but they’ll be in for a bit of a wait for the 1960s. Dear Barbara is the first of the crew to encounter a local, her first reaction is to scream. Quite why is unclear, neither the telesnap nor the audio recording helps. Maybe she’s just very sensitive. It’s helpful that she’s a history teacher, as at some point she had clearly studied 13th Century Cathay in some detail, considering the peculiar facts she could churn out at the drop of a hat. The Doctor suffers from mountain sickness, is difficult and bad tempered. Susan recalls the metal seas of Venus.

humans vs aliens

The Jolly Lion gets to grips with the telesnap archive...
The Jolly Lion gets to grips with the telesnap archive…

The people that the TARDIS crew meet get a bit of a rough deal. There is Marco Polo, who leads a caravan to the court of Kublai Khan. He takes the TARDIS as a gift to present to the Khan and from that moment he is caught in a web of lies as Ian and Barbara befriend him and then repeatedly betray him in order to get it back.

Part of Polo’s group includes Tegana, a mongol war lord. He is the villain of the piece, but for the most part he is surprisingly loyal to Polo, really trying to expose how badly the Doctor and his friends are behaving.

Even Ping-Cho, another member of Polo’s party, gets caught up in it, betraying Polo in favour of her newfound friend Susan. Frankly, the regulars behave abysmally. It’s fortunate for them that Tegana really was a bit of a rotter with plans to overthrow the Khan.

love, lust and loss

The love here is a love of home. Polo wants to leave the Khan’s service and return to Venice. Ping-Cho, caught up in an arranged marriage, wants out to return to her village. Ian and Barbara are still longing to return home. Fortunately for 16 year old Ping-Cho, her 75 year old fiance pops his clogs whilst trying to make himself young and virile. One dreads to think.

style or trial?

There is plenty of wonder on the journey to Cathay. There is a game of chess between Ian and Marco Polo that mirrors a game of backgammon between the Doctor and Kublai Khan. There is a sandstorm that is probably more effective on audio than it ever was on screen. There is the cave of five hundred eyes, that again conjures images that one imagines work better in the imagination that the reality.

But, Barbara’s hat leaves a little to be desired. Maybe it was Jacqueline Hill that ordered the destruction of all the tapes.

moments of magic

Mark Eden as Marco Polo

Polo’s diary is read over images of his writing or over maps of the journey. It is an early example of how to progress narrative in the series and it is never used again.

It gives a lovely insight into our guest star’s thoughts on the regulars. Mark Eden’s performance as Marco Polo in this story is head and shoulders above anybody seen so far.

3 reasons this is the greatest doctor who story ever made

Carole Ann Ford. Susan is particularly strong in the second episode, ‘The Singing Sands’. She has a beautiful scene with Barbara where she talks of the importance of recovering the TARDIS, “One day, we’ll know all the mysteries of the skies,” she says, “and we’ll stop our wandering,” now fifty years on the Doctor’s wanderings continue.

Ping-Cho’s story. In the episode ‘Five Hundred Eyes’ Ping-Cho sits everybody down and tells them the story of Ala-eddin and the Hashashin. It is a nice break from the action and nicely delivered. It also gives science teacher Ian the chance to educate Susan and the audience, that we get the word assassin from Hashashin.

The final battle. You can take this either way. It wasn’t that long ago that we were with Za and Kal in the cave having the final fight before our heroes escape. Here Polo has his moment, with Tegana exposed as the villain we all knew him to be back in episode one, it’s time for a fight. The regulars look on as our favourite guest star defeats the bad guy and sends them on their way.

everything i need to know for life i learned from doctor who

  • “Fab, a verb we often use on Earth.”

When you visit another culture, don’t lie about the verbs that are often in use. Also, don’t use the name of the planet, use the name of the country or the town. After all, we’re all on Earth, aren’t we Susan?

  • “I promised not to tell anyone where he put the key.”

“And I promise you that no-one will ask you.”

Some people are good at keeping secrets. They are the people who don’t tell you that they have a secret in the first place. Of course, once it is out of the bag that there is a secret, you might think it a good idea to nag until the holder of the secret breaks. Not so. Here Susan guilt trips her friend into bringing her the key to great effect. Just a shame that the girls insisted on saying goodbye to each other before Susan finally left, else this seven parter might have finished two episodes earlier.

  • “Don’t you see it doesn’t matter to me why you lied? What is important is the fact that you are capable of lying.”

Ian lets us all down by lying the Polo time and time again. You might think you can justify your lies, but Polo is right, your reasons don’t matter. Don’t do it.

Previous Doctor Who TV Review from the Jolly Lion: The Edge of Destruction

Before the next TV review, don’t miss the next Doctor Who Book Review from the Jolly Lion: The Sorceror’s Apprentice

Next Doctor Who Review: The Keys of Marinus

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In 2004 I appeared for the first time with the Shiphay Amateur Dramatic Society in the SDDF Award winning ‘Pickwick Papers’. I was fortunate to be given my first ‘big break’ by Nigel Howells. Meanwhile, I was given a warm welcome by the company, but I am most grateful to John F Shorter, the only other twentysomething chap in the cast, for keeping me as sane as I was going to be.

So put off was I by that performance, I did not return to the stage until 2006. Then, with the same company I was cast in, ‘Last Tango in Whitby’. There I am grateful to Dorothy Pemble, the best dance partner a young man would ever need. Also to Ted Parker, who kept a rowdy audience in check through funnier performances – nearly having to remove some of my family, who laughed in the serious bits.

The same year in ‘California Suite’ I must thank the two ladies who appeared in my scene, Louise Bourton and Rachael-Elizabeth Broadhurst for all the fun and games. This brought my first experience of seeing somebody else suffer from first night nerves and led me to be haunted by the line ‘oh yeah, I bled on the carpet, Stu’ forever more.

Fredi Wright, David Jackson and Mark Gillham in 'Cinderella Goes West'
Fredi Wright, David Jackson and Mark Gillham in ‘Cinderella Goes West’

‘Cinderella Goes West’ was my first pantomime in 2007, where I must thank Pat Bidder for the opportunity to appear in a show that she wrote, directed and was reviving on the strength of its previous success – it really is a great script! Here I will also thank Mark Gillham, who was the fourth member of my ‘California Suite’ scene, and the only young man I have appeared on stage with in Torquay who I really thought knew what he was doing and wasn’t just playing at it.

With ‘Trivial Pursuits’ I must thank Pat Gillies and Peter Davis, with whom I laughed my way through one of the biggest and funniest parts I’d ever get to play. Again, I feel haunted by a line, “I’ve never seen anyone look less like a nun.” It’s a Frank Vickery play about a musical society, my advice is stage it – it’s bonkers.

The Cast of
The Cast of

By 2008 it was back to pantomime with ‘’ and here I will be eternally grateful to work colleague, Sarah Carson, for stepping into the am dram world for one play only to become the perfect pantomime princess. I must also thank director Jan Pitwell for letting David Jackson and I have most of the songs – we loved it!

Alan Tanner teaches me a thing or two about comic timing...
Alan Tanner teaches me a thing or two about comic timing…

With ‘On the Razzle’ my thanks go to Olive Bennett, who provided some of the most astonishing props (and a lifetime of cups of tea through the years of amdram at Shiphay!), and Alan Tanner, whose performance as Zangler taught me more about comic timing than anything else I’ve been involved with. Oh, fine, so Brenda and Jo Loosemore were pretty instructive too!

Torturing Winston Smith (Lee-James Bovey)
Torturing Winston Smith (Lee-James Bovey)           You can’t.

For ‘1984’ I got my first chance to play a serious baddie, in this adaptation of the George Orwell novel. Here I played O’Brien, and I will always be grateful to Lee-James Bovey and Georgia Brooks who were castmates playing Winston Smith and Julia, for being fun to torture and torment. You can’t buy laughs like that. You can’t.

This was the year I got my first part with the TOADS Theatre Company in Torquay. I played William in ‘Katherine Howard’ and had two wonderful lines to deliver. Here my thanks must go to Nigel Howells, for letting me have a part in another of his plays despite all the horrible things I say about being in ‘Pickwick Papers’, and The Courtenay Players, with whom I got to bang a drum during the dance scenes. That’s right, I play instruments too.

Back to Shiphay for pantomime in 2009 and the ‘New Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. Here I was delighted to be a part of the chorus, and the fun and games came from appearing with John Rea, Dominic Cook and John F Shorter. We were very badly behaved, but they taught me how much fun you can have when there’s no pressure to learn lines and you can spend all your time trying to make the main cast laugh.

Back at the Little Theatre with the TOADS in the Noel Coward classic, ‘Present Laughter’ I must thank Stephanie Austin for letting me go over the top as Roland Maule, and Martin Austen, who played Garry Essendine, the central character. Together they were another warm welcome to a theatre and the production brought me my first and only good review in the local press.

The cast of 'Love Me Slender'
The cast of ‘Love Me Slender’

Off stage my directing debut came with ‘Love Me Slender’ again at Shiphay ADS. Here the list of ‘thank you’s is endless, but the easiest must be to Hilary Gameson and Danielle Nixon, who both stepped into parts with two or three weeks to go to hold the show together. Forever in their debt. The whole cast were wonderful but those girls pulled a miracle.

Dame Trott and Jack, dressed for squatting.
Dame Trott and Jack, dressed for squatting.

By ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ the 2010 Shiphay pantomime my thanks are firmly at the door of Annie Parker and Pat Gillies, who were my long-suffering wardrobe mistresses and dressers. It was my debut as Dame and they made sure I looked fabulous. A big hurrah to them.

When we took on ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ in 2010 it seemed like we had bitten off more than we could chew. Through this production it was Richard Green that kept me laughing with a delightfully dark sense of humour, and Jonathan Waterworth that had the vision to bring a scaffold tower into a church hall. I could have cried. I think I did.

By ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ I was finishing my only full season as Chairman at Shiphay. By this time I had begun to understand that you couldn’t get through a production without techies and backstage folk, so my fond thank you is to Louis Sullivan on lights and Jonathon Cook on sound!

What lady can resist a blue velvet jacket made out of a curtain?
What lady can resist a blue velvet jacket made out of a curtain?

At ‘Mansfield Park’ I must thank Margaret Baker who was my first ever line buddy and Carole King, who made a jacket to measure out of a pair of beautiful velvet curtains.

My second Dame was Widow Twanky in ‘Aladdin’ with the TOADS Theatre Company. In this production it was the chorus that kept me laughing, so stepping away from choosing two names I must thank Di Stokes, Paulette Perrin, Fiona Humphreys and Jean Tolchard, Jason Davey and Nathan Samuel, Sophie Cartwright, Jessica Thacker, Mary Clifford and Sarah Dickinson. They sang like nobody you’ve ever heard, they danced like nothing you had ever seen and they gave it beans. I adored this pantomime and this chorus.

In 2011 we brought an odd play to Shiphay with ‘Speaking in Tongues’. Here I am grateful to John Miles for letting us bring it to Brixham (although I doubt Brixham were too chuffed we did!) and to Jill Coram, the adjudicator for the SDDF who came and gave it a very honest critique. I would restage this with the same cast tomorrow if I could. But I’d be the only one who’d want to.

Before the stick broke, obviously.
Before the stick broke, obviously.

Back at the Little Theatre again with ‘Black Widow’ it was a joy to eat sandwiches with David Gent at the wake each night and I am reminded of the big laugh during one performance where Camille Herbert hit her walking stick so hard on the card table the stick broke in half. Part of the stick was launched across the room with a crowd-pleasing bounce. Watching everyone else keep it together on stage whilst the audience erupted into laughter is the happy memory I have of that production. Hurrah.

Such vanity when it comes to costumes...
Such vanity when it comes to costumes by Angie Gray…

In contrast, ‘Picasso at the Lapin-Agile’ was laughter from start to finish, but here I must thank Liz McGinnes for letting me be a bit part who built his part up every night as Schmendimann. Here I also thank Richard Bearne for hosting a memorable after show party (please take this as a thank you that extends to everyone that has hosted an aftershow party I have crashed – it takes something to rival the Hilary Gameson Shiphay parties, but this one came very close!).

In the summer of 2011 I found Shakespeare with the Countess Wear Community Theatre. We toured a range of venues with ‘Romeo and Juliet’. For this production I am grateful to Judy Impey for wonderful baking (again, extend this to anyone who has baked rehearsal refreshments) and Angie Gray for a wonderful costume.

In the autumn it was with Bijou Theatre Productions I was a part of ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’. Here I must thank Di Davies for persuading Maggie Campbell to let me into her cast and Lydia Dockray for making me laugh too much in rehearsals.

Rough and tumble in the woods...
Rough and tumble in the woods with Ben Tisdall and Becca Lamburn…

In 2012 and ‘As You Like It’ you will have had the chance to read a blow by blow account of my thoughts, starting at the charity night right through the run, as I was seriously blogging here. In this production it is Ben Tisdall and Becca Lamburn that I recall watching with interest every night. They made me feel like I was part of a company that were learning, growing and having fun week in week out.

I have nothing witty to say about this picture
I have nothing witty to say about this picture

Another summer, another tour, and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as Theseus with the Countess Wear Community Theatre. This time it was the four lovers, Sam Emmerson, Zoe Callon, Harry Boyd and Jeanie Scott that impressed and made me want to be better than I am.

At this point, I throw in a passing nod to the extraordinary performance Jeanie Scott gave in a student production of ‘Mary Stuart’ not long after our run was complete, there was certainly great talent here.

And another stunning robe from Angie Gray, just a shame there are other people in the picture to stop you seeing the full length.

TOADS Miss Julie 037And so I come up to date with ‘Miss Julie’ at the TOADS Theatre Company this year. I know I should be thanking Lisa Fletcher for putting up with my not learning lines in her scenes and Di ffitch for casting me twice, but these must play runner up. In this production it was stage manager, Peter West, and Miss Julie, Hannah Samuel, who knew more than everyone else and kept me going. And so I extend that to the friends we make in amdram, who are splendid fellows, on stage and off stage.

If you’ve come this far, thank you for your indulgence. And thank you to all the prompts, I love you all.

Performing with Tony Pinches in 'As You Like It' 2012
Performing with Tony Pinches in ‘As You Like It’ 2012

A final special thank you must go to Tony Pinches, the man who introduced me to this hobby in the first place. We duelled in ‘Pickwick Papers’, he was my butler in ‘1984’, married me to Stephanie Austin in ‘Black Widow’ and played Adam to my Orlando in ‘As You Like It’. If we could all be half the gentleman I have known performing with him, the amateur world would be a happy place indeed.

The majority of the pictures here are by Brian Tilley Photography. The CWCT pictures are by Peter Pojuner. The Mansfield Park, Rumpelstiltskin and Black Widow pictures are anybody’s guess. But let me know and I’ll be sure to thank them.


Doctor Who – Hunters of Earth

If the TARDIS left Quinnis and headed straight for London, 1963, you might be forgiven for thinking it leads directly into An Unearthly Child, but in this anniversary year the combined creativity of AudioGo and Big Finish Productions have managed to slip in another tale. Released in January 2013, Hunters of Earth is the first in the Destiny of the Doctor series.

Again, Carole Ann Ford tells the story, largely from the point of view of Susan. Written by Nigel Robinson and directed by John Ainsworth. Joined by Tam Williams as Cedric, this story must surely be the last adventure to run in to the opening of the television series…

time and space

The TARDIS has settled at 76 Totters Lane, London. It is October 1963. The Doctor and Susan arrived four months earlier.

who and the crew

The TARDIS has a fault which the Doctor is trying to fix. He is using materials obtained from Magpie Electrical to sort out his problems. Meanwhile, Susan has managed to get a place at Coal Hill School and she’s just about managing to fit in.

humans vs aliens

In 1963, the aliens are the foreigners settling in London after the war rather than folk from outer space. Susan is having headaches and knows a surprising amount about what people are thinking – she’s got the attention of one of her teachers, Mr Rook, who finds her somewhat unearthly. Considering what we know of Susan’s future, this is bound to cause problems.

Meanwhile, the locals are  falling foul to mind control, especially the youngsters, listening to their radios and digging the funky 60s beats. Susan’s friend Mavis is particularly influenced, turning on Susan in a cafe, then later as part of a substantial mob. In an odd twist, it makes the humans seem most alien of all.

love, lust and loss

Susan is trying to fit in and finds a friend and potential love interest in Cedric. They have some quite sweet moments, as they make plans together, discuss a shared interest in music and later sit quietly together listening to the latest bought LP. He is concerned for her wellbeing and appears to have her best interests at heart. But we know she’s not a local girl and she has big secrets, it isn’t going to be easy for Susan to trust.

magic moments

IMG_1883It’s a tough call. You’ll either love references to John Smith and the Common Men, the school secretary, Susan being ‘unearthly’ and transistor radios, or it will seem so close to the first televised episode it is unbearable. Rather than being gentle kisses to the past, I struggled with them because the context I listen to the adventure is with a view to reading, watching and listening to stories in as appropriate an order as I can be fussed with. It becomes a regular distraction that takes you away from the story at hand.

There are some touching character moments throughout. Susan is constantly making friends and feeling a sense of betrayal as people turn on her. But why are they turning on her? And how long will it be before those closest to her turn against her too?

Carole Ann Ford is still a wonderful reader, with the Doctor being given an adventure of his own here as the piece is written in the third person, rather than the first person of the Big Finish ‘Companion Chronicles’. I still enjoy her William Hartnell voice and the story does a good job of weaving the fictional world (of John Smith and the Common Men) with the real world (of the Beatles).

But with a message from a Doctor on the radio talking about events in the late 1960s, together with Susan’s mental powers picking up a sense of something terrible coming in the future, it seems like there’s more to worry about than teachers taking too much interest in a mysterious student – the Destiny of the Doctor series has something bigger to offer…

Previous Audio Story: Quinnis

Next TV Story: An Unearthly Child