What Lies Inside?

I enjoy collecting action figures and statues based on some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy universes. I especially like ones that take inspiration from sources other than movies or TV. One manufacturer I especially liked was Eaglemoss, which made spaceship models based not only on the Star Trek television series, but also occasionally from novels and video games. Eaglemoss also made figures from comic books and other science fiction franchises. I was saddened to hear that they went out of business at the end of this past summer. Shortly after they went out of business, I learned they had made some figures based on the Doctor Who audio adventures from Big Finish Productions. I have loved these audio stories, and I decided to see if I could get a set before they disappeared into the hands of collectors forever. I lucked out and found a nice set featuring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as his companion Liv Chenka. Paul McGann did play the Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, but Big Finish designed a new look for the Doctor as he appears on the audio book covers, also Liv has never appeared on screen. Even the Dalek’s paint scheme is unique to the audio book covers.

I’ve long appreciated that Big Finish productions have given us a nice run of Paul McGann as the Doctor. He’s only appeared on screen three times in the role. First in the TV movie, where he was introduced. Second in a TV short called “Night of the Doctor” where we learned how his incarnation met its end. Most recently, he appeared in the episode called “Power of the Doctor” where Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor meets the “spirits” of several earlier incarnations. It always felt like a shame he didn’t have more stories. While I have listened to several Big Finish audio productions featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, I hadn’t yet listened to any featuring Liv, nor have I listened to any after the eighth Doctor started sporting his leather jacket look as shown in the action figure. That said, I did listen to the pivotal stories “Lucie Miller” and “To the Death,” which effectively show us how the Doctor went from a more breezy, lighthearted personality to a more reserved, careful personality, reflected in the change of outfit. So, I decided I should rectify that. The hard part was deciding where to start. Right after “To the Death,” Big Finish produced several epic-length episodes featuring the eighth Doctor that span several volumes each. I wasn’t quite ready to commit that much time to a story. That said, this year, Big Finish has released two sets of more episodic adventures featuring Paul McGann. The first was “What Lies Inside?”

“What Lies Inside?” is, itself, composed of two different stories. The first is “Paradox of the Daleks.” As this story starts, it looks like it’s going to be a very traditional story of the Doctor facing his old nemesis the daleks. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen Sinclair arrive on a space station where the inhabitants are conducting experiments on time travel. It turns out, the daleks have also invaded, preparing to establish a temporal beachhead in some war they’re fighting. As the Doctor tries to foil the daleks’ plans, one of the space station’s inhabitants tricks Liv and Helen into hiding in a time capsule. The capsule sends them back in time to before they all arrived and sets a chain of events into action. On the whole, the story reminded me of Back to the Future, but where the stakes could be the universe itself!

The second story was “The Dalby Spook.” In this story, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv visit the Isle of Man in 1933. They go to see a stage psychic perform and encounter the real-life skeptic Harry Price. It turns out that Price is on the island to investigate reports of an invisible, talking mongoose said to haunt the Irving family home. I was delighted to learn that Harry Price’s investigation of Gef the Talking Mongoose really happened. I love it when real events are given a science fictional or fantastic twist and this story doesn’t disappoint. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen soon learn that something sinister is indeed going on around the Irving home, but it may not be as simple as young Voirrey Irving trying to get people to believe in an imaginary friend. She may be in real danger and Helen and Liv have to convince the Doctor to help.

While I’m disappointed that Eaglemoss has gone out of business, I’m happy that events came together to get me to listen to more Big Finish Doctor Who adventures. You can learn about their full range of adventures at https://bigfinish.com

Of course, if you like audiobooks, don’t miss the audiobook adaptations of my novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. You can find them at:

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

The end of February brought us a new Space: 1999 audio adventure from Big Finish Productions. Ostensibly, we are presented with three stories, “Mooncatcher” written by Marc Platt, “Earthbound” written by Iain Meadows, and “Journey’s End” written by Nicholas Briggs. It turns out, “Mooncatcher” is the only completely original tale on this disk. The other two stories are, in fact, a two-part retelling of the classic TV episode “Earthbound” which featured Christopher Lee as the alien space ship captain Zantor. I’ve been looking forward to this release because “Earthbound” was one of the most memorable episodes of the original series and Marc Platt is one of my favorite classic Doctor Who authors. Platt wrote the weird and wonderful twenty-sixth season Doctor Who episode “Ghostlight” along with the novel Lungbarrow, which delved into Time Lord society and the Doctor’s personal history in a really interesting way.

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

Platt’s story didn’t disappoint. As the story opens, the Moon is hurtling toward a strange, spherical object in space. Moonbase Alpha personnel receive strange transmissions from its vicinity and the object is so smooth, it appears to be artificial. Astronaut Alan Carter and Paul Morrow (both played by Glen McCready) take an Eagle spacecraft to go investigate. As they approach, Moonbase personnel figure out the signals they’ve received are a warning. Carter and Morrow are out of range, so Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell go out to try to help. Before they arrive, the sphere opens up and tendrils pull the first Eagle inside. It turns out the object is a life form, like a space-traveling coral reef and this is where the story gets really interesting. The life form begins delving into Carter and Morrow’s memories and pushes them into a dream state. In the original series, Morrow was effectively Koenig’s right-hand man, but we never got to know him well. This audio episode revealed much more about his past in a way that was true to both the classic series and the new audio series. The character came much more to life for me. As one might expect, Carter and Morrow are eventually rescued by Koenig and Russell, though we’re thrown several interesting twists and turns along the way.

The premise of Space: 1999 is that disaster strikes Earth’s moon and it’s sent hurtling out into deep space. Our characters are those people running Moonbase Alpha, a base which both oversees the storage of nuclear material and deep space launches. Although some people clearly follow a military-like rank hierarchy, the implication is that most people on the base are civilian employees. One issue rarely raised in the original series is why should Commander Koenig be the person who makes all the decisions for this group of people stranded far away from Earth. The new version of “Earthbound” addresses that.

In both the TV series and the audio series, Koenig’s boss, Space Commissioner Simmonds is stranded on the base with them. In the new version of “Earthbound,” he steps forward to question Koenig’s decision to look for a new planet for the Alphans to call home and says they’re priority should be to find a way to return to Earth. He makes his case to the Alphans and a vote is called. This early part of the episode has distinct echoes of contemporary populism in both the United States and United Kingdom. The Alphans vote by a narrow margin to return to Earth if possible and Alpha’s command staff is tasked with making the dream a reality. The problem is the dream isn’t a very realistic one and tensions grow between the command staff and the Alphans that voted to go home.

In the midst of this strife, a space ship arrives that looks as though it’s going collide with Alpha. Alan Carter takes an Eagle out to try and stop the collision, but fails. Fortunately, the space ship makes a safe landing near the base. Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Professor Victor Bergman board the ship. They find a group of aliens in croygenic suspension. Dr. Russell tries to wake one, but fails, accidentally killing the first alien. The alien ship’s computer wakes another. Distraught, the alien makes telepathic contact with Helena, learns human language, and learns that the death of their crewmember was an accident. In the process, Captain Zantor, leader of the Kaldosians, forms a strong emotional bond with Dr. Russell.

We soon learn the Kaldosians were seeking Earth, and their computer knows how to find it. Commissioner Simmonds sees an opportunity and sets a plot in motion to capture the Kaldosian ship. Dr. Russell struggles to keep this from happening, in part because of her bond with Captain Zantor. Those who know the original series probably remember how the episode ended. However, this isn’t exactly that same story and Nicholas Briggs definitely throws us some twists. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers. Barnaby Kay, who plays Zantor, does a fine job taking over a classic Christopher Lee role. Kay doesn’t so much try to imitate Lee but he works hard to play the character with the same combination of power and Zen-like calm Lee gave to the character.

Space: 1999 Volume 02: Earthbound is available at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-02-earthbound-2505


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New Captain Scarlet

As a science fiction fan, 2005 stands out for me because it marked the return of Doctor Who. I was a fan of the classic series and watched as many episodes as I could in college and had been grateful when the Albuquerque PBS station began getting new episodes within a year of release. At the 2005 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, they had a special screening and I attended with my daughter and a friend. We were delighted to see our favorite Time Lord back on the screen and portrayed well by Christopher Eccleston.

New Captain Scarlet

What I didn’t know was that another series of a similar vintage would also be resurrected the same year. In all fairness, I wasn’t all that familiar with Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons from 1966. In fact, the only “Supermarionation” show I knew at the time was Thunderbirds. What’s more, Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet didn’t have quite as auspicious a debut in the UK as Doctor Who did. My impression is that many original Captain Scarlet fans wouldn’t learn about the new show until after it first aired. It turns out, New Captain Scarlet originally aired as part of a kids variety show called Ministry of Mayhem. The clips I’ve seen remind me of Nickelodeon or Disney Channel variety shows of the same era.

Like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was a science fiction series filmed using marionettes as the performers. As with many Gerry Anderson shows, this show featured fantastic ground and air vehicles and even a flying base for the heroes reminiscent of the Hellicarrier from Marvel’s Avengers comics. The heroes belong to an organization called Spectrum which was formed to defend Earth against alien invasion. Spectrum agents have color-themed code names, hence the titular Captain Scarlet. The original series was rather progressive for 1966 in that Spectrum’s executive officer, Lieutenant Green, was a black man and the fighter pilots were all women.

New Captain Scarlet is, essentially, a remake of the original. Instead of using marionettes, the characters are animated with computer graphics. The series opens as Captain Scarlet and his friend, Captain Black, are sent to Mars to investigate some mysterious alien signals. They arrive on the scene and find an empty crater. Then the signals resume and soon the city of the Mysterons appears. A small probe is launched and heads toward the Spectrum vehicle. Fearing an attack, Captain Black fires at the probe. This sets off a chain reaction which destroys the city. A moment later, the city rebuilds itself. Captain Black and Captain Scarlet run away, only to be killed by the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet is resurrected right away as an agent of the Mysterons. Scarlet returns to Earth with Black’s body and Scarlet then attempts to destroy Sky Base and Spectrum. He’s knocked through an energy beam and wakes awhile later. This time, he’s free of Mysteron control, but he’s also virtually indestructible because he exists in a Mysteron-built body. The Mysterons then resurrect Captain Black to lead the assault.

Most episodes feature Spectrum battling some new Mysteron plot. In the new series, Lieutenant Green is not only black, but a woman. We also get some women agents, such as Captain Ocher, who appears in a few episodes. The fighter pilots are still women, though we do have one episode where a man is a candidate. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the Mysterons early in the episode where he appears.

I couldn’t help but think that Spectrum brought on this conflict themselves when Captain Black destroyed the Mysteron city. However, when I rewatched the episode, I realized the probe he destroyed made an awfully big explosion to be a simple probe. It would seem the Mysterons were out to wreak havoc from the beginning.

One of my favorite episodes of the series is set in New Mexico when Captain Ocher must contend with a biker gang called the Grey Skulls. The gang has existed since the 1947 Roswell crash and they believe they exist to fight against alien invasion. It was fun to see Captain Ocher convince them they’re on the same side and the Mysterons are the new threat. It was also fun to see the animators portray saguaro cacti growing around Roswell! That slight inaccuracy noted, the CG animation in the series did improve over the series’ run.

As you might imagine, New Captain Scarlet has a somewhat dark tone. It’s hard to imagine it fitting in well with the silly Ministry of Mayhem format, which involved the hosts getting involved in pie fights and being placed in dunking tanks. I also suspect that few fans of the original would have known to seek out the remake in such a variety show. Fortunately, New Captain Scarlet is much easier to find today. It’s available on a multi-region Blu-ray disk from the Gerry Anderson store at https://shop.gerryanderson.com/products/new-captain-scarlet-blu-ray-the-complete-series

Speaking of remakes, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, when I will unveil the revised edition of Heirs of the New Earth. This is the final thrill-and-surprise-packed final novel in my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Laura Givens has delivered an outstanding cover and I’ll be showing it off then and letting you know how you can get a copy for yourself.

Time Traveler with a Celery Boutonniere

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I first learned about the television series Doctor Who from an article in Starlog Magazine. The article announced that Peter Davison would take over the role of the Doctor from Tom Baker, who had played the part for seven years. I knew nothing about who any of these people were or what the show was about, but I do remember blond-haired Peter Davison in a light colored outfit standing next to the ubiquitous blue police box, which I would later learn was his machine for traveling in time and space. When I finally saw an episode of Doctor Who, it featured Tom Baker, a jovial fellow with a mop of curly hair and a scarf that went on forever. I was curious how the young blond actor and the curly-haired actor could play the same part. Eventually, I would learn that the Doctor can regenerate into a whole new body. Still, I was curious what Peter Davison would be like compared to Tom Baker.

The Doctor and the Master face off in Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor.

Around this time, I discovered that my local bookstore started carrying novelizations of Doctor Who episodes. Right there on the shelf was that blond-haired fellow smiling at me from the cover of a story called “The Visitation.” I picked it up and found myself transported back to medieval England in a story where aliens crashed on Earth. In the final struggle, a lamp is knocked into some hay and the great fire of London is started. In college, I would finally see the episode as part of season nineteen of the series, which was Peter Davison’s first. That season is now out on Blu-Ray and I recently revisited the first year of this blond-haired fellow as the Doctor.

I had fond memories of this season from college. Tom Baker played the Doctor for so long, a new actor seemed a breath of fresh air. I remember Peter Davison as an affable, breezy personality. As a quirk, he wore a stalk of celery as a boutonniere on clothes suitable for a cricket match. I remember liking how the writers created something of a Holmes/Moriarty relationship between the Doctor and his old nemesis the Master.

Rewatching it, the nineteenth season didn’t quite match my memories. Peter Davison’s Doctor seemed to snap at people more than I remembered. He also looked a little uncomfortable in the part at times. He was, after all, the first actor to play the part who had also grown up watching it. The season also presented the Doctor with three companions. This wasn’t unheard of in the series’ run, but it wasn’t common. In this case, I could see that four regular characters were a challenge for the writers. Often they’d find a way to put one companion on the sideline while giving one or two others the limelight.

I had fond memories of an episode called “Black Orchid.” It’s a short episode in the middle of the season where the Doctor ends up in the middle of a 1920s mystery. It’s not very science fictional, but it seemed like it made the best use of all the characters and it remains one of my favorite of the season. The episode I first read in novel form, “The Visitation” also held up pretty well. The only part I thought could have been improved were the aliens, who looked too much like people in stiff, rubber suits.

The season felt longer than other Doctor Who seasons I’ve purchased. Indeed, most seasons I’ve watched only have four or five distinct stories. This one had seven. Classic Doctor Who stories were serialized from half-hour episodes. Most of the actual stories were shorter than stories in earlier seasons. Still, I had a feeling that in some cases the writers struggled to find material for all four episodes of a story. Some stories in the nineteenth season might have been stronger as only two or three-part stories. This is probably one of the reasons “Black Orchid” remains a favorite. It doesn’t feel padded out.

As with other Doctor Who Blu-Rays I’ve purchased, this one is chalk full of interviews and behind-the-scenes documentaries. All in all, it was fun to go back and spend a season with the first Doctor I’d ever actually seen, if only in a magazine photo.

Fury From the Deep

When I was a kid, video recorders were not a common household item. People watched whatever was on broadcast TV when it was aired. If you missed it, too bad! Being a fairly innovative kid who didn’t want to be limited to experiencing my favorite shows when they aired, I turned to the one recording device a lot of people did have. I used an audio cassette recorder to record my favorite shows so I could listen to them whenever I wanted. It was pretty amazing how well that worked. Between the dialog, the music, and the sound effects, I could visualize episodes of Star Trek or The Wild Wild West just by listening to them. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only innovative kid out there.

When the BBC started making the series Doctor Who, they had no idea it would become a worldwide phenomenon or that people would want to watch episodes that had already aired. What’s more, the United Kingdom at the time really didn’t have syndicated television the way we did in the United States, so there wasn’t a market for rerunning shows after they had first aired. The upshot was that once an episode aired, the video tapes it had been recorded on were often recycled for other shows, which meant numerous episodes had been lost. And this is where the innovative kids (and probably some adult fans as well) come in. We still have audio recordings of some of those lost episodes, many of which feature the second actor to play the Doctor, Patrick Troughton.

As I’ve said in other posts, I think animation is an underutilized medium for storytelling. One of the more clever ways I’ve seen animation used in recent years is to recreate some of these lost Doctor Who episodes. We have audio and we often have still photos from the set to know how things looked. Artists can then retell the story in animation. Of course, there’s more to it than that. Audio engineers need to clean up the audio recordings from over 50 years ago. Also, you have to decide how much artistic license to employ. Do you retell the story shot for shot as close as you can? Or, do you enhance the creatures, sets and special effects to make it “better” than it had been before? At what level do you go too far adding new visual elements?

“Fury from the Deep” is a well-remembered “lost” episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor and his young companions arrive on Earth in the 1960s and find a natural gas production facility that’s being besieged by sentient seaweed. In this telling, it sounds silly, but decent script writing gives us a facility staff that’s sympathetic and trying to keep things operating all while our strange menace is slowly taking over the people in hopes of driving away the facility. Patrick Troughton shows himself as a great actor who can take all of this seriously, make us care about this problem, and see the seaweed as the intended threat.

The animators strike a nice balance and keep much of the original episode’s look. However, where the original episode gave us a few pieces of menacing, wiggling seaweed, we now get something that looks like it’ll sting you when you pick it up, as said in the dialogue. Where the original gave us a stuntman in a costume, we now get something that looks like a plant breaking through the plant’s pipes. We even get menacing seaweed coming out of the ocean.

I enjoyed this look back at an early episode of Doctor Who. Between this and other animated retellings of early episodes, I’m getting a better sense of how the series became so well loved that it would last for many decades. “Fury from the Deep” does include something of a milestone. It’s the first episode to introduce the Doctor’s ubiquitous sonic screwdriver. In later episodes, he uses it for many different tasks. In this episode, we actually see it used to remove some screws!

The DVD includes a radio play by Victor Pemberton, the episode’s author. The story is, effectively, an earlier version of “Fury from the Deep,” that features sentient mud in place of sentient seaweed. What makes the radio drama interesting is that the scientist who fills the Doctor’s place in the story is played by Roger Delgado, who would eventually play the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, in Doctor Who. In a nice touch, the animated backgrounds for this episode include wanted posters for Roger Delgado’s Master. This is especially fun since Delgado wouldn’t be cast in the series for another two years. It seems a very appropriate touch for a show about time travel.

Authors traveling through Time and Space

In several recent posts, I’ve shared my thoughts regarding classic seasons of Doctor Who that have been released on Blu-Ray. One topic that has come up several times in the special features on these disks are the Doctor Who audio adventures produced by Big Finish Productions. These are original stories produced in audio with the actors who played the Doctor and his companions reprising their television roles. For actors like Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor, it’s given fans a peek into a more developed and nuanced character than we saw on television. For actors like Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, we finally get to see more episodes than his one appearance in the TV movie. There are standalone adventures for several of the Doctor’s more popular companions and there are even standalone episodes for the Master, one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies.

I grew up in an era before home video. Some time in elementary school, I hit upon the idea that I could preserve and enjoy some of my favorite TV shows if I recorded them with an audio tape recorder. In the case of shows like Star Trek, listening to episodes was almost as good as watching them. Part of this was because I’d seen them numerous times on reruns, so I could visualize the episodes. However, part of it was that the writing, sound effects, and acting were so evocative that I didn’t need to visuals to understand what was happening. The Big Finish Doctor Who stories are like that. These are “pure” dramatizations with no narration. You just hear actors delivering their lines with sound effects and music to help you picture the scenes. As it turns out, these are great productions for me to listen to on my long drive from home to Kitt Peak National Observatory, because there’s no visual element to distract me while driving.

Because these are so good to listen to while driving and because we’d been hearing about them on the Doctor Who Blu-ray sets, my wife bought me a gift card with the idea that I would spend it on audio episodes at Big Finish. Two of the episodes I bought were “The Lovecraft Invasion” featuring Colin Baker and “The Silver Turk” featuring Paul McGann.

Both of these audio adventures feature the Doctor having an adventure with a famous author. Over the course of Doctor Who’s run, there have been several episodes where the Doctor has encountered authors. The second doctor encountered Cyrano de Bergerac. The sixth Doctor took H.G. Wells on a journey through time. The ninth Doctor met Charles Dickens. The tenth Doctor had adventures with William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.

In “The Lovecraft Invasion,” the Doctor joins forces with 51st-century bounty hunter, Calypso Jonze, to hunt down the Somnifax: a weaponized mind-parasite capable of turning its host’s nightmares into physical reality. Chasing it through the time vortex to Providence, Rhode Island in 1937, they arrive too late to stop it from latching onto a local author of weird fiction, none other than Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The episode was interesting in that its author clearly demonstrated admiration for Lovecraft’s world and creations while showing contempt for his racist worldview. It was well performed and a ripping good story that also let me ponder questions of admiring a writer’s work while noting their problematic views. I appreciated that the episode didn’t retreat to the safety of considering Lovecraft a man of his time. They did this by giving the Doctor a companion from roughly Lovecraft’s time who didn’t appreciate his views any more than the Doctor did.

“The Silver Turk” took a different tack. In this case, the Doctor actually has a famous author as a traveling companion. In this case, the famous author is none other than Mary Shelley. He takes her to the Viennese exposition of 1872 where they find an amazing automaton who can play piano and beat all comers at chess and checkers. It turns out, the automaton is actually a Cyberman. Like Star Trek’s Borg, Cybermen are a mix of organic and machine parts without emotion but with a strong desire to capture others and make more of their kind. Of course, this brings Shelley into contact with reanimated dead bodies. There’s even a scene where a Cyberman gains more power using a lightning rod. The real joy of this episode is hearing how much the Doctor enjoys traveling with an author he admires. Julie Cox did a wonderful job as Shelley, though I have to admit, I kept visualizing Elsa Lanchester’s Shelley from the beginning of Bride of Frankenstein.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend browsing Big Finish’s titles and finding a story to enjoy. Their audio adventures range from about $2.00 to $30.00 and they even have some first episodes you can download for free. The more I look through their catalog, the more I want to listen. They’ve even expanded their offerings to audio adventures besides Doctor Who, such as Dark Shadows and Space: 1999. You can learn more about them and listen to their offerings at https://www.bigfinish.com.

What the Doctor Ordered

As I’ve been getting ready to return to regular observing shifts at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I’ve been continuing my look at the season-long box sets from the classic era of Doctor Who. The most recent I’ve watched is the second season of Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. Baker only played the Doctor for two seasons. After his first season, the series went on a year-and-a-half hiatus. When it came back, the show was effectively on trial by the BBC to see if they would allow it to keep running. With that in mind, show runner John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward decided to make the entire season a trial of Doctor. Even though there are four separate stories, they all aired under the title “The Trial of a Time Lord.”

The Sixth Doctor and the cookbook created during his era.

“The Trial of a Time Lord” is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, it was a story that almost needed to be done. The Doctor is an alien from the planet Galifrey and his people are an ancient race called the Time Lords who observe what goes on throughout time and space but never interfere. At the end of the second Doctor’s tenure, he was captured and put on trial for meddling in the affairs of other worlds. As a result, he’s forced to regenerate and becomes the third Doctor. Since then, the Doctor has done nothing but continue to meddle. So, it’s not surprising the Time Lords should want to have more words with him. Despite all that, the episodes as a whole aren’t especially memorable.

The best element of the season is that Colin Baker was allowed to play the Doctor more as he wanted. In his first season, he’s presented as something of an overbearing, unpredictable character. In the second season, he’s brash, yet charming. His relationship with his first companion, Peri, improves. When his new companion, Melanie, arrives, they clearly have a good rapport. Baker still wears his almost clown-like bright outfit, but there is something very 1980s about that suit. In fact, it reminds me of the costume worn by another eccentric scientist—Doc Brown in Back to the Future Part 2!

The special features on this Blu-ray set are almost better than the episodes themselves. Colin Baker himself discusses his role in many of the featurettes. It’s clear he’s a fan of the series and is sorry he didn’t get the opportunity to play the role on screen as he’d hoped. This did remind me that he’s done some wonderful audio work as the Doctor for Big Finnish Productions. Those stories are very well written and feature many cast members from the original series. If you really want the best of Colin Baker as the Doctor, listen to his audio stories. I can highly recommend “The Holy Terror” and “Davros.” I’ve heard others of his stories are even better.

Another fun special feature discusses The Doctor Who Cookbook, published during that 18-month hiatus. I purchased the book back in the day and still have my copy. Compiled by Gary Downie, partner of John Nathan-Turner, it features recipes by many people who played parts in the show or worked behind the scenes. In the special feature, some of those cast members recreate their dishes. I’ve made some of the dishes from the book before, but was inspired to try a few more. One very nice recipe was “Davros’s Extermination Pudding” by Terry Molloy, who played Davros, one of the Doctor’s arch enemies. It’s less a “pudding” and more baked bananas topped with meringue and raspberry jam. Still, it’s a nice treat for a weekend afternoon!

A long-time favorite recipe in the book is “Doctor’s Temptation,” a Swedish recipe presented by Colin Baker himself. It’s basically a casserole with potatoes, tuna, onions, and cream all topped with bread crumbs. It’s a rich, satisfying dish that goes nice with a good salad. One could say it’s just what the Doctor ordered.

Doctor Who’s Tenth Anniversary

I didn’t discover Doctor Who by finding it on television. I discovered it on the pages of a magazine. During my middle and high school years, I was an avid reader of Starlog Magazine, which covered science fiction media. One issue had a photo of a young blond-haired man dressed in a sweater, jacket, striped pants and a Panama hat and declared this man would be taking over the part of the Doctor in the series, Doctor Who, which had been running for nearly twenty years. Of course, this was the announcement that Peter Davison would be playing the fifth Doctor. It really piqued my curiosity how an actor could step into the lead role of a series after someone else had played that part. It would be like someone besides Leonard Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek. My young mind couldn’t imagine it! I looked for Doctor Who, but discovered it wasn’t available on Los Angeles television at the time.

I finally saw my first episode of the series on a summer vacation to my uncle’s house in Florida. It was on at something like 6am on a Saturday morning, but I set my alarm and watched it. I was treated to the serial “The Robots of Death” starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. From then on, I was hooked, though I wouldn’t be able to watch regularly until my senior year of high school when the Los Angeles public television station finally started carrying the show. They started with “The Five Doctors,” which introduced me to all the people who had played the part so far including that blond-haired chap who had piqued my interest. I kept watching when I went to college and was especially delighted when the Albuquerque PBS station started playing older episodes of Doctor Who. They went back to Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor. I would sit enraptured on Saturday afternoons in a darkened room in the college’s “canteen” watching each episode in turn. Season ten stood out in particular. It started with the tenth-anniversary special which first aired in 1973 called “The Three Doctors,” then went on to bring back the Master, and the Daleks, and wrapped up with an emotional final episode. I was delighted to find this season now exists in its entirety on Blu-ray.

Doctor Who Season Ten Collection

I’ve long been impressed with the treatment the BBC has given the DVD and Blu-ray releases of Doctor Who. Like the season twenty-six pack I discussed a few weeks ago, the season ten set is chock full of special features. Some gave me insight into the writers and producers. Some gave me insights into how the effects were created. Yes, the special effects in this era of Doctor Who could be pretty cheezy, but it was impressive to learn they not only had a limited budget, but very little time to make their effects. Season ten introduced the “color separation overlay” process to Doctor Who, more familiar today as the blue screen or green screen process. This was early days of the process and while sometimes they used it to great effect, sometimes it just didn’t work.

That said, it’s never been the effects that attracted me to Doctor Who. The power of the series is in the writing, enhanced by actors who really loved their parts and did everything they could to sell the stories. Jon Pertwee, who played the Doctor, was famous for his comedy roles, but played the Doctor very straight. Of course, in his ruffled shirt and smoking jacket, he comes off as something of a flamboyant James Bond with an aversion to guns, but he pulls it off and fits in very nicely with the 70s aesthetic. Katie Manning plays his assistant, Jo Grant. By season ten, she’d come into her own and never feared going where she thought she should go. Doctor Who’s women of this era often have a reputation for being helpless and screaming, but I was surprised to go back and find Jo really never screamed and never was helpless. She could be klutzy at times, but she was stronger than I remembered.

This is the first season where I can remember something of a story arc. It’s not very strong, but there’s a running story about the Doctor trying to get to a planet called Metebelis III, which finally pays off in the season’s final episode. Also, the writers clearly know Jo will be leaving at the end of the season, so they start giving us clues in earlier episodes. I remembered being really moved when Jo left the Doctor at the end of “The Green Death” and was surprised to find the emotional power was still there, which was a combination of good writing and great acting. The season opener, which was the first time earlier Doctors came back in one episode was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, due to health concerns, the first Doctor, William Hartnell, had little more than a cameo, but it was great that he had one last outing. Patrick Troughton stepped into the role as though he’d never left it.

If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend these Blu-ray sets. You will get a lot of behind-the-scenes information and nice presentation of the episodes. If you only know the series from its revival in 2005 to the present, these sets are a great way to look back at the older episodes and get a sense of where the series came from.

The Last Season of Classic Doctor Who

When my wife and I first married, we moved into an apartment complex in Albuquerque recommended by some close friends who lived in that same complex. One of my fond memories from that period of time was spending Saturday nights that fall going over to their apartment to watch season 26 of Doctor Who when it aired on KNME. There were only four episodes in the season: “Battlefield,” “Ghost Light,” “The Curse of Fenric,” and “Survival.” Still, there was no doubt these were something special. Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor had moved on from his clown-like early portrayal into a somewhat darker and more mysterious figure. Sophie Aldred, as his companion Ace, was strong on the surface, yet seemed afraid to face certain elements of her past. Under the supervision of script editor, Andrew Cartmel, the Doctor was taking Ace on a tour of her own past and making her face the baggage she didn’t want to deal with. It was great stuff and when we got to the end, we couldn’t wait for the next season. Except there would be no next season. This was the end of Doctor Who’s so-called classic era.

Season 26 was recently released on blu-ray. As it turns out, I loved this season so much that I already owned it on a combination of VHS and DVD, but I was glad for the upgrade. Some episodes were distinctly improved. Of particular note are the “movie” edits of “Battlefield” and “Curse of Fenric.” The former has upgraded special effects which help one of the stories that introduced me to Arthurian lore. The latter included scenes that had been cut from the episodes originally aired for time. The longer cut played much better. There’s also an extended cut of the episode “Ghost Light,” which is one of those magical episodes that grows on me every time I watch it. For the purists, the original, uncut episodes are included as well.

In the special features included with the Blu-Ray set, I was reminded that “Ghost Light” started life as a very different episode. It’s the story about a mysterious house connected to Ace’s past. Originally, it was called “Lungbarrow” and it told the story of Ace and the Doctor visiting the house he grew up in. Author Marc Platt actually novelized “Lungbarrow” and it came out as part of the Doctor Who New Adventures line in 1992. At that point in my life, I was busy working on a telescope at Apache Point Observatory and being the dad of a precocious 2-year-old. I barely had time to sleep and eat much less read Doctor Who novels, but I remember seeing all kinds of discussion about this novel on internet circles of the time. I kept meaning to read it. Eventually it was posted in its entirety on the BBC’s Doctor Who website and I read bits and pieces before it was taken down.

Getting my hands on the Season 26 Blu-ray set inspired me to go looking for the novel. Unfortunately, only a limited number of copies were printed and used copies cost hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, the internet archive had a copy tucked away from the days when the book was available and I just gave it a read. It tells the story of the Doctor returning to the house where he was born. There’s evidence he killed the head of the household before he went on the run from the planet Galifrey with his granddaughter. It ties up several hints dropped by writers Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt in seasons 25 and 26. On the surface, it would seem to suggest a very different origin for the Doctor than the one revealed in “The Timeless Child” starring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. Except that in ways, the stories compliment each other. Not everyone in Doctor Who stories are reliable narrators and it all adds to the central question of the series: Doctor Who? If you’re a fan of either the new or old series, I highly recommend the season 26 set both for the great presentation of the episodes and the behind the scenes information. If you happen to see a copy of Lungbarrow in your favorite used bookstore, be sure to snap it up!

My Star Trek

Back in 2007, the current actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, David Tennant, appeared alongside one of the classic Doctors, Peter Davison in a short film for charity called “Time Crash.” In the short, Tennant has a moment that’s close to breaking the fourth wall. He glances at Davison with admiration, talks about all the things about him that inspired his interpretation of the character and then declares, “You were my Doctor.” Ever since then Doctor Who fans are fond of proclaiming which Doctor was the one that made them a fan of the series. That Doctor is my Doctor.

It’s possible to do almost the same thing with Star Trek. The show is almost as old and existed in numerous incarnations, much like Doctor Who. What’s more, as I talk to people of different ages, I do find that people do remember different Star Trek series with different amounts of fondness, often related to which one they discovered first and really hooked them. Thanks to having older brothers, I have watched and loved Star Trek as long as I remember, but to some degree, the original series is their Star Trek. For me, the series that hooked me was the one that debuted on Saturday morning TV around the time I started the second grade.

The animated Star Trek produced by Filmation Studios and helmed by D.C. Fontana essentially gave us two more seasons of the original series, completing the original five year mission. What’s more, I’d argue most of the episodes were better than the episodes that appeared in the third live action season. We got to see cool new aliens, such as Arex, a new navigator with three arms and three legs, and a Vendorian shapeshifter with tentacles who no doubt stuck in my mind enough to inspire my Alpha Centaurans when I wrote the first chapter of my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. We also got to see a return of the tribbles and a return to the planet from the episode “Shore Leave.”

I was pleased to see that someone finally devoted a book to the animated series, Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series by Aaron Harvey and Rich Schepis with an afterward by Dayton Ward, who co-edited the anthology Maximum Velocity with me. It has nice episode summaries plus behind the scenes information. For instance, I didn’t realize that Lou Scheimer of Filmation had been trying to get rights to do an animated Star Trek since before the original went off the air. What’s more, I learned the animated series the only one to win an Emmy in a non-technical category. It won for “Outstanding Children’s Program” in the second season.

The animated Star Trek often suffers from arguments about the series’ canon. In fact, all canon refers to is the collected body of original work produced by the licensed owners. What people really seem to mean when they argue about “canon” is “the consistent internal history of the show.” It doesn’t help that the series creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn’t want to consider the animated series part of that official history. Despite that, several authors in later series have included references to it. Now, to put this kind of debate into perspective, I have a hard enough time maintaining consistency in a multi-book series that I, alone, create. I can’t imagine being absolutely consistent throughout a series that has lasted over 50 years with multiple creators, where history itself has changed some of the backstory. (We all remember Khan Noonien Singh’s reign in the 1990s, right?) I think the best new creators can do is know what came before, do their best to get it right, and maybe even have a little fun when they find contradictions and anachronisms.

If you haven’t seen the animated series, or it’s been a while, I encourage you to take a look. Bringing Harvey and Schepis’s book along for the journey might just add to your appreciation.