Tuesday 16 April 2024

May 1999 - Planetary 02 - Island

 May 1999 - Planetary 02 - Island

Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer investigates an island containing the remains of great kaiju monsters.


The Jurassic Park  front cover is quite misleading - so we'll ignore it (though it's quite spectacular). While the issue is engaging in its portrayal of the Mishima-like cult leader and his followers and the appearance of dead famous movie kaiju, the story is quite slight. We're still in the early days of Snow's membership of the Planetary organisation so we're still getting to grips with the organisation and its members. It's obvious that Planetary is a global organisation with offices operating all around the world. Once again, the Planetary team seem to do little other than arrive at a location where they observe something unusual and then retrieve "secret history". At this point in the series, they aren't active protagonists. Much of the early scenes involving the Planetary team are used to restate their characters. The Drummer - once again! - sits out most of the issue. Snow and Wagner show off some of their powers.

The issue in detail

There's no statement of how much time has passed since the events of issue #1 though, from Snow's comments on page 12, he's still quite new to Planetary. This issue begins with the arrival of a small boat on an island somewhere cold. A group of Japanese men disembark. The leader, wearing a hachimaki bearing the symbol of the red rising sun makes what seems to be a joke about how cold it is. The leader, Ryu, insists on being referred to as "Master Storyteller" and that his novels are now to be considered as "scripture". The Master Storyteller locates the setting: an island between Japan and Siberian Russia. He says that he claims the island on behalf of Japan. The arrival of the Master Storyteller and his followers appears to be a rite before they attempt a coup (involving taking cocaine and storming the Japanese parliament). They climb a small mountain and see the remains of a gigantic flying kaiju in the valley below. The kaiju seems based on Mothra. Ryu - the Master Storyteller - is likely to be based on the novelist Yukio Mishima, who attempted a coup in 1967 before committing seppuku.


  • In Tokyo, the Planetary team are let into their Japanese office and are welcomed by a punk-looking Shinya Fekuda, the Tokyo station chef (who Jakita Wagner gives a friendly kiss). Elijah Snow speaks Japanese and says that he learned to speak the language in 1925. Fekuda reveals that he has summoned them because of Zero Island. He says: Zero Island is off-limits and contested territory; Jakita Wagner has been there before; and the "mildly infamous" novelist and his five acolytes are on the island and must not be allowed to discover what is on the island (oops, too late!). Drummer - dramatically (with the aid of a polaroid-type camera photo stuck to his head) - tells Snow that the island contains monsters.

  • Meanwhile the Master Storyteller and his followers see the skeletal remains of a King Ghidorah-like kaiju embedded in rock. The Master Storyteller says that they are in Hell and takes a pistol out of his pocket.


    Onboard the helicopter travelling to Island Zero, Snow reminds the reader that he is employed by Planetary and being paid a million dollars. Snow smokes a cigarette. He says that he smokes every couple of years and that he knows that Jakita Wagner does this - but doesn't reveal how he knows. Drummer is cold but Snow says that he's unaffected by the cold. Wagner shows Snow the corpse of the flying kaiju and tells him that they need to prevent Ryu and his followers seeing anything else. Snow is startled by the sight of the kaiju.


    Meanwhle Ryu stands inside the remains of a Godzlla-type kaiju. Some of the followers are vomiting and one, Jun, complains of the stench. Ryu declares that the remains are "holy". When Jun challenges Ryu, the Master Storyteller rants and, at gunpoint, insists that his followers eat the rotting flesh of the kaju. Wagner sees what's happening from far off. Snow can't which indicates one of her abilities is enhanced vision. Jun continues to disagree with Ryu and the Master Storyteller shoots Jun's head off. Wagner runs at great speed (another power) to catch up with the men.


    Ryu declares they will eat the kaiju's flesh for dinner and reveals that he ate the flesh of his girlfriend in a sex club in Osaka in 1989. A group of soldiers with guns (later we see they wear USA, Japan and Russian badges) arrive and tell Ryu that he will not be able to leave the island (alive). Ryu shoots a bag containing nerve gas and it kills them all.

  • Wagner runs from the gas cloud and warns Snow that the cloud is blowing towards him. Snow behaves cooly and uses his power (of "heat subtraction") to freeze the gas. Wagner says that the Fourth man didn't tell her about Snow's abilities. (She seems fine with not knowing things.)


    Wagner reveals to Snow the history of the island:

      • The monsters on Zero Island appeared the day after Hiroshima (7th August 1945).
      • She speculates about what actually caused the monsters (mutagen test, door from parallel Earth, alien).
      • By 1950, the island was filled with giant monsters. The monsters never left the island or bred.
      • The monsters died off in the 1970s.
      • A small guard were stationed on the island to protect its secrets.

    Zero Island is a stand-in for Monster Island from the Toho Godzilla series and the giant creatures are clear analogues of famous kaiju. Their appearance in after Hiroshima and dying-out in the 1970s follows the rise and decline of the Japanese monster movies.


    Wagner plans to remove whatever secret information is on the base on the island before replacement guards are dispatched. They see a flying kaiju - Rodan - which both Snow and Wagner find awesome. It's a Jurassic Park ending that also infers the continuation of kaiju cinema.


    Questions and Mysteries


    • What was Snow doing in Japan in 1925?
    • How does Snow know things about Jakita Wagner?
    • Why didn't the Fourth Man explain Snow's abilities to Wagner and Drummer?
    • What was Wagner doing on Zero Island?
    • Why does Drummer so obviously avoiding frontline activities and waits in the helicopter?
    • How did the kaiju actually come to Zero Island - is it connected to the operation of the "quantum brain" from issue #1?

Monday 15 April 2024

Star Wars - The Han Solo Trilogy (1997-1998)

 Star Wars - The Han Solo Trilogy (1997-1998)

The Han Solo Trilogy consists of three novels first published between 1997-1998 by A.C. Crispin. They are well-regarded by fans and cover some of the same ground as the Solo movie.

In The Paradise Snare (1997), nineteen-year-old Han Solo escapes from the control of villainous Garris Shrike who found him on Corellia as a street urchin and used him in scams. Solo is cared for by an older female wookiee called Dewlanna. Solo goes on to be hired to transport spice by the priests of the planet Ylesia. Here he meets Bria Tharen, another Corellian, with whom he falls in love - but loses. A great deal of the novel involves Solo turning against the priests and incurring a bounty on his head. Solo has cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance and graduates from the Imperial Academy as a pilot. This all takes place over a period of five months.

At the start of The Hutt Gambit (1997), Solo has been discharged from the Imperial Navy and Chewbacca the Wookiee has sworn a life-debt to him. Solo and Chewbacca travel to Nar Shaddaa, the Smugglers' Moon where he operates as a smuggler - eventually being hired by Jabba the Hutt and Jiliac the Hutt to smuggle spice. It is at this point that Solo makes the Kessel Run. The novel follows Solo's adventures involving the Hutts and encountering both Boba Fett and Lando Calrissian. There's a great deal of gangster to and fro, a re-encounter with is first love, Bria Tharen, and a sub-plot involving the Imperials (at one point Solo sees Darth Vader!).

After a gap - supposedly in which the 1979-80 Han Solo Adventures by Brian Daley take place - in Rebel Dawn (1998) Solo wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in a sabbacc game on Bespin. Chewbacca gets married on his homeworld of Kashyyyk. Solo meets Bria Tharen, who now s part of the Rebel Alliance and planning an attack on the slave colonies of Ylesia. This adventure ends up with Tharen double-crossing Solo and Lando punching him. Solo and Chewbacca return to working for Jabba and loses a shipment of spice. Bria Tharen goes on to be involved in actions that transmit the plans for the Death Star to Princess Leia - and is killed. On Tatooine, Solo encounters Dash Rendar from Shadows of the Empire as well as Boba Fett (who informs Solo of the death of Bria Tharen and that Greedo is looking for him and might try to kill him). At the end of the novel, Solo meets Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in a Mos Eisley cantina.

While there's a lot to enjoy about The Han Solo Trilogy, it isn't part of my reconstructed timeline. This is for the following reasons:

  • We have an unnecessary origin story for Han Solo in The Paradise Snare. Solo is better having a shadowy past.
  • Important background references are depicted. For instance, the Kessel Run. It's not possible to describe or show what the Kessel Run is without disappointment. Similarly, we witness the scenes where Solo wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, Lando's punch, etc - for some reason we don't see Chewbacca's first encounter with Han Solo.
  • There are too many coincidences that feel contrived and awkward: Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Bria Tharen involved in stealing the Death Star plans.
  • There are awkward elements like the marriage of Chewbacca to Malla - presumably to tie into The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Saturday 23 March 2024

April 1999 - Planetary 01 - All Over The World

April 1999 - Planetary #1 - All Over The World

Planetary recruit Elijah Snow and investigate a cave system in the Adirondacks where they find Doc Brass, a member of a secret society of superheroes and a quantum computer that creates universes.

Pacing is fast. Four pages in and Elijah Snow has been recruited by Jakita Wagner and helicoptered out of the desert he'd been living in for 10 years. Five pages later and the Planetary team are flying to the Adirondack Mountains to investigate a cave complex. Four pages later they've found a bizarre trophy room and encountered Doc Brass and a quantum computer in the form of a giant (holographic?) snowflake. Along the way we find out just enough about each of the characters to establish them and a series of mysteries that encouraged

As straightforward as it is, this is compressed storytelling. Ellis' analogy of it being like a 3-minute pop song is apt. It's dizzying by the time you finish the issue - but, if you step back and think about what has happened, all that takes place is a series of movements between places: 1) desert diner to 2) Planetary HQ (in New York?) to 3) a cave system in the Adirondacks. The Planetary team don't actually do very much and the second half of the issue is Doc Brass recounting what happened in the 1940s. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic first issue. 

The issue in detail

Jakita Wagner finds Elijah Snow in a desert diner. Whenever he eats there, the air conditioning malfunctions. Wagner reveals that she knows that Snow is 100 years old and that he "haunted" the 20th Century. For some reason Snow has spent 10 years in the desert. Wagner has a job for Snow that will pay $1 million for the rest of his life and that the organisation she works for will wipe any remaining records of Snow. Wagner wants "the exclusive use of you. Your talents. Your memories. Your experience. The helicopter that transports Wagner and Snow has the Planetary logo pointed on the side.

Two days later in the Planetary HQ, Snow is cleaned up. Wagner tells him that the organisation, Planetary - or more precisely a mysterious "Fourth Man" - pays for everything. Planetary is always a three-person team and the Fourth Man funds everything "without question". Wagner says - ominously - that they haven't yet worked out what happened to the last Third Man

Snow is introduced to The Drummer. Visually this team is white (Snow), black (Wagner) and now the multicolour of The Drummer. He's carrying drumsticks and he's the youthful rocker of the team. The Drummer "talks to machines" and "Machines do as he says". As a means of testing Snow, The Drummer throws a bottle of Whak Cola at him - who catches it without looking.

The Drummer has discovered a man-made cave complex in the Adirondack Mountains in Northeastern New York. The entrance to the caves is a hologram. The Drummer reminds Wagner that they had discovered from diaries stolen from a KGB vault that the Adirondacks was the last "destination" of Doc Brass. (This is clever storytelling and cuts down the time needed when Doc Brass is introduced.)

Planetary fly to the Adirondacks in three helicopters. (Obviously the organisation is bigger than the three main characters.) Wagner tells Snow what she knows about Brass: he was born on 1st January 1900 (like Snow and others) and disappeared in 1945.

WAGNER: By the Thirties, he was your genuine Renaissance man; great scientist, gifted inventor, something of a visionary... We'd never heard of Brass until we read the books. Turns out Brass was also an adventurer. Also, there's evidence that he'd retarded his own aging, and possibly no longer needed to eat.
For some reason, Snow is annoyed by Wagner's explanation (other than he just doesn't get on with other people - he does call The Drummer "you little bastard"). The Drummer warns Snow not to annoy her as she's physically powerful.

Wager jumps out of the helicopter - presumably to show off her physical power. Snow asks Wagner how long Planetary had existed and she says she has no idea - she joined four years ago. Wagner says that she's a member of Planetary because she gets bored easily and Planetary stops that.

Inside the mountain Wagner and Snow walk through smashed glass cases containing the remains or recreations:

  •    the skeleton of The Vulcania Raven God
  •    The Hull of the Charnel Ship
  •    Vestments of the Black Crow King
  •    a group of five figures called The Murder Colonels

Wagner suggests this is a trophy room.

In another cavern they find Doc Brass still alive. (Brass is a Doc Savage analogue.) His legs are withered and broken. There's also the holographic projection of the multiverse. Brass says that he stopped needing sleep and food in 1942, stopped ageing in 1943 and learned to close wounds in 1944. Brass recounts that the base had been built in the mid-1930s as a headquarters for the organisation he belonged to. We see his arrival at a meeting. The characters around the table (left to right):

  •    Hark (a Fu Manchu analogue)
  •    Jimmy (a Spirit analogue)
  •    The Aviator (an ace-pilot/spy; G-8?)
  •    Edison (a Flash Gordon analogue?)
  •    Lord Blackstock (a Tarzan analogue)
  •    The Dark Millionaire (a Shadow/Green Hornet analogue)

Edison and Brass had build the others "simple" electronic computers. Now they have built "an extrapolation of the computer", described as a "quantum brain" by Hark:

HARK: A multitude of possible alternatives, none of them quite real. All of them contributing towards the actual reality... This quantum brain would perform each calculation across universes, each possible answer being processed in a different world -- each alternative universe vanishing, one by one, until the answer made itself real.
The computer reveals the shape of reality describing the multiverse. Hark says that "Each rotation makes a New Earth". The snowflake (hologram?) of the multiverse. As they use the computer is used to generate the snowflake, the calculations cause new universes to "decohere and vanish". Hark says that he could use the computer to create a "corrected version of Earth". Their intention is to save the world. (Here there has to be a pause to consider the moral implications of what they tried to undertake). Brass reveals that the program would work out how to change "geopolitics, psychology, weather systems, the procession of the stars". They wanted to use the computer to end the World War Two in the quickest, least costly way.

When they used the computer it generated universes that came into being, decohered and vanished. A group of superheroes - analogues for the Justice League (Flash, Swamp Thing, Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter) fight Brass and his associates. The fight is brutal and only Brass, terribly wounded survives.

Brass is unable to switch the computer off and has remained in the caves for over 50 years in case any other threats came through. Clearly, the computer is still operating. Snow realises that the room they are in is inside the physical computer that generates the snowflake. At the end, Brass is taken away for medical treatment and Snow and Wagner reflect on their success.

Questions and Mysteries

This issue generates lots to think about:

  • Snow is a mystery: he's over 100 and trying to hide from something? Is Snow immortal?
  • Why was Snow living in the desert, seemingly reluctantly, for a decade?
  • Who is the Fourth Man? Why does he fund the investigations of Planetary "without question"?
  • What happened to the last "Third Man" before Snow?
  • How old is Planetary as an organisation?
  • The Drummer doesn't go into the cave complex. Is that because he could affect the quantum brain in some way? (And does that suggest that Planetary knew what they were going to find?)
  • What was taken away in the third Planetary helicopter? The quantum brain? Something else?
  • Brass' associate, Jimmy refers to Chicago as "strange" and Snow echoes this at the end when he says "It's a strange world." Is there a significance?

Wednesday 20 March 2024

September 1998 - Planetary Preview - Nuclear Spring

September 1998 - Planetary Preview - Nuclear Spring

As an 8-page preview (published in both Gen 13 #33 and C-23 #6), Nuclear Spring wastes no time in introducing the core characters and concepts of Planetary. 

 Our main characters - Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and The Drummer - are waiting for an unnamed general in his underground bunker in a military base. The general is shaken by this intrusion and even more that they are Planetary, an organisation he says "Hell, we never even worked out who you people were!"

Snow and Wagner address the general (and us as readers), explaining what their role in the narrative is to be:

WAGNER: We gather information on the hidden wonders of the world.
SNOW: Mystery archeologists. There's a hundred years of fantastic events that Planetary intends to excavate.
WAGNER: We're mapping the secret history of the Twentieth Century...

Planetary want to learn about David Paine, someone who has been wiped from history (even from friends' and colleagues\ minds). The general recounts how Paine, a brilliant young scientist, conceived the Integral Design Theory - The Drummer calls it Description Theory) - to create a quantum computer which is also a bomb. (I'm thinking hard about how this is a thing.) In a series of flashbacks to 1962, we are told that the general's wife went looking for Paine on the test site when they are about to test the bomb. Paine pushes her to safety but is caught in the explosion which transformed him ia monstrous form that allows him to survive the explosion. We don't ever see the whole transformation - just feet and bones plus the devastation the creature causes. Paine is chased by the army for 24 days until he is caught and imprisoned in an old underground missile silo without food or water. Paine eventually dies in 1983. Clearly, the implication is that Paine and the general's wife were conducting an affar and six months after Paine's imprisonment in the silo, she gave birth to a little girl.

Paine is an obvious analogue of Bruce Banner/Hulk. The 1962 date corresponds to the first publication of the Hulk (May 1962) with the quantum blast being a version of the famous gamma radiation that transforms Banner into the mindless Hulk. The choice of 1983 as the point when Paine eventually dies in the silo might be a reference to The Incredible Hulk #272 where the nature of the Hulk as a separate entity from Banner is altered for the first time.)

Next issue: Planetary #1- All Over The World

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Friday 19th March 1999 - Farscape - Premiere

 Friday 19th March 1999 - Farscape - Premiere

Freeze! Don't move! Or I'll fill you full of... little yellow bolts of light!

John Crichton, scientist and astronaut, accidentally travels through a wormhole and ends up in a distant part of the universe aboard Moya, a living spaceship, where he encounters a group of escaped alien prisoners.

After a slowish opening (much of what happens on Earth at the start seems unnecessary), this episode is pretty jam-packed with characters and world-building. Originally, the producers considered making this episode a two-hour opener but cut and reworked a number of scenes. It feels like it. After an "electromagnetic wave" hits Crichton's space shuttle experiment called Farscape One, he's transported to another region of space where a group of alien prisoners are engaged in trying to escape from an authoritarian, fascist human-looking civilisation calling itself Peacekeepers (they are actually Sebaceans, who only resemble humans).

Unfortunately, Crichton's spaceship encounters prowlers (fighter craft) and one of them, containing the brother of the military commander of the Peacekeeper fleet, Captain Crais, who vows revenge.

Crichton ends up on board a living spacecraft (a Biomechanoid Leviathan) called Moya which is piloted by a creature called... Pilot. Moya is helped to break free of her restraining "collar" and starburst (which I assume is a means of light speed) great distances. We see other living spacecraft like Moya as part of the Peacekeeper fleet.

The three alien characters Crichton spends most time with are: the blue-skinned - and, if I'm honest, creepy - Zhaan who is a Delvian priest; D'Argo, an aggressive Luxan warrior with a long stinging tongue; and Rygel XVI, a small frog-like being who claims to be the usurped ruler of 600 billion people.

The obvious love-interest is the cold-hearted and brutal Peacekeeper soldier, Aeryn Sun, who is forced to become part of the crew. Once she's spent time with Crichton and the Moya crew - and has been "irreversbly contaminated" - she is rejected by her people. There's a keynote scene where Aeryn declares that she doesn't feel compassion.

What's entertaining about Farscape is its weird alien-ness. There's an immediate sense that a great deal of thought has gone into the texture of the storytelling. I loved how Crichton can't understand the aliens' language until one of the little DRD droids (Diagnostic Repair Drone) injects him with translator microbes that enable him to comprehend their speech. We also get a great deal of science-y vocabulary to reinforce the sense of alien-ness: Hetch used as a measurement of speed, Metras to measure distance, time measued in arns (hours) and cycles (years). The area of space that Moya starbursts to is called the Uncharted Territories.

Another series would have saved Crichton's first experience of another planet for another, later episode - but damage to Moya means that the crew have to locate repair material from a commerce planet. On the planet there's a definite Star Wars cantina-vibe to the variety of aliens encountered.

The ending is excellent: Crichton is stranded at the other end of the universe and hunted by a crazy military leader, he is threatened by the alien crew and hated by the only human-like companion on board.

The effects and puppets hold up well - even after 25 years - and don't distract from the story beng shown.

November 1997 - Planetary Proposal


Planetary, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday's exploration of 20th Century pulp and superhero genres, was pitched in 1997 as: what if underneath the world of known superheroes "there was an entire classic superhero world... just slowly leaking out into this young and modern superhero world of the Wildstorm Universe"?

Ellis' proposal presents Planetary as three characters - Elijah Snow ("He's very old... he controls temperature within his immediate area"), Jakita Wagner ("somewhere between Catwoman and a Mrs Peel for the Nineties") and The Drummer ("Computers talk to him... Ewan McGregor in a superhero book").

Each issue is proposed as a single, self-contained story ("a three-minute pop single") and is deliberately presented as a superhero comic ("we treat each issue like a new single from a band"). Equally, Ellis insists that each cover will be different, reflecting the genre of the content inside. It's envisioned as a straight-forward, dialogue-driven comic with an air of mystery.

Part of the standalone stories approach Ellis explained after the series finshed in 2013 was 

about solving each single issue and providing something for John [Cassaday] to do that wouldn't bore him stiff. I mean, part of the genesis of Planetary was John saying to me, "I'd really like to do a regular book, but I can't face drawing the same thing every issue." And that was one of the big building blocks in Planetary; writing an ongoing book that was completely different from issue to issue. (Warren Ellis: The Captured Ghosts Interviews)

He went on to say:

Like any book, it starts with the big idea. The arc of Planetary had to be first about the big ideas and the standalone stores, and as it went on, it had to become about the people. (Warren Ellis: The Captured Ghosts Interviews)
From the outset, it's clear that Ellis is taking a nostalgic look a superhero comics (the analogy of archaeologists that's used) in a far more direct way than, say, how Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons use the shattered perfume bottle in Watchmen to reconstruct a new mode of superhero comics from the pieces of the past. (Or, more pointedly, the under-rated Moore's Supreme: Story of the Year which had been published in 1996-97.) Ellis is actually doing something different in the sense that he's using nostalgia for superhero comics to give the infant Wildstorm Universe a sense of history and continuity that it obviously didn't have at the time.

Monday 18 March 2024

Update: March 2024

As you can see, I've started to change this blog so it's not just a place I post about Doctor Who Season One. I'm still watching the first year of William Hartnell's Doctor in real time - but I want to add some other "rewatches", "re-reads" and "re-listens". Gradually, though, because I don't want things to become a chore.

Over the next week I'm going to start my real-time "rewatches" of Farscape - which is unbelievably 25 years old - followed by the start of an issue-by-issue "re-read" of Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (not necessarily in "real time" as the underwent a number of hiatuses, finishing after 10 years with #27 in 2009). 

Both Farscape and Planetary came out just before the Millennium and, while I was aware of both (and vaguely remember seeing Farscape when episodes were broadcast on BBC2 on Monday evenings), they didn't have my attention at the time. Of course, I have watched Farscape since (about 10 years ago) and read Planetary a couple of times (I have the entire run in single issues).

After that, I have various things I'd like to spend time revisiting and thinking about: Nigel Kneale's Quatermass,  Sebastian Baczkiewicz's Pilgrim radio series, the 1936 Flash Gordon serial, finish the Micronauts annotations, Journey into Space radio series, maybe a movie series or two... But I'm going to keep it gentle to start with so I won't start anything more until April.

Thursday 29 February 2024

Saturday 29th February 1964 - The Singing Sands

Saturday 29th February 1964 - Doctor Who - The Singing Sands

It sounds as if all the devils in hell were laughing.

It's a slow episode which emphasises the dangers of the desert - particularly lack of water - and the danger of Tegana's villainy. Perhaps the tedium of the episode reinforces how frustratingly long a journey across the Gobi Desert would have been. In fact, the previous adventures happened over a few days - so the TARDIS companions have, by the end of this adventure, spent more time together withe Marco Polo than they have before. The Doctor is missing for almost the whole episode. He's sulking about not having access to the TARDIS and hides himself away. Presumably, in real-life, this was to allow William Hartnell to take a holiday. The use of Marco Polo's voiceover and the maps work well. It's the villainous warlord Tegana who steals the episode and, although Susan is suspicious of him, it's clear that others are not going to see his treachery until it's too late. The cliffhanger has Tegana emptying water onto the ground at the oasis, enjoyig the prospect of the death of the others. (I'm not sure why the Doctor or one of his companions doesn't suggest the Doctor fetching water from inside the TARDIS.)

I think this is the weakest of any of the episodes so far. It has its moments: the sandstorm particularly, but the plot has barely moved from last episode. Maybe it's the lack of the Doctor in his own show.

Next week: Five Hundred Eyes

Thursday 22 February 2024

Saturday 22nd February 1964 - The Roof of the World

"We're always in trouble, Isn't this extraordinary? It follows us everywhere."

No yeti? Not yet.

And here I was expecting that an Abominable Snowman would be somewhere in the background of this story... it turns out that the villain is the Mongol warlord, Tenaga.

I'm watching this as a Loose Cannon reconstruction. The original recordings of this adventure no longer exists - so the version I'm watching is the original audio combined with mixture of production stills and "telesnaps" (photos of the episode taken from a tv screen). It gives the effect of a slideshow and there are helpful subtitles describing actions not obvious from the images on screen. It works well enough and, in a strange way, adds to the charm of watching. Seems to me that this is an episode of frustrated expectations. 

The TARDIS lands in the Himalayas - the Roof of the World - in 1289 and suffers another technical fault (I'm sure that something has gone wrong with the TARDIS during every previous story). The Doctor is concerned about freezing to death but luckily the travellers are rescued by a caravan of Mongols headed by Marco Polo who are travelling to Shang Tu in Cathay to Kublai Khan's summer palace.

Marco Polo, played by Mark Eden, captures our attention from his first appearance. Seemingly courteous (more Home Counties English than Venetian!) - he's actually quite scheming and, without realising, the Doctor and his companions are actually prisoners - plus the TARDIS has been claimed as a gift for Kublai Khan! We are also introduced to the villainous Tenaga who reveals his murderous plan as the cliffhanger of the episode. I liked his description of the TARDIS being like a "warlord's tomb". Plus Ping-Cho, the 15 year-old girl who befriends Susan and is on her way to marry a man in his seventies (much to Susan's shock). Susan avoids answering Ping-Cho's question about where she comes from.

I enjoyed the novelty of the sequence where there's a voiceover from Marco Polo over a map of their travels: "Success. My plan has worked. The strangers and their unusual caravan accompany me to Lop. Our route takes us across the Roof of the World, down to the Kashgar Valley and southeast to Tarkand. Here we join the Old Silk Road, along which the commerce and culture of a thousand years has travelled to and from Cathay. I wonder what the strangers' reaction will be when I tell them what I propose to do?"

Marco Polo also shows off his gold seal, the visible emblem of the authority bestowed on him by Kublai Khan. I suspect this will become important in a later episode.

Our regular characters return to their usual roles. The Doctor becomes worrisome and disagreeable once more. Again he seems old and frail (this time the "mountain sickness" of the altitude affects him). Later in the episode, when he is prevented from accessing the TARDIS and Marco Polo reveals his plans for the ship, he laughs madly. Ian reverts to Science teacher (at one point he explains how the lack of air on the mountains causes the fire to burn less - not the cold making the flame cooler). Barbara shows off her History teacher skills and is able to provide historical commentary on what's taking place. Susan is beat-girl again and has to explain her use of Fab" as a (supposedly) youth colloquialism.

So far the story is... fine... and the historical setting a pleasant change from the previous stories set in the prehistoric past and space.

Next week's episode: The Singing Sands.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Saturday 15th February 1964 - The Brink of Disaster


"The controls are alive!"

It's more of the same distrust and paranoia before Barbara puts Ian and the Doctor onto the cause of the crisis with the TARDIS. What's most striking about this episode is the transformation in the Doctor's character at the end. After accepting that Barbara (especially) and Ian enabled him to resolve the malfunction of the TARDIS, the Doctor's attitude towards them alters: he's pleasant, friendly and warm. The final scene of the episode has the group laughing and throwing snowballs.

Essentially it's a "countdown" plot.

Ian attacks the Doctor - then collapses. The Doctor thinks that it's a plot to take control of the TARDIS. He threatens to put them off the ship.


An alarm - "The Danger Signal" - is given by the fault locator. The TARDIS is at the point of disintegration. Faults are registering every every 15 seconds. Every piece of the TARDIS is malfunctioning simultaneously. This is used as a measure of time. Barbara works out that they had time taken away from them (the watch faces) and now running out. They have a countdown to destruction.


Time is running out. Susan reveals that the heart of the TARDIS is under the central column of the TARDIS console. Barbara - then Ian - first realises that they have been given clues, warnings from the TARDIS itself.

"My machine can't think," asserts the Doctor. Then reconsiders and asserts that it thinks... like a machine. The indication is that at this point the Doctor know less about the TARDIS than he lets on.


It's getting tense and dark inside the TARDIS. When the TARDIS doors open Susan is distressed that there's nothing out there. The TARDIS runs through the sequence of photos again and opens and shuts the doors. The machine-intelligence of the TARDIS seems pretty rudimentary to me.

The defence mechanism has been working to protect them. Together, Ian and the Doctor realise they've travelled back to the beginning of the solar system (it doesn't sound like the Big Bang though).

"We're at the very beginning..." There's a lovely spotlight with the Doctor relating the birth of a solar system. Excitedly. William Hartnell clearly enjoys this monologue.

It turns out that the "Fast Return Switch" had stuck. The little spring wasn't connecting to the base. The Doctor turns the spring around and the TARDIS lights up and the hum of flight. It wasn't broken so not triggering on the fault locator. The whole affair was caused by a little spring.

"It was a narrow squeak" The Doctor realises that it was Barbara's "instinct and intuition" that saved them and admits that they owe her their lives.

The final shot? Is that the footprint of a yeti?

 Next week: The Roof of the World.

Thursday 8 February 2024

Saturday 8th February 1964 - The Edge of Destruction


"I can't take you back, Susan. I can't."

An episode confined to the TARDIS (mostly console room) and featuring only the Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian. After an adventure in the past (perhaps on Earth) and one in the future on an alien planet this takes place in the liminality of the TARDIS. This was to be the penultimate episode of the show if the series proved to be unpopular and gives the impression that it's a low-cost "holding" story awaiting a decision whether or not to commission any more episodes.

It's actually enjoyable - even if it's quite like a theatre production. Characters lose their memories, distrust one another, there might even be some malign alien threat on board, the TARDIS is silent, Susan wields a pair of scissors. It's when Susan suggests that the menace could be hiding in one of them that we move into paranoid Who Goes There?/The Thing territory. Weird stuff happens: the TARDIS shows them photos of Earth, Quinnis in the Fourth Universe (?) and of the cosmos. Doors open and close mysteriously. The food machine malfunctions. The faces of the watches and clock look like they melt. The Doctor accuses Barbara and Ian of sabotage (an opportunity for Barbara to remind us of their previous adventures). At the end, the Doctor appears to drug everyone and begins dashing about in a sinister manner. It's all tense.

My initial impression is that we're being introduced to the idea that the TARDIS has an intelligence that is trying to communicate with its passengers in some way. We shall see next week.

Next week: The Brink of Disaster.