Great Moments In Television History: The Autons Terrify The UK


In 1971, for the entire month of January, children across the UK were terrified of the Autons.

That was because Doctor Who began its eighth season with a four-part story called The Terror of the Autons.  Previously seen in Spearhead From Space, the Autons were plastic aliens who could disguise themselves as anything.  That mannequin in the store?  It might be an Auton.  That strange looking man handing out flowers?  Might be an Auton.  Your favorite plastic doll?  It might be an Auton waiting to kill you in your sleep.

In this case, the Autons had returned to Earth because of the machinations of the Doctor’s greatest foe, The Master.  This serial featured the first appearance of The Master, with the Roger Delgado playing the role and becoming the series’s most popular villain since the Daleks.  (This serial also featured the first appearance of Katy Manning as Jo Grant, who went on to become popular for entirely different reasons.) But as evil as The Master was, it was the Autons who reportedly kept viewers awake at night.  Even after The Doctor (played, at that time, by Jon Pertwee) defeated them for a second time, you could never be sure whether that mannequin was harmless or if it was an Auton stalking you whenever your back was turned.

For modern viewers, it can seem strange to hear that people were ever scared by Doctor Who.  But the Autons are an exception.  The Autons are actually creepy.

The Master doesn’t seem to be too scared of them, though.

The Terror of the Autons would go on to be the first episode of Doctor Who to be cited in the House of Lords, when it was listed as a recent programme that might have a dangerous effect on the minds of the people watching.  But who knows?  Was that Lord Beaverbrook or was it…?

Previous Great Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate

The Airzone Solution? (1993, directed by Bill Baggs)


In the near future, the UK has become so polluted that people have to wear masks when they go outside.  (Save your COVID-19 jokes, the villain here is pollution not a pandemic.)  A mysterious corporation called Airzone claims that they have a solution but some are skeptical.  Journalist Al Dunbar (Peter Davison) and environmentalist Anthony Stanwick (Sylvester McCoy) are determined to investigate on their own and discover what’s actually going on at Airzone.  Unfortunately, Al discovers a bit too much and is murdered by the corporation.

However, Al is not prepared to let something like death get in the way of exposing Airzone.  His ghost appears to both his mentor, Prof. Oliver Threthaway (Jon Pertwee), and to local weatherman Arnie Davis (Colin Baker).  Freaked out by Al’s ghost, Arnie and his girlfriend, Ellie Brown (Nicola Bryant), launch their own investigation into the corporation and they discover that Airzone’s solution comes at a terrible cost.

This low-budget, straight-to-video production is best-known for featuring four actors who starred as the Doctor during the original run of Doctor Who.  In fact, when this film was first made, it featured every living Doctor with the exception of Tom Baker.  (Jon Pertwee would die just three years after the film’s release.)  Nicola Bryant, who played Colin Baker’s companion on Doctor Who, plays his girlfriend here while Michael Wisher, who played Davros, shows up as a duplicitous politician.  Even Alan Cumming, who was frequently mentioned as a possible Doctor should the series ever be renewed, has a small role.  If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you almost have to watch this movie for the cast along.

But is the movie itself any good?  The special effects are cheap, the story is full of plot holes, and there’s a lot of dodgy acting from the supporting cast.  The movie never explains why Al Dunbar’s spirit appears to Arnie Davis instead of someone who could actually do something to stop Airzone.  Jon Pertwee’s role was reportedly added at the last moment and his appearances feel random.  In fact, the film is flawed in much the same way that Doctor Who was often flawed.  And like Doctor Who, it’s often fun despite those flaws.  It’s fast-paced and, despite its weighty environmental theme, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

All of the former Doctors acquit themselves well in their roles.  Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, who were probably the best actors among the original Doctors, are the cast stand-outs but Colin Baker is far more sympathetic and likable here than he ever was on Doctor Who.  I’ve always felt that Colin Baker had the potential to be a good Doctor but he was sabotaged by some of the worst scripts and production decisions in the history of the series and The Airzone Solution? shows what Baker could have done with the role if he’d been given the opportunity.  Jon Pertwee was obviously not in good health when he appeared in The Airzone Solution? but he still hams it up with an entertaining gusto.

The Airzone Solution? will be best appreciated by fans of the original Doctor Who.  It’s not great but it’s worth it just to see everyone gathered together.

Some Things I Liked In 2018


Since I don’t feel comfortable doing a traditional top ten list, I’m just going to list a few things that I liked in 2018.

When it comes to last year’s movies, my two favorite films were both comic book adaptations.  Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse both redefined what we traditionally expect from the comic book genre and they worked as both entertainment and as something a little bit deeper.

Among the other films I liked this year, Mission Impossible — Fallout reminded us of just how exciting a good action film can be while Game Night was hands down the best comedy of the year.  Deadpool 2 proved itself to be a worthy sequel while Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers, Free Solo, and Shirkers made this a great year for documentaries.

David Peisner’s Homey Don’t Play That was a fascinating book about the history of In Living Color, examining both the show’s tumultuous history and how it continues to be relevant today.  Also worth reading: Thanks A Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite by Roger Daltrey and Cult City by Daniel J. Flynn.

In a year that seemed to be dominated by adaptations of comic books, it seems appropriate that one of the best comics was about the history of the medium.  Written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey and Adam Guzowski, Comics For All was the second installment in their Comic Book History of Comics.  No matter how much you think you may know about comic history, you’ll learn something new from Comics For All.

When it comes to the year’s video games, I’m torn.  Red Dead Redemption II is a totally immersive gaming experience that challenges much of what we’ve come to expect from video games.  On the other hand, Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most purely enjoyable games that I’ve ever played.  If I had to pick a best, I’d go with Red Dead Redemption but Spider-Man is the game that I’ll probably end up replaying a month from now.

On television, I continued to enjoy and occasionally be baffled by HBO’s Westworld.  I also enjoyed playing around with Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive program that introduces you to a likable game designer and then give you the chance to totally mess up his life.

In the States, BBC America televised the the animated restoration of the “lost” Doctor Who serial, Shada.  As an episode of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, Shada was just as disappointing as many have warned that it would be, an overextended mix of inside jokes about Cambridge.  However, as a piece of Doctor Who history, it was priceless.

Finally, as far as the year in music is concerned, I recommend The Who’s fifth studio album, Who’s Next.  I know Who’s Next came out in 1971 but good music is timeless.

Mary Whitehouse’s Worst Nightmare: 8 Frightening Serials From Doctor Who’s Classic Era


“Tea time brutality for tots.”

That was the term that a woman named Mary Whitehouse used to describe Doctor Who in 1975.  Mary was the founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association and, in her crusade to return Britain to decency, she often leveled her harshest criticism at Doctor Who, a show that she regularly claimed was too scary for television.

Did she have a point?  Of course not.  Even children who were scared of the Daleks when they were nine or ten eventually grew up to realize that all you had to do to escape those mutant bastards was run up a staircase.  Still, Doctor Who did occasionally have its memorable horror moments.

Here are eight frightening episodes from Doctor Who‘s classic era:

  1. State of Decay (4 episodes, 1980)

Everyone remembers this classic from the Tom Baker years.  The TARDIS materializes on a planet where the villagers live under the shadow of a dark tower.  Ruled over by three cruel lords, Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon, the villagers are forced to regularly sacrifice their young to appease their rulers.  The Doctor, Romana, K-9, and Adric investigate and discover that Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon are vampires!  After being defeated by the Time Lords, the vampires retreated into E-Space, where they found a new planet to rule.  Of course, that little tosser Adric wants to become a vampire.  Why Romana and the Doctor didn’t leave Adric behind on the vampire planet, I’ll never understand.

2. Horror of Fang Rock (4 episodes, 1977)

This underrated serial is also from the Tom Baker era.  The Doctor and Leela land on the Island of Fang Rock, just off the coast of England, in the early 20th century.   The inhabitants of an isolated lighthouse are being killed, one-by-one, by an alien known as a Rutan.  This episode is full of gothic atmosphere and, despite the Doctor’s best efforts, almost everyone dies.

3. The Talons of Weng-Chiang (6 episodes, 1977)

Of all the Tom Baker episodes, this is my personal favorite.  The Doctor and Leela find themselves in Victorian-era London, where they investigate a murder and discover that they are not the only time traveler in London.  When most people talk about this serial, they focus on the terrible giant rat and the wonderful supporting characters of Jago and Lightfoot.  What I always remember is the Peking Homunuculus, a psycho killer who looks like a puppet and squeals like a pig!

4. The Deadly Assassin (4 episode, 1976)

One final Tom Baker episode.  The Deadly Assassin is unique in that it features the Doctor with no companions.  When the Doctor travels to Gallifrey, he discovers that The Master (played by Peter Pratt) is still alive and determined to destroy the Time Lords.  Having used all of his regenerations, The Master is now not only at his most evil but also horribly disfigured and decaying, a sight to give nightmares to any impressionable viewer!

5/6. Kinda (4 episodes, 1982) and Snakedance (4 episodes, 1983)

Peter Davison was an underrated Doctor and never was he better than in Kinda and its sequel, Snakedance.  In both of these episodes, The Doctor must deal with the efforts of the Mara to possess his companion, Tegan.  Both of these episodes were more creepy than scary but, thanks to the performances of Peter Davison and Janet Fielding, they were effective nonetheless.

7. Spearhead From Space (4 episodes, 1970)

Jon Pertwee made his debut as the Third Doctor in this serial.  The Doctor is exiled to Earth just in time to deal with an invasion by the Nestenes.  Serving as the Nestenes’s invasion force are the Autons, life-size plastic dummies that come to life at inopportune times.  With their stiff movements and expressionless faces, the Autons were regularly cited as one of the Doctor’s creepiest enemies.

8. The Daemons (5 episodes, 1971)

The Third Doctor vs. The Devil!  The Master as a vicar!  A killer statue!  Not even the Brigadier’s order of “Chap with wings!  Six round rapid!” could lighten up the atmosphere of this Jon Pertwee classic.

The Doctor and friends

4 Shots From 4 Films: Star 80, Doctor Who, The Dark Knight, Stalked By My Doctor: The Return


4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots from 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Eric Roberts, who turned 62 years old today, has appeared in over 500 movies since 1978.  Here are 4 shots from 4 of them.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Star 80 (1983, dir by Bob Fosse)

Doctor Who: The Movie (1996, dir by Geoffrey Sax)

The Dark Knight (2008, dir by Christopher Nolan)

Stalked By My Doctor: The Return (2016, dir by Doug Campbell)

Music Video of the Day: Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords (1988, directed by ????)


Today’s music video is for the song that Melody Maker called “”pure, unadulterated agony!”

Recorded in 1988, Doctorin’ The Tardis was produced by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, who would later be better known as The KLF.  The song is a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll (Part Two), Sweet’s Blockbuster, Steve Walsh’s Let Get Together, and the famous Dalek war cry.  The song was Drummond and Cauty’s attempt to write a number one hit single, as opposed to the more esoteric and socially conscious work for which they were better known.

As Drummond explained it,  “We went into the studio on a Monday, thinking we were going to make a house track, a regular underground dance house track using the Doctor Who theme tune… [but] we [then] realised it was in triplet time and you can’t have house tracks in triplet time. The only beat that would work with it was the Glitter beat. By Tuesday evening we realised we had a number one and we just went totally for the lowest common denominator.”  Drummond also later said that Doctorin’ The Tardis was, “the most nauseating record of all time.”

While the critics may have agreed with Drummond, the music-buying public loved the song and Doctorin’ The Tardis spent a week as number one on the UK pop charts.  Drummond and Cauty responded by writing a book called The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way), which was advertised as being a guide to how to have a number one hit record without having any musical talent whatsoever.  Among The Manual‘s advise: Be on the dole and, if you’re already a musician, stop playing your instrument and sell it.  The Manual also warned that all of its advice will be obsolete within twelve months.

The video, which cost £8,000 to make, was filmed in Wiltshire and features Cauty’s 1968 Ford Galaxie police car being pursued by some poorly constructed Daleks.

Exterminate!

This is what a real Dalek looks like, son.

 

Jedadiah Leland’s Horrific Adventures In The Internet Archive #18: Daleks (1985)


For my next adventure in the dark side of the Internet Archive, I played Daleks (1985).

I’m the Doctor!?  It’s about time!  And I’m battling the Daleks?

It’s time to let those dogmatic salt and pepper shakers know who’s the boss!  Press any key to continue?  Just try to stop me!

Those do not look like Daleks.  I guess that stick figure is me, the Doctor.

The game itself is simple.  Every time that The Doctor moves, the Daleks move:

If a Dalek touches you, the game is over.  The only way to eliminate a Dalek is to get it to run into another Dalek.  It is not easy but it can be done, as my high score of 30 attests.  It took me a while to get over my disappointment that the Daleks in the game did not say “Exterminate!” but if you can overlook that, Daleks is an addictive and challenging game.

A Movie A Day #54: Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 (1966, directed by Gordon Flemyng)


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When London Special Constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) spots a robbery at a jewelry store, he runs into a police box to call for backup.  But this is no ordinary blue police call box.  Not only is there no phone but it’s bigger on the outside than on the inside and it’s inhabited by Dr. Who (Peter Cushing), an eccentric inventor, and his niece, Louise (Jill Curzon) and his granddaughter, Susan (Roberta Tovey).  The call box is a time machine that’s known as a TARDIS and Tom just happens to stumble in at the exact moment that the Doctor and his family are heading into the future.  When they arrive in London in 2150, they discover that Earth has been conquered by the Daleks.

Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 was the second and last Doctor Who film to be produced by Amicus Pictures.  As both a sequel to Dr. Who and the Dalekand an adaptation of the televisions serial The Daleks Invasion of Earth, Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 shares many of the same flaws as the first movie.  Of course, the main one is that, as any true Whovian can tell you, the Doctor was not named Dr. Who, he was not human, and he did not invent the TARDIS.  He also never had a niece, at least not one named Louise.  Hearing the Doctor introduce himself as “Dr. Who” just sounds wrong.  The comedic relief also feels as out of place here as it did in Dr. Who and the Daleks but at least Bernard Cribbins’s Tom isn’t as annoying as Roy Castle’s Ian.

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Even taking all of that into consideration, Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 is still a clear improvement over the first film.  The futuristic location, with a London made up of the ruins of recognizable landmarks, is well-realized and far superior to the cardboard sets of the Dr. Who and the Daleks.  The moment when the Daleks first appear, rising out of the Thames, is a great Dr. Who moment and, for once, the Daleks comes across like a real threat instead of just oversized salt and pepper shakers with attitude.  Unlike the first film, the Daleks use their “EXTERMINATE” war cry and they exterminate almost everyone that the Doctor and his companions meet.  Since the Daleks are killing Brits instead of Thals, the stakes are higher in Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150.

Even though he was playing a human version of the character and therefore, cannot be considered canonical, I have always liked Peter Cushing’s interpretation of the character.  Cushing’s firm but grandfatherly Doctor was quite a contrast to William Hartnell’s strict and abrupt version.  (Cushing’s Doctor has always reminded me more of a combination of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee than William Hartnell.)

Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 may have been far better than the first film but it was also a flop at the box office, ending plans for any further Dr. Who movies.

daleks-invasion-earth-2150-poster

 

The Husbands of River Song: Christmas Jolly Fun! Spoiler free Doctor Who Preview!


I got a screener of this years Doctor Who Christmas special, all I am going to say is, “Spoilers Sweetie” And Whovians will know what I mean!

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And as much as ‘Melody Pond‘ says that…. I won’t spoil the episode for anybody with my preview!

Ok, let me first get this out of the way: watching, writing and reviewing at the same time….

I despise Steven Moffats’ writing of Doctor Who, and I am not the only one, but his Christmas episodes do bring something to the table.

Alex Kingston is back as ‘River Song‘; complete with ‘sonic trowel‘ and all! But, there is a catch, She is now married to the HUGE cyborg King Hydroflax.

River, trying to pull off another hoax, gets caught by The Doctor. She doesn’t recognize him and he gets to play around with that, reversing their roles before.

 

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The Doctor going back into the TARDIS was a beautiful scene! Alex and Peter manage to pull off a heart felt and kindred feeling. Literally, this was the best scene between The Doctor and a “companion” since Rory and Amy.

Got to give props to Greg Davies and Matt Lucas, their performance was enthralling as well.

I have never warmed up to Peter Capaldi as “The Doctor“, just do not like the way he portrays him. But I will admit, this is one of the best Doctor Who Christmas specials ever! Give me a season with Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston and I will take it forever!

I felt this season of Doctor Who was one of the worst of the modern version; but this Christmas episode might be one of the best episodes ever! Heart-warming, laughable and engaging. I actually loved it!

Definitely Christmas night viewing with the family worthy. I laughed and got teary-eyed all at the same time!

Here is the trailer and you can watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song, Christmas night on BBC America at 9pm.