Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Radio Free Skaro #948

I had an amazing time at the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles this weekend. What a buzz! But also I didn't sleep at all on the journey home so have returned something of a brain-mushed wreck.

My talk on Television Before the TARDIS went well, and - in what's becoming a tradition - I was then interrogated by Steven from podcast Radio Free Skaro. Steven also spoke to Shaun Lyon (programme director of the convention) and Peter Harness (who is launching Constellation today), so I feel in very august company.


Saturday, February 10, 2024

Novel Experiences

Out now, two new documentaries tell the story of the original Doctor Who novels published 1991-2005. A load of editors and authors (including me) are interviewed, most of us while at the Novel Experiences convention run by WHOOVERS in Derby on 13 May last year.

I loved those books which, more than anything else, made me a writer today. I was one of the last first-time writers to be commissioned for one, right at the end of the BBC line. What a thrill to be included in the line-up, to count such brilliant people as peers.


Standing: John Peel, Jeremy Hoad, Colin Brake, Nick Walters, Daniel Blythe, Peter Anghelides, Steve Cole, Simon Guerrier, Paul Magrs, Martin Day, Mark Morris, Andrew Hunt, Simon Messingham, Paul Ebbs. Seated: Mags L Halliday, Robert Dick, Steve Lyons, Nigel Robinson

If this is your sort of thing, alas my book covering some of this history, Bernice Summerfield - The Inside Story, is now long out of print but David J Howe's The Who Adventures: The Art and History of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who Fiction is still available - and gorgeous.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Cinema Limbo: The Last Wave

I'm on the latest episode of the Cinema Limbo podcast all about neglected movies. This time, host Jeremy Philips and I analyse the 1977 Australian film The Last Wave directed by Peter Weir and starring Richard Chamberlain. As I said at the start, two things amazed me about this.

First, I thought I knew Peter Weir's work pretty well but have never heard of this odd, early film.

Secondly, watching it really helped bring together lots of my thinking about the context in which it was made and efforts to combat the 'cultural cringe' in Australia, which I detail in my book on David Whitaker.

You can also listen to the previous episodes I've been on:

Friday, February 02, 2024

Doctor Who Magazine #600

The 600th issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out now! Last night I was in London to celebrate this audacious landmark at a swanky knees-up. Really good to meet up with lot of old friends - and meet in person for the first time people I've been working with for yonks.

The new issue features some bits by me:

pp. 32-27 Tower of Strength

I spoke to production designer Phil Sims about UNIT Tower (aka The Penguin), as featured in The Giggle last year and due to be seen again later this year.

pp. 46-47 The Lonely Nights of the Long-Distance Runner

An interview with production runner Thani Subkhi.

p. 82 Sufficient Data - Take Cover!

An infographic of DWM cover stars over the past 600 issues. Sadly, this will be the last Sufficient Data illustrated by brilliant Ben Morris, who I've worked with since our days together on Doctor Who Adventures a thousand years ago. We've collaborated all sorts of fun stuff, including our book Whographica with Steve O'Brien, and Ben even laid out my family tree as a gift for my parents. Thanks Ben, for everything.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Garry Halliday and the Ray of Death, by Justin Blake

This is a novelisation of the second Garry Halliday serial, about the adventures of an airline pilot (see my post about the first one, Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamonds). The book was published in 1961, based on the six-episode serial broadcast on BBC Television on Saturday tea-times from 26 September to 31 October 1959. 

The first serial was considered enough of a success for two new Garry Halliday serials to be commissioned, apparently at once. This was mentioned in press previews ahead of the the second serial - in the Nottingham Evening Post, 10 September 1959, p. 15 and the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 18 September 1959, p. 9. But the third serial wasn't broadcast until January 1960.

Why the gap? One issue was the availability of the cast. The Radio Times listing for the first episode of this second run says that star Terence Longdon (who played Garry Halliday) was appearing in The Sound of Murder at London's Aldwych Theatre while Elwyn Brook-Jones (returning as the villainous Voice) was in The Crooked Mile at the Cambridge Theatre. Those commitments probably explain why - again, as per Radio Times - this was a "BBC recording" rather than broadcast live (as with the first serial).

(The stage productions must have given permission for the actors to appear in the TV serial at the same time as their stage commitments; the plugs in Radio Times were probably part of the agreement - I've seen evidence of that with other productions.)

Also returning was Terence Alexander as Halliday's co-pilot Bill Dodds, who narrates the novelisation. He's got a more distinctive, slightly Woosterish voice compared to the first novelisation.

“Hullo! Bill Dodds talking. Are you receiving me?

I expect you are. Loud and clear, as we say in radio communication - I've always had a good carrying voice.

If you've read a book called Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamonds, you'll know who I am, and who Garry is, and about Jean Wills, our stewardess, and about the Voice. If you haven't, then you'd better read it, because I'm not going to explain all over again. Life's too short, and anyway there are probably going to be more books after this one, and I can't keep doing it. I expect there'll be many more books as Garry has adventures, and Garry's an adventurous type.” (p. 10, opening Chapter 1)

Jean Wills was back, but with actress Ann Gudrun (better known as Gudrun Ure) replaced by Jennifer Wright - and still not having a great deal to do in the story. The cast was also expanded, with Bill's fiancee Sonia Delamare played by Juno Stevas and Garry's plucky nephew Tim Halliday played by David Langford.

The story opens with Garry, Bill and Jean having set up their own airline, the Halliday Charter Company, and flying a party of holiday-makers out to Paris. Tim sits next to a nervous man whose only luggage is a box containing a jigsaw puzzle. When Tim expresses interest in the puzzle, the man is rude - and when the jigsaw pieces fall out into the cabin, he calls stewardess Jean a "stupid, clumsy bitch" (p. 22), which is a bit of a shock in a TV serial/book aimed at children.

They gather up the jigsaw pieces but Tim, in revenge for the rudeness, keeps one piece. It then turns out that the back of the jigsaw puzzle is written on in invisible ink, and Tim now has a vital part of a message being delivered on behalf of the Voice.

Garry and his friends attempt to make sense of the message and trace how it is delivered, while at the same time the Voice instructs his minions to recover the missing piece of the jigsaw and kill those who get in the way. As in the first serial, this includes an attempt to destroy Garry's plane while in the air.

A preview in Junior Radio Times supplement (included in the Radio Times covering the first episode, via the link above) reveals that this was an ambitious production with location filming abroad:

“There have been film locations in Paris and also down at Ferry Field Airport at Lydd, Kent. Once more Silver City Airways have kindly afforded us every facility, and the Managing Director was recently mistaken for one of our actors playing the part of a high-pressure business executive!

There are more thrilling aerobatic film sequences and a number of specially staged fights, for The Voice’s men are out to get Garry this time, come what may, and their methods change from the use of poison gas to the use of plain fists.” (Junior Radio Times, p. 3)

I'm also struck by how often it veers on the edge of what's suitable for kids: one man compromised by the Voice discusses committing suicide; young Tim Halliday witnesses another man falling to his death; the police seem very relaxed about our heroes shooting a helicopter out of the sky (p. 125). There's fair bit of smoking and drinking, and Bill's views on women - he falls in love with Sonia after she "clonked me on the lug-hole with a kipper" (p. 11). At one point, Garry says of Bill's interest in the secrets hidden on the jigsaws:

“He's a bit kinky about invisible ink.” (p. 37)

At the same time, the plot races along and is full of daft jokes to lighten the mood - Bill gets confused by police sergeant George Eustace having two first names (p. 35), and there's later a police sergeant in Keswick with the surname Love. The local inspector presumably spoke to him with an accent:

“Wait, Love. Wait. Not so far. Instructions must be adhered to, Love, or where would the world be, I ask you.” (p. 121)

The plot hinges on the invention of a new kind of heating appliance.

“It was a cheap way of heating by doing without coal, or gas, or oil; his invention simply extracted heat from the atmosphere, and used that.” (p. 71)

That seems prescient - a kind of air-source heat pump offering green, renewable energy - but the application of the technology is very much of its time. The Voice sees the potential to focus the energy produced into a death ray, a weapon effectively like a cut-price nuclear bomb. 

Such a weapon is of interest to Dr Edmundo (Richard Warner), who our narrator describes as,

“one of these middle-aged South American chaps with mahogany faces and black moustaches, who are always having revolutions in countries with unlikely names.” (p. 38)

He's a stock villain, a racist cliche - and this is not the only time Bill Dodds shares disparaging remarks about foreigners. At one point, he uses a particular word - which I won't repeat here - which is even more shocking than "bitch" to see in a book written for children.

Edmundo employs "thugs" who aren't named in the book but on screen were "Sebastiano" and "Perfidio". The latter, appearing in the last two episodes of the serial, was played by Walter Randall, who later played similar, small villainous roles in Doctor Who. These were the only two episodes of Garry Halliday that Randall appeared in, which means we know someone else who had an uncredited role on the production - and went on to write for the series.

“Douglas [Camfield] was commissioned [to write] for the [Garry Halliday] serial because he had worked on it in 1959 as an AFM where he met actor Walter Randall for the first time, and who would become one of his closest friends, as well as the go-to man for playing middle eastern villains.” (Michael Seely, Directed by Douglas Camfield, p. 34.)

Camfield wrote an episode of the eighth and final Garry Halliday series, which was not a serial but comprised six standalone episodes. But we're getting ahead of ourselves...

The ending of this second story makes use of the fact that no one (except the viewer watching at home) knows what the Voice looks like. Throughout proceedings, he's communicated with his minions remotely, him seeing them on a TV screen, them only hearing his politely couched threats. But the final page of the book promises a rematch, with a closing line that reads to me like the promise of a conclusion to a trilogy:

“Whether it's my choice or the Voice's choice, at some time, in some place, we're going to finish things between us.” (p. 126)

Sadly, I've not yet tracked down a copy of the next novelisation, Garry Halliday and the Kidnapped Five (1962), but can trace something of the plot from listings - and the only surviving episode of Garry Halliday. More on that coming soon. 

Oh, and the cover art for this novelisation is by Ley Kenyon, who as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III forged passports and other documents in the lead up to the Great Escape, and then illustrated Paul Brickhill's book.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Doctor Who Magazine Yearbook 2024

I'm featured briefly in the new 2024 Yearbook from that lot at Doctor Who Magazine. For his piece on last year's Doctor Who books, Richard Unwin asked me a few questions about The Daily Doctor (which I co-wrote with Peter Anghelides) and Whotopia (which Jonathan Morris wrote with assistance from Una McCormack and me). There's even a photo of me, stood outside my old house in London sometimes before lockdown.

Among the myriad treats in the same issue, I was especially taken by Jason Quinn's interview with digital archivist Helen Randle from BBC Library and Curatorial Services, talking about the wealth of old paperwork - memos, sketches and sheet music - that is being unearthed and shared. You can dig into this stuff in The story of Doctor Who from the BBC archives, and click "follow" to get notified of updates. It's even available outside the UK.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Gallifrey One schedule 2024

Next month, I'll be at the enormous Doctor Who convention Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, where the headline guests include Sir Derek Jacobi, Billie Piper and Alex Kingston.

The schedule for the whole weekend is now online, with an option to see the bits I'm doing. Those are:

Friday, 16 February

11 am - Television Before the TARDIS (Program D)

When Doctor Who began 60 years ago, there was nothing like it on TV — but that doesn’t mean it came from nowhere. Simon Guerrier explores how this cutting-edge science-fiction evolved out of developments in sitcom, soap opera and variety shows, and the adventures of an airline pilot. What, exactly, did the creation of Doctor Who owe Sammy Davis Junior?

4 pm - Autographs (Autograph alley)

7.30 pm - Gadgets and Gizmos Aplenty (Program C)

Doctor Who is nothing without a healthy dose of mechanical gadgetry, gizmos and tools, from the TARDIS itself and its infinitely customizable console, to the various permutations of the Doctor’s trusty sonic screwdriver (which seems to do everything except actually be a screwdriver!), from K-9 to Bessie and the Whomobile, and everything else over the years. We’ll take a look at the most – and least – plausible inventions and gizmos, and work out whether much of this stuff would function in the real world, and how. Moderated by Simon Guerrier. Panelists: Brian Uiga, Erin Amos, Matthew Mitchell.

Saturday, 17 February

2 pm - Worlds That Might Have Been (Program D)

TV and film are full of alternate takes on both history and future. We’ll take a look at the genre, in both science fiction & fantasy TV and film as well as pop culture touchstones (the Marvel and DC universes tend to do it more than any other, it seems!), and ask ourselves why reimagining our past and future is so appealing… and if we can live with the unpredictable consequences, good or bad. Moderated by Craig Miller. Panelists: Simon Guerrier, Barbara Hambly, Robert Napton, Ian Winterton. 

3 pm - The Legacy of Douglas Adams (Program B)

Gone, but never forgotten… the popularity of one of Britain’s greatest satirists continues to inspire us and endures even today. From his early contributions to Doctor Who to the universality of his timeless classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we’ll take a look at Adams’ contributions to the human zeitgeist and why his humor, and his humanity, will live forever. Moderated by Stacey Smith? Panelists: Kevin Jon Davies, James Goss, Simon Guerrier, Gareth Kavanagh.

Sunday, 18 February

10 am - Kaffeeklatsch: Simon Guerrier & Peter Anghelides

12 noon - Autographs (Autograph alley)

5 pm - Closing ceremonies