Monday, October 31, 2016

Invasions of Earth

The new issue of The Essential Doctor Who is out now, devoted to Invasions of Earth - Alien Threats from Beyond the Stars. It includes some of my typing.

"I think Anat was one of the first women in uniform to be seen leading a gang on television," Anna Barry told me about her part in Day of the Daleks (1972). She also explained how a nearly fatal car crash helped her to be cast.

"The Doctor knows what he's talking about, at least for 1974..." says paleontologist Dr Dave Hone who I made watch Invasion of the Dinosaurs with its famously realistic-looking model effects. Ahem. Dave is the author of the brilliant The Tyrannosaur Chronicles and I'm still haunted by the talk I saw him give in 2013 on the "Planet of the Dinosaurs", with its vivid imagery of chicken-sized, feathered dinsoaurs running through magnolia blossom and between rhododendons.

Pamela Salem, David Richardson and John Dorney told me about making spin-off series Counter-Measures as "audio in black and white".

And Toby Whithouse explained how he spent his childhood "hoping and praying" that his school would be invaded by monsters.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A letter from David Whitaker

50 years ago today on 29 October 1966, Patrick Troughton made his debut as the Second Dr. Who in the closing moments of The Tenth Planet episode 4. His first full story, The Power of the Daleks, began the following week. It was written by David Whitaker.

Also on 29 October 1966, David Whitaker was at the annual general meeting of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, where among the topics under discussion were "fair reward[s] for writers of education programmes" and writers being "asked to bear in mind parts for women", plus the election of a new executive council. As the Stage reported on 3 November:
In the election of officers, David Whitaker was unanimously elected to the chair, with R Vernon Beste re-elected as deputy chairman. Councillors elected were Denis Norden, Wilfred Greatorex, Zita Dundas, Vince Powell, John Lucarotti, Lew Greiffer, John Boland and George Markstein.”
The Stage #4464 and Television Today #403, 3 November 1966, p. 9.
Also in November, guild members received Writers News with an introduction from the new chair - an editorial Whitaker wrote each issue for the next 18 months in his role.

Thanks to Bernie Corbett, Anne Hogben and Emma Reeves at the Writers Guild of Great Britain for permission to dig through the guild archives, and to share what I found. More of this to come...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Flower power

Issue 505 of Doctor Who Magazine is out today, and includes my preview of the forthcoming animation of otherwise-missing 1966 story The Power of the Daleks.

I was lucky enough to speak to Anneke Wills, who played Dr. Who's companion Polly in the story, and Charles Norton, who produced and directed the new version. Next issue, there'll be a longer feature talking to more of the team. But the animation is all very exciting, and I can't wait to see the episodes at the BFI event in a couple of weeks.

The new issue of DWM also includes a review of Whographica, my book of Doctor Who inforgraphics,  co-written with Steve O'Brien and illustrated by Ben Morris. The three of us will be signing copies at ComicCon in London on Friday 27 October.

And I get a mention in Alan Barnes' typically incisive exploration of the 1966 story The Savages. I found that feature a bit distracting, but can't imagine why.

Flower (Kay Patrick)
in 1966 Doctor Who story
The Savages.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ada Lovelace and clock time

It is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate women in science and technology. The Guardian has a great piece by Rebekah Higgitt on 19th century astronomer Agnes Mary Clerke (1842-1907). The idea it not just to focus on Ada Lovelace...


I've been reading up on 19th century science for my forthcoming book on The Evil of the Daleks, and also digging into the life of Ada Lovelace anyway.

Sydney Padua's The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage with Interesting Anecdotes of Celebrated and Distinguished Characters Fully Illustrating a Variety of Instructive and Amusing Scenes; as Performed within and without the remarkable Difference Engine is a gleefully silly and clever book, and the footnotes have endnotes with footnotes. Just look at how lovely it is:

The first page of
The Thrilling Adventures of
Lovelace and Babbage

by Sydney Padua
Benjamin Woolley's Ada Lovelace - Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter (1999) is a lucid biography full of fascinating detail. Particularly brilliant is his explanation on pp. 148-155 of the invention of the metre in revolutionary France, the need to generate logarithmic tables for this new metric system, and Gaspard Riche de Prony's spark of genius, breaking the job down into simple units that could be handled by a production line carried out by three tiers of people: a small number of professional mathematicans, a larger section of "calculators", and some 60 to 80 non-mathematicians,
"the outcasts of the post-Revolutionary era with minimal artithmetical skills and economic power: hairdressers."
Benjamin Woolley, Ada Lovelace - Bride of Science, p. 151.
Woolley then goes on to explain, so simply even I could understand it, how Charles Babbage was inspired by this idea to create his difference engine - effectively, automating the hairdresser part of the process.

It was this difference engine that caught the imagination of Ada Lovelace, who collaborated with Babbage on his efforts to building a more complicated machine - a project that Babbage never realised, as both Woolley and Padua explain. But Lovelace, thinking it all through in a footnote about something else, wrote what many regard as the first computer programme, 100 years before the invention of the computer.

Also of great fascination in Woolley's book is Lovelace's relationship with her mentor, Mary Somerville - of whom the word "scientist" was first used. And I also loved this description of the difference between the clocks in churchs - measuring local time - and the new railways clocks based on standardised, Greenwich timekeeping:
"The station clock also came to serve a symbolic purpose. Where the church clock oversaw communal events, a gathering of people who lived with each other and knew each other's affairs, the station clock was the meeting point for strangers, for people trying to escape their localities - for breif encounters of a sort Ada herself would soon experience."
Ibid., p. 275.
Incidentally, I wrote a short story about Ada Lovelace and dinosaurs, "An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought", included in Irregularity (Jurassic London: 2014).

Saturday, October 08, 2016

50 years of the Cybermen

It's 50 years today since the broadcast of The Tenth Planet episode 1, in which a startling new monster was introduced to Doctor Who.

I'm not alone in adoring the original versions of the Cybermen, designed by Sandra Reid with skew-whiff cloth faces and still-human hands (painted silver). Clunky and awkward and each one with a name - Krang, Jarl, Gern, Krail, Talon and Shav - they're not simply robots but people who've willingly disfigured themselves to survive in the cold of space.

Researching my book The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, I read the "Cyborgs and Space" by Manfred E Clynes and Nathan S Kline, a 1960 article Astronautics that first coined the term cybernetic organism or "cyborg". Although that word wasn't used in Doctor Who until Terror of the Zygons in 1975, there are lots of parallels between the article and the first incarnation of the Cybermen. Here it's suggested that for long-term space exploration to be practical, people will need to be surgically fitted with air conditioning units and then psychologically conditioned not to care...

The cold, stark proposal is utterly terrifying. No wonder the Cybermen struck such a chord.

Today is also 50 years since the studio recording of episode 4 of the same story. Between 6.30 and 7 pm, an effects shot was recorded in which a close-up of lead actor William Hartnell morphed into a close-up of Patrick Troughton, the new Doctor...

The episode was broadcast three weeks later, and I shall have more to say about it in three weeks' time.

Saturday, October 01, 2016


50 years ago today, Jack Bligh appeared as Gaptooth in episode 4 of the Doctor Who story The Smugglers

Born on 31 December 1889, Bligh is the earliest born person in Doctor Who. (Some online sources say he was born in 1890, but that's the year his birth was registered; he's listed in the registrations for the Thanet area for the first quarter of 1890.)

Sadly, the four episodes of The Smugglers are among the 97 episodes of Doctor Who missing from the BBC archive. But here are three off-air images ("tele-snaps") showing Gaptooth - from the "photonovel" on the official Doctor Who website: