If you’ve read the reactions I’ve posted recently, you know I’ve been enjoying audio only versions of the lost episodes on CD. You also know that it won’t be just too long before the fourth set becomes available. You should know, too, that I couldn’t wait even that long and have begun to listen to the Doctor Who BBC radio episodes. These have the advantage over the lost episodes in that they were written and directed specifically for radio, so no “linking narration” is necessary and all stage direction and visual description is included in the script. Before I get to the actual radio dramas, though, there are a few odds and ends included in the set I’d like to deal with and get out of the way first.

EXPLORATION EARTH: First up is “The Time Machine”, the third in the BBC schools Exploration Earth radio series exploring the geography of our planet. According to the liner notes, “The overriding educational brief meant that the key elements of Doctor Who were being used as tools with which to demonstrate the creation of Earth and so, with studio time at a premium and minimal rehearsals allocated, the cast were allowed little input into the script or their characterizations.

“The episode was broadcast on 4 October 1976, two days after Episode One of ‘The Hand of Fear’ was transmitted on BBC1. With teachers encouraged to utilize such programmes as part of their lessons, it provided a unique opportunity for Ron grainer’s familiarly eerie theme to echo around school corridors.” Even if the liner notes hadn’t’ve pointed it out, it would have been obvious this story was intended for educational purposes. That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining, and even fitting that this broadcast returns Doctor Who it its earliest roots.

The story features Tom Baker and Elisabeth Slade, and took only half a day to record. A malfunction in the “chronometric astrometer” throws the TARDIS back 4,500,000,000 million years where the doctor and Sarah Jane Smith witness the formation of the Earth. (Oddly, the Racnoss ship was nowhere to be seen, but I figure even a slight variance in time travel duration could result in several million years’ worth of wiggle room.) While there (and then) they meet Megron, a High Lord of Chaos, who claims the Earth as his own. The Doctor disputes the claim, arguing that the seeming chaos is actually the beginning of a process that will ultimately bring order.

Over the course of the next twenty minutes, the Doctor uses his “compressive telesight” to witness and explain the various stages of Earth’s development. Eventually the Doctor has to resort to “telepathic will deployment” to defeat Meglos, and he and Sarah step out of the TARDIS onto present day Earth.

NEXT: “Whatever Happened to… Susan?”

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THE GHOSTS OF N-SPACE: It’s been a week since I finished listening to this six-parter (I’ve taken a break from Doctor Who audios to listen to Twilight Zones audios), so I guess it’s time to get something on e-paper before I forget more details than I already have and before I move on to “Slipback.” “The Ghosts of N-Space” is the kind of story that can only be told via Doctor WhoThe Godfather and Poltergeist, but moves beyond to tackle “big questions” such as life and death. I should mention that N-Space has absolutely no relation to the N-(for-Normal)-Space of “The E-Space Trilogy,” but rather stands for “Null-Space,” in which spiritual doppelgangers of living beings reside. It provides a pseudo-scientific explanation for “ghosts” which manifest after a human being meets, say, a particularly grisly end, allowing his N-body to manifest in our dimension. The problem arises when a 15th century sorcerer cum 20th century Mafioso’s scheme to gain immortality threatens to destroy the boundary between normal space and null space.

All in all, “The Ghosts of N-Space” is a highly entertaining addition to the Doctor Who mythos. Unfortunately, it bears the sad distinction of being Jon Pertwee’s final performance as the Doctor. He died in May 1996, four months after the show was broadcast.

SLIPBBACK:

I took a little break from Doctor Who and Twilight Zone audios to listen to music for a couple of weeks (besides, there were several weeks to kill before the next release of “Lost TV Episodes” audios and I had to stretch the ones I have out), but I started listening to Slipback this morning. First, I will quote from the liner notes to get started.

Slipback was born from adversity, namely the ‘hiatus of 1985’ in which, midway through the twenty-second television series of Doctor Who, the BBC announced that the programme would be ‘rested’ for eighteen months. This unprecedented decision made the headlines of the Six O’Clock News and the front page of many tabloid newspapers, and it wasn’t long before ‘Save Doctor Who!’ stickers were distributed, telephone campaigns organized, and charity pop records cut (this being the age of Band Aid, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant joined a host of current-day celebrities to record Doctor in Distress, proceeds from which went to charity). Two things soon became clear: first, the BBC weren’t about to reverse their decision, and second, this wasn’t the wicked cancellation initially portrayed by the press. The television series would definitely come back, albeit in a truncated form, in the autumn of 1986.

“For those fans whipped up into a frenzy of Who-lessness, however, eighteen months devoid of a certain wheezing, groaning sound seemed an eternity, and help came from an unusual source — the radio! Plans were underway that year for Pirate Radio Four, a children’s own magazine programme to be broadcast during the summer school holidays. Taking command of the airwaves with a lively mix of chart music, comedy, interviews and phone-ins, one of its centerpiece attractions would be a specially written and recorded Doctor Who story.

“This wasn’t the series format’s first foray into radio, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen having recreated their roles as the Doctor and Sarah for a 1976 installment of the schools programme Exploration Earth. The same TARDIS crew also starred in the Argo LP The Pescatons that same year, but to all intents and purposes Slipback (working title The Doomsday Project) was the first ‘official’ broadcast radio adventure. Writer Eric Saward was the series’ current script editor, with a number of television stories already bearing his name, and the radiophonic Workshop’s involvement ensured that Slipback’s sound effects were in keeping with its screen counterpart.

“Valentine Dyall, an actor perhaps best-known for his previous radio role as The Man in Black, was no stranger to Doctor Who, having portrayed the thoroughly evil Black Guardian in 1979 and 1983. Sadly, Slipback proved to be the last performance of his career, and he died shortly afterwards.

Slipback was broadcast in six ten-minute episodes (there were two per each Pirate Radio Four programme) and was generally well-received. However, in spite of the obvious benefits of making science fiction on the radio (the sets in your listener’s imagination can be as big and robust as yuou like), it would be another eight years before the Doctor next materialized on the airwaves.

EPISODE 1: Following a spot of uncharacteristic intoxication, the Doctor wakes to discover that the TARDIS has materialized in the service ducting of the Vipod Mor, a huge craft which is itself floating in deep space. Furthermore, the console has detected “time spillage”: someone or something is tampering with time! Such experimentation could not only damage the space/time continuum, but destroy the past and future history of the universe as well. The Doctor and Peri board the craft to investigate.

“For those fans whipped up into a frenzy of Who-lessness, however, eighteen months devoid of a certain wheezing, groaning sound seemed an eternity ...

Personally, I'd like to make it through 24 hours without making some sort of wheezing, groaning sound.

A perfect comment for Valentines Day, if I may say so myself, as an older geezer...

Doctor Hmmm? said:

“For those fans whipped up into a frenzy of Who-lessness, however, eighteen months devoid of a certain wheezing, groaning sound seemed an eternity ...

Personally, I'd like to make it through 24 hours without making some sort of wheezing, groaning sound.

EPISODE 2: Time experimentation isn’t the only illegal operation being conducted on board the Vipod Mor. A number of valuable works of art have been stolen from the planets which the craft has visited, and two rather suspect policemen are patrolling the ducting in search of the intergalactic art thief.

EPISODES 3-6: These go by quite swiftly when each episode is only ten minutes long! Some of the lengthier television stories could benefit from Slipback’s consolidation of story elements. Peri is detained by the police, the Doctor is interrogated about the secrets of time travel, the on-board computer suffers from a split personality, and the captain is cultivating and plans to unleash a killer disease. I had expected this six-parter to be as in depth as The Ghosts of N-Space, but it was exactly the opposite in structure. A quick story, well told. I must make time to listen to it again sometime soon, perhaps while running weekend errands with my wife.

That’s all of the audio adventures I will have until set four of “The Lost Television Episodes” ships in April.

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