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'The Romans' Invade This Week's Docback!! DOCTOR WHO Story #12, Season/Series 7 News, And More!!



Part 2 HERE. Contributed by Beamus!




Merrick here...


...with a look at "The Romans," the twelfth story for first Doctor William Hartnell.  This aired mid-January to early February in 1965.  

But first...




...the giveaway we announced last week...

Bill P. of Indiana.  

The name of the game was to hit my Inbox with a submission at, or closest to, a pre-selected mystery time.  My pre-selected time for this giveaway was Sunday, December 11 at 11:37am.  Bill's e-mail arrived Sunday, December 11 at 11:36:30 am.  He beat the next closest entry by six seconds.  This does seem close, but I've seen AICN giveaways run much closer.  

Bill's contact information has already been passed along to BBC Home Entertainment, which is graciously handing fulfillment of this giveaway.  We'd like to thank them deeply for their cooperation and kindness in bringing you this opportunity.  Look for further giveaways in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.  




...which airs December 25 at 7pm on BBC One, and  9pm ET/PT  on BBC America.  

Our Docback for next week will be at least partially devoted to this installment - titled "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" - if not entirely centered on it.  The content of next week's Docback is currently in flux . There will be a Docback, though...Friday as always, and promised.  





As context for those unfamiliar with the tragic tale, many vintage DOCTOR WHO episodes were deleted/destroyed  by the BBC quite a while back.  For some of these stories, precious little visual evidence exists save for production stills, Telesnaps, and audio tracks (many of these audio tracks (all of them?) have been released on their own CDs - repurposed into audio adventures which work surprisingly well).  

Late last weekend, we learned that BBC has recovered two installments in stores that were presumed long missing.  By installments, I mean one "part" of a multi-part tale.  

THIS article at BBC explains how the material was recovered...

The latest two episodes to be found were in the private collection of a former TV engineer, Terry Burnett, who bought them at a school fete in Hampshire in the 1980s.

Mr Burnett had no idea the BBC did not have the recordings - it was only when he mentioned them casually in conversation to Ralph Montagu, head of heritage at Radio Times, that their significance was recognised.

I've been doing entertainment industry based work for a long, long time now and have been privy to the discovery of a an amazing array of "presumed lost" material.  I suspect that, in DOCTOR WHO's case, there's likely quite a bit more "missing" footage still waiting to be discovered - but I'd bet good money that the people who have it in their possession have either forgotten they have it, or...most probably and quite dangerously...aren't aware of the footage's importance.  Which appears to be the case in this current circumstance.  
BBC has released clips from the recovered material - Episode 3 of "Galaxy 4" (Hartnell, Story #18 ) and Episode 2 of "The Underwater Menace" (Troughton, Story #32).  Presumably these will ultimately appear in some form of video release - and I, for one, can't wait...





Also announced after last week's Docback was posted?  BBC has scheduled the return of the  Moffat/Gatiss modernization of Sherlock Holmes.  The first of three new SHERLOCK episodes/telemovies/whatever you want to call them is set to show on BBC One January 1 - an awesome way to bring in the New Year.  

As there are only three installments of SHERLOCK on the way, and as many Docbackers have repeatedly expressed interest in this Moffat guy's take on Sherlock Holmes, I'm thinking it might be best to simply incorporate SHERLOCK into our regular Docback feature whenever one of the new pieces broadcasts...which'll make it easier to moderate (one article instead of two), easier to navigate (one article instead of two), etc.  If anyone objects to this approach and would like to see the Lockback receive its own article placement, please don't hesitate to let me know and we'll make that happen.  

Either way, the first Docback/Lockback will launch on Friday December 30 - two days before "A Scandal in Belgravia," the first of this new SHERLOCK batch, airs.  

In related news, I just received a copy of SHERLOCK HOLMES ON SCREEN from Titan Books, which includes a Foreword by Mr. Moffat...

And, yes, the Foreword is more substantive than the  "I love this book" quote from Moffat which you'll see on the front cover.  Although, "I love this book" being the entirety of the Foreword would've been pretty funny in itself.  

I haven't had a chance to dive too far into the title yet, but it's the cover exploration of the character's appearances across film and television (even the detective's parts in BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES are mentioned!)  BBC's current SHERLOCK is included, which makes this a cool book and an important book regardless of anything else...although it would certainly be regarded as nicely assembled even without SHERLOCK's inclusion.  

I'll offer more insight into the publication as we get closer to SHERLOCK wave 2 in a few weeks, but for now know that it's available HERE in the U.S. and HERE in the U.K.  




--- Ken does a Kirk Douglas impression for a long time and quite poorly...

-- We lament the often shoddy state of contemporary visual effects and talk about how we got to this often uninspired place...

--- We discuss Superman and why he doesn't need to be angsty...

--- We consider the original PLANET OF THE APES films...among my favorite movies of all time when taken relation to the new and rather good RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, just released on DVD and Blu-Ray...

--- We segue from mentioning Nicole Scherzinger's appearance in the third MEN IN BLACK movie into a dissection of last week's X-FACTOR debacle (U.S. version)...

...and more!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assert that this podcast represents the only moment in human history in which the early works of Stanley Kubrick are alluded to over the persistent objections of a rogue Fart Machine.  I'm in no way suggesting this should be considered a badge of honor, but there you have it. And, by the way, the problems with that infernal device in this podcast?  Real.   

The new WHOTININNIES can be found HERE, while past undertakings are HERE.  





There's an interview with Steven Moffat in the newest DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE (the one with the Radio Timesey Christmas themed cover).  Said discussion brings forth a few tantalizing bits of information, which I present here via Bleeding Cool's mini-transcription of the piece

Points of interest from The Moff...

At this stage, everything is a single episode, and the only reason anything will become a two-parter is if we think it needs to be...


I want to be able to say, every week, we’ve got a big standalone blockbuster, and then a trailer that makes it look like nothing compared to what’s going to happen next week! That’s the form for next year.

I want slutty titles and movie-poster plots. I want big pictures and straplines. The first episode I’m writing is called [Spoiler] of the [Spoilers]. And it’ll feel a bit like Die Hard, that first episode.

I personally think this is a very wise move for the franchise at this time, as slutty titles and accessible straplines are an excellent way to get, keep, and focus people's attention.  This avenue may also make the show easier to penetrate for newer viewers struggling to access the dense mythology that DW has developed recently,  and more strongly evoke the vibe of classic WHO - where there was much more self-containment. Back then, jumping into the show would've seemed a far less daunting proposition than it might now, I should think. And the ability to perpetually recruit fresh viewers in imperative to a show's longterm survival.  

Also, historically, arc based storylines are very tricky beasts to wrangle in science fiction / fantasy television.  It's easy for writers and audiences to become too distracted by "this" and "that" pesky little detail...or catch too much interference from what they believe to be a "macro" arc...when what really matters is the immediacy of the moment our characters are in, and the clarity with which their circumstances are being conveyed.  It's not always easy to be "clear" about emotions and feelings and narrative intent if such considerations are being spread over a broader tapestry - arcs can be clever and sprawling and intriguing, to be sure.  But they can also be aloof and alienating. Arcs sometimes turn shows like this into something of a "Where's Waldo?" - where every little detail is scrutinized, pulling us away from the whole of the picture.   Making that whole far more difficult to appreciate.  I'm not referring to DOCTOR WHO specifically here, but one doesn't have to look too far to see how arcs on other shows can go terribly wrong (LOST, the recent GALACTICA), and sometimes undercut what a show clearly set out to do.  And, the history of television is littered with arc based shows with intriguing gags - that were canceled because viewers couldn't/didn't plug in.  NBC's SURFACE, THE EVENT, and ABC's V being a few recent examples. So, diminishing arc related material in the upcoming  Season/Series of DW feels like a right move, to me at least.  

By no means am I suggesting that DOCTOR WHO should EVER take the path of least resistance.  All I'm saying is that brasher, ballsier, more flamboyant storytelling...which seems to be implied in Moffat's interview about the upcoming Season/Series...can be just as fun as arcing, and probably far healthier for the show in the long run (think the original STAR TREK).  I mean, look at how much mileage we got out of "Let's Kill Hitler" in the Docback, before we ever saw a single frame of footage from it.  A whole Season/Series loaded with that kind of teasing and speculation? Many months filled with that kind of "What the hell?" imaginings?  Could be a blast...and I'm pretty sure that's the mystery, conjecture, and sensibility The Moff & Co. are hoping to capitalize on here.  So I say, "Why not?"  Of course, the issue always...payoff.  using "Let's Kill Hitler" as a title set standards and expectations that need to be addressed.  But, in the end, every show brings with it similar different ways.  

All of this would, by the way, make for fantastic talking points in the Docback below - so have it!  

On a personal note, as I've previously indicated, DIE HARD is one of my favorite all-time movies.  It's a giddily subversive Christmas picture to boot.  So, word that a DOCTOR WHO episode will take on a DIE HARDesque vibe makes me quite happy at the moment.  




There was a press screening of The Christmas Special yesterday (I guess I need to move to England).  At the event, Mister Moffatt indicated that Amy and Rory will rejoin the Doctor in Season/Series 7, but also warned that their time with the Doctor would come to an end.  Moffat also indicated the Doctor would be getting a new companion.  

This possibility has often been suspected/mulled on the Docbacks, so now it's official.  More information about this transition is supposed to be released today - keep an eye on this space, or the Docback below, for an update.  






"I think I poisoned Nero." Vicki, 'The Romans' Episode 3 - "Conspiracy" 


When I first heard Dennis Spooner had scripted this story, I took pause.  Spooner had previously brought DOCTOR WHO “The Reign of Terror,” (Hartnell, Story # 8) which felt steadfastly determined to be as un-fun and minutia bound as possible.  Knowing nothing of “The Romans” before going into it...other than somewhat logically conjecturing it might actually be about Romans...I really, really, REALLY found myself not wanting to sit though another tedious, heartless history lesson.  And, brilliantly enough, that’s NOT what “The Romans” is.  At all.  
In this four part story, Spooner and Co. have wisely and cleverly sidestepped the operatic melodrama innate within their tale...which is rife with conspiracy, assassination attempts, mistaken identity, implied lecherousness, and deals  in no uncertain terms with the ego-fueled madness of Nero (played here by Derek Francis )...instead skewing its potential turgidness towards wacky comedy.  Comedy which ranges from classically over-the-top to amazingly dark.  This bold decision plays out very well on the whole.  
“The Romans” picks up where the preceding episode (“The Rescue”) left off, with the TARDIS materializing on a precarious cliff and more or less falling off of it.  Crash cut to “nearly” one month later, where The Doctor (William Hartnell) and companions Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) haven’t bothered to get the TARDIS up and running again because they’ve all been seduced by the lifestyle of ancient Rome and its surrounding areas.  They’re loving their existence, and are in no hurry to leave.  This indifference ultimately bites our heroes in their asses when they become ensnared in a plot to assassinate current ruler Nero.  But here’s where the joyful absurdity begins.  
The Doctor, in particular, is involved in said plot to kill Nero - but has no intention of doing so, no knowledge of the conspiracy itself other than its objective (which he isn’t privy to for a while), and isn’t even clear on who or what is driving the attempt on Nero’s life.  Resulting in the Doctor more or less stumbling through the entire episode as clueless as we are, cleverly (and sometimes ridiculously) tricking his way out of circumstances in an effort to stay alive.  One unexpected moment finds Hartnell’s Doctor going James T. Kirk on a tongueless assassin, explaining to Vicki “I am so constantly outwitting the opposition I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the gentle art of fisticuffs.”  
Indeed, the Doctor is so out-of-his element amidst this conspiracy and intrigue that he can’t even remember the name of the Lyre player he’s being mistaken for (this case of mistaken identity is what initially and erroneously puts him in place as an assassin-to-be).  Amusing.  
For all of its fast pacing and agreeably absurd moments, “The Romans” is sometimes blemished by a few technical missteps.  A mic pops into frame during episode 3 (that this didn’t happen more often on early WHO is commendable and miraculous given how the show was made).  An epic burning of Rome is regrettably inadequate, although the story’s makers cop to both their embarrassment over the sequence, and to having run out of the budget that could’ve improved their effects (in an extra on the DVD).  Another moment, involving Ian inside of ship that’s being wrecked at sea, quite literally shows the vessel’s occupants being sloshed by pales of water from offscreen.  Which in itself is funny, although not in the way The Powers That Be intended I should think.  Director Christopher Barry sometimes undercuts perfectly wonderful gags by allowing actors to ham-handedly overstate a moment to accentuate that ‘this is supposed to be funny’  - instead of simply letting the humor be what it is, and speak for itself.  And to preemptively address an inevitable Docback retort: YES, this story is supposed to be “for kids.”  But kids have surprisingly developed senses of humor and don’t always need to be hammered over the head by something to “get” why it’s funny.  They are smarter than many of us think they are.  Despite this occasional awkwardness, Barry keeps the story zipping along nicely on the whole- “The Romans” never bogs down, and never jumps completely off the tracks.  
Memorable sequences include:  the introduction of “wipe” transitions into the equation (like Lucas used in STAR WARS - I'm pretty sure these have not been used previously in the show, correct me if I'm wrong in the Docback below). Barbara gently adjusting Ian’s hair to be more in keeping with the time period, a subtle and hilarious gag in which slavers Sevcheria (Derek Sydney) and Didius (Nicholas Evans) must continually shell out coins to an informant in the market place - it’s so subtle you might not even notice that it’s happening during their conversation (supporting my assertion above that comedy DOESN’T always need to hit you over the head to be funny as hell), and Nero testing a potentially poisoned drink on a hapless and unknowing nearby servant.  
Bravo to Derek Francis‘ performance as the lovable-but-demented creeper Nero, and to Michael Peak’s interpretation of Tavius.  Some actors can command the screen even when doing nothing, and convey large amounts of information while saying very little.  Peake is such a performer.
“The Trouble with Tribbles” of early DOCTOR WHO, “The Romans” is a surprisingly farcical tale which dodges many of the pacing issues seen in episodes before it.  It’s a welcomed respite from the seriousness which frequently prevailed in the show up to this point, and vividly illustrates the immense vitality and flexibility of DOCTOR WHO's overall tone and concept as a whole.  A flexibility which is critical, and fully exploited, even today.  And, really, how can anyone not like a story in which  character identifies herself as Lacusta, “Official Poisioner to the Court of Caesar Nero”?  





I'm not sure yet.  Much flux.  At the very least they'll be some sort of Docback for the new Christmas Special, which airs next Sunday.  Maybe more in the works - we'll see. 







"The Impossible Astronaut"

"Day of the Moon"

"The Curse of the Black Spot"

"The Doctor's Wife"

"The Rebel Flesh"

"The Almost People"

"A Good Man Goes To War"

"Let's Kill Hitler"

"Night Terrors"




"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)

"The Daleks" (Story #2)

"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)

"Marco Polo" (Story #4)

"The Keys of Marinus(Story #5)

"The Aztecs" (Story #6)

"The Sensorites" (Story #7)

"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)

"Planet of Giants" (Story #9) 

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)

"The Rescue" (Story #11) 

"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)

"The Colony in Space" (Story #58) 

"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)

"The Sun Makers(Story #95)

"The Awakening" (Story #131)

"Frontios(Story #132)

"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)

"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits


Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)

DOCTOR WHO Title Sequences & DW At Comic-Con 2011

"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)

Why Eccleston Left, Here Comes Caroline Skinner, And Season/Series Six Part 1 on Blu-Ray And DVD

New Trailer For Season/Series Six Part 2




AICN's Friday DOCTOR WHO Talkbacks - aka "Docbacks"  - operate on a different set of standards than other AICN Talkbacks.  These standards developed quickly and naturally, and we intend to preserve them.  Accordingly, please take a moment to note a few guidelines which should help proceedings move along smoothly and pleasantly:  
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO (with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)... 

2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity.  Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example.  "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well.  "**SPOILER** Why did everyone die?"  Is NOT good.  

And, above all... 

3) converse, agree, disagree, and question as much as you want - but the freedom to do so is NOT a license to be rude, crass, disrespectful, or uncivilized in any way.  Not remaining courteous and civil, as well as TROLLING or undertaking sensational efforts to ignite controversy, will result in banning.  Lack of courtesy may receive one (1) warning before a ban is instigated.  Obvious Trolling or Spamming will result in summary banning with no warning.  One word posts intended to bump-up any Docback's figures on AICN's "Top Talkbacks" sidebar will be considered actionable Spam - they not only complicate efforts to access Docbacks from mobile devices, but impede readers' abilities to follow or engage in flowing conversation. 
In short, it's easy.  Be excellent to each other.  Now party on...
Readers Talkback
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