Before we get to our regularly scheduled review, I’d like to drag out my soapbox for a minute. When did the term “family television” turn into something meaning “shows about annoying affluent kids being sassy”? It’s like every show on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon has devolved into that sort of thing. I remember a golden age of “family television” that wasn’t exclusively designed for pre-pubescent teen girls; an age when one could watch those aforementioned channels for hours and not get immediately irritated or feel like you are being talked down to. They had comedy shows, family shows, cartoons, and even skit shows, plus they would take the occasional chance and bring something over from another country. Nickelodeon excelled at this, and I remember really enjoying one show in particular. I recall them doing some sort of action related programming block, and really digging The Tomorrow People. Usually science fiction for a youth audience is relegated to being full of juvenile humor or written for tiny children here in the States, so I was completely blown away by the way the show was written. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the 1990’s show I enjoyed was actually a re-boot of a much older show, one that I began watching for the very first time recently.
The Tomorrow People tells the story of the next chapter in human evolution – Homo Superior. These are people born of normal humans, but possessing telekinesis, teleportation, and other psychic abilities that make them far apart from normal society. As a trade-off for such abilities, The Tomorrow People can’t willingly kill others, and have to stay safe using non-lethal weaponry – this is a shame because they seem to be targeted by some very bad people. In a sort of X-Men meets Torchwood amalgamation, we come to learn that The Tomorrow People live in a secret base under the Thames and actively look for others like themselves to help and protect. When someone realizes that they are Homo-Superior they go through a process of great mental strain and bodily stress called “breaking out”.
This first serial, consisting of five episodes, is an introduction to how The Tomorrow People operate through the eyes of Stephen, the newest recruit. Stephen was an ordinary boy until he suddenly collapsed in a crowded street after school. No sooner than that, all sorts of bizarre things start going down including attempted kidnappings by a duo of bumbling Cockney thugs, talking computers, robots, and even aliens. The other Tomorrow People step in to attempt to help him through this ordeal and keep him safe while he gains control over his powers. At first Stephen is skeptical of the whole situation, and especially that he’d be of any use to these seemingly magical children, but that soon changes. In a manner very similar to how the character Gargamel obsesses over the Smurfs, a man named Jedikiah apparently has been obsessing over the existence of people with telepathic powers on Earth. He sends the thugs out to capture Stephen when he is most vulnerable because he needs psychics for some nefarious reason.
The Tomorrow People themselves were portrayed by Nicholas Young as John, Sammie Winmill as Carol, Stephen Salmon as Kenny, and Peter Vaughan-Clarke as Stephen. As with many child actors of this time, many of the cast members rarely worked past the 1970’s so I can’t say “this guy later went on to be in some huge movie when he was older”, but a few of them did reprise their roles recently in audio drama form through Big Finish. My hat really goes off to Francis De Wolff, who portrayed the diabolical Jedikiah. He’s one of those actors that looks evil by simply existing. His face shape, facial hair, manner of speech, and just about every other thing he does makes him come across cartoonishly villainous. I mean that in the best of ways though, as his role reminded me a lot of the way Roger Delgado played the Master in Doctor Who, another man that was born to play baddies.
Unlike some other things that I’ve reviewed recently, The Tomorrow People is VERY dated to the 1970’s. The haircuts, clothes, graphics, music and just about everything else just screams the decade it was produced. This is by no means a bad thing for me, but it could hurt the show for someone that is inclined to dislike things from the past. Some films and TV are essentially timeless despite the age, and this is not one of those programs. I’m no political correctness commando, but there is a bit of old-school sexism in the show that was so blatant that it made my wife and I both laugh. Take, for instance, a scene where Carol is not allowed to go on an adventure with the guys because she was a girl and presumably weaker than the guys. Despite that, I will give a nod to the producers for having multiple ethnicities represented in the cast, something that is good for a kid’s show, especially in the seventies.
This show has one of the coolest opening titles that I’ve seen in a while. Like everything else in the seventies, the opening is like a drug induced fever dream in the mind of a new-age thinker. Check it out here:
My only real gripe for this first serial is the manner in which the show attempted to educate the viewer and the introduction of the main villain. After a fairly strong first few episodes, the show suddenly introduces an alien threat to the mix. This is handled in a fairly blasé way, as if the whole idea of aliens coming to Earth is fairly common-place. This is coincidentally the exact same time a blundered educational attempt falls in our laps. I’m all for learning in every show, but suddenly telling the story of Homer’s The Odyssey, and more specifically the part about the Cyclops, to explain away the fact that there was suddenly a green alien with one eye standing there seems amateur at best. Perhaps leaving the mystery of who the actual villain was could have been built up a tad more rather than suddenly blurting out “oh yeah, aliens did it” like that Ancient Aliens guy.
Despite the dated nature of the material, I enjoyed The Tomorrow People a lot. There were a few snickers with a goofy cheap costume, or an absurd leap of logic, but I have to tell myself that this was intended to be a children’s show. And compared with other children’s shows The Tomorrow People definitely deserves its status as a classic and I can’t wait to watch more.
On nineteenth Century Earth artist Edvard Munch hears an infinite scream pass through nature. Centuries later his painting of that scream hangs in a gallery on the barren dust world Duchamp 331. Why is there a colony of artists on a planet that is little more than a glorified garage? What is the event that the passengers of the huge, opulent pleasure cruiser ‘Gallery’ are hoping to see? And what is hidden in the crates that litter the cargo hold? The Doctor’s diary indicates that the painting is about to be destroyed in ‘mysterious circumstances’, and when he and Ace arrive on Duchamp 331, those circumstances are well underway.
Written By: Mike Tucker Directed By: Gary Russell
Anyone keeping up with my Big Finish Audio reviews will recall that I generally feel that the Seventh Doctor stories based on the Virgin New Adventures line of books are …. not my cup of tea. I worried that this one was in that particular series, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Luckily I’m glad to report that this particular entry in the monthly line of audio dramas is in continuity with an earlier entry called The Genocide Machine and not The Shadow of the Scourge, the former being an entry that I quite enjoyed; the latter not so much. Containing The Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy (soon to be in a Hobbit film near you!) and Ace, as played by Sophie Aldred, this adventure seems just like a continuation of the original show, just if it lasted a bit longer.
One of the major strengths of this drama is the great cast within. There are a few questionable choices, as is usually the case with a lot of these early plays, such as a weird accent used by Caroline John, but the direction here is usually spot on. McCoy does great as The Doctor here, playing the role in such a way that it lines up far closer to the way the role was performed on the television show, not the yelling angry style found in the aforementioned “New Adventures” plays. Louise Falkner appears here as a Captain Jack-esque tertiary companion named Bev Tarrant, a character that previously appeared in The Genocide Machine.
Above and Beyond, the highlight of this play (for me at least) was the return of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers previously held the role for a short time at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure on the main show, and was portrayed as somewhat of a walking corpse teetering on death at the end of his regenerations. Fairly early on, we are introduced to a wealthy man named Mr. Seta who wears an extraordinary jewel covered mask and is a bit less than trustworthy. Of course “Mr. Seta” is just another one of The Master’s playful anagrams of his own name, a fact that The Doctor should really pick up on at some point. Granted, his plan is ridiculous, and his regression back to his previous iteration (Anthony Ainley was very ill at this time and did not want to participate) is not very well explained, but it was nice to see Beevers do the role for a bit longer than he did in the past. I’m no Ainley hater, but the role was a tad silly when he was playing it, and Beevers adds the darkness back that was originally there with the first Master as played by Roger Delgado.
Many of the best dialog segments where by Mr. Seta / The Master, such as this gem:
‘You’ve spent your life looking at masks Madame Salvadore, without ever wondering what lay beneath them. Would you like to see beneath my mask..?’
The plot has some silly, or convenient moments, and the main villain of the piece wasn’t all that spectacular but all in all this was a good listen. Little touches like a droning noise that sounds like a screaming Dalek in the background really makes Duchamp 331 a planet to be truly feared, and helps sets this play above merely “average”. I loved the Master in this, had he not been present I’m not sure if I would have liked the final product nearly as much. For me, Big Finish dramas with the McCoy Doctor have been hit or miss, but this one was a nice surprise.
I recently had the pleasure of picking up a ton of Pertwee era Doctor Who episodes via a sale Columbia House was running. Well I guess it wasn’t really my choice, as I nearly let my subscription lapse, but I was going to go for these anyway. Last week I did a write-up for Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and this week I’ll be taking a look at the two parts of the “Dalek War” boxed set. First up we have Frontier in Space, starring he Doctor as played by Jon Pertwee, Jo Grant played by Katy Manning, and The Master portrayed by Roger Delgado.
The Master has been a Doctor Who character that I both love and hate at different times. Sometimes he can be pretty lousy, relying on unrealistic plans reminiscent of your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain. Just like any incompetent James Bond villain, he tells the Doctor his plan, leaves him in a deadly situation, then leaves just enough time to be foiled ten minutes later. Occasionally, we do get the other side of the master, the one that’s actually good.
Frontier in Space doesn’t have the bombastic silliness of the 1980’s Master, but a character that seems to be actually evil, even realistically evil. In the real world, there are very few crazed dictators bent on world domination, but there are a lot of bad people out there. Take war profiteers for instance; any listen to world news lately shows that there is a growing industry for people to go down to Africa and help cause civil unrest. The worse the situation, the more these people can make in bribes, weapon sales, and any other illicit activity. These are the true evil folks in the world – and this is the exact archetype the Master fills in this Doctor Who story.
Rather than being the “main villain” in Frontier in space The Master exists as an agent egging on the two warring sides – The Humans and the Draconians. He uses a hypnosis device to cause confusion as to whether both sides are disregarding a peace pact and starting acts of war. Reports have come in that various ships are being ransacked in a de-militarized zone. In fact, neither the Draconians nor Humans are doing any of this, as it is really a third race, the Orgons doing all the bad deeds. As one can immediately tell, this plot has more to do with a political thriller than your typical epic war episode of today. The plot relies very much on diplomatic dialog between the leaders of all groups, and how they mistrust each other.
Sadly, this isn’t a great episode for the Doctor and Jo, as they spend basically the whole time being locked up in some way. First they materialize on an Earth based spaceship, and are immediately thought to be Draconian spies. They break out and are put back into holding countless times from then on, thus making this episode slightly boring for the most part. While I enjoy having The Master have some intelligent maneuvering in the foreground, I would have liked the Doctor in a less vulnerable position for these six episodes. That’s another problem – six episodes is a bit too much, and seems to have padded out the episode. Had it been a “four-parter”, I think I would have been more engaged in all the arrests and imprisonments.
Any quibbles I might have with the actual serial are definitely outweighed by the great special features held within. This DVD contains the third Doctor iteration of a recurring DVD feature called “Stripped for Action” where they look at the Doctor Who related comic books of the time. Also included is a solid “making of” feature, and one almost unwatchable piece called “Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontier”. This “mockumentary” is designed to resemble a futuristic TV magazine program talking about the episode. Why people, hundreds of years in the future, would be concerned with an ancient TV program to better understand their time is beyond me and really pushes this to absurd levels. This unnecessary bookending makes this feature VERY campy, and ruins any credibility it could have had without all the fluff. I hated when it started talking about 70’s fashion pretending to be from the future, the irony being that this very documentary was doing the same thing that was being ridiculed. I’m not sure if this has been on any other DVDs, or is planned for future ones, but I’ll be skipping it for now on if I run across it!
Finally, This DVD has some material on Roger Delgado that makes the package. In my opinion, there has been no match whatsoever for Roger Delgado as The Master in the entire run of Doctor Who ever since his untimely death in 1973. Ainley was decent in the role, but relied too much on over the top “mustache twirling”, John Simm had a similar problem with his portrayal, and Eric Roberts….let’s just forget about Eric Roberts, as he definitely doesn’t hold a candle to Delgado! This DVD stands as a sort of memorial to him, as this was sadly his final episode as he died in a car crash whilst filming a feature film in Turkey. Before I even started the DVD, I made sure I switched on “The Master”, one of the special features included on the disk.
The documentary includes a sit-down interview with his wife and other people close to Roger and really paints him as the exact opposite of his on-screen persona. I know this is a cliché whilst doing documentaries for deceased actors that played villains, but it’s nice to see how Delgado acted out in public, and adds to the sadness that he passed on the top of his game.
While the story was a bit padded for my tastes, this is still a solid DVD to own, and I’m really excited to see the second part of the set, Planet of the Daleks.