Ah, cliffhangers. Doctor Who loves them. When looking for the best cliffhangers in history, we have to consider “The Monk’s got a TARDIS!”; “I’m not going to let you stop me now!”; and total event collapse, with Amy dead, and the Doctor locked in the Pandorica.
A less well-known cliffhanger is: “Jones had submitted a further Doctor Who story idea to Terrance Dicks in 1970, but it had”…
This comes on page 105 of this sixth issue of The Complete History, concluding the Pre-Production section for The Sontaran Experiment. Okay, so I have my tongue firmly in cheek here, but how bizarre that the sentence is never finished off. It just – stops. Without anything remotely resembling a full-stop. Not even a beloved ellipsis! If the original solicitations are anything to go by, perhaps this issue was rushed out in place of Issue 7, and wasn’t quite up to scratch.
This is one problem in an otherwise good book. I’m sure many Fourth Doctor fans will be picking this up, even if they’re not buying the rest of the series. And that’s a shame because as informative and entertaining as it is, it’s not perfect.
Neither are the stories it covers, although The Ark in Space is arguably close to it. Robot leaves something to be desired, but is at worst, average, while I have a soft spot for The Sontaran Experiment. I do love Sontarans, and Styre is a wonderful example. I’d even say he looks better than Linx.
So why isn’t this issue quite as solid as previous ones? Simply because there seems to be some repetition. It’s as if the writers didn’t check what the others were doing, and these repetitive passages were missed by editorial.
I guess it also depends on how you’re reading the books: this issue suffers slightly if you read it all as one; however, if you’re reading them bit-by-bit, perhaps accompanying rewatches of past serials, going over the same ground occasionally is a nice reminder. Indeed, reading through inspired a rewatch of The Sontaran Experiment, and yes, I still love it.
Most know that Tom Baker damaged his collarbone during the serial, but I hadn’t realised the extent to which he was replaced by stuntmen, as was Styre for the fight scene. The behind-the-scenes of Doctor Who Season 12 are well documented, but there’s still plenty to learn from The Complete History, including:
- Harry Sullivan was introduced as an Ian Chesterton-esque ‘action man’ as an older Doctor was considered before Baker’s casting.
- Elisabeth Sladen found out who her new leading star would be during filming for The Monster of Peladon.
- The explosive conclusion to The Ark in Space was partly down to director, Rodney Bennett; the initial scripts by Robert Holmes had the Wirrn led away into space by Noah, but Bennett felt, as they wouldn’t be a returning foe, that a more permanent end was needed.
- Holmes undertook rewrites of John Lucarotti’s original Space Station scripts within 18 days.
- Kevin Lindsay (Styre and in The Time Warrior, Linx, but whose face you’ll know for playing Cho-je in Planet of the Spiders) died only seven weeks after the broadcast of The Sontaran Experiment, aged just 51.
This really is a fascinating read, as ever, and special mention must go to The Ark in Space. And rightly so. The four-part serial is greatly-loved, and has to be in many fans’ Top Ten lists (myself included). While the Production section is a little dry in comparison to those serials bookending it, the Pre- and Post-Production parts uncover a lot of trivia, and in the Publicity section, we get Frank Bellamy’s iconic art for the Radio Times.
Fans will also delight in seeing the art from the Weetabix figures and cards in all three Merchandise parts. And on the subject of art, the photos throughout this issue are genuinely stunning and show the variety of visuals presented in Season 12.
Compare the hard sci-fi, sharp lines, and clean design of The Ark in Space to the grassy desolation of The Sontaran Experiment, for instance. We get some further context with the 1974/5 Series Overview where you can see the gritty environs of Genesis of the Daleks and the ironically-sterile look of Revenge of the Cybermen.
In particular, I was impressed with the design of the K1 Robot. I’ve seen it a couple of times “in the flesh” at exhibitions and it’s a wonderful look (even if it was a bit hard-going on actor, Michael Kilgarriff). However, I’d never realised that the spherical head piece was echoed in the Scientific Reform Society (SRS) logo, itself influenced by the swastika.
The art introducing each story are particularly gorgeous too, reflecting the style of the serials perfectly. The Sontaran Experiment really stands out.
Profiles this time are for Tom Baker, Ian Marter, and Kevin Lindsay. Tom’s is especially in-depth, with six pages dedicated to his life and career. It’s a startlingly honest and touching piece, with Tom reflecting on how proprietorial he became, but also concluding with how much the Doctor means to him.
The show also seemed close to the heart of Marter, who played one of my favourite companions, Harry. This was obvious by the fact that he wrote numerous Target novelisations after he left Doctor Who itself. The Ark in Space was his first novelisation, so it’s fitting his Profile is attached to this tale.
If there are small troubles in this issue’s copy, it’s more than worth picking up for the wealth of information, and its wonderful layouts, including a good number of behind-the-scenes photos.
NEXT: THE CHRISTMAS INVASION, NEW EARTH, AND TOOTH AND CLAW.
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(Originally appeared on Kasterborous Feb’ 2016.)