Friday, 19 December 2014

BEST BRIGADIER STORY

Everybody loves the Brigadier, but what are your favourite stories? Please vote below (you can vote for more than one story). The poll will run until the New Year, at which point the results shall be announced.



TV Stories
The Web of Fear
The Invasion
Spearhead from Space
The Silurians
Inferno
Terror of the Autons
The Mind of Evil
The Claws of Axos
The Daemons
Day of the Daleks
The Time Monster
The Three Doctors
The Green Death
The Time Warrior
Invasion of the Dinosaurs
Planet of the Spiders
Robot
Terror of the Zygons
Mawdryn Undead
The Five Doctors
Battlefield
Enemy of the Bane
Poll Maker


Lethbridge-Stewart series now available for pre-order...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

TOMORROW'S WORLDS: TIME TRAP


What if we could tamper with time?

That’s the question uppermost in the mind of Dominic Sandbrook (aka Sandy), in the fourth and final instalment of his BBC documentary series, Tomorrow’s Worlds: the Unearthly History of Science Fiction. The programme was a predictable but nonetheless enjoyable romp through some of SF’s more familiar time travel tales.

Sandy begins, of course, with the HG Wells classic, The Time Machine. Ignoring the novel’s origin in the short story, The Chronic Argonauts, written in 1888, Sandy suggests that time travel begins in 1895 with Wells’ novel.  Curiously, he characterises The Time Machine as an attempt to explore the discovery of spiritualism, and the frontiers beyond.  I found this one of the strangest assertions in all of Sandy’s four programmes.

On the contrary, The Time Machine has two major themes: evolution and social class.  The book is an ingenious voyage of discovery through the invention of a machine, which symbolises the power of science and reason. The Time Traveller sets out to navigate and dominate time. His discovery? Time is lord of all. The significance of the story’s title becomes clear. Man is trapped by the mechanism of time, and bound by a history that leads to his inevitable extinction.

It’s not surprising that Wells had these twin obsessions of evolution and class.

Firstly, Wells had emerged from an English lower middle class, that had previously spawned only one other key author  Charles Dickens. Wells’ mother had been in service, his father a gardener. Though they were hopeful of elevating their status on becoming shopkeepers, the shop failed, year after year. Wells’ own employment began as a draper's apprentice. It ended rather abruptly when he was told he was not refined enough to be a draper. Such rejection at the sharp end of a class-conscious Victorian England became the motivation for Wells’ critique of the world. Secondly, Wells’ scientific watershed had come on meeting Darwin’s Bulldog at the Normal School of Science, later the Royal College of Science, whilst studying evolutionary biology under the great TH Huxley.

With Huxley as his inspiration, Wells began as an author, living in the dark, lanterned, black macadam streets of Victorian London, engine-room of the British Empire. The first of Wells’ seminal novels, The Time Machine, plotted a dark future for Man. The book was a sceptical view of the devilish enginery of progress and imperialism.  It was an instant triumph.

In Wells’ book, the Traveller’s headlong fall into the future begins at home. The entire voyage through the evolved worlds of man shows little spatial shift.  The terror of each age unravels in the vicinity of the Traveller’s laboratory. “It is not what man has been, but what he will be, that should interest us”, Wells had written in his essay, The Man of the Year Million. In The Time Machine we have Wells’ answer - a vision calculated to “run counter to the placid assumption … that Evolution was a pro-human force making things better and better for mankind”.

Time’s arrow thrusts the story forward to the year 802701 AD. The Traveller meets the Eloi, a race of effete, androgynous and child-like humans living an apparently pastoral life. Man’s conquest of nature, it seems, has led to decadence.  On discovering the subterranean machine world of the albino, ape-like Morlocks, a new theory emerges.  Over time, the gulf between the classes has produced separate species

So, rather than Sandy’s assertion that the novel was about spiritualism (a notion he contradicts later in the same programme), Wells foresaw a bifocal future. One image in the lens, “upper-world man had drifted towards his feeble prettiness”, focuses on what man may become when natural selection is eradicated, as with the Eloi.  The lens of the Morlock future, “the under-world [of] mere mechanical industry” arises when industrialisation serves as a chronic condition for natural selection. Wells’ warning is all the more powerful for making the reader feel responsible. It is the inequity of contemporary class society that leads to such monstrous futures. And the condition is still, of course, relevant today.

Perhaps Sandy’s greatest omission in this programme was the science fictional obsession with alternate histories. They were hardly mentioned. He did, however, comment on the use of time travel as a vehicle for sharp social criticism. Perhaps this is why Sandy left out alternate histories, as even a cursory examination of this sub-genre finds a very conservative tradition indeed.

Invariably, the alternate history and counter-factual stories tend to portray a dystopian world so much worse than ours that, as with Orwell’s flawed masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four, the unrelieved portrayal of misery tends to reinforce passivity, rather than undermine it. They leave the reader resigned to believing, like Voltaire, that we live in the best of all possible worlds. And we don’t.

Friday, 12 December 2014

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... THE BRIGADIER, part 3

Chris McKeon returns with the third and final part of his look at the Brigadier's influence, and absence, in Nu Who. Taking us full circle, back to his very first appearance.

My Dad often has this perspective to share: ‘If you don’t have a health problem, you don’t have a problem.’ Well, Nicholas Courtney had a problem, and a pretty terrible one. In January 2009, the legendary actor suffered a stroke and therefore could no longer take part in filming his return appearance for The Sarah Jane Adventures, series three. When that two-part adventure aired on 29 and 30 October 2009, the Tenth Doctor alone saved Sarah. Sir Alistair was again on assignment in Peru.

Nicholas Courtney - a true gentleman.

Over five years after this televised loss, I still cannot completely describe or dwell upon how much Courtney’s absence devastated my feelings as a fan and as a person. As a Brigadier fan I was heartbroken, shocked and deep in mourning: what should have been a celebrated reunion between two beloved television icons became an omission, an emptiness, an inexplicable loss. Even when Clyde Langer informed the viewer of Sir Alistair’s Peruvian whereabouts during Sarah’s wedding I felt my emotions almost swell with helpless turmoil. Even now, I still feel that story should have given the Brigadier’s absence a greater sense of loss and longing, maybe at least one moment where the Tenth Doctor asks someone, ‘Where’s the Brigadier?’

But on the personal level I felt worse for Nicholas Courtney and his well-being. I was not a personal friend or a family friend, or even a distant acquaintance, but the man and his character had been and still was – and is – one of my childhood heroes, perhaps in some ways more than the Doctor, simply because there was only one Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. And it was suddenly very real that he was a nearly eighty-year-old man.

One silver-lining in this darkening time for Brigadier fans was when the character managed to make one final on-screen appearance in a BBC-produced mini-episode, Liberty Hall, filmed in the early autumn of 2008 as part of the Mawdryn Undead DVD release for the following year. The nostalgic, seven-minute story features the Brigadier’s return to Brendan School to share some vague details of his storied UNIT career with a local reporter, including some sly references to the 1995 BBV-produced drama Downtime, as well as a few of the Big Finish audio adventures. When I watched that mini-episode I felt such a joyous swell to see Nicholas Courtney in, if not action, then at least in presence once more.

Sir Alistair returns for 'Liberty Hall'

But every presence, no matter how welcome, fades to black, even for the Brigadier. Nicholas Courtney’s health struggles in 2009 and 2010 are now a matter of public record and private feelings, and of which I don’t wish to dwell too much. It suffices to write that although the good man eventually recovered from his stroke and bravely continued to attend various conventions and public appearances throughout 2009, by the early months of 2010 he announced an even graver health condition, that of cancer. This affliction was the final monster, the last battle for the storied gentleman and cultural hero, who entered hospice care in the final days of 2010 before dying peacefully on 22 February, 2011.

Before his death Nicholas Courtney never returned to Doctor Who or The Sarah Jane Adventures, although the character was mentioned once more during Courtney’s lifetime in latter programme’s fourth series adventure Death of the Doctor (according to Russell T Davies’s book The Writer’s Tale, Courtney was approached to feature in that story but the actor’s then rapidly failing health prohibited any further filming). In the months following Courtney’s death there was a tremendous online outpouring of grief and remembrance for the actor as a professional and as a gentleman. I was at the time too devastated to share my feelings too much online, but almost exactly a year later I had the privilege of being selected to participate in the Nicholas Courtney tribute panel at the GallifreyOne convention in Los Angeles, California in February 2012. It was there I had the chance, before a few kind people, to share how much Nicholas Courtney and his famous character had meant to me as a child and as a young adult: that alongside my Dad and Grandfathers, I wanted to be the type of person that Nicholas Courtney had been, someone good and kind of whom other people spoke well. And I told the audience that it was my childhood dream to be not like the Doctor but to be like the Brigadier.

In the months following Nicholas Courtney’s there as for me as a Doctor Who fan a sense of deep loss but also of cautious hope. For even without Nicholas Courtney  to return onscreen as the Brigadier there was the knowledge that the series would continue and in such a vast and ever-possible vault of fiction there was still room for some future expectations. Indeed, I consoled myself with the certainty that although the actor had died the character of the Brigadier was still alive out there in the Doctor’s reality and perhaps would reunite with the Eleventh Doctor and his successors one future day in other story-telling media, such as the comics, novels or audiobooks.

But when the finale for Doctor Who’s sixth series, The Wedding of River Song, aired on 1 October 2011, I received one of the worst shocks I have ever experienced as a Doctor Who fan. Matt Smith’s Doctor learned by telephone that the Brigadier had died some months earlier. I will be very honest: although at the time I could see why the series decided to pay tribute to Courtney’s passing by having the Brigadier also pass away, I also felt it was somehow wrong or off. Perhaps it was how the Brigadier died that disturbed me: he waited every day for the Doctor’s return but the Doctor never came. Or perhaps it was the sense that there was no need to kill off the character of the Brigadier in-universe to honour the actor’s passing, such as when the series had honoured the passing of Elisabeth Sladen with a memorial title card after the airing of The Impossible Astronaut but explicitly kept Sladen’s character of Sarah alive in later-produced spin-off media. It may be enough to say that I hope not to see another Doctor Who episode with the words ‘The Wedding of’ in its title.




Now I am still a Doctor Who fan and I will be always be a fan. But I cannot deny that on some emotional level I enjoy the programme less without the Brigadier, without the chance that maybe, perhaps, possibly, somewhere, some-when, the character can and might return. Not even the main-series debut of Sir Alistair’s daughter Kate in the series seven episode The Power of Three on 22 September 2012 could shift my sense that something fundamental was missing within the contextual structure and sentiment of Doctor Who. Perhaps that sense stems from my perception that Kate Stewart oversees a very different, almost overly-scientific version of UNIT, or perhaps it is my extreme difficulty in believing that even in his final days Sir Alistair would ever declare that science leads over soldiering. Or maybe, at the end of the day, a cosmos without the Brigadier is just unthinkable.

This thought brings me to a final point of discussion regarding the Brigadier’s status in the new series. When Doctor Who’s eighth series concluded on 8 November 2014 there was already a massive stir and shift amongst fandom, thanks to the introduction of a new, female version of the Master (which definitely holds enough material for another article). During the episode Death in Heaven, the Twelfth Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi, was reunited once more Kate Stewart and UNIT. As had happened when Kate and UNIT appeared in the 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor, there was a lovely picture of Lethbridge-Stewart on display to recall the great man’s legacy. And then, without going into too much detail for those who haven’t yet seen the episode, both Kate and the Doctor’s life were in turn saved by a lone Cyberman, a Cyberman who somehow reminded Kate of her father and who reminded the Doctor of his oldest friend.

The Doctor salutes Sir Alistair, finally.

I cannot yet say exactly how I feel about this moment. On the one hand there is the distinct sense that the Brigadier is still alive and out there in the Doctor’s reality once more, which should give me nothing but joy. But I cannot forget that this version of Sir Alistair came about through a rather gruesome and horrific process of Cyber-Conversion, and that what remains is arguably not the Brigadier at all but a friendly ghost. And the thought of Sir Alistair as an eternally wandering ghost is too terrible to consider. I suppose my best takeaway thought is while I am grateful for some version of the Brigadier, I don’t really want to see CyberBrig again.

All I know for certain is that the Doctor needs Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and Doctor Who needs the Brigadier. I know I am not the only fan who holds this to be true. When the announcement came in October 2013 that nine previously-thought lost Second Doctor television episodes had been discovered in Africa, what I read in blog posts and forum exclamations to be the most tangible and ebullient rejoicing amongst fandom was that five of these recovered episodes were from The Web of Fear, the very first appearance of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. I feel that one particular YouTube comment that I read summarizes this sensational time perfectly: ‘The Brigadier. I’m going to cry.’ And I’m not ashamed to say when I saw The Web of Fear for the first time I cried, too.

So now, with the first of Lethbridge-Stewart’s episodes restored and the most recent episode of Doctor Who featuring a return-of-sorts of the Brigadier, it feels that now is a time of rising and renewed interest in the Doctor’s best military friend. And in a few short months there will be a new narration of the Brigadier’s life: On 8 December 2014, Type 40’s own Andy Frankham-Allen announced the upcoming publication of the Lethbridge-Stewart novels, which will cover the events in the Brigadier’s life after the events of The Web of Fear. The series has received full approval and licensing from the estate of Mervyn Haisman and the endorsement of Henry Lincoln, who are the co-creators of Lethbridge-Stewart. The first novel, titled The Forgotten Son, will be available out on 22 February 2015, the fourth anniversary of Nicholas Courtney’s death, and will also feature the return of the Great Intelligence, the principal villain of the classic series adventures The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, as well as the 2012/2013 series episodes The Snowmen and The Name of the Doctor. I’m looking forward to purchasing my copy of this and subsequent novels and I’m confident that through this book range new fans of Doctor Who will come to learn just how fundamentally important Lethbridge-Stewart is to the programme.

Returning to where it all began...

And this now begs the question: will the Brigadier return again? Before Death in Heaven I would have said no, at least not onscreen. But now that Steven Moffat has, to be very honest, risked the feelings of fandom by reviving and cyber-converting one of the programme’s most, if not the most, beloved iconic characters after already giving the character an on-screen farewell, then it easily stands to reason that he could and perhaps should recast the role. And who could possibly fill Nicholas Courtney’s UNIT boots? That, like all important and, I feel, necessary decisions I leave to the experts, just as long as they make sure he can hit five rounds rapid.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

TOMORROW'S WORLDS: US ROBOTS



Side step three. Peter Grehan, currently writing a Doctor Who related book for Candy Jar Books, reviews the third edition of BBC 2's Tomorrow’s Worlds – a programme about the history of sci-fi. 

I suppose it was a fortuitous coincidence for Tomorrow’s Worlds: the Unearthly History of Science Fiction that Prof Stephen Hawking stated last week that, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." It was fortuitous because the subject of Saturday’s edition of this four part series being discussed by Dominic Sandbrook was robots; or rather robots, androids, intelligent computers and cyborgs. All of these could be described as various forms of artificial beings. Given the complexity of the subject he did a pretty could job of summarising their history within science fiction given the limitations of a sixty minute TV programme. 

To do so though he had to restrict himself to probably the best known theme of robots and other artificial beings and that is their tendency to turn against us. Dominic uses as his starting point Mary Shelley's Frankenstein – or the Modern Prometheus published in 1818, but it is the Boris Karloff version of the creature that he suggests is the justification for classifying it as robotic. As he says, “His jerky, lumbering movements and the electrodes in his neck suggest something far more mechanical.” I would suggest that a biological robot is still a robot, it doesn’t need to be mechanical, especially since the origin of the word “robot” comes, as he says, from Karel Capek’s 1921 play, R.U.R. – Rossum's Universal Robots. These were manufactured biological robots created as a cheap labour force for the many factories around the world. The fact was they were slaves and manufactured not to care, at least not at first, because later their creators began to make them too clever. Dominic suggests that the play reflected the growing mistrust of automation and mechanisation in factories, but I would suggest that, so soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the play reflected more the ruling classes’ anxiety of an increasingly better educated proletariat deciding to exercise their power against them.

This is perhaps the greatest omission from the episode, the important metaphorical role that artificial beings perform in science fiction. They will often represent the hubris of the scientist, and his unwillingness to accept his responsibilities as in the case of Frankenstein, which is just as relevant to the scientists developing nuclear weapons during the Second World War or the scientists working today to exploit the environment and ignoring the damage it does to the ecology. Or they could refer to some social or political tension, as in the case of RUR perhaps something that becomes increasingly relevant once more with the increase in pro-capitalist economic liberalism being advocated in modern Western governments. They may also be used to explore the tensions of race relations in the U.S. as was the case in Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg, published in 1970, but still relevant today. In the case of Isaac Asimov’s Robots they represented science and technology as a force for good, something that would benefit mankind and progress him to a brighter, better future. 

These were the science fiction stories of the Golden Age, an age of optimism before the cynicism of the post nuclear age. Asimov’s robots and their three Laws became a template for the good robot, like Robbie from Forbidden Planet.

There is another role that the robot has, touched on by Dominic, and that is their ludic quality. It can take the familiar and add another dimension that is fresh and interesting. It is the comic relationship between Laurel and Hardy that is transferred to CP3O and R2D2 and refreshed in the Star Wars movies of George Lucas. As he says, “I think the audience were surprised by the relationship between R2-D2 and C-3PO” In a similar way the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie are given a new twist, when the murderer is an Asimov robot in Doctor Who:The Robots of Death.

But from Star Wars we are jolted back down to Earth with the Cyborg killers from Terminator, essentially killer robots that wear an exterior of human skin as a camouflage to allow them to blend into human society and seek and destroy their targets. It also brings us back to the Stephen Hawking quote about the dangers of creating machine intelligence. The stimulus for Terminator was the ‘Star Wars’ defence program, more correctly referred to as Strategic Defense Initiative and inspiration for Skynet, the A.I. computer designed to control the USA’s nuclear arsenal in the film that breaks free from its programming and merges with its Soviet counterpart. Having done so Skynet decides that human beings are just too dangerous to be allowed to exist any longer and it uses the weapons it has been placed in charge of to do so. The moral of the story is clear, design something to kill people and then make it intelligent, it will probably do what it was designed to do. Foolish, foolish humans.

Another thing robots do is reflect us so that we can ask, what makes us human? If they look like us and talk like us and think like us, in the way that the Cylons do in Battlestar Galactica and Replicants do in Blade Runner at what point can we say they are not human? And what if we take a human body and increasingly replace parts of it with synthetic equivalents, at what point does it cease to be human? In the most extreme case, the Cybermen, it seems the point has been well passed, but it is their missing emotions that are the important component, rather than their missing organs and limbs. 

It is the mental, not the physical that really matters as both Robocop and Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange illustrate. It is drugs and brainwashing that removes the humanity from the physically intact, if sociopathic, Alex and maybe that’s what we should be more wary off than thinking technology? 

Monday, 8 December 2014

LETHBRIDGE-STEWART RETURNS IN NEW SERIES!

LETHBRIDGE-STEWART RETURNS

Every legend has a beginning, and for Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart it was in the London Underground. 



Candy Jar Books is very proud to present Lethbridge-Stewart, a new series of novels revealing the untold story of Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart set shortly after the 1968 serial, The Web of Fear, fully licensed by the Executor of the Haisman Literary Estate, Mervyn Haisman’s granddaughter Hannah Haisman, and endorsed by Henry Lincoln.

The first series consists of:
  • The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen 
  • Horror of Det-Sen by Lance Parkin 
  • The Schizoid Earth by David A McIntee
  • Mutually Assured Domination by Nick Walters.

Brigadier Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart has been an essential element of Doctor Who since 1968. He was created by authors Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln for the six-part Doctor Who serial, The Web of Fear. A one-off character. Until over a year later when he was brought back to Doctor Who, promoted to Brigadier and the head of UNIT. Forty-six years on and the Brigadier has become one of the most iconic characters in Doctor Who, having appeared with ten different Doctors in countless TV episodes, books, audio dramas and comic strips! The character’s death was acknowledged in the 2012 Doctor Who series starring Matt Smith, and was resurrected briefly in the 2014 series finale starring Peter Capaldi. On TV the character’s story is over, but there is so much more to tell.

Andy Frankham-Allen has been a Doctor Who fan since his childhood and serves as line editor for the series, as well as penning the opening novel. Andy is the former line editor of Untreed Reads Publishing’s series Space: 1889 & Beyond, and has penned several Doctor Who Short Trip stories for Big Finish and Candy Jar’s very own celebration of Doctor Who, Companions: Fifty Years of Doctor Who Assistants. He said: “It's an insane privilege and responsibility to put this series together, to reveal the real story behind such a legend of Doctor Who.”

Lance Parkin has written over twenty books and audio dramas for Doctor Who since 1996, including the 35th Anniversary novel, The Infinity Doctors, and the 2008 Tenth Doctor novel, The Eyeless. He also worked on British soap Emmerdale and wrote Magic Words, the definitive biography of Alan Moore. Lance said: “Lethbridge-Stewart was always a steady presence in the Doctor's life. Even in The Web of Fear, he instinctively trusted the Doctor from almost the moment he met him. I wrote for the character in The Dying Days, and that was the version of the Brigadier we all think of now, I think, an old soldier, semi-retired, seen it all. It's been interesting writing for a younger, hungrier Lethbridge-Stewart – not even a Brigadier at this point in his life. It's also been nice writing a story that's set in the aftermath of The Web of Fear, with Lethbridge-Stewart only just starting to realise that the Earth's facing a whole new type of enemy."

David A McIntee has written novels for Star Trek, Final Destination and Space: 1999 and over fifteen books and audio dramas for Doctor Who since 1993, including the Brigadier-centric novel, The Face of the Enemy. David said: “To be honest it (the series) is something I'm amazed hasn't been done before – it’s just such a natural and obvious thing. The form it's taking is also cool because it has the flexibility to move between styles and genres – thriller, SF, horror, etc – while maintaining a definite identity. As for the Brig himself, he's one of those characters where the casting was so perfect that it just made the character so memorable, and who (usually) feels so right.”

Nick Walters has written five novels for Doctor Who since 1998. Nick said: “After the Doctor himself the Brigadier is the best-loved character in Doctor Who. I met Nick Courtney a number of times and he really is a splendid fellow. He brought a real humanity and vulnerability to the role without compromising the essential toughness of the character. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is the chap you'd want on your side in a fight – any fight – and it is a real privilege to be exploring what made him into the character we came to know and love.”

Simon Williams, the man behind the cover art, is a former artist for Marvel UK having drawn for The Transformers, The Hulk, Spider-Man and Death’s Head. Simon said: “I’ve always been a big fan of Doctor Who and the Brigadier and having the opportunity to draw this iconic character is a huge privilege.”

Hannah Haisman said: “This project has been a long-time coming. I had to be certain that I was entrusting my grandfather’s legacy to a publisher and authors who would respect what he created. Candy Jar and Andy have assembled a team that are sympathetic to the Brigadier, and these are very exciting times that we can all be proud of.”

Lethbridge-Stewart will be launched on 22nd February 2015, the fourth anniversary of Nicholas Courtney’s death, the actor behind the Brigadier. The first series of novels will be released one book per quarter throughout 2015.

The Forgotten Son is available for pre-order from the Candy Jar Book store, where you can pre-order all four titles in the Four-Book-Bundle for a special discounted price. By pre-ordering directly from Candy Jar you ensure you'll get your copy of each title a couple of weeks before official publication.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

TOMORROW'S WORLDS: WAR OF THE WORLDS


Another side step. Mark Brake, the author of Mark Brake’s Space, Time, Machine, Monster (featuring sections on Doctor Who) reviews the second edition of BBC 2's Tomorrow’s Worlds – a programme about the history of sci-fi. 



The greatest alien invasion in history began on bicycle.

HG Wells planned The War of the Worlds as he,“wheeled about the district marking down suitable places and people for destruction by my Martians”, as early as 1896.  It’s intriguing to picture him mapping mayhem as he declared his intentions to,“completely destroy Woking – killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways – then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of particular atrocity”,(indeed, it’s South Kensington that is haunted by the sound of the Martians howling,“Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla”in Wells’ finished story).

It’s the exquisite violence of Wells’ imagination that marks his genius. And it’s this delicious balance between the suburban and the alien that is the focus of the second episode of Dominic Sandbrook’s Tomorrow’s Worlds: the Unearthly History of Science Fiction.Sandy, as viewers have come to affectionately know him, almost adopts a space/time/machine/monster structure to this series, but instead of ‘monster’, and as an historian whose expertise includes the Cold War (he’s written a biography on McCarthy), he’s sticking to what he knows most about - invasion paranoia!

Sandy opens this second programme with War of the Worlds, the key Victorian sci-fi work he conveniently skipped in episode one, as it would have ruined his thesis.  He correctly identifies War of the Worlds as the most enduring alien invasion myth of the 20th century.  Wells’ story was essentially copied many times, and adapted directly by Orson Welles in his famous radio broadcast in 1938, when broadcast radio was only 20 years old, making the programme exceptionally innovative, daring, and all the more scary to listeners (Sandy omitted to mention that Welles’ radio version was a Halloween broadcast, making it even scarier).

Another reworking of the War of the Worlds myth was the 1996 movie, Independence Day.  As Sandy says, compared to the original, Independence Dayis totally overblown.  Quiet suburban streets are replaced by a ‘drama’ played out in the seats of power, with the world’s landmarks taking a twatting (the film’s director, Roland Emmerich says they took great delight in blowing up the White House).  But Sandy is right when he suggests that this big budget demolition lacks a psychological punch.  When you remove the invasion from suburbia, you lose the sublime tension.  It seems that Spielberg was well aware of this, as both Close Encounters and E.T. do the job brilliantly.

And this brings me round to the topic of Doctor Who.  A few years ago, I was speaking at aLondon Science Museum event with the Doctor Who writer (among other things!), Paul Cornell.  When the audience asked us about the contribution Doctor Whomade to science fiction, I was surprised to hear Paul say that he didn’t think Doctor Whowas science fiction.  He thought it was about ‘galaxy and chips’.  I was delighted with this response.  So much so that we’ve used it in our Science of Doctor Who show ever since!

When Peter Capaldi was asked by The Guardian newspaper why Doctor Who had kept its sense of wonder for so long, the Twelfth Doctor gave a similar response to Paul Cornell, “It is this relationship between the domestic and the epic.  The sense that there's a bridge, that a hand can be extended, and you can step from the Earth, from the supermarket car park, into the Andromeda nebulae or whatever”.  It’s that sublime tension again.


The book, Mark Brake's Space, Time, Machine, Monster, also examines how sci-fi helped build the world in which we live. It is is available to buy now from Amazon and the Candy Jar store.


Monday, 1 December 2014

RARE VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS COURTNEY

A rare treat for fans of the Brigadier... An uncut interview with Nicholas Courtney from 1996, filmed shortly after the Doctor Who TV Movie was transmitted, and conducted by Shaun Russell, editor-in-chief of Candy Jar Books.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

NEW CHRISTMAS SPECIAL TITLE REVEALED

The title for this year's Christmas special episode has now been revealed: Last Christmas.

Alongside this, a brand new promotional image has been released, showing Capaldi and Coleman with Nick Frost, who will be playing the man in red himself.


WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... THE BRIGADIER, part two

Chris McKeon returns for the second part of our look at the Brigadier's presence in Nu Who, detailing the events that led to his triumphant return in 2008!

As 2007 began fans knew a few things about the upcoming series three: there would be Daleks, there would be Martha, there would be Jack, and there would be Saxon. But there was still no sign of the returning Brigadier to claim his presence on our screens. But then with a printed battle cry Lethbridge-Stewart made a triumphant return in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine issues 378-380, The Warkeeper’s Crown. This three-part comic reunited the ‘seventy-odd’ Lethbridge-Stewart, clad once more in his military uniform, with the Tenth Doctor (incidentally donning his blue costume for the first time in public) in a wild-paced romp against orcs, dragons, demons, and harpies.

Two old friends reunite - but not on TV!

This comic, for me, and I am convinced for others, was a heaven-sent joy. At last we saw the Brigadier in action with the Doctor of the new series. It was an equal excitement to what I had experienced when Nicholas Courtney had teamed with Paul McGann’s Doctor in the Big Finish audio Minuet in Hell some six years previously, except this time the action was visible, albeit unmoving on the printed page. The story itself was fun and engaging and even managed to touch on the Brigadier’s consideration that his oldest, most peace-keeping friend was now a veteran of war.

Other fans at the time had a two-fold reaction to the Brigadier’s return: excitement and, like me, another equally potent emotion; anticipation. Could the comic return of Lethbridge-Stewart be a harbinger for his television revival, perhaps even as early as series three? Sadly, although the 2007 series was a wonderful collection of stories (perhaps my favourite group since the program returned to television), which featured not only the known quantities of Martha, Jack and the Daleks, but also the welcome return of the Macra and the Master, UNIT was only used as a plot-device in the series finale, and there was not even a single mention of the Brigadier.

The summer of 2007 passed kindly but a little heavily for me as a Doctor Who fan. I think this may have been the nadir of my Brigadier hopes, in part ironically because of his return in the comics; for if Lethbridge-Stewart had returned already off-screen in a media that required only an artist’s hand and a writer’s words then perhaps was there less incentive to recall the then 77-year-old actor to reprise his television role? And then, on 24 September, 2007, something small but significant happened in the then newly-produced Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.

It was the closing minutes of Revenge of the Slitheen. Sarah Jane Smith, along with her teenage friends from Bannerman Road, had just defeated the Slitheen, and she had received some help from friends in UNIT and was giving them a thank-you call. It was then that she said the words which shook fandom from its summer slumber: ‘Give my love to the Brig.’ Now there was no onscreen appearance of the Brigadier, no voice-over from Nicholas Courtney, but there was his presence, his location, his affirmation: the Brigadier was alive, was active, and was…somewhere close. This affectionate nod recalled several wonderful Brigadier-related moments from that series’ debut episode Invasion of the Bane on 1 January, 2007, including a UNIT-era photo of the Brigadier (alongside an image of the old-fashioned stalwart Harry Sullivan) pinned on the wall in Sarah’s secret attic headquarters, and a moment when Sarah considered naming her newly-adopted son Alistair. I was personally crushed she chose Luke instead and I am confident that I was far from alone in that sentiment.

Colonel Mace and the Doctor miss the Brigadier.

Once more the forums began to buzz with excitement over the potential return of the Brigadier: his character had been mentioned on-screen in the new series era for the first time, so was there any chance this was a sign of his impending return? When it emerged that UNIT, fighting against the Sontarans, would be making a full return to television during series four of Doctor Who in 2008, the pitch of many fans’ excitement exponentially increased. On 3 May, 2008, during the frenzied events of The Poison Sky, the second part of UNIT’s two-part return, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor muttered a rather marvellous line: ‘At times like this I could do with the Brigadier.’ And then UNIT’s then-commander Colonel Mace eulogized the Brigadier, or rather ‘Sir Alistair’ and revealed a gold mine of information: ‘Unfortunately he’s stranded in Peru.’

I honestly feel this was the watershed moment for Doctor Who fans hoping for the Brigadier’s return. Close on the heels of Sarah’s affectionate shout-out to her old friend, there in the parent series was a direct reference not only to the Brigadier’s past but to his then-current whereabouts! Although the rest of the 2008 series came and went without a further mention of the Brigadier, fans at the time were brimming with hope that all these little mentions and nods to Lethbridge-Stewart were signs of his coming home to television. A Radio Times interview with Nicholas Courtney published on 1 April 2008 gave no hints for the Brigadier’s future in Doctor Who, but it gave a clear window into the then 78-year-old actor’s thoughts on the prospect: ‘If the script were right, I’d love to do one story. It’d be great fun. And they’ve brought back Sarah – of course, Lis Sladen is still very pretty. And the Master.’

And so fandom hoped for a wonderful uncertainty, but not for long. In late June, 2008, set reports and photos from the filming of The Sarah Jane Adventures’ series two finale episodes declared a certainty: Sir Alistair had returned. At long last Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier was recalled to active service to assist Sarah Jane Smith and her friends against a sinister Sontaran/Bane alliance in the two-part adventure Enemy of the Bane. These episodes, filmed in June and July of 2008 and broadcast on 1 and 8 December of that year (just days before Courtney’s 79th birthday) were a joy to behold. Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (a Knighthood he received in the 1997 novel The Dying Days) was on our screens once more. He was older, he was slower, he walked with a cane and left most of the action to Sarah and her teenager friends, but he was still the Brigadier through and through and he could fire a great shot!

Brigadier Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart returns - at last!

It was a dream made true: the Brig was back even if the Doctor could not be there, too. But now fans had hope for their long-awaited onscreen reunion. Fans had onscreen evidence, a precedent, a certainty that the Brigadier had returned and could return again, and this time with the Doctor. As 2008 drew to a close some small rumours began circulating that Sir Alistair would indeed return to The Sarah Jane Adventures series three. Around Christmas time there were further rumours that the old soldier would feature in a story centred on Sarah’s disastrous wedding and that the Doctor would be an unexpected guest.

As 2009 dawned there was a very special sense of hope and gladness in fandom both old and new, a sense that good things had come and better things were yet to come. And the best thing of all was that Sir Alistair had returned and he would return again.


And then, he didn’t. And for reasons far worse than I ever expected.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

TOMORROW'S WORLDS : MISSING A PAST

We take a side step today. Mark Brake, the author of Mark Brake’s Space, Time, Machine, Monster (featuring sections on Doctor Who) reviews last night’s Tomorrow’s Worlds – a programme about the history of sci-fi. Next week is a Doctor Who heavy episode. Don’t miss it!




On TV, no one can hear you scream.

Or at least that’s what it seemed like last night, as I screamed enthusiastically at historian Dominic Sandbrook’s presentation of Tomorrow’s Worlds: the Unearthly History of Science Fiction, on BBC Two.

Dominic did a reasonable job of guiding us through the science fiction of space, the first theme of this four-part series. But as his focus was film, I felt his theories were left a little lacking in leaving out a lot of the fiction that had inspired the movies.

Witness Dominic’s account of the roots of sci-fi. The origin of it all, he says, comes from tales of trips to the Moon, from the likes of Jules Verne. You can see why Dominic took this tack.  Verne’s book was very influential on one of sci-fi’s first ever films – Le Voyage dans la Lune, a 1902 French silent movie, directed by Georges Méliès.

And yet the first Moon stories of sci-fi were published in the 1630s, over two centuries before Jules Verne, and way before the days of cinema.  Both Somnium, by Johannes Kepler, and A Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin (the Bishop of Llandaff in Cardiff!) were lunar journeys that involved meetings with alien life. Dominic says the cool thing about Jules Verne is that he got the maths right.  Well, Johannes Kepler was Imperial Mathematician to the Pope! Kepler really got his maths right. He was the man who gave us the laws of how the planets move in orbit about the Sun!

Perhaps the programme’s biggest problem was ignoring the influence of that Shakespeare of sci-fi, HG Wells.

Dominic suggested that Star Trek was Victorian in its attitude to other peoples and nations. But, that most influential of the Victorian writers, Wells had warned against such an attitude with The War of the Worlds, a cautionary tale about empires swanning around as if they owned the place.

The programme also suggested that Victorian sci-fi had put man at the centre of the Universe. And yet, the era’s most influential work, The War of the Worlds did exactly the opposite; humans are faced with the technologically superior and invading Martians (I suspect Dominic is conveniently keeping this Wells tale for the next episode on ‘Invasion’).

Next up, Dominic introduces the movie masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its author, Arthur C Clarke, was determined to move humans from their assumed centre of the cosmos, according to Dominic. And yet Clarke’s entire approach was greatly influenced by Wells who had quoted Kepler when he said of alien life, “But who shall dwell in these worlds if they be inhabited? … Are we, or they, Lords of the World? … And how are all things made for man?” In other words, who’s boss of the Universe?! Clarke was following a line started by Kepler, and carried on by Wells.

Still, even though the programme missed out on this longer fictional view for the sake of film, it was nonetheless thought provoking.

The link between the sea and space was conjured up in the programme’s account of the James Cameron movie, Avatar. The film’s main planet, Pandora, presented an ecology very reminiscent of deep sea ecology on Earth. This is no doubt influenced by Cameron’s journey to the Mariana Trench; he’s the first person ever do a solo descent to this deepest part of the ocean.

Science fiction began in the days of Shakespeare. It was Kepler who had first encouraged the building of ships fit for space.  In the last few minutes of the programme, Dominic claimed the desire for space has fizzled out.  No doubt the script was written and filmed before the ESA Rosetta mission successfully plonked a lander on a comet speeding at 40,000mph, much to the adoring delight of the world on social media!

I look forward to the next three episodes; on invasion, robots, and time travel respectively.  Hopefully, people will come out of Tomorrow’s Worlds wanting to know and read more.


The book, Mark Brake's Space, Time, Machine, Monster, also examines how sci-fi helped build the world in which we live. It is is available to buy now from Amazon and the Candy Jar store.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... THE BRIGADIER, part one

Our Brigadier theme continues with a new three-part article looking at the Brigadier's presence, or lack thereof, in the series since it returned in 2005, with guest contributor, Chris McKeon...

I am a Doctor Who fan. Although this is always special to say in late 2014 it is nothing unique to state – since the program’s return to television in early 2005 (or really mid-2004 if you were lucky enough to see Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper filming in person) practically everyone in the world is either a fan of the show or will be tomorrow. It’s just that popular to be a Who fan in modern life.

I can remember very clearly when it wasn’t. I may be one of many today, but not too long ago I was the only person in my school, my city, maybe even (as I probably flattered myself), my entire country, who proudly claimed to be a Doctor Who fan. Although these days I don’t attract so much constant attention to myself about my personal program preferences, I still think I am one of the few American twenty-somethings who was an active and unashamed Who fan during the series’ barren Wilderness Years, or as real-life calls it, the 1990s.

Bret Vyon, descendent of the Brigadier?

So if there is anything I can claim rightfully, it is I am a lifelong Doctor Who fan. I am also a never-say-die supporter of the series’ arguably (but in my opinion there is no such argument) greatest supporting character: Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

Anyone who reads this article probably already knows who the Brigadier is and that he was portrayed on-screen and in audio adventures by the late and sorrowfully missed Nicholas Courtney. Therefore I need not rehearse in detail Courtney’s roughly forty-six year association with the program, during forty-three of which years he played Lethbridge-Stewart (if someone reading this wonders what Mr Courtney was doing with Doctor Who before there was a Brigadier and UNIT, I recommend a fun internet search with the words ‘Bret Vyon’). 

I will take a moment, but only a moment, to describe how much I love the character. Never mind that my formative years watching the program were the repeat airings of Jon Pertwee’s UNIT Years, where the Brigadier and other stalwart UNIT friends helped the Doctor and companions defeat monsters, madmen and the Master; never mind that while watching every story between Planet of Evil and Snakedance not an episode passed that I didn’t wonder (as Tom Baker’s Doctor forcefully demanded in The Seeds of Doom) ‘Where’s the Brigadier?’. Never mind that when Lethbridge-Stewart finally returned in Mawdryn Undead my heart swelled with joy; and certainly never mind that when the adventure Battlefield reached my screens something special happened that made my less than ten-year-old self leap across the room. If I may, I will recreate the moment here in prose (please keep in mind I somehow missed the opening scene at first viewing).

“This is a nice story. Future knights and that lady from Willow and Ace and Merlin is the Doctor. And there’s now a grey-haired man with a moustache in a military uniform. Wait, that grey-haired moustache man looks like – IT’S THE BRIGADIER!”

Never mind all of that (although I will always remember it). I love the Brigadier’s character so much because he reminds me of my Dad and my Grandpa, men I hope to emulate in my life. My Dad I still have. My Grandpa I don’t, not since March of 2002. That was a sad day that I had to accept emotionally, and which I have, but as long as Nicholas Courtney (whom as I grew up I became happily aware was a kind and good man deservedly beloved by countless people) and his Lethbridge-Stewart character were both still alive I felt, in some small way, that I still had a part of Grandpa (who amongst many things was a World War II naval veteran) still alive with me.

Memories of good people sweeten my life; in fact, I think those flavoured memories are what keep me alive and happy. So let’s take a trip down a recent alley of Memory Lane, through a brief corridor I saw as leading to something special, which really led to something more bitter than sweet, but which I now feel may one day have a sweeter, if uncertain future.

Wind back the clock just over eleven years to 25th September, 2003. On this date the world heard the official announcement of Doctor Who’s approaching return to television. Now for me this date of destiny was deferred to 8th June, 2004, when I learned about the good Doctor’s return in a postcard from a friend (I was serving as a church missionary during 2003 in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas and so was mostly removed from all matters science fiction). But from that day onwards I was more than excited, I felt liberated, almost vindicated: all those teenage years of waiting and hoping and defending the good Doctor with the honest, heartfelt anticipation that one day I would hear of his imminent – and I considered inevitable – return had finally proven the adage of waiting for good things.

The Brigadier and the woman from WILLOW

First and foremost on my mind were all the old friends and foes that would return to reunite with the Doctor. I was honestly never worried about the chances of creatures like the Daleks, Cybermen or the Master – I was nearly certain those most frequent of villainous favourites would drive children behind their sofas once more. In fact, although I wanted all of the great monsters and allies to strike the screen again (and some of those greats have only recently arrived to terrorise; is there no love for Ice Warriors and Zygons?) these are the few characters that I felt were either secure in their returns, simply because to me without their presence Doctor Who almost cannot be Doctor Who:
  • The Daleks
  • The Cybermen
  • The Master
  • Davros
  • The Time Lords
  • The Brigadier

Almost from the beginning the Daleks proved their essentiality to the series’ renaissance in the spring on 2005. On 5th March, 2005 I was happily surprised to see the Autons return even before the horrible pepperpots, but seeing the Nestene soldiers awaken in a manner shatteringly similar to their first appearance in Spearhead in Space made me long for the stalwart presence of the Brigadier even more. UNIT’s brief cameo in the Aliens of London/World War Three two-parter did nothing to make me forget that Nicholas Courtney’s signature role was absent from the main proceedings of the 2005 series. And this absence worried me, for although Lethbridge-Stewart was undoubtedly on my list of ‘must-returns’ to Doctor Who, I could not then nor can I now deny that his space on that most wanted list came with not only the most heart-warmth but also the least guarantee.

As Doctor Who series one aired on television I enjoyed the Doctor, the companion, the new TARDIS interior, and the new monsters. But my familiar face-longing thoughts kept returning to what Craig Hinton told me at the January 2005 Gallifrey One Los Angeles convention, when I asked him if he thought the producers would ask the then 75-year-old Nicholas Courtney for one more go. I will never forget the sad look in Craig’s eyes as he sighed and said: ‘Well, he’s not getting any younger’. I wanted to hope that what Craig really meant was that the almost-elderly Courtney and his enduring Lethbridge-Stewart were far too valuable to the program to delay their reappearance. But when series one ended with no Brigadier in sight or mention, and a departing Doctor who never (and still has not) met his best military friend, I began to find it hard to ignore that Craig had really meant something else.

Still, Doctor Who was on television again and with a cliffhanger ending that meant there would be more stories to tell. With the casting announcement of the then relatively unknown but highly promising David Tennant in the role of the Tenth Doctor, the future of the series seemed bright with expanding horizons. By the time series two debuted on 15th April, 2006 fandom was aware of not only the returning Cybermen (another checked for my ‘must-returns’) but also the welcoming home of former 1970s companions Sarah Jane Smith and K9. And their return was a spiking moment of rising hope for me: for not only were two long-departed companions crossing paths with the Doctor again but they were returning after decades of absence and the series was not afraid to show it: Sarah was middle-aged; K9 was rusted and broken down. And as I enjoyed a healthy dose of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker nostalgia, I felt a swell of hope that if one UNIT-era companion could return then so could another, even a then 76-year-old man called out of retirement. Surely Lethbridge-Stewart could return.


And then, he did. Just not quite in the way I expected.

Part two... soon!