Saturday, 24 December 2011

Advent Fact

Christmas Eve is celebrated in a variety of different ways around the world, depending upon which country you are in…

In Ethiopia Christmas Eve is called Ganna and is actually celebrated on January 6th when a procession of Christian priests carrying colourfully decorated umbrellas parade through the town streets. The parade ends at the local churches where mass is held.

The Philippines has the distinction of being the country with the world’s longest Christmas celebrations, which often begin as early as September 1st. The nine-day masses begin on December 16th in their traditional Spanish, ending on Christmas Eve, which is traditionally declared a non-working day along with December 28th (Niños Inocentes), December 30th (known as Rizal Day after the execution of Jose Rizal in 1896), December 31st (New Years Day) and Epiphany (the first Sunday of January).

For those in the Czech Republic and Slovakia Christmas Eve is known as Generous Day, or Štědrý den in their own langauge, and is the day when gifts are given in the evening, said to have been delivered to the houses by Ježíšek (Baby Jesus). December 24th is traditionally a time of fasting for both the adults and the children, with feasting reserved for 25th and 26th of December.

The tradition of gift giving on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day in Germany first began in the 16th Century, during the reformation, when Martin Luther suggested that the emphasis of Christmas should be on Christ’s birth. The gifts are delivered by Weihnachtsmann (the Christmas Man) and Christmas trees are put up and decorated first thing in the morning.

However, in my house, Christmas Eve is traditionally celebrated by opening big tins of Quality Streets and Celebrations, and sitting down to watch Santa Claus: The Movie and Morecambe & Wise specials with a mince pie and a glass of something festive!

"Merry Christmas"

Friday, 23 December 2011

Advent Fact

Over the years the use of the word 'Xmas' has often caused anger and annoyance amongst people, many considering it a lazy or disrespectful term, a secular attempt to remove the religious element from the Christmas tradition. But the word is, in fact, hundreds of years old, with the 'X' deriving from Χριστος, the Greek word for Christ, often abbreviated as XP or Xt.

Variations on the name 'Christ' have been noted as far back as 1021AD, while derivations of the word 'Xmas', can be traced back to at least 1485.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Advent Fact

The term Mistletoe is believed to derive from the old Anglo-Saxon words Mistal and Tan, which roughly translates as 'dung twig'; it's scientific name, however, 'Phoradendron' means 'Thief of the Tree'.

Although not strictly classified as a parasitical plant it does actually come very close to being one. Its seeds are very sticky and attach themselves to the fur and beaks of animals in order to travel great distances. Once they have fallen near a host tree, they sink their roots into the ground and steal all of the nutrients for itself.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Advent Fact

There are many variations on the Father Christmas figure that appear around the world, here are just a few:

In France there is Pere Noel who, along with Pere Fouchette (a sort of Anti-Santa), visits all the homes leaving presents for the children who have been good, and switches (a flexible wooden rod used in corporal punishment) for the parents of the children who have been bad.

In China there is Dun Che Lao Ren, or Old Man Christmas, who brings presents to all the people in celebration of Sheng Dan Jieh (roughly translated - Holy Birth).

In Italy Le Befana a friendly witch who visits children's homes on January 5th, climbing down the chimney holding either a bell or a cane. For the waiting children the bell indicates that they have been good and will receive presents, the cane, however, means the child has been bad and will receive only a lump of coal.

In Russia Ded Moraz (Grandfather Frost or Father Frost) delivers presents to the children on New Year's Eve. In appearance Ded Moraz looks strikingly similar to Father Christmas but does not live at the North Pole, instead he resides at Veliky Ustyug a town in the northeast of Vologda, Russia, where the Sukhona and Yug Rivers meet.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Advent Facts

In the 19th Century it was considered unlucky to cut a Christmas cake before dawn on 24th December (back then it was traditionally only eaten on Christmas Eve).

It was, however, consider unlucky to cut a mince pie with a knife, regardless of the day. The origins of the mince pie can be traced back to the 13th century when returning crusaders brought back recipes containing fruit and spices back from the Middle East.

Over the years the mince pie has been known under many names, such as Shrid Pie, Christmas Pie and bizarrely even Mutton Pie.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Advent Fact

Popularly known as Santa's Ninth Reindeer, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was originally created in 1939 by a copy-writer named Robert L. May in a poem for his employer, retailer Montgomery Ward, as part of their Christmas promotional drive.

The poem, entitled simply Ruldolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was written to the meter of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas' (see December 8th entry) was published in its own booklet and given away in store (up until that point the retailer bought colouring books to give away at Christmas, but decided to save money by creating their own giveaway book). For that first year of publication over 2.4 million copies of the booklet were given away to customers.

Ten years later Johnny Marks - the brother-in-law of Rudolph creator Robert L. May - adapted the poem as a hit song, which remains as popular today.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Advent Fact

The Christmas tree that stands in Trafalgar Square every Christmas is actually a gift from Norway given annually since 1947, as a token of appreciation for the friendship and support the British gave to the Norwegian people during the hostilities of World War II (also throughout the war the country's government, along with Prince Olav, lived in exile in London).

In late Autumn the Lord Major of Westminster traditionally visits Oslo and helps in the felling of the tree, after which the Major of Oslo travels to London to perform the lighting of the tree at the Christmas ceremony.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Advent Fact

The modern day figure of Father Christmas is based on Fourth Century Greek bishop Saint Nicholas (also known as Nikolaos of Myra), the only son of wealthy Christian parents, who became one of the youngest bishops at the age of 17.

There are many stories and legends surrounding the life of Nicholas, one being that he would often be seen dressed in his red and white bishop's robes, riding on a donkey and handing out gifts to children and the needy.

December 6th is St Nicholas Day, a festival for children in many countries in Europe (19th December in most Orthodox countries). The night before the festival, children leave their shoes by the fireplace or outside the bedroom door in the hope of a visit from the great saint, and that they will find them filled with presents the next morning.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Advent Fact

The Christmas cracker was invented in 1847 by Thomas J. Smith, a sweet maker who was attempting to boost the poor sales of his 'bon bon' sweets.

After the idea of putting mottos in the wrappers of his sweets failed to catch on, Smith devised the cracker which would contain a motto, a paper hat and one of his own sweets. The sweet maker got the idea for the 'crack' that the cracker would make when pulled from the crackle of his own log fire. The sweet was, of course, very soon replaced by a small gift.

Monday, 12 December 2011

'Thirteen' Horror Anthology

In a rare lull between various writing projects, the stories for the new audio horror anthology Thirteen have now been completed and delivered into the hands of producer / director Neil Gardner.

The anthology, which was first announced earlier this year, will hark back to those wonderful old horror LPs of the 1970s and 80s, and feature audio readings of brand new stories from some of the most respected names writing in the horror genre, including Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman and Kaaron Warren.

The full TOC for the anthology is:

Edited by Scott Harrison

Side A:
01 – Dead Space by George Mann
02 – A Girl, Sitting by Mark Morris
03 – Finding The Path by Kaaron Warren
04 – The Hairstyle Of The Devil by Martin Day
05 – Down by Gary McMahon
06 – Tabula Rasa by Alasdair Stuart

Side B:
07 – Half Life by Dan Abnett
08 – With Her In Spirit by Stephen Gallagher
09 – Visions by Cavan Scott
10 – One Hit Wanda by Kim Newman
11 – A Glass Of Water by Mark Wright
12 – Ghost Pit by Simon Clark
13 – I Wish by Johnny Mains
(14) – Hidden Track by Scott Harrison

Recording should begin on the anthology early in the New Year, and will be available as an MP3 download first, with a physical CD pencilled in for release later.

Further information, including confirmation of who will be reading the stories, will be added on this blog as soon as the information becomes available.

Advent Facts

December 26th is actually called St Stephen’s Day, and has only recently become referred to as Boxing Day in the past few hundred years. Although it remains unclear as to how it acquired this name, one theory has it that it is due to tradesmen in the UK collecting their ‘Christmas boxes’ (money or presents) from their customers on the first day after Christmas, while another theory believes it may have come from the lords and ladies of England who would traditionally give gifts wrapped up in boxes to their servants on December 26th.

In 1647 the English Parliament, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, made the celebrating of Christmas illegal by law. This has never actually been repealed so technically it is still illegal to eat mince pies and Christmas pud!

Early depictions of Father Christmas’ often portrayed him in a variety of different coloured costumes, depending on which country you were in. From the 1920s onwards it was agreed that the colour of his costume should be red. Contrary to popular misconception, this had absolutely nothing to do with Coca Cola Company.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Advent Fact & Story

The Twelve Days of Christmas refers to the period known as Christmastide (also known as Twelvetide) beginning on Christmas Day and concluding with Epiphany on January 5th, a point that commemorates, in the Western Christian calendar, the visitation of the Magi to the baby Jesus, or the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River in the Eastern Christian calendar – although both ‘acts’ are seen as Christ’s manifestation as the Son of God to the world.

Nowadays, the Twelfth Day of Christmas is viewed as the official end of the Christmas festivities and the day on which both Christmas decorations and tree are taken down.

From January I intend to post regular pieces of flash fiction (1000 words or less) on a sister blog site every week. So, as a prelude to this…

In December of last year my festive flash fiction story The Wintermachine was published in Dark Fiction’s wonderful Christmas anthology 'Twelve Days', a collection based around the Twelve Days of Christmas. It was released as an eBook and as an Audiobook, and both can still be downloaded from Dark Fiction’s website HERE.

For my story (a Steampunk / Supernatural tale set in an alternate blitz-torn London around Christmas of 1940) I chose the Ninth Day of Christmas – Nine Ladies Dancing, and gave it a little twist.

OK, so I know that the Ninth Day of Christmas is actually January 2nd, but as this Advent blog only goes up to Christmas Eve, I thought I’d post this on December 9th instead. For those that missed it, here’s the audio reading of my story, it’s only 8mins 30secs long.

The Wintermachine
(Read by Kim Laikin-Smith)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Advent Fact

Clement Clark Moore’s 1823 children’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (better known under the titles Twas The Night Before Christmas and The Night Before Christmas) is largely responsible for the creation of the modern iconic image of Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) that we recognise today, not just in the US but across the entire world.

Moore’s poem not only was the first to explain the job of Father Christmas (entering family homes via the chimney on Christmas Eve, in order to deliver presents) but went on to describe in detail his physical appearance, the now traditional costume, his reindeers and their names, and the fact that he rides a magical sleigh that flies through the night air.

However, controversy rages to this day over the authorship of the poem (which was originally published anonymously in the New York Sentinal) with many scholars believing it to be the work of Major Henry Livingston Jr., a distant relation of Moore’s wife, rather than Moore himself.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Advent Fact

The word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin ‘Adventus’ meaning ‘Coming’ or ‘Arrival’, and was established in the Sixth Century by Pope Gregory.

For the Orthodox Church, Advent (also known as ‘Winter Lent’, ‘Nativity Fast’ or ‘St. Phillip’s Fast’) begins 40 days before Christmas, during which time such things as alcohol, fish, meat and dairy products are slowly cut out of their daily intake, along with popular entertainment such as television. Orthodox Christians believe that Advent is a time for peace and quiet reflection, leading up to the celebrations of Christmas.

Before the establishment of the Christian Advent, Romans commonly used the term ‘Adventus’ to refer to the celebrated coming of the Roman Emperor.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Advent Fact

The first commercial Christmas card was originally conceived in Italy in 1843 by John Calcott Horsley at the behest of English civil servant and inventor Sir Henry Cole, who wished to raise awareness of the terrible and desolate living conditions of the poor, and encourage people to help those less fortunate than themselves.

The first cards depicted a happy family drinking wine with the now familiar phrase "A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year To You" (see below). Although they initially proved controversial they were, however, an immediate success, selling a total of 2,050 cards at a shilling each.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Advent Facts

The Royal Christmas Day Speech began 79 years ago with King George V who addressed the nation via radio. It was Queen Elizabeth II, back in 1957, whose Christmas message was the first to be televised.

The word ‘Christmas’ derives from the old English ‘Cristes Maesse’ meaning ‘Mass of Christ’.

The tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the Winter season actually began before the dates given by the Christian calendar for the birth of Christ.

If you were to receive all the gifts listed in the lyrics of the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ you would be the recipient of a whopping 364 presents.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent Fact

Between the years of 1840 and 1945, the glassmaking German town of Lauscha (a word which translates as ‘eaves-dropper’) in the mountains of Nuremberg, supplied the entire globe with glass tree baubles for over 100 consecutive Christmases almost single-handedly.

The local glassmakers of the town conceived the idea of making glass decorations to hang on the Christmas tree (replacing the then traditional fruit and candy), resulting in almost every house in the town being converted into a little glassmaking factory to meet rising demands.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

New Steampunk Anthology

I’m incredibly thrilled and delighted to announce a new Steampunk anthology I am currently editing and writing for, featuring sixteen brand new stories from some of the most exciting and critically acclaimed writers working in the genres of SF, Fantasy & Steampunk today, scheduled to be published on 1st June 2012 by UK publishers Snowbooks.

The anthology will feature writers such as Brian Herbert, co-writer of the Dune sequels and Fantasy & Horror legend Tanith Lee, contributing Steampunk stories that will reimagine some of our most beloved classic works of fiction; such as Sherlock Holmes, Carnacki, H. Rider Haggard, Jekyll & Hyde and White Fang.

What would these timeless, classic stories be like if they had been written in an alternate reality to ours; a reality where Ebenezer Scrooge is taken to an alternate Steampunk Christmas that never happened by the Ghost of Christmas Sideways, or Robin Hood fights in the Holy Land against the forces of darkness in the fourth steam-powered Crusades?

The full line-up is;

Resurrection Engines:
16 Extraordinary Tales of Scientifc Romance

01 - Philip Palmer
02 - Brian Herbert & Bruce Taylor
03 - Adam Roberts
04 - Tanith Lee & John Kaiine
05 - Lavie Tidhar
06 - Juliet E. McKenna
07 - George Mann
08 - Kim Laikin-Smith
09 - Roland Moore
10 - Scott Harrison
11 – Jim Mortimore
12 – Alison Littlewood
13 – Paul Magrs
14 – Simon Bucher-Jones
15 – Cavan Scott
16 - Rachel E. Pollock

Edited by Scott Harrison

More details of titles and cover designs will be added as we get nearer to publication date. Meanwhile, for more information on other books published by Snowbooks, you can visit there website by clicking the link –

-- Coming Soon – future projects for 2012! --

Novel – A TV tie-in novel to be published in mid-to-late 2012.

The Madness From Beyond The Sea
– my short comic book story with artwork by Lee Grice will be appearing in the comic book anthology Into The Woods: A Fairytale Anthology, edited by Stacey Whittle, to be published some time at the beginning of next year.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Romance In Electronic Parts

It's just come to my attention that the Obverse Books' anthology, Faction Paradox: A Romance In Twelve Parts, is now available as an eBook.

I know that many people have asked me over the past few months if the book will be available in the electronic format - well, now it is, and you can download it immediately from their website for a mere six hundred and ninety-nine copper coins of the realm.

That's £6.99 to you and me. Bargain!

I've also been meaning to post the links to some of the wonderful reviews that the collection has been garnering, from various writers, reviewers and book aficionados; including the hugely talented author Simon A. Forward.

Here are a few links. I shall try and add more as they come to my attention:

Daniel Tessier -

Simon A. Forward -

Andrew Hickey -

Monday, 22 August 2011

Re-Watching The Fifth Doctor - The Visitation

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a viewing journey 29 years apart...

August 2011. I love The Visitation. Always have. Always will. Not only is it my favourite Fifth Doctor story, but it is on one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, full stop. The reasons why are many: It’s a cracking story, it has a lovely historical setting (as we all know, Auntie Beeb have the knack when it comes to historical dramas), it has a good, solid alien monster, an android dressed as death, Michael Robbins’ wonderfully fruity performance, the death of the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor being responsible for the Great Fire of London…

But above all, the character of the Fifth Doctor is at his very best in this story.

Here we see a much gruffer, edgier character than the one he would eventually become by the end of his first season. Short tempered, sulky and sarcastic, this is the closest we get to the ‘old man in a young man’s body’ we were promised at the beginning - with definite shades of the Hartnell Doctor sprinkled throughout.

Of all the Fifth Doctor stories, The Visitation is the one that has stuck with me the most, thanks, in no small part, to Alan Road’s marvellous book Doctor Who: The Making of a Television Series, released the same year, which uses this story as an example of how a typical Doctor Who story is made. As a Doctor Who fan this was my bible growing up and I must have read it from cover to cover a hundred times. Luckily it’s still in good shape and remains a valuable and much loved part of my book collection to this day.

February 1982. This is really exciting. This is the first time the Doctor has gone back in time for years and years*1. Usually he goes to alien planets or fights monsters in the present day or lands on spaceships in the future. It’s great to think that the TARDIS landed on Earth hundreds of years ago and had exiting adventures long before I was born.

I love the Terileptils too, they’re just like how proper alien monsters are supposed to look - big, green and scaly. They remind me of the Marshmen*2 - I loved them too!

I play Doctor Who with my best friend Shaun Cowley every dinnertime at my house; I’m the Doctor and Shaun is Adric and we use my mum’s laundry basket as the TARDIS console – the tall basket with the pointy lid that ends in a handle that looks like the time rotor.

I sometimes play it in the school playground too with a load of my friends. Down on the tarmaced yard that has the while lines marked out on it, we pretend that these are the room layouts for the TARDIS. There are 6 boxes marked out altogether. The Console Room, Adric’s room, Nyssa & Tegan’s room, the Zero room, the Cloister room and the Boot Cupboard.

Sometimes I take my Doctor Who book to school, the one that shows how they make the Terileptil story and show the teacher. She likes Doctor Who as well.

In the Mighty 200 poll in Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 The Visitation charted at a quite respectable No.77, placing it the 6th most popular Fifth Doctor story after Caves of Androzani, Earthshock, The Five Doctors, Kinda and Enlightenment. Not a bad sprinkling of stories to be beaten by (although, having said this, it was also beaten by the Second Doctor story Fury From The Deep, a story that no longer exists AT ALL in the BBC archives. I’ve always been baffled by how something no longer available to watch can score higher than something that is. But, that’s Doctor Who fans for you!). My affection for this story is so strong that, if I were ever invited onto Desert Island Who (should it ever be invented one day), this would be my choice for the Fifth Doctor entry.*3


- 1: Last time was Horror Of Fang Rock back in 1977. Stories like Androids Of Tara or State Of Decay don't count, as they're set on alien planets.

- 2: Full Circle again. It was one story that really left a lasting impression on me. Plus, around this time, I had it on story discs for the View-Master.

- 3: If you're interested the others are; The Daleks, The War Games, The Mind Of Evil, The Talons Of Weng-Chiang or Logopolis (I'm undecided), The Trial Of A Time Lord (I love it, so there!!), Curse Of Fenric, Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways, Stolen Earth/Journey's End and Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Dark Fiction's Voices Audiobook

Dark Fiction Magazine’s latest audiobook is a wonderful little collection that features brand new audio readings of short stories taken from the recent charity eBook anthology Voices From The Past (edited by myself and Lee Harris.)

The audiobook contains my grisly little Steampunk tale set in the blitz-torn London of an alternate World War II, along with three other wonderfully macabre stories by three very talented writers.

The full line-up is;

Another Kind of Lightning by Alasdair Stuart

Twisted by Lee Harris

The Chaos Exhibition by Scott Harrison

A Map of Lychford by Paul Cornell

This mini Voices audiobook can be downloaded now for free via the iTunes Store or at the Dark Fiction website -

The Voices From The Past short story eBook anthology, which contains nearly 30 brand new short stories from some of the most exciting genres writers around today, is still available to buy for only 99p either at;

Amazon –

Or at H&H Books website –

All proceeds go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital children’s charity.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Kinda

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a journey 29 years apart...

July 2011. Whoever would have thought while watching those embarrassing low-budget ‘pantomimes’ that littered Season Seventeen like a minefield back in 1979, that just two and a half years later the programme would be gloriously transformed, and we’d be treated to such sumptuous, intelligent, and powerful stories such as Kinda?

Just about everyone loves Kinda; fans, critics, the cast and crew - hell, even Eric Saward likes it, so it has to be good, right?

As I slip the DVD into the machine I suddenly realise I’ve always had strangely mixed feelings about this story, which dates back to its original transmission. Back then my 8 year old self had a very tough decision to make, deciding between two of my most favourite things in the whole world. And it all started the day I missed an episode of Doctor Who…

February 1982. I am so upset. I missed the first episode of the new Doctor Who story and now I wish I hadn‘t. Yesterday my mum told me that I really couldn’t miss any more cub scout meetings, as I’d already skipped the last four weeks, so I should really start going again, that or give up cubs altogether.

It was a really difficult decision to make - I love going to cubs, but going means missing Doctor Who. I really didn’t know what to do, so I asked my mum and she said that I should try giving cubs a go, and she’ll watch Doctor Who and tell me all about it when I get home, in time for today’s episode. That way I can still go to cubs and watch the programme on Tuesdays.

So I went to cubs, but all the time I was thinking about Doctor Who and how I was missing it.

When I got home I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of my mum’s chair and she told me all about it; how the TARDIS landed on this planet that was all green, with trees and grass and big plants, and there were these men, army men she thought they were, who didn’t want to be there and were really unhappy, then Tegan fell asleep and woke up in a room that was completely black where she met these strange people who had snakes on their arms and wouldn’t let Tegan wake up, not until she let them ‘borrow’ her body, and the Doctor and Adric became prisoners of the army men in their base, and it ended with one of the men pointing a gun at the Doctor and threatening to shoot him.

The episode sounded good. Really good. Really really good. And now I’m really upset that I missed it. I hope they repeat the story again later in the year, or I’ll never get to see that episode again, ever.

Missing Doctor Who has helped me decide. I’m going to give up going to cubs. When I’m at the meetings all I do is think about Doctor Who and get upset when I realise I’ve missed it. I never think of cubs when I’m watching Doctor Who, and I’m never sorry that I’ve missed a meeting afterwards. Sometimes I wonder what the other boys have been getting up to, but I’m never sad afterwards, not like I was yesterday.

I told my mum that I was going to give up cubs. She was very sad but said if that was want I wanted to do, then it was up to me.

Now I’m happy, because I’ll never miss another episode of Doctor Who again.

Luckily, I find that today I’m just about able to get past those traumatic events of nearly 30 years ago, and enjoy Kinda for what it is, an imaginative, intelligent and thoroughly engaging piece of SF telly, that works remarkably well despite it being completely studio-bound. Doctor Who has been a little hit-and-miss with its realisation of alien paradise planets in the past; Planet of Evil’s wonderful filmic jungle and Planet of the Daleks’ somewhat disappointing alien landscape being just two examples at opposite ends of the success scale. But the landscape of Deva Loka is realised surprising well, and by the end of episode 1 the audience has just about managed to forget that two floors above that alien planet the latest series of The Two Ronnies is being filmed.

Kinda continues a run of consistently high quality stories, that is only broken by…well, I’m not saying for now, but we’ll get there soon - making Season 19 my favourite in classic Who’s 26 year run (with Seasons 7, 12, 14 and 23, just a gnat’s whisker behind it).

Oh, and…I didn’t miss a single episode of Doctor Who again for 5 whole years, when, in 1987, I wasn’t aware that Doctor Who was back on our tellys, and I ended up missing episode 1 of Time & The Rani.

I was very annoyed.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Four To Doomsday

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a journey 29 years apart...

July 2011. Four To Doomsday is a story that I’ve always had a problem with…well, as an adult at any rate. It’s not so much that there is no real story (or rather a lack of any real explanation as to why Monarch is doing the things he’s doing, such as; spending the last 35,000 years travelling backwards and forwards between Earth and Urbanka and picking up humans from various time periods, or why he’s going to all this trouble just to wipe out the population of Earth and replace it with an android population, or why, half way through the story, it’s suddenly revealed that he has a desire to travel back in time to the Big Bang where he is convinced he’ll meet himself), nor is it that the companions insist on behaving throughout the story like a bunch of unpleasant, recalcitrant children, constantly bickering and fighting amongst themselves (literally, at one point, when Tegan and Adric tussle over the TARDIS key), it’s not even that Tegan suddenly acts completely out of character in Parts Three and Four and, after panicking and running off to the TARDIS, totally abandons her friends to their own fates (in this case either robotisation or beheading) without a seconds thought, in an attempt to escape the spaceship and get back to Earth.

No. What I have a problem with in this story is the character of the Doctor himself.

OK, so this was the first of the Fifth Doctor stories to go before the cameras and, as such, certain allowances have to be made. The actor needs to become comfortable with the role, ease himself into the show, and discover his place. But even with this in mind, sometimes in the first two episodes he comes across more like the Fourth Doctor than the Fifth, and, as such, it can be a little difficult to watch in places (particularly noteworthy offenders being, the Doctor’s exaggerated hand gestures when appreciating the Urbankan technology at the beginning of Part One, or referring to a particular character as “Our friend Percy Persuasion over there”, or even the petulant thumbing of the ears at Monarch in a childishly “ner ner ner ner ner!” way). It’s not until the beginning of Part Three when the character of the Fifth Doctor appears properly, seemingly from nowhere, metaphorically panting with exhaustion, bent double with his hands resting on his knees and apologising to everyone for turning up late and asking what he’s missed.

From then on the adult me likes this story very much.

The picture begins to blur and wobble, someone drags a finger through the strings of a harp, again and again…

January 1982. I love this story. It’s brilliant and exciting and set on board a huge spaceship, just like proper science fiction is supposed to be, just like my favourite film The Empire Strikes Back*1. And there’s a brilliant alien who looks like a frog and a really cool looking man and a pretty lady. I think this new Doctor is the best one ever and Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are my favourite companions - even better than Romana and K9.

Doctor Who just keeps getting better and better. Last year was great with loads of monsters who came out of a swamp and tried to eat you*2 , and there was vampires*3
and the Doctor went all spiky*4 , but this year we’ve seen loads of rooms inside the TARDIS and the Master has tried to kill the Doctor twice and we’ve had big spaceships and the Doctor floating around in space and robots that look like foreign men and the Doctor saving the entire Earth from the frogman.

I turn to my mum. It’s cold and dark outside and the house still smells of the tea she cooked for us an hour ago. There’s only me and my mum and my dad watching Doctor Who. My brother is at cubs (where I should be) and my sister is round her friends house.

“I like him.” I say. “He’s my favourite Doctor.”

“Yes.” She replies. “He is very good, isn’t he.”

We smile at each other. I can’t wait for next week’s adventure.

Unfortunately Four To Doomsday is an oft forgotten adventure. It’s not that its bad, the script is actually quite good (if you ignore the distinct lack of plot); it’s not that its poorly realised (space-walk aside, it boasts some very impressive sets, and Monarch looks great); it’s not even that the acting is below standard (everyone involved is doing a fine job, thrusting themselves into their parts with great gusto). No, the problem is that Four To Doomsday just isn’t particularly memorable - which is an enormous shame, as it happens to be great fun. It just happens to be sitting in a season surrounded by some of the best stories Doctor Who has ever produced.

But there’s even greater excitement ahead, and one or two shocks too. For both the adult and the child, Doctor Who is about to reach dizzying new heights.


- 1: Back then I'd only seen The Empire Strikes Back on it's original theatrical release. I saw Return of the Jedi in cinemas in 1983, but didn't get around to watching Star Wars until a year or two later.

- 2: Full Circle - although the Marshmen weren't trying to 'eat people'.

- 3: State of Decay

- 4: Meglos - although the Doctor never 'went all spiky', this was Meglos disguised as the Doctor.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Castrovalva

It is July 2011. I am 37 years old and I’m about to sit down and re-watch my favourite programme. It’s my favourite era too, where it suddenly became strange and dangerous, no longer the comfy pantomime it had become under producer Graham Williams, and only the second year of its exciting ‘reboot’, bathed in the warm glow of childish nostalgia.

I slip the DVD in and…

It is January 1982. I am 8 years old and this is the first time that my favourite programme has gone all strange and scary. I am confused and a little frightened. I’m not big enough to remember when Tom Baker took over from that white haired man. My first memory is of sitting in my Auntie June’s house when I was littler at teatime on a Saturday watching Part Four of Robots of Death. That was a great story, full of deadly robots and people in fancy costumes and Leela’s voice sounding funny, all squeaky because of the gas. The Fourth Doctor was my Doctor, I don’t want him to go. Don’t want anyone else being the Doctor.

“That’s not the Doctor!” I say, turning to my mum as Logopolis ends and that man who plays the vet sits up in the Doctor’s clothes. “I don’t want to watch this anymore.” But I don‘t mean it. Not really.

I see the trailer for Part One of Castrovalva and I’m all excited again. I can’t wait for the new series to begin.

But I’m worried too. You see, since Doctor Who finished I’ve joined the cub scouts, and the meetings are on Monday evenings, that‘s the same day as the new series of Doctor Who.

I’ve decided to not go to cubs, not while Doctor who is on. I don’t want to miss it. I’ve missed four weeks of cubs already and now my mum is saying that I have to choose - Doctor Who or cubs?

It's so difficult. I love them both. Which one do I choose?

As a child I warmed to this new Fifth Doctor immediately and, before the closing credits of Part One had even begun to roll, I was proclaiming him to be my most favourite Doctor ever…a position he’s held to this day, some 29 years later. I still love Castrovalva, more so with each and every viewing, it’s my second favourite Fifth Doctor story after The Visitation.

As we settle down to watch it for the 400th time, my fiancée sums up my feelings about the story perfectly. She says “I was going to ask you if you were in the mood to watch Castrovalva tonight, but that’s a silly question. You’re always in the mood to watch Castrovalva."

Oh yes!

Oh, and…in the end I chose Doctor Who over the cubs, but not before missing an entire episode of...well, we’ll come to that all in good time.

Needless to say I was devastated, and vowed never to miss another episode again.