December 14, 2022

The Robots of Death

 A triumph that still hums with energy! Looking back at one of classic Doctor Who’s best ever stories. 

Earlier this year I saw the World of Wonder exhibition and amongst the many exhibits from the series’ past and present were some robot masks from this 1977 classic. Even now, mounted on stands devoid of the rest of the costume, they look impressive. So it is for the story they come from. Its one of those tales that they could remake today without the need for much alteration, Sure the Sandminer -which in real life was quite a modest sized model – could look better, you could have more robots, a larger crew. Yet the essence of the story works just as well forty-five years later.

There is something stately and unhurried about ‘The Robots of Death' that makes it a joy to watch every time. On paper the story is hardly original, purloining much of its content from the likes of either Murder on the Orient Express or Isaac Asimov's Robot stories, while the use of mostly brightly lit sets and a robotic enemy realised by people in costumes and masks could have been a disaster. Yet the story towers over these potential problems with ease to create a timeless 90 minutes that is amongst the very finest Doctor Who ever made. It also remains one of the series’ most quotable stories yet crucially this above average dialogue never obstructs the flow of the story, often aiding it along.

November 28, 2022

Fan Scene CT 1978

 In the final look back at some of the early years of the DWAS publication Celestial Toyroom we alight at 1978. In Gallifeyan tradition we've been travelling largely backwards in time from the early 80s and before 78 CT was more or less just a Swaps and Pen Pal zine so not really of significant interest even then. Unless of course you wanted to offer rare items for a genuine Chumbly bathmat or something. In 1978 however it became a monthly newsletter though back then news was much thinner on the ground than you might expect. In fact the front page was not current news at all but imagined headlines each relating to a particular Doctor Who story. Most of the news was included inside Jan Vincent Rudzki's Presidents Column while the rest to the issue comprised press cutting, announcements and, yes, still the swaps and pen pals which in fact went on for many years. So, here's some scans of some of the issues to give a flavour of what they were like. It may seem inconsequential now but back then we used to get quite excited by the arrival of each issue if only to try and guess what colour paper it might be printed on! 

April 22, 2022

Fan Scene - 1979 October- December



That rumour of a Marvel Doctor Who publication becomes fact this issue with the news of the new Doctor Who Weekly which for 12p (cheaper than most fanzines!) will give you a professionally produced Doctor Who fix every seven days. The editor Dez Skinn is adamant it is not a comic but a magazine including a comic strip. Meanwhile, two of the three Convention organisers are now leaving meaning that there is no one to organise next years. In his column JVR talks about the event highlighting a move away from just guests to showing visual material. “The best part for me,” he writes, “was the incredible atmosphere during the showing of the old episodes.” He mentions guests not wanting to repeat themselves by attending every year though he chooses to mention Jon Pertwee who was of course something of serial repeater of anecdotes! At the end of his column outlining the latest Ref Dept releases, J Jeremy Bentham thanks people for their ideas and signs off by adding “part of that future could depend on reaction to Doctor Who Weekly`…” Watch this space...

April 20, 2022

Fan Scene- CT 1979 July- September



`Invasion` is the headline of July’s issue which in time lag fashion reports on the 1979 Blackpool gathering which took place in May on Cup Final Day in Blackpool. More than 40 members from around the country converged on the resort and its Exhibition for a social weekend organised by J Jeremy Bentham.  Meanwhile Panopticon 3 is round the corner and tentative guests include Dick Mills, Graham Williams and Douglas Adams. Attendees will get to see Oceans In the Sky, the evocatively titled DWAS drama department film. This ambitious project is reported here to have taken three years to make at a production cost of £3,000 (which is something like £12,000 today).  Sets built include a Tardis console and it has a score written by Mark Ayers in his youth. Twenty actors appear in it and the Doctor is played by Leo Adams and the companion by Diane Woodley.

April 18, 2022

Fan Scene- CT 1979 Apr- Jun



`Monsters` declares the lead story in the rather thin April issue declaring “the prolonged absence of monsters from Doctor Who will soon come to an end.” This comes from the mouth of new script editor Douglas Adams who is quoted as saying “I think we’ve shied away from the monsters for long enough so I hope to bring them back.” This story suggests that Adams approached the script editor job with considerable energy at first. Meanwhile its revealed that the first story of the season will be titled `Destiny of the Daleks`. John Leeson’s departure from voicing K9 is also confirmed though the rumour is a new actor will be taking on the tin dog’s distinctive vocals next year. It is also time once again to vote in the Season Poll with Season 16’s stories comprising the Key to Time Season up for you votes. Last year’s winner was `Invasion of Time`.

April 15, 2022

Fan Scene CT 1979 Jan - Mar


The world of Doctor Who as it was reported in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society newsletter Celestial Toyroom aka CT.

As 1979 dawned the DWAS newsletter was being co-edited by David Auger and Gordon Blows and had an amateur yet well- constructed quality that gave it, appropriately enough, a news paper look. `Tony Read Quits` was the main headline in January’s edition. Anthony Read, as he was officially known is, according to the article credited with instating a policy that the Tardis is fully controllable. Arguably the more important news is that his replacement will be Douglas Adams who is described simply as “the author of this year’s Pirate Planet` showing that Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had yet to become very widely known. `Disco Dr A Hit` CT also reports referring to the latest version of the title theme by a group called Mankind. Apparently it’s selling a thousand copies a day taking it from number 67 to number 45 in the singles charts and was featured on Top of the Pops. Bear in mind that there is a six week or so lag between things actually happening and being reported in CT so we learn that while there wasn’t time to organise a Xmas party this year people can meet in the One Tun pub on 21 December. Of course being Doctor Who fans they can just travel back in time a month! There’s an Obituary for Brian Hayles who died recently after completing The Moon Stallion.

March 21, 2022

The Sea Devils


I remember when a continuity announcer said that the next story would be called `The Sea Devils` and I had no idea if this was some sort of monster or period pirate piece. Since then I’ve always loved `The Sea Devils` and now I can't quite believe its fifty years since I first saw it. Inevitably it can’t thrill me like it did as a child but yet it still has a magic. Many parts of it fizz with energy and even if from this distance it can look ramshackle at times the overall effect is still strong. Part of the reason why its endured is the very experimental incidental music by Malcolm Clarke and the design of the Sea Devils themselves. Even if their eyes don’t move! So forgive if this is less a review and more notes. 


March 11, 2022

Earthshock still shocks 40 years on!


It is forty years since Doctor Who fans got two big shocks with `Earthshock`. I was lucky enough not to know what was coming up in this story so I was able to be shocked indeed.  Anyone who watched the episode live back then will tell you what a big impact it had- the latest DWM has some examples- and all this time later it remains one of those stories that you watch with anticipation. The edge is still there- this is not a cosy watch like for example `Revenge of the Cybermen`, it’s a thriller with bite. It wasn’t just fans who were affected by `Earthshock`. It proved to be a hugely influential story on this period of the series which turned out to be a good and a bad thing. On the positive side it’s style led to a number of subsequent stories pushing the envelope when it came to both scripts and presentation such as `Caves of Androzani,` `Revelation of the Daleks` and `Vengeance on Varos`. However it also started a trend for a more violent streak in the show which ultimately was a contributing factor to the 1985 hiatus.


February 18, 2022

The Curse of Peladon


Peladon is as rich a planet as was ever created for Doctor Who. Its murky passageways lit by flickering torches seem so far from the studio environment in which they were constructed. Its almost as if the stories were filmed on location on Peladon itself! Its pagan tradition seems rooted down the centuries rather than scribbled out at a script meeting the other week. Perhaps because the series at that time was mostly set on present day Earth, those stories which are not resonate particularly strongly. One of the best aspects of the two Peladon stories is a strong sense of time and place. A feeling- still rare in the series to this day- that these people were here long before the Doctor and will still have lives afterwards. Moreover, writer Brian Hayles invents an entire history, structure and society not just for the planet Peladon but the Galactic Federation as well. It is quite intricate in detail and sounds convincingly believable as well


January 09, 2022

Day of the Daleks


In 2011 Doctor Who fandom was divided about the merits of the Special Edition of `Day of the Daleks` but I loved it and over a decade later I still do. Fact is I actually-gasp- prefer it to the original. This is only because it really is the original as the production team and viewers would love to have seen it. I suspect many viewers actually think this is what they saw! The story hasn't been changed in any way simply enhanced visually to better support the narrative. Plus if you don't like it, the original transmitted version is still around of course. This story was an event and a half in 1972. The Daleks back for their first story in seven years, heralded by a stunning Radio Times cover from the pen of Frank Bellamy. Alongside the comic strip cover for the 1971 season the previous year it remains one of the best RT covers ever.

December 28, 2021

Terror of the Autons


“I am usually referred to as The Master”. With just eight words a new classic tv villain made his debut appearance fifty years ago yet nobody could know just how defining a performance Roger Delgado would give and how enduring the character would become. The Master has re-appeared in many guises over the subsequent half century yet the benchmarks are all laid out from the start. Generously afforded the role of (increasingly un-surprising) enemy in each of 1971’s stories enabled both character and actor to develop a popularity to rival that of the Doctor. Yet there was nothing complicated about The Master really. Clad in black and sporting a Mephistophelian trimmed beard the only way he could look more evil would be to sprout a couple of horns. In another actor’s hands it could have been unimpressive but gifted a role he was totally suited to Roger Delgado makes it his own, so much so that every Master since has used it as a template either to copy or develop. As an example of how in thrall the Eighties version of Doctor Who was to its past when they recast the part they made the actor look as similar as possible to Delgado. Nowadays writers like to pry into the psyche of the main characters but this version of the series never went too deep. They didn’t need to. The Doctor versus The Master is clear good versus evil and kids at that time were happy with such escapist adventure.


December 09, 2021

Chris Achilleos


Growing up in the Seventies we only got to see each episode of Doctor Who once (or maybe twice if it was repeated) so the Target novelisations were our equivalent of how you can now watch any existing episode whenever you want. Crucial to those books were the covers especially the earlier ones which were the work of Chris Achilleos who sadly died this week. His artwork created a heightened, stylised version of Doctor Who with a grander and more exciting visual aesthetic than the reality of the series. Yet he was also able to home in on the elements that made each story tick. Finding a new book and a new cover was like discovering new treasure and those covers somehow became synonymous with the stories they depicted.


December 02, 2021

Fan Scene CT 1980 Oct- Dec



“The latest Doctor Who news supplied by the production office and society members” it says under an Update headline. I wonder if there was some issue with news in CT or perhaps the notoriously finnicky JNT just wanted credit. Anyway, the subsequent story does have a whiff of press release about it with the plucked from thin air suggestion that the new season “looks like being the biggest success for some time”. “The brilliant, imaginative Leisure Hive,” it continues and later on we’re told “we are being treated to one of Emrys James’ performances.” Why you can almost hear John Nathan Turner’s voice! Romana is going – “but K9 will go on.”  You can buy the theme music too with a b side called `Astronauts` though it’ll never match the legendary b side `Reg`.  Chris Dunk rather cheekily prints a picture of a press review of `Leisure Hive` underneath all this sunny promotional banter and its not a favourable one referring to “very cheap camera effects” and concluding “no-one seems to have any faith in this geriatric juvenilia”. Hardly “brilliant, imaginative.” Other news includes a Madame Tussaud’s display and a Doctor Who war game called `The Key of Kronos` in which players take on the character of one of the Doctors to search for a key that is in six segments. Sounds familiar. It doesn’t say if they have to dangle from the ceiling dressed as Kronos though.

November 24, 2021

Fan Scene- CT 1980 Jul - Sep


`Decay in Studio` is the headline this month though rather than a story of dry rot it’s actually referring to the news that the unmade story formerly known as `The Vampire Mutations` or `The Witch Lords` and more recently dubbed `The Wasting` is now to be titled `State of Decay` and broadcast fourth in the new season. The news item reminds us that this Terrance Dicks tale was originally penned three years back but pulled due to the series being instructed not to `send up` a lavish BBC2 version of Dracula. At the time this raised hopes that `Shada` might also be resurrected but it was not to be. The issue also reveals the title of the second story as `The Last Zolphathoron` and that Jacqueline Hill is returning to the series. Of course we all thought this meant Barbara was going to appear.

November 18, 2021

Fan Scene - CT 1980 Apr - Jun



This issue leads with the sad news of the death of David Whitaker who was only 51. As well as his Doctor Who work the obituary mentions his involvement in the Australian film industry and also the Writers Guild of Great Britain. Other programmes he wrote for included Paul Temple, Private Eye and Mr Rose. He had lately agreed to novelise `Enemy of the World` for Target but it remained unfinished.

Meanwhile its reported that next season will be the longest for ten years with seven 4 part stories and that K9’s role will be “considerably restructured”. There’s also talk of a new male companion “a kind of cosmic Artful Dodger”. The DWAS too is looking for new blood as Stephen Payne relinquishes control of the Society fanzine `Tardis`. Requesting volunteers who might like to take over, Chris Dunk says “Applicants should be able to type with reasonable accuracy”! There is also news of the 1981 Annual – oddly Annuals are published in August even though most people associate them with Xmas. Story titles already known include `The Voton Terror`, `Colony of Death` and `Every Dog Has His Day`.