R.I.P. Bernard Horsfall, British character actor of Doctor Who and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Actor Bernard Horsfall, whose 50-year career of film and television roles included the 1969 James Bond thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, small roles in Braveheart and Gandhi, and four guest appearances on Doctor Who, died on Tuesday, reports Radio Times. He was 82.

Horsfall made his film debut in the 1957 Cold War drama High Flight, going on to play military men and similar tough-guy roles in movies like The Steel Bayonet, Guns At Batasi, and Shout At The Devil. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he appeared as Campbell, who helped George Lazenby’s Bond on a mission in Switzerland, only to be [spoiler alert] killed by archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld as a warning against further interference.

Horsfall is probably most well-known for his Doctor Who roles, beginning with 1969’s “The Mind Robber” as the fictional traveler Lemuel Gulliver. In the same year’s “The War Games,” he returned to play an unnamed Time Lord who presided over the trial of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, then returned in 1973 to play Taron, an ally of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, in “Planet Of The Daleks.” Most memorably, Horsfall played opposite Fourth Doctor Tom Baker in 1976’s “The Deadly Assassin” as the ambitious and power-hungry Time Lord Chancellor Goth, who hunted the Doctor through a nightmarish, hallucinogenic landscape only to be betrayed and killed by his boss and the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master. The serial’s third-episode cliffhanger, in which Goth appears to be graphically drowning the Doctor, became infamous after being singled out by conservative antiviolence campaigner Mary Whitehouse, and was censored from subsequent broadcasts for years. Horsfall later returned to Doctor Who in the 2003 audio drama Davros.

Horsfall appeared frequently on British TV screens, including starring roles in the late-1970s WWII drama Enemy At The Door and the short-lived 1960 series Captain Moonlight: Man Of Mystery, as well as guest roles in The Saint, Z-Cars, three episodes of The Avengers, and the 1988 Jeremy Brett adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Horsfall also appeared frequently on stage, including several productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s.

Originally published on avclub.com. Read the original article.

TV Club, Doctor Who, Warriors’ Gate

“Warriors’ Gate” (season 18, episodes 17-20. Originally aired Jan 3-24, 1981)

As the title implies, “Warriors’ Gate” is about transitions. The gate in question is a doorway between dimensions that all the characters want to pass through—well, almost all of them, and that’s the emotional key to the story. Gates present you with a choice: this side or that side, this life or that life, out or in. And for the Doctor’s companion Romana, this gate offers her what’s probably the most difficult choice of her life.

More than most Doctor Who serials, “Warriors’ Gate” is not easy to just dive right into. For one thing, the story is a little complicated, stranding the Doctor and friends in a strange non-place that exists outside of everything—two everythings, in fact—anchored by a key sequence that, like a waking dream, puts two sets of characters in the same place but at different points in time, kind of sort of simultaneously. It’s a story that rewards some thought, even a second viewing, before what’s happening becomes clear. Neither is “Warriors’ Gate” very self-contained. The entirety of season 18, in fact, ties together into a broader storyline, and basically assumes you’ve been following along in sequence—which is, I have to admit, probably the best way to watch this particular season, much as I prefer skipping around between eras of the show. This was a season of tumultuous change, both on and off screen, so before I get into the story at hand, let’s set the stage.

Originally published Jan. 20, 2013 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Review: Stephen Baxter, The Wheel Of Ice

Usually, fans have to be wildly optimistic, if not delusional, to expect quality literature from a line of authorized tie-in novels to a science-fiction TV series. But in recent years, the editors behind the Doctor Who books have been making an effort to overcome skeptics by snaring acclaimed science-fiction authors like Michael Moorcock, Alastair Reynolds, and Stephen Baxter to put their own stamp on the adventures of the time-traveling vagabond. Baxter tells a new story about an old Doctor with The Wheel Of Ice, which features Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor in an adventure set during the TV show’s sixth season, in 1969.

Baxter earned his reputation for the rigorously constructed hard-SF Xeelee Sequence books, but he’s no stranger to happily jumping on someone else’s train—besides his recent collaboration with Terry Pratchett on The Long Earth, he’s written an authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and co-authored a trilogy set after 2001: A Space Odyssey with Arthur C. Clarke. Baxter takes the TARDIS controls with similar respect for the original source material, which is one of The Wheel Of Ice’s chief strengths. Troughton was Baxter’s childhood Doctor, and Baxter’s enthusiasm for the era is palpable. The book fits his serious approach to emphasizing the science in “science fiction” particularly well—although the Second Doctor era was hardly rigorous about that sort of thing, its enthusiasm for futuristic ideas like space travel was based in part on the idea that someday, humanity’s real future might look like the one it was showing us. Baxter’s Xeelee stories are filled with well-thought-out, sometimes arcane explorations of astrophysics and xenobiology, and although he tones that down to a less mind-bending degree with Wheel, it’s good to see some thought put into Doctor Who’s alien worlds beyond the superficial, timey-wimey, hand-waving level the series often settles for.

Wheel hits the ground running with an engaging, breezy first half, as the Doctor investigates an enigmatic, dangerous hole in time near the Wheel, a mining base orbiting Saturn. In spite of the exotic setting, his Companions Zoe Heriot and Jamie McCrimmon quickly feel at home—the former because she grew up on a similar space station and the Wheel is actually part of her own history, and the latter because the Wheel is populated by Scots like himself, with whom he feels a strong camaraderie, even though they were born hundreds of years after he was. But all is not well. The harsh conditions on Saturn are made worse by the profit-motivated tyranny of the Wheel’s corporate masters. That, in turn, is causing grumblings of revolt from the station’s young people and working poor, along with mysterious, deadly acts of sabotage. In classic Doctor Who tradition, the Doctor and friends are falsely accused of the crimes upon their arrival, and must find the real culprits: android-like “Blue Dolls” who serve the same alien entity responsible for the hole in time. That being, called Arkive, is older than the solar system, and aches for the days of its youth in a way that’s more than a little insane, not to mention hostile toward the unsuspecting humans it thinks of as usurpers.

Baxter nails one of the basic elements of any book like this one, capturing the voices of his three main characters with such precision that Troughton is almost audible in the Doctor’s lines. Baxter is especially good at seeing through Zoe and Jamie’s perspectives, going beyond using them as placeholder heroes, and getting at what makes them tick. Jamie’s rugged heroism and desire to protect people comes to the fore when he shepherds a group of young rebels who flee to a nearby ice moon. And Zoe has to confront the unsavory side of her own history as she learns that her own advanced civilization was founded on the near-slavery conditions on the Wheel. Baxter has mixed success with his secondary characters, creating a compellingly well-rounded portrait of a family divided by the growing political revolt, but an annoyingly one-dimensional shrew in the book’s main human antagonist, Florian Hart, a corporate greedmonger oozing with angry contempt.

Still, the first half of Wheel Of Ice is tremendously promising, setting up a smart, engaging mystery that feels like a genuine artifact of 1969 Doctor Who. That only makes it more frustrating that the second half is botched so badly by an underwhelming finale. Baxter seems to lose interest entirely in Arkive’s aeons-long scheme in favor of a hackneyed confrontation with Hart involving some truly hoary clichés concerning a ticking time bomb and the color of the wire that should be cut to defuse it. Worse, genius-astrophysicist Zoe has no part in the resolution; Baxter sidelines her so she can babysit a 3-year-old. It’s a disappointing fumble to an otherwise satisfying read.

Originally published Jan. 14, 2013 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, The Ambassadors Of Death

“The Ambassadors Of Death” (season 7, episodes 12-18. Originally aired March 21-May 2, 1970)

To call “The Ambassadors Of Death” the weakest serial of Doctor Who’s seventh season is less of a knock against it than it might seem. Jon Pertwee’s first year as the Third Doctor was well above average as a whole, especially given the success of the gamble to drastically reinvent the show as an Earthbound, team-driven sci-fi drama of what we’d now recognize as the X-Files/Fringe/Torchwood format. There’s a pretty good case for calling it the series’ best season, period. (That’s a hard one to pick, though. Doctor Who has been so changeable over the years that it’s difficult to compare seasons, like apples and some fruit that doesn’t even grow on this planet. I’d vote for season 13, the second Fourth Doctor season, with its murderers’-row of “Terror Of The Zygons,” “Pyramids Of Mars,” “The Brain Of Morbius,” and “The Seeds Of Doom.” But I digress.)

“The Ambassadors Of Death” isn’t perfect, far from it, but nevertheless it has a lot going on that I really love, and which exemplifies what the creative team was trying to do with season seven—lure in a larger (and older) audience by blending the established “eccentric scientist fights alien monsters” sci-fi with slicker, higher-octane spy-thriller stuff that aimed for the less campy, more serious side of James Bond and The Avengers. The gloriously lavish action sequences here are the most blatant part of that, like a big neon billboard, but there’s subtler stuff percolating in the story too, particularly in the way it strives to suggest that its titular aliens might be truly out-of-this world, in the sense of perhaps being too strange for us to meaningfully communicate with or understand. And it also rests on a more-complex-than-usual motivation for its lead villain, General Carrington—arguably, he’s not a bad person, but a decent man twisted by his own inner trauma. (If only the presentation of that had been less murky, this could have been a much better story—but I’ll get to that in a moment.)

Originally published Jan. 6, 2013 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

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