Saturday, 26 December 2015


Funny, sad and bonkers. This year's Doctor Who special had it all.

Merry Christmas, River. (Image copyright: BBC)

If my eyes weren’t so overloaded Christmas cheer that I was hallucinating, in the title sequence of this year’s Doctor Who special there were spinning Christmas tree decorations replacing the usual planets, as well as a snow-covered TARDIS. It was a lovely touch that heralded arguably the most Christmassy of all the Doctor Who specials, as well as developing the theme of last year’s festive outing, that we should make the most of the people we love because they won’t always be around.

Steven Moffat always delivers a good Christmas yarn when he mines the vein of melancholy behind the tinsel in seasonal fiction, the stand-out template for that being A Christmas Carol, which he did the Doctor Who version of in 2010. Not surprising really, as that and Frank Capra’s movie It’s a Wonderful Life, the other perennial Christmas favourite, are both time travel stories in disguise. Pleasingly that remained the case here, with the gradual realisation that here we were seeing the final reel of the Doctor’s relationship with River Song (the always watchable Alex Kingston).  

Before that all came into focus in the final third, we were treated to the crash-bang-wallop of a bonkers story that can easily stand side by side with any of the family-friendly epics by Dreamworks on telly over the holiday. A giant robot that collects different heads, one of which belongs to King Hydroflax (lovable Greg Davies, the second actor in Doctor Who this year to channel his inner Blessed), which has ‘the most valuable diamond in the universe’ lodged in its cranium. Add in the comedy of River not recognising the Doctor because he’s only supposed to have 12 regenerations and you’ve got quite a festive frolic. Amid all the romping around, explosions and shouting, it was a shame that more wasn’t made of the great, dark idea of a space liner ‘where [genocidal criminals go] to kick back and relax.’ What a line, though.

This was probably the funniest Christmas special, with excellent visual and verbal jokes. My favourite was Hydroflax being a piss take of those old-fashioned Doctor Who villains who made constantly unfulfilled threats. Removed from his robot Transformer body and stuffed in a holdall, Hydroflax’s bullying became progressively sillier until the Doctor burst out laughing because he was ‘being threatened by a bag.’ A memorable conceit, too, was the way the Doctor kept jumping the TARDIS forward along the timeline of the restaurant opposite the Singing Towers, from giving a local the idea to build it to his last night there with River.

Really, though, if ‘The Husbands of River Song’ was worth watching for anything it was the interplay between the Doctor/Capaldi and River/Kingston. Which brings us back to that underlying sadness. The Time Lord’s curse is that he knows nothing lasts and, impressively, the final scenes were the pay-off of a story stretching back eight years, a long story arc even for Doctor Who. In his life like crazy paving, the Doctor also sometimes has the heart-breaking knowledge of when people’s time is up, and his 24-year night with River was her last stop before 2008’s ‘Silence in the Library’. Capaldi’s so good by now that he can do the gravitas just by raising an eyebrow, so it was good to see him cut loose in the comedy antlers scene, as well as the classic ‘It’s bigger on the inside!’ sequence where, happily for us, he was allowed to ham it up outrageously. And Capaldi has got the chops for romance, too: his reaction to River slowly realising who he was was rather beautiful.

The frenetic mood changes were expertly handled by director Douglas Mackinnon. He also made ‘The Husbands of River Song’ look great, from the human colony planet that looked like an idealised Christmas version of your own high street, via River's red flying saucer to the must-have toy-in-waiting Hydroflax.

Funny, melancholy, intense and totally mad. No wonder Doctor Who works so well on Christmas Day.

Thursday, 24 December 2015


Oh yes it is! The delights of the local pantomime shouldn't be overlooked. The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft's Christmas 2015 offering is an excellent place to start.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen...
(Image copyright: Lowestoft Journal)

Pantos are a good cure for being un-festive, which I’ve been feeling due to illness and consequently missing several parties. I always enjoyed going with my niece Sian when she was little, to see the Christmas do at the Marina Theatre in the old home town of Lowestoft. The great thing about pantos is the extra layer of adult self-awareness in performances that children aren’t aware of; I’ll always fondly remember The Lowestoft Players trying to make each other laugh throughout their musical production of The Jungle Book. This year, Sian’s all growed up (16) and me, sister and mum had tickets to see The Seagull Theatre’s Maid Marion and Robin Hood, directed by Stacy Goddard, a choice not unrelated to Sian’s boyfriend Harry being in the cast.

Local theatre groups should have more support. The commitment and standard is always higher than people think, which is why I avoid the description ‘amateur’ – in my experience they’re anything but. An old fire station behind the Adult Education Centre in Crook Log, Bexleyheath, near where I live in South East London, has for several years been the intimate Edward Alderton Theatre, and this year I went and saw there a great stage adaptation of the ‘70s comedy Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. What’s particularly special about local theatre groups, which are mostly staffed by volunteers, is the positive sense of community from both back and front of stage, making you feel as if you’ve been invited to one big party. It was like that at the Alderton and it was the same at The Seagull: family members and friends alike were invited to perform through shout-outs from the stage, joining in a spirited rendition of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’. Sian had to get up, be a pig and go ‘Oink’. I bet she killed Harry for that.

Like the BBC children’s series Maid Marion and Her Merry Men, the Seagull’s play is a post-feminist take on the Robin Hood legend. Marion (the lively Lola Matthews) is the real hero, the bright, feisty woman behind the self-involved and rather dim Robin (ingénue Imogen Osborn). But as with all the characters in panto, there’s redemption – yes, even for the Sheriff of Nottingham, brought to life via Stu Precious’s enjoyable moustachioed rotter, enthusiastically booed every time he appeared – especially for Robin, thanks to the touching and very mature moral that there are no heroes, just people who try their best. As is tradition, the big bonus for the Lincoln Green cowardy custard is that he gets the girl in a closing communal sing-song.

The Sheriff is last seen being fussed over by the show’s stand-out character, Nanny Nora Tittle Tattle. The panto dame, played hysterically by Nick Wright, is the embodiment of the fun self-awareness I mentioned earlier. Introducing herself, Nora trawled the auditorium singling out the grown up members of the audience. Remarking on a cardigan-wearing gentleman sitting behind me, s/he asked ‘Didn’t you know you were going out?’ and alighting on me, said ‘Nice shirt. Reminds me of some wallpaper I used to have.’ After the interval, Nora’s return to the stage was greeted with a half-hearted response that prompted the memorable comment, ‘Oh dear. You all spent too long in the bar, didn’t you?’ Then there was Ms Tittle Tattle christening a young man in the front row ‘Juan’, because he was the ‘Juan for me.’ Ker-tish!     

Also worthy of singling out is Abi Watson as the Sheriff’s henchman Guy, in an effective comic duo with Flattery the Wonder Horse (Harley Butcher, projecting humour impressively through equine body language). All gangly limbs, goofy teeth and a disappointed slouch, she moved effortlessly through a variety of costume changes as a cowboy (a thumbs up for the use of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly theme), old fashioned copper and Sam Spade-style detective. It was no wonder everyone cheered when the put-upon Guy announced s/he was now one of the good guys, as well as no surprise to see in the programme that Abi has performed in everything from Blackadder Goes Forth to Anthony and Cleopatra. I love how you can discover actors in ‘amateur’ productions who are every bit as good as professionals.

Sian’s boyfriend Harry was one half of another comic duo, the imaginatively named prison guards Clink and Clank. Harry looks like he might have a promising career in management, as he slyly and amusingly delegated most of the rough stuff to Clink (the befuddled looking Jamie Gooch). Let’s just say that I think Harry will definitely be hired. Particularly if he can cope with someone breast feeding in the front row.

It’s a shame Maid Marion and Robin Hood finishes on Christmas Eve, as it’s full of exuberance, good will and an absolute bargain at a tenner. If I do manage to move back to the area next year, I look forward to watching The Seagull spread its wings even more.


Monday, 21 December 2015


There were setbacks, but overall the year of our lord 2015 was a positive 12 months of self discovery.

The original TARDIS console in the Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff.
(Image copyright: Robert Fairclough)

I re-read the blog I wrote summing up 2014 before starting this and I was struck by how straightforward and optimistic it sounded. Looking back, I can see I was on a bit of a manic high after deciding that I was deserting London. The beginning of this year couldn’t have been more different: coming back after the Christmas break and getting down to the nitty gritty of how much equity I had in the house, I realised that I couldn’t actually afford to move (embarrassingly, after I’d told everyone I was going to.) 

In January and February, London was the last place I wanted to be. I’d had enough. Back in the dreary cycle of job searching and signing on, I went into a depressive slump and before you could say ‘bipolar’ I was lying on the sofa all day watching box sets of House and 24, sometimes going back to the beginning after I’d finished one and viewing it through again. It was moving wallpaper that blotted things out. If you’re really feeling low, at its worst London can be so anonymous you can disappear; sometimes I didn’t see anybody for days. One plus point, though, was finding a new lodger to pay the mortgage, who, after the horror story of last year, confounded my expectations by being a nice guy who kept himself to himself. There should be more ex-monk pastry chefs in the world.  
When I’d been depressed before, the mental health charity MIND had been a great help. So, with the mortgage taken care of, I asked for their help again. It was a bit mechanical and I had to force myself to start with, but weekly walks in local Danson Park, as well as participating in the upkeep of their community garden every Friday in Bexleyheath, really did help. They also found out for me that as a sufferer of bipolar disorder, I was entitled to a Freedom Pass on the trains and buses, meaning that, once I had it, it didn’t cost me anything to travel around the capital. Before I got it, I think I went into London just once every month and only used the bus every two weeks to sign on: imagine what that does to your mental health. 

It makes me furious at how much mental health services have been cut back and MIND are overstretched, but what they offer is an essential lifeline for people who often don’t have anyone else at all to turn to. Once I felt I was coming out of my slump, I wanted to give something back. Consulting MIND again, the ideal place appeared to be the Centrepieces Mental Health Arts Project, based in a corner of the beautiful gardens at Hall Place country house, where I started as a volunteer in April.

Some of the Centrepieces gang.
(Image copyright: Robert Fairclough)
Well now. Discovering Centrepieces was a turning point in two ways. To begin with, in a creative environment I was familiar with – painting, sculpture and photography – I felt at home and gradually more confident, as I was able to use the skills I’d learned as a graphic designer and writer to streamline their database of artists, include a visual record of every piece of artwork and, more importantly as far as I was concerned, bring their online presence up to date with a blog I oversee and edit. It isn’t false modesty to say that when the duo who run Centrepieces, Geoff Norris and Dawn Tomlin, started telling me what an important contribution I was making, I didn’t know how to react. Social and emotional isolation can do that to you.

Rob 'n' Dawn. (Image copyright: Dawn Tomlin)
The other big turning point this year was going into a relationship again. Me and Dawn started going out in June. We see a lot in each other that’s similar, with a history of similar mental health issues, but it wasn’t easy at first. Dawn has two children – Rose, 15, and Poppy, 8 – and at first I ran a mile emotionally. Starting a new romance after so long was a challenge, but one that involved kids… We broke up for a while, but still had to work together at Centrepieces and remained cordial. Almost inevitably, I suppose, we tried again and this time I stuck at it. Dawn said something to me that I often think about, about not ‘hiding away and rotting’ (which is where I came in this year with the House and 24 marathons). It’s pretty scary how easy it is to get into that frame of mind. Thank God she shook me out of it. Now, after two holidays up in the old home town of Lowestoft – one with the girls, one without – with the combined values of our homes it looks like we will be able to relocate to East Anglia, as Dawn fell in love with the place when we visited.
I seem to have acquired a family. I’d never have thought that at the beginning of 2015.


Full-time work has remained elusive. For someone who’s done as much as I have, who hasn’t had one single interview resulting from LinkedIn, my website, blog or the months of job searching I’ve done in Blackfen Library, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Leaving aside the obvious drawbacks of being too old, over qualified or lacking current skills – and I did a 12 week course in web design at City Lit University this summer, which seems to have made bugger-all difference – I’ve concluded that HR departments are the problem. When I started my career, you applied to the person you were going to work with and they interviewed you. Now, before your application reaches your potential colleague, it’s vetted either by a computerised points system or an RHRHRHR checklist and if you don’t measure up exactly, you’re in the bin. I can think of a few jobs in the past I wouldn’t have got if the modern system had been in place. This is another reason for leaving London – after nearly two years out of work, what have I got to lose?

So, work this year has a combination of the voluntary and creative, both of which have been rewarding. As well as Centrepieces, I’ve been volunteering in Blackfen’s Ellenor hospice charity shop (the vivid Saturday morning chats with the stand-in manageress Tracy are always a highlight of the week) and Blackfen Library; the staff jokingly said I was in there so much I might as well work behind the counter. I liked it. If things do work out as we want them to, I could quite happily enjoy a full time, community-driven role such as a librarian, as long as I have time to write. I’ll miss the Balckfen girls, even more so when the library goes into private hands next April – one of the worst decisions the local council has ever made.

One of the other constants this year had been my writing.  Even on my blackest days, if I can put my finger tips to a keyboard I feel better, and that’s been one reason for continuing with this blog. Professionally, mine and Mike’s new book The Callan File: The Definitive Guide to the Classic Spy Franchise is finally done and we’re taking in corrections and comments from our read-through crew at the moment. The publication of that next year is one major thing to look forward to, not least because Mike has dedicated it to his fiancée Zoe, who we lost to leukaemia this year. That was such shock: she was only 46. One of the most beautiful pieces of writing Mike has ever done was the eulogy he put together for Zoe’s funeral. He’s a very talented, humane and funny man and I’ll always be proud to know him.

Daleks in Cardiff! (Image copyright: Robert Fairclough)
My Doctor Who writing has gone from strength to strength, and for that I’m indebted to Marcus Hearn, who edits the The Essential Doctor Who and Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition publications. In 2015, I’ve written for TEDW: Monsters, TEDW: Davros and Other Villains and The Doctor Who Magazine Yearbook 2016. Even if I wasn’t convinced by the series itself as much as I was last year, I always enjoy every minute of researching and writing about it. When I had to interview Doctor Who’s Supervising Art Director Stephen Nicholas in November, I jumped at the chance of visiting the Roath Lock studios in Cardiff. Even though production had shut down for the year and most of the studios were empty, it was a once in a lifetime thrill to walk through the hallowed halls where so much television history has happened, not to mention stand on the TARDIS set. During this whistle-stop trip, I discovered that I’m a very good photographer. Although in the end none of the photos made the article, I’m delighted that it’s another skill I can develop in the future.


Looking forward, and I am, there’s always more to do: I could drink less, get fitter, be less grumpy and less inclined to slump in front of the TV if I’m feeling down. I’m always saying I could do more, and Dawn’s always saying I don’t give myself enough credit for what I have done. Starting from such a bleak place at the beginning of the year, I realise I have come a long way, certainly more than in 2014. Life’s not just about having a decent job and doing what I want any more, but about how rewarding having a social conscience, doing something for others and being part of a family can be.

Dawn says I’m a natural at it. That’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

ANTHONY READ remembered

A personal tribute to the writer Anthony Read, who recently died aged 80.

David Agnew himself. (Photo: Anthony Read estate)

Friday 11 December didn’t start well. I’d been suffering from an agonising attack of gout all week and, with the aid of a walking stick, had first managed to get out of the house on Thursday. On Friday, come hell or high water, I was heading from South East London to Taplow, near Reading, for the memorial service of Anthony Read, the godfather of my ex-wife and a writer I’ve always admired. Naturally I couldn’t find the walking stick. Even it looked like my foot would hold up (and it did), I was in a panicked rush to find some appropriate clothing: Should have sorted it out last night! I raged at myself. I got a ticket and the train from Paddington with minutes to spare. My mood wasn’t helped when, after changing at Slough, none other than arch-Tory Michael Portillo and his glamorous companion took the seats opposite. I bet he’s only slumming it because there’s no First Class carriage on this train, I seethed privately.

On arrival at Taplow station under a leaden sky, the day continued in a way that would tax the grumpiest of old men. Not wanting to risk the foot, I ordered a mini cab to St. Nicholas Church, which I was told would be 5 or 10 minutes; in elastic taxi speak, this turned out to be 30. Hmph. 

Once in Taplow, my mood began to change. Have you ever been there? If ever there was a place that looked as if it had sprung fully formed from the pages of an H.E. Bates novel, it’s Taplow. Like you always imagined a mythical rural England to be, everything’s centred around the village green: the church, the single pub, the reception school, with the village hall nearby down a side road. You’d never believe this place has Slough on one side and Reading on the other. And no wonder that when Tony – to his friends – and his family moved here, they never wanted to move again.

The church was full. As the service went on, what amazed and humbled me about this quietly spoken, mild man was just how much he’d done in his life. Husband, father and grandfather, actor, TV scriptwriter, producer, historian… Tony even once taught himself German, so he could research first-hand archive material for a German history book. One of the speakers paying tribute was Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers’ Guild, who revealed another side of Tony’s very full life: spending a lot of time on committees to thrash out deals with TV companies ensuring that scriptwriters got a more than fair deal. Corbett finished his eulogy by saying that he believed Tony was one of the greatest TV writers this country has produced. I don’t disagree.

Doctor Who: 'The Invasion of Time'.
(Image copyright: BBC)
The list of his achievements is amazing: Persuading the Conan Doyle estate to allow the first TV adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes short stories. Commissioning from Callan creator James Mitchell the first teleplay, ‘A Magnum for Schneider’, which Mitchell subsequently sold to ITV and led to one of the most popular series in that network’s history. Giving Douglas Adams his break in television. Writing a TV version of the John Wyndham novel Chocky that the Wyndham estate considered the best dramatic adaptation of any of the science fiction author’s stories. The only non-Jew to win the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize for Kristallnacht, his book on the Holocaust. Script-editing and writing for Doctor Who between 1977 and 1979, which is where I first knew his name from. Under the pseudonym David Agnew with producer Graham Williams, he wrote one of my favourite stories, the ramshackle but epic 'The Invasion of Time'. Tony always modestly recalled that the BBC hoped he would stay on for a third year as script editor, and from what was said it seems that his role in the three Williams-produced seasons was larger than he ever took credit for. 

But that was him all over. Speaking to his neighbours of 38 and 20 years respectively, neither of them had any idea he’d done so much: he was just the amiable guy who went to work in the shed at the bottom of his garden every day who was very active in village life.

(Image copyright: BBC)
The most remarkable story I heard was about Tony’s producership of The Troubleshooters, the BBC’s oil industry drama. Some overseas filming took place in Kenya in the 1960s a few years after the violent Mau Mau uprising. One evening, Tony was drinking with leading man Ray Barrett (left) in the bar of their hotel when a squad of heavily-armed Mau Mau entered and demanded to drink vodka with them. Wary of what was happening, Tony persuaded the barman to give him water so he could stay sober. As the night wore on, Barrett said something that upset the squad’s commander and the Mau Mau prepared to execute him on the spot. Calmly and quietly, Tony stepped in and diffused the situation. His skill with words clearly wasn’t confined to writing.

How many of today’s TV writers would, or could, save someone’s life, I wonder? If they did, there’s an odds-on chance it would immediately be plastered all over social media. The nearest Tony got to celebrity was being one of many content residents immortalised in the village fete mural that graces the walls of Taplow’s village hall, something I’m sure he was far happier with.

Like many creative people I admire – Anthony Valentine, John Thaw, James Mitchell and Terry Nation to name a few – he came from a generation where social mobility was prized. Tony’s Dad was a miner, and determined that his son wouldn’t have to endure the harsh working life that he had. Sadly, he died in a mine disaster when Tony was 7. Via grammar school, the Central School of Speech and Drama, television and then publishing, Tony went onto fulfil both his father’s wish and his own ambitions.

The first time I met Tony, in the 1980s, my ex-wife’s Dad introduced me thus: ‘This is Robert. He’s a Doctor Who fan.’ ‘Oh no,’ said Tony seriously but with the hint of a twinkle in his eye, ‘you’re not one of those are, you?’ After I got over this crippling social embarrassment, I found him happy to discuss his career and encouraging to someone who was then only stumbling around in terms of writing. His advice was the same as it was to his to daughter Emma when she started her own company – ‘Just go for it.’ He did – quietly, firmly, without bragging about what he’d done – and, with good manners and an even temper, achieved so much. Only recently, he was happy to provide some inside information for the Callan book Mike Kenwood and myself are writing.

On the train back to London, my perspective on the day, and what has been going on recently in my life, was very different to the glum way I’d started Friday. Illness, losing a walking stick, not having the right clothes, taxi drivers telling porkies, even bloody Portillo… you shouldn’t let transitory stuff like that drag you down (and, of course, I’ve now found the walking stick). I learned two very important things: even if we don’t think so, if we’re good people, and without realising it, we touch so many people’s lives. Also, for those of us lucky enough to be creatives – writers, artists, whatever – it’s not the drive for success we should focus on, but the fact that we’re doing it all we should cherish. After all, how many people get to do what they really want to do in life?

Thanks Tony. For everything.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

STAR TREK: The Original Series revisited

Kirk, Spock, 'Bones' and co. are back on TV on their never-ending 5 year mission, and it's just as much fun as last time.

Spock, Kirk and Mr Scott: still boldly going.
(Image copyright: CBS Action)

‘There’s Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow/It’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim, dead Jim/We come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill…’ The original series of Star Trek, which followed the adventures of the explorer ship USS Enterprise in the 23rd century (between 1966 and 1969), was a perennial feature of the childhoods of 1970s children in the UK. It’s no wonder that by 1987 its catchphrases – or what people thought were its catchphrases; Captain Kirk (William Shatner) never actually said ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ – could be parodied in a pop song, at the same time reflecting how affectionately the series had become regarded in British popular culture.

Among repeats of MacGyver and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the good old CBS Action channel is currently repeating the technicolour adventures of Starfleet’s Kirk, Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (DeForest Kelley), as well as the aforementioned Chief Engineer Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (James Doohan, actually from Canada), among others.

Original (or classic) Star Trek comes from a TV science fiction zone when special effects and budgets weren’t as sophisticated as they are now. Like classic Doctor Who, it rests on the quality of the performances and the writing. Who can forget the matinee idol, coiffured heroism of Shatner’s Kirk, together with his Rank Has Its Privileges preference for snogging the episode’s female guest star, as well as his habit of tactically ripping his shirt across his biceps (sent up beautifully in Galaxy Quest)? Then there’s Nimoy’s still cool performance as the logical, half-Vulcan Spock, staying calm in the face of alien phenomena and moral dilemmas, while Kelley’s fiery Southern gentleman McCoy over reacts to his lack of emotion. Witnessing one such exchange, a character asks Kirk, ‘Are they enemies?’ The reply: ‘I don’t think they know.’

OK, from this distance it looks like the mechanical matching of character types – and it is – but the chemistry between the actors is so wonderful, and occasionally tongue in cheek, that you believe in the relationships.

Some things never change.
(Image copyright: CBS Action)
Amid all the nostalgic smiling at the character fun and the Enterprise crew lurching from side to side when under attack – which, understandably, became a staple of 1970s spoofs of the series – there are some well thought-out science fiction concepts. In some ways, original Trek was the successor to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, anthology series which took as their central premise one different idea each week. Star Trek did that same thing, but framed the episode’s theme with a regular cast and a consistent fictional universe. For a series made in the 1960s, it’s also no surprise to find the Soviet empire represented by the Klingons, the communist Chinese by the Romulans and the Enterprise crew wary of incursions into their rivals’ territory, just as American jets were wary of Russian and Chinese airspace (or were supposed to be).
CBS Action is currently running the third series produced by Fred Freiberger, which is popularly reckoned to be the series that banged the nails in the coffin of Star Trek’s first incarnation. At this distance, though, the stories I’ve caught have been thought provoking and entertaining: there’s ‘Day of the Dove’, ‘The Mark of Gideon’, The Cloud Minders’… ‘The Enterprise Incident’, which I have no memory of seeing before, is an excellent story about an unstable scientist, imprinting his personality on an AI that hijacks the Enterprise and starts attacking Starfleet ships. ‘That Which Survives’ is genuinely eerie, as identical alien women, who when they turn sideways vanish in a thin line, are assigned to kill Kirk’s landing party on an artificial planet.

Kirk faces a planetary sit-in.
(Image copyright: CBS Action)
‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, one of the episodes that the BBC wouldn’t show due to its controversial content, is still disturbing today, so goodness knows what people thought in the ‘60s. God-like beings – there were a lot in Star Trek – compel the Enterprise crew into abusing themselves and each other, as well as performing the first inter-racial kiss on US television, between Kirk and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). At the dafter end of the scale is ‘The Way to Eden’ (left). I can sense that this story’s tale of space hippies, complete with their own hip lingo and freedom songs – and yes, Spock even joins them for a jam session – caused original fans to bury their heads in their hands. Its take on ‘60s youth culture has a certain charm, however, as well as a bitter ending: the brothers and sisters’ search for Eden ends with them poisoned by lethal fruit and burnt by acid grass, even though the planet they find appears idyllic. This beautifully simple parable about being careful what you wish for – a warning to America’s hippies, perhaps? – is rather undone by Spock saying he believes that one day, unlike Bono, they will find what they’re looking for.  

You always see something new. A revelation for me this time around was that Kirk, Bones and Scotty all admit to being or are considered lonely (and Spock only mates every 7 years). It’s unclear whether this is to convey the loneliness of a Starfleet officer’s calling, or excuse the tendency of male Enterprise crew to jump on the nearest female. Probably both.

I could go on about the series’ appeal: there’s the distinctive, drum-beating music whenever the Enterprise is under attack, the strange ‘Neee-oww’ sound when something weird happens, the comic-book simplicity and practicality of the primary coloured uniforms, that Doomsday Machine… It’s a cheaply made show, as the reuse of the same studio planet and bouncy rocks testifies but, like Doctor Who after it, these cut-price tales became the basis of an international franchise. That’s because the original episodes balanced relationships, drama and science fiction in equal measure to tell bloody good stories.

Kirk out.