Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pan and scan

More scans of the Doctor's chest.
This time it was the Big Finish forum which pointed out that the Ninth Doctor is x-rayed by Henry Van Statten in the episode Dalek. While Rose meets the chained Dalek the Doctor is stripped to the waist, strung up and scanned with something that looks a huge laser. Apparently this is a very painful procedure and while the Doctor screams Van Stratten marvels at the "binary vascular systems" which are shown in this scan. Click the image for a slightly larger version.
The scan is an odd mixture of echocardiogram and x-ray but it gives us just about everything we want to see. This time we get two beating hearts. They look a little small and high in the chest but that may be Gallifreyans for you.

New Who combines decent budget special effects and a more plausible depiction of anatomy. I still prefer the image from the Caves of Androzani but this is pretty good. However, the search for Doctor Who's radiological images continues, email me if you know of any more.

Big Finish - Wirrn Isle

Big Finish release 158 Wirrn Isle, written by William Gallagher, directed by Nick Briggs, with Colin Baker as the Doctor and Lisa Greenwood as Flip Jackson.

The Wirrn are insectoid monsters from a classic Fourth Doctor serial The Ark in Space. They were successfully revived by Big Finish in Wirrn Dawn and here they are back again to threaten mankind. Doctor Six and Flip find themselves in a lonely outpost next to a frozen Loch Lomond some time after humans have been revived from the Nerva space ark. There are a variety of problems with Transmat devices and, of course, there is something nasty out on the ice.

I understand that this is the last of the stories with Lisa Greenwood as Flip for a while which is a shame as she makes a good companion for the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker is as entertaining as ever and the sound design people do a really fantastic job, with some suitably creepy noises for the Wirrn. Almost as good as the creeping flesh effects in Destination Nerva.

I confess I did find all the techno-babble about the Transmat devices confusing and rather dull so this story gets 3 out of 5 green, slimy insect pupae. Next month's release sees the return of the Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton in The Emerald Tiger.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two Hearts beat as One

Doctor's log supplemental:
Over on the British Invaders Facebook page I asked for any other examples of Doctor Who having an x-ray. Brad Walker and Tony Bellows pointed out there is a scene in episode two of the Caves of Androzani which shows a scan of the Fifth Doctor's hearts. Towards the end of the episode the Doctor and Peri are trying to escape from a cell which is guarded by a vigilant Android with a big gun. The Doctor gambles (correctly as it turns out) that the Android's scanner will be confused by his abnormal anatomy and won't shoot him. As he steps out of the cell the camera switches to give us the Android's point of view and we see this.
Which looks like something called a false colour Echocardiogram where colours are added to a normal ultrasound scan of the heart to represent the different directions of blood flow. We can see two purple and white heart shaped structures. They are in the right place, and they are the correct size and shape. Technically we should see them beating but we can't have everything. The special effects people on Caves of Androzani get  top marks for their depiction of the Doctor's anatomy in 1984. Sadly this was forgotten by the time of the 1996 big budget movie.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Man with X-Ray Eyes

Let me take a moment to deal with the vexed subject of Doctor Who, his two hearts and chest x-rays. I assume that people in all professions have difficulties watching representations of their jobs on film or television. That's certainly the case with me and on screen doctors. It is, of course, great fun watching them make schoolboy errors or spouting techno-babble, and there are few things I like more than making a diagnosis before my television counterparts.

There are three basic errors that seem to be almost universal. The first is the inappropriate use of head mirrors which is best dealt with by my American colleague Scott in his blog. The second is wearing stethoscopes back to front which I might blog about another time. And the third is displaying chest x-rays the wrong way round, which will bring us to Doctor Who. First let's look at a normal chest x-ray and the structures visible. Here is a nice labelled example.
The heart is a big solid lump of muscle and does show up with the low dose of x-rays used to image the chest. You will notice that the left lung is shown on the right of the picture and that most of the heart is on the same side. Chest x-rays are always looked at like this so that what you are seeing corresponds with the front of the patient as you look at them. Now the one thing that isn't shown on the above image is the side marker. It is quite important to know that you have the x-ray film the right way round so the radiographers who take the pictures put a radio-opaque label on the film before pressing the magic button. You can see the side marker in this image.
Having a side marker is crucial in diagnosing a rare condition called Dextrocardia where the heart (and possibly other internal organs) are on the opposite side. Here is an x-ray showing Dextrocardia and notice the side marker.
But of course these side markers can cause confusion and when actors are called upon to put a chest x-ray up on a light box they usually assume that right means right and so put the film up with the R marker on the right hand side. The most infamous example is the title sequence for the medical comedy Scrubs.

Apparently so many medics complained about this that eventually Scrubs included a joke about it and had a character correct the error.

So last night I was watching Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV movie. The film starts with Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor being shot and the struggles of the emergency room physicians to save him before he apparently dies only to later regenerate while in the mortuary fridge. Now as we all know Time Lords from Gallifrey have two hearts and lots of other physiological differences from humans. The Doctor's chest x-ray is put up on a light box and the on-screen medics notice that this shows two hearts and put this down to something they call a "double exposure". This is just medical techno-babble that doesn't really mean anything. But let us examine the x-ray as shown in the film.
Here we can see a single heart shadow which is on the right hand side so either the emergency room medics have put the film up the wrong way round or the Doctor has Dextrocardia (I suspect the former). Then there are the two white shadows in the middle of the lung fields that the screen doctors call hearts. They are the wrong shape and in the wrong place. They look more like hilar shadows which would indicate a whole different set of problems for the Doctor.

I posted a brief comment about this on my Facebook page last night and Brian from British Invaders asked if the scene from Spearhead in Space was any better. This was the story which introduced Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor in 1970. Interestingly this also showed the Doctor recovering from his regeneration in a hospital. Once again he has a chest x-ray which is supposed to show his two hearts, this time the screen doctor assumes that someone in the x-ray department is playing a joke on him and goes off to remonstrate with them leaving a nurse (and us) to look at this x-ray.
This looks like an artist's impression of a chest x-ray and the staggering thing about it to medical eyes is that it shows no hearts at all! The two dark circles at the top of the chest cavity are what the Spearhead doctor thinks are hearts but again they are wrongly placed, sized and coloured. They should be white shadows where the x-rays have not penetrated to the photographic film. So the simple answer to Brian's question is that the props department and the actors in Spearhead in Space were no better with x-rays than their technologically advanced, but equally incompetent, successors in the 1996 TV movie.

All they need is to have a real medical doctor on set to put them right about all this stuff. It would only take a few minutes and I could spend the rest of my time blogging about it!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Superman - First among sequels

It's time for another film marathon after last year's Planet of the Apes challenge. In anticipation of next year's Man of Steel I picked up the Superman box set dirt cheap and jumped back to 1978. Superman directed by Richard Donner and written by (amongst others) Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Tom Mankiewicz.

This was a monster of a film at the time. A huge budget, an enormous star cast and a team of powerhouse producers and writers. And it runs to 143 minutes. There's a lot of back story to get through, in fact there is quite a bit of Man before we get to the Super. It is 50 minutes until we see the costume briefly, and another 15 before the helicopter rescue scene.

Christopher Reeve is as good as you remember him. He makes a great Superman and his Clark Kent is still funny. I never really liked Margot Kidder's Lois Lane and the decision to have her smoke seems strange even for 1978. Equally odd is playing Lex Luthor and his accomplices for laughs. The movie Luthors have always been more comic than menacing. It's interesting that the new version has dropped him as a villain, maybe films just can't get him right.

Of course there is a lot of dodgy science in the movie, most notably in the turn back the clock finale. There's always the problem of finding a big enough challenge for Superman. And why is Lex Luthor always obsessed with real estate? To be frank these problems and the mass of money and talent thrown at the screen in an over-long film do diminish the impact, but the late lamented Christopher Reeve makes up for it. Plus Valerie Perrine as Miss Teschmacher is phwoar!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big Finish - The Fourth Wall

Big Finish release 157 - The Fourth Wall with Colin Baker as the Doctor and Lisa Greenwood as Flip Jackson. Written by John Dorney and directed by Nick Briggs.

The Doctor and Flip land on the planet of Transmission and find themselves caught up in a television show called Laser and the new technology which blurs the line between fact and fiction.

This is a story about creators meeting their creations and about writers not respecting their fictional characters (that is what John Dorney says on the CD extras so it must be true). There are several great scenes but the best is when the villain from the TV show, Lord Krarn, crosses over into reality and confronts the show-runner who came up with the casual notion that Krarn's wife had been killed by the show's hero. Martin Hutson turns in a fantastic performance as he transforms from a pantomime bad guy to a truly menacing individual. The way he changes his voice as he realises that everything he believed was just a throwaway bit of back story is great.

The Fourth Wall is another terrific Sixth Doctor story that gets a high flying 4 out of 5 question mark embroidered shirts. Next up is more from Nerva city and the dangers of Wirrn Isle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Big Finish - The Five Companions

This is the Big Finish subscribers bonus release The Five Companions written by Eddie Robson with Peter Davison as the Doctor.

Set during a brief gap in the events of The Five Doctors this reunites the Fifth Doctor with five of his former companions in a battle with Daleks and Sontarans. William Russell, Peter Purves, Jean Marsh, Anneke Wills and Sarah Sutton return to their roles and give able support to Peter Davison.

It's not a long story, or at least it didn't seem so to me, but it is fun. It's difficult to pick between the five companions but I think William Russell perhaps edged it for me, maybe because his character was one of the great things about the original series.

A nice bonus from Big Finish which gets 3.5 out of 5 Probic vents. Next up is the Sixth Doctor in The Fourth Wall.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Big Finish - Wall of Darkness

This is the Big Finish Sapphire and Steel release 3.4, Wall of Darkness, with Susannah Harker as Sapphire and David Warrner as Steel. Written and directed by Nigel Fairs. And once again here's a signed CD cover.

This was the last of the Big Finish Sapphire and Steel stories which we covered back in British Invaders episodes 109 & 110. I sold my CDs after we reviewed them but I bought this one again for a fiver at Big Finish day so I would have something for David Warner and Nigel Fairs to sign. I had not planned to listen to it again but my current Big Finish obsession encouraged me to stick it in the CD player again.

The mysterious investigators find themselves in an abandoned shopping mall, or are they in a top secret bunker miles deep below the surface of the Earth? As ever there seems to be some problem with time and Sapphire and Steel must identify the cause and fix it before they are wiped out of existence.

Wall of Darkness brings together several plot threads that had been slowly evolving through the three series of Big Finish releases. Discussing them would involve spoilers which I am not going to give away here. Suffice it to say that there is more than one simple mystery for Sapphire and Steel to solve. Things get wrapped up, but also set up for a possible sequel (which, at the time of writing, seems unlikely to happen).

Warner and Harker are splendid and I enjoyed listening to this story again, especially as for the first episode I was convinced I had missed this out when listening to the others. Wall of Darkness gets a solid 3 out of 5 mysterious artefacts.

Big Finish - The Renaissance Man

Big Finish The Fourth Doctor adventures number 2 - The Renaissance Man, with Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Ian McNeice as Harcourt. Written by Justin Richards and directed by Ken Bentley. And what's the point of going to Big Finish day and getting my CD cover signed if I can't use the image for this post? Voila!

Here's the synopsis straight from the Big Finish site: To continue Leela’s education, the Doctor promises to take her to the famous Morovanian Museum. But the TARDIS lands instead in a quiet English village, where they meet the enigmatic collector Harcourt and his family.

Taking up where they left off last time and it is almost exactly like Saturday tea-time in the 1970s all over again. There isn't a creepy monster for the Doctor to defeat, this is more of a mental struggle for him to overcome. But Doctor number four has always done well in battles of willpower, I'm thinking of his classic encounters with Davros and Morbius. Ian McNeice makes a suitable villain of the piece as Harcourt which, interestingly, was the name of the character he played in the great BBC drama Edge of Darkness.

This was another good story. I think I prefer Destination Nerva for its monster, but this one has got Tom Baker and Louise Jameson's signatures on the front cover! I'm going to be tough with my rating and give this 3.5 out of a possible 5 wide-brimmed Poet hats.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Big Finish - The Curse of Davros

Big Finish monthly release 156 - The Curse of Davros with Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, Lisa Greenwood as Flip, and Terry Molloy as Davros. Written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

An escape pod crashes in London and the Doctor meets up with Philippa "Flip" Jackson and her boyfriend, Jared. Before they know it they are thrown back to 1815, a field in Belgium and the eve of Waterloo. As always there are complications, and Davros and the Daleks are out to change the course of Earth history forever.

Colin Baker and Terry Molloy are on top form here. So much so that some of the other actors seem a little overpowered. As ever the point of a Davros story is the battle of wills between him and the Doctor, and this is no exception. The clash of the two characters gives us some great scenes, and Nick Briggs backs them up with his usual brilliant Dalek voices.

I did have a slight problem with this particular audio drama but it is difficult to discuss without giving away too many spoilers for this story. Let me just say that there is a twist and I heard it coming. Normally I do not get twists, nor do I spot the murderer in crime fiction and am usually surprised when the big reveal happens. However this one is signposted early on, and when it turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be I was a little disappointed with the story.

For that reason this is only going to get 3 out of a possible 5 Technicolour Dreamcoats. Next up is Doctor of the Fourth and Leela of the Sevateem up against The Renaissance Man.