Tag Archives: time travel

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani

forest face

“I doubt the Rani ever does ANYTHING at random,” says the Doctor. But is her project management sense really as strong as her fashion sense? Let’s find out.

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

Manic miners

In The Mark of the Rani we see a classic example of a fix-up project. A larger strategic project has gone wrong – in this instance, the Rani’s experiments on her planet Miasimiah Goria have heightened her slaves’ awareness as planned, but lowered their ability to sleep – and an offshoot tactical recovery project is initiated. Wisely, the Rani stages her subsidiary project offsite in Victorian England, where her activities will cause no disruption to the mother portfolio. Her metrical objective is to collect enough brain fluid to restore the balance at home, and from everything we see of her I’m confident in assuming she’s planned out her milestones and set a clear endpoint. A great start.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

bathhouse

Most establishments would charge you extra for this sort of thing

The Doctor’s surprised to see the Rani’s volcano screen-print as he reckons her tastes are sterile. But in fact all the indicators on her balanced scorecard expose her as a fun-lover. Her chosen methodology revolves around milking miners, for a start. And there’s an element of cosplay to the whole thing, with her man-slaves adorned in fetishwear and her own time spent dressed up as an old lady watching rugged Geordies getting naked. (Is the Doctor into that too? “When we went past the bath house that instrument of yours reacted!” squeaks Peri at one point.) She might claim she sees everyone as just “walking bags of chemicals” but I’ve heard better excuses.

Most excitingly for a Doctor Who villain, the Rani actually understands marketing too. We see her sending a child running off to the tavern with a penny and instructions to tell the men there’s still a bit of hot water left if they hurry. Crafting scarcity into your call to action is a time-honoured technique for driving footfall.

So her skillset includes attention to detail AND flair. And on learning she’s been doing this sort of thing undetected on Earth for centuries, even the Doctor has to concede she’s a brilliant tactician.

3. CONTINGENCY

glitter

Peri gets glitterfaced and shafted

Theres a consequence to her removing chemicals from miners’ brains of course.  One minute they’re enjoying a friendly spot of post-bath towel flicking, the next they’re kicking potatoes everywhere and smashing machinery to pieces. But she’s factored for this resultant aggression and keeps well out of the way when the lads are getting lairy.

There’s nothing to suggest the Rani’s project wouldn’t have successfully delivered had she been left to her own devices. But even so, she’s well prepared for any eventuality with a state-of-the-art remote-controlled TARDIS, the insanely camp touch of a glittery pellet bomb built into her bracelets and of course – lying around just in case – mines that turn people into trees! Well you never know.

tree

“Hoist up your skirts, Peri, off we go!”

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

She’s definitely not a team player by choice, and the Rani’s plans are only spoilt when the Master turns up, purely to see what’s going on and what trouble he can cause. He obviously fancies her too – “Anything connected with you would undoubtedly be fascinating!’ he gushes on arrival. Sure, he goes on about some grand plan to upset history but he’s clearly just making it up as he goes along.

So she’s forced to work with someone she hates and who keeps getting in the way of her iterative dependencies. It’s basically an Industrial Revolution Apprentice special, and it’s surprising we don’t get a glimpse of Alan Sugar selling an early version of his difference engine in the town square.

sweetmeat

“Luke, I want you to swallow this very special sweetmeat” – the Master’s repertory of Victorian chat-up lines in full play here

The Master’s the worst kind of team member to be accountable for too, and spends the whole story pissing on the Rani’s baseline – threatening to break her machinery, stealing her hard-won brain fluid and her mind-controlling maggots, and even bringing the Doctor there so she’ll have no choice but to join forces. The Rani’s critical chains are completely disrupted.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

dinosaur

The Doctor uncovers the Rani’s sideline as a researcher for the value meat industry

With the Master and the Doctor in town, the Rani MoSCoWs the hell out of the earned value to date, deciding that the only sensible course is to abandon the project entirely and salvage what she can. It’s a brave choice for any project manager, but absolutely the right one. She maintains a cool sense of priorities while prevented from leaving, spying on the Master at every opportunity and commenting acidly on his own lack of business prowess: “What’s he up to now? It’ll be something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

When the chance comes she’s even able to give him a face-to-face appraisal: “You’re unbalanced – no wonder the Doctor always outwits you.” Such is her own composure that we don’t doubt her. Finally, with her deliverables in tatters thanks to the Master, she takes a well-earned opportunity to knee him in his own deliverables. “I don’t make mistakes,” she’d claimed earlier. And she’s right.

DEBRIEF

  • The project’s measurable goals were well-established
  • The proposed methodology combined creative flair with metrical precision
  • Every contingency was fully risk-managed
  • The project manager was forced under duress to induct additional team members, which enabled catastrophic chaos creep to the scorecard
  • The key deliverables were unsalvageable, and it is recommended that the project manager works entirely in isolation in the future
rani

Project FAIL

5 things I learned from The Snowmen

1. …AND REMEMBER

john lewis doctor who snowman

First, Steven Moffat introduced the Weeping Angels – creatures that can only move when not observed – to Doctor Who. Then, John Lewis took this principle and applied it to snowmen in their terrifying Christmas advert. Now, Doctor Who counters with horrific snowmen who DO move about, and snarl with gnashing fangs, and eat people, with the explanation that they’re made of “memory snow”.

The logical conclusion of all of this – with Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary next year and John Lewis’s 150th the year after – will be a forthcoming crossover spectacular in which the Doctor saves a branch of John Lewis from sentient carnivorous versions of those “memory foam” mattresses that are so popular nowadays. It would not be a big leap for a programme that once made an evil plastic armchair the monster of the week.

2. CHEKHOV’S WORM

memory worm

Among all the funny lines that Strax hogged were mentions of automated laser monkeys, scalpel mines and projectile acid fish. And there’s a video game I’d happily play for hours. He also hopes for a “full frontal assault.” (Is this the first Doctor Who story to use the phrase “full frontal”? In the same episode that has someone say “enter by the back door”?!) But the must-have toy for 2013 will be the Torchwood-tinged “memory worm”. Especially if it actually lets you wipe an hour’s worth of memory. It would come in handy if you’ve just accidentally sat through the live episode of The Only Way Is Essex or something.

3. He can’t sulk in his box forever

Face!

There was a lot of gorgeous imagery in The Snowmen, with the TARDIS sitting on a cloud at the top of an impossible spiral staircase the obvious centrepiece. But to a childhood fan like me it was the revamped title sequence and TARDIS control room that had me all a-quiver. I think they’re the perfect mix of old and new.

4. GOR BLIMEY!

Practically Perfect

The governess and her two young charges caught up in impossible goings-on is a nicely familiar set-up. The children terrified of the late former governess comes to us via The Turn of the Screw, but thankfully Clara doesn’t. With her cleverness, wonder and Gladstone bag she’s clearly Mary Poppins. She even gets a scene in which she ascends cheekily into the air while holding an umbrella. And as for her wild stories…

5. THE CENTURIES THAT DIVIDE HER SHALL BE UNDONE

Coincidence?

In Doctor Who terms, the most easily reached answer to Clara’s existential mystery is that she’s splintered in time like City of Death‘s Scaroth. Her claim (one of her “definitely true stories”) that she was born behind the clock face of Big Ben sounds like a nice symbolic lead-in to that sort of thing. But somehow I can’t see her recreating the most iconic cliffhanger of my childhood by pulling off a rubber mask to reveal what my sister and I always called “The Twiglet Monster”. And this is Steven Moffat we’re talking about. Previous climactic revelations have centred around Rivers and Ponds, preferably by the side of a lake. So watch out for Clara’s claim that she “invented fish”.

“It sounds wrong!” – The wit and wisdom of S Club 7 part two: The 1999 Specials

Between Miami 7 and L.A. 7, S Club filmed two double-length specials detailing their adventures on the road trip across America. And so our episode guide continues… [part one here]

BACK TO THE FIFTIES

Really?: It’s the second time S Club have time travelled, this time thanks to a magic mileometer. That’s all very well, but they don’t seem to have any trouble spending their modern day money in the bowling alley.

Paul’s dinners: His subconscious is manifesting as road signs now. Fortunately after this unhappy hallucination he gets to tuck into a huge pile of hot dogs later on.

signs

Topical!: The gang are very keen to point out the unreconstructed sexism of the era. But otherwise it’s an incredible, idealised 1959 that sees Bradley able to chat up a white girl without anyone bringing race into it. Speaking of which…

Exploring other cultures with Jo: Oh dear god she’s blacked up AGAIN.

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 22.59.24

Careful what you wish for: Hannah: “We’re looking for a wormhole in the time-space-whatsisname!” The countdown to Primeval continues.

Slashfic trigger:

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 22.52.57

BOYFRIENDS AND BIRTHDAYS

Really?:  At this point in their long drive the gang’d be somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona. So it’s not clear where Rachel finds the beach with the crashing waves.

Careful what you wish for: When Rachel’s on the point of leaving the band: “I suppose we’re the S Club 6 now.” “It doesn’t sound right.” “It sounds wrong!” A few years later, thanks to Paul, this focus group would take place for real.

Dentalwatch: 

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 23.12.51

Dada never died: Jon: “Statistically fish ARE much more reliable than boyfriends.”

Paul’s dinners: 

Slashfic trigger: Rachel tries to impress new crush Ethan with an invitation to tea and biscuits, but when Bradley points out they don’t have any, she offers him her sticky buns instead.

To be continued…

‘Poo in the sky’ – The wit and wisdom of S Club 7 part one: Miami 7

My exclusive episode guide to S Club’s television adventures gets underway with their debut TV series, 1999’s Miami 7.

Episode 1: Take-Off

Paul’s dinners: ‘I started thinking about lunch and I completely lost it.’

Topical!: ‘You’re looking a bit Tony Blair, Jon!’

Dada never died:

Rachel’s world: ‘Maybe fame is just poo in the sky.’

4th wall shattered: Tina: ‘Hang on a minute, whose fantasy are we in here?!’  – as the gang dip in and out of one another’s dream sequences.

Episode 2: Howard’s Hotel

Slashfic trigger: Bradley: ‘Girls – they’re so rough!’ appearing in a white-splattered t-shirt and offering his body for inspection.

Careful what you wish for: ‘I guess if we don’t make it as famous singers we could always become a singing cleaning service’

Episode 3: The Blue Chevy

Dentalwatch special:

Tonguewatch special:

Episode 4: Wind Resistance

Exploring other cultures with Jo: Jo: ‘You pompous git!’ Paul: ‘What did you call me?’ Jo: ‘Great leader! Only I used the Hawaiian pronunciation.’

Slashfic trigger:

Dentalwatch: Paul: ‘That was a smirk not a smile!’ Hannah: ‘That was a smile! I showed tooth!’ Paul: ‘If you show less than five it’s a smirk.’

Rachel’s world:

Dada never died: Tina: ‘What am I, a choreographer or a combine harvester?’

Exploring other cultures with Jo: Jo blacks up after a flight through the air. But it’s all in good fun!

Episode 5: The Man From EMI

Paul’s dinners: ‘I haven’t had my breakfast yet!’

Exploring other cultures with Jo: ‘Hasta la vista baby! Which in English means – well I’m not sure what it means.’

Episode 6: Alligator

Dentalwatch:

Careful what you wish for: Hannah crawls around on the grass in an attempt to devise a trap for a pesky alligator. She’ll be doing a lot more of that sort of thing once Primeval starts.

Episode 7: Volleyball

Nothing to see here. Just lots of SKIN.

Episode 8: Alien Hunter

Really?: This episode is notable for CATHY BLOODY DENNIS showing up (in her only ever acting role) as Jill, an actress with a terrible northern accent, who plays Cinnamon Hunter, a character with a terrible American accent, in a sort of prototype Sarah Jane Adventures show that’s being filmed at S Club’s hotel.

In  River Song style she leaves S Club with a book, blank except the first page which reads ‘This book is the future, fill it with your hopes and dreams.’

Episode 9: Missing

Paul’s dinners:

Episode 10: Court In The Act

Really?: In this hilarious episode S Club 7 pretend to be American to avoid deportation, and show kids that immigration fraud is fun! Jon actually ends up perjuring himself in court in pursuit of this. His defence also includes describing S Club as ‘the best and the brightest the nation has to offer’ and doing the mid-air splits. Yes, the courtroom scene turns into a full-on song and dance routine.

Slashfic trigger: An American backstory for Tina: ‘Back on her daddy’s ranch, this little homegirl used to really ride the range.’

Paul’s dinners:

Episode 11: Bermuda Triangle

Really?: It’s a time travel episode. S Club sail into the Bermuda Triangle and end up in 1975. Wigs ahoy! They meet Elvis, Cher, and most puzzlingly Madonna, who would have been a Michigan cheerleader at the time. To cap things off, Abba’s Dancing Queen seems to have been released a year early.

Rachel’s world: She mistakes a mop for a spider.

Episode 12: How Deep is Your Love?

Dada never died: Bradley: ‘The secret with girls is to treat them like buses.’ Jon: ‘You mean don’t put your feet on their seats?’

Really?: Hannah finds she’s able to communicate with dolphins (‘That’s a very fishist remark!’) in some sort of tribute to The Ballad Of Halo Jones perhaps.

Careful what you wish for: Rachel’s excited to be approached by a model scout, despite Bradley’s scepticism (‘You couldn’t model, you’re just too… Rachel.’) It turns out he only wants her for her hands. I’m reminded unhappily of her later ad campaign for Braun ladyshavers.

Topical!: The three girls Paul is said to fancy most are Jennifer Aniston, Xena: Warrior Princess and Natalie Imbruglia.

13: Reprise

The season finale’s mostly a clip show, but at least Cathy Dennis’s back to deliver the deathless line ‘One moment I was popping burgers in a bun, the next I was zapping aliens with a gamma pulse death ray!’

4th wall shattered: Rachel turns to camera: ‘Are you sure this isn’t a fantasy sequence?’

To be continued…

This used to be the future… Fear Her today

The Olympic stadium imagined in 2006 for Doctor Who, and as it actually turned out

Six years ago, Doctor Who broadcast the episode Fear Her. It’s set today, on Friday 27th July 2012 – the Doctor and Rose arrive in London on the day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Hi-jinks ensue, naturally, and the whole thing was an exciting glimpse into the future a shoddy and much-derided mess.

But how well did the 2006 production team imagine the world of today?

Shayne Ward had a few hits after winning X Factor in 2005, but mostly disappeared from view after his second album and was finally dropped by Syco last year. There’s no Greatest Hits compilation – Rose would be more likely to see a poster for Rock Of Ages, which he’s been starring in recently.

There’s no sign of a Dame Kelly Holmes Close in London yet either, though it was a reasonable assumption. Dame Kelly has had to make do with a guest appearance on an Absolutely Fabulous Olympic special instead.

Rather than relying on coloured pencils, Chloe Webber would be firing up Draw Something on a Samsung Galaxy Tab. But who could have seen Draw Something coming? Touchscreen phones didn’t take off until after the launch of the iPhone in 2007. This really is the future.

As for the tv coverage, here’s really no need to turn to BBC News 24 for a ‘Countdown To The Games’ as Trish does. No need at all. It’s far harder to find a channel that isn’t breathlessly building up to the event.

Speaking of the news coverage we see, ‘the queues started a week ago’ for the opening ceremony, apparently, which doesn’t seem quite right when everyone’s bought their tickets in advance. Mind you, maybe it was simply people who’d ordered their tickets from CoSport.

Then there’s security. In this story Rose steals a big axe from the back of a council van and starts swinging it wildly in the middle of a residential street. By the time she’s pushed her way brusquely through the crowd on the Torch route, ignored a warning from a police officer, shouted ‘I can stop this from happening!’ and thrown a metal object into the air at the torchbearer, I’m very sorry to say that Rose Tyler has been shot dead by G4S snipers.

And the weather? It’s ‘a wonderful summer’s day’ according to the news. But by nightfall the Doctor senses a storm’s coming. Accurate? We’re about to find out…

Chicken & Lantern: Series 4

Over the last year I’ve been bringing the forgotten animated 80s series Chicken & Lantern to a wider audience with these episode guides (Series 1, 2 and 3). And now, as they say, the dramatic conclusion.

It was a year of endings. The fall of communism, the final episode of Doctor Who, and the last time that Sonia would ever straddle the top of the UK charts. But for a few, 1989’s most significant loss was the sad demise of Chicken & Lantern. Their antics had been deemed quaint and irrelevant and their fourth season of adventures was to be their last. The production team tried various controversial creative approaches in the final run of episodes, some wilder than others and not all of them successful, but then they had nothing to lose.

Prunella Scales returned as the voice of Chicken, and the role of Lantern was taken up by Geoffrey Palmer, who brought a certain gruff world-weariness to the time-travelling festival decoration.

SERIES 4 EPISODE GUIDE

6 x 10 minute episodes

Transmitted on BBC1, Wednesdays at 4.45pm, 22nd November – 27th December 1989

Episode 1: Bird Down

In a bravura opening sequence worthy of a James Bond film, Chicken and Lantern make their escape from a Nazi-infested zeppelin high above 1930s New York, plunging through the sky onto the Empire State Building where they battle their way down through Cthulhoid monsters oozing from the walls of the carpeted hallways, finally reaching street level only to get caught up in a dramatic shoot-out between rival organised crime gangs. They race into the sewers, where they outsmart a ravenous alligator, and finally slide down a giant shaft to reach the centre of the earth where we see that our heroes have established a safe HQ that they can safely visit in any time zone. There’s not a word of dialogue up until this point, which greatly alarmed Geoffrey Palmer on his first day of recording. Especially when all that he or Prunella Scales were required to do in the final seconds of the episode was to grunt or scream respectively as the large time scanner screen in their HQ fills with the terrifying face of an enormous fox.

Episode 2: Cooped Up

The bizarre and infamous ‘live action’ episode. Having established a base of operations for the intrepid duo, no time was wasted in setting an entire episode there, and during a power cut at that. Still a great deal of money was clearly saved on animation by having Prunella Scales sat in a chicken suit in a semi-darkened room (lit only by the dim red light of the molten core of the earth,  diffusing through the skylight), whispering to Geoffrey Palmer who’s gamely done up in a whalebone corset, red tissue paper and golden tassles as Lantern. Chicken believes that the fox they saw on the screen will be their undoing and their end, and confides in Lantern of the nameless creeping dread that’s haunted her days and her dreams. She fears and welcomes her oncoming death in equal measure, she confesses, finally breaking down into sobs. As a means of introducing existential anxiety to a young audience, it couldn’t be deemed a failure. But then that wasn’t exactly the show’s remit.

Episode 3: Pecking Order

A time travel romp allowing C&L to pay homage to the programme that inspired it, this episode saw Chicken (now back to her flat cartoon self) spliced into chicken-related footage from 70s Doctor Who episodes, as she becomes separated from Lantern, unstuck in time alone, and tries to track down a fellow time traveller to get her home. At first appearing aboard the SS Bernice where she fails to attract Jon Pertwee’s attention from within a crate, she’s then whooshed to Paris in 1979 where she’s hurtled along her own timeline to the point of old age and death, before Tom Baker reverses the polarity to save her. Finally she pops up in a village church where, just as the Master is about to sacrifice her to a Daemon, Lantern (accompanied for no easily justifiable reason by Crow from Saturday Superstore) swoops in over Jo Grant’s shoulder and they all escape to safety.

Episode 4: Home To Roost

In an ill-remembered episode guest-directed by Peter Greenaway, Chicken and Lantern learn a complicated formal dance in an unnamed baroque citadel. These scenes are intercut with abstract, stylised scenes of a future metropolis filled with rotting foxes. The music was alright.

Episode 5: The Four Lanterns

A celebratory episode designed to clear up the confusion around Lantern’s backstory, which saw a return to the Shanghai setting of Season 1’s finale (where all of Lantern’s past and future incarnations live together as a family) and an ambitious attempt to bring all the actors who’d voiced him together. David Yip refused to participate and had to be represented by recycled sound clips from his earlier episodes. Bruce Willis had loved his time on the show so much that he gave his time for free, although as he was now a major star, and busy filming Die Hard 2, this amounted to a quick phone call with no script, during which he said a few phrases he thought his incarnation of Lantern might be likely to utter. So with two of the Lanterns speaking only in non-sequiturs – “No, dear Chicken! You’re doing it all wrong!”; “Suck my fiery wick, mothers!” – and so on, it was left to Burt Kwouk and Geoffrey Palmer to try to carry the complicated plot, which was some sort of absurdly hopeful epiphany in which Lantern reconciled all the contradictory aspects of his psyche.

Episode 6: Outfoxed

The ending was all that mattered. The story that led to it was almost incidental, save that in a metafictional twist that would only become apparent more than twenty years later when I was writing this today, the fox so intent on senselessly killing off our heroes turned out to be called Bertie.

But what sticks in the mind of everyone who sees it is the last few minutes and their terrible imagery. At least we didn’t have to see the worst of it happen onscreen. It was bad enough that Chicken should actually be savaged by the fox, and that Lantern should fall into a threshing machine while trying to save her. They were wise to cut away at the last moment and leave those fates suggested merely by sound effect with the occasional half-chewed wing or mangled shred of red paper flying across the screen. Although even that informed a generation’s trauma. A light-hearted soundtrack was added at producers’ insistence to alleviate the horror, but no-one would now agree that Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song did anything to make things better.

When the children had finished crying – if they ever finished crying – if they looked up at the screen again they would see their heroes, barely recognisable: Chicken just shreds and bits of bone, Lantern smashed and torn, his light sputtering. But that dying light signalled the start of one final juddering flight through time, and our heroes arrive on a sunny hillside by the opening of a cave in Ancient Greece, where a philosopher scoops up their remnants in his arms and carries them to their rest. The camera fixes and slowly zooms in on the firelit shadows on the wall of the cave, where we see that Chicken and Lantern are slowly becoming whole again as silhouettes. Plato (for it is he, voiced by John Gielgud) explains that through their adventures our heroes have become the best of every chicken, and of every lantern, and that they will live on forever, symbolically, as ideal forms. However much comfort THAT was supposed to be. The light in the cave slowly dies and the credits roll while that unforgettable theme tune plays out one last, sad time.

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The War Games

In this series I’m applying the methodologies of my day job to classic Doctor Who stories. Project management is a subtle profession requiring people skills and precise organisational abilities. Let’s find out if the War Chief’s got what it takes.

Every freelancer brings their own unique skillset to an organisation

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

When we looked at Castrovalva in the first instalment of the series, we were analysing a self-starting project manager who was setting his own goals. In The War Games we’re looking at a more common scenario — our hero the War Chief is a freelancer who’s been employed to manage the War Lord’s people’s grand scheme. Their plan to raise a galactic army by kidnapping soldiers from across Earth’s history and whittling them down to find the best fighters may seem convoluted and ludicrous, but getting a ridiculous brief from a client and having to make the best of it is a daily occurrence in our profession. The question is: can you deliver?

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

Amongst other capabilities, the War Chief contributed the TIme Lords' unique 'fridge magnet' control system to the operation

For a project so mammoth in scope, a great deal of resource is required. A suitable planet is found to host the games, and the War Chief contributes time travel capability to his clients’ existing brainwashing technology. Processing and relocating all the participating armies along with great chunks of landscape, ordnance and architecture must have been a logistical nightmare, but thanks to the War Chief everything seems to be running efficiently when we join the project. A clear line management structure is in place with the likes of General ‘glasses of doom’ Smythe running a tight ship in the 1917 zone, where we hear Captain Ransom telling Lady Jennifer: “People don’t understand. It’s the paperwork you see. It’s quite fantastic how many forms we have to fill in.” Reassuring.

If I said you had a beautiful body, you would believe it WITHOUT QUESTION

3. CONTINGENCY

Contingency’s the art of preparing for what might go wrong. We never hear of any particular timeframes that have been assigned to the project so delays aren’t necessarily an issue. And we see that the War Chief keeps a close eye on the one thing which could (and does) go wrong – the brainwashing process. We see him checking in with the head of science and responding to the news that it has a 95% success rate with the words “I’m not interested in excuses”. 95% is fucking brilliant if you ask me. But as a great project manager, he’s instinctively applying quantitative analysis and recognises that 5% of free-thinking humans could pose a serious threat.

And yet the process seemed so foolproof

There’s no black mark to the later revelation that his time travel machines have almost completely run out of energy – the project aim is to to conquer the galaxy and subjugate 1000 inhabited worlds, and time travel isn’t required for that. The SIDRATs trigger no further dependencies on the critical path. In project terms he’s met the goal parameters by using the available resources exactly to capacity. And that’s amazing.

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

The War Chief has a commanding presence, a nice way of strutting into a room and a deliciously camp, snarling way of delivering his instructions – we can imagine he’s a popular team leader. He’s described as ‘silver-tongued’ yet we also see that he’s not shy of injecting an element of threat into his briefs – “I hope for your own sake the experiment will be successful” is much more stick than carrot, for instance. Happy to get hands-on (as we see when he takes over from a technician in episode 6), he seems always to be seething with anger but tightly under control.

There are holes in the process, though. “Didn’t you receive your instructions?” he asks General Smythe in episode 7. And we learn that despite – or even perhaps because of – doing everything right, the War Chief is mistrusted, disobeyed. “I was promised efficiency and co-operation! Without the knowledge I have, this complete venture would be impossible!” he complains. We’ve all been there.

Even sitting on a chair incorrectly can foment hostility towards a visiting freelancer

And it’s the Security Chief we can blame for this. Resentful and disparaging of this senior member of staff brought in above him, he publicly badmouths our hero at every opportunity and spreads doubt about his loyalty. It’s a situation that will be sadly familiar to any freelancer – however good your work, the existing staff structure will violently cling together to ensure you never forget you’re an outsider.

Still, the bickering between the War Chief and the Security Chief is always fantastic. We’re not even halfway through the story before the War Chief starts calling his colleague incompetent. And of course, it leads to one of Doctor Who’s greatest exchange of insults of all time.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

The War Chief runs a tight operation and responds immediately and effectively to any crisis. He prides himself on his logical approach. Phrases such as “In future inform me of all such developments,” are never far from his lips, and we see him supervising even those operations for which he doesn’t have direct responsibility, such as Jamie’s interrogation.

The late, great Philip Madoc

But it’s the arrival of the War Lord from the home planet that throws everything into disarray. The Chief greets this news with the calm panic common to any PM faced with a visit from their key stakeholder at short notice. To be fair, the War Lord is a terrifying client. Sarcastic, suspicious and with a quietly kinky undertow, he’s mesmerising to watch and I’m sure a bastard to work for. We’ve all had devastating conference calls with his type.

Inevitably the client’s arrival is the catalyst for the in-fighting amongst management to escalate. “I am tired of this eternal bickering,” says the War Lord, a full three minutes after arriving at HQ. He hasn’t even sat through the previous six episodes! The classic technique of blaming a recently departed employee is deployed. “Smythe was a fool, he deserved to die!” spits the Chief immediately after the unlucky martinet is shot.

At the end of episode 7 the Chief is, effectively, sacked as project manager while the War Lord takes charge himself. An ignominious end to a project for any professional. But he wasn’t to blame. “I am in complete control,” he says just before that, even as the resistance rises and the operation spectacularly begins to fall apart. You believe him.

If only they'd given him one of these flattering uniforms

He continues to work as a sort of consultant – after all, his skills are irreplaceable – and has the dubious pleasure of seeing things fall apart without him as the  remaining team make increasingly dubious decisions. Their preparing to drop a neutron bomb, for instance, is as typically frustrating an instance of a client undoing all your hard work as I’ve ever seen.

Sadly the War Chief is finally shot dead by his clients to prevent him taking their secrets to a rival agency – a shame, as simply signing a standard confidentiality agreement at the start of the process would have obviated this. Before his death, he confides in the Doctor that his motivation in aiding the War Lord’s people’s plan was to “bring order”. A great project manager to the end.

And I'll need a VERY BIG MAP

DEBRIEF

  • The freelance project manager was given overall responsibility for all pre-planned war game activities
  • His allocation of necessary inputs was fully optimised to allow the project to begin with high efficiency levels
  • With hindsight, the responsibility assignment matrix should have allocated equal accountability to a permanent member of staff
  • Process execution and change control were good, but undermined by a clash of management styles within the organisation
  • What a stupid fool he was

Project FAIL

Chicken & Lantern: Series 3

Whatever happened to Chicken & Lantern? After the animated time-travelling pair’s poorly-received 1985 series producers were keen for a new direction with more focus, and with the departure of Bruce Willis (who had become too expensive for a BBC children’s show budget) Lantern was recast; Burt Kwouk inevitably taking up the part. His warmer, more reassuring Lantern allowed Prunella Scales to make Chicken more of a flighty, unpredictable character again. But crucially, the third season became defined by two things: an ongoing story with cliffhangers rather than standalone episodes, and the idea that Chicken needed a nemesis…

(If you’ve never heard of Chicken & Lantern, here’s the introduction to the first series.)

SERIES 3 EPISODE GUIDE

6 x 10 minute episodes

Transmitted on BBC1, Wednesdays at 4.35pm, 3th September – 8th October 1986

Episode 1: Cock and Conservatory

Chicken and Lantern arrive back in 1986 Basingstoke – or so they think! Passing by the window of a Radio Rentals they glance at the television and are horrified to see the band ‘Four Star’ performing their hit ‘Can’t Wait Another Second’. Lantern quickly deduces they’ve passed into a parallel universe where the band they know as Five Star only has four members!

To find out what happened to the missing Pearson sibling, the duo make haste to Romford, where they find Stedman imprisoned in a sinister conservatory. In freeing the should-have-been pop star, they’re accosted by this universe’s version of Chicken: a male fowl known as Cock who’s deliberately perverted history to take a share of Five Star’s millions for himself. With Lantern trapped in the doors of his counterpart Conservatory, and Chicken pinned down by Cock, things look grim – until all five Pearsons arrive and distract the evil pair with a slick dance routine to their hit ‘Find The Time’. Chicken & Lantern channel the power of dance to return to their own universe but their warped alter-egos pursue them…

Episode 2: Running Like Cockwork

It’s a nerve-jangling chase through time, as Chicken and Lantern try to shake off the evil Cock and Conservatory. They travel to the Ice Age, to a distant future in which everyone in the world is asleep, and finally to 1945 for a tense showdown in the New Mexico desert, minutes before the world’s first nuclear explosion. In retrospect, these abandoned locations were clearly chosen to showcase the dynamics between the new line-up of characters. Cock, a self-loathing, misanthropomorphic character whose malevolence and goals were never satisfactorily defined, was voiced with Shakespearian bile by Daniel Day-Lewis. Burt Kwouk recalls that Day-Lewis’s insistence on method acting resulted in his turning up to recording sessions coated in discarded chicken skin, seething with rage and feathers, and refers to him mildly to this day as “an unpleasant man”. Conservatory meanwhile was a less talkative presence than Lantern, more of a means of getting from time to time than a character in his own right, and his dialogue consisted mostly of a series of frustrated grunts. He was portrayed by Matthew Waterhouse.

Episode 3: Big Bang Bang Chicken

The episode 2 cliffhanger saw all the characters caught in the blast of a nuclear detonation. But long-term fans didn’t worry for our heroes’ safety, when the title sequence itself shows that exposure to fire only hastens Lantern’s ability to escape from dangerous situations. And as Conservatory only needs the warming rays of the sun on its indoor tomatoes to power its timeflights, all our protagonists find that the atomic blast propels them further through the vortex than ever before, to the beginning of the universe itself.

The primordial forces force our heroes into yet another showdown with their baleful counterparts. In abstract scenes reminiscent of the wilder excesses of Series 2, everyone discovers their archetype. Conservatory and Lantern meet the Unifying Force Of Practical Design, an avuncular demigod clearly based on Terence Conran, while Chicken and Cock face their own natures at the court of the god Gallus Galactis (the self-styled ‘Star Chicken’). It’s here we discover that Cock’s loathing for Chicken is merely the twisted product of his intense desire for her, and as all the characters head off through time again, he vows to make her his own.

Episode 4: Acockalypse Now

From the beginning of time to the end of the world! There was a popular belief in the 80s that the world would end in 2012, and the year we live in now was the setting for Episode 4’s showdown. We might laugh at some of the predictions the writers of 26 years ago made, but for fans this is a poetic and well-regarded episode. Arriving in Skegness in 2012, Chicken and Lantern discover a grey world winding down towards death – the suggestion is very much that the end will come with a whimper. Holidaymakers shuffle slowly along rusting moving pavements and communicate with each other through a network of telephone-linked Olivetti electronic typewriters slung around their necks. As the colour begins to fade from  Lantern as well as from Conservatory’s tomatoes, it seems our heroes are trapped. “What is… this… terrible place?” asks Burt Kwouk in a tearjerking speech as he flutters on a makeshift deathbed under the pier.

Ironically it’s Cock’s selfish desire to escape that reinvigorates society and saves the planet, as he’s been preserving a mystic Century Egg inside Conservatory. On breaking it open, colour is returned to the world and our leading characters are able to time travel again. But as Chicken and Lantern depart, Cock confides in Conservatory that he knows exactly where they’re headed…

Episode 5: Cock Party

“I hate the term Stag Party,” hisses Daniel Day-Lewis in this episode. “The opposite of HEN is COCK.” In an unusual move, this Cock-centric episode doesn’t feature the title characters at all. Set entirely inside Conservatory, while in pursuit of Chicken and Lantern through the time vortex, it features Cock reflecting on his recently realised love for Chicken and his plans to capture her heart. We also see flashbacks which explain his origin. A happy childhood as a family pet is marred forever when the eldest son of the family, drunk on his first taste of sherry, attempts to carry out a rough caponisation on Christmas Eve. Escaping from this terrifying ordeal, Cock swears vengeance on all humanity and stumbles into a garden centre where his partnership with Conservatory is forged.

It’s largely a monologue for Daniel Day-Lewis although Matthew Waterhouse grunts as he’s never grunted before.

Episode 6: We Are Feathered Here Today…

The final episode of the series saw Chicken and Lantern crashland in Russia, 1912 – the power of the Century Egg has allowed them to travel by exactly 100 years only. Anticipating this, Cock is already in league with Rasputin and soon brings the mystic’s hypnotic powers to bear on Chicken, resulting in Prunella Scales’s unforgettable speech. ‘I love Cock,’ she sighs. ‘No-one compares to him. So even should I never see another living soul, I’d gladly spend every waking hour of every last day of my life with my poor stunted wings wrapped around Cock.’ Delivered in a dreamy monotone, it gave a  generation of impressionable children pause for thought.

The climactic wedding scene in the Tsar’s Winter Palace was no less memorable. Just as it seems the mesmerised Chicken is about to pledge herself to Cock forever, Lantern finally escapes from Conservatory by using all his strength to smash through a double glazed window-pane. In tatters, he shines a light of truth upon Chicken, causing her to declare ‘I cock-a-doodle don’t!’ and the two dematerialise as the crowd turn upon their tormentors. The closing moments, in which the Empress hurls a shivering, plucked Cock into a large pot of boiling water along with poor Conservatory’s prize tomatoes ended the series on a disturbing note. Daniel Day Lewis’s horrible screams would echo in children’s ears until the fourth – and final – series was finally broadcast.

Chicken & Lantern: Series 2

As we have seen, the success of the first series of Chicken & Lantern was marred by the acrimonious departure of David Yip after the final episode. With a second series to be written and produced, and BBC executives pronouncing that it should be appealing to a potential North American audience, up-and-coming actor Bruce Willis was cast as Lantern. His wisecracking performance shifted the dynamic of the show entirely, forcing Prunella Scales to play Chicken as a more thoughtful, maternal character — perhaps understandable after the events at the end of the first series.

Controversially, the title sequence was reshot, and while its story of how a rotisserie chicken escapes her spit to travel through time on a Chinese lantern was much the same, it was relocated from a Basingstoke shopping precinct to Chinatown, New York City. No on-screen explanation was ever given for this contradiction, although after the show’s cancellation the continuity-heavy fan-written novels of the 90s put forward any number of wild theories to reconcile it.

SERIES 2 EPISODE GUIDE

6 x 10 minute episodes (one episode never transmitted)

Transmitted on BBC1, Mondays at 4.45pm, 7th January – 11th February 1985.

Episode 1: Whaddya Know, JCDecaux? Touching down in what they believe is present-day New York after some unseen adventures, Chicken & Lantern soon realise they are in their personal future after catching sight of a billboard featuring Chicken advertising a new egg-based easy-bake cake mix. Throughout the episode, Chicken is accosted by fans, and the contrast between her unexpected celebrity status and her insistence that she would never advertise such a product is played for full comic effect. Today this episode is generally regarded as poorly-written and an excuse for Bruce Willis to oversell his role. The fact that the events leading to future Chicken’s apparent change of principles are never explored is cited by many as the beginning of the end for the show.

Episode 2: Kentucky Fly Chicken Arriving at Knob Creek Farm in the 19th Century, the duo help to convince a young Abraham Lincoln that slavery is wrong, in an episode widely derided by TV historians for its uneasy mix of sledgehammer moralising and childish innuendo. The scene in which the boy Abraham nearly drowns in the swollen Knob Creek is thought to contain some particularly inappropriate dialogue.

Episode 3: [untitled – never broadcast] There are a lot of rumours about the banned episode of Chicken & Lantern. This is the truth. On seeing an early version of the season’s first episode in post-production, Michael Grade was furious. At a now infamous BBC drinks party, he attacked the production team for going too far to appease the hoped-for US audience and shouted “It! Should! Be! Educational!”. When challenged as to what he thought would be a good educational topic, he responded, off the cuff, “Oh, I don’t know! Do something about the chicken’s evolutionary relationship with the dinosaur.”  Skulking away furiously, the production team came up with the never-shown episode that the fans have since unofficially dubbed ‘The Partridge Family‘.

The myth goes that Prunella Scales refused to record any dialogue for the episode upon reading the script and ordered the rest of the voice cast to walk out too. Lines like “Get the cluck away from him, you motherclucker!” were quoted in fanzines. But in reality, the creative team always intended, mutinously, that it should be a dialogue-free episode.

The plot was simple: arriving in Jurassic times, Lantern is trapped in a muddy swamp and Chicken is carried off by a pterosaur. The rest of the episode follows Chicken’s epic battle with a tyrannosaurus rex and is soundtracked only by the relentless, terrifying beat of a taiko drum. Those of us who saw the pirate VHS tape that was circulated in the late 80s will never forget the sight of Chicken — her skin torn to reveal a flash of white breast meat, a flint knife tucked under her wing and a strip ripped from her pinafore to form a grim bandana around the stump of her head — emerging bloodsoaked from the prehistoric jungle. It could never have been broadcast.

Episode 4: Fowl Play With creative tensions at breaking point behind the scenes, this gentle episode was conceived as a throwback to the style of Series 1. While the idea of the adventurous pair meeting Shakespeare in a woodland glade on the banks of the Avon during the writing of As You Like It — with Lantern inspiring the character of Touchstone — was a sound one, the execution is generally considered boring. These days the episode is only really remembered for Bruce Willis’s terrible delivery of the line “Thou art damned like an ill-roasted egg,” and the audible tut from Prunella Scales that somehow remained in the final edit of the sound mix.

Episode 5: I’ll Be Beak

Chicken and Lantern arrive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a 21st century that they soon learn is ruled by vengeful machine overlords. They quickly head back to the present day, but a relentless cyborg goose pursues them. Lantern takes centre stage in the high-octane thrills that follow, as he darts and drifts through an abandoned foie gras factory to lead the cybernetic goose (voiced by Dolph Lundgren) to its doom. Bruce Willis often fondly recalls his performance in this episode as a career-defining highlight, claiming that he’s never grunted harder.

Episode 6: To be hidden in the face of God from the disturbance of men is to be fortified with this dark contemplation against all the chances which may come upon the soul

After the dinosaur fiasco, the creative team knew they’d never work for the BBC again. They knew that the third series of Chicken & Lantern would be put together by new blood and that this was their last chance to produce an episode that defined their era. And so the episode of C&L that ensured its lasting status as a student cult classic was born.

We see Chicken ensconced in the wimpole and habit of a Carmelite nun. She slowly paces the cloisters of a mediaeval Spanish monastery, her crispy, half-roasted skin gleaming with the secret ecstasy of mystical contemplation — the exact opposite of a headless chicken.

We see Lantern, captaining a silver rocket ship as it zips through an increasingly psychedelic landscape, dispensing bolts of red and golden light into the ether.

And we see an old man, named as ‘Qi’ in the credits, collapsed across a table in the Cantonese restaurant from the title sequence, his food-poisoning fever-dreams seeming to encompass all of Chicken and Lantern’s adventures to date.

None of these realities are presented as any more “real” than any of the others. Children everywhere were mystified and haunted by the closing sequence.  We zoom in through the window of Chicken’s monastery cell, towards her and right down her gaping neck cavity. There we find Lantern in his silver rocket ship, passing through the great red and yellow caves of her insides, before we plummet through the windows of the cockpit, right up to Lantern, and right inside him, where we see that he contains a monastery on a hillside, which we plunge towards only to find Chicken, as the sequence repeats again and again. All the while a not-quite subliminal image of Qi sweating and retching flashes on and off. After two lifelong minutes of this, the screen goes blank and we hear Prunella Scales squawk one final word before the credits roll silently. To this day the fans wage online wars as to whether her defining proclamation was “Source!” or “Sauce!”.

But of course the third series would change everything again…

Chicken & Lantern: Series 1

If Chicken & Lantern is one of the less fondly remembered animated children’s series that the BBC produced in the 80s, then the blame should squarely be laid on the controversial developments towards the end of its run. Revisiting 1983’s original series we can see a freshness and a lightness of touch that ought to have given the show a classic status to rank alongside its closest rival, ITV’s Orm and Cheep.

The set-up was explained in the heady opening sequence. Chicken (voiced by Prunella Scales) escapes from her rotisserie in a Berni Inn when the mechanism comes loose. Racing half-cooked down the street she bursts through the door of a Spastics Society charity shop only to find it being ransacked by glue-sniffers. Laughing unkindly, the yobs place Chicken on top of a Chinese lantern and set fire to it, little realising that they’ve activated its magical powers by doing so. Lantern (David Yip) ascends into the air, bearing Chicken to safety, and THROUGH TIME ITSELF…

Series 1 Episode Guide

6 x 10 minute episodes (one episode cut to 8 minutes on original transmission)

Transmitted on BBC1, Tuesdays at 4.20pm, 15th February – March 22nd 1983.

Episode 1: Tour de Norse Intended mostly as an introduction to the characters, the plot of the first episode is a slight one, as Chicken & Lantern arrive on a Viking longboat and struggle to avoid detection. The script and performances do a good job of establishing Chicken as compassionate and impetuous, with Lantern a more reticent, contemplative character. Critics of the episode cite the duo’s “inappropriately light-hearted response” to Lantern’s accidentally setting the boat on fire at the end, leaving everyone on board to roast alive. But its advocates — who at the time included Linda McCartney — point out the deliberate echoes of Chicken’s intended fate on the rotisserie, and see this conclusion as a moral keystone of the show.

Episode 2: Its a Crimea Arriving on the coast of the Black Sea in 1855, Chicken & Lantern become entangled in the events of the Crimean War. While the scenes in which Chicken is repeatedly fired from a cannon are played largely for comic relief, the hospital sequences in which Lantern assists Florence Nightingale by floating around the field hospital to illuminate it take a more serious tone, reflecting the programme-makers’ remit to provide educational content as well as entertainment.

Episode 3: Nineteen Poultry-Four When they visit London a year in their future, Chicken & Lantern are appalled to find it’s become a thought-controlled dystopia run by the mysterious ‘Big Clucker’. Many children were disturbed by the claustrophobic scenes of Lantern stuck in the pneumatic tubes that form the postal system of the future, and the ambiguous ending in which our heroes seem not to have made any lasting difference to the world was considered unsettling. A scene in which Chicken is locked in a room to face her worst fears — a hundred and one hot skewers — was cut altogether for being too frightening. Prunella Scales has gone on record opposing the cut, claiming that her humorous cries of “Mind my parson’s nose!”, which she’d hoped would become a catchprase, more than defused the horror of the situation.

Episode 4: Johann Sebastian Beak

This episode, in which Chicken & Lantern arrive in 18th century Leipzig, was to form the basis for O-Level and GCSE Music workshop lessons for a decade to follow. Paul Morley once described Chicken & Lantern‘s theme tune as “The sugary parp of the Roobarb theme sharing a cautious but enthusiastic first kiss with Tales Of The Unexpected‘s tender exoticism, while they both sit astride the epic melancholy of Black Beauty. Basically the best TV theme tune of all time.” And the scenes in which Bach teaches the intrepid pair to improvise a set of clavichord variations on their theme, before it’s finally rendered as a full choral mass, have been known to reduce grown men to tears.

Episode 5: Feast Or Lantern Arriving at the court of King John in mediaeval England, it takes all of Lantern’s ingenuity to manifest as a spooky ghost in time to save Chicken from becoming just another dish on the royal banquet table. This episode is mostly remembered now for the unfortunate scheduling mishap that saw it broadcast on the same day as the opening installment of a Doctor Who story with exactly the same setting. Many children have thus got the two mixed up in their heads, and you don’t have to look far these days to find a YouTube prankster who’s done a video mash-up of Anthony Ainley gnawing on poor Chicken’s leg!!

Episode 6: Eggsactly On Time When Chicken discovers that she’s about to lay an egg, she and Lantern return to the present day where they meet Lantern’s family in Shanghai. What followed was perhaps the most fiendishly complicated time travel plot ever to feature in a ten-minute animated show in the post-Play School slot. The revelation that all of Lantern’s family were Lantern himself, at different points in his timestream, left children thoroughly baffled. And to this day, aficionados can’t agree on what exactly happened to Chicken’s egg, and whether any of the future Chicks (one voiced by a young Sam West in an early TV role) were actually meant to be real. But of course the lasting legacy of this episode was that David Yip quit the series over what he felt was a lack of recognition for the complexity of his multiple perfomances. As we’ll see, this led to a dramatically different direction for Series 2…