Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 563: Full Circle, Episode Three
There’s that lovely scene in Planet of Evil, where Tom really gets to go for it with his angry acting. Although he’d inhabited the part well right from the word ‘go’ in Robot, that scene was probably the moment that he really ‘became’ the Doctor for me, and I don’t think he’s ever turned in a better performance than he does there. Imagine my delight, then, when this episode contains what is in essence a counterpoint to that scene, in which he turns his anger against the Deciders.
He starts off almost along the lines of his over-the-top ‘what’s it for’ anger from The Pirate Planet, but even at this stage, there’s something in the back of his voice which just sounds different. There’s real fury in his performance, and the longer that his tirade against the Deciders goes on, the better he gets. It really must be the highpoint of his performance in the later half of his tenure, and I was totally spellbound by it. A few minutes where he simply proves that he’s the perfect man for this part. Despite a dip in his performance around season fifteen, it really feels as though he’s picked back up again lately, and this is absolute proof of it. Wonderful stuff - and it’s largely down to this scene that today’s episode has performed as well in my ratings as it has.
It’s not the sole reason, though. As the cliffhanger sting played out today I declared loudly to the room that this was certainly an ‘8/10’ episode, having spent yesterday’s episode hovering over giving that score before settling for a 7. There’s just lots and lots about Full Circle that’s really connecting with me, and I’m really enjoying being swept along with the story.
I’ve decided that the Marsh Men, despite my reservations yesterday about the realisation of certain bits of costume, are great. It’s a design that feels completely alien, and it realised better than the Fomasi, the Nimon, or the Mandrels have been in recent serials. I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best monster design we’ve had since probably as far back as The Robots of Death. So much care has been put in to them, and the way Romana’s infection so perfectly evokes the style of the creatures is magnificent.
Then there’s the scene in which the Marsh Child wakes up to find itself strapped to an operating table, and goes absolutely mad. Ripping free of the bonds, it kills the scientist about to experiment upon it, and smashes up the entire set. There’s real gusto in the performance, too, and you get the sense that this was a ‘one take or nothing’ kind of scene. That a few moments later, the death of this same monster is able to really case some emotion really helps to raise the stakes even further.
The nice design isn’t only confined to these aliens, because I really like the look of the world they’re inhabiting, too. I’ve already praised the location work before now, but the sets of the Starliner are really rather brilliant, too. I started off yesterday making a note about how nice the corridors of the place are, with the light filling in from all around, but actually I think the ‘trial room’ (for want of a better description) is rather brilliant, too. The height of it, and the sense that it fills a large chunk of the studio really help to make it something that bit special. In many ways, it feels as though we’ve finally struck the nice balance between the cluttered, realistic sets of the Graham Williams years, and the new style imposed by John Nathan-Turner in The Leisure Hive. It’s the best set we’ve had in a while, and I’m really rather impressed with that.
Quite aside from all of this, there’s the story itself. Full Circle seemed to be heading down that familiar route of ‘decedents of a crashed space ship’ that we had in The Face of Evil (and that I think I’m right in saying gets subverted in the next story, too). All of a sudden, though, there’s more to it than that - these may not be so simply the decedents of the original crew, and there may be more ties between them and the monsters they fear than they’d like to suspect. I also love the realisation that while they could take the entire Star Liner apart and rebuild it perfectly, there’s no one around who knows how to actually fly the thing. I honestly didn’t see that coming, so shared the Doctor’s sense of shock at discovering the news.
This one is turning out to be a real success, and while I was so sure of an ‘8/10’ score today, I did briefly hover over the number nine on the keyboard. here’s hoping that the final episode can tie it all together well, because I want this one to sit quite high in my list of favourite stories at this rate.