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13 July 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th July 2013

'These creatures have ravaged half the cosmos. They're experts at this kind of thing. Nothing can stand in their way.'

The Doctor and Romana find themselves in the Proxima System, where enigmatic Conglomerate CEO Cuthbert has been conducting his infamous 'experiment'. An experiment which might accidentally rip the universe apart.

Meanwhile, living conditions on Proxima Major have become harsh and hostile. Climate change has turned the landscape into a freezing wasteland and an alien power has condemned much of the population to life inside internment camps. For those still clinging to their freedom, the struggle for survival is now beyond desperate and outsiders such as the Doctor and Romana are only seen as a threat.

What is Cuthbert really up to in the Proxima System, and just how does he expect the dreaded Daleks to fit into his plan?

* * *

The mysterious and scheming Cuthbert returns in the first of a two part finale for the second series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures

The problem with any two part story is that it is difficult to review without having the story as a whole, but The Dalek Contract is a fun and intriguing set up for next month’s concluding story.

The Daleks are used well, working as Cuthbert’s hired hands but it is almost certain that they have their own agenda at hand.

The cast is on excellent form with Tom Baker providing a fine balance of madness and profound insight. It is worth noting that this story was one of the earliest recorded and you can hear that he has found his Doctor again after a slight shaky start. 

It is coming closer to the last adventure that we will have with Mary Tamm’s Romana which will be very sad indeed. Tamm is excellent in this as her incarnation of Romana finally gets to meet the Daleks. Her interaction with Baker in the opening scenes is wonderful and shows what a great partnership they made as Doctor and companion.  

The highlight of the cast is of course David Warner who returns as Cuthbert, a man who seems more concerned with brown sauce being on his chips instead of worrying whether the Daleks have more nefarious machinations than just being his hired security force.

The supporting cast is on excellent form too with Toby Hadoke returning as Cuthbert’s rather toady right hand man Mr Dorrick and a great performance from Dominic Mafham as Chidak who shares a lovely scene with the Doctor about the importance of hope against the Daleks.

Whatever the Dalek’s insidious plans are and Cuthbert’s true nature, The Dalek Contract is certainly a very good set up for what is to come next month.

13 July 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Barnard & Paul Morris

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th July 2013

At the Doctor's request, Sergeant Benton is investigating ghosts and missing people in Kettering, while undercover as a local councillor

And that's how he comes to meet Margery Phipps.

An alien incursion in the town hall leads them on a journey to a terrible future – where Margery discovers how she changed a world, and the life of a whole civilisation hangs in the balance…

* * *

As The Companion Chronicles begins the journey towards its final season, this current one concludes with the debut of John Levene returning to reprise his role as UNIT member Sergeant Benton. Quite why it has taken so long to get a Benton story for the Chronicles is baffling as he is one of the most memorable characters from the UNIT years of the show.

Making their debut for Big Finish too are writers Simon Barnard and Paul Morris who are better known for supernatural comedy adventure series The Scarifyers. Based on their credentials it is no surprise that Council of War has some very funny moments with some very clever in-jokes.

The structure of the story is told seamlessly well between both Benton’s perspective and the character of Margery Phipps played exceptionally well by Sinead Keenan. Keenan’s performance is one of the best things about Council of War and her portrayal of Margery is utterly charming.

What about John Levene? Even though he sounds nothing like he did all those years ago, Levene still puts in a very good performance. Full of energy and character, he makes a nice addition to the range and I do hope that before The Companion Chronicles comes to an end we will get to see more of him.

The story feels a little like a Third Doctor adventure to begin with but this very much becomes Benton’s show. 

Barnard and Morris cast him as a James Bond like character, but one very unsure of himself out of uniform. It gives Benton an interesting vulnerability as he thinks the undercover work is more suited to Mike Yates rather than himself. He is just a soldier and the story does give Benton a chance to be just that towards its conclusion.

Margery Phipps is an interesting character, cast as a women’s rights campaigner stuck like a fish out of water in a council of seasoned male politicians. She is an idealist and both she and Benton make an odd but well fitted pairing. 

The story has a rather barmy premise, but it is great fun and the cast has a jolly good time playing up to all of the madness going about. Its conclusion does suggest that we might see more of these characters in a further adventure and with the final season of The Companion Chronicles just a month away, let us hope that this is the case.

Council of War is an entertaining if not perfect Companion Chronicle but a great debut at Big Finish for John Levene and a new writing team.

13 July 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th July 2013

Twenty-five years ago, with Richter's Syndrome running rampant throughout the galaxy, the brilliant biochemist Nyssa, formerly of Traken, bade a painful farewell to her young family... and set off into the space, in search of a cure for this deadly disease.

She never returned.

Now, her grown-up son continues her work on the penal colony of Valderon, still desperate to make the breakthrough that eluded his presumed-dead mother.

So when the TARDIS lands on Valderon, bringing the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa to its fortress prison, the scene is set for a painful reunion... but not only for Nyssa. The Doctor's past is about to catch up with him too...

* * *

This season of Fifth Doctor stories has focused primarily on the companions and for its closing chapter we have a very emotional and dramatic story about Nyssa. 

The great problem when trying to write a review of Prisoners of Fate is that there are so many revelations and surprises that to go into too much detail would be to spoil your enjoyment terribly. The great plot threads surrounding Nyssa that began in way back in Cobwebs finally come to their dramatic conclusion. 

This story feels very much like an extended version of a finale in the recent television episodes.

There is high emotion, paradoxes and great universal danger. Amidst all this Prisoners of Fate is a very personal story for Nyssa and her lost family, more specifically her son Adric. Their relationship and destiny are at the real heart of this story and it never feels over shadowed by the paradoxical nature of it all.

Jonathan Morris is a highly gifted writer, who not only knows his Doctor but can add such wonderful new things to the already existing mythology which enrich it further for long time fans. He offers tantalizing glimpses of the Doctor’s past and future, all of which is essential to one of the great plot twists in the story.

The entire cast is on incredibly fine form and Sarah Sutton’s performance is just wonderful. The story has a wide range of emotions for Nyssa which Sutton carries off beautifully. It is certainly the highlight of an already impressive audio adventure.

Prisoners of Fate certainly sets up the future for this TARDIS team on audio and it will be very interesting to see what happens next.

Do your best to avoid any spoilers and enjoy a brilliant conclusion to a highly enjoyable trilogy.

12 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 193: The Enemy of the World, Episode One

Dear diary,

Shortly before Christmas of last year, my friend Graham embarked on a similar quest to the one that I’m now on – watching all of Doctor Who in order. Whereas I’m doing it at a real snail’s pace of one episode a day, Graham went for the opposite way of doing things, and watched them all as quickly as he possibly could. There was a point where he went through the entirety of Leela’s stay in the TARDIS and the Key to Time in the space of about three days. That’ll take me months to go through. Months!

It did, however, lead to a fun situation where every time I saw Graham, I’d get to ask which story he was up to, and then quiz him for his thoughts (though a fan of the series, there were large chunks he’d not seen before the marathon). One day in particular we got together and before I could even ask what story he was watching, he announced that he’d got a new favourite tale. I knew he’d been on something mid-Season-Four when we’d last spoke, so I went for the obvious one: The Tomb of the Cybermen. Nope, that was good, but it wasn’t it. Fair enough. Evil of the Daleks? Another no. Web of Fear? Blank looks every time. No, Graham explained, his new favourite story was The Enemy of the World.

My disbelief wasn’t because I’d heard bad things about this story, it was mostly just from the fact that, well, I* hadn’t really heard anything about it. It’s that one story from the Fifth Season where they don’t do ‘Base Under Siege’, and Troughton plays a Mexican bad guy. That’s pretty much all I could tell you. The sad fact is that The Enemy of the World is one of those stories that people just forget about. Even now, it’s sat at about number 188 in our poll – not bad (and just out of the bottom 50), but not really all that great, either.

Incidentally, I checked with Graham again this week – he’s finished the marathon now, including Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures - and The Enemy of the World is still his favourite story. He puts part of the success down to the fact that it’s very different to what came around it, and part down to the fact that they get Jamie into a tight black outfit.

So I didn’t really know what to make of this one. Graham’s absolute love for it seemed to be a good sign, while fandom’s complete apathy towards it didn’t bode all that well. Thankfully, I’ve found myself agreeing far more with Graham than with fandom (he’ll be glad to hear that – I think he’s been on tenterhooks waiting to see what I thought), I absolutely loved today’s episode.

It probably doesn’t hurt that we’ve arrived in some slightly sunnier climes: there’s a moment when the Doctor jokes that he and his companions have been away for a while suggesting that they’ve been ‘on ice’. Terribly apt, considering our last sixteen episodes have all taken place in or around very cold places! The soundtrack opens with us being told of the TARDIS’ arrival on a beach, amongst ‘golden, sun-kissed sand dunes’. How nice! Listening to it as I walked to the shops on a nice sunny afternoon probably helped a little, too.

We get a nice few minutes of the Doctor and his friends playing about on the beach (it’s in his suggestion that Jamie should go look for some buckets and spades that you can really see where Matt Smith has taken his inspiration from this incarnation – there’s a real child-like glee to being here), but then it’s right down to business. By the time we hit the eight minute mark, our TARDIS team has been chased down the beach by hovercraft-driving gunmen, and spirited off over the ocean in a helicopter! By the time that they’d reached Astrid’s house and were again set upon by gunmen, I was fairly sure that we’d be somewhere around the end of the episode… but there’s still another ten minutes to go! You certainly can’t accuse this episode of padding things out, and I’m not sure I can remember the last time that we had such an action packed twenty-five minutes in the series.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this episode also marks the first involvement that Barry Letts has with Doctor Who, coming in as director for the story. It’s quite fitting that his first instalment to the series involves an action-packed chase with hovercrafts and helicopters (both of which will become staples in the series under Letts’ producership, but which make their first appearances here). I spent a while listening to these scenes thankful that this episode didn’t exist in the archives, because it all sounded pretty good and there was no way that the visuals would live up to the same standard… but then the telesnaps make the scene look just as epic as I’d hoped. My only complaint, I think, is that the beach doesn’t look quite as lovely and sunny as described.

You’ll probably have picked up by now on the fact that I’m babbling a bit. It tends to happen when I’ve really enjoyed a story and my notes become full of nice things to say. I’ve not even touched on the story (I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to do that in the next few days) or the guest characters, but I run the risk of just babbling on for the rest of the entry in praise of things.

It’s led to something of a deliberation over what I’d be rating this episode. My first thought, immediately after the episode ended was a solid ‘9/10’, but then I started thinking: there was nothing I could fault with the episode, and I had really loved it. Surely that deserved top marks? The problem I had was that it took so long for me to give a perfect score, and this would be the third in the space of a month. You know what, though? I’ve enjoyed Innes Lloyd’s era so much, that it’s the perfect way to start of his final story as producer, and since I really can’t fault this one…

12 July 2013

Like the TARDIS materialising from another dimension a giant Dalek has cropped up in a field of maize on the outskirts of York. Is it the work of alien invaders or crop circle pranksters? In fact it is an inspired piece of field art created by Yorkshire farmer and Doctor Who fan Tom Pearcy as his tribute to the 50th anniversary of the show. 

Mr Pearcy’s York Maze design features the biggest image of a Dalek ever created, over 300m (1000ft) long, cut out of an 18 acre field of over one million living maize plants. The design also includes images of the first Doctor in 1963 William Hartnell and the current Doctor 2013’s Matt Smith. The 10km of pathways form an intricate maize maze which visitors can explore. York Maze is the largest maze in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

Tom Pearcy said:

“Like many kids I grew up watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa and fell in love with the show. I wanted to create a piece of art as a tribute to the 50th anniversary and also make it interactive so visitors can have their own adventures in time and space inside the maze.”

The sixth Doctor, Colin Baker met up with some of his old foes the Daleks at the launch of the York Maze.

Colin Baker said:

“It is fantastic to see how much interest there is in the 50th anniversary of the show. I have been invited to join events all over the world this year, but what York Maze have created with their giant maize maze has to be one of the most imaginative ways to mark the 50th anniversary I have seen. Who would have thought almost thirty years after I played the Doctor that the show would continue to go from strength to strength reaching a new generation of fans. It is great that children and their families will be able to have their own Doctor Who inspired adventures in the York Maze this summer.”

A video from today's press launch for the maze can now be watched below:

+  York Maze is open to the public from Saturday 13th July to Monday 2nd September. See www.yorkmaze.co.uk for details.

[Source: York Maze]

11 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 192: The Ice Warriors, Episode Six

Dear diary,

Long-term readers of The 50 Year Diary will know that I like to keep a track on the Doctor's development of the Sonic Screwdriver. Every now and then, you get a moment in a story which - with hindsight - could be leading the the creation of our favourite Time Lord get-out tool. We've seen the Doctor using sound waves to open locks before now via his recorder, but today is the moment that I think he starts putting two and two together, and gets to work on the sonic.

There's a lovely moment when the Doctor is trying to disrupt the Ice Warrior's weapon so that he can turn it on them. Sat on the floor, coated in cables, the Doctor tries to explain his plan to Victoria - 'The gun seems to work on the basis that sound waves produce reverbs in the objects in their path'. Obviously, this is a pretty good description of what the Sonic Screwdriver does at its most basic level (I'm still thinking of it more as a handy lock-picking device than the all-purpose tool we get in the more recent adventures), and I'd not be surprised if it's thinking about the Ice Warrior's weapon that starts the Doctor really thinking about creating his trusty friend.

In A Christmas Carol, the Doctor tells Kazran that he stayed in his bedroom inventing a new type of screwdriver, and we know from the Series Six DVDs that the Doctor has a number of adventures while his companions are sleeping. I'd not be surprised if he's going to be spending the next few nights shut in his TARDIS bedroom developing said screwdriver. I've not seen Fury From the Deep (where we'll be seeing the device for the first time), but I'm hoping that it's going to tie in nicely.

Anyway! Episode Six provides me with one last chance to praise how heartless these Ice Warrior chaps can be. My notes are full of scribbles about the way their acting ('surrender, or I will blow up your base') and the way they interact with the 'good guys' in the story. 'You'll live to regret this', one is told, to which he replies, coldly, 'At least I will live to regret it'. Perhaps my favourite moment has to be Vaaga establishing which members of the base's crew he needs to keep around to successfully free his ship. 'What are your qualifications for existence?' he asks Clent. I might adopt that question for people I come into contact with!

I've also not really mentioned the simply fantastic guest performances that we've had across these last six episodes. I did initially worry that I'd not be able to look at Perter Sallis in the part of Penley without picturing Wallace and Gromit (in the event, though there's the occasional line where Wallace's tones are instantly recognisable, I found myself thinking much more of Last of the Summer Wine), but he turns in a brilliant appearance. Equally, Peter Barkworth gives us one of the programme's finest performances, and it's especially evident here in the final moments of the episode.

One other thing that I've not mentioned, but I've been meaning to for a while, if the relationship between Jamie and Victoria. We all know that Jamie is completely smitten for her (indeed, he sets off to rescue her from fates unknown in The Evil of the Daleks having only seen one picture of her that he thinks is beautiful), but I'm wondering now… does Victoria have a romantic soft-spot for the highlander, too?

'There is a vague risk that it will kill everybody. Clent and Penley included…' the Doctor admits to her as he prepares the sonic weapon for its first attack. 'AND JAMIE?!?' Victoria replies (in a moment that put me instantly in mind of Watling's cameo from Dimensions in Time), obviously desperately worried for the boy. The pair of them have spent most of The Ice Warriors desperate to get back to or save each other, and they seem to be more focussed on their fellow companion than on the Doctor.

Maybe it's simply that they know the Doctor well enough to know he'll take care of himself - especially in this tale where he's more commanding than we've seen from this incarnation before. It's reasonable to argue that they could have something of an older brother/younger sister relationship, and they both feel a strong sense to care for each other. Or it's possible that there's love in the air. What do we think? Are Jamie and Victoria an item?

10 July 2013

A fantastic SciFi event for Doctor Who enthusiasts takes place at Spaceport on Saturday 20th July when Doctor Who actor, Colin Baker, visits the Merseyside attraction. 

Colin Baker, who played the sixth embodiment of the celebrated Doctor from 1984–1986, will be at Spaceport between 10am–4pm to meet fans and share some anecdotes from his stint as the Time Lord - plus there will also be replica Doctor Who costume characters ranging from the 1970’s up to the present day. 

Colin’s visit launches a fun packed schedule at Spaceport over the summer holidays, including monster making workshop events and the new Time Travellers exhibition featuring favourites such as life size Daleks, Cybermen, a TARDIS display, a Sontaran, a scary Weeping Angel and K9 –plus prop weapons and an activity area. 

Spaceport hosts the exhibition giving SciFi fans a unique opportunity to experience the creative talents of Hyde Fundraisers, a voluntary organisation who create replica characters from Doctor Who, Star Wars and other SciFi programmes to raise funds for BBC Children In Need and other charities. 

+  For more information visit the Spaceport website.

[Source: Spaceport]

10 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 191: The Ice Warriors, Episode Five

Dear diary,

It has to be said that the design of this story is really 1960s in some places. It's evident right through the look of the Ice Warriors' ship, from the little TV screens in the walls to the large circle motifs that are dotted all around. It must have been in fashion when they left Mars.

Perhaps even more obviously, though, you've got the costumes of the base personnel. They're some of the most 'out-there' costumes that we've had in the series so far, and they're certainly not dull! In my mind, the bits that show up as white here are probably all different garish colours (probably denoting rank. For some reason in my mind, Clent's outfit is a bright blue and the female technicians are all orange), with those black patterns stretched across them. I'm assuming it's so that when they're out on the glacier, amongst the snow, they can be easily spotted. Well, that's my reasoning for it, anyway.

I'm also impressed by the headsets they wear when operating the computer - strange visor-like things which come up and over the head, forming a kind of 'shield' in front of their eyes. It's a typically 1960s science-fiction idea (although it's not been stated on screen wether they display data to the wearer, or if they just act as a shield, possibly to negate the effects of staring at this 'advanced' computer for so long each day), but it doesn't seem to sour of place in a world where we have things on the horizon such as Google GLΛSS. If anything, they just look like an oddly stylish version of that same invention!

One of the things that I'm finding myself really enjoying in this story (actually, it's probably the thing that I'm enjoying the most, currently) is just how much Patrick Troughton has become the Doctor that I think of as the second Doctor. His character has been there right since his very first episode, but we've watched it develop and evolve since his run-in with the Daleks on Vulcan. Here, there's a priceless moment as he enters the Ice Warriors' ship, having been let out of their air lock for satisfactorily answering questions. 'Thank you very much. Very civil of you,' he says, striding into the ship, before he looks up at the sheer size of an Ice Warrior, and turns to hurriedly leave with an 'Oh my lord!'

Equally, there's something about the idea of the Doctor using a stink bomb in an attempt to escape from the ship that feels so right for this incarnation. it put me in mind of the Tenth Doctor's escape from a Pyrovile through the use of a little yellow water pistol, and I think there's a very clear through-line between these two events. Here, it feels like the kind of thing I can see the Doctor doing in one of the TV Comic stories, with a finger pointed toward the top of the panel as he explains that the stink bomb may well be deadly to an alien.

Oh, and also, how cosy does it look when the Doctor (in his over-sized furry coat) gives a big cuddle to Victoria (in her little cloak with the fur collar)? You just want to cuddle up with them and enjoy the sensation!

9 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 190: The Ice Warriors, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve just realised that I’ve not done my cheer for alternative ways of doing the titles in this story! It’s been a little while since we had something a bit different from the norm, and I guess that, technically, I should have been titling the last few entries as ‘The 50 Year Diary, Day XX, The Ice Warriors, ONE’. While I quite enjoy it when we have occasional different looks to the episode titles, it really doesn’t look right for the programme. Maybe it’s because I got so used to the standard look during the Hartnell era?

Something that I have mentioned already for this story is just how great the Ice Warriors themselves look, but having an actual moving episode to watch them in makes it worth mentioning again. They’re fantastic, aren’t they? I’ve never noticed before all the little movements they make of their heads when speaking, but it really does add something to the characters. Equally, I’d never spotted how flexible their arms are. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know how weird that sounds, but I think I’ve become so used to the action figure of the Ice Warriors that I’d assumed their arms were made of a kind of hard carapace like their body armour. In many ways, I'd never realised just how lizard-like they are in this story. I've always thought of the creatures as being a type of lizard (it's the scales, and the hissing voice which seems to suggest a forked tongue) but I'd never realised that they were actually played as such.

It’s also worth noting just how well the direction here is serving them. There’s lots of tight close-ups on the faces, which really allows us a good look at the make up design (though it does also reveal that the lips don’t look quite right when the creatures are talking, sadly). We also get a lot of close ups on the armour itself, which shows that off rather nicely, too. I think I quite liked Derek Martinus’ direction of The Tenth Planet, too, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to me to see him doing well here.

One thing about the Ice Warriors that I have to confess I’m less than impressed by is (what I’ve called in my notes) ‘Big Head Warrior’. The Ice Warrior with the especially large head is an image I know from images taken during this story’s recording, and it’s never looked quite right to me. I’d always assumed that there must be a reason in-story that this one particular Warrior had such a different outfit… but I don’t think there is one. Certainly, I’ve not noticed any reason being mentioned.

It's not the only thing from The Ice Warriors that I know quite well from the photos of the story. I've previously mentioned the images of the Ice Warrior towering over Victoria in the store room, but here we've got a scene which was captured perhaps one of the most iconic photographs from this era of the programme - Victoria being chased through the ice cave by the (Big Head) Ice Warrior. I'm still stunned that the DVD cover to the story doesn't have the image on there (though it is still a gorgeous design - one of the best that the range has ever had, I think.)

8 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 189: The Ice Warriors, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s something quite nice about how ruthless these Ice Warriors seem to be. Creating a trap for the base personnel, we’re told that if they come looking for Victoria, the Ice Warriors can destroy them. If they don’t come looking for her, then they can deduce that there aren’t enough humans to pose a resistance to their plans.

Only… what is their plan? I think I’ve missed something here. Ice Warrior A (I love their voices, but it’s almost impossible to pick out individual names with the quality of the soundtrack on this recon) is found frozen in the glacier, having been trapped there since the last ice age. He resolves to find and thaw out the rest of his kind, as their ship crashed there. He kidnaps Victoria and forces her to show him how he was revived.

They then take the technology, locate his comrades, and wakes them up… so that they can build a trap for the humans. I think I must have missed a line of dialogue somewhere, where we find out what this lot have against us.

And yet, it doesn't really matter. Much as I'm not entirely sure what's actually going on, and as much as the two missing instalments have dented my early enthusiasm for the story, I'm still enjoying it. I think it's fair to say that this is the first time that I've really appreciated just how much animating the missing parts of the story will be of a benefit to the tale - hopefully they'll help bridge this period of the story better than the recon has.

Yes, I'm sorry to say that today still hasn't endeared me to the ides of the recon. To begin with, I tried to listen to it as though it were just a soundtrack (I placed the macbook nearby while I did the washing up, so I could sort of see the story playing out of the corner of my eye, but I was really just listening to it), the problem with this, though, is that without the linking narration, half the time I just didn't have a clue what was happening when the dialogue wasn't around to fill the void. In the end, I resorted to actually watching it again, but by then I'd already given up a bit.

It seems to be that - as ever - it's Patrick Troughton that's carrying me through this one. As usual, he's been given plenty of great dialogue to speak ('He's a scientist and a bit inclined to have his head in the cloud. You know the type…' he says of Penley. 'I certainly do!' comes the reply from our favourite time-travelling Scot). There's another moment when the Doctor makes a big deal out of the importance of being passed a pencil, which left me grinning like a loon.

It's not just confined to the Doctor, either. I don't know if it's just me, but it really does seem over the last few series, there's been a real increase in how much of the dialogue I'm jotting down in my notes. Highlights from today include a discussion of humanity and its reliance on machinery ('Robotised Human. Fully extinct.') and the description that Clent doesn't need personnel - he needs a mirror.

Still, I'm glad to be moving back into actual moving episodes again tomorrow. I think doing these two episodes as reckons may have hindered my enjoyment somewhat, so I'm hoping Episodes Four through Six can really revive the promise that the first did. If nothing else, I'm keen to re-watch this story at some point in the future with the animated episodes - so it must be doing something right…

7 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 188: The Ice Warriors, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh, I agonised over how best to experience this episode. Earlier in the year, I picked up all the narrated soundtracks in bulk – most of them are available from the AudioGo website as (extremely reasonably priced!) downloads. The couple that I couldn’t get as downloads were collected together as part of ‘The Lost TV Episodes’ collection Volume 5. At the time, The Ice Warriors was scheduled for release on DVD in around April time, so I didn’t bother picking up the soundtrack for that one.

And then… I completely forgot about it! The DVD release date was shifted back to later in the year, and I didn’t even think to pick up the soundtrack. Today, then, when it came to scrolling through my iTunes looking for the episode, I was thoroughly confused before I realised what I’d done. A search online told me that The Ice Warriors is one of the few soundtracks that you can’t pick up via a legal download, and it’s only available on CD. Panic!

For a while, I seriously considered using the recon from the VHS. I’d ripped it to a disc when copying my video anyway, so it was already sat in the DVD drive of the Mac. The problem? It condensed both Episode Two and Episode Three into the space of about 20 minutes. I know I cheated by skipping Episode Four of The Highlanders in favour of the Target reading, but it felt like a step too far to actually put the two episodes together here – after all, the whole idea of The 50 Year Diary was to do one episode a day, every day.

Thankfully, a panicked request on Facebook revealed that a friend had a copy of the Loose Cannon reconstruction for these two episodes, and since he lived close, I was welcome to pop round and borrow it. My thoughts on recons have been pretty clear throughout the course of this marathon – loved the one for Marco Polo, but by the time I’d reach3ed the Crusade, I couldn’t bear the thought of them. I’ve come to the conclusion that I much prefer the soundtracks. Still, needs must and all that!

Now, let’s get this out of the way first, and then I can talk about the episode itself: I’ve not changed my mind on the recons. There’s plenty in this one that looks pretty good (the moving snow on scenes outside was a lovely touch, for example), but I find that my mind wanders just that little bit too much when I’m watching them. I’ll be using a recon for tomorrow’s episode again, but I think I’ll be sticking to the soundtracks for the rest of this season’s missing parts.

As for the episode itself, I think it was a bit of a comedown from yesterday’s instalment. I don’t know how much of my more muted reaction came from being put off by the recon, or how much was a result of my expectations being raised by my enjoyment of the first episode, but it just didn’t strike a chord with me in the same way.

It does have to be said, though, that the design of the Ice Warrior is gorgeous. It’s no wonder that they didn’t alter them radically when bringing them back to the series this year, because they’ve pretty much got it spot on right from the word ‘go’. There’s some shots of the creature in here which I’m fairly certain were taken from The Seeds of Death, but there’s also still images that show how great they’ve always looked. The voices, too, are fantastic from the very start, wit that great hissing sound to them. The images of the Warrior towering over Victoria in the storeroom are ones that really embedded themselves in my mind as a teenager when I first saw them, so I'm glad to see that their height really is effective in the story, too. It’s also nice to see a creature that’s remained so similar across all these years.

The Seeds of Death is the only ‘classic’ Ice Warrior story that I’ve ever seen, and that was a good few years ago. It was surprising to me, then, when Cold War made such a reference to the creatures being a kind of Cyborg, with a fully mechanical ‘suit’ of armour. I’m thrilled to see that, actually, it’s always been a part of the creatures, right back to this story. Yesterday, the Doctor mused that there was some kind of electrical apparatus frozen in the ice with the Warrior, and today he tells the scientists ‘'This headpiece is no warrior's tin hat! It's a highly developed space helmet!’

I’m also really enjoying that, for at least a little while, the Ice Warrior isn’t the main danger to the Doctor, or the crew of this story’s base-under-siege. The threat comes from the idea that there could be a kind of alien spaceship buried somewhere in the glacier, and that the Ioniser could accidentally ignite its fuel supplies, causing one almighty explosion. I’m hoping that this strand of the story won’t be forgotten as the story progresses (especially now that more Warriors have been located), though I’m fairly willing to bet that using the Ioniser against either the Warriors or the ship will end up forming a vital part of the tale’s resolution…

I’m really looking forward to the release of this one on DVD – I think there’s a very good story in here, and I look forward to a chance of watching it without the distraction of the recon…

6 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 187: The Ice Warriors, Episode One

Dear diary,

In what’s probably a historic moment, this is the last time that I’ll need to dust off an old VHS tape to enjoy a story, since The Ice Warriors won’t be released for another couple of months on DVD (Technically, I did the ‘dusting off’ weeks ago. I copied the VHS over to a disc, since I don’t have a TV in Cardiff – let alone a VHS player!). The biggest shame about this is that I won’t be able to see episodes two and three recreated with animation, but the DVD range has been good to me with timings this year, so I can’t really complain.

The Ice Warriors is another of those stories that I don’t really know all that much about. I can probably deduce the villains of the piece from the title alone, but that’s about all I’ve got. Oh, and that they find one of those titular creatures frozen in the ice. There you go, that’s the extent of my knowledge. That’s a good thing, though! I came to The Abominable Snowmen knowing how highly some fans rated it, knowing about the monastery, and the Yeti, and the Intelligence. I think knowing so much how I was meant to enjoy it ruined the story a little for me. I loved this episode, though! I mean, really loved it. I don’t know what I was expecting (and that’s the point, really) but this wasn’t it.

The first thing that really struck me… it’s an age before the TARDIS turns up, isn’t it? Before that, we’ve got plenty of establishing shots of the ice (with appropriately un-nerving music accompanying. It’s almost like they’re making up for the lack of it in the last story), a good look at the set up of the control room, complete with exposition to bring us up to speed, and the discovery of the ‘warrior’ in the ice. It’s not often that we spend quite so long in a story’s setting before the Doctor arrives.

When he does turn up, though, they don’t waste time. We’ve got the TARDIS turning up on its side (it’s almost strange that we’ve managed to make it to mid-Season Five before this happens), and a chance for Troughton and Hines to really engage with some great physical comedy. The Doctor stands on Jamie’s head, and then Jamie kneels on the Doctors hand. It’s an opportunity for some more close-ups of Troughton pulling faces, but here it’s being used light-heartedly as opposed to for the effect of terror yesterday. It’s almost like the programme is reassuring us that the Doctor is all right.

And isn’t he just?! Within seconds of entering the control room of the base, he’s following its leader around, repeating the numbers as they’re read from the machines. The Doctor’s worked it out in no time ('In two minutes thirty-eight seconds, you're going to have an almighty explosion!’), and then taking control of the situation, giving orders to the workers in an attempt to save them all. Clent – the base’s leader – is of course left to stand around shouting after the Doctor, telling him he cant do this, or mustn’t do that. It’s a role we’ve had present in this type of story since The Tenth Planet, but it feels so right when this attitude directed at the Second Doctor.

Over the course of this season, we really are seeing Troughton’s Doctor evolving even further into the man that we know from the later stories. He’s almost entirely dispensed with his bumbling routine once inside the base, as the stakes are too high – it’s right down to action. His charm still shines through, though, when the commander still won’t believe his calculations, and the Doctor suggests they run it through the computer to check. ‘2 minutes, 37 seconds’, the machine calculates, to which the Doctor replies, ‘Ah. I was a second out. We can’t all be perfect…’

While I’m on the subject of the Doctor, he looks just right in that big furry coat, doesn’t he? I didn’t really get a chance to look at it properly in the surviving episode of The Abominable Snowmen, but I really like it here. No wonder it’s so synonymous with this incarnation. How come we’ve not had the action figure with coat, yet?

I’m really pleased by my reaction to this one, and I’m hoping the story can hold my attention throughout – it could be one of those wonderful treats, where a story I don’t really know much about turns out to be fantastic!

5 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 186: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode Six

Dear diary,

This final episode of the story has made me even more convinced that my new timeline for the Great Intelligence might just work. There's a point where we're told Padmasambhava had slaved for around 200 years to build the robot Yeti and 'all the other wonderful machines'. Yeah, yeah, I know it's meant to be referring to the Control Spheres and the little Yeti playing pieces, but in my mind now, he also build a machine that allowed the Great Intelligence to possess the snow, thus setting him off on his course to London and Doctor Simeon. What do you mean 'grasping at straws'?

Sadly, though, trying to fit the Great Intelligence's appearances together in a coherent timeline has been the thing I've enjoyed most about The Abominable Snowmen. It's a real shame, but I just couldn't seem to get into it. I think - and I've said this about the story before - that it's one which would fare better with me if I could actually watch it. The tele snaps give the impression of it looking very dark and mysterious, with some wide open locations (they look nice enough in the surviving episode) and some interesting performances.

In other ways, the story is almost designed for audio, with the beeping spheres, the dark ominous voices and it's digetic soundtrack. There's a lot in there which you can very easily imagine Big Finish doing in a release, and they're experts at making Doctor Who for an audio medium.

This final episode, especially, is ripe for listening to through headphones (and probably the perfect example of why so many people think the series would work best on autumn evenings, when the nights have drawn in and there's leaves blowing around outside). The final confrontation between the Doctor and Padmasambhava is extremely effective, as the Doctor warns his companions to trust him, before heading out of the room, and almost immediately issuing a bloodcurdling scream.

It's rare that we see the Doctor in such a situation - he's not always one step ahead of the game, but he is the one who usually comes up with a plan and reassures us that everything is going to be all right. In the same way that the TARDIS is automatically our 'safe' place at the start and end of each tale (even the Doctor uses it here, when trying to convince Victoria that she's safe), the Doctor is the man who makes things all right. With the exemption of that early-Season-Three period in which he seemed to lose at the end of every story, the Doctor is the one that you can feel safe with. To hear him in such pain and terror… that's chilling.

And yet, in spite of several really brilliant moments like this in the final episode, and throughout the story, The Abominable Snowmen just hasn't really grabbed me. Throughout, people have mused to me that it's a favourite of theirs, but the one thing that seems to come up time and time again is that The Web of Fear does the Yeti story better. I'm hoping I'll think so too in a few weeks time…

4 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 185: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode Five

Dear diary,

The more I look at the tele snaps for this story, the more I think the Yeti look brilliant. They just do! There's a shot early on in this episode where three of the beasts make their way across the courtyard of the monastery, and it just looks brilliant. What with the Cybermen in the last story and the Ice Warriors coming up in the next one, there's certainly a lot of tall monsters around in this season.

I'm also finding that I like the idea of the Yeti being controlled by the small models more and more, too. Though I've never seen The Abominable Snowmen before, I have seen Downtime more than once (for my sins, though I still think it would have been great adapted into a Sarah Jane Adventures story - imagine Yeti stomping their way up Bannerman Road!), and I'd never quite understood the point of the little wooden Yeti that's so key to the plot there.

Actually, there's quite a lot about Downtime that's confused me over the years, and I think that might be one of the resins I've never really managed to get my head around the Great Intelligence. For some reason, my mind goes all over the place in Downtime, and gets confused about Victoria looking for her dead father in Det Sen Monastery, where she encounters the long-dead Travers (who's played by Watling's real-life dad… see how I manage to confuse myself?), and then there's some stuff about the Yeti invasion of London, which is still to come for me in the marathon…

As if that wasn't bad enough, I'm still struggling to tie up the Great Intelligence we see here with the one from The Snowmen, The Bells of St. John, and The Name of the Doctor. Piecing together what I've gotten from this story and what I vaguely recall from the last series of Who, this is what I think the Intelligence's timeline is like. Anyone care to point me in the right direction? I've made a bit of a guess in relation to how the Intelligence came to Earth, so bear with me…

1) The Great Intelligence is a formless entity that floats around the stars. It may or may not be (depending on how you class the books) a being left over from a previous universe. While it's very intelligent, it longs to have a physical form.

2) While it's floating around, wondering how to gain a physical body, he encounters Padmasamabhava's mind on the Astral Plane, somewhere around the 17th Century. Using the monk's mind, he is drawn to Earth but cannot materialise. He intends to replace humanity with Ice People (that's his plan in The Snowmen, I think…), and so possesses some snow in the Himalayas, and directed it to London (Britain is a great empire at this point - you want to take over the world? London is a good place to start…).

3) The snow is then made into a snowman by the young Simeon, who grows up under the Intelligences guidance. The Doctor manages to defeat the Intelligence, dropping a big hint about the London Underground (while also seeming to not realise who the Intelligence is) and then muses that it will learn to live without a host body.

4) Upon defeat, the Intelligence draws back to the Astral Plane, where he's still in contact with Padmasamabhava, and has kept the monk alive for centuries. He starts work on a new plan which will allow him to take the form of a load of foam. Y'know, just 'cos. He then builds robot Yeti to protect his pyramids - the means through which his new form can enter the world.

Now, I've not seen The Web of Fear yet, but I think I can more-or-less guess where things go from here (broadly speaking, anyway). I don't want to make some massive assumptions and look like a complete fool if I'm wrong, though, so we'll pick this timeline up in a couple of weeks when the Intelligence makes a comeback. It's taking some thinking, but I'm pretty sure I've got it worked out nicely, now, and it makes sense!

The problem is, while I quite like the grand idea of it (and if things go the way I think during The Web of Fear, there's suddenly more justification for the Great Intelligence committing suicide to destroy the Doctor at the end of the most recent series), I'm still just not all that involved in The Abominable Snowmen as a whole. Ho hum, one more episode to go, and I'm expecting lots of Yeti action, so that could be good!

4 July 2013

On November 23rd, 2013, Doctor Who fans around the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world’s longest running sci-fi series. We are delighted to announce that current Doctor – Matt Smith – will attend the only official 50th Anniversary Celebration at ExCeL, London alongside special guests confirmed so far: Tom Baker*, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy who have also played the iconic role of The Doctor.

The event on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th November is a must for the whole family to celebrate their love of all things Doctor Who, with an exciting range of activities to suit all ages. Keep your eyes peeled for further announcements of high profile guests in the coming weeks.

Matt Smith says:

“The event this year will be an extra special occasion for me, I’m truly looking forward to a huge celebration with the fans in the lead up to the 50th anniversary episode.”

Ticket holders to this once-in-a-lifetime event will have access to a whole range of activities including: 

•  Guaranteed seats to two theatre panel shows featuring star guests from 50 years of Doctor Who. 

•  Guaranteed seats in a spectacular special effects show hosted by Doctor Who’s special effects guru Danny Hargreaves

•  Activities in the main halls including: stunt workshops with Doctor Who stunt co-ordinator Crispin Layfield and stunt double Gordon Seed, audio and visual effect workshops, on-stage panels with cast members, walk-like-a-monster master-classes with Doctor Who’s official monster choreographer Ailsa Burke, quizzes and games for fans young and old and plenty more to ensure the whole family have an amazing day out celebrating Doctor Who. 

All of the above will be available to guests who purchase a standard ticket to the event. Tickets go on general sale at 11am on Monday 8th July 2013 from celebration.doctorwho.tv. Standard tickets are priced at £45 for adults and £20 for kids, while a family ticket will cost £104** (two adults and two children***). Tickets cover entry to the Celebration for one day. 

There is also an option to purchase a limited edition TARDIS ticket. This ticket guarantees front row seats to the theatre shows, a private lounge for use all day, drinks and light refreshments and a special goodie bag with exclusive merchandise which can be collected on the day guests attend. TARDIS tickets are priced at £95.50 for adults, £44.25 for children and £218 for a family (two adults and two children****).

To ensure every visitor gets access to the best experience, when buying tickets online they will have the option to choose one of two streams – Ice Warrior or Weeping Angel – which will reserve each guest a seat for that day’s shows in the theatre. 

Visitors to the Celebration will also have the opportunity to visit signature and photo booths where they can meet their heroes from 50 years of Doctor Who (photos with Matt Smith should be booked in advance via the website). These opportunities will be available at a fee and subject to availability. 

In addition to the Celebration, further activity is being planned for the Saturday evening and will be announced soon.

For more information on the Celebration and a Plan Your Day guide, visit celebration.doctorwho.tv. To hear who else will be making the journey to this once-in-a-lifetime occasion at ExCeL in November subscribe to the doctorwho.tv newsletter and follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/dwcelebration.

*Tom Baker is only able to attend the Doctor Who Celebration on Saturday 23rd November.
**Prices shown for standard tickets exclude booking fee.
***Children under five can attend for free, but must be able to sit on a parents lap during the theatre shows as seats are pre-allocated.
****Prices shown for TARDIS tickets include booking fee.

[Source: BBC Worldwide]

3 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 184: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I'm wondering if the lack of incidental music in this story might be one of the things that's putting me off it? So much of the tale is confined to just the soundtrack and it sounds very bare without any musical cues to help set the tone. There's nothing wrong with the sound effects we are getting (the sound of the Yeti control spheres beeping away is perfect for listening to through headphones) but it's all just feeling a bit… empty.

The one place that they have worked quite well is in the sounds of the 'Himalayan' mountain sides. Today has seen me in the unusual position of listening to the story in more-or-less the same setting it was filmed in. I heard today's episode on a train headed up towards the Brecans. While it's still a little more south than the filming took place, the landscape is broadly similar, and it really did help set the scene when I could gaze out the window at various peaks and valleys, keeping my eyes peeled for the slightest hint of a Yeti claw. I didn't see any sadly. The soundtrack accompanying these images was a rather nice experience, so I suppose I can't complain too much.

Otherwise, though, much of this episode has been made for me simply by giving the Doctor and Jamie some time to bounce off each other again. As the pair of them watch over a rock at a Yeti guarding the TARDIS, our companion asks, 'have you got a plan, Doctor?' 'Yes I have,' he replies, 'I'm going to bung a rock at it'. I know of this quote, but I couldn't have told you it came from this story or this moment, so I was left to simply laugh out loud at it (other passengers in the carriage thought I was having a fit, I suspect). There's a later moment when Jamie struggles to hold onto a control sphere as it makes its way back to the chest cavity of the dormant Yeti, and the Doctor has to impose himself between the sphere and the beast. Since the episode's missing, we can't actually see exactly how the scene played out, but I've little doubt that it would have been absolutely brilliant with Troughton's skill for physical comedy. The tele snaps for this moment aren't too revealing - there's a good chance that it could have looked either terrifying or hilarious. We'd need the moving imaged to find out.

What the tele snaps are clear on, at least for me, is that these Yeti really do work as monsters. I've mentioned already their reputation for being 'cute', but there's a shot of one striding across the monastery, with the monks pointing spears up at it where I'm completely sold on the idea. For a start, the creature is huge, and when it's striding at the pace it appears to be here, there's no denying just how well they work.

Elsewhere, the Great Intelligence is finally gaining some kind of physical embodiment… in the form of that Troughton classic: foam. I've always thought of this as being something that crops up a lot in the Troughton era (and it will!) so it seems strange that we've only just had our first proper appearance from the foam machine in the series. I will admit that I had to listen to this section twice, because I'd sort of lost track of things, but I'm hoping things will be cleared up as I watch on.

I did, however, really enjoy the story of the Holy Ghanta being given to a 'stranger' for safe keeping when the monastery was in a time of danger. Victoria's subsequent piecing of the facts together to explain that the stranger and the Doctor are one and the same is lovely, too. I'd like to imagine that this was one of those adventures that the Doctor has while his companions are asleep (there's several scenes on the Series Six DVD in this vein). The implication is that it takes place a long time ago for the Doctor, but I think I prefer to imagine it being an early-Season Four version of the Second Doctor, having an adventure while Ben, Polly, and Jamie are asleep in the TARDIS somewhere.

On the whole, though, there's still something about The Abominable Snowmen that just sin't sitting right with me. I know it's got quite a good reputation, and there's a lot of mementoes I'm really enjoying, but it's just not for me. Scanning through the tele snaps we've got here, I can't help but feel that I'd enjoy it more if I could actually watch it…

3 July 2013

Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall today visited the home of Doctor Who BBC Cymru Wales’ Roath Lock studios in Cardiff - to help celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary.

On arrival they were met by Rhodri Talfan Davies (Director, BBC Cymru Wales), Danny Cohen (Director, BBC Television), Faith Penhale (Head of Drama, BBC Wales & Executive Producer, Doctor Who) and Clare Hudson (Head of BBC Cymru Wales Productions).

The visit began with a trip to Doctor Who’s production office where The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall were introduced to members of the team including Brian Minchin (Executive Producer) and Michael Pickwoad (Production Designer).

A trip to the TARDIS was next on the agenda where the royal couple were introduced to Steven Moffat (Executive Producer and Lead Writer), Jenna Coleman (Clara) and Matt Smith (the Doctor) who gave Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall a quick lesson in how to fly the TARDIS! Moments later, Their Royal Highnesses operated the console controls and the time machine sprang to life as if in flight!

Back on Earth it was time to meet the monsters! Their Royal Highnesses were introduced to Strax the Sontaran - in other words, Dan Starkey in full costume and make-up. There were Weeping Angels, Ood and various alien masks on show but a highlight of this section came when Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall met and chatted to a Dalek. The brilliant Nicholas Briggs was initially hidden behind the scenes to ad lib the interview and was then introduced, explaining how he created the distinctive voice patterns of the Time Lord’s oldest foes.

Another demonstration followed with special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves showing the royal couple the ‘speederbike’ from The Rings of Akhaten and explaining – with the use of greenscreen - how it achieved its fantastic onscreen appearance. Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall then met and talked with several Creative Skillset Cymru apprentices who are training at Roath Lock in a number of TV functions. They also discussed how BBC Cymru Wales’ Roath Lock studios employ the latest methods to ensure sustainability and an eco-friendly approach to television production.

The visit lasted approximately an hour and a crowd of well-wishers gathered to wave and cheer Their Royal Highnesses as they left the studios.

Faith Penhale commented:

"It was lovely to welcome Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to the home of Doctor Who to help celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary. Certainly, seeing Prince Charles flying the TARDIS and Their Royal Highnesses chatting to a Dalek are memories to cherish from what looks set to be a very memorable year!"

[Source: BBC Doctor Who Website]

2 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 183: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Somewhere in my mass of notes for The Tomb of the Cybermen, I made a remark that it was a slight twist on the base-under-siege format, as the 'heroes' and the 'villains' were both inside the base, and it was more about trying to stop them from getting to a certain part of the base, or using a certain type of equipment. When the first episode of this tale told us that the Yeti had been getting more aggressive and heading closer and closer to the monastery, I thought we were in for a more run-of-the-mill adventure, with the bad guys attacking the base.

So the presence here of the Yeti being controlled from within the monastery is a welcome surprise. As I said yesterday, I know who is behind it all, but not how he operates, and I didn't realise he was going to be actively inside the building. It does make me wonder quite why the Great Intelligence would be brining the Yeti closer and closer to the place he (or, at least, his mouthpiece) is hiding in, though…

I'm also trying to piece together the Great Intelligence's timeline. In The Snowmen (How did I not figure out the surprise appearance until well into the episode - given that title?), the Doctor comments that the Intelligence will learn to operate without a physical form. This was in the late Victorian period - thirty or forty years before this tale is set. I thought, what with the disembodied voice and all, that we'd be seeing just that: the Great Intelligence working without a body. Don't get me wrong, I didn't actually expect it to match up perfectly with a story made forty-odd years later, but I did think that these event would have been taken into account when writing that Christmas special.

As it is… I'm not completely sure. It feels like a massive step backwards for the Intelligence. Yes, the robot Yeti are quite impressive and the control spheres are pretty cool, but they're nowhere near as advanced as the sentient snow he'd been using decades ago. Is it just because he's weak? Equally, were told here that the Intelligence will finally be able to gain physical form, and end its wanderings in space… I know it could have been floating around the stars ever since the Doctor destroyed it's previous host body, but the wording here imp lies a long period of not having any kind of physical form.

These things would probably bother me less if I hadn't seen the Christmas episode so recently (well, last Christmas), and they're only minor niggles for now. I'm also very aware that I'm only half way through The Abominable Snowmen at this point, and things may tie up neater towards the end. Hopefully.

I'm not all about complaining today, though, because Victoria's being given plenty to do again! Hooray! She's been a bit of a yo-yo so far, flitting between simply being there to scream ('Jamiiiiieeeeee!') and being a good companion - for much of today's episode she's firmly in the latter camp. 'Aren't you a little bit curious?' she asks when trying to find her way to the inner sanctum, and she's later warned off being too inquisitive. When she finds out that the Doctor and Jamie have gone off to hunt a Yeti, she's really not pleased to be left behind. We're a far cry from the feeble prisoner of the Daleks we had a couple of stories ago, and I'm very pleased to see that she does have potential…

2 July 2013

BBC Books has today announced Time Trips, an exciting addition to their hugely popular Doctor Who digital list.

Following the success of the three digital-only e-shorts published last Autumn and earlier this year (The Angel’s Kiss, Devil in the Smoke and Summer Falls, each of which tied into a particular episode),  as well as Doctor Who novels with Michael Moorcock, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Jenny Colgan and the estate of Douglas Adams. Time Trips is set to build on that success and expand the Doctor Who readership even further.

A new, long-term digital strand for the Doctor Who list, Time Trips will feature an exciting mix of high-profile commercial and literary writers, each of whom will write a 10,000 word adventure for their favourite Doctor. Authors confirmed so far include Nick Harkaway, AL Kennedy, Jenny Colgan and Trudi Canavan, with more to be announced shortly. From romantic fiction to high fantasy to high thrillers, there are a lot of Doctor Who fans in the literary world!

BBC Books Senior Editorial Director Albert De-Petrillo bought world rights in each of the stories. De-Petrillo said:

"Time Trips is a project I have long wanted to do. There’s a unique affection for Doctor Who amongst writers and readers across genres and I can’t believe our good luck to have Nick Harkaway, AL Kennedy, Jenny Colgan and Trudi Canavan on the launch list.  It’s a truly formidable line-up, with more to come. This series really is taking Doctor Who fiction to a new level and I can’t wait for people to read these brilliant stories"

AL Kennedy said:

"I was first introduced to Doctor Who when I was three or four and he has been a happy part of my life ever since. I am delighted to become in any way a part of his stories."

Jenny Colgan, also a lifelong Doctor Who fan, said:

"It is such an honour to be part of the prestigious Time Trips line-up, with so many excitingly fresh perspectives on the Doctor's life and adventures".

Nick Harkaway added:

"There is a list of calls you want and know you’ll never get. Joel Rubichon invites you to eat any time; Penelope Cruz needs a tango partner…and then someone calls and asks you if you want to write a story for a new BBC Books’ Doctor Who digital series. And that is the real thing and it feels every bit as fantastic as you would imagine. I’m sure the tango would be good too, mind you"

BBC Books plan to release the first in the Time Trips series at the end of the year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, with further stories to be published throughout 2014. Each story will be priced at £1.99. A print collection is due for release next year. Additional authors will be announced in the coming months.

[Source: BBC Books]

1 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 182: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode Two

Dear diary,

As much as I've been enjoying listening to the soundtracks over the last couple of months (it's become a way of life, and having an episode on during my walk home each day has become something of a routine), it really does help when there's an actual, surviving episode to go on. I think I was rather spoiled by having all of The Tomb of the Cybermen to watch, so it felt like a bit of a step backwards to have little to base yesterday's episode on than tele snaps and location photos.

I've found myself far more drawn to this episode of the story than I did yesterday. In part, it's possibly because there's a bit more going on today than we had yesterday, but it doesn't hurt that if we do encounter a less interesting part of the story, it's got some lovely direction to fall back on. This is Gerald Blake's first time directing on Doctor Who (and he won't be back until The Invasion of Time!), but he's off to a great start, really injecting the story with some atmosphere.

The dark corridors of the monastery really are the perfect setting for a Doctor Who tale, and the rest of the building holds up in its design, too. There's a section of narration on the soundtrack to Episode One where Frazer Hines describes the Doctor looking up at a large statue of a Buddah, and I vaguely pictured something of a manageable size… but there really is a massive statue at the back of one set!

Equally, the location footage looks great. The story gets a lot of stick for using the mountains of North Wales as a stand in for the Himalayas and while, no, it doesn't quite work, I'm ready to admit that it gives it a good shot, and it certainly looks impressive enough anyway. I seem to say this a lot as the shoe continues to broaden out into more varied (and lengthier) location shooting, but it really does have a feel of being completely unlike any other place we've seen before in the series. Mind you, doesn't Victoria say something about footprints in the snow in the first episode?

And then you've got the Yeti themselves. Often called out for being quite cute (which, yes, they are) they still come across as pretty impressive here. The cliffhanger reprise gives us a chance to see one of them lumbering into the cave towards Jamie and Victoria, and it looks as good as I could have hoped it might from picturing it yesterday. Admittedly, they look a little less imposing when they stand around outside the monastery and watch their friend be trapped, but they still look quite good. It's a pity that we've never had that action figure of them - I'd snap one up.

The Yeti's spheres are pretty impressive, too, perhaps even more so than the creatures themselves. We get to see a couple of instances of them moving here without any apparent outside help, and it works well both times. I'm not sure if it's more impressive to see that it actually can move through the thick mud (K9 would wince at the idea!) or the shot of it rolling along the edge of the Buddah statue, at some speed. I'm guessing the story would see more of this going on in the later (missing) episodes, so I'm glad we get to see at least a few brief snippets of it happening in the part that survives: at least it shows me that they could do it well!

Because I've been a fan for several years, I'm more than well aware that the omnipresent voice echoing through the inner sanctum of the monastery is that of the Great Intelligence, but it doesn't take anything away from it - it genuinely is quite imposing. 'Do not be afraid,' it booms at one point, when it's hard to be anything else! Having just gone through the most recent series of Doctor Who, I keep expecting Richard E Gran't face to appear in the smoke from the candles at some point. Maybe as an anniversary treat, they could have him re-dub all of the Great Intelligence's lines?

30 June 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 181: The Abominable Snowmen, Episode One

Dear diary,

I think it's more than fair to say that whatever had to follow The Tomb of the Cybermen for me was going to have a tough job to keep me impressed, and I'm sorry to say that the first episode of The Abominable Snowmen has left me rather flat. To tell the truth, I think it really is as simple as me being disappointed that it isn't another episode of Tomb, because there's plenty here that would be right up my street in any other circumstance.

There's two areas of the story's setting that should particularly appeal to me. The fact that it all takes place in-and-around a remote monastery in the Himalayan mountains means that I've got an instant hook - take a Google Image search of these monasteries, there's some beautiful examples of them. They're just the right setting for a Doctor Who story, and especially suited to a base under siege tale - there's no one else for miles and miles around. I'm listening to today's episode on audio, so I've been picturing a desolate mountainside shrouded in snow and fog, though I fear tomorrow's episode may not tie in with that, if the location photos are anything to go by!

Quite aside from the location of the story, it's set in a period of history that really interests me - that late 1920s/early 1930s period where there were still areas of the Earth, to be explored. Oh, don't get me wrong, I know that we've still not been into the very depths of some rain forests, or to the peaks of every mountain, and the bottom of the sea leaves us with a vast area to explore, but this period in time is the dying days of the stereotypical 'explorer' image, when you can still sail out to sea and discover a new island which a satellite would have located in seconds today.

Then there's the idea of hinting for the Yeti. I've never really known where I stand on the idea of the Abominable Snowman. I don't think I believe in its existence, or if I do then I think it's probably just a type of rare monkey, and nowhere near as mystical as people think. But I love the idea of those early 20th century explorers going out to look for the creature, and the suggestion that the Doctor is from a newspaper, and there to sabotage the mission for a 'cheap headline' is great - and very in keeping with the era.

We've also got an opening scene that I really should absolutely love - it takes time to show us the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria all hanging around in the TARDIS and having fun together. It feels like an age since we've been able to spend some time inside the ship with our regular cast (I have to admit that I didn't really notice it fading out, but I think The Chase was probably the last time that we really had anything quite like this. Possibly I could cite the opening to The Moonbase where they joke about the Doctor over-shooting Mars).

It's not all fun and games, though, and there's plenty of drama to be found once the Doctor is inside the monastery and being held prisoner by the monks. It's always of interest when the Doctor is separated from his friends and left alone with no allies, and in a setting quite unlike any we've had in the series before, it's always nice to have something new. Jamie and Victoria's exploration of the Yeti cave isn't of as much interest to me, though, and I'm sorry to say I zoned out a little during this (Victoria's screaming soon snapped me back to attention, though!).

Here's hoping that the chance to watch tomorrow's episode will allow me to pull this story out from the previous one's shadow, and set me on a better course for the rest of the tale…

29 June 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 180: The Tomb of the Cybermen, Episode Four

Dear diary,

It seems strange, standing at this end of the story and looking back, that I ever considered it may not hold up. I’d worried that having found a fondness for other stories which I’d never really considered before, The Tomb of the Cybermen - ostensibly my ‘favourite’ Doctor Who tale - and suddenly find it underwhelming. Almost ten years of it being my favourite could be washed away in these four days.

What’s actually happened is quite the opposite – I’ve completely rediscovered my love for the story as though seeing it again for the very first time. It possibly helps that this is the first time since The War Machines, way back at the end of Season Three, that I’ve actually had a full story to watch. It could help that I’m already looking more favourably on this one than some of the stories I’ve never seen but haven’t heard great things about. Or it could be that, quite simply, The Tomb of the Cybermen is one of the all-time greats. Certainly, I’ve met a number of people over the years who have either cited it as their favourite, too, or at least considered that it’s a good contender for a favourite story to have.

Right the way through, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much I’ve been loving this one – by the time Episode One had finished, any worries I had were gone, and I was left just enjoying things. Each episode has given me something new to love, and the fourth is no exception to this – I’d always thought of Toberman’s partial-conversion into Cyberman as having no real merit, but it works really well and is key to the story. His fight with the Cybercontroller here is much better than any of the fights in the last episode, and the final shot of him, staring down against the Controller as they each push on opposite sides of the door is fantastic. Are they just planning to leave the body there, though? I realise it must be a pretty long trip back to Earth, but surely they must be able to take him home? At least throw a sheet over the corpse or something!

I’ve focussed so much in this story on the developing relationship between the Doctor and Victoria (though it feels like they’ve been travelling for a while now. The About Time series speculates that there could be unseen adventures between her entrance to the TARDIS in Episode One and the arrival on Telos – and there’s plenty in the story which I think can support that), but I’ve barely mentioned Jamie’s role in events.

It’s far from being a secret that I love the pairing of the Doctor and his Highland friend, and there’s so much of a spark between them in this story that I can’t let it pass without mention. The ‘hand holding’ in Episode One is always singled out for praise, but brilliant as it is, there’s a number of other moments in The Tomb of the Cybermen that I think showcase the pair better. Episode Three sees the Doctor making a pun about the Cybermat’s metal brains being overloaded (‘You could say they’ve had a total metal breakdown’) and Jamie's reaction to his terrible pun. Today we get Jamie tying the door of the revitaliser machine, before the Cybercontroller breaks through the door (‘Jamie, remind me to give you a lesson in tying knots sometimes…’), and his realisation of what’s happened to Toberman: the boy is learning from his travels.

Something that often gets talked about in this story is the death of a Cyberman here, where the chest unit bubbles as foam rises up and overflows. It’s cited as an example of Doctor Who going too far and being too violent, and I can almost see that. It’s certainly more horrific than we might usually get at this time. For me, though, what made it scary was the way the Cyberman grabs at his chest throughout, almost as though trying to force his circuitry back inside. That’s the really gruesome part, but it works. Equally, there’s a scene where Jamie fires a gun point blank into a Cyberman’s face as it climbs from the hatch. Smoke comes pouring out of the mouth as it stumbles back down into the tomb. It’s a striking image.

For a long, long time, The Tomb of the Cybermen was the fabled ‘Holy Grail’ of missing Doctor Who tales, and the general consensus is that when it showed up in 1992, it wasn’t as good as everyone hoped it might be. For me, though, it’s damn near perfect, and I’m pleased to say that it’s still coming out top for me.

I’m hoping that it might be a good sign – I’ve been slightly dreading Season Five. It’s mostly missing, and it relies heavily on the Base-Under-Siege and Monster-of-the-Week formats, I’d been fearing that I might find it repetitive. Hopefully, though, if things continue to live up to the quality of The Tomb of the Cybermen, we could be on to a real winner…

28 June 2013
a a

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 179: The Tomb of the Cybermen, Episode Three

Dear diary,


Simply because
The Tomb of the Cybermen was my first exposure to the creatures, I’ve always thought of these as being the ‘default’ model. It’s this design that I think of when people talk about Cybermen, and the style of speaking here is the one I most readily associate with them, too. It’s pleasing, then, to be enjoying them so much again now. There’s something about the voices especially that really is creepier than we’ve had before (as much as I loved the ones in The Tenth Planet), and it helps that some of their dialogue is so blunt.

Yesterday’s episode ends with the Cybercontroller telling the archaeological party ‘You belong to us. You will be like us’, and there’s a moment here when Jamie tells a Cyberman that he’s a human – he’s not the same as them, and the reply is simply ‘You will be’. The idea of being converted into a Cyberman has been present ever since their first appearance, but this is the first time it’s really being played as a threat. In The Tenth Planet, it’s almost an offer, but here it’s a terrifying experience, and something that you really don’t want to happen. In promoting Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman commented that he’d been watching the 1960s stories and wanted to make the Cybermen scary again – it’s hard not to see what he means about the terror.

This episode, perhaps more than any we’ve had for a while, relies on a number of big special effects. I remember back during The Ark, I commented that the effects were just being dropped in easily, wheres before they’d have been the showpiece for the entire 25 minutes. Here, they’re just part of the routine, and the programme thinks nothing of showing the effect of a Cyber-gun against a wall (the awesome power of which lends weight to the cliff-hanger, when the same gun is fired in the Doctor’s direction).

Perhaps the biggest effects surprise for me, though, is the Cybermats. I have to admit, as much as I love The Tomb of the Cybermen, I’ve never been all that fond of the Cybermen’s pets. I’ve seen this story several times over the years, but in mind mind the Cybermats didn’t work and looked rubbish… but they’re great! I’d not remembered that the tails wag, which really helps to sell the effect, and I was surprised just how similar this version is to the ones who appear in Closing Time - I’d not seen this story since that one aired.

Just because I love the story doesn’t mean I’m completely blind to some of its faults, though. While there’s plenty of great effects in here, and the Cybermen get used in a way that makes them look great (there’s a show of one trying to hold the hatch to their tomb open, and you really get a sense of the strength involved), I’m willing to admit that it doesn’t all work. Just like the previous two episode of this story, I’ve written absolutely loads of notes, but this time around there are several about things that aren’t great.

There’s a fight early on between the archaeologists and the Cybermen which becomes a bit of a muddle, and it’s home to the shot of Toberman being hurled through the air by a Cyberman. It’s a lovely idea, but sadly the kirby wires are just far too visible, which somewhat lessens the effect. Similarly, a later shot of the Cybermen stumbling around in the aftermath of some smoke bombs doesn’t look all that spectacular.

All of that can be forgotten, though, because this episode is home to one of my favourite scenes in all of Doctor Who, when the Doctor and Victoria share a conversation in the dead of night, as everyone sleeps huddled in corners of the tomb’s lobby. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve not been all that impressed with Victoria so far on the whole, but these few minutes, shot in close-ups of Patrick Troughton and Deborah Watling as they just get the chance to act together really sells me on her. It’s a beautiful moment, and another one of those scenes that shows emotion didn’t creep in with the advent of 21st century Doctor Who.

I hate quoting long passages from the episode when I’m writing about them, but the Doctor’s words about remembering his lost family are so emotive, that I just have to post them again here;

Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that's the point, really.
I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The
rest of the time they… they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will
you. Oh yes, you will. You'll find there's so much else to think about.
To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else's. That's the
exciting thing, that
nobody in the universe can do what we're doing.

I’d not be surprised if that’s another one of those moments that really sold me on the idea of Patrick Troughton as being the Doctor – it’s simply wonderful

28 June 2013
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Philip Hinchcliffe, who produced Doctor Who from 1975 to 1977 and oversaw many all-time classic stories including Pyramids of Mars and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, is returning to The Fourth Doctor and Leela in an audio drama collaboration with Big Finish.

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents is a box set of two brand new audio adventures that will evoke the tone of the series from his era.

Big Finish Producer, David Richardson, had the following to say:

“When we were recording series three of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, Philip asked if he could come along to the studio and observe. I know that Tom Baker and Louise Jameson were thrilled to have him there, and they both enthused to him about what a great time they were having working for Big Finish. After the recording ended, Philip took me and executive producer Nicholas Briggs aside, and pitched the idea of doing a set of stories of the kind he would have hoped to have done, had he stayed on to produce the series for longer. We just said ‘yes’ instantly!”

The first story in the set will be an epic six-parter set in Victorian London, adapted by Marc Platt (Ghost Light), which will be paired with a four-parter.

Hinchcliffe describes the project:

“My aim with the box set is to create stories that feel they could belong to my second or third season. They are not designed to follow on from my era, more to re-evoke it for fans who enjoyed the originals: and so the Doctor and Leela in these new stories are the same as they were then, in the glorious seventies! That's the beauty of radio - they look and sound the same!"

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents will be released in August 2014, and is available for pre-order.

Also available for pre-order now is the fourth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, which features eight brand new stories, starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. You can subscribe to all eight, or order a bundle which also includes the Philip Hinchcliffe Presents box set, all at a low pre-order price!

[Source: Big Finish]

28 June 2013

Everybody needs a Sonic Screwdriver; The Doctor’s wonderful science fiction gadget that can unlock doors, control objects at a distance and is the pocket sized answer to all sorts of tricky situations.

Now, fans of David Tennant's Tenth Doctor are in for a treat. This summer, in response to massive consumer demand, The Wand Company will reveal their new, authentic Tenth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver Remote Control

Painstakingly 3D scanned from the original screen-used prop, kindly loaned to The Wand Company by David Tennant himself, this Tenth Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver is a faithful clone, CNC machined from aluminium, crammed full of technology and is a fully functioning gesture-based universal remote control that looks, feels and works just like the real prop.

Previewing on the ThinkGeek Booth at San Diego Comic-Con in July, the Tenth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver Remote will be available exclusively through selected retailers in the UK, US and Australia in October to coincide with BBC Worldwide’s Tenth Doctor celebrations (BBCW have been celebrating a different Doctor during every month of 2013) of the popular and long-running series’ 50th anniversary year.

To further commemorate Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary year, The Wand Company is also launching a limited-edition gold and silver plated version of their enormously successful Eleventh Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver Remote Control. A small quantity will be available first at San Diego Comic-Con, and then from other selected retailers in the UK and US, but with only 250 of these special, individually laser-numbered Sonic Screwdrivers ever being produced, this is the ultimate collectible for Doctor Who fans.

+ Read DWO's review of The Eleventh Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver Remote Control, here.

[Source: BBC Worldwide]

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