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6 December 2014

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

Day 705: The Happiness Patrol, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh, you know, I’ve been dying to type these words. I’ve been hovering over them for a couple of weeks but wanted to save it for something special - and we certainly got that in today’s episode. So…

Sylvester McCoy is bloody good, isn’t he?

Hooray! Woo! Canned audience cheers in the background. Oh, of course I knew that Sylv was great. Of course he’s great, but you know Season Twenty-Four really threw me. The performance he’s giving in those four stories just isn’t right for him, and I love that he comes back and really decides to do it the way he feels is right in this season. He’s brilliant right from the start of Remembrance of the Daleks, but it’s when you get a scene like today’s ‘gun’ exchange that you really appreciate just how brilliant he can be. I try to only quote little bits here and there in The 50 Year Diary, but this really needs to be done as a longer excerpt;


You like guns, don't you.


He'll kill you.


Of course he will. That's what guns are for. Pull the trigger, end a life. Simple, isn't it.




Makes sense, doesn't it.




A life killing life.


Who are you?


Shut up. Why don't you do it then? Look me in the eye, pull the trigger, end my life. Why not?


I can't.


Why not?


I don't know.


No, you don't, do you. [He take’s DAVID’s gun away from him, and indicates ALEX] Throw away your gun. [ALEX does so.]

It’s not only a triumph of acting, it’s also such a beautiful scene - possibly the best writing that the programme has seen in a long time. There’s something about it which so perfectly encapsulates Doctor Who, and really sells the concept that he’s a hero who needn’t resort to violence, and although I’m starting to actually bang on about it, McCoy pitches it perfectly. Can you imagine the way he’d turn out this sequence in his Season Twenty-Four persona? No, me neither, because I’m actively trying not to. What we get here is glorious.

As is the sequence with Trevor Sigma, where he turns the questioning on its head. A lot of the dialogue here seems to be lifted from McCoy’s audition scene (as, indeed, is the idea of a villain based upon Margaret Thatcher - with Janet Fielding there filling in as ‘the Iron Woman’), but there’s a marked step-up in terms of performance. You really *do* get the impression that McCoy has had the chance to sit down, think things through, and really choose what he wants to do.

I think there’s an element of ‘cutting the apron strings’ in all of this - and I don’t just mean with McCoy. John Nathan-Turner has always been described as being very hands on and insistent on what he wanted from every bit of the programme (there are stories that the character of Mel was created simply because JN-T walked in to the office one day demanding that the next companion have red hair - though I’m not sure how true that may be). It feels often, though, that in the programme’s final years, Nathan-Turner was willing to sit back a little and let other people do their thing. Andrew Cartmel shapes the show at least as much as JN-T does in this period - and I’d argue moreso. Season Twenty-Five feels like the first opportunity of the show just ‘getting on with it’ and I think it’s working all the better for it.

5 December 2014

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

Day 704: The Happiness Patrol, Episode One

Dear diary,

For a long time, I didn’t really know what the general opinion was towards The Happiness Patrol. It’s one of those stories that never managed to sit at the very top of many people’s list of favourites, but it was rarely right down the other end of those lists, either. Five or so years ago, it was the final McCoy story that I needed to see - I watched this one immediately after The Greatest Show in the Galaxy with a friend, and these three episodes were the last bits of Seventh Doctor that he had to experience, too. Truth be told, I can’t remember a great deal of my own thoughts on the story, either. A quick look at the Doctor Who Magazine poll from earlier this year reveals that it placed in position 172 of 241 - which putting it at the lower end of ‘average’ territory.

I think that’s a placement that I’d agree with, based on this first episode. There’s certainly a lot in this episode to interest me, but it doesn’t particularly stand out from the crowd at all. I have a feeling that in another six months’ time, after this marathon is over, I’ll be back in that same position of not really knowing how I felt about this one. I think what makes it all the more frustrating, and something which I hope improves as time goes by, is that there’s some real flashes of genius on display. I’m talking largely here about the direction in this one - there are bits of the episode being shot like an old movie, with dutch camera angles and some fantastically artistic lighting. I’d love love see more of this as the story goes on, because it’s that kind of visual flare that could really help this story sing.

As I’ve said, though, there’s plenty to keep me interested, and it’s mostly to do with the ideas in the script. It would be easy to talk about Helen A’s characterisation and compare her to the then Prime Minister, or to talk about the Kandyman in the kitchen (both of which I’m sure I’ll do in the next couple of days), but it’s really the ideas of the world that are appealing to me. I simply love the whole sequence in the ‘waiting area’, where the Doctor is told that this absolutely isn’t a prison, because such a place wouldn’t at all fit with the ethos of this world… but then it’s made very sure that he - and we - understand that actually, of course it’s a prison. That whole sequence is wonderful, and it’s one that feels entirely at home here in the late-1980s era of the programme. I think we’re at a point now, past the half-way mark for another Doctor, where you can really feel Andrew Cartmel’s influence in the stories, because he’s very much the hand steering the show at this point.

I also love that, once again, the Doctor is here for his own reasons. He tells Ace that he’s heard some nasty rumours about the things happening in this colony and he’s decided to check them out. It’s not often before this season that we’ve seen a Doctor so determined to go where and when he’s needed, and I’m really enjoying it as a new approach to the character. I’m also surprised, at the end of Season Twenty-Five, just how much he’s doing things like this. I’ve always thought of the ‘manipulative’, ‘scheming’ version of the Seventh Doctor as only really being apparent in the final season of the show, with only the odd hint towards that side of his nature before then. Actually, though, it’s been a plot point in all of this season’s stories, and I’d argue that it’s easily read in to the stories of the previous season, too (indeed, I did read that in to them). We’re really seeing the way he’s using Ace now, too, in the way they emerge from the TARDIS and he probes to find out what she senses about this place. We’re about to enter a period where she’s very much his litmus paper going in to adventures, so this is a nice thing to see… 

5 December 2014

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4 December 2014

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

Day 703: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This episode is home to not one, but two shots which I think so perfectly encapsulate the Sylvester McCoy era of the programme. The first comes when he’s in the ring, facing down the Gods of Ragnarok, and he turns on the spot, transforming his sword into the trademark umbrella. The second, of course, is the Doctor walking away from the Psychic Circus as an enormous explosion rips through the tent behind him. It’s become something of a legend within fandom that McCoy doesn’t even flinch when this explosion goes off - he does, and now I can’t unsee it - but he does look incredibly powerful regaining himself half a second later and continuing to strut. The story has been told a thousand times over the years that the explosion wasn’t supposed to be so large, but the fact that it is really helps to make this one of the most defining shots of the late 1980s.

The Doctor’s confrontation with the Gods here is somewhat wonderful, and it’s the first time in a long while that we’ve seen the Doctor square up to such a supposedly powerful being. We got hints of it a few days ago with his speech to Davros, but here we’ve got him properly face-to-face with his enemy in the same way we’ll get to see with Fenric in a couple of week’s time. The whole sequence is perfectly keyed to Sylvester McCoy, giving him a chance to clown around and do the kind of acts that he was best known for while also delivering some wonderful speeches to the ‘monsters’ as he brings their world crumbling down around them. It’s also interesting to note that he claims to have fought the Gods of Ragnarok ‘all through time’… presumably in adventures that we didn’t see? Or does he just mean that he;s fought gods like them, meaning the Animus, and the Great Intelligence? Still, it’s good to see the continuing trend of this incarnation specifically going after his enemies instead of just bumbling in on another of their evil schemes. By the time that the story is over, there’s no doubt left in my mind that the Doctor has orchestrated this whole thing.

I’m also rather keen on just how cleverly Captain Cook has been played throughout this story. He starts off as such an obvious parody of the Doctor (complete with companion), then comes back from the dead - how very like a Time Lord - and in this episode he also makes a point of announcing that he hasn’t come to this world simply by chance. He knows what’s going on here, and he’s here because of it all. I’d not noticed quite how well done this was the last time I watched the story, so I’m glad to have seen it now, because it’s a whole other layer that helps make the story all the richer.

On the whole, I’ve been left a bit mixed with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. I’ve enjoyed it, largely, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing to watch it again any time soon, in the way that some other stories are already at the top of the list for seeing again when this marathon is over. One thing I will say, though - in the special features on this DVD, lots of people complain about how the title was given to them by John Nathan-Turner, and they all say how awful it is… but I love it! 

3 December 2014

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

Day 702: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Episode Three

Dear diary,

While I’ve never been actively afraid of clowns, I can certainly see why people can be scared of them. There’s something innately un-nerving about them, isn’t there? Maybe it’s the constant fixed smiles? Truth be told, I’m not sure, but watching this episode if you’re not a clown fan must be an un-nerving experience, because the ones on display here are downright creepy. Led by Ian Reddington as the Chief Clown, our troupe of circus performers manage to walk a nice line in this story - at once being this unstoppable force which has been stalking after the other characters from the opening moments, while also being just that bit useless. Ace has escaped capture by them on more than one occasion now, for example, and they’ve killed the one man who can repair them when they break!

What’s rather nice, though, is that while the clowns certainly fill the role of ‘monster’ for this story - up to now, at least - they’re not the actual threat of the piece. That comes more just in the sense that something is wrong, and the flows are really just a distraction while the Doctor puts all the pieces together. I know where this one is going, and who the true ‘villains’ of the piece are, but I’m rather impressed that we’ve managed to go three episodes with a lot of tension and worry without even revealing them properly yet. The story is absolutely packed to the rafters with elements, and there’s so much to follow that the episodes feel incredibly rich. Of course, the danger of this comes on the flip side - there’s so much going on that it can at times be tricky to actually follow everything that’s happening inside the tent. I can’t remember the last time we had a cast with this many characters each taking ownership of their own strand in the narrative.

Thankfully, all of these characters are without exception being played by rather fantastic performers. I’ve already touched on Ian Reddington’s Chief Clown, with that wonderful hand movement (I’ve been replicating it for a few days now while talking to Emma, and singing the ‘Psychic Circus’ theme tune, too), but then you’ve also got T. P. McKenna who is absolutely perfectly cast as Captain Cook (and who reminds me more and more with each episode of Mark Gatiss), and Jessica Martin making the perfect companion for him, and managing to be actually somewhat scary during her werewolf transformation in today’s cliffhanger. In the first episode, we had Peggy Mount as the stallslady (and you can see exactly why they’ve used her for the part), Daniel Peacock’s Nord, Christopher Guard as Bellboy… I could really list everyone in the cast, because they’re uniformly great in this one. All the ‘making of’ features on the DVD present us with people who’s memories of making this story - despite the troubles that the production ran in to - are only positive, and of a well-oiled team working together to make something in adversity.

I also need to touch on Gian Sammarco as Whizz Kid. It’s one of those things again that you’re just aware of as a Doctor Who fan - that Whizz Kid is meant to be a commentary on Doctor Who fans. I’ve always thought that it’s just something we’ve kind of projected on to the character over the years, but it’s pretty strong on screen, isn’t it? I think it’s more a view on fans of anything, because the same trends do seem to crop up time and time again. Still it’s hard not to listen to a line like this one;


Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be but I'm still terribly interested.

and not compare it to the clip of John Nathan-Turner on Open Air in 1987, when he provided his famous ‘the memory cheats’ remark!

2 December 2014

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

Day 701: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It’s long fascinated me that The Greatest Show in the Galaxy almost went the route of becoming a Shada for the late 1980s - a programme which could have been part-way through production before everything ground to a halt. Having finished all the location filming for the serial, the cast and crew returned to Television Centre to record all the interior segments… only to find that the studios had been closed to have asbestos removed. Schedule in tatters, nothing to be done. It’s this particular behind-the-scenes story which people tend to agree most represented John Nathan-Turner rising higher than ever before. He found ways to work around the BBC’s temporary rules and regulations for completing programmes during this period, had a large marquee erected in the car park at Elstree, and they finished the production in there. The behind the scenes documentary on this DVD has some great anecdotes about an almost war-time spirit that everyone had in making sure that the story could be finished. It’s also pointed out that they’re lucky that this was the story caught up in these events, because it’s the only one this season (indeed, the only one from this decade, I’d argue, if not even longer) which could actively benefit from such a move!

All the scenes inside the circus tent look fantastic - and far more real than if they’d been shot in a mocked-up ‘big top’ in the studios. The same can be said for the great corridors that our cast are asked to run up and down today - the billowing white sheets that form the sides make the shots stand out as being quite unlike any other corridor chase in Doctor Who, and they look wonderful. I think the only disappointment with all of this is that the series has switched to shooting all on video - because I’d have loved to see all these sequences shot out on film, as was the case when a somewhat similar problem struck the production of Spearhead From Space almost twenty years earlier.

Everything has combined together to make this story stand out visually as being very different to anything else around it, and that really does help. Even if this story had ended up being shot in the studio, though, how beautiful is the location filming? It’s all been shot down in a Dorset quarry, and yet it doesn’t look like any of the other quarries that the TARDIS has ever pitched up in. There’s a feeling to this of an alien world that’s far more considered and developed than I’m used to from the programme. It even takes some of the tricks they employed for stories like Mindwarp and adapt them for use here, too - specifically the planet in the sky, which is nicer here because it’s done more subtly, without trying to draw attention to it. The shots of the circus tent from the exterior are beautiful, too, and I’m always a little bit floored by the fact that it was part model, part full-size construct, and just a bit of clever camera trickery to join everything up.

As for the story itself… I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. I think I’m enjoying it, and I’ve certainly been far more drawn in to this episode than I was yesterday, partly because the majority of the characters have now been introduced, and drawn well enough that I can quite happily go along with them. But then I’m not completely sure where things are going, and if I’m honest, my main concern is the running time. Because we’re in the era of three-part stories mingling quite freely with the four-parters now, I’m more acutely aware of the fact that I’m only half-way through this tale, and I’m not sure if there’s enough plot left to fill out almost another hour (I’ve seen the story before, so I know broadly where it’s going, but not the specifics). I think I’m just hoping that I’ll continue the trend of these last two days, and find each successive episode slightly better than the last!

1 December 2014

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

Day 700: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Episode One

NB: I’m watching the McCoy stories in a slightly altered sequence. See HERE for my explanation and reasoning.

Dear diary,

It’s perhaps fitting that a story titled ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ should begin on Day 700 of The 50 Year Diary, because I love it when I reach these ‘century’ days in the marathon. They’re a great opportunity to take stock of the experiment, and to see just how much the programme has evolved since the last one. It’s not even something that I really talk about in writing up these entries, just something I do for myself every hundred days. The series as it is here, for example, in Season Twenty-Five with the Seventh Doctor and Ace is a world away from the show I was watching 100 days ago (Day 600 was the first episode of Earthshock), and that iteration of the programme was just as different from the one I was watching on Day 500 (The Invasion of Time, Episode Six), and Day 400 (Planet of Spiders, Episode Six). You get the picture. It’s the perfect way of tracking just how much Doctor Who evolves and changes throughout its lifetime, because I really don’t notice it all that much when watching day-to-day - it feels like such a natural progression, that it’s only changes like Seasons Six to Seven, or Seventeen to Eighteen, which feel like real shifts.

I think it’s also probably a good thing that on the 700th day of doing this marathon, the programme is still able to flag up episodes that feel quite unlike anything that we’ve had before. Last season, I complained that Delta and the Bannermen didn’t really know what to do with its three-episode structure, but then Dragonfire fitted it perfectly. It didn’t feel as though we’d had to rush everything to fit it in to less episodes, but equally, I can’t imagine how you’d pad it out to fill another. We then moved on to Remembrance of the Daleks, back to the more familiar four-episode format, and again, it filled its running time amply, not feeling too drawn out (although, the more I think about it, the less sure I am why the Doctor herded everyone across to the Dalek shuttle with him aside from filling some screen time…). We’re sticking with four episodes today - indeed that’s the reason that the story was swapped round on original broadcast, because they were keen for Silver Nemesis to air from the anniversary date - and it’s using this first 25 minutes to simply introduce us to all the characters.

The pace is somewhat leisurely, allowing the Doctor and Ace to spend time in the TARDIS, and on the side of a road eating alien fruit, but there’s also a hell of a lot packed in here, with two killer robots, some sinister clowns, a couple on the run, and the introduction of just about every character under the bloody sun! By my count, we’ve got nine key parts introduced: The Ring Master, the Stallslady, Nord, Bellboy, Flowerchild, Captain Cook, Mags, Whizz Kid, and The Chief Clown. That’s not including other characters who appear but aren’t really given a major introduction, like other assorted circus folk. Now, this probably isn’t unusual for a first episode - Paradise Towers had lots of characters introduced in the first 25 minutes, for example - but what sets this apart is the way that every one is introduced to us with their own set piece, really making sure that you take note of who they are, and what they’re up to. It feels really very strange, and I’m not suite sure what to make of it. Coupled with the bizarre cliffhanger, this feels more like a prelude to the main story, which I’m guessing will kick off from tomorrow.

Something I did want to touch on with this episode is the way that the Doctor’s behaving. I’ve seen it suggested that this isn’t just a chance visit to the Psychic Circus spurred on by some junk-mail arriving in the TARDIS, but rather something set up by the Doctor. I’ve always thought of it as an interesting fan-theory, but actually seeing this episode again after so many years… it’s pretty hard to ignore, isn’t it? The junk-mail arrives in the TARDIS and we’re told that it’s ‘extraordinary’ (indeed, the only other things that have managed to arrive in the TARDIS like this before are Sutekh - a god of unimaginable power - the Keeper of Traken - who has the minds of the Traken Union and the power of the Source propelling him through - and arguably Veena in Timelash, though she just happens to pass through via the Vortex as opposed to actively materialising). When Ace announces that she’d rather not go along to the circus because she’s scared of clowns, and the junk mail starts to taunt her about it, just look at the Doctor’s face. He’s studying her reactions - he’s set all of this up as one of those tests he’s so keen on inflicting in Season Twenty-Six. Just like facing her fears in Gabriel Chase, this is a test for Ace that the Doctor has arranged. I’m sure later on the Doctor makes a comment about having fought the Gods of Ragnarok before, so it fits in with his style of setting up his enemies to be defeated, too, just like in the last story (and the next!)

It helps that the Doctor and Ace really are comfortable with each other here. When we join them in the TARDIS - the Doctor teaching himself to juggle, and Ace rummaging through the wardrobe - it has that same ‘lazy Sunday afternoon’ feeling that we saw with the regulars back in The Chase. This is a Doctor and companion who are comfortable with each other, and have been travelling for some time. I think I’m still willing to stick to my estimate of six months for the pair up to now, because it’s never felt as much like there’s unseen adventures for a Doctor and a companion as it does here! 

1 December 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Mark Wright and Cavan Scott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“The year is 2163. Ten years since the Daleks invaded the Earth. One year until the Doctor, in his first incarnation, will help bring the occupation to an end. But for now, their reign of terror goes on.

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Peri to Scotland – enslaved, like everywhere else on the planet. But there are rumours of Dalek-free islands off its coast. Places where resistors and refuseniks are coming together, gathering arms and armour, preparing to strike back against the enemy.

When the Doctor falls in with an unlikely group of freedom fighters making that dangerous journey to Orkney, he finds himself trapped – but not only by the Daleks, their robotised henchmen and their human collaborators.

By history.

Because history shows that for another year, resistance is useless...

The rebellion must fail – and as a Time Lord, the Doctor can do nothing to help.


There are certain things that Big Finish do which could be seen as fingerprints across the main range: the return of characters from the past, the use of actors more recently seen in Doctor Who on TV, and sequels to stories from the original 1963-1989 run.

There are more, but these three often stand out, and it is the latter which is present and correct here in Masters of Earth.  Coming straight on the heels of a story that was simultaneously a sequel to Peri and the Piscon Paradox and Mindwarp (or The Trial of a Time Lord if you prefer), we get another sequel, this time to The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  We’ll be ticking the ‘return of characters’ box with the Rani next month, but there is at least a few weeks’ pause between them both.  This time, it feels rather… brave to have sequels so close together.

Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, this play starts with a light recap on the last story, though not so much that no newcomers couldn’t jump right in, before we’re plunged into Dalek-invaded Earth and all the horror that entails.  The Doctor wants out, having been here before and ended up integral to the Daleks’ defeat: the web of time has to be maintained, and the usual get-out-of-jail-free clauses which so pepper the series, but of course, things don’t end up like that and before he can stop it, both the Doctor and Peri are involved.  But of course they are.

Before I go any further though: The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

I must confess that my love affair with that tale started rather late in the day, with its DVD release.  I had always liked the Peter Cushing take on the tale, but the TV version had left me cold on VHS… and then we got the DVD, with its incredibly clear sound and remarkably clear picture, and I could suddenly appreciate the drama in a way I had never quite grasped before.  Years later, we got the audiobook recording of the Target novelisation, and the combination of good sound design and CD production, great narration from William Russell, and a stellar adaptation by Terrance Dicks made me fall in love with it all over again… and then! Then we got Big Finish’s own take on the tale’s mythos with An Earthly Child, Relative Dimensions, Lucie Miller and To The Death, all of which were stunning.

It’s fair to say then that I was both hopeful and fearful of this story: Big Finish have previous for doing good things with this setting, but Invasion of Earth is particularly good, so I didn’t want them to mess up.

Scott and Wright are old hands at Big Finish though, and whilst their Project plays concerning the Forge may not have been my cup of tea, I could always recognize that they were well-crafted plays, just not in a genre I especially went for.  Scott has since helmed Iris Wildthyme and I must admit that I was heartened to see their names linked to this play months before: they’re good writers and, as Scott as proven, a safe pair of hands, and perhaps their slightly grittier take on Who would suit the era in which this was set.

I’m going to spoil this review now by revealing my rating now: it’s a nine out of ten.  I don’t want to keep you all in suspense for no good reason.  The truth is, it’s damn close to getting the full ten, but something in particular let it down for me.  Let’s get to that in good time, though.

Despite my preconceptions about this being potentially gritty, Scott and Wright don’t really go down that route, instead telling a good adventure yarn instead, but with an air of hopelessness due to the struggle which the guest cast are undertaking.  The Daleks are brutal, the resistance weaker than they realize, the tension high, and the setting surrounded by familiar Dalek tropes: Varga plants, Robomen, saucers, traitors ready to betray their fellow human… it’s all here.

It doesn’t feel like a slog or box-ticking exercise though, but something that flows nicely and uses the 1960s Dalek trappings well.  It almost should feel tokenistic and cluttered, but no, Scott and Wright prove their worth yet again, with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nicholas Briggs all giving their all as well, elevating an already good script to higher places still.

What about that one point, though? Why only nine of out ten?

Well… sadly, because another Big Finish cliché, and frankly a Doctor Who cliché through and through, is someone getting irreversibly possessed by an alien creature or parasite, but being able to beat it by thinking really, really hard about it. (“No! No, I won’t become possessed because my mind is too strong!”)

It’s probably just a personal taste thing, but it’s a plot device that irks me a lot.  It makes me wonder how dull a story such as Inferno would have been if to stop becoming a Primoid, all they had to do was believe in themselves.

The trouble here is that it’s a big deal and a major part of the final act, and so, to my mind at least, it cheapens the tension and drama by giving us a fairly lazy plot device to wriggle out of a blind alley.

It’s not a minor quibble but a big one, and yet there is enough good elsewhere for me to still be giving this a firm nine.  It’s a far stronger play than this trilogy’s opener, and once again, the reputation of The Dalek Invasion of Earth remains pure.  Good on Scott and Wright, and good on Big Finish.


1 December 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Ian Potter

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“Ceres. A tiny, unforgiving ball of ice and rock hanging between Mars and Jupiter.  It’s no place to live, and it takes a special kind of person to work there.

The crew of the Cobalt Corporation mining base know exactly how deadly the world outside their complex is, but the danger isn’t just outside anymore. The systems they rely on to keep them safe are failing and the planet is breaking in.

When the TARDIS strands Steven, Vicki and the Doctor on the base, they have to fight a foe they can barely comprehend to survive.”


There comes a point in life when someone appears to be protesting too much.

“I don’t hate Steven Moffat, I just hate this, this, this, this, this and of course this…” is one you often find on Twitter (you can swap ‘Steven Moffat’ for any showrunner or writer and you’ll find the same vitriolic results; he’s just flavour of the month online as I write this), and similar include, “I do like the Daleks, they’re just…”, or “Yes, sure, Red Kangs are best, but have you considered…”

With the extras on this CD, we have a slightly different game.  It’s the “Let’s tell everyone how great this Early Adventures range is, and how different it is to anything that came before it!” game.

It’s slightly unfair of me to focus on the extras for this play, as they may well have been recorded completely out of order, but three releases in and we can almost hear the sweat pouring off of Big Finish’s collective brows as the guest cast are interviewed: was cancelling the Companion Chronicles a smart move? Are these plays going to prove themselves to be the next big thing?

There are ways around this, but I’m not sure that getting assembled cast members to compare Chronicles and Adventures is the way forward.  We have lots of talk about how much better this range is because it’s so much more expansive with a near-full cast; how authentic the scripts are to the eras in which they intend to be from; how different they are.

Now, the first point is a subjective one, so far be it from me to say anything definitive there: for the record, I think both formats have strong points and drawbacks.  The third (to skip ahead) is not exactly true now, is it? Because what this range is, ostensibly, is The Lost Stories but with original scripts (and given some of the Lost Stories scripts were expanded from a handful of words scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet somewhen in the 1960s when half-cut on ale, it’s pushing it to say ‘lost’, really).  In all fairness, they do name-check Lords of the Red Planet as a springboard for this sort of production, but saying it’s a whole new range feels like it is pushing it somewhat.  As for the authenticity issue… well, back in the first release, we had Carol Anne Ford happily remarking that they’d never have done that script back in their day, and this story is all well and good, but most definitely not a 1960s script, but one you can picture being executed with excruciatingly bad CSO and above-average models in the late seventies.

It tries to do what some of the best Companion Chronicles did, and use the fact that Steven Taylor was a space pilot to aid and enhance the script and justify the setting, but everything feels far too… un-1960s-ish, for lack of a better term, to get even close to this supposed authenticity which they aim to hit.  Added to this, the story isn’t anything special as a whole, and when you haven’t got a strong enough story to cover the cracks…

I’m sorry, I’ve mostly gone on about format so far, but sadly the play itself did very little to inspire or indeed excite me across its four parts: by far the weakest of the Early Adventures range so far by quite some distance, and easily the least 1960s-esque release to boot.  It’s just a bit… dull.

Whilst the final series of Companion Chronicles ended on a bit of a damp note due to scripts not feeling quite as polished or exciting as normal (possibly due to focus being more on this range?), I’d still take them regularly rather than get what we’ve had here so far.  Perhaps I am just being jaded and the quality of release will suddenly come on in leaps and bounds? I don’t know.

It’s not as if I haven’t enjoyed them up until now, really, as my previous reviews will attest to.  It just still feels like a sad move to kill the Chronicles off in their monthly form to make way for adventures in a format that isn’t anywhere near as original, clever or authentic as Big Finish would like us to believe, no matter how much the extras try to tell us otherwise.

30 November 2014

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

Day 699: Remembrance of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war!

Those of you who’ve been reading along with my marathon for a while will know that I’ve been tracking the evolution of the Time War (sometimes in very spurious ways) for quite some time now. It’s largely because after 50-odd years of Doctor Who, things don’t always hang together all that neatly. Different producers, script editors, writers, and directors have all brought their own things to the programme over the years, and altered the mythos as they go. The Time Lords change on screen - from the immensely powerful god-like beings of The War Games to the asinine bureaucrats of The Deadly Assassin and beyond (though I still maintain that it’s the difference in seeing them through Jamie and Zoe’s eyes in that first story, and the Doctor’s view of them later on). The process of regeneration is made up when the need arises to allow the lead actor to leave the show. A decade later, that ability is capped at a set number of regenerations. At one point, we even see lots of the Doctor’s previous incarnations, meaning that he really should have died with Davison (‘is this death?’).

That’s why I can’t help but love the Time War. It’s big, and it’s mythic. The programme goes off the air for sixteen years - save for a one night fling with Paul McGann in the mid-1990s - and when it returns, everything has changed. The Doctor’s not been having adventures on our TV screens each Saturday night, because he’s been busy, off fighting a bigger war between his own people and his greatest enemies. It almost justifies the fact that there’s such a big gap in the broadcast of the show, and I love that idea. And yet… it’s all right here, being built up in the narrative of the ‘classic’ series for ages. When the Doctor first encounters the Daleks on Skaro, they’re just the week’s evil alien baddies to be stopped. By the time they return the following year, though, they’ve become the catalyst for the biggest change in the Doctor’s personality. Do you remember, back in those early days, how I used to track the Doctor’s evolution from the man we met in the junkyard through to the man he would then become? Fittingly, we’ve returned to that junkyard with this story, because this tale is unambiguously a major early strike in the Time War.

You don’t even have to try to shoe-horn it in. This isn’t like my argument that The Invasion of Time is a part of the war (I’m still convinced that it is), but it’s absolutely a part of it. Going back half the programme’s life time from here, The Genesis of the Daleks is also 100% a part of the Time War - it’s the Time Lords taking that very first strike. All these different production teams coming in and imposing their very different wills on the programme over the years, and yet when this major upheaval comes in - the Doctor becoming the last surviving member of his race - it’s perfectly in keeping with everything we’ve seen before, and retroactively looks like a great big game. I love that, and I think that’s even gone so far as to help up this story a little in my estimations.

Not that it needs that, of course, because Remembrance of the Daleks is simply a brilliant piece of Doctor Who. I think, if anything, it’s suffered slightly from how little I enjoyed Season Twenty-Four (I know, I promised not to bring it up again, but bear with me. I’ll not mention it for at least the rest of this season, promise). Because I became so used to handing out 3/10 and 4/10, suddenly having a story like this, which is such a leap in quality, throws me a bit. Had I been bobbing along with episodes at around 7/10, then this story would likely have rated a bit higher, because it’s so head-and-shoulders above the rest. It’s almost as thug hI’ve rated it down a little bit because I’ve been expecting the worst for a while.

I’m not going to really discuss today’s episode in a great deal of detail, because it seriously runs the risk of just me gushing over everything again. The guest cast on top form, the sets and locations looking lovely. The special effects (that Dalek battle under the bridge!) are fab. Sylvester McCoy is finally proving that he’s the right man for the job and a brilliant Doctor… Really, I’m going to sound ridiculous if I carry on. I think I’m just pleased that this is the final Dalek story of the ‘classic’ run, because it’s such a grand way to see them out - a real return to form, and easily their best outing since Genesis of the Daleks. I think this is probably the one I’d want to show new fans looking to get in to the classic series with a Dalek tale - because it sets everything up really nicely, and all that Time War stuff I’ve been banging on about is an easy bridge from the modern stuff, too.

The one thing I do want to draw attention to, though, is the way that this story uses Davros - because it’s the only one since Genesis to really get it right. Davros here is used sparingly. Really sparingly. He doesn’t turn up until this episode (or, rather, he’s not actually revealed - we see the ‘Emperor’ in Episode Three, too), but the whole story plays on your expectation that he’ll arrive. Because Terry Nation insisted on the character being in all Dalek stories from Genesis on, you reach points like Revelation of the Daleks, which seem to have Davros there just for the sake of bringing the character back. Hello, Doctor, I’ve lured you here to taunt a bit and stop my evil plans, etc.

Here, we’re built up to believe that the creature in Ratcliffe’s office could be Davros - it looks and sounds like him, after all, before we’re shocked with the reveal of the little girl plugged in to a Dalek Battle Computer. Just when you think we could be having a Davros-free story, the Emperor’s casing flips open and there he is! It’s a great moment, and I love that he’s so completely encased in the machine. From here in the audios, he returns in Terror Firma, where he’s become even more of a ‘Dalek’, and that really does feel like a natural evolution from this point. I just think that this is such a clever way of playing with your expectations of a Dalek story, and then doing something entirely different with it.

Oh, and it gives us the ‘unlimited rice pudding’ line, which is always sure to raise a smile! 

29 November 2014

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

Day 698: Remembrance of the Daleks, Episode Three

Dear diary,

In the series of About Time books, each story gets a ‘critique’, and I often go back to catch up on what was said there to see how it tallies with my own thoughts on a serial. The critique for this story, though, has always stuck in the mind because it says something that I can’t help but feeling is exactly right: ‘Looked at now, it’s amazing that so few people saw it on first broadcast. Had the BBC got behind this series, episodes like these would have won it a whole new audience’. The more this story goes on, the more I think it’s a pity that the McCoy era of the programme is looked down upon by so many - especially within fandom. This is one of the greatest stories ever, and there’s no doubt that stuff like this would have gotten the public talking about Doctor Who again (there’s also mention in the About Time critique of Dragonfire that had more people been watching when that story went out, there would have been a flurry of complaints about Kane’s death. As it is, the whole sequence passed by under the radar).

This is really me struggling to find another way of saying ‘I’m still really enjoying Remembrance of the Daleks’. It’s almost the complete opposite of Revelation of the Daleks, in which there was absolutely no need for the Daleks to be there, because here we’ve got a story that’s about the pepper pots. We’ve got a manipulative Doctor trying to play his intergalactic game of chess, making sure that the right Daleks get hold of the right Gallifreyan super weapon at the right time, and there’s always something fun about watching so many of the creatures get blown up!

Because I didn’t really talk about the Daleks all that much during their last appearance, I’ve not had a chance properly yet to say just how much I love the white-and-gold versions of the creatures. It’s suck a lovely design, sleek and elegant, and they look so much nicer than the drab grey ones that have become so common throughout the colour years of the programme. The design of the Emperor is rather lovely, too, and their spaceship! Oh! There’s lots of photographs that show off the set here, but none of them capture quite how good it looks on screen. During our first trip aboard, there’s a lovely camera movement that pans around the room while a Dalek is busy shouting it’s… Dalek things, and it really shows the design off beautifully.

Indeed, the direction of the whole serial is rather nice, and it’s hard to believe that it’s by Andrew Morgan - the same man who gave us Time and the Rani! In that story, I complained lots about the way that the production had been put together (by all departments, from costumes through to lighting), but here we’ve been given something much stronger. I think, on reflection, that less blame should be placed at Morgan’s door for Time and the Rani than I did, because it ended up becoming an edict for the entire season, not just that story. Unshackled from that light-hearted style, which sat so at odds with the regular tone of the programme, Morgan has crafted something really rather wonderful this time around.

And then there’s the guest cast of characters. For a few years, now, Big Finish have produced a spin-off from this story, featuring Gilmore, Rachel, and Alison setting up the Countermeasures Intrusion Group in the months following this story. I’ve been listening to the series since it was first released, but at that point it had been a while since I’d last seen these four episodes. I’m glad, then, to see that the characters we get in the spin-off are very much drawn from what we’re given on screen here, and I’m looking forward to a re-listen with this story fresher in the mind. I’ve vaguely touched on it before, but these characters do feel so much more rounded than others we’ve had recently, and I can’t fail to get caught up in their world.

28 November 2014

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

Day 697: Remembrance of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Because I didn’t fully embrace my love of Doctor Who until the 21st century revival really booted me in to action, I’ve always been used to Daleks who are fairly powerful. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve been able to fly for as long as I can remember, and for a brief while they were even able to swing their mid sections around for full 360-degree action, and melt bullets as they were directed towards them. In short, they’ve always been a fairly unstoppable force. It doesn’t make the cliffhanger to yesterday’s episode any less exciting, though. It’s been almost two years since I started out on this marathon, so I’ve become very used to the ‘classic’ type of Dalek, which is usually a bit rubbish. We’ve seen them levitate before, of course (In The Chase, one rises from the sand, and in Revelation of the Daleks they’re seen to hover, but it’s done somewhat clumsily there, so you don’t really notice…), but seeing the way that this one approaches the stairs and just casually continues on the advance is great - and the Doctor’s reaction to it helps to sell the threat, too. Even he’s surprised by this development! This story also marks the first time that you see a skeleton as the Dalek bolt strikes someone - it feels like we’re moving ever closer towards the modern version of the show, and it’s interesting seeing the pieces start to fall in to place.

I’m surprised, too, just how excited I am to have the Daleks back here. Like the comings and goings of the different Doctors in this period of the programme, Dalek tales seem to come around really fast now (this is the third since September, whereas before that they’d been fairly paced out for a long time), and when they cropped up again in Revelation of the Daleks only a season on from Resurrection… I didn’t really care all that much. You might notice that I barely mention the Daleks in that story, and that’s because they were by far one of the least interesting parts of the narrative. Here, though, for some reason, I’m really pleased to have another Dalek tale. I wonder if it’s because this time, we’ve very much got the two sets of Daleks squaring up against each other (a plot thread introduced very late in to the last story), and I know that this is about to turn full-on into being the start of the Time War? It’s something I’ve been tracking for most of 2014, from the Doctor’s mission in Genesis of the Daleks and then on through various spurious links, so it’s quite exciting to have finally reached this point.

And the Doctor has now gone completely into his manipulative mode! Throughout the last season, I was tracking the little moments that seemed to point towards the character becoming manipulative and scheming, but I’d really forgotten just how blatant it becomes from this story onwards. I’d long thought of it as being something that was somewhat underlying in the show, and only really brought to the fore later on in the books, but here we’ve got the Doctor expecting the Daleks to turn up, and being somewhat unsettled when it’s the wrong faction that arrive on the scene (at least initially). By today’s episode, he’s already thinking that he may have made an error (it’s a lovely continuation of that great cliffhanger in Delta and the Bannermen, where he realises he may have bitten off more than he can chew), and I’m really enjoying that. There’s also the mystery of just when he started setting all of this up. At the undertakers, the ‘Doctor’ who left the casket with them in 1963 is described as being an older chap with long white hair - a pretty good description of the First Doctor, which would make sense given the trappings of Coal Hill School, Totter’s Lane, and November 1963 in the story - but this opens up a whole can of worms about the way the Doctor acts in The Daleks. There, it seems to be his first meeting with the creatures, but is there perhaps more to it than we ever realised? It’s not something I’ve ever really considered in a great deal of depth before, but I’m quite keen to watch that story again now and see exactly how he actually reacts to them…

I can’t let this episode pass by without bringing up the Doctor’s speech about making a difference. It’s lovely, and very fitting for this incarnation who’ll be plotting his way through the next eight stories. Another example of Sylvester McCoy simply getting the Doctor this season. You can really sense that both he and Andrew Cartmel have taken some time to sit down and really work out what they want to do with both the character and the series. I’ve said it before (and I’ll try to make this the last time, I promise), but there’s such a shift in quality between Season Twenty-Four and this story, that you can really sense just how much work has gone in to getting it right. I’ve often defended this period of the programme to people who claim it’s rubbish by saying how much the show found its feet again in the final two years, and this is the perfect story to demonstrate that.

27 November 2014

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

Day 696: Remembrance of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

For the last fortnight, while I’ve not been enjoying Season Twenty-Four, Remembrance of the Daleks has been the light at the end of the tunnel. I could remember liking it from previous viewings (it’s one of the few stories I’d actually watched a few times before replacing it with the special edition), and the more I thought about little elements of the story, the more it seemed to be the absolute antithesis of everything that I perceived as being ‘wrong’ with Doctor Who as broadcast in 1987.

It’s nice, then, that this episode is pretty much everything that I wanted it to be. Let’s start with the thing that most relates to my complaints about areas of the last season - this story is set in the real world. When we join the Doctor and Ace in the adventure, they’re walking away from the TARDIS, which is parked down a side street. They’re out in real London streets, or in playgrounds, or junkyards. A large proportion of this serial is shot out on location - which helps - and everything feels much more solid than it did in Season Twenty-Four. These locations (and even the sets) don’t feels as ‘plastic’ or ‘comic book’, and it really does make a massive difference to things. By that same token, the fact that we see Ace go to get food in a regular cafe - as opposed to the version we saw in Dragonfire - grounds everything in reality much more. You can see where Russell T Davies was coming from when he chose to ground the 2005 revival in a council estate, with shops, and flats, and real people, because it has the same effect there that it does here, of making everything feel just that bit more natural.

Speaking of which, McCoy’s performance has jumped up tenfold from where it was last season, and he feels very natural here, too. He’s playing everything a little bit quieter, and even largely underplaying his lines, in a way that we didn’t really get to see a lot of in his first four adventures. I was trying yesterday to find a way of describing the differences in his performance, but it struck me almost instantly when he papered today - it simply is that everything is much calmer here - more calculated, and yet it comes across as less of a performance.

Take, for example, the moment when he stands with Ace, looking out over the scorch marks on the playground. He makes reference to both Terror of the Zygons and The Web of Fear, and plays the line beautifully. It’s the ultimate example of him underplaying a scene, when I know that his Season Twenty-Four performance would have gone to great lengths to really over-do the point. Having just come from two weeks of that style, I can picture exactly how that would have gone. I’m so glad, because I came to this period of the marathon knowing how much I like McCoy’s Doctor, but by the end of Dragonfire, I was almost beginning to doubt myself!

I discussed this with my friend Nick this evening. He acts as a nice counterbalance to me at this stage, because while he admits that Season Twenty-Four has its faults, he doesn’t dislike it to quite the extent that I do. He’s a bit more willing to accept that it’s the programme trying something different that doesn’t really work, but then it comes back this year and tries another direction. He’s right when he says that McCoy was pitching his performance last season to fit the ‘comic book’ style that they were going for - try to play the Doctor in Time and the Rani the way he does here and it would fall absolutely flat on its face.

That said, everything is pulling together here to help this new performance. Remember during Delta and the Bannermen, I complained that all the supporting characters just went along with the Doctor because the plot required them to do so, and it came across as rushed and false. Here, characters effectively do the same thing… but you get the sense that the Doctor has given them reason to go along with him. I think it’s in Silver Nemesis where he describes his usual tactic as simply acting like he owns the place, and it’s absolutely true of what happens here. When he climbs in to the van and Rachel questions his presence, he simply goes on with the rest of the conversation. Similarly, when they reach Totters’ Yard, he takes charge of the situation, and ends up being the one who takes out the Dalek, while the myriad of soldiers are largely ineffective against it. Here, even after one episode, I completely buy that everyone will go along with what he says, because he’s given me every reason to believe it. That’s much stronger scripting and performance than we’ve had before in this period.

While I’m on the subject, what’s the general thinking in terms of how long he’s been travelling with Ace at this point? There’s lots of little hints in this episode that seem to suggest they’ve spent a while together since Dragonfire (and I’d say that Sophie Aldred has been made up to look older than she was in that story), and that this pair are fairly comfortable together. Certainly, this isn’t the first place they’ve been to since Ice World. Equally, they’ve not been anywhere where Ace has needed to drive, because the Doctor has to ask if she can. I think I’m plumping for a period of maybe six months for them by now - long enough to go around and have several adventures, and to get comfortable together before they touch down here to sort out the Daleks (the Doctor is clearly here specifically for the Daleks, and I’d imagine he’d want to make sure Ace is up to the challenge before setting the coordinates). Does anyone else have a theory on how long they’ve been together already? 

26 November 2014

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

Day 695: Dragonfire, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I was surprised, watching the ‘making of’ documentary on this DVD today, to hear that Andrew Cartmel and Ian Briggs weren’t all that keen on the final scene with Mel in this episode. It seems to be the case that it’s adapted from part of McCoy’s audition scene, which he’d been repeatedly trying to get in to the series for a while, and ended up just putting in almost without actually telling anyone! It surprised me because it’s such a beautiful goodbye, and for me it’s the highlight of the story (and, if I’m honest, of the season!)


That's right, yes, you're going. Been gone for ages. Already gone, still here, just arrived, haven't even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time.


Goodbye, Doctor.


I'm sorry, Mel. Think about me when you're living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving.


Who said anything about home? I've got much more crazy things to do yet…

I think it’s fair to say that this is by far the best performance that we’ve seen Sylvester McCoy give all season - and it’s much closer to the way that he’ll be handling the part from now on - and there’s something rather beautifully melancholic about the whole scene. It fits quite nicely with the fact that he ended up meeting Mel out of order (even if we didn’t see this so much on screen, but it’s been explored in audios like The Wrong Doctors), and serves as a rather nice cap to their time together. It then moves on to be a brilliant introduction to Ace aboard the TARDIS. Thinking back to the Fourth Doctor’s words in Logopolis, when he claims to have never chosen his own company aboard the TARDIS, This may be the first time, really, since Vicki* that we’ve seen the Doctor actively ask someone to come with him because he wants them to.

I’ve never noticed before just how well it melds with the story arc that’s still to come surrounding Ace’s character. By the time we reach The Curse of Fenric - more on which in a moment - the Doctor is claiming to have sensed the deliberate alteration to Ace’s life even at this stage, thus choosing to take her along with him. It becomes a bit vague, I teem to recall, just how much he’s saying to break her confidence, and how much is the truth, but I think it’s very easy to read all of that into this final scene. It would especially explain why he’s so distracted as Mel tries to make her goodbyes, and even why she so suddenly decides that this is the end of the road for her time in the TARDIS (she clearly hasn’t even mentioned to Glitz that she’s planning to go with him). I think I’m right in saying that the New Adventures novels in the 1990s revealed that the Doctor mentally forced her to leave here, because he knew of the role Ace would go on to play, and needed Mel out of the way and back to safety while he concentrated on the new girl. I don’t think that’s a leap from what we’re given on screen at all, and indeed, I really prefer to think of it like that. It also works as a nice capstone to the building up of this Doctor’s ‘meddling’ personality that I’ve been spuriously tracking over the last two weeks…

As we move in to the final two seasons of the programme’s original run, a brief word on the order in which I’ll be watching the stories. For the first time in The 50 Year Diary, I’m completely breaking with broadcast order and doing it my own way. The reasons are simple: a few stories in the next few years were swapped around between production and broadcast, and work better if watched in the order they were intended for. Thus, I’ll be watching Season Twenty-Five as Remembrance of the Daleks - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - The Happiness Patrol - Silver Nemesis, and then Season Twenty-Six as The Curse of Fenric - Battlefield - Ghost Light - Survival. I’ve never been overboard with trying to remain 100% accurate with this marathon, hence side-steps in to things like Farewell, Great Macedon, and Doctor Who and the Pescatons, and I think I’ll get more from the next eight stories in this order!

*Yes, I know, Harry, but he’s really only asking him aboard the ship so that he can show off a bit.

25 November 2014

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

Day 694: Dragonfire, Episode Two

Dear diary,

During Time and the Rani, I said that the McCoy era was home to some of the best monster designs and costumes that the programme has ever seen - and yes, I did mean the Tetraps! Oh hush, I like them. Today’s episode is another great example with the dragon itself - there’s something really nice about the whole creature, and I even think the fact that the body is so spindly and hymn works, which is the one thing that I’d always been put off by. The actual head design is absolutely gorgeous, and I’d completely forgotten that it opened up to reveal the Dragonfire inside - I think I’d convinced myself that we simply saw it overlaid or something. I’m also fond of the fact that it’s a nice ‘monster’ - it feels like a while since we had one of those (yeah, yeah, the Navarinos in Delta and the Bannermen were friendly, but they were presented as aliens rather than monsters - the same can be said of the Lakertians at the start of the season).

Indeed, I’m rather liking the design on this story as a whole, I think. There are some seasons which seem to have their own very distinct ‘visual identity’ - Season Twenty-One is the most recent that comes to mind before this one - whereby you could show assorted screen captures of the episodes to people who don’t know which seasons they’re from, and they’d likely be able to group them together just by style. That’s been very true of Season Twenty-Four, which I’ve continually referred to as being a bit ‘comic book’. I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way, it’s just the dest description I can find for the look of this season - very bright, and artificial.

Because I’ve not been enjoying Season Twenty-Four all that much on the whole, I’ve been thinking of Remembrance of the Daleks as something of a light at the end of the tunnel. As strange as it may sound, it’s the thought of grimy brick walls, and roads, and playgrounds that makes it feel better- something real and tangible. I know Delta and the Bannermen was set in Earth’s recent history, but the holiday camp setting and the way the whole piece came together still gave it more of that ‘Season Twenty-Four’ artifice than I’d have liked!

All that said, Ice World manages to fit the visual style of this year’s stories perfectly, but also look rather good on its own merits. I recently had to put together a kind of ‘ice world’ for a design commission, and found myself automatically trying to replicate the style of the walls seen in this story - though I didn’t immediately realise that this was where the inspiration was drawn from! The various corridors look lovely, and Kane’s lair works simply because of the size of the set, and the various levels and platforms (long-term readers will know that I’m a sucker for a set with levels!) The only slight let down is that McCoy is really trying to sell the ‘ice’ factor of these sets, slipping and sliding around on the floor as though it’s near impossible to remain upright… while no one else really bothers to do the same. Sophie Aldred has some nice moments of watching her feet and carefully choosing her steps, but then slips back into the way that Tony Selby and Bonnie Langford are playing it - as if there’s no ice at all!

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