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30 August 2014

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

Day 607: Time-Flight, Episode Four

Dear diary,

When you’ve been a fan of Doctor Who for long enough, there are several ‘facts’ about the show that you just sort of ‘accumulate’. You know that Adric dies in Earthshock. You know that the final story of the original run is called Survival. One of the things that you just somehow end up knowing - wether you’ve seen the story or not - is that Tegan leaves in this final episode of Time-Flight… only to return in the very sext story, after the gap between seasons. I’ve never been sure how keen I am on the idea, but watching through now, I think I rather like it.

I certainly love the idea that the Doctor simply leaves her behind at Heathrow, not realising that she’s chosen to stick around on the TARDIS, and the whole sequence is played far better here than I remembered it being - I’d forgotten that Tegan actually wanders off to have a think about where she wants to be, for instance. The only thing that’s niggling in the back of my mind now is the fact that there needs to be at least one story without her before she returns, I think, but I’ll wait and see how it feels over the next few days.

That final scene is by far the best part of this episode, it has to be said, and everything else has left me cold. Something that bothers me more than anything is the fact that the master is only there because they wanted him to be there - not because there’s a good plot that absolutely requires him to be. You could play this story in a similar manner with any old villain who’s been stranded on prehistoric Earth and needs to lure someone there so they can steal working components to escape. Saving the reveal of the Master until half way through the story and then separating him from the Doctor until it’s time for the traditional negotiations for help just makes it feel hollow - and that he’s then defeated with a swift ‘oh, there we go, I’ve gotten rid of him’ feels like a terribly low-key final battle for the season.

I think more than anything, though, I’m disappointed that Season Nineteen has gone out with such a whimper. It’s been a run of stories that I’ve really enjoyed watching, with a few true stand-out tales in there. I think this season - even more so than Season Eighteen - is the one that I would have enjoyed the most as a kid, and it’s easy to see why so many children of the early 1980s look back on this period with such fond memories. It’s been the strongest run of stories in a long, long, time. But now we’re moving on to Season Twenty, which is more divisive among people’s opinions. Some see it as the beginning of a slippery, continuity-filled slope, while others find it to be a year-long celebration of the programme’s past. It’s certainly got a lot to live up to after this season, and I’m not entirely sure it’ll be able to. John Nathan-Turner’s era of Doctor Who is probably the most uneven in the minds of fan opinion (although I can happily say that I enjoy parts from all of it), but I think it’s fair to say that had he left here, after two fantastic years, and having cast a great new Doctor - I’ve sort of stopped tracking the evolution of Davison’s performance, now, because he seems to have found his ‘groove’ - he’d be remembered as one of the best producers we’ve ever had.

Probably a good job he didn’t leave here, though: this would be an awful story to go out on!

 

29 August 2014

DWO’s spoiler free preview of Episode 8.2: Into the Dalek:

 

The Daleks have been locked in a constant battle with the Doctor ever since the second story way back in 1963, and every incarnation of the Time Lord has faced off against them at some time in some form. The Twelfth Doctor wastes no time in coming face-to-eye-stalk with his greatest foes - as they turn up in his very own second story, Into The Dalek.

 

The episode is very much Fantastic Voyage - a 1966 movie, in which a group of scientists are miniaturised and injected into a person’s bloodstream - meets a war film, and there’s plenty of spectacle to be seen with Daleks being blown up left right and centre. It’s in this element that Into The Dalek is most successful, and at times it’s one of the nicest looking episodes of Doctor Who ever. Director Ben Wheatley, who also helmed last week’s Deep Breath, has clearly revelled in the chance to destroy the Doctor’s greatest enemies, and it’s easy to see why new Doctor Peter Capaldi turned up to set on his day off just to watch.


We get to see the Daleks in a slightly different light here. They’ve not got some big, season-ending scheme for universal conquest, but rather are just tearing their way through the galaxy, making sure to wipe out anything that stands in their way. It doesn’t feel as though they’re plotting and planning at all, but rather just getting on with what they do best - exterminating. The absence of any master plan for the creatures means that we’ve got more time to explore the way that the Doctor feels about them, and though the explosions may look lovely, they’re just window dressing to a story that looks into a Dalek’s - and the Doctor’s - soul.

 

The Twelfth Doctor hasn’t lightened up here from the last episode - he’s still a colder character than we would expect from either of his immediate predecessors, but it’s nice to see him face up to his greatest foe so early on. It feels as though we’ve ticked a box, and you can clearly see why it’s an important step on this incarnation’s journey to ‘find himself’.

 

It’s also a chance for Clara (Jenna Coleman) to continue getting used to this very different man in her life, and she serves as a nice moral compass for him. There’s an introduction for the character of Danny Pink, welcoming Samuel Anderson to the programme, too, which feels as though we’re setting up all the pieces for the next stage of the programme’s life.

 

There’s little else to say without spoiling the episode for you, so we’ll leave it there, but if you’re a fan of the Daleks, or have been following the Doctor’s conflict with them for a long time, you’ll not be disappointed… 

 

Five things to look out for:

 

1) You can always find something to distract you.

 

2) Is he mad, or is he right?

 

3) Clara doesn’t know… and neither does the Doctor.

 

4) It’s a roller-coaster with you lot…

 

5) Don’t be lasagne.
 

[Sources: DWO; Will Brooks]

29 August 2014

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

Day 606: Time-Flight, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I really don’t know what to make of Time-Flight at all. This episode is clearly another not-so-great one, and yet I’ve reached the end of it with a sense of vaguely enjoying it. I’m not entirely sure what I’ve enjoyed about it, though, and I can’t pick out anything in particular to highlight. The sets are alright, but that’s down to their sheer size more than the design, I quite like the plucky air crew sneaking aboard the TARDIS and getting into a pickle, I suppose. Anthony Ainley slapping the door controls for the TARDIS, and being paid to mostly stand around fiddling with props is good for him, I suppose? It’s one of those episodes (and this is usually the mark of an episode that has failed to engage me), where I really have nothing of interest to say, because it’s not offered me any threads to pull on.

Never mind, though, because there’s something else I want to discuss today, anyway. After writing yesterday’s entry, I was thinking more and more about how botched the apparition of Adric was. As I’ve said, the idea of having his reappear briefly after his death is a great one, but it’s an example of John Nathan-Turner understanding the ‘showmanship’ of the programme (Matthew Waterhouse is only there to help hide his death in Earthshock, after all), while failing to grasp the dramatic potential of such an event. I also got to thinking how I would have handled the situation (one that I’ve already admitted is difficult), and so I’d like to present another edition of ‘This is How it Should Have Been (I reckon)’…

Instead of the TARDIS arriving at Heathrow more-or-less by accident (having spent several stories earlier in the season trying to get there!), it should be on purpose. Tegan and Nyssa should be more upset by Adric’s death, the way they are in those final moments of Earthshock. They should ask the Doctor to go back and save the boy, getting ever more frustrated with his refusal, until eventually Tegan demands to get to Heathrow right away. She should make some comment about not wanting to arrive centuries too early, or too late, or on a different world altogether, but just to get home. Adric’s death should be the catalyst for a huge row on the TARDIS - it’s been simmering all season, and it sort of needs the death to be a focal point that sorts everything out once and for all.

Arriving in the airport terminal, we should then have her saying goodbye to Nyssa - but not the Doctor - and leaving the TARDIS behind. With the Doctor ready to depart with his one remaining companion, he should then get caught up in the events of the story. Either you have the police arriving at the police box and questioning the Doctor (as in the broadcast version), or someone commenting that UNIT had advised the Doctor would be along.

Somehow, Tegan should end up with the Doctor and Nyssa on the Concorde flight, and not be happy about it. He just can’t let her go, can he? In my head, Tegan should be really hard on the Doctor, not happy at all. This would then culminate when they reach prehistoric Earth, with Nyssa being released from the Plasmatrons and having a heart-to-heart with her friend, telling her that it’s not really the Doctor’s fault, and that Adric chose to live the dangerous life aboard the TARDIS, and went out saving their lives. It would help to inject a bit more urgency to the proceedings, with the Doctor trying to find out what’s happening here, while also trying to deal with someone who’s so angry with him.

You then have the apparitions in the tunnels. Adric shouldn’t be the first, I don’t think. It could work as sheer shock value, but it’s directed so flatly here as to lose all effect. Instead, I’d start with the Melkur - Nyssa confronting her greatest fear. This statue represents not only the man who killed her father, but also the one who went on to destroy her entire world, and kill Tegan’s aunt. Nyssa’s faith in the Doctor should be the thing that gets her through - after all, the Doctor did give his life to stop the Master.

I’d then pick up with Tegan encountering the Mara, and the worry that it could still be inside her mind. It’s an idea that was planted during the end of Kinda, when she asks the Doctor if she’s free, and he fails to respond. It should all add to her wavering trust of the man. Maybe Nyssa can help to convince Tegan that the Doctor is a good man, and that they should support him. If need be, you can have the Mara transform into a Terrileptil, and Monitor, and even a Cyberman if you want - a snapshot of their adventures together - before…

It’s Adric. Taunting her. Clutching his brother’s belt, still, and staring sadly at his former companions. Tegan needs the chance to say goodbye, and to apologise for not always being the easiest person to get along with. It’s all part of bringing the emotions of the season to a head. Able to move past the apparition of Adric, the pair should encounter the Doctor in time to see the villain revealed as the Master. I know that they’re in an entirely different part of the complex at that point, and much of this episode is about them being there, but it just feels wrong that these two characters - who’ve both had relatives killed by the Master - should find out that he’s here simply by the Doctor throwing it into the conversation. The trio need to be there to see the reveal together - the Master was the villain in all of their first adventures, and bringing him back in the season finale has to be a real statement, and his inclusion should be more symbolic than anything else.

The rest of the basic story can remain unchanged, I think. You can have the Concorde being transported down a time contour. You can have the hypnotised crew, and the split-personality brain, and the flight crew heading off for adventures in time and space (or a mile above the planet). But the story needs to be about the Doctor and his companions, about them dealing with the loss of Adric, and using that event to strengthen them and move forward, overcoming the ultimate villain together. I’m not sure if the whole ‘leaving Tegan behind’ thing at the end of the story would work so well after a few episodes of bringing them closer together, though it could make all the more impact, if she finally decides to make that same decision - to travel with the Doctor no matter the danger to herself.

It’s probably not to everyone’s tastes, and I think it’s far more character-driven than anything Doctor Who tended to do around this point in its history, but it’s what Time-Flight is supposed to be in my own head. Even the bland, generic science fiction wouldn’t feel out of place if it’s simply a stock backdrop to the real story. As it is, that’s out main focus, and it’s just not up to scratch.

 

28 August 2014

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

Day 605: Time-Flight, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Do you know, I honestly can’t tell if I’ve enjoyed this episode, or hated it, or if I’m just plain indifferent to it. On the one hand, it’s got everything that I think of as ‘not liking’ about Time-Flight - the slightly cumbersome monsters, the sets which simply don’t do anything for me, some not-all-that performances - but on the other hand, I’ve gotten through the episode without that feeling that accompanied other stories I’ve not enjoyed - the Dominators and *Pirate Planet*s of this word. To be honest, I wonder if it’s simply a case of the episode being so bad that it’s almost come back round to good again.

It’s fair to say that Perter Grimwade’s strengths lay far more in the direction side of production than it does in the writing - my notes on this episode describe several things as being ‘generic sci-fi rubbish’, and lacking any of the charm or whimsey that usually helps to make Doctor Who stand out. The best example of that comes early on in the episode, when the Doctor is released from his cliffhanger peril and his companions ask about the creatures. “Oh, you mean the Plasmatrons!” he replies, with all the enthusiasm of a child being dragged around the boring shops for hours on end by his parents. There’s an almost identical line a little later on, and to me it just feels like something you could pick up and transplant into any science fiction franchise and it would fit in simply by being ‘bland’.

The script isn’t helped by some particularly flat direction, either. Ron Jones’ work wasn’t stand out enough in Black Orchid for me to really notice it, but equally, it wasn’t bad enough for me to pick up on, either. Here’s I’m just finding that there’s very little pace or energy being injected into half the scenes, as people wander around into various sets and half-heartedly try to engage with the plot. It seems strange to think that both this and Kinda could be part of the same season of the same programme, when they seem to me to be such a distance apart in quality.

Hm. I have a feeling that writing up today’s entry may have helped me decide that, no, I haven’t really enjoyed this episode much after all.

Still! Let’s try and focus on the positives for a moment, shall we? The idea of Nyssa and Tegan encountering various people and creatures from recent adventures is a great one, though it feels a little too much like it’s brushed aside here. I particularly like that they encounter Melkur, and we get a reference to Nyssa’s father’s death (although, it seems strange that she tells Tegan that ‘what comes from it killed my father’, when she knows that it also killed Tegan’s aunt), although I’d have expected Tegan to encounter the Mara - surely that had a bigger effect on her than the Terrileptil did? I’d have placed him second, don’t get me wrong, but it seems an odd choice (if a better costume…).

And then we’ve got Adric appearing. Or, more specifically, we’ve got Adric appearing before any of the others, as a sign that they’re simply illusions. For me, this feels like the biggest lost opportunity. I know he’s only there so that John-Nathan Turner could include him in the Radio Times cast list and help to cover up his death, but this should be a chance for Nyssa and Tegan to make their peace with the boy - to apologise for the fact that they never got on with him and tell him that he’ll be missed, as they tell the Doctor at the start of Episode One. Yes, he’s only an illusion, but I really think we should have had them feeling a lot more shaken up about the death until now, and use this illusion as a turning point - it would have felt more true than simply declaring that he can’t be there, because he’s dead (with very little emotion at all, perhaps another fault in the direction?), and moving on quickly. A shame. I think it’s this which has let the episode down the most for me: there’s so much potential in the various ideas (using the airport and the Concorde, prehistoric Earth, and the return of Adric for a brief scene), but it’s all just being washed down the drain.

Mind you, much as some people hate it, I do love the reveal of the Master at the end of the episode. It’s possibly the best that this is ever pulled off, and I’m sure I’d not have guessed as a kid!

27 August 2014

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

Day 604: Time-Flight, Episode One

Dear diary,

Time-Flight is the unloved child of Season Nineteen, isn’t it? On the whole, it’s a very strong run of stories, with some absolute ‘classics’ like Kinda and Earthshock, and some other tales that simply worked well for me, even if general opinion is mixed, with the likes of Four to Doomsday and Black Orchid… and then it ends with this tale. On the whole, I think the problems most people have with Time-Flight boil down to some of the more ridiculous elements, and I’ll get to those in the next few days I’m sure, but I was pleasantly surprised by this first episode… because it’s rather good!

I’ve only seen this story the one time, when it first came out on DVD, and over the years I’ve come to think of it as being one that simply never takes my fancy for a re-watch. All I can remember about it is that it largely takes place on prehistoric Earth, and the Master turns up somewhat improbably. I’d forgotten, for instance, that this first episode is largely set in the present day at Heathrow - I thought scenes here simply topped-and-tailed the adventure. I’m glad that’s not the case, though, because I’m really enjoying lots of the airport material. It’s almost like going back to the 1960s (I seem to be saying that a lot recently), where there’s something really exciting about seeing a location ‘as it was’ at the time. Landing the TARDIS right in the middle of the building is great fun, too, and I love the way that the Doctor decides that he simply has to go and have a look, and then on course he gets caught up in something. Curiosity defines this Doctor more than I’d ever noticed - making his comment in Black Orchid all the more appropriate!

There’s also something quite exciting about seeing the Doctor inside a Concorde. It feels at once like something too mundane for him (last week he was in a space freighter), and also terribly exciting because it’s not somewhere that you really get to see very often (especially not these days - Time-Flight has become a historical in more ways than one!). Seeing him peering round the cockpit brings the series closer than ever before to being Blue Peter.

I feel as though I’m being generous here - although I really do enjoy all the stuff at the airport and on the plane - because as soon as we touch down on to prehistoric Earth, things all start to fall apart for me. From the moment that they step off the Concorde and into some questionable CSO, we’re back into the story that I remember Time-Flight being, with not-particularly-great sets, some questionable guest performances, and monsters that aren’t… great. I have a feeling that the goodwill built up in the first two-thirds of this episode may dissipate over the next few days, so I’m glad that it has at least started strong. In that spirit, I’d like to add that the concept of everything in this episode is fantastic - the idea of stepping off the plane to find themselves back at Heathrow, until Nyssa sees through the illusion to a pile of bodies, is a great one, and I think it really is a case of the effect letting it down.

Something that does need to be mentioned is the way they deal with the aftermath of Adric’s death. It’s a tricky thing to pitch, really, and I’m not sure that they quiche get it right. Let’s use Journey’s End as an example: Donna’s memories of the Doctor have been wiped, and she’s been returned home. The Doctor can never see his best friend again, and she’s resigned to living a life in which she’ll never be as great as she could. The episode ends on a down-beat note, and you’re left with the Doctor alone, and sad, and soaked from the rain. But the crucial thing is… this comes at the very end of the season. When we next catch up with the Doctor, it’s Christmas, and he’s off for an adventure in Victorian London in the snow. Now, on original broadcast, there was a real gap between episodes that lasted months and months. You don’t get that now, if you’re watching the episodes through in order, but there’s still a real sense that a great deal of time has passed for the Doctor and the programme, so it can move on in to a bold new adventure. With Cybermen! That’s not to say that Donna’s departure is completely ignored, the Doctor is still hurting from it, and that gets touched upon later in the story, but it feels right that we should pick up with smiles, and festive cheer, and a brand new story.

Time-Flight doesn’t get that luxury. I commented the other day that to feels like a season finale… but it’s not. It’s the penultimate story of the season, so we’re going out with this one. As has become common practice for the series at this point, today’s episode picks up only a short time after yesterday’s one, and then we’re off into a new adventure. Now, this is where things get tricky. You can’t make the whole episode be about Adric’s death, or you’d never get a story going. Equally, you can’t simply ignore the fact that in the last episode you killed off one of the main characters! Do you see what I mean? Tricky to pitch. Time-Flight deals with it by… having 16 lines of dialogue between the three regulars, and then brushing it off with the Doctor promising a “Special treat to cheer us all up.”

After that, Adric is forgotten, and we continue on as though nothing had happened. It just doesn’t work for me, and it’s another example of the programme not always being good at the character-led pieces that a situation like this one really needs. A pity, in many ways, because those 16 lines between the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa raise some interesting points that I’d love to see explored further (for example, Tegan’s suggestion that they could save Adric and still allow the freighter to crash so that it wouldn’t change history would be - so far as I can tell - entirely workable under the rules of more recent Doctor Who!), and it feels like there needs to be something more. I know Adric makes a brief cameo in this story somewhere, so I’m hoping that might give us something a little bit better.

I should point out that despite what I’m saying here, I don’t think you could have ended the season with Adric’s death: it’s just too bleak. In The Writer’s Tale, Russell T Davies has long discussions with Benjamin Cook about the ways to end that Fourth Series, and he worries that you need something to bounce back. I think what we ended up with there was perfect, but I don’t think it would have worked for Adric’s death - it’s just too major. I keep on saying it… tricky!

26 August 2014

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

Day 603: Earthshock, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Having missed yesterday’s episode, Emma has rejoined me for this episode. It’s time to show her the second big twist of the tale, as Adric finally meets his doom. I’ve been ever so good up to now, making sure that the DVD is paused on the title sequence of the episode by the time she enters the room, so she won’t catch any glimpse of the footage on the DVD menu. I didn’t want to repeat the situation my friend Nick had a few weeks ago, with the ending being spoiled in advance. We sat and watched the episode, waiting for that ending…

…and five minutes before it arrives, Emma picks up her phone. A minute later she asks: “So this is the one where Adric dies?”

Confiscate the phone! It seems such an obvious thing, now. Ho hum. In Emma’s defence she claims to have only looked it up because she could sense it heading in that direction, but still: I was waiting for the surprise! Oh well.

Much as I’ve liked Adric’s time in the TARDIS (he’s certainly nowhere near as bad as received wisdom would have you believe, even though I still think he works better opposite Baker than he does with Davison), I really do love the idea of killing him off. It makes such a bold statement, and the sleeve notes to the DVD sum it up best:

”The final scenes of Earthshock shattered once and for all the cosy air of invulnerability that had pervaded Doctor Who. The Doctor was fallible, and fail he occasionally does…”

There’s just something so bold about the idea of killing off a long-running companion. The last time the show dabbled with the idea, back in Season Three, it only killed off characters who’d been a part of the Doctor’s - and the viewer’s - life for a few episodes at most. Here, we’re discussing the end of Adric, the boy who first encountered the TARDIS in Full Circle. On original broadcast, it was almost eighteen months between his arrival and his departure, which means it’s a really big deal. Watching all the stories in order like this also has an added advantage - I can better appreciate little things like the theme from Full Circle being introduced into this episode, and his clutching of his brother’s belt in his final moments. I don’t think I’ve seen this story since watching Full Circle for the first time - so this is the first time that I’ve ever really been able to appreciate what’s happening in that moment.

A somewhat embarrassing admission, though: on my first viewing, when the credits roll silently over Adric’s shattered badge… I didn’t realise it was his badge. I thought it was supposed to represent the Earth blowing up having been hit by the freighter, and it was just a particularly rubbish effect. I couldn’t understand what the point of that was, since it’s clear from the dialogue that the planet doesn’t blow up (of course it doesn’t, it wouldn’t make sense!). In my defence, though, watching through this time, I’ve never noticed before that the floor of the TARDIS has turned black for this shot! Is there a particular reason for that?

It seems pointless to discuss much else about this episode, because the death really is the thing that defines it, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot to enjoy elsewhere, too. People mock the Doctor’s speech to the Cyberleader, but I think there’s an element of the Doctor mocking his enemy here while trying to make his point. It raises a smile, and there’s something just so very Doctor Who about trying to appeal to a creature of evil by suggesting they should have a nice cooked meal!

The whole of Earthshock really feels like a season finale - and much more so that the actual season finale will. There’s a sense of the stakes being raised higher than ever before, and not everyone makes it out. I can’t remember the last time the programme had such confidence, and it’s probably this production team’s highest point. I loved Kinda, and that story scored better than this in my ratings, but I appreciate Kinda as someone watching now, when I know it would have gone a little more over my head as a child on first broadcast. Earthshock is a story that I can appreciate as a grown up, and I know I would have loved as a child.

Oh, and one thing: if I have to suffer, then so do all of you. Someone pointed out to me this week that this design of Cybermen has ‘eyebrows’ built in, giving them a look of being completely surprised all the time. Now I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, and I don’t plan to be alone in this. 

25 August 2014

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

Day 602: Earthshock, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Way back in the mists of time when I first got in to Doctor Who, this was one of the earliest stories I saw. It wasn’t my first Cyberman story (that was The Tomb of the Cybermen), but it’s a tale that I think really helped make me love the silver giants. There’s really two main schools of Cybermen: you’ve got the sinister, scheming ones of stories like The Moonbase where they infect the crew slowly via the sugar, or The Wheel in Space, where people are hypnotised into helping them, and then there’s the ‘macho’ versions that really make their first real impact in this story. These are Cybermen reimagined for the 1980s, and they really go on to inspire the versions seen in the new series. Both types have their highlights (though I think right now the 1960s versions would win out, but ask me again tomorrow and it’ll be the 80s models. Then the 60s again. You get the idea…), and I don’t think that this particular style of Cyberman has ever been done better than in this episode.

Put simply, the Cybermen in today’s episode are unstoppable. They just are! There’s only a handful of costumes (though more than I’d expect), but they’re being directed and shot so well that it feels like there are hundreds of them. The implication is that we’re looking at something like 15,000 onboard this freighter alone, and you really get a sense that the figure could be true - there really are loads of them. From my twenty-something perspective, I can see that the slit screen and mirror shots don’t always look the best, but it’s another thing that I know would have worked absolutely for me as a child. For me now, it’s the repeated shots of them breaking out of containers, or ripping plastic off themselves that really sell it for me. We’re never told that there’s a whole army waking up here, but it’s all implied and works really very well.

I think it helps that I really like the design of the Cybermen in this story, too. By the time you reach Attack of the Cybermen it’s the controller that sticks in your mind, and the over-chromed versions of Silver Nemesishave never really been as appealing to me (watch me change my mind on that in a couple of months, I’m sure!), but in Earthshock, we get to see this design really shine. I’ve heard people complain over the years that it’s too much of a departure from what had gone before, but I can’t see that at all. This feels like a 1980s update of the costumes seen in Revenge of the Cybermen, and this outfits in turn felt like a 1970s version of the ones from The Invasion. There’s something about this version in particular - right down to the little tubes on the main body (I believe that these were converted from flight suits, and are part of the original suit as opposed to an added detail) that really works for me. The tubes leading up into the helmet and the see-through chin pieces all stand out, too. I think this is the closest to seeing the Cybermen as organic creatures with things plugged in to them, keeping them going, that we’ve come since their very first appearance all those years ago.

I will admit, though, that they do look pretty stupid when Tegan and her squad of soldiers spy on a pair of Cybermen who just mill around having a chat!

Elsewhere, there’s an awful lot to really like about this episode, and a lot of it comes down to the direction. I’ve already praised the way that the Cybermen bursting out of hibernation has been handled, but the lighting in these sequences deserves a bit of attention, too. It’s the same throughout lots of the episode - the different areas of the ship all feel distinct and they’re all lit beautifully. The shot of the Cyberman getting trapped in the door is one that I could bang on about for hours, too - it’s not only a great visual image, but it’s pulled off perfectly. Surely one of the best effects shots the programme has ever given us?

24 August 2014

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

Day 601: Earthshock, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Today sees the annual appearance of the ‘classic montage’ which John Nathan-Turner was keen on inserting into seasons in the first half of his time as producer. We get some clips in Logopolis as the Doctor watches his life flash before his eyes, then they turn up in today’s episode to represent the Cybermen looking back over their previous encounters with the Doctor (and to me, the absence of the Third Doctor seems to be staggeringly obvious. I’ve never really noticed quite how much it sticks out that he never got to face off against them, but it’s no wonder that we’ll see this rectified before too long!). Season Twenty-One sees clips integrated via the Brigadier getting his memories back, and then we get snapshots of the Doctor’s previous companions - well, most of them - in Resurrection of the Daleks. This fad seems to disappear by the time the Sixth Doctor arrives, and the programme gets its nostalgic kick from elsewhere.

I’m somewhat gently mocking this practice here, but I can only begin to imagine how exciting this must have been for kids watching at the time. Not only had they just had a shocker of a cliffhanger in which the Cybermen came back after a huge break away from the show, but they were getting clips of the old Doctors facing off against them! People talk about the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeats season as being absolutely massive because it was a chance to see stories they never thought they would, but now they’re getting snippets of them integrated into the series proper. I’d have genuinely wet myself with excitement, I think.

Whereas yesterday’s episode was largely split between scenes in a quarry, a cave, or the TARDIS, today’s episode is filled with far more things that I think of when picturing Earthshock. The freighter has a very distinct style to it, which is beautiful in a kind of industrial way, and much like Four to Doomsday, it utilises the actual television studio itself to help make spaces seem larger and more solid than they really are. When the Doctor and Adric are out exploring the cargo hold, you get a real sense of them actually travelling around the place, rather than it simply being a set. There’s some real tension in these scenes, and it all helps add up to make this simply one of the most exciting things ever.

Where this story differs from Four to Doomsday is in the success of its ‘name’ casting. Under that tale, I praised the inclusion of Stratford Johns among the cast, pointing out that John Nathan-Turner’s stunt casting really could work on occasion - bringing in a well respected and talented actor to fill the role of a major guest character. I mused that perhaps it’s wrong of us to always remember his headline-grabbing casting policy as being a bad thing. This story, however, presents us with the other side of the coin, in casting Beryl Reid as the head of this space freighter. The performance is somewhat out-of-kilter with everything around it, and you do somewhat get the impression that she doesn’t have the first clue about what she’s actually doing here. A pity, because I think it’s the one weak link that’s bringing the story down a little…

23 August 2014

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

Day 600: Earthshock, Episode One

Dear diary,

In the old days, Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily a programme which tried to really surprise you. Oh, there have been moments of it over the years - Sara’s sudden brutal death in The Daleks’ Master Plan, or the reveal of the Master in a few of the Pertwee stories for instance (hush, it was sometimes a surprise) - but generally, it’s only been surprising because there were very few places to get information about what was to come. The Daleks’ returns were often heralded in the title of the story, or previewed in the pages of the Radio Times. Companion’s arrivals and departures were in the newspapers some time before they occurred. Even the cliffhangers are simply a part of the programme, so you get to know the format they take.

So I think it’s fair to say that Earthshock is probably the first Doctor Who story that prides itself on actually shocking you. It’s full of surprises, and the production team went out of their way to make sure that these moments stayed intact for the broadcast of the tale. The gallery at TV Centre was closed off, so that passers-by wouldn’t catch a glimpse of the Cybermen in the studio. John Nathan-Turner turned down the cover of the Radio Times - the first offered to Doctor Who since the Pertwee days! - because he’d rather keep it secret. Even the death of Adric at the end of the tale (I’m terribly sorry if that’s a spoiler now, but more than thirty years on I’m fairly sure it’s common knowledge) was kept under wraps by finding a way to have him appear in the following episode - just so that his name would appear on the cast lists and thus throw you off.

Now, my friend Nick likes surprises in Doctor Who. Or, more specifically, he likes surprising unsuspecting fans with twists in the story and seeing how they react. He recently showed a friend The Caves of Androzani without her knowing that it was Peter Davison’s swan song. Oh, the joy of the reaction, as the end of that story approached and she realised that the Doctor was heading to his death! The plan for the next night would be to show her Earthsock, and see how she reacted to all the various twists in this one. The plan somewhat backfired, though, because having been filled once with the ending to Caves, she decided to do a bit of digging on this tale and uncovered the news about the Cybermen and Adric. A pity.

Thankfully for Nick, a week on from that event and it’s my turn to watch Earthshock. I’ve got my own guinea pig to test it out on, and thus I’m joined for the next few days by Emma, who thinks it’s just time for me to show her a Peter Davison story. She’s actually quite excited by it. I’ve gone to great pains to keep the DVD cover hidden from her, and to make sure that the episode is cued up to start playing from the opening titles by the time she enters the room, so that she won’t catch sight of the clips on the menu. We sit through 25-or-so minutes of the Doctor and his companions in a cave, before that stunning final reveal of the Cybermen watching them (‘Destroy them! Destroy them at once!’), and I snap my head towards Emma to gauge her reaction.

‘Friends!’ she declares. I forgot that were Emma to travel in the TARDIS, she’d make friends with pretty much any monster she came across.

But all is not lost. She may not have been entirely floored by the appearance of the Cybermen, but there’s something more interesting happening here which I’m looking forward to seeing play out over the next three episodes. She’s taken something of a dislike to Adric immediately (I have pointed out that he’s being made more whiny and annoying than usual here), and has already told me that it’s his last story because he ‘keeps banging on’ about going home. She’s sure that the story will end with the Doctor trying to get him back to his own planet, so I’m keen to see how she reacts when he ends up slamming into our planet, instead.

It’s quite hard to watch this episode when you know that it ends with the Cybermen showing up. All the suff with the androids in the tunnel feels like padding until the cliffhanger arrives (although it’s plenty enjoyable in itself). Earthshock was one of the very first Doctor Who DVDs that I bought - already knowing the surprises - so for me it’s a story in which I’m waiting to see the silver giants make their appearance. But I love all the stories about kids at the time falling open mouthed, and excitedly discussing it in the playground the next day. I think that’s where this new twice-weekly broadcast pattern really comes into its own: allowing children to analyse the story the very next day at school.

In the past, with returns of characters like The Master, I’ve always questioned how much the viewers of the time would have really known of the character (and several of you have commented with your own tales of the time - please do so today, too, as I’d love to hear how you reacted to this one!), but I don’t feel the need to do that with the Cybermen. They’re one of the elite of Doctor Who monsters, and this might well be the very best surprise that the programme ever delivered…

22 August 2014

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

Day 599: Black Orchid, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Do you know… I complained in The Visitation about the way the Fifth Doctor just invites people inside the TARDIS as freely as you like, and even singled this story out for doing it in a particularly ridiculous way, thinking of the ‘strike me pink’ comment as one of the police officers enters the ship for the first time. Actually, though, I found myself laughing as that moment occurred! Maybe I was laughing because it’s especially stupid (it’s not the actual reaction that bothers me, it’s that he then composes himself so swiftly and gets on with the job! Very professional, I’m sure, but I just don’t buy the performance), or maybe I’ve mellowed? Either way, it worked for me!

On the whole, as I’d expected, I simply enjoyed this episode. It’s never going to win an award for being the most amazing episode (or story) in Doctor Who history - I think you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who’s favourite story is Black Orchid, but I’d love to hear about it if that person exists! - but it works as two nice episodes that sit nicely in the middle of the season. I think it also plays a larger part in the grand scheme of things. Just as stories like The Long Game, or The Lodger may feel initially like a kind of ‘filler’ with no real consequence to the season at large, it has a role to fulfil and it does it well. The next story is a fairly momentous one for the Doctor (and especially for Adric), and I’m not sure that the emotion of that story would be as strong if we came to it directly from, for example, The Visitation. We need to see this quartet actually enjoying each other’s company for a while before they’re torn apart, and while I know that the next story opens with more arguing, that doesn’t matter, because I’ve seen here that these people do like each other, and that they can get along.

It also acts as a bit of a breather for us as well as the characters. Black Orchid is somewhat throwaway, but it’s a chance to simply sit back and enjoy watching our regulars in another setting. Peter Davison complains on the commentary, I believe, that there wasn’t much call for this story because Agatha Christie stories are fairly prolific on TV anyway, and they’re often done much better than this one. While I concede that he might have a point to some extent, I think it’s that old thing that Doctor Who does best: taking the characters we know and love, and dropping them into a type of story which we’re already familiar with. We know the tropes of a 1920s murder mystery, so it’s less about that story, and more about seeing our characters interacting with it.

On that level, it works perfectly. There’s some lovely locations, some very nice sets (proving that the BBC has lost none of its touch with creating ‘historical’ settings), some decent performances… yes, I’m a fan of this one. I’m sure it’s a story I’ll end up watching again at some point, just as something to have on in the background somewhere, and remember the time that the Season Nineteen crew simply got along. This is the happiest we’ve ever seen them, but I fear that won’t last for long… 

21 August 2014

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

Day 598: Black Orchid, Episode One

Dear diary,

Perhaps fittingly, considering the nature of the story, Black Orchid has always seemed to be the black sheep of Season Nineteen. It’s not disliked in the way that, say, Time-Flight is (I don’t know anyone who actively hates this story), but then, it’s not a story that anyone really likes either. Much like The Smugglers or The Savages, it’s just a story that’s sort of… there. As with other recent stories, I’ve just looked it up in Doctor Who Magazine’s recent poll, and it places at 156 - only one place below one of Davison’s other two-part adventures, The Awakening.

But then, I’ve always quite liked Black Orchid. It’s a bit of a departure from everything around it, though I think that works in its favour. It’s the only time after The Highlanders in 1966 that the programme even attempts to do a ‘pure’ historical adventure with no alien involvement outside the TARDIS and its crew, and it’s a chance to really see the four time travellers having some fun on their adventures. Because of the two-episodes-a-week broadcast pattern of the show at this point, I think you can afford to take a week out for a story like this - we’ll be back with a blast to space-age extravaganza next week (and how!)

No, Black Orchid is a chance to the TARDIS crew to stop and take a breather after the last few stories. All in all, they’ve had a rough couple of days. From the Doctor’s regeneration, to being caught up in Monitor’s plans, Tegan’s mind parasite, and starting the Great Fire of London… it’s no wonder that this particular make up of crew have been somewhat at each other’s throats for a while. This story is an opportunity for the Doctor, Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa to take stock of themselves and simply enjoy being around each other. That they end up caught in a murder mystery is just typical of the Doctor’s lifestyle, but compared to all their other recent adventures, I’d imagine that being accused of murder is quite a pleasant Sunday afternoon! You can tell that they’re all feeling a lot calmer even before they’ve left the TARDIS, because Tegan has decided that she actually wants to stay for a while (I’d forgotten that bit - I thought she didn’t actually say anything to the Doctor at all before being upset at staying behind at the end of the season), and they’re not arguing for a change!

Once we’ve headed off into the story itself (I hesitate to call it an ‘adventure’), everyone is allowed to just enjoy themselves. The Doctor finally gets to play cricket properly, and Tegan loves watching the game (while Adric and Nyssa are completely baffled by it, which I love!), and then they get to head off, dress up, and go to a party. You know it’s a very different kind of Doctor Who story when, half way through, you’ve got Tegan teaching Nyssa the Charleston, and the Doctor heading off for a shower! It’s all very frothy, and I find that a nice change from the kind of things we’d usually be getting.

That’s not to make the story sound overly like filler, though. There’s plenty of tension and unease woven in under all this frivolity and I think that might be my favourite part of the story. In the opening moments, we’ve got lots of strange goings on in a country house, and then we see ‘Nyssa’ tucked up in an old fashioned bed. Moments later we’re aboard the TARDIS, and there’s Nyssa again, with no mention of those other events! Arriving at the station, there’s a car waiting to collect our travellers, and the driver confirms that the man in the cricketing gear is the Doctor (prompting a wonderful look of bafflement from Davison). There’s even mention that the Doctor is almost up to the standards of ‘The Other Doctor’ - The Master! Of course it gets turned on its head and revealed to be someone completely different, but it’s a great way of playing with the viewer’s expectations of a Doctor Who story.

So yes! I’m all for Black Orchid, and I’d quite like to see the modern series do something along similar lines - a one-off historical adventure with no alien involvement beyond the TARDIS. Something with a threat that’s very down-to-Earth and doesn’t have massive consequences for anyone outside the characters we’re given on screen. I think it would be a nice change of pace for a single week - much as I imagine Black Orchid would have been back in the 1980s.

20 August 2014

Doctor Who Online is pleased to announce the publication of Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary: Volume Two 1970-1981.

In celebration of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, Will Brooks sits down to watch every episode of the programme made between 1963 - 2013 at the strict pace of one per day.

Having watched each episode, Will records his thoughts in a daily blog for Doctor Who Online, and scores the episode out of ten, on a scale ranging from ‘Perfect, the absolute pinnacle’ to ‘Why am I doing this again?’

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary: 1970 - 1981 collects together more than 300 entries of the popular blog, covering the complete eras of the Third and Fourth Doctors (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker), as well as a revisit to the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) stories The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, episodes of which were returned to the BBC's archive in 2013, having been missing for many decades.

Speaking about the publication of the book, Will told DWO:

“The 1970s was the part of The 50 Year Diary that I was dreading the most. I'd always thought of Jon Pertwee as being my least favourite of all the Doctors, and while I knew Tom Baker was very good, I'd never quite understood the sheer love for that era of the programme.

Having now had the chance to watch through, I've realised that there's a lot to Pertwee's Doctor that I can enjoy, and the reason that the Baker era is considered to be such a Golden Age is because, in many ways, it is! I've found things to enjoy at almost every turn, although not everything was to my tastes...”

The book is released on September 25th 2014.

+  You can pre-order the paperback version of Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary 1970 - 1981 now from Pageturner Publishing for £14.99.

+  The book is also available for Kindle, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK and US. 

[Source: Doctor Who OnlinePageturner Publishing]

20 August 2014

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

Day 597: The Visitation, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Is it just me, or is Adric really getting the short straw today? The Doctor is treating him horribly throughout and it’s almost a little bit off putting. Adric said the other day that he didn’t think Tegan liked him very much - I have a feeling that it’s the Doctor he should be worrying about!

I’m somewhat disheartened that today’s episode sees the start of something that becomes a bit of a trend during the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who: guest characters getting to look around the TARDIS. It’s almost something of a running joke between a friend and me that it’s the default solution to the Doctor’s problems in this period of the programme once the Sonic Screwdriver has appeared. At least in today’s instance it’s a character who’s filled a large part of the narrative. It’s really in the next story that it starts to get a bit silly.

But we’re also starting to see a bit of a mockery about the way the TARDIS can work. Three times now, we’ve seen the Doctor aiming to get Tegan back to Heathrow in time for her first shift and failing in some way. Only last season the Doctor went on about just how difficult it is to control the TARDIS on short hops. And yet here, Adric is able to manoeuvre the ship into the drawing room of the manor house (mere feet from the Doctor) with interference caused only by Nyssa’s recent attack on an android, and then the Doctor is able to take the ship all the way to London and appear right outside the bakery in which the aliens have hidden!

Now, it could be (and I think this may be my theory for it) that the TARDIS is going out of its way to make sure that these short trips are working out so well because as soon as they touch down in 1666 the Doctor’s place in the flow of history is set in stone. Now that he’s here, he has to be the cause for the Great Fire of London, and thus time is ensuring that the TARDIS can work properly for a short while (could it even be the Time Lords manipulating it?). It’s in this final sequence that we come to one of the things that everybody knows about The Visitation, and that’s the Doctor dropping his flaming torch and setting the place ablaze. He’s getting quite the reputation for this, what with the fire of Rome, too…!

Overall, The Visitation has been something of a mixed bag for me, and I’m coming away from it now really knowing what I think. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the dialogue (particularly anything to have come from Richard Mace’s mouth), been impressed with the Terileptil costumes (another one of those instances where I’m surprised they spent the money on three when only one ever features prominently - making me even more surprised that they weren’t used again), and it’s been a visually nice tale. On the other hand, I’ve been bored during segments of the story, and I’ve got those few issues with it as discussed above. I think this may be another one to add to that list of ‘needing a re-watch once the marathon is over’ to see if it improves at all next time around. I certainly hope so - it’s a story that I’d really like to enjoy more!

19 August 2014

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

Day 596: The Visitation, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’ve always been a bit surprised that the Terrileptils never really made a return to the world of Doctor Who after this story. I think I’m right in saying that they feature in a few novels (though never majorly - usually in the form of a namecheck more than anything), but they never had another story on TV, or featured in any of the Big Finish audios. I’m not especially gagging for them to make a return, but I’m just somewhat surprised to think that they haven’t - when you consider how much of the programme’s history has been mined over the years.

Part of the surprise that they never came back on TV (outside of a brief appearance later in this same season) stems from the fact that they’re suck a nice design for a creature. There’s something about them which is wholly unlike any other monsters we’ve had… I’ve been searching for a way to describe it, but all I can think of at the moment is that the mouth reminds me of Barney the Dinosaur! I don’t mean that in a bad way, simply that we’ve never had a monster costume quite like this before. It’s been so long since I’ve seen The Visitation that seeing the close up detail on the scars to our lead monster came as quite a surprise to me today - to the point that I even wondered if the costume had simply been damaged between recording sessions! I was watching through wondering if I’d just seen an eye missing, so I’m rather pleased that the damage gets addressed and even becomes a part of the dialogue. I like that, and it’s another point in favour of this story.

Still, all this talk of Terileptils is really just ignoring the elephant in the room, because this episode features the moment for which The Visitation is most famed - in which the Sonic Screwdriver meets its demise, and we wave good bye to the tool until it turns up again in the TV Movie. It’s always spoken of as though it were some huge important event in the programme’s narrative… but it really isn’t! Not for me, anyway, because the Sonic Screwdriver has never felt like that much of a big part of the show. I remember the anticipation of getting to Fury From the Deep and seeing the device for the first time, and although its uses have expanded vastly since then, it’s never really felt like a particularly important tool. Even Tom Baker’s Doctor stopped bothering with it from time to time!

Fury From the Deep is a useful point of reference for something else that seems to go a bit wrong with the device in this story, too. The Sonic is blown up, the Doctor is hurt because he’s lost ‘an old friend’, and I simply don’t care. I say that the Sonic hasn’t felt like a particularly important tool in the programme, but that’s possibly my viewpoint being coloured by the stories we’ve had so far in Season Nineteen. The Doctor makes good use of it during Four to Doomsday to disable the Monopticons, but then he sort of stops caring about it. At the start of Kinda, when Adric points out that he’s not got the tool on him, the Doctor wonders what use they could possibly have for it! Of course, it would have come in useful for escaping from a cell, but that doesn’t even get mentioned, as I recall.

Anyway, yes, Fury From the Deep. In that story, you can tell that Victoria is about to pack her bags and leave life aboard the TARDIS because she’s suddenly become completely indispensable to the Doctor. We get none of that with the Sonic, though. As I’ve said, it’s completely dismissed in Kinda, and even in this episode the Doctor has looked at it and wished for a ‘proper key’ while musing that he should probably get a ‘real’ survival kit together (good advice, actually, Doctor!). I don’t feel as though the Sonic’s destruction is any great loss, because the Doctor himself doesn’t seem to care about it any more. If nothing else, the fact that he doesn’t bother to make a new one until late in his Seventh incarnation probably tells us how useful he was finding it. All ‘kettle and a piece of string’ from now on, I think! 

19 August 2014

SockShop.co.uk is celebrating the new series of Doctor Who with a range of Official Doctor Who socks.

The online sock retailer, home to the ‘world’s largest sock selection’, launched the collection – which features a variety of Doctor Who designs - as part of its Cartoon Heroes range.

Available in sizes for children, ladies and men, up to ‘big foot’ size 13, the socks are available to buy now at www.sockshop.co.uk*.

The cotton socks can be purchased in packs of three, with different designs featuring The Doctor’s famous TARDIS logo, The Daleks and the face of one of The Cybermen.

SockShop delivers worldwide with FREE UK delivery for orders of £30 or more.

+  Shop the SockShop Official Doctor Who Sock range here: http://www.sockshop.co.uk/by_brand/cartoon_heroes/doctor-who-socks/index.html

*Subject to availability. While stocks last.

[Source: SockShop]

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