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6 November 2014

DWO’s Spoiler-free preview of episode 8.12: Death in Heaven:

 

It barely seems possible that we can already be at the end of Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor - and what a ride its been! Death in Heaven is certainly the perfect capstone for the entire series, tying together threats that have been running since Deep Breath at the start of the run, and even a few that stretch back further, in to the eras of earlier Doctors.

 

Doctor Who Online went to get a preview of the episode at a screening in Cardiff on Tuesday evening, alongside a number of fans of the show. The atmosphere at the event sums up, we think, the general reaction to the whole of Series Eight this year. There was laughter (sometimes raucous, always in the right places), gasps of shock, and even a few teary eyes in places. If killing off regular character Danny Pink in the prattles to the last episode set this story up as one where anything could happen, and no one is safe… well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

The next statement is probably quite predictable - that series regulars Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Samuel Anderson are on fine form, and - as they’ve done almost every week of the run - continue to raise the bar to a whole new level. There are times when Peter’s Doctor will absolutely break your heart, and he plays it beautifully. On equally fine form is Michelle Gomez, now revealed to be the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s arch enemy the Master. Any quibbles people had about making such a drastic change to the character will surely melt away when you see her squaring up to our Twelfth Doctor - the pair are electrifying, and it’s safe to say that the Gomez incarnation will be topping several people’s lists as ‘favourite Master’. Oh, and did we mention - she’s absolutely bananas.

 

Director Rachel Talalay - who’s helmed both episodes of this finale - provides us with some stunning visuals, and some of the best action sequences that the programme has ever given us. There’s moments here where you genuinely could believe that you’re watching a multi-million dollar hollywood blockbuster, and yet it’s all been realised on a modest TV budget. We’ve heard it said time and time again over the years that the Doctor Who team are some of the hardest working and most skilled people in the industry, and it’s never been more in evidence than at times during this episode. You can really sense the labour of love that’s gone in to making it, and it’s worth every little bit of effort.

 

You may have noticed that we’re trying to give away as little as possible, and that’s because the full impact of this episode comes best when you sit down not knowing what to expect. We could wax lyrical about the reference to [X], or a cameo from [Y], or reveal that the Doctor… well, anyway. Death in Heaven is Doctor Who at its finest. Action packed, emotional, funny, and a little bit silly. What more could you want?

 

 

Five things to look out for:


1)
“There is no Clara Oswald. I invented her. I made her up.”

2) “Something for your bucket list…”

3) “He’s on the payroll…”

4) A new title sequence.

5) “Didn’t you think to look?”


[Source: DWO, Will Brooks]

5 November 2014

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

Day 674: Mindwarp, Episode Three (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Seven) 

Dear diary, 

The thing I'm liking most about Mindwarp is the idea that the Doctor can't really remember anything that's happening here. There's something genuinely unsettling about the moment when he first interrupts the episode to tell the court that he can't remember what he's seeing - and Colin plays it as calm and a little bit scared. He shouts and gestures again only moments later, but suddenly it's because he's genuinely worried by the event,s not because he's putting on a show for the sake of the trial. I love that even he isn't entirely sure that this isn't just the way he behaves, and when he's trying to convince the Inquisitor of his innocence, it comes across as the man trying to convince himself more than anything. This is then all turned back on him. when he does get back the odd pocket of memories, and the Valeyard points out how convenient it is for him to remember now... yeah, this is probably my favourite thing about the trial so far. 

Sadly, though, the episode itself isn't grabbing me at all. I'm getting on better with it now than on previous viewings, and I actually understand better what's going on this time (I'd somehow convinced myself that the sandy-coloured Mentor in this story was a separate character to either Sil or Kiv, and forgotten that he was Kiv's replacement body), but I'm still not enjoying it half as much as I did with The Mysterious Planet. I'm beginning to wonder if it may just be that I don't get on with Philip Martin's style of writing. Vengeance on Varos is often hailed as a total 'classic', and yet I'm not as fussed on it as some people seem to be, and while I've often seen this episode trumpeted as being the best of the Trial season, it's leaving me completely cold! 

A few years ago, I did a different kind of Doctor Who marathon with my friend Nick Mellish, who provides many of the Big Finish audio reviews here on Doctor Who Online. We made our way through all of the Paul McGann audio plays from Storm Warning through To the Death, which comprised ten years of adventures for the Eighth Doctor. We wrote our thoughts about each episode and emailed them to each other, eventually putting together a book which followed the marathon. For a brief period, the Eighth Doctor's companion Charley ends up going off on travels with the Sixth Doctor, and we dutifully followed her for a few weeks, in adventures with Daleks, and Draconians, and even the odd Kroton or two. 

Once we'd finished the marathon, and started to get withdrawal symptoms from not hearing a new episode every day, we decided to do it all over again with a different Doctor. The Sixth incarnation seemed to be the obvious choice, having already been through a few adventures and really enjoying them, and we decided that we'd start with the season of 'lost' stories from the originally planned Season Twenty-Three. Over the last five years or so, Big Finish have dramatised lots of stories originally written for the show and at some point left behind, but when they did this first set, it was something of a novelty, picking up stories that have grown up their own reputation within fandom. Stories like The Nightmare Fair, which would have pitted the Doctor and Peri against the Celestial Toymaker on a holiday to Blackpool, The Hollows of Time, a rematch between the Doctor and the Gravis (and the Master), and The Space Whale, which has been a 'work in progress' story for so many Doctors that it's hard to keep track. And then there's Mission to Magnus

Magnus is the story originally proposed by Philip Martin for Season Twenty-Three, long before the format of the trial was imposed. It was to feature the return of Sil, alongside the Ice Warriors, and has always been one of the 'lost' tales that people know a little bit more about. But we didn't really much care for it. We never managed to finish our Sixth Doctor marathon, as real life got in the way slowly, but looking back over the entries wrote to each other for that story... I was mostly just left a bit bored by it, and it's perhaps telling that I don't mention Sil anywhere in my write up. He obviously made very little impact on me! Nick was somewhat less forgiving, because of the way that Martin's scripts tend to treat (and talk about) their female characters. Thinking back to the Eighth Doctor book, neither of us were very keen on Martin's The Creed of the Kromon, either (that's putting it mildly), and so I think this story has decided it once and for all for me - I simply cannot get in to his stories. Here's hoping that the one final episode may well be enough to bring things around...  

4 November 2014

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

Day 673: Mindwarp, Episode Two (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Six) 

Dear diary, 

I seem to be saying it an awful lot of late (he's not around for long - I'm glad I can make the most of it here and now), but Colin Baker really is fantastic, isn't he? He's got that perfect quality for an actor to play the Doctor, where he can salvage anything, and you really perk up when he's on the screen - and not just because you're looking directly at that coat! In this episode, when tasked with playing a Doctor who's brain has been fried, and isn't quite acting himself, even by this incarnation's standards, he really relishes it and runs with it - there's a few shades of Troughton-as-an-androgum in the performance, and I'm becoming more and more saddened that we've only these two seasons of Colin to watch. I've heard various Big Finish adventures with him in over the years, but I have a feeling that I'll be seeking them out a bit more thoroughly once this marathon is over. People talk about the fact that he had a renaissance on audio, but I love him here and now on screen! 

It's perhaps a good mark of his skill that he's able to stand out so much in this episode... when Brian Blessed has been woken up (oh how tempting to simply write that name in capitals...)! Blessed has become something of a national treasure over the years, and you can sort of see here that he's already started to become a parody of himself. That's not a criticism, mind, because Blessed has managed to go so far into being his own parody, that it's no longer even that - it's just what you want! Philip Martin has said in the past that he was thinking of Blessed for the part and was overjoyed to hear that John Nathan-Turner was thinking along the same lines, and it's not hard to see why, is it? King Yrcanos has been written to be played by Brian Blessed, and you almost get the sense that they've stuck him into a costume, placed him on the set, and told him to just get on and do whatever he wants! 

The actual story today is interesting me a little more than it did yesterday, but only marginally. I can't honestly claim to be enjoying it. Oh, there's lots I am liking here - those aforementioned performances, along with the sets on the whole (there's a story that Colin Baker saw the invoice for that big round door in the set and loudly declared to the rehearsal room that it cost more for these four episodes than Nicola Bryant did! You can almost believe it, though, because the door is a great piece of set, and I'm surprised the cost wasn't deferred by being used lots more in Doctor Who after this, like the modern series does with particularly expensive sets! - on the whole, though, I'm just not all that invested on the events here. 

I wonder if part of it may be that I know Peri will be bowing out in a couple of days, and I've never been fond of her exit (either of them)? There's a vague sense of simply wanting to get that over with, so we can bring in Mel and start the programme off on another new phase. I'm also having what I can only describe as 'Sabalom-Glitz- Withdrawl-Symptoms'... none of the supporting cast in this story are anywhere near as entertaining as Glitz and Dibber! When I was watching Vengeance on Varos, I found myself being rather taken by Sil, and he was often the thing I was enjoying most about the story. Here, though, he's simply boring me, and I can't really decide why. I think it's a combination of the costume not working quite as well here as it did back then (there's a few instances where you can see it's clearly slipped down his face a little), and Nabil Shaban seeming to give a slightly different performance, which just isn't quite working for me. Maybe being surrounded by all these other people in charge of him is lessening the character a bit, where he could be so thoroughly unlikeable the last time around, coming across as being 'the boss'?  

3 November 2014

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

Day 672: Mindwarp, Episode One (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Five) 

Dear diary, 

More than once over the years, I've heard Mindwarp described as being the best segment of the Trial season, and yet when I've seen the full series before, I really didn't much care for it, and think I remember it as the opposite end of the scale - as the weakest of the stories here! I'm not sure what it was about the story that I didn't like on the last occasion, but I think I can guess from watching this episode; I'm just a little bit bored

I'm not even entirely sure why that should be, because there's certainly a lot going on in this episode. You've got an alien world that's looking very alien (more on which in a minute), two 'monsters' attacking our regulars, plus the regulation guards chasing after them and taking them as the 'villains' in the situation, the return of Sil, and lots of action in the trial room itself. The episode is positively bursting with things happening, but almost all of them are failing to grab my attention. The big selling point is surely the return of Sil to the programme, having featured in Vengeance on Varos last season... but that story didn't excite me in the way most people enjoy it, either, so I'm not terribly bothered by his return! 

The one area which I do rather like is the planet's surface. A sea of pink, which washes against rocks of blue under a green sky... and all in the most florescent hue they could possibly achieve. It's ridiculously garish, and incredibly of its time, but I'm really rather impressed with it. This feels like the programme really going out of its way to present us with a truly alien world for the first time since... well, in quite some while, anyway. Often enough, alien planets in the series have settled into being a standard quarry/jungle/only seen from the inside/studio set, and while this is shot out on a simple beach, the effects added in post production really make it look like something a bit special. When you compare this to some of the original location footage in the extras on the DVD... you can see how bland it might have looked otherwise! Did it stand out as much on first broadcast as being this garish, or did it just seem fittingly 'of the time'? 

I seem to be flip-flopping in regards to the actual trial scenes as each episode goes by. A few days ago, I started to find them irritating, before Colin Baker giving a rather brilliant performance managed to win them back around for me. Today, they seem to be perhaps a little over-bearing - I'm sure there's more in this episode than any of the others so far? We seemed to be cutting back and forth every few scenes. 

I'm starting to wonder if I may not mind this so much were we given a bit more going on in each of them; there much have been four or five so far this season which boil down to the Doctor asking if what we're seeing is relevant, and the Inquisitor musing that she's been wondering the same. If there's not much to actually say in these moments, then would they perhaps be better left out? Or, at least, confined to the start and the end of episodes, if they need to be included to remind us of the on-going narrative of the season. I thought that the opening of this episode, for example, was rather good, summing up the story we've just watched, reminding us that there's still some lingering questions about it, and then setting the scene for the next adventure. It's only when we start popping back for the odd line here and there that I start to lose patience... I bet all those supporting artists in Time Lord collars got bored of it, too, having to swivel back and forth on those chairs every three minutes! 

2 November 2014

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

Day 671: The Mysterious Planet, Episode Four (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Four) 

Dear diary, 

I've said it before during this story, but I really do love Sabalom Glitz. What's surprised me is how much I've enjoyed him being partnered up with Dibber - I' always thought of Dibber as being a weaker link to the character. They're absolutely brilliant together, and it's a bit of a shame that we don't get to see them paired up again in any other stories. There's just so much to love about them, and a certain amount of that needs to be placed at Robert Holmes' door, filling their mouths with plenty of dialogue which has made me smile and laugh almost all the way through their scenes. I'm genuinely hugely surprised that the pair haven't been brought back in any of the Big Finish audios - Tony Selby and Glen Murphy are still working actors, and surely I can't be the only one who would love to hear them back against either the Sixth or Seventh Doctors? I'm going to cross my fingers tightly, because I think this may be my number one thing that I'd love to hear happen! 

These two aren't the only ones to impress me in The Mysterious Planet, either. I've already praised Colin Baker's performance once in the last few days, but it really does bear repeating again here - he's really a very good Doctor. Today's highlight from him comes in the form of his courtroom outburst, in which he riles against the Valeyard and the situation he's found himself in. It's a very over-the-top performance, full of gusto and bravado... and it's perfect for the moment. This incarnation of the Doctor, perhaps more than any other, is prone to being a bit theatrical, and he shows that perfectly here. What makes it all the more compelling is the sheer rage underneath it all. Colin completely goes for the scene with all that he can muster, and it's simply electrifying to watch. We're drawing ever closer to his all-too-brief time in the programme, now, and I really am going to miss him when he's gone. I'd so dearly love to see what this man could have done with the part given a few more years to expand and grow with the character. 

We're also getting nearer to the departure of Robert Holmes from the show, with this being his final complete story for the Doctor. He'll be back again for Episode Thirteen of the Trial season, but we won't be getting any more full stories from the man. Before I’d embarked on a big Doctor Who marathon, writers were largely interchangeable in my head. There was no real sense of ‘[X] writes very good stories’ while ‘[Y] writes very bad ones’, I just had a list of names floating around who had written stories at some point. Even then, though, I knew of Robert Holmes being considered the ‘bed tot the best’. So many other writers for the programme over the years have singled him out as the man who knew how to do it, so it was hard to miss his contribution. I couldn’t have told you much about my own thought’s to Holmes’ stories, because frankly they’d all blended in to the big pot of ‘Doctor Who tales’ in my head. 

But actually, having now sat through all of his contributions to the Doctor Who mythos, I can quite clearly see why he's considered to be such a luminary. Several of his stories have ended up towards the upper end of my ratings since he first cropped up in The Krotons, and I’m going to miss him being a part of the programme. 

And with that, we move on to the second segment of the Trial season - Mindwarp. From a previous viewing, I think of these next four episodes as being my least favourite of the season, but I've found plenty of new things to enjoy about The Mysterious Planet, so I'm hoping that the same will be true as we move forward... 

 

While I'm here, a quick note about how I'm rating The Trial of a Time Lord. You may have noticed that I'm referring to the different segments by their commonly-agreed-upon titles - The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Ultimate Foe. I'm really doing this because it makes it easier to discuss them here without you having to think about which part of the Trial, say, Episode Six might be, or Episode Ten. When it comes to rating the story as a whole, I'll be including it as one story (it is, after all, one big story - the credits say so!), but including the scores for the individual segments, too, so we can better see how they fit in to the Colin Baker era on the whole. And to make the 'average rating' list for his era a bit longer - it would be horribly short otherwise! 

1 November 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nev Fountain

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“Once, long ago, in a land of monsters and corridors, a fair maiden was captured, and placed in a deep sleep.

She was used to being captured, and she had a hero who rescued her on just such occasions. But this time the hero never came.

And the fair maiden slept on.

Eventually, a King rescued the maiden, and made her his bride, which many wise old women might tell you is just another way of capturing fair maidens.

And still the fair maiden slept on.

Then, the hero had another stab at rescuing the maiden from her prison, but he was too late. And, more importantly, he had forgotten the rules of fairy tales.

He didn’t slay the dragon.

***

It feels like this story has been waiting to be told by Big Finish for a while now.  Their fascination with a post-Trial of a Time Lord Peri goes way back to Her Final Flight, a subscriber special and one of those oft-forgotten plays which I always enjoy whenever I revisit it.  We then change ranges and ping over to The Companion Chronicles with Peri and the Piscon Paradox, which is every bit as good as reputation would have it.  Its writer, Nev Fountain, clearly really cares about Peri as a character and has given her ultimate fate a lot of thought, and Nicola Bryant has rarely been as good as she is throughout that play, squeezing the script for every drop of drama, heartache and laughter she can.  It felt like a decent conclusion to things: open-ended enough to maybe exploit further down the line, but with the option to simply move on now and leave things as they are. (I am desperately trying to not spoil that play here!)

We then switch ranges again, this time to the Main or Monthly Range, depending on what it’s being called this week, and have the Sixth Doctor travelling with Flip, but his heart(s) belong to someone else: Peri.  He simply has to see her; to know how she is doing.  It was clear from the very off how that trilogy was going to end: farewell Flip, prepare for Peri.

And now we are here with The Widow’s Assassin: Peri is back, Flip is gone, the Sixth Doctor is patiently waiting for things to click into place, and Nev Fountain is back in the hot seat, writing the follow-up-in-all-but-name to Piscon Paradox.

The first question is: is it as good? The answer, predictably, is no.  Let’s be honest though, it was never going to be.  Peri and the Piscon Paradox is about as perfect a play as Nev Fountain, and indeed Big Finish, have ever done, so it was going to be hard.

The second question is: is it satisfying for Peri? The answer is… debatable.  For Peri with regards to lines/action here and Bryant’s performance? Yes, it’s very good indeed.  As a continuation of her tale? Not so much.  It takes a rather easy way out, a way which avoids future complicated arguments between the Doctor and Peri about how things ended between them, and whilst that is perhaps understandable, it still feels like it robs us of some weighty drama further down the line.  It just doesn’t feel right or fair after all this time and fanfare.

The third question is: is it a good play? The answer is yes, it is good.  Not brilliant, but higher than average.  It is good.  Fountain is great at writing comedy and there are some genuine laugh-aloud moments across Widow’s four episodes, often in the guise of the hapless prison guards who so ineffectively guard the Doctor.  Halfway between the two guards from children’s television classic Maid Marian and her Merry Men and Evans from The Web of Fear, they sing whenever featured, and a whole host of alien delegates do likewise.

As with Piscon Paradox, there are some twisty-turny plot elements involving time here as well, though I must confess that I saw some of the larger twists coming a while off this time.  I think, in fairness to Fountain, that it is perhaps the result of a lot of twisty-turny plot elements involving time being prominent in the show on TV in recent years, not to mention in Big Finish plays such as Dark Eyes 2, The Light at the End and, indeed, Peri and the Piscon Paradox itself.  It just makes them slightly easier to spot than would otherwise be the case.

Still, Peri is back, and Bryant seems to be having fun alongside Colin Baker.  We’ve Daleks coming up next and the return of the Rani, so things look promising.  Even better, the irksome cliffhanger ending regarding Flip is resolved with an off-hand comment near the end of this play, which genuinely had me cheering: the best move Big Finish have made for a while now!

I am not going to pretend I thought this was the best play ever; in some ways, it disappointed me a bit.  It’s not Fountain’s finest, nor is it Peri’s, the Doctor’s or Big Finish’s.  It is, though, another decent monthly release after the recent Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hector-Hex trilogy, and that bodes well for the rest of 2014.

 

1 November 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“England, 1400. Winter. Blood in the snow. Henry IV has usurped the throne, and deposed King Richard II languishes in Pomfret Castle.

Meanwhile the Doctor and his companions preside over New Year revels at Sonning Palace.

But Sonning is a prison, treachery is in the air and murderous Archbishop Thomas Arundel will stop at nothing to crush the rebellion.

As the Doctor and Barbara take the road to Canterbury, Vicki finds a royal friend and Ian is dragged into a dark web of conspiracy at whose heart sits that teller of tales, Geoffrey Chaucer.”

 

***

Chaucer! You either like Chaucer or dislike him with a fiery intensity that can set whole libraries aflame (just ask any English Literature graduate, we’re all the same).  Me personally? I really like him and think that The Canterbury Tales is fab through and through, and it has forever surprised me that the show never took the plunge and had our heroes meet him.  Well, until now, that is.

Two stories into this new Early Adventures range now, and we’re flung into The Doctor’s Tale, an historical adventure with all the ingredients one would expect from such a tale: shady characters, political shenanigans, someone famous from Earth’s history who one of the companions happens to know a lot about.  This is a far more ‘authentically’ 1960s-esque piece of Doctor Who than the preceding month’s adventure (though I stress again how much I enjoyed that story), and I suspect much of your enjoyment of it will depend on how keen you are on historical adventures, and quite possibly how much you know about Chaucer, though seeing as every effort is made by Marc Platt’s script to fill you in on the historical/political and, indeed, literary backdrop to the era in which this story is set, you shouldn’t struggle too much.

Taking its lead from the Crusade school of thought, Platt separates the TARDIS crew rather swiftly, giving us two separate strands of story that come together nearer the end of the tale.  It’s a neat move which allows the script to breathe more, and gives both William Russell and Maureen O’Brien, on narrating duties, some good, meaty material to really sink their teeth into.

One thing that did really strike me about this story though is how missed Jacqueline Hill is as Barbara.  The absence of Barbara in an historical story was always going to be notable, and never more so here, where we hear her fill in parts of the plot, take a central role in proceedings, and tick that ‘educational and fun’ remit which the show strived for in its formative years, even when she does take a week’s holiday for the third episode (a nice attention to period detail by Platt).  I’m not surprised, therefore, that Big Finish have announced someone coming in on Barbara-narrating duties for future adventures, and am curious to see how that pans out.  As it stands right now though, much like when Katy Manning takes on the Brigadier or the Third Doctor, you can feel a spectre in the room; a piece of the jigsaw missing.  Indeed, perhaps the most fitting tribute to Hill and her portrayal of the character is the fact that her absence is so keenly felt, here more so than William Hartnell himself, and that for this range and its stories to properly work, the gap is going to need to be somehow plugged.  That’s quite some legacy to be leaving years on.

Back briefly to the play in hand though.  Platt’s script feels very evocative of the era in which it apes, and you can almost picture the creaky special effects as people travel from A to B.  It’s richly enhanced by a stellar performance by Alice Haig as Isabella, who infuses her role with a ferocity comparable to Jean Marsh’s in The Crusade and for me was the standout performance in the whole play (no easy task when you also have John Banks giving it his all with genuine conviction), and, two releases in, the range so far.

The Doctor’s Tale may lack the Boy’s Own air of 1950s adventure serial that Domain of the Voord had about it, but stick with it.  It’s a damn fine story, clearly painting the brutality of life under a dogmatic and fanatical regime (in this instance, a religious one), a life with quite the body count by the end of it.  You’ll cheer for Chaucer, hate Thomas Arundel, and feel every ounce of Isabella’s frustration and pain.  And you’ll miss Jacqueline Hill.

What is a Hartnell historical without Hill? Good, but not Wright.

 

1 November 2014

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

Day 670: The Mysterious Planet, Episode Three (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Three) 

Dear diary, 

I'm somewhat surprised just how much I'm enjoying the design in this segment of the trial. I've often looked back on The Mysterious Planet as being just a little bit... rubbish, when it came to the look of the piece. I think I was mostly thinking of two areas - the set of the underground areas, which comes across as very plastic-looking, and the design of the cell in which our heroes find themselves locked up on the surface, because there's a few behind-the-scenes photos of that set which make it look very poorly painted. Actually, though, I'm wrong on both counts. Well, sort of. The cell actually comes across as much better on screen than it does being seen as a set in a studio, and it even looks rather good when the L1 robot is crashing through the wall to kidnap the Doctor. All the underground areas do still look as plastic-y as I remember them being... but I think that actually acts in its favour, giving the set its own unique feel. 

The piece of design I'm most keen on, though, is the big L3 robot - the Immortal One himself. There's something about the sheer stature of the creature which makes it look imposing, especially when he's towering over the two human servants in his control centre. It seems strange to think that this story comes more than ten years after the last big robot like this (in, um, Robot), and I think this one is possibly better. Oh, don't get me wrong, the design of the K1 robot is gorgeous, but it's perhaps that bit too designed. That doesn't take away from it on screen, but it doesn't really come across as being scary. The L3, in darker tones of grey, and with that big pointy 'head' really seems to be a bit more frightening, and I rather like that. 

I'm not so sure that I like the L1 as much, but that's possibly because it's in competition with this bigger older-brother. Do we actually see the L2 at all in this story? I don't think we do. Wonder what it looks like? I've mentioned it a few times in this marathon so far, but I'm a big fan of vintage Blue Peter, and the clip on this story's DVD, introducing the entire Trial season is a particular favourite of all the who-related segments. We get to see how both of this story's robots are controlled ('people power'), and I think it even helps to improve my admiration for the L3 - the poor controller trapped inside the costume has to peer out through the insignia on the chest, which helps to really sum up just how tall it is! 

During yesterday's episode, I complained that I was starting to see the irritation that could be caused by the constant flicking back to the trial room to catch up on the proceedings in the courtroom. I'm thankful to say that today's episode has been the complete reverse of that, and I've positively welcomed the inclusion of these moments. There's a point very early on - pretty much just as we see our characters escape from the cliffhanger - where we revert back to the 'present', and it felt entirely right that we should take a quick break from the main narrative here. I'm also impressed to see mention of the footage being excised at the request of the High Council, as I didn't think that revelation came until later on in the story. I'm already trying to think up ways that I can tie this somewhat more devious version of the High Council in to the Time War. 

While I'm briefly on the subject, I didn't mention the fact in Episode One that the Doctor has been deposed as President of Gallifrey, because of a degradation of his duties. I absolutely love this idea (especially since the Doctor even called on his official status last season in Timelash to help save the day), and I can easily tie this in to the Time War - the High Council know that even the Doctor, with his hatred of the Daleks, wouldn't risk plunging the planet into total war across all of time and space - hence removing him from a position of power, and putting him on trial in a further attempt to reduce his standing... I think this season could prove interesting if viewed from certain angles! 

31 October 2014

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

Day 669: The Mysterious Planet, Episode Two (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Two) 

Dear diary, 

When Colin Baker first took over the role of the Doctor in The Twin Dilemma, he instantly won me over. Even when he was having to strangle Peri, or collapse in fits of manic laughter, there was something about the gusto with which he want for everything that completely worked for me, and I really enjoyed. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed him in the stories since, but I think this may be the first episode in which he's really felt like the Doctor. There's lots of little moments in this episode - both in the dialogue and in the actions - where he's simply felt like the Doctor that I know and love, and I really can't remember the last time I felt that so strongly about this incarnation. Indeed, there's several lines here which I could easily imagine Tom Baker's Doctor saying, and I don't know if that's simply Robert Holmes managing to summon back up some of his old ability? 

There's lots about this story which I'm really enjoying, and that does have to be placed firmly at Holmes' door. He's managed to create a world that I'm buying in to, and more so this time than I noticed on a previous viewing. I think my favourite moment has to be Peri's discussion about husbands, while being held prisoner; 

GLITZ 

Obviously she's a romantic at heart. 

PERI 

Well, so am I, but not romantic enough to want more that one husband. 

DIBBER 

Where we come from, a woman can have as many as six. 

PERI 

Oh, it's very similar on my planet, except we usually have them one at a time. 

I just know that this is a line which would have completely passed over my head as a child, but listening to it now elicited a rather hearty laugh from me - and it wasn't the only one for this episode. There's plenty of moments that have really managed to entertain me, and I think that's probably the best you can hope for! 

In the past, I've often seen people complain about the constant interruptions to the narrative from the trial room itself, and I've never really shared in those complaints. As far as I've ever been concerned, they're a fun part of the stories, and I recall rather linking them as a slightly different way of looking at the stories for a few episodes. That said, in today's episode, for the first time, I did suddenly understand where the complaints may have come from: there's at least two interruptions which came at just the wrong point, and completely took me out of the narrative. I then spent the rest of the episode wondering if there could be a way of editing this episode to omit them entirely. I think, with a bit of fiddling, that it probably is possible, but I'm sure that later on in the trial, once it starts to become less clear what's real and what isn't in the tales being relayed to us, that it becomes near-impossible. I'll be interested to see how I feel about these trips back to the court come the end of the story... 

Something else I'd just like to touch on today - and it's not something that I've really had cause to mention for some time now - is the musical score for this episode. It's Dominic Glyn's first soundtrack for a Doctor Who story, and it's really enjoyable! It first came to my attention during that gorgeous model shot at the start of yesterday's episode, where the beautiful cathedral-like space station was introduced with ominous bells and organ music. It set the tone perfectly, and he's managed to keep the music in this episode varied enough to keep my interest up, too. Glynn will be providing scores for several more stories over the final few seasons' of the programme's 'classic' run, and I'm looking forward to hearing them. 

He's also the man responsible for the theme tune to this season of Doctor Who. Now, I have to admit that I'm not that much of an expert on the theme tunes (and most of the time I don't even notice when they change from story-to-story. Certainly, as I've worked my way through all the episodes for this marathon, I've not ever really thought 'oh, they've changed the theme tune... even though I listen to it every day...), but I know this one comes in for a fir bit of stick. I'm not sure if I dislike it, though, and I'm certainly finding myself singing along with it as the episodes start up. Today, I even found myself watching the closing credits and singing along with those, too!  

30 October 2014

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

Day 668: The Mysterious Planet, Episode One (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode One) 

Dear diary, 

I can remember getting Trial of a Time Lord on VHS. For one birthday, I'd made a list of several Doctor Who tapes I'd quite like, in order from the ones I was most keen to see through to the ones I was less desperate for. This one topped the list. I mean, when you look at the facts on paper, it does sound pretty impressive, doesn't it? The programme returns from an eighteen-month hiatus with the longest story they've ever made - fourteen episodes - in which the Doctor is put on trial for his life by his own people, and the villain turns out to be... an evil incarnation of the Doctor from the future! Oh, come on, when you're a young fan, you can't help but love a description like that! I was thrilled when I unwrapped the TARDIS- shaped tin containing the videos on my birthday (my tin has Patrick Troughton on the bottom, for those of you who like to keep track of those types of thing!), and I recall really enjoying the story, too. Certainly, it kept me much more interested an entertained than The Key to Time season would a few years later! 

And what a start it gets off to! That opening model shot, of the space station hanging in the stars is good enough in itself... but then the camera comes sweeping down over it! Oh, how I love it. I must have seen it a hundred times over the years, because it's just so good. Easily up there with the best effects that Doctor Who has ever had, and a great one to show people who complain that the old programme had rubbish effects. No it bloody didn't, look at this! Oh, and step away from that Warriors of the Deep DVD, this is what Doctor Who always looked like... promise. I really like the design of the space-station, too, all those spires like a cathedral, and each one topped with a little glowing light... it's just such a beautiful model, and it almost fits with the visions I have of Gallifrey, the ones I spoke about during The Deadly Assassin. This is ancient gothic architecture mixed with futuristic grunge, and it blend perfectly

I'm not sure the same can be said for the sets of the inside of this station, however. I rather like the set of the actual trial room itself - there's something about the scale of it, and the way that the golds set themselves off against the black drapes that form the walls, but it's really the corridor in which the TARDIS arrives that I'm not keen on. It doesn't feel as though it exists inside that beautiful cathedral structure that we saw to start with, and I can never quite reconcile them in my mind as the same place. Still, I'll be seeing plenty of it over the next fortnight, so I'm sure I'll have chance to get used to it! 

From this episode up until the end of the 'classic' run in 1989, the  programme has switched over to being entirely videotape - even for location shoots. We've seen the show dabble with this before in Tom Baker's era, of course, but I've not been looking forward to it over the last few weeks. More and more, the programme has been giving little moments to remind me just how much better it looks on film than video tape, and I know that there's a few stories coming up (notably in the McCoy years) where shooting on videotape only means that stories can come across as poor quality, because the source material just isn't as good. We're not off to a bad start, here, though. It's certainly true that the outdoor scenes look flatter than they would have done on film (and I think that forest would have looked stunning shot that way), but it doesn't look as awful as I was expecting. I think that having such an interesting location, with all the thin little trees obscured in the mist of an autumn day is probably helping matters. Now, I'm hoping that getting off to such a good start with this new 'all-video' approach will make the transition a bit smoother for me. 

As for the story itself... well, there's lots to like, isn't there? We've got several hallmarks of classic Robert Holmes cropping up again for his final story (he'll be back with Episode Thirteen of Trial, but not another complete adventure), and chief among them is the partnership of Glitz and Dibber. Hands up, I love Sabalom Glitz. Always have, always will. Indeed, having seen Trial of a Time Lord, I rapidly moved Dragonfire up my list of stories I wanted to see, simply because I was keen to see more of the character! He's absolutely trademark Holmes here, with his speech about the way he struggles to come to terms with the 'more pertinent, concrete aspects of life' a particular highlight. 

He's not the only one being given some great dialogue in this episode, either! A few months ago, I was talking to someone and they mused that Colin's Doctor doesn't get any great speeches during his tenure. They cited examples from all the other 'classic' Doctors (Hartnell's 'one day I will come back' from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Troughton's 'some corners of the universe' from The Moonbase, 'being frightened' for Pertwee from Planet of the Daleks, Do I have the Right from Genesis of the Daleks for Tom Baker, Davison's 'summer cloud' in Frontios, 'every decision' for McCoy from Remembrance of the Daleks, and the speech about shoes from McGann in the TV Movie - as an aside, it seems that Dalek stories really inspire great moments from the various Doctors!), but said that Colin never really got anything as magical as that. I'd argue that he gets two in Trial of a Time Lord - the speech about corruption later on in proceedings, which I'm sure I'll mention again when the time comes, and also one from today; 

THE DOCTOR 

Planets come and go, stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, reforms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal. 

I think that's probably my favourite moment of Colin's Doctor, and certainly as good as any of those other examples. It's beautiful dialogue, and a wonderful delivery. 

29 October 2014

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

Day 667: Revelation of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I'm not entirely sure what the point of this one was. The Doctor and Peri have come to Necros to pay their last respects to an old friend. But then it transpires that people in Tranquil Repose aren't actually dead, but rather in suspended animation (or are there dead people there, too? I sort of lost track of this bit…). It also turns out that the Doctor was summoned to pay these respects as a lure by Davros, to bring his old foe to the planet he's been hiding on since escaping from the Daleks last season. But… Um… why? Davros doesn't have any real trap laid out for the Doctor once he gets there, just the opportunity to stand around and say 'aha! It's me! Bet you didn't see that coming!' Indeed, once the Doctor has fallen for Davros' ruse and come to the planet, he doesn't actually do anything! He spends that entire first episode walking to the location, then spends most of today just standing around! He blew up a Dalek eyestalk at one point, but that's it! Very odd.

I also can't let today's episode pass without mentioning my least favourite thing about this story - Jenny Tomasin's performance as Tasambeker. I've never really been able to get my head around what she's doing here, and I think today I've simply realised that it's terrible acting! There's a way of over-acting which can work very well for Doctor Who (and, indeed, there's examples of it in this story), but Tomasin is going so over-the-top that it simply becomes a parody, and what could be quite a nice little character study goes completely out the window, because it's taken over by such a ridiculous performance. Thanks to having the subtitles on now, I at least know that her line when killing Jobel is 'to earn his favour, I have to kill you' - because in the past, I've thought she was working for someone called 'Earnest Baber', and that confused me no end!

The other characters in the story work much better for me with the actors playing them. Several of them are, as I've mentioned, somewhat larger-than-life, but I think that helps to give the story its own somewhat unique flavour. Orcini is great fun, and I really enjoy the way that he and the Doctor communicate largely through simple looks and tiny nods throughout much of the confrontation with Davros. Speaking of whom, this is Terry Molloy's second outing as the Dalek creator, and it's perhaps more… ranty than he was last time. Much of this episode requires Molloy to play the part as though he's a complete raving lunatic, but I think it works well enough, and he really gets in to it! It has to be said that while Davros is being shown to us as simply a head in a jar, he's actually quite scary - especially when the head suddenly turns round at a great speed to confront another character!

It's also time for another part in the build up to the Time War, I think. That makes it twice in one season! Davros is here developing an entirely new race of Daleks using human tissue. Could it be that besides wiping out the original Daleks who aren't faithful to him any more, he's starting to prepare for the oncoming war? It's always struck me that you'd have to branch out like this at some point - there's only so many Kaled Mutants left after the war on Skaro, so at some stage, you'd need to start looking for an alternative source of flesh. The next time that the Doctor comes face-to-face with the Daleks, it's going to be completely a part of the Time War, without any need for fudging events a little bit - we're really heading towards it now!

29 October 2014

DWO’s Spoiler-free preview of Episode 8.11: Dark Water:

 

It’s (almost) the end, but the moment has been prepared for…

 

It doesn’t seem possible that we’re already starting out on the finale to Peter Capaldi’s incredible first season as the Doctor, having been from the banks of the River Thames, via Sherwood Forest, the Bank of Karabraxos, Coal Hill School, The Orient Express (in space no less), and now onto our final destination: the Underworld.

 

For the first time since 2011’s The Rebel FleshThe Almost People, we’ve got a Doctor Who story told in two parts. In some ways, it feels as though they’ve slightly lost the knack for telling such stories, and you occasionally get the impression that this is really all one big prequel for next week’s episode proper. Here, we’re simply watching as all of the pieces are moved into the right positions, and we’re brought up to speed with everything we’ll need to know to fully appreciate the events of the final episode proper. To that end, don’t be surprised when several clips from the ‘Next Time’ trailer last week don’t surface here, because it’s not their time yet.

 

That’s not to say that Dark Water isn’t a good episode in itself, but it very much does feel like only half the story, and it’s difficult to truly judge it without seeing the second half. There’s plenty to keep your attention glued to the screen here, though, and you’ll need to be paying attention to really make sure you’ve got everything you’ll need going forward. By the time the opening credits have started, you already know that this is an episode that won’t be playing it safe, and that it really could go anywhere from this point - there’s no guarantee that everyone will be making it out alive.

 

It’s also very much a finale designed to perfectly cap off the adventures that we’ve been seeing across this year’s stories - and it wouldn’t have anywhere near the impact it does without them. We welcome back Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink once more, and get to see the next stage of his relationship with Clara, and it’s this which is central to the plot. Every scene they’ve shared together so far has been building towards this, and it’s the type of story that needed an unbroken run of episodes to really evolve. Even people who aren’t huge fans of the couple will surely feel a few pangs of emotion at their situation.

 

But with these 45 minutes, the stage is set, most of the players are in place, and we’re in a good position to really see the series out with a bang next week. Probably best not to go in to this one expecting all the high energy and excitement of the trailers so far, though, because we’re not quite there, yet…

 

 

Five things to look out for:

 

1) “I don’t deserve a friend like you…”

2) Seven Hiding Places.

3) The Twelfth Doctor finally gets a chance to do some Tenth and Eleventh Doctor-style kissing…

4) It’s not a fish tank.

5)“The time line disintegrates. Your time line.”


[Sources: DWO, Will Brooks]

29 October 2014

Peaker Pattinson Auctioneers have been in touch with details of a unique Doctor Who item that they are auctioning as a result of the sale of BBC Television Centre.

Interested fans can bid on a canvas used as promotion for Series 5 of Doctor Who, featuring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.

The full item description is as follows:

"Doctor Who canvas back drop, 3.5m long x 2.5m high approx. 1500x1500x1500mm ‘BBC’ white & black cubes Qty various BBC TVC building signs & name plaques. 2x BBC ‘Politics Show’ freestanding screens."

+  You can bid on Lot 4012, using the online auction site, here.

[Source: Peaker Pattinson Auctioneers]

28 October 2014

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

Day 666: Revelation of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

This is more the relationship that I like to see between the Doctor and Peri. Yes, they're poking fun at each other's weight and having a bit of a bicker, but it comes across more as good-natured joking around than anything malicious. I think it's clearest when the pair are trying to scale the wall into Tranquil Repose, and the Doctor makes a point of saying he may not be able to lift Peri, considering how much she weighs. She then calls him 'porky' in response. It feels perhaps more natural to a real friendship, where you might joke around and call each other names, and I think I quite like that. I could have done without all the innuendo with the Doctor's fob watch, though! This is the last story in which the Doctor is given his very 'rough' persona, before it all gets toned down a bit for Trial of a Time Lord. On the whole, I've enjoyed the concept of having a less-likeable Doctor, but I think they did mis-step a little bit in first giving him four episodes at the end of the previous season (leaving the audience nine months before the next one to muse on the fact that they don't like the new Doctor), and in planning to soften him across his entire era - I think we needed to see more of this incarnation's softer side as this season wore on, just to reassure us that he's the same Doctor underneath it all.

This is also the last story to feature 45-minute episodes during the 'classic' run of the programme. Again, I think it can be a good idea - the 21st century series has shown that - but the production team at this point just haven't quite known what to do with them. In the making of documentary on the Attack of the Cybermen DVD, Eric Saward comments that he liked the 45-minute format because it allowed you longer to really flesh out your characters, but I don't think many of the writers have really done that! Robert Holmes has still been the master with The Two Doctors, and even Saward himself is doing a better job than usual of populating his world in this story (though here perhaps more than ever, you can see him trying to emulate Holmes' style), but I think episodes have largely felt a bit clunky this season. It was most highlighted in Timelash, when the episodes just dragged on-and-on, well past the point when I would have comfortably have liked a break from them. I'm almost wondering if I might watch that story again at some point with the international-style cliffhangers reinserted to make it four episodes - it could fare better!

Thankfully, there's a lot more to like in today's episode than there was in the last few. I really wasn't sure what I'd make of this story - it's been so long since I've seen it that I couldn't remember a great deal. I think I quite like it, with plenty of action going on to keep me interested, and I almost like the fact that the Doctor and Peri don't actually get involved with the main plot at all in this first half. I'd worried that it would feel like it was taking the mick too much, but it's allowed the cast of guest characters to firmly establish themselves before our regulars arrive. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like once the two worlds collide - I don't think we've ever had so much time setting up the guest cast before the Doctor or his companion meets them, have we?

Perhaps the one slight disappointment that I've got about it is the way the Daleks have been used. We're introduced to their part in the narrative without any fanfare - we simply cut right to some of them in Davros' lair. I know I used to joke about the fact that the 'Episode One Cliffhanger' would be the pepper pots turning up, even though we know they're in it from the title, but I sort of want a bit more of a song and dance made of them. The best Dalek moment in the entire episode, for instance, is as we watch the Doctor and Peri walking off down a large ramp into the complex, and suddenly behind them, right up close to the camera, a Dalek whizzes by. That's actually scary. If we hadn't seen the Daleks in the story yet - and if you didn't know that they were in it - I think that would be a real 'heart skips a beat moment'.

It would also be helped by the fact that we've got Daleks in this episode quite unlike the ones we're use to. Back in Day of the Daleks, I complained that in the colour-era stories, the Daleks always looked a bit rubbish. They're tatty, and broken. The different props have been mixed and matched and put together wrong, so they don't fit. The paint work has been touched up in dribs and drabs, where you can still see the wet patches, and they're that dull grey colour. It worked well for the bleak Genesis of the Daleks, but they just don't have the flair or style of the 1960s versions. But here! Oh! They're white and gold! They're brand new, and I've always loved this colour scheme on them. It adds to the moment when one glides past the camera, because you're almost not quite sure. It looked like a Dalek, but could it be…?

This episode is also home to the glass Dalek, and it's - you've guessed it - another image that's been seared on my brain from reading Doctor Who: The Legend years and years ago, before I saw this tale. There's something so wonderful about the idea, and I love the way it's been lit, sat up on its little platform. Beautiful. I'm sure that a similar creature appears in Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, and it's no wonder that it's made the jump from page to screen, because it's such a beautiful visual concept.

While I'm on the subject of visuals - how lucky were they to have been hit by so much snow during the filming of this one? That opening shot of the TARDIS arriving on the bank of a river, with the snow being blown around by the wind, and the winter sun sitting in the sky… oh, it's beautiful. As the Doctor and Peri explore, you can't help but think that there really is something a bit alien about all of this, and it seems so perfectly suited to a story that's so steeped in the tones of death. I can't help but think that had they filmed this simply on a regular wet autumn day, it would have looked pants.

28 October 2014

The celebrated actor and writer Mark Gatiss will be the special guest speaker at an event in London on 30th November celebrating Galha LGBT Humanists, a network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender humanists. 

Gatiss, is well known for writing for and acting in programmes like Doctor Who, Sherlock, and The League of Gentlemen, and is a firm favourite on both sides of the Atlantic, appearing in fan-pleasing recurring roles in shows like Game of Thrones and Being Human

Mark has been a firm supporter of campaigns for LGBT rights, as well as humanist activism, over many years. At the Galha Annual Lunch, he will be talking with guests about his commitment to these issues, and toasting to another successful year for Galha, which brings together LGBT people for special events and promotes equality and diversity, particularly in respect of sexual orientation and identity matters.

The lunch, which will be at Browns Covent Garden in central London, will see Mark honoured with the 2014 LGBT Humanists award, and will also feature a fundraising raffle. All profits will go directly to funding Galha’s activities.

Riccy Unwin, Chair of Galha LGBT Humanists, said:

"Mark is a fantastic actor and writer, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have him as the guest of honour at this year’s Annual Lunch. The Annual Lunch is always one of Galha’s most popular events, and this year is shaping up to be a very special occasion. Any fans of Mark ’s who are curious about what we do and would like to come along are more than welcome to join us at Browns on 30th November."

+  Tickets for the event are on sale now at: www.humanism.org.uk/LGBTlunch

[Source: GALHA]

 

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