Time Lord Tees

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16 May 2014

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

Day 501: The Ribos Operation, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Doctor might describe some days as being ‘Temporal Tipping Points’ - special days which are so full of important (in some sense of the word) events. For me, there’s always 24th September 2007. Not only was it my very first day of University, but it was also the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures Series One (following the pilot episode some nine months earlier). As if all of that wasn’t exciting enough, it was also the release date for not one, or two, or even three new Doctor Who DVDs… but for six of them! 24th September 2007 was the release date for the set of Key to Time stories, Doctor Who’s entire Sixteenth Season. But there was a problem.

The fact that the set contained six brand new releases was special enough (and more than had been collected together at any other point in the range), but it was also a limited edition, in a nice box designed to look like the Key to Time itself. Ah, but the internet was awash with rumours. No-one was quite sure exactly how many sets there were going to be, and people who worked in various entertainment stores confirmed that they’d only be getting one or two copies in, and that they’d been unable to order any more, because the suppliers had run out already. There was no way I was going to miss it, which meant that I’d have to hurry up to Woolworths before heading off to University first thing. The only problem was… Woolworths didn’t actually open until the exact minute that my very first day of Higher Education was supposed to begin, and there was no way I could possibly be late for my very first day!

Well, we can all guess what happened. Nine o’clock came, and I was waiting outside Woolworths. Degree be damned. To be fair, all these years on, I can’t even remember what grade I achieved at University. I passed, that’s good enough for me. I sat through the day as they explained the way the course would work for the first year, then hurried him in time to catch Miss Smith battling the Slitheen. And then I settled in to start watching Season Sixteen. I decided to ration myself - a few episodes a night. Yes, this was the most ‘new’ classic Doctor Who I’d ever bought in a single hit before, but there was no point in rushing through it all too quickly!

I can’t recall mush of the season, looking back. I know that The Stones of Blood was my favourite of the bunch, and I’m sorry to say that I know I was thoroughly bored by pretty much everything else. Ever since then, I’ve consciously skipped over these six stories if choosing a Doctor Who DVD to while away a Sunday afternoon. General reception seems to be pretty mixed, all told. Some people swear by the season (indeed, some claim that it’s the programme’s final hurrah before getting steadily worse from here on out), while others think that it’s tedious, and dull, and everything I seemed to think that it was back in the day.

And yet… I think I’ve rather liked today’s episode. I’ll warn you now that I’m not really going to be discussing the story or anything too much like that in this entry - there’s another three days in which we can get around to all that! - I’ll be focussing today, really, on the first ten minutes or so of the episode. It’s something of a brave voice to introduce the entire arc of the season in what is effectively a massive info-dump right at the top of the first episode (hey, kids! Doctor Who is back on TV, and he’s chatting to an elderly man in a chair!), but there’s a lot to enjoy about it. That shot of the TARDIS being plunged into total darkness before the roundels become backlit and a blinding glow floods through the doors is beautiful, and it’s always been my favourite image of the ‘classic’ style console room. Back when I used to make up Doctor Who stories and take photos of the action figures acting them out, I always found excuses for the TARDIS to look like it does here.

And then I even quite enjoy the exchange between the Doctor and the Guardian. As I’ve said, it really boils down to a massive explanation of what this season is going to be about, but there’s some nice little moments in there. I love the threat that if the Doctor doesn’t co-operate then nothing will happen to him (…ever), and there’s something quite surreal, and perfectly Doctor Who about the most powerful being in the universe sipping his drink in a wicker chair while he explains the stakes to our hero. Most of all, though, I love that the Doctor is brought down to size, almost. Right the way through his conversation with the Guardian, the Doctor is trying to keep his flippant arrogance in check (not very well, it has to be said), while remembering that he’s addressing, basically, God. I’ve mused before about the fact that the Doctor is getting s bit big for his boots, and Tom Baker is starting to think of himself as being irreplaceable, so it’s nice to have a moment like this which cuts him down a little.

Then there’s Romana! Mary Tamm has massive shoes to fill following on from Louise Jameson (though the pair were contemporaries at drama school, so I have high hopes!), and I’m not sure she’s made the best first impression. Romana is tricky to judge so far, because she’s supposed to be slightly unlikable and superior, and that’s exactly how she’s coming across. I’m going to enjoy watching her own character arc unfold across the season (and beyond, once she’s regenerated), and see how much I like her by the end…

16 May 2014

Room 101 host Frank Skinner is the latest name confirmed to guest star in an episode of the new series of Doctor Who this Autumn.

Fran Skinner said:

"I love this show. I subscribe to Dr Who magazine, I've got a Tardis ringtone, a five-foot cardboard Dalek in my bedroom and when I got the call saying they wanted me to read for the part, I was in the back of my tour bus watching episode three of The Sensorites. I am beyond excited."

He is currently touring the UK with his stand-up show Frank Skinner: Man In A Suit, alongside presenting the Saturday Morning Breakfast Show on Absolute Radio. Skinner previously appeared in the one-off Doctor Who 50th anniversary comedy homage The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

Steven Moffat, lead writer and executive producer, says:

“It's no secret that Frank's been pitching vigorously to get into Doctor Who for a while. He's been volunteering to be 'third monster on the left' as long as I've been in this job. But now, in Jamie Mathieson's sparkling script, we finally have a part that can showcase all of Frank's famous wit and charm. Hopefully he'll get out of my garden now.”

The episode is written by Jamie Mathieson (Being Human, Dirk Gently), directed by Paul Wilmshurst (Strike Back, Combat Kids), and also stars David Bamber, Daisy Beaumont, Janet Henfrey and Christopher Villiers.

Other guest stars confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in the new series, which will air on BBC One this Autumn, include Ben Miller, Tom Riley, Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris.

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in Late August 2014.

[Source: BBC Media Centre]

15 May 2014

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

Day 500: The Invasion of Time, Episode Six

Dear diary,

At the press launch for Doctor Who Series Seven last year, Steven Moffat said of this episode:

”I thought that day, ‘Some day! Somehow, I will do what I can to get into television and do that properly!’”

It’s not hard to see where he’s coming from, really. One of the things most people know about The Invasion of Time is that it features a sequence of Sontarans chasing the Doctor and his friends deep into the corridors of the TARDIS. Sadly, industrial action meant that it needed to be filmed out on location and… well… it doesn’t really work, does it? I think we’re back to that same argument I made about Gallifrey during 8The Deadly Assassin* - I want to see something grand! To some extent, I think I could forgive this sequence if it were filmed in a castle, or some swanky modern art gallery, but having it filmed in an abandoned hospital just robs it of… hm.

I think Emma summed it up nicely when she asked if this was supposed to be the inside of the TARDIS or if they’d landed somewhere and she’d missed it. Pressed for comment on the design, she was reluctant to give one. In theory, I love the idea of the TARDIS having a number of rooms which all look the same, and it’s quite a fun gag (the first time), but I just feel let down by the whole thing. We used to get brief glimpses into the rest of the Doctor’s ship right back in the early days - visions of strange uncomfortable beds and food machines - but this is the first time we’ve ever been this far beyond that regular console room, and it’s just an abandoned building! And not even a particularly interesting one!

The fact that so much of this episode is reduced to the chase (and I use even that term loosely - it’s more of a pacy stroll) simply leaves me uninterested by much of the proceedings. Things slightly liven up when one of the Doctor pursuers is trapped by a man-size plant… but then he’s released from the threat a few minutes later seemingly without any harm. It never feels like there’s all that much of a threat to either the Doctor or the Sontarans, and the weapon which saves the day - the De-Mat gun - is build mostly-off screen, and then rendered useless after a shot has been fired.

But, oh, let’s be honest, it’s not really the Sontranas or the TARDIS or the Great key that I’m supposed to focus on today, it’s the departure of my favourite Savage. I’ve really loved having Leela - and Louise Jameson - in the series over the last few stories, and I’m genuinely going to miss her. She’s been note-perfect since the moment she arrived in the story, right up to this final goodbye with her friend. Emma claims to have seen it coming a mile off - picking up on the subtext between the pair - which is more than I can claim to have done. Certainly, both Lousie and Christopher Tranchell (as Andred) have been slipping in little moments between the characters, but Em has been more adept at spotting them than I have.

It’s going to be a shame to carry on now, without Leela aboard the TARDIS, but it’s Doctor Who shifting into a new form once again, and there’s very few things as exciting as that…

And while I’m here… I try to avoid getting too sentimental or nostalgic in The 50 Year Diary, but… well… it’s Day 500! Five-Hundred! Five-zero-zero! I’m genuinely, completely, flabbergasted that I’ve made it this far. I’ve said it before, but I genuinely did think that I’d have grown bored of the whole experiment - be it the pace, or the stories, or… well… anything, really, by about the time The Sensorites came along. And now here we are! Almost eighteen months on from the start, and an episode of Doctor Who every day richer. How brilliant.

I’m closer to the end than I am to the start, now, but I’m still really loving it all. Doctor Who really is the most wonderful, barmy, bizarre programme in the world, and I’ve loved watching it evolve and change as I’ve made my way through. And here we are, about to embark on a whole new adventure again, with a new companion, and a new quest as Doctor Who enters its first ever conscious season-spanning arc. Frankly, I can’t wait to see what the next few hundred days hold in store for me!

14 May 2014

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

Day 499: The Invasion of Time, Episode Five

Dear diary,

Something strange happened during today’s episode. About halfway through, I turned to Emma and said aloud ‘I’d forgotten how much I really love the Sontarans’. It’s only strange because, looking back at what I’ve said on their previous two appearances in the programme, I’m not sure that’s actually all that true. I was full of praise for Kevin Lindsay’s Lynx during Episode One of The Time Warrior, but after that I was far more preoccupied with enjoying the lovely setting, meeting Sarah Jane, and realising that Jon Pertwee wasn’t all that bad. By the time The Sontaran Experiment rolled around, I barely mentioned the titular creature at all! I think what I really meant, in realising how much I loved the Sontarans, is realising how much I love a good comedy Sontaran.

I see a lot of complaints around the internet (and a lot of love, too, it has to be said) for the character of Strax - the Sontaran-turned-nurse-turned-butler who crops up in several of the Eleventh Doctor’s adventures. People seem to think that having a funny Sontaran character around really ruins the effect of the creatures as a whole (it doesn’t - if played right then it can serve to make a very nice contrast when some more vicious, cold-heated clones arrive to do battle. Oh, what I’d give to see a Sontaran story set in Victorian London, with Strax sneaking among the other Sontarans to sabotage their plan - they’d never notice: they all look the same!), but I think that ‘comedy’ in the Sontrans has always been a part of it.

That’s never more true than here in The Invasion of Time, though I suspect that they’re not really supposed to be funny here. There’s just something about the way that they move through the corridors of the Citadel that really makes me smile (and, of course, we get to see more of their graceful movement tomorrow, when one tries to jump over a sun lounger), and the - let’s be honest - ridiculous attempt at doing the voice just helps to add to the humour. But it’s not all unintentional. We’re told that these Sontarans are a part of the ‘Sontraran Special Space Service’ (in my head, it’s the Seventh Section of said service), and the Doctor comments that it’s a bit of a mouthful. Even the way that the cowing Castellan Kelner acts around his latest set of masters is inherently amusing.

Yet none of this takes away from their impact, really, because you can’t underestimate the effect of having four Sontarans on screen at the same time. It seems strange to think of it now, but this is the first time we’ve had more than one on screen (yes, yes, I know that technically there were two in The Sontaran Experiment, but since one was on a screen and there was only one of the present…), and it’s the most that we’ll see in one place for the entirety of the ‘classic’ era. Even though the helmets don’t look quite as good as they did the last time we saw them, there;s no denying that it does look rather imposing to have so many of them around. And then we get to watch one of them smash up the controls of Gallifrey’s defences on location! This is the kind of thing that I was longing for during The Sun Makers - it’s a very real looking set of equipment, so it looks all the more effective when we see someone attack them!

A few years ago, I was responsible for writing segments of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space Role Playing Game. One of my jobs was to write background text for various aliens and creatures, to help add some colour to the various statistics needed to play the game. I was assigned various monsters - the Sontarans among them. We had to stick fairly closely to the televised material when creating our write ups, but we were allowed to embellish and add little things as we went along, subject to approval from those in charge! My comment about the ‘Great Sontaran Art’ renaissance was removed, but I did get to explain away the very tall Sontarans from The Two Doctors by claiming that all members of the Scientific core were unusually tall, and I got to retroactively make The Invasion of Time into a part of the Time War:

”The Sontaran War Council was furious at being denied entry to the Time War, which had started between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Locked out of the war, it became invisible to the Sontaran Race, who were considered no more than brutes. The War Council set about devising their own plan: if they could not join the already waging Time War, then they would start one of their own…”

I used the opportunity to make the whole Kartz-Reimer plot of The Two Doctors a precursor to this story, and went on to say that following their defeat at the hands of two incarnations of the Doctor, they decided to try something particularly daring, and invade Gallifrey…

”Using a ‘lesser’ race, and the Doctor himself, they forced their way onto Gallifrey, planning to steal the secrets of the Eye of Harmony – the heart of the Time Lord civilisation and the core of their power. The Sontarans planned to destroy the Eye and bring chaos to the Universe by unleashing the raw power of the Vortex upon it. The Doctor ultimately defeated them with the use of a de-mat gun, which wiped the Sontarans on Gallifrey out of time itself.

The Time Lords closely monitored any time travel technology that did make it into the war with the Rutans, and events were locked as they happened, to prevent the Sontaran race from altering history and causing havoc with the Universe.”

Now, clearly, the Sontrans in this story make no mention of the Eye of Harmony, but hey, who can blame me for wanting to devise a Sontaran battle strategy! It’s telling, also, that they come to Gallifrey looking for the Doctor. They’re not like Cybermen or Daleks, pretending to be emotionless killing machines. They’re the kind of creatures who would want to find the man responsible for their previous defeat, and make him pay for it! It’s making little connections between stories like this that I really enjoy about the universe of Doctor Who, and it means that I’m enjoying the events of this episode on a slightly different level to some of the others… 

13 May 2014

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

Day 498: The Invasion of Time, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been so looking forward to this one. Oh, I can’t begin to tell you. I’ve been excited - partly - for Emma’s reaction to the Sontarans turning up in the closing moments, and also for The Doctor’s reaction to their arrival. Heck, if I’m honest, I’ve just been excited by the prospect of them arriving on the scene. If there’s one thing that people know about The Invasion of Time, it’s that the story takes a sudden twist in the closing moments of Episode Four, as Sontarans invade Gallifrey! Now, I knew the shot of them on the stairs, overlooking the great hall, I knew there was the moment of the leader raising his… stick, I guess? I knew that it was the first time you see more than one solitary potato making up the invasion force…

But I didn’t know they were revealed in a shot of the Doctor… looking to his left. How rubbish is that? In my head, there was much frivolity over the defeat of the Vardans, the Doctor and Leela ready to depart in the TARDIS as is usual for the end of a story, before BANG! An entire wall is blown apart and four Sontaran troopers come marching out of the smoke, standing proud atop the steps, as they declare Gallifrey to be under their control. In fact, in my head, that’s still how they invade. So there.

When the moment came, I turned to Emma’s reaction. ‘Where did they come from?’ she mused, but there wasn’t a huge glimmer of interest in there. I think she’d been somewhat let down by the story when the shimmering Vardans suddenly reveal themselves to be… some rather bland humanoids in dull uniforms. After that, her attention had certainly started to wane. I think when our favourite potato heads turned up, it simply felt like the reveal we should have had fifteen minutes earlier. Here’s hoping that the warrior race are used well in the next couple of episodes to make up for it.

One of the nice things about being back at ‘home’ while watching this story is that my **Doctor Who Magazine* collection is all to hand. Issue 290 is a ‘Fourth Doctor Special’, in which a number of key Doctor Who writers (including Lance Parkin, Alan Barnes, and Steven Moffat) give their own analysis of various Tom Baker seasons. Reading through them in the last few days has been really interesting (though I’m saving the entries on Seasons Sixteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen until I reach them myself), and I’m especially struck by the article on Season Fifteen, written by Gareth Roberts.

He describes The Invasion of Time as “probably the best story of the season”, and goes on to make some rather nice points about the story, which I hadn’t really considered before:

” [*The Invasion of Time *is] the only story I can think of where the Doctor is motivated, alongside his altruism, by a deep-seated personal desire - not to take a holiday on the peaceful planet Whatnot, but to get revenge. To engineer the biggest schadenfreude he ever could get. To go back to school more or less, pretend to sell out to the Vardans, and then save all his peers and his elders and say; “clever old me planned it all along…” The appearance of the Sontarans at the end of Part Four is not only shocking and thrilling, it’s also a restatement of the series’ most basic theme - people who plan ahead (your Daleks, your Master) always come unstuck.”

It’s in reading this description that I realised - this would be a really nice regeneration story. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that when the Doctor goes too far, that’s when the time is right for him to be reborn as a new man. It’s a theme played with during the Tenth Doctor’s demise, and would work rather well here, too. The Doctor has been very clever in this story. He’s stage-managed the whole thing up to this point, and then, suddenly, he’s taken by surprise. He’s not got every last detail planned out to a tee. He’s not considered that opening a hole in Gallifrey’s defences would allow someone to come through and invade. It’s that kind of instance which then marks the right time for him to go.

Here, at the end of Baker’s fourth season, I’m still really enjoying him in the role. Right now, it still feels like a reasonable amount of time for him to stay in the role. I don’t know how I’m going to be feeling in another three seasons time, but it has to be said - this could have been a great way for him to go.

Roberts also goes on to discuss the idea that this story serves to examine the Doctor’s relationships with his current companions, especially highlighting the idea that Leela is the only one who believes in the Doctor’s ‘essential goodness’, even after the Doctor has been so brutal to her, cast her into the wilds outside the Citadel, and apparently gone over to the wrong side. It’s this which succeeds more than anything else in the story for me - I love the way that Leela refuses to give up on her friend, and it makes for some of the most powerful drama on display. Once again, and fittingly for her last story, it’s Louise Jameson who really sells this to me, and it’s another one of those instances where I tell you just how good her performances in this programme have been. The closer we get to the end of her time, the more saddened I am to be losing such a true talent from the series. 

13 May 2014

In this week’s Radio Times, on sale Today (for listings 17th-23rd May 2014) Steven Moffat recalls writing The Day Of The Doctor, revealing it was the most “difficult” and “terrifying” thing he has ever written and reveals why he chose Peter Capaldi to be the new Doctor.

Steven Moffat writes:

“When you choose a Doctor, you want somebody who is utterly compelling, attractive in a very odd way. None of the Doctors are conventionally attractive, but they’re all arresting. Handsome men don’t quite suit. Matt Smith’s a young, good-looking bloke from one angle but is actually the strangest looking man from another. You need that oddity; you need somebody who is carved out of solid star, really. Doctor Who is a whopping great star vehicle, despite the fact it changes star every so often.” 

The Day Of The Doctor is one of the nominees for this year’s Radio Times Audience Award at the British Academy Television Awards 2014 – the only BAFTA award open to public vote. Voting is open until 12pm Thursday 15th May, the winner will be announced on Sunday 18th May.

The new issue of Radio Times also includes 16-page guide to the Bafta TV Awards 2014 featuring David Attenborough, Dominic West, Rory Kinnear, Helen George, Laura Carmichael, Natalie Dormer and much, MUCH more...

+  Radio Times is out Today, priced £1.80.

+  Buy this issue of Radio Times as well as past issues from CompareTheDalek.com!

[Source: Radio Times]

12 May 2014

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

Day 497: The Invasion of Time, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Now, this is more like it! Everything is starting to lock into place, now, and the Doctor’s actions - and motives - are becoming clearer. As I’ve said before, it was likely that the alien invaders were inside the Doctor’s mind, and it turns out that they were simply reading his thoughts rather than actively controlling his actions. Still, it does explain why he was so out of character for those first couple of episodes, because a single stray thought would have led him to danger. How very like the Doctor to just go along with things, safe in the knowledge that he’d be able to sort it all out in the end.

Even Emma has been enjoying things more today than at any prior point in the story. She’s resorted to giggling every time K9 turns up on the screen (oh, who am I kidding? I’m doing exactly the same thing. Now that he’s such a part of the team, I can’t help but love the TARDIS pet - even if he is still noisy!), and she’s enjoying the fact that the monsters are so obviously made out of tin foil. The one thing that’s still really niggling her is the fact that Gallifrey seems to have bought in a bulk lot of this ‘tacky plastic rubbish’ an resorted to decorating the Citadel with it. Today, we follow characters down a corridor which has sets of green chairs placed at regular intervals, which makes it look somewhat like a waiting room at the Dentist.

My issue with Gallifrey is the leaves on the trees - they’re not silver at all, as Susan promised way back during her description of the planet in The Sensorites. That said, I like to imagine that there are artificial trees inside the Citadel which do relate to her colour scheme: Rodan clearly knows little about the world outside the glass dome, and I like to imagine that Susan was much the same, before she fled the planet with her grandfather in a rackety old TARDIS. I can’t help but love the vivid orange hue to all these outdoor scenes, though, and it contrasts very nicely with the greys and greens of the interiors. It really helps to make the outside look dangerous and alien - I’m enjoying the switching back and forth.

It has the added bonus of returning Leela to her roots, too. She’s never really grown out of her ‘savage’ persona, and that’s a good thing - she feels much more developed than perhaps any other companion up to this point. Whereas many start off with a distinct character ‘thing’ which then gets lost slowly as the stories go by (Susan is alien and weird! Sarah Jane is a journalist!), Leela has always felt like the same character throughout. That’s not to say that she hasn’t seen any development - I’ve really enjoyed watching her interactions with the Doctor, and the way their relationship has moved. It’s always been very much the role of teacher and student (I think the Doctor simply likes having someone he can show off to), but Leela feels as though she’s genuinely learning something from her time in the TARDIS.

I know that she’s off in a couple of episodes time, to stay behind on Gallifrey, and I’m really rather hoping that she gets to spend some time out here in the wilds of the planet. Although she’ll hook up with Andred (and later, in the audios, effectively become Romana’s bodyguard), it would be a crying shame to see her stuck in a life of luxury (read that as ‘boredom’) inside the Citadel. Im genuinely quite sad to know she’s off - though I’m glad she’s leaving on a high - because I’ve really grown to love Leela over her time in the programme. Even Emma concedes that she ‘kicks ass’… 

12 May 2014

Doctor Who Executive Producer and Head Writer, Steven Moffat has teased that The 12th Doctor may be headed back to a planet he visited in the 5th Doctor adventure, Planet Of Fire.

Speaking in a press release issued today, which also confirms the casting of Hermione Norris in Series 8, Moffat said:

“For the first time since 1984, the Doctor Who production team is heading to Lanzarote. The Doctor is returning to the scene of an old adventure - but there have been sinister changes since his last visit." 

On Norris' casting Moffat added:

“It's a testament to the quality of Peter Harness's intense and emotional script, that we've been able to attract an actress of the brilliance of Hermione Norris."

Speaking about her casting, Hermione Norris said:

"It's exciting to be part of such an iconic show, and one that my kids can watch!!!"

Norris has recently been starring in The Crimson Field on BBC One, and is no stranger to solving mysteries having played Ros Myers in the BAFTA award-winning drama Spooks. Prior to that she starred in comedy-drama Cold Feet.

The episode is written by Peter Harness (Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell, Wallander), produced by Peter Bennett and directed by Paul Wilmshurst (Strike Back, Combat Kids). The episode also stars Ellis George, Tony Osoba and Phil Nice.

+  Series 8 will air in Late August / Early September 2014.

Get in touch:
Do you think The 12th Doctor will be going back to Sarn? Discuss via the Forum link or in the Comments box below!  

[Source: BBC Press Office]

11 May 2014

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

Day 496: The Invasion of Time, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’ve been musing again today about the style of Gallifrey. When we last visited the planet, in The Deadly Assassin, I went on at some length about the way that I personally imagined the planet to look, before concluding that while I liked the design we get on screen, it really was just any old planet, as opposed to being the majestic home world of the Time Lords. Today, I put the question to Emma - what did she make of the fabled Shining World of the Seven Systems?

I think her opinion could be neatly divined from her description of it looking like a child’s bedroom. There’s lots of bright colours about on Gallifrey this time which weren’t there during the presidential assassination. They’ve added plastic chairs in various colours, and they carry their ancient relics around atop inflatable plastic cushions in a bright red hue. Emma seemed to feel the same way that I had - it just wasn’t what she’d expected to see from Gallifrey. Personally, I don’t think I’m all that fond of these new additions to the Citadel, either. They’ve gone for ‘futuristic’ designs in the furniture, but that just means that it’s dated all the more. I won’t say that it makes it look incredibly 1970s (indeed, I’d say in places it looks to be more 1990s than anything), but it certainly doesn’t leave you with the impression that I think they were aiming for!

It’s all the colours which caused me a problem with this story… during The Name of the Doctor. There’s a sequence from this episode (the Doctor walking down a corridor) which was used to represent the Great Intelligence, and later Clara, making their way through the Doctor’s time stream. Because of the big, green, wall in the background, I always think it looks like they’ve forgotten to green-screen the background in behind our digitally-added characters! It’s something that I simply cannot un-see now, and it does somewhat turn my opinion even more against the design!

Elsewhere, the Doctor is still acting incredibly out of character - ordering the removal of Leela from the Citadel, to be thrown out into the wilds. I’m guessing that it’s to protect her from the invasion he’s allowed to happen, but I’m not entirely sure yet. Part of the beauty here is that I can’t tell if the Doctor is faking all of this for some greater reason, or if he’s genuinely been possessed by something. He’s been taken over so often in the last couple of years, that I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. That haunting cliffhanger, where he laughs in that way only Tom Baker can, only adds to my suspicions that he’s perhaps not entirely himself at the moment.

It’s also helped by the fact that it has gone on for so long now. Usually, the Doctor might be out of character for a little bit of an episode, and even then if he’s faking it, there’s usually a wink or a nod to his companion (and the audience). Here’s he’s kept up the charade for a third of the story, and that’s making me very unsettled. There’s a number of little hints and tips towards Borusa that seem to imply that he’s waiting for the room to be properly sealed off before he can talk openly, and that makes me think even more that our mysterious alien invaders might be inside his mind, controlling some of his actions. 

10 May 2014

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

Day 495: The Invasion of Time, Episode One

Dear diary,

Ah, The Invasion of Time. It’s another one of those stories which isn’t very well liked, and its faults are all too known in fandom, even before you sit down to watch it. I’ve never seen this one, but I know the basic plot, I know the twist at the end of part four, and I know how it ends. I think that’s going to mean that I’m a bit non-plussed by the story, and that I’m just going to be going through the motions. What I really need is to be able to watch it without any of that prior knowledge about the quality or the plot. It needs to be seen through the eyes of someone completely in the dark to actually stand a chance of it being received well.

Thankfully, I’m on holiday with Emma this week. Not a massive holiday anywhere sunny or hot (mores the pity), just a simple trip back home to look after the animals while the family is away (they’ve gone somewhere hot. Boo). Six nights away, six episode of Gallifrey-based Doctor Who to watch, and one partner who doesn’t have a clue what’s to come. Surely that’s the perfect test for The Invasion of Time?

Emma was fairly silent throughout the episode itself. She usually has a fair bit to comment on (often it’s how much she’s enjoying - or not - the dress sense of the companion), but today didn’t really prompt much of that from her. Instead, she waited until the closing credits were rolling before admitting that she was simply confused by this one. To be fair, she’s not the only one. I knew that the story involved the Doctor returning to Gallifrey to assume presidency of the Time Lords, and yet the episode moves at such a pace, and sees him (seemingly) acting so out of character that you’re really not sure what to think.

That’s not to say that I’ve not enjoyed it, though. As ever, there’s some sparkling dialogue between the regulars, and for the first time it really feels like K9 is a part of the team. We’ve had scenes of him playing chess with the Doctor before now, but it now feels… I don’t know. Different somehow, but in a good way. I laughed heartily at K9 telling Leela to shut up (‘engage silent mode, mistress!’), and also his description of swimming as ‘being fully submerged in H2O.’

I think for now that it’s just got an awful lot to set up very quickly. I’m hoping that now we’re in this position, with the Doctor given all the things he needs to rule Gallifrey, we can settle down a bit and get more in to the story. Although I know the basic outline of the story, I’m not really sure what fills up these first four episodes.

10 May 2014

Yesterday, we were shocked and saddened to hear the news that Big Finish Production Assistant and Producer, Paul Spragg had died.

Paul had worked at Big Finish for over 5 years, and as well as his behind-the-scenes work, Paul provided customers and website owners and bloggers with the most fantastic service and upbeat attitude to his work which he clearly loved.

Big Finish posted a news item on their site, stating:

"Paul had worked with us for over five years and had become an essential member of the team. We will remember him for his tireless diligence, his total dedication to his job, his cheery nature, his hilarious sense of humour and his kindness and friendship.

He had relatively recently become editor of Vortex magazine (a promotion he was given 'live' on a podcast).

His work behind the scenes on contracts, script distribution, proof-reading, cover layout, studio management, CD Extra interviews, the website and so much more made him vital to the company's operations." 

Doctor Who Magazine Editor and friend of Paul since he was 11, Tom Spilsbury, posted a poignant and heartfelt tribute on his blog, here

On a personal level, Paul was the guy who provided DWO with all our Big Finish covers for our site reviews and merchandise guide. From the many emails we have bounced back and forth over the years, he had a great sense of humour and was one of the fastest email repliers out there!

Paul's partner, Natalie Hayden, issued a statement on Facebook, yesterday.

"To all of you that I didn't manage to text yesterday (I couldn't get round to everyone): there is sad news that Paul died yesterday suddenly. He'd been unwell for a few weeks, and was due to go to the GPs yesterday. But he was too breathless to be able to make it in to the surgery, so they phoned him instead. They arranged for a non-emergency ambulance to come and take him to hospital so he could be monitored. When they arrived, he was talking to them normally, and then had a seizure. He came out of that one, then had another seizure, during which his heart stopped and he stopped breathing. The ambulance crew tried to resuscitate him for two hours at home, and then took him to hospital where they tried for a further half an hour, but couldn't bring him round."

DWO would like to pass on our condolences to the Paul's friends and family, as well as the Big Finish family.

[Source: Big Finish]

9 May 2014

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

Day 494: Underworld, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Confession time: I’ve never actually sat through an entire Star Wars movie. I know, I know, that’s something tantamount to blasphemy within the sci-fi world… but I’ve never really thought of myself as a science fiction fan. I love Doctor Who, in all its many varied forms. I’ll happily sit and watch other bits of sci-fi, or fantasy, but I’ve never been one for really delving into them. I’ve simply never had all that much of an interest. The only time that this wasn’t quite true was during 2005, when people were gearing up for the release of the final Star Wars. I can’t remember where I saw it, but there was a short feature about the way in which the film had been largely shot against green-screen, and speculating that this was the way all films would be made in the future - who needed to spend time building the scenery when you can simply add it in later, making changes as you go. The thought of that absolutely captivated me (although these days, I’m not so fond of the idea), and I love that there’s a clear ancestor to that kind of production here in Underworld.

It’s fitting, in a way, because this serial was in production when the first of the Star Wars films reached the UK. I’ve spent some time tonight catching up with the special features on the DVD of this story, and Anthony Read confirms that he went - along with Graham Williams and Tom Baker - to see a preview screening of this soon-to-be-seminal film. There’s some discussion on the effect the film had towards the models’ budget for this serial (and I still think that the spaceship shots are one of the very best bits of the entire story), and I think it’s also telling with the way that the series is moving in this latter-half of the Baker years. It’s becoming more ‘spacey’: we’re going to be spending a lot more time away from Earth in the next few seasons (and I think I’m right in saying that this incarnation of the Doctor won’t be venturing into Earth’s history again for the rest of his tenure), and we’ve even got a cute robot sidekick along for the ride.

While I’m briefly touching on the subject, I do have to praise the special features on this DVD. The Doctor Who range as a whole has been ridiculously well-served over the last 15 years or so, and I think it’s fair to say that no other series - archive or not - has been given the love, care, and attention that this one has. By the standards of some discs in the range, this release is positively stripped-down, but what we do get is fascinating. There’s a thirty minute documentary about the production of the serial, looking at the parallels with the tale of Jason and the Argonauts before moving on to the actual in-studio problems, and then there’s an additional 20 minutes or so of narrated footage from the various studio days. It gives a brilliant insight into the way this programme was put together, and really highlights how hard everyone worked to even get the story to screen in the first place.

So how’s it fared on the whole? This was ranked in Doctor Who Online’s story poll last year as being the worst story of the 1970s - and by quite some margin. Well… I’m pleased to say that I’ve not actually found that to be the case for me. I’ve been updating my friend Nick on this fact as I’ve moved along and, bless him, he’s tried to understand. I think the biggest problem for me is that the story has simply fallen a bit flat. I’ve already spoken at length about the face that the plot isn’t really anything new or interesting, but the expectation of the story being terrible has had a negative effect on it. I’ve not found it to be as bad as everyone says, but it’s hardy one of the best either. It’s sort of stuck in a purgatory, and its average score of exactly 6/10 across the four episodes puts it just about right. Slightly above average in places, but not breaking out that much.

Indeed, from the 1970s, I’ve rated four stories lower than this one (The Sontaran Experiment, Revenge of the Cybermen, The Android Invasion, and Image of the Fendahl) and several others have come in with the same average score - including that supposed classic The Deadly Assassin! That’ll probably duffel a few feathers!

I’m glad that I’ve enjoyed the story more than people usually do, and there’s something nice about knowing that I’ve liked it more than several stories that I’ve already been through. It leaves me with a sense that there’s always things to enjoy within Doctor Who - even when they’re supposed to have very few redeeming features at all…

8 May 2014

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

Day 493: Underworld, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Whenever I buy a new issue of Doctor Who Magazine, I have a strict way of reading it. An order that I always take. Well, I say ‘strict’. Effectively, I turn to the ‘Production Notes’ section, read that first, and then read the rest of the issue in any old random order that I want. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember, and I can tell you why that is: I love the way Russell T Davies writes his column. And Steven Moffat after him. It’s not about grabbing little bits of production information for me, it’s about enjoying two story-tellers tell a story. There’s been so many of the columns now (well over 100), and they don’t all stick in my mind. There’s one or two, though, that for some reason I always remember.

There’s one, for example, from early 2008, which is very pertinent to the watching of this story here and now. In it, Russell finds a VHS copy of Underworld in the back of a cupboard, in the middle of the night, and decides to pop it in for a watch. He admits that he’s seen it twice before, and didn’t care for it on either occasion. But then, as Cardiff Bay wake up around him (much as it has done for me this morning - I’ve got a busy day ahead so I’m watching this episode at an ungodly hour), he finds himself changing his mind…

We’re way past Part One now! The script has moments of elegance: ‘The Tree at the End of the World is guarded by Invisible Dragons.’ There’s a Blackpool joke. There’s a pacifier ray, which makes Leela smile like a baby! There’s a villainous, arch supercomputer which actually sounds both villainous and arch in the right quantities. Better still, the villainous, arch supercomputer then realises, a second before death, how very wrong she has been. It’s actually rather moving. And, d’you know what? Sometimes, just sometimes, you can see these CSO shots as they were meant to be. The odd fleeting image has some depth, and shadow, and promise. The potential of Underworld is still there, buried under the tape

He goes on to wonder about the design of the decedents in the story, too, deciding that if you mentally block out the ‘nose’ from the gold helmet design, then they’re actually not bad creatures. There’s definitely something alien and different about them. Mostly, I’m just surprised to find that the design of the helmet (or… mask? head?) only surfaces at this point of the story - almost three-quarters of the way through! You’d think they’d want to get their money’s worth out of the costumes, but they’ve hidden them under a black hood for the majority of the tale!

Russell picks out a number of things to enjoy about this story, and he’s right with all of them. The design isn’t all that bad, and the nose does somewhat throw it off. All that talk about invisible dragons is lovely (and leads to the Doctor being more ‘Doctory’ than I’ve seen in a while, when he sets off to find them), and whereas Russell says that some of the CSO shots work, sometimes, I’m willing to say that for me, they mostly work! Maybe I’m metally blocking out the worst offenders (the ‘falling’ sequence, for example, but then that would have been of a similar quality wether they had regular sets to hand or not), but I’m not having any problems with them.

My main issue with this one is still that it’s ‘generic science fiction’. It’s a story which feels familiar because we had a variation on it only a season ago (Doctor and friends head into a mythical temple which turns out to be a lost space vessel with a faulty computer), and no one is really giving it anything more than a basic performance. The guest cast are plodding through the script, Tom is over-doing things in an attempt to make up for other failings, and Leela has a sudden lust for revolution following her recent trip to Pluto. I still maintain that there’s a lot to be enjoyed in ‘Underworld’, and it’s still far from being deserving of the ridiculously low score it’s often saddled with… but it’s certainly one of the weaker stories, there’s no denying it. 

7 May 2014

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

492: Underworld, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I know how this works. You lot. You’ll laugh, you’ll point. You’ll hunt me down with knives and pitchforks. You’ll revoke my Who card and make me surrender my DVD collection. But you know what? I’m going to say it anyway: Underworld isn’t that bad. And on top of that… the CSO actually kind of works.

Oh, believe me, I’m as stunned as you are. I was really dreading making it out of the ship today and into the the green-screen tunnels. It just seemed like such a bad idea. There’s several places where - no - it really doesn’t work: moments when characters are able to walk in front of things that they shouldn’t be able to, or when the smoke starts to fill the cavern at the end of the episode (although points for trying…), but equally there’s a lot of places where it looked good enough to me.

It’s worth bearing in mind that I’m saying this after a single episode of CSO shenanigans. By the time I’ve finished the next two episodes, I’ll probably have grown somewhat sick of it. I think the biggest shame is that while this world well enough to tell the story, it can’t ever compete with being out in real caves on location somewhere. It just lacks the kind of depth that you get when they film in locations like those used for The Mutants. This seems even more of a pressing shame coming right after The Sun Makers: a story in which to corridors and tunnels looked especially nice for being proper locations.

The other thing that seems to be happening - and especially in Tom Baker’s case - is that people are compensating for the fact it’s being shot so much on CSO by over-acting. When the Doctor and Leela first step out into the cave system, we get a few shots of him as things are explained. It’s all pretty standard stuff for a Doctor Who episode, and it’s the kind of thing that Baker could usually rattle off in his sleep.

He’s really going for it, though, and delivering a version of the Doctor that I’ve not seen him give before. He’s more ‘boggly’ than ever before. In some ways, it reminds me of that bit in the Whose Doctor Who documentary, where he describes Jon Pertwee as being like a big lightbulb. Playing up for the cameras. It’s not needed in this instance, though, and it sticks out more than any of the CSO backgrounds are.

The other issue I’m having is that… I don’t really care. Yesterday’s episode gave us a lot of sci-fi nonsense with dying civilisations, and pacifier rays, and rede banks, but as soon as we switch today to some men in hoods banging on about sacrifice, I just really thought very clearly ‘I don’t care’. It doesn’t feel rooted in reality: it’s just the kind of thing you could find in any old sci-fi. That’s not a fault particularly of Underworld (indeed, several Doctor Who episodes fall into the same trap), but it is a let down. I’m starting to wonder if the story’s poor reputation may actually be deserved - in the past I’ve only ever heard people say it’s rubbish because of the CSO effect… I’ve never actually heard anyone talk about the story

6 May 2014

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

Day 491: Underworld, Episode One

Things everyone knows about Underworld number one: due to crippling lack of budget, it was mostly shot in the studio against CSO backgrounds.

Things everyone knows about Underworld number two: the factory in Coronation Street was named after it because writers on the soap were huge fans of Doctor Who.

Things everyone knows about Underworld number three: it’s not very good. In fact, it’s terrible. When Doctor Who Online ran a poll last year to get readers to rank every Doctor Who story, it placed in position 234 (out of a total 239) with an average rating of 43.45%. It was the lowest-ranking story of the 1970s (by quite some margin - the next lowest was The Monster of Peladon, in position 217 with a score of 52.46 - almost 10% higher!). It’s hardly a glowing advertisement for this tale, is it?

Things Will didn’t know about Underworld: this first episode is brilliant. Like, genuinely, fantastic. That was a surprise!

As I’ve said above, Underworld has something of a reputation within Doctor Who. I remember when it came out on DVD (in a box set along with two other less-than-well-received stories), people weren’t exactly rushing to purchase it. It didn’t help that it was one of the first box set releases of that style, grouping various stories together with a tenuous linking theme, and had a rather high price tag attached. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been dreading getting to this point, but I’ve certainly not been relishing it. I’ve been through enough stories by now to know that when the bad ones come along, you just have to grit your teeth and bear them.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this episode started and I found myself completely captivated by it! We open with that love space vista, panning into a screen of blackness for the TARDIS to fly across. I was ready to say what a shame it was that the TARDIS couldn’t have been flying through that beautiful space shot… but then it’s part of the story that we’ve got a blank screen! And then a few minutes later, a beautiful model spaceship comes flying past us, too. I complained during The Sun Makers that the model of the city was far from being the best shot of the decade - but the various shots of this ship (both in flight and when it’s being turned into the core of a planet) are probably fairly good contenders. They look brilliant.

And then there’s that set! No wonder they ran out of money to build all the sets they’d need for later episodes (or to venture out onto location), because it’s all been sunk into creating this bridge! It’s massive which is always a good sign when they’re trying to impress you on this show, and it’s so nicely detailed. There’s a lovely shot when we first see the set, as the camera pulls forward to show us everything and it simply looks stunning. The one slight disappointment is that they seem to have forgotten to CSO in the images behind the view screens in a few shots (I assume, at least, that it’s the reason we get green windows from time to time).

If all that wasn’t good enough, you’ve got Tom Baker and Louise Jameson on fine form as ever. I love they was they joke and banter - the Doctor’s description of them being the first intelligent, and semi-intelligent, life to witness the spiral nebula is a real highlight and elicited a good laugh from me.

I worry that Underworld is already cursed, though. I’m fully expecting it to all go to pot once we start venturing outside the ship (I know most of the CSO sequences are set in caves, so I’m guessing that’s where we’re heading), which means that the story could fall into one of two categories. Either, the next three episodes will really work for me, be better than expected and earn an unexpected high score… or they’ll be so bad that they let down everything I’ve loved about this first episode. Frankly, I’m looking forward to finding out… 

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