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16 October 2014

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

Day 654: The Twin Dilemma, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I knew there was something that really perplexed me about The Twin Dilemma, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Today’s episode brought it all flooding back - it’s Mestor’s plan. I rather like the idea that they plan to make the sun expand, pushing the Gastropod eggs out among the galaxy (I’m sure that’s not completely scientifically accurate, of course…), but I’d lost track of why the twins were there. For ages now, I’ve assumed that they were a bit like the Logopolitans, and that they were so good at mathematics that their sums were able to physically change the universe. Indeed, in Episode One, their father tells them that they don’t understand just how powerful their maths can be. I’d figured that Mestor needed the twins to use their maths to aper the state of the sun, therefore bringing it to the point of expansion. Where this had always confused me was that I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just have them calculate a way to send the eggs scattering anyway. But the impression I get from this episode is that the boys are simply required to do the maths and figure out where to point the Tractor beam, and for how long? Do you see where I may have gorton confused?

It also strikes me as very odd that Azemel can have overlooked the disastrous consequences of this for so long, considering how easily he realises when the Doctor points out that there’s a flaw in the plan. It’s put down to him having a lot on his mind, but wouldn’t it be so much more sensible to have simply said that Mestor was blocking off any thoughts about that? We know the king slug is in the man’s mind reading his thoughts, so it seems so silly to not then use it as a better excuse! It’s just an example, and there are several in The Twin Dilemma, it has to be said, of simply lazy writing. I think I’m right in saying that this story went through several problems at script stage, but you’d think they’d still try and pay a bit more attention at script stage!

Over the last few days, I’ve managed to avoid discussing the Gastopods themselves, but I can’t just ignore them forever! I’m sorry to say that they really don’t work. It’s a pity, because Mestor’s face design isn’t all that bad, but it’s when you see the full body, or watch his soldiers stalk around in the tunnels, that everything simply falls apart. It seems especially sad when you think about how well they did the woodlice-esque Tractators earlier in the season! Another example of the end-of-season budget deficit in action?

I mentioned on Facebook the other day that I’d just started out on this story and that I was really enjoying it. There were a fair few responses, ranging from complete bafflement at the fact that anyone could enjoy this tale, to people agreeing that it’s nowhere near as bad as everyone says it is. I think my friend Malcolm summed it up best, and managed to get in some nice examination of the Doctor’s evolution across the four episode, too;

”It's engaging, and Colin shines really well - and he is really up against it too, but he is committed, as he has been since (in fact no other actor has had his level of commitment to the show in my view). As a kid, the Gastropods made a bigger impact than anything in Androzani, and there's more than a glimmer in truth about the new Doctor not having a certain 'feckless charm’.

Even the scene where he attacks Peri is, at least, a brave, if very misguided, experiment. Horrible, though. And at the end when he says that he is the Doctor 'whether you like it or not' comes after a lot of soul searching - The Twin Dilemma for me is one moment where the Doctor knows he's strange, unlikeable, garish and hard to swallow, and that he even lacks any dress sense. In the end, despite the unsavoury moments, the Doctor's acceptance of himself, whether people externally think he's popular or not, or whether they'd laugh or deride him for his clothes/style, is a really powerful message - you can be different and you can be proud to tell the world that - whether they like it or not.”

Even though the story has slowly gotten bogged down a bit more each day, I can honestly claim that I’ve really enjoyed it. All four episodes have been completely fun and engaging to watch, and I know that it’s a story I’ll be able to throw on again and still enjoy. I dare say that it’s something I could watch over and over far more than something like The Caves of Androzani. While that story may be technically very good, with well-rounded characters, fab direction, and a real sense of doom, The Twin Dilemma is Doctor Who enjoying itself, and that’s always good fun... 

15 October 2014

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

Day 653: The Twin Dilemma, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Do you know, I’d quite forgotten that the Doctor makes a comment in this episode about his lack of dress-sense. I suppose that means that this is the right point to actively discuss the Sixth Doctor’s costume, because I’ve not really touched on it before - and I can’t ignore it forever! Recently, I’ve done some graphic design work on a range of postcards for the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. One ‘strand’ of the postcards is images of all the Doctor’s costumes, from Hartnell onwards, even side-stepping in to ‘other’ Doctors, such as John Hurt’s War Doctor, Tom Baker’s Curator, or David Morrisey’s Jackson Lake.

The complete set looks - if it’s not immodest to say - fantastic. There’s something really nice about having all of the different costumes displayed like this, and it’s a great chance to really look at each individual one. It has to be said that Colin’s really does stand out, coming between Peter Davison’s outfit (largely beige), and Sylvester McCoy’s first costume (with - again - a beige jacket). Although I’m rather fond of both those costumes, I can’t help but like the way that the Sixth Doctor’s ‘totally tasteless’ outfit shines through in the middle of them.

The same is true when I’ve got the action figures out on a shelf - there’s something oddly pleasing about the way that the Sixth Doctor makes an instant impact. I used to have them on display in the living room of a previous flat, and this was always the one people pointed out when first seeing them. It’s a talking point, if nothing else! Where I think it perhaps went a little bit wrong was in keeping this style for Colin’s entire run on the programme. He’s often spoken in the past about how much he’d have rather Chris Eccleston’s ‘look’, and there’s lots of fan-made examples of this incarnation in various velvet jackets (indeed, when he tries on a Pertwee-style top in this story, it really suits him). I can’t help but think that we needed this outfit here to show him completely at odds with the world, before slowly pairing it back to something a little less brash as time wore on. Still, his comments on the outfit today come as part of him addressing his new persona rather beautifully:

But look at me. I'm old, lacking in vigour. My mind's in a turmoil. I no longer know if I'm coming, have gone or have even been. I'm falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense.

It’s the Doctor being over-dramatic once again (and, as in Episode One, Peri beautifully cuts through this pomposity by telling him to stop feeling sorry for himself), but it’s possibly the best example of the plan to have this Doctor soften out as time went by. It’s the Doctor actively musing on the way his new incarnation, and it’s not the only example of it in this episode. There’s plenty of self-reflection early on, too, when he contemplates that Peri would still be worried for him, when he’s been rude, and arrogant, and has tried to kill her. I’m hoping that there’s more of this to come - not only in the rest of this story, but the rest of this era - because it’s rather wonderful.

Ah, but hark at me, focussing all of my attentions on Colin Baker again! Around him, The Twin Dilemma continues to lose me a little - but more because it’s falling back into beans simply an ‘average’ story, not because it’s a bad one. I rather like the idea that Azmeal has brought the twins here in an attempt to ‘save’ his world, and I even believe that the idea of the twins could be a good one… but this pair aren’t really the best actors the programme has ever seen, are they? There’s lots of moments in the episodes so far where they’re talking in unison, or even alternating their lines to form a complete conversation with other characters, and it should be unnerving. With a better pair of actors in the role, I think it really would work!

Sadly, they’re not the only performance I’m not completely enjoying. Kevin McNally has something of an unenviable job in the role of Hugo here, and I’m sorry to report that I’m finding him more annoying than anything else. Yesterday, I mentioned that the way he was dressed (both in uniform and then in the… thing he takes from the TARDIS wardrobe did him absolutely no favours, and it seems today that the script has stopped trying to help him either. He gets his feet caught in the Gastropods’ slime trail, with it setting like concrete. It takes ages for him to free himself from the predicament… but why doesn’t he just slip his shoes off? He can even nip back in to the TARDIS for some glittery ones if he wanted! All I can assume is that he has to pay a fine to the space police for every bit of uniform he loses, and he can’t really afford that this month…

14 October 2014

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

Day 652: The Twin Dilemma, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Well… yesterday’s entry seems to have ruffled a few feathers! Hugely pleased to see so many comments of praise for the story, too! I’m sticking by it, though, because those first 25 minutes of The Twin Dilemma are brilliant, and easily as good as some of the real ‘classics’ from over the years! That said, I’ll admit that this is the episode where the problems really start to set in. While I’ve still enjoyed today’s instalment, there’s a lot more things cropping up which are harder to see the good in. Let’s start with one of our guest characters: Lieutenant Hugo Lang.

Some characters in The Caves of Androzani - I’m thinking especially of Morgus and the upper ranks of the army - are forced to wear 1980s ‘futuristic’ BBC costumes. They’re not great looks, and they could become quite distracting. What helps is that the people inside those costumes are well rounded, and therefore we spend more time focussing on who they are, and what they’re doing, rather than the clothes they wear. Here, Lang isn’t given a whole lot of character so far, and the frankly awful costume they’ve stuck him in really doesn’t help. He’s not even a tenth as rounded as the characters in Androzani, and that really does count against him. When we first see Lang in the police office, he comes across as - effectively - a junior office boy. He answers the call about the Zanium, and passes the memo on to his superior. He’s then the one tasked with leading the fleet in pursuit, and suddenly he’s supposed to be a somewhat powerful person! We then see him as the only survivor of Mestor’s attack, where he takes it upon himself to apprehend the Doctor and Peri.

In some ways, I’d be able to buy this with only a few minor tweaks here and there. It’s really in this episode that things start to fall apart for him. Passing out, he’s then left alone in the TARDIS, though Peri has taken the precaution of hiding the power pack to his gun. Fine, not a problem. That she chooses to hide it in the wardrobe isn’t all that perplexing, either, considering that they’ve just spent a fair amount of time in there while choosing the Doctor’s new togs. But then, as Lang goes searching for his ‘prisoners’, he happens to stumble into the wardrobe purely by chance. Is it near the console room? It didn’t take long to collect the Fourth Doctor’s coat during Mawdryn Undead, so again, I can just about buy it.

But then! Lang seems to decide that since his clothes are a bit dirty, he’ll try on some of the ones he’s just found in the wardrobe room! Why the heck not? He ends up picking something ridiculous and garish - even more so than the Doctor’s clothes - and it just happens to be the outfit that Peri has stashed the power pack in. It’s all just a bit too much of a coincidence for me to go along with.

To bring this back around to my initial point, the fact that Lang comes across as pretty incompetent as a character isn’t helped by the design that they’ve created for this intergalactic police force. They look like they’re wearing ‘futuristic’ BBC costumes, and not particularly good ones at that. The character already starts off at a disadvantage because he’s been designed to look a bit silly. It’s things like this which harm The Twin Dilemma more than anything.

Thankfully, though, Colin Baker is still electrifying in the role. I enjoy the way that he strides up the hills of Titan 3 performing to Peri, and then has another turn in the tunnels, where he begs the aliens not to harm him, and instead offers up Peri in his place. It’s still quite unlike anything we’ve become used to for the Doctor, and Baker is really going for it! I have a feeling that even when other ares of the stories are letting themselves down, he could well be a saving element! 

13 October 2014

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

Day 651: The Twin Dilemma, Episode One

Dear diary,

I feel the need to open today’s post with a confession. I love The Twin Dilemma. I really do. When it first came out on DVD about five years ago, I dutifully picked it up on day of release, took it home and tried to prepare myself for what has consistently been voted the worst Doctor Who story of all time. It’s just a fact that we all know is true. They don’t come any worse than this. But then, the story played out, and I really enjoyed it! It’s bright, and bold, and colourful. It’s bombastic, and loud. Colin Baker hits the ground running just as well as Tom Baker did in Robot, and watching these four episode the first time round is one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who viewing experiences that I’ve ever had. That said, I’m not blind to the story’s faults (and there are many), but I think it’s probably key, in the ‘worst story of all time’, to look on the positive.

In today’s episode, the positive is almost certainly Colin Baker. I’ve already said how well he hits the ground running, and it’s worth repeating, because he’s fantastic in this one! Over the years, a reputation has built up to suggest that he was a rubbish actor, and thus the series went downhill when he appeared. No, sorry, that’s simply not true! He’s great, and I love the way that he’s playing the part here! There’s one moment in the episode where his performance does get incredibly hammy, but then it’s instantly cut through by Peri, and it’s supposed to have been so awful! It’s this exchange;

Titan Three. Thou craggy knob, which swims upon the oceans of the firmament. Receive this weary penitent.

I think I'm going to be sick.

That’s just one of the moments that left me hooting loudly in front of the screen today. Having the Doctor and Peri trapped alone in the TARDIS for most of the episode means that we get plenty of time to watch them scope each other out post-regenration. Which brings me to the defining moment from today… the strangling incident. On the one hand, it’s probably not the best idea to show your new Doctor trying to strangle his companion in their first episode together. It’s not exactly the best way to endear the man to the audience. On the other hand, though, it does make a kind of narrative sense!

The Doctor’s fairly stable here, but he occasionally lapses into moments of insanity. During one of these, presumably, he remembers that of his last two companions, one was put aboard the TARDIS by the Black Guardian with a plan to kill the Doctor, and the other was in constant contact with his arch nemesis all along! No wonder the Doctor suddenly suspects that Peri could well be an alien spy - and with the Master’s penchant for disguises, anagrams, and games at this point, calling the spy ‘Peri’ as a nod to Persian mythology is just the kind of thing he would do!

I think where this starts to fall apart is that it’s over with almost instantly. The Doctor snaps, and tries to strangle his companion. She manages to repel him with his own reflection. The berates him briefly for trying to kill her… and then things just carry on as normal! Oh, sure, she’s not really very happy with him, but it’s as though we’re suddenly supposed to just think that they’re past that little misdemeanour. I think it’s something lacking in the scripting department - in the same way that it bothers me how quickly the Doctor decides to go and get changed. That could be fixed so easily, too: He asks Peri about his appearance, and then adds that the clothes are easily changed. All we need then is a line of the effect of ‘in fact, I’ll do so now!’

I’ll talk about the actual story of The Twin Dilemma, and the guest cast, over the next few days, because I fear I’ll not be able to be as glowing with praise as I am about other things in this episode, but I’d like to point out two things in this episode that are very well done, and might not crop up later in the tale. For a start, the model shots of the Freighter and the Police… vehicle, are fantastic. They’re some of the best models that we’ve had in the show. The surface of Titan 3 doesn’t look too shabby in model form, either! Then you’ve got the wreckage of the crashed spaceship, and it’s brilliant. I mean, really brilliant. By far, it’s the best thing they’ve created for this episode - it’s huge, and set in that landscape, I’m really impressed with it. I think it’s great that even a story which gets consistently voted the worst the programme has ever produced can have so many things to love about it - there’s something about Doctor Who that truly is special. 

12 October 2014

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

Day 650 Extra: Fifth Doctor Overview

Dear diary,

We’ve reached a turning point for the marathon with the Fifth Doctor. Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee all have a similar number of episodes, so they each take about the same amount of time to complete at the pace of an episode each day. Tom Baker comes along and really up the ante by having around 50 episodes more to sit through, so he ends up taking even longer to watch. Then you reach Peter Davison, and things drop right off. He’s been around less than three months for me, and that’s simply unheard of. Worse still, from here on out, things don’t get much better! Colin Baker’s only going to be with us for the next month or so, and Sylvester McCoy for a month after that… McGann’s only here for one night, and even when we reach the new series, there’s only a fortnight of Eccleston! In short: it feels really strange to be writing a Doctor Overview post so soon after writing the last one - it feels like I’ve hardly gotten to know the Fifth Doctor.

That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed having him around, though. If anything, the last three seasons have chimed with my inner child more than anything else that I’ve watched for this marathon so far. That’s not to say that they were always perfect (they weren’t, as some of my scores will attest), but they covered topics and locations that I know I would have lapped up at the ages of eight or nine. This particular incarnation, the people who travelled with him, everything about this period of the programme just feels so right for me.

We kicked off with Season Nineteen - which has come out with the highest average rating of Davison’s three seasons for me, at 6.96. I think it’s fair to say that the season was helped massively by the fact that Kinda received a full-on ’10/10’ for one episode, the first score that high I’ve given out since Genesis of the Daleks right back at the start of Tom’s time in the TARDIS. That said, Earthshock fared rather well with me, and even stories like Four to Doomsday, which I’d never given a second thought to, were right up my street.

Season Twenty was the one I was looking lest forward to, and I think that comes across in the scores. It averaged just 6.18, which puts it in last place for the Fifth Doctor. I don’t think there was any real stand out classic for that season, even though Mawdryn Undead fared well with me, and that’s a shame. General reaction seems to be that Enlightenment is the great one from that year, but it simply didn’t really work for me - certainly one to try again in the future, I think. The weight of the Black Guardian trilogy bearing down on it just took away from the story I wanted to enjoy. Just as an aside, I’ve not included The Five Doctors as part of Season Twenty - that one sits out on its own, just as it did on broadcast.

Then we get to Season Twenty-One, and what feels like a real shot in the arm for the programme. This is the first time since the 1960s that I’ve been looking at a season average while I’m still working through that run of stories - with The Twin Dilemma finishing up the year from tomorrow. We’re back up to an average of 6.7 so far, but that could obviously change after the next few days. I’ve really been enjoying Season Twenty-One, especially stories like Frontios, which really grabbed my attention. I have a feeling that there may be some grumbles about the fact that The Caves of Androzani hasn’t come out on top for me - I enjoyed it a lot, but I just liked a couple of other Davison stories better! 

The Sixth Doctor is likely to fly by - it’s only another month or so until I’ll be writing another one of these ‘overview’ posts! He comes in for a lot of stick in Doctor Who fandom, but I have to say that I’ve been really looking forward to reaching this period. I’ve seen all of his stories before, and I’ve always enjoyed them, but I’m excited to see how they fare in the context of all the other stories I’ve been watching. Here’s hoping they still stay strong in my mind!

12 October 2014

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

Day 650: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been banging on for the last couple of days about the way the Doctor is being put through the wringer in this story, and this final episode doesn’t disappoint in holding that tradition up! I love that we spend the full episode with him in a state so unlike we’re used to seeing - with a cut on his head, and his costume caked in mud and blood. The Doctor has never looked so out of his depth and lost before, but by the same token, he’s never looked this determined, either. This really has to be Peter Davison’s finest hour in the role - do you remember through Season Nineteen, when I used to track the way his performance was evolving while he worked out how to play the part? He’s been on good form for ages now, but this episode is probably where it really clicks for him… just in time for him to die!

I’ve not really mentioned the direction of this story all that much so far, because I’ve been waiting to bring it up at the end here. Grahame Harper remains the only director who worked on the ‘classic’ series who came back to do work on the 21st century version, too. It’s not hard to see why when you’re watching something like The Caves of Androzani, and you can really see the skill that he’s putting into everything. There’s no end of little moments that I could pick out - like the scene in Episode One where Morgus has a conversation with Chellak on a kind of video screen. It’s almost become the bread-and-butter of futuristic Doctor Who stories, and we’ve seen characters video-conferencing like this since the Hartnell days of the programme, but Harper has managed to find a new and unique way of shooting it - including the back of Chellak’s head for reverse-shots! As I say, a simple thing, but something which really does stand out as being different.

Then there’s today’s episode, and particularly the chase of the Doctor across the barren landscape. It’s possibly the finest moment of the story, and I have to admit that I was gripped throughout. Thankfully, Harper manages to then take this interest and hold it in place for the rest of the episode. When the Doctor’s journeying through the tunnels to find the bat’s milk, it feels tense. In the back of my mind, I know there’s not long left in the episode, and we’ve still got to fit the regeneration in there somewhere… there’s a real energy to it and it almost makes you feel a bit sick, just knowing how much the Doctor is up against the clock. Truly, masterfully done.

Of course, though, the crowning moment comes in the form of the regeneration. As with all of them throughout the programme’s run, I’ve seen this scene more times than I’ve seen any individual episode of Doctor Who. Every line, and ever beat of every line, is burnt onto my memory. That said, it really is no substitute for watching the action in context - not only with the rest of the story, but the 649 days that have led me to this moment. I’ve already praised Davison’s performance today, but it really does bear repeating - because his absolute finest moment comes as he lay dying on the floor here.

There’s been debates for years about how the Big Finish audios giving Peri more adventures with the Fifth Doctor between Planet of Fire and this story can lessen the impact that he’s given his life to save this girl he’s only just met. I have to admit that I prefer the idea that they’ve not spent much time together, but it’s because I think the Doctor is feeling incredibly bitter here. There’s one exchange in particular which has always felt a little bit scary to me:

Where is it?


The bat's milk!

Finished. Only enough for you.

There’s a hint - just the tiniest hint - of resentment in the way that Davison delivers that final line. There’s almost shades of the Tenth Doctor’s rage at having to give his life to save Wilf, having already survived saving the entire world. It’s not explicit, and I think that works to its advantage - the Fifth Doctor isn’t a man who would outwardly resent having to give his life for another person. Indeed, of all the Doctors to date, I think he’s the one who would most willingly do so to save another (just take Mawdryn Undead as an example, where he refuses to give up his remaining regenerations, until he knows that Nyssa and Tegan are in danger), but still, I like that in his final seconds, he’s allowed to have just that tiny bit of anger, just tucked away under the surface.

Speaking of Nyssa and Tegan… here they are! And Turlough, Kameleon, and Adric, too! This is my favourite example of the classic companions coming back to hall will the Doctor on into his new life, and there’s something really rather poignant about Adric being there, and being the Doctor’s final word. It’s great to see them all again - albeit briefly - and I love the way that they all pop up out of his mouth! The Master puts in an appearance, also, and he’s possibly never been more terrifying than he is here! willing the Doctor to his death… yeah, that’s rather smart.

And that’s it! The Fifth Doctor has taken his final bow, and we’re off on some more colourful adventures with the Sixth Doctor from tomorrow. It’s all change, again, and it’s… well, it’s come around rather quickly! You’ll find my ‘Fifth Doctor Overview’ post further up the news page here on Doctor Who Online. 

11 October 2014

As a Doctor Who fan, Mark Speed always wondered about the Doctor’s family. Did he have siblings or cousins? Having grown up with the series since he was a toddler (hiding behind the sofa from Patrick Troughton's enemies), he has struggled with the inconsistencies caused by fifty years of different scriptwriters. 

Once he started asking questions Mark realised there might be an interesting explanation: an alternative or parallel Whoniverse. How is Who’s younger twin, and he’s been struggling since his brother’s TV debut in 1963.

Doctor How And The Illegal Aliens is one fan’s loving and light-hearted tribute to the greatest series in TV history, and is free on Kindle from October 10-12.

This video explains more:

+  UK Ordering: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00IWC40JK
+  USA Ordering: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IWC40JK

[Source: Mark Speed]

11 October 2014

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

Day 649: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s a special feature on the DVD for The War Games all about regeneration in Doctor Who. It’s one of those features that you’d watch once and that’s it - I’ve been a fan of the programme long enough, and I know all there is to know about a topic like regeneration. Except, I’m not all that familiar with The Caves of Androzani, I’d never watched it properly before, and thus I’d never noticed that the Doctor doesn’t start his regeneration by laying on the floor of the TARDIS console room, with Peri leaning over him… he starts it here. It’s Clayton Hickman who points it out in the documentary:

”You get a fore-shadowing of his regeneration at the end of Part Three. Just when he’s trying to steal that spaceship, he starts looking at the stars, and you get the sort of Quantel-y regeneration thing coming towards him and he fights it off! So you’ve got a whole episode of Peter Davison surviving just so he can save Peri. It’s not flagged up - there’s no fan fare - it’s just him refusing to die until he’s saved his friend. That’s Davison all over.”

I have to admit that I really love this. Once it’s been pointed out, you can’t un-see it, and it does add a whole new layer to the Fifth Doctor’s departure. I’m also loving just how much this Doctor is being put through the wringer before he’s allowed to bow out. I’ve already touched on it in the last couple of days, but here we’ve got the Doctor being smacked by Sharaz Jek, abused by the gun runners, still in a lot of pain from the slow death of his infection, and now he’s crashing in to a planet! It’s fair to say that he’s really going out in style!

On the whole, I’m finding a lot to really love in The Caves of Androzani (and much of that does continue to come down to Robert Holmes’ way with scripts), but I can’t let it go by without mentioning the Magma Beast that provided the cliffhanger from yesterday’s episode in to today’s. I’ve seen it pointed out as the one flaw in an otherwise perfect story, and it has to be said that it really isn’t good, is it? Even Grahame Harper’s direction isn’t able to save it. I’m sort of surprised that it doesn’t get picked up on more ‘worst monster’ lists, with things like the Myrka, the Nimon, and the Gastropods.

And while it’s not a fault of the story, I feel the need to make note of how awful the subtitles on this DVD are. Not the ‘Information Text’ ones, but just the regular programme subtitles. I’ve taken to keeping them on while watching episodes, because they come in handy when working out how to spell a character’s name, or hearing some of the less audible parts of the dialogue. On the whole they never bear talking about because they simply do a good job of transcribing what’s happening on screen… but they’re appalling on this story, and have been since Episode One. There’s several lines that have been missed out completely or altered (changing the meaning in at least one case!), and in today’s episode they twice manage to get the planets ‘Major’ and ‘Minor’ the wrong way round! A shame, because the quality is usually rather higher!

11 October 2014

Before tonight's episode (8.8: Mummy On The Orient Express) airs, the BBC have released a short, behind-the-scenes clip from Doctor Who Extra, featuring a glimpse at Foxes song which will feature in the episode.

The singer can be seen performing a jazz version of Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now', before getting to explore the TARDIS set.

Check out the video in the player, below:

+  Mummy On The Orient Express airs Tonight at 8:35pm, on BBC One.

[Source: BBC]

10 October 2014

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

Day 648: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We’ve not had Robert Holmes writing for Doctor Who since The Power of Kroll, an absolute age back. Indeed, we’re in a period of the programme’s history where writers from the older seasons aren’t as welcome any more. It has to be said that Kroll didn’t really fare all that well with me (a victim, I think, of The Key to Time series being a bit of a slog - I was just a bit burnt out), but before that, he kicked that year off with The Ribos Operation, which I enjoyed a lot more. Something that I praised there was Holmes’ ability to build convincing worlds, and to populate them with believable characters and situations.

There’s certainly that skill on show again in The Caves of Androzani, and it shows up far more today than it did yesterday. Here, we’re presented with two planets, and it feels as though the stories the Doctor and Peri have wandered in to are truly fleshed-out. I can understand Jek’s motivations for prolonging this war, because we’ve seen first-hand just how despicable Morgus can be. In the first episode, cutting away to the man in his office, staring straight down the camera, felt like a distraction from the story I wanted to be watching, but here I can really appreciate the role it plays in building this society - his interactions with the president are simply fantastic. I particularly enjoy this exchange;

Those without valid employment cards will be shipped off to the eastern labour camps.

Of course, the irony is while you've been closing plants here in the west, you've been building them in the east. So if the unemployed were sent to the eastern labour camps, a great many of them would be working for you again, only this time without payment.

I hadn't thought of that.

Of course you hadn't.

It’s hugely revealing of the way the system works in this world, and it’s all crafted so beautifully into just a few short lines. I’ve condensed the conversation above, to spare the space on the page here, but the heart of the conversation is preserved, and wonderful.

I think it’s also telling that everyone in this world is operating selfishly, and you sort of take a dislike to them all… apart from Jek! He’s acting out of pure hatred and revenge for what’s happened in the past, while Morgus is helping to line his own pockets with the above exchange, and Chellak is willing to send his men on ‘deep penetration’ missions in order to save face in front of his superiors. This is a harsh world, where people look out for themselves, and it seems fitting for Season Twenty-One’s darker tone.

Speaking of which… we get a rather nice description today of the Fifth Doctor’s final few hours, as Salateen describes the effects of Spectrox Toxaemia is great detail. I love that this description comes as we’re already seeing the Doctor and Peri experiencing some of the effects, and knowing that this is the Fifth Doctor’s final adventure adds even more poignancy to the situation - we know he’s going to be dying soon anyway, so it’s a shame to see it come in the form of such a slow and painful infection. All the previous Doctors have gone out simply through events in their final episodes (Hertnell is perhaps the one exemption, as he’s been weakening throughout The Tenth Planet, but it’s not really until the end that the energy drain really affects him), so as the Doctor himself will go on to note later in the story, it ‘feels different this time’. The sweetest of all the Doctors is the one who has to endure the most drawn-out demise. 

9 October 2014

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

Day 647: The Caves of Androzani, Episode One

Dear diary,

Right then! It feels like an age since I’ve had the chance to say this, but The Caves of Androzani is one of those Doctor Who stories that people always cite as being an absolute ‘classic’. A full-on, 10/10. In 2009, it was even voted the number one story out of the programme’s first 200, by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine. I’ve seen it before, mostly, and I have to admit that I didn’t really find it much better or worse than any other tale. I can hear you sharpening your pitchforks now. I’m hoping that on this occasion, I’ll finally understand just what all the fuss is about, and even though it means saying goodbye to Peter Davison, I’ll admit that I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point.

I think the highlight in today’s episode has to be the cliffhanger. Or, rather, the cliffhangers. They just keep piling up at the end here, don’t they? Not in a bad way, where it feels like the episode just needs to end already (which is a problem I had with Enlightenment), but in the sense that the situation just gets more and more unavoidable. The Doctor and Peri are in a cell, awaiting execution, when suddenly… a door slides open and someone is watching them! Cliffhanger? Not yet. The guards come to the cell to retrieve the pair, and it appears to be empty, but the camera pulls back, and our heroes haven’t managed to escape! Cliffhanger? Not yet. The Doctor and Peri are lined up before a firing squad and say their final words, before the hoods are pulled over their faces. Cliffhanger? Not yet.

That’s really the point, because in any other Doctor Who story, that moment would be the cliffhanger. Our leads would make their final declarations, the squad would take aim, prepare to fire, and just as the order comes… we’d crash into the closing titles. At the start of the next episode, we’d get a reprise followed swiftly by someone bursting into the room to delay the execution. Or something would cause a distraction, giving time for the Doctor and Peri to make a run for it. Something would come along at just the right second to spare their lives. Here, though, we’re really kept guessing, because we close on the shot of the guns firing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know how they escape this cliffhanger, but it doesn’t lessen the impact one jolt - it’s a striking way to close the episode, and shows that they’re really not letting Davison’s Doctor go out easily…

Elsewhere… are we still abroad? Planet of Fire took us all the way to Lanzarote to film the vistas of Sarn, but here we’re back in the UK… and we might as well be in Lanzarote! I meant to bring up yesterday how much better the location work was in that episode compared to some of the earlier ones (the smoking landscape, though artificially created, looks fantastic), but then we’ve got something almost as impressive here, too. It looks like we’ve got glass shots in place again to help give some extra scale to this week’s quarry, but it allows for some gorgeous wide shots of the Doctor and peri as they explore their new surroundings. You get the same sense of open space (perhaps even more so) that going all the way out to Lanzarote gave us, but done at home! I’ve often thought of this story and the last one as having very similar landscapes, but looking at it here, I can see how wrong I was on that count. It’s similar in scope, but has a completely different feel to Sarn, and I’m really impressed by it!

8 October 2014

DWO’s Spoiler-Free preview of Episode 8.8: Mummy on the Orient Express:

“An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space.”

Fans have been wondering for four years if we might get to see the Doctor catch up on his phone calls and finally head off to the Orient Express in Space to ward of an Egyptian goddess. While this episode doesn’t contain a goddess, it does provide us with an ancient legend, an Egyptian mummy, and the Orient Express. In space.

Let’s start on the design for this serial, because it really is one of the strongest of the season so far. The various production departments have really gone all-out to recreate the look and feel of the Orient Express in the 1920s, from costumes to the train carriages themselves. There was always a risk that a story set in such a confined location as a train would end up lacking the visual impact of something like Robot of Sherwood, or Kill the Moon, but Mummy on the Orient Express really holds its own. Director Paul Wilmshurst returns for a second outing on Doctor Who - having made his debut last week - and again proves himself to be one of the programme’s strongest current directors. I’d wager that there’ll be a few kids having nightmares about the mummy stalking towards them, one foot dragging along the floor…

Making his debut in the series this week is writer Jamie Mathieson, who makes a strong start for his first outing in the Who world. Mathieson’s script manages to blend humour with darker moments, and this work perfectly for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who has perhaps never struck that balance as effectively as he does here. There’s something almost joyous about watching him piece together the mystery of the mummy, and lie awake at night, talking to himself in the absence of a companion. The episode deals somewhat with this incarnation’s coldness, but we get to see him enjoying himself again, too, showing off to a carriage of people, or waxing lyrical about the area of space they’re flying through.

Stepping in to a temporary companion role this week is Frank Skinner, a self-proclaimed Doctor Who fan. In the announcement of his casting, Skinner made reference to (1964 serial) The Sensorites, and he’s spoken on chat shows in the past about his desire to appear in the series. You can really sense how much Skinner is loving being on the set, getting to work with the Doctor to save people’s lives, but you never get the impression that he’s there simply to appease his wish to be part of the programme - he’s perfectly cast in the role of Perkins, and by the end, you almost want him to tag along in the TARDIS full-time!

Five things to look out for:

1) Would you like a Jelly Baby?
2) “Goodbye to the good times…"
3) “The real wonderful is through here…”
4) Don’t stop me now…
5) “I’m not a passenger. I’m your worst nightmare.”

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]

8 October 2014

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

Day 646: Planet of Fire, Episode Four

Dear diary,

The Master stands surrounded by flame as the healing energies are replaced with fierce nature

Help me! I'll give you anything in creation. Please! Won't you show mercy to your own… Argh!!!

Oh, of course I was going to have to bring this up today. Along with the introduction of Peri, the departure of Turlough, and the fact that it was filmed abroad, this is the thing everyone knows about Planet of Fire. They were finally going to reveal that the Master is the Doctor’s brother! Do you know, it’s been so long since I last saw this story that in my head it was far more… explicit. The way the line is spoken in my head makes it sound much more as though he’s been cut off, but Anthony Ainley’s delivery doesn’t quite have the same effect - it’s more stilted. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the Doctor and the Master are siblings. It just seems too neat somehow, and I much prefer the idea that they’re friends and contemporaries. Indeed, I rather like the thought that one of them ran away from Gallifrey first, and the other followed suit because they were always trying to keep up with their cooler friend. I can’t quite decide who went first, but I love not knowing. It’s a little piece of mystery in my own head canon, and I enjoy that.

I’m not enjoying Planet of Fire as much, though, I’m sad to say. Right the way through, the story has simply failed to connect with me, and it’s hovered around a fairly average score. Today is no exemption. While there’s plenty in here that should be appealing to me… it simply isn’t. I’m not overly bothered by the plight of the people on this world, and I don’t really care about the struggles they have to go through to get to the end.

Where I am interested is when we get all of Turlough’s background. Because I’m coming to all of this some thirty years later, I know that Turlough is from Trion, and a prisoner following a bitter civil war. What surprises me is just how much all of that only gets invented here. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I’d convinced myself that little hints had been drip-fed to us right through Turlough’s time in the TARDIS, but really, this is the only mention we’ve had that he’s an alien since his arrival… and even there it’s not made all that explicit! In many ways, I should be complaining that all of this comes as an info dump in his final episode, but I really like everything we’re told, so I’m willing to completely overlook that fact. I’ll miss having Turlough (and Mark Strickson) in the programme, though, because he’s been a highlight in several stories lately!

Still, we’ve got the arrival of Peri well and truly started now. I’d forgotten (are you sensing a theme here? Lots of Planet of Fire simply failed to stick in the mind!) that she actively asks to come along with the Doctor, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves over the next two stories. What a time to join the ship! It seems an odd decision to want to tag along, mind, considering she’s had relatively little time with the Doctor so far - though they get some great time together today - and she’s spent most of the episode being threatened and running around Lanzarote trying to keep alive! I can’t fault her enthusiasm, and after a fair old stretch with Tegan in the show (much as I loved her), this comes as a real breath of fresh air.

There’s change coming…

7 October 2014

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

Day 645: Planet of Fire, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The Master’s… situation in Planet of Fire might just be the most ridiculous one he’s ever caught up in. I’ve already mocked it more than once during the course of The 50 Year Diary, and I’m sure I’ll end up mocking it again (probably tomorrow, if I’m honest). That said, the cliffhanger for today’s episode, in which Peri opens up Kameleon’s ‘Control Box’ to find a miniature Master inside, is so ridiculous and stupid… that I can’t help but love it! I think it’s almost one of those situations where something is so bad that it actually ends up twisting back round to ‘good’ again.

In fairness, I’ve rather enjoyed the Master in a lot of this story so far. He’s certainly coming across better than he did in The King’s Demons or Time-Flight. There’s something really wonderful about the fact that the Doctor is trying to convince these people to follow his advice and to help him, while making a point of telling them that he’s not the ‘Chosen One’ they’ve been waiting for. The Master (or the Kameleon-Master), on the other hand, strolls into the room and immediately starts playing the part of the man they’re expecting. I love the way he raises his arm and starts to give a sermon akin to an over-the-top preacher as he orders the Doctor to be put to the flame. It’s times like this that the Master is at his very best (it’s just a pity that it ends up undercut by the fact that he needs helping out of a box… What do you know, I didn’t even have to wait until tomorrow to mock it again!)

It feels quite monumental, too, that we’re seeing Anthony Ainley’s final confrontation with the Fifth Doctor. Back when Ainley first appeared in the programme, I commented that having him work against four different incarnations robbed him of the ‘mirror image’ effect that we had with Pertwee and Delgardo. Those two were perfectly matched - both a little pompous and arrogant, both entirely convinced that they’re right… there’s so many instances that I flagged up while watching where they’re simply made for each other as ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’. Ainley has already fought the Fourth Doctor (and even caused his demise, indirectly), and yet I’ve grown to think of him as being very much the Peter Davison Master. I’m wondering how I’ll find him in the next few seasons, when forced to go up against Colin? Certainly, at the time, I believe this was planned to be the end of the character at least for a while, and it’s sort of a shame that they ended up bringing him back so swiftly.

Also worth mentioning - the Master’s outfit in this story. When I think of the 80’s Master, I think of the velvet outfit that he’s most famous for. He gets a few variations (most notably in this story and in Survival), but it’s usually confined to being that one standard ‘costume’. It’s amazing how much swapping him out into a suit for his appearance as Kameleon helps, though! It really looks good as an outfit for the Master, and it feels so much nicer than the one he usually has to wear. I’ve seen people complain that the action figure of this Master is technically a figure of Kameleon in a suit… but I’m somewhat glad it’s the one we’ve got!

It was only during today’s episode, too, that I’ve noticed the Doctor’s outfit! You’d think, after two-and-a-half season of seeing him so often with his jacket and jumper on, that his appearance here would make more of an impact. In fact, it genuinely washed over me until today. I think it’s because this is another one of those useless facts you build up as a Who fan - I know this is what he wears for the story, so my brain doesn’t bother to kick in when I see it! As a costume, I think it works for the Doctor, and I like how much more relaxed it makes him seem. Having Turlough out of the school uniform makes it really look like the pair are on holiday, and I think I rather like that!

6 October 2014

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

Day 644: Planet of Fire, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’m not sure what the general consensus is on Peri as a character, but I really do love the way she’s being introduced in this story. With the Doctor and Turlough off having their own adventure for much of today’s episode, and Peri stranded on her own with the Kameleon-Master, it feels almost as though she’s waiting in the wings for Turlough to up and leave, before she can take her place as one of the programme’s leads. I’ve never noticed how strange this period of the programme is, with three consecutive stories ending with the departure of a lead cast member… it’s really starting to hammer home to me now that things are all change once more! I’d also like to highlight some of my favourite dialogue for Peri ever, and a line that I often find myself quoting to people completely out of context for no real reason:

You will obey me…


I am the Master!

So what? I'm Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can.

I love that she’s not taking any of the Master’s grandiose rubbish - as far as she’s concerned, he’s just a slightly shonky robot who isn’t particularly friendly. I must admit, in the past, I’ve found it hard to wrap my head around Kameleon’s role in this story, because even the cast don’t always seem to be entirely sure when someone is playing their original character, or the Kameleon copy of them. There’s a moment in today’s episode, where a piece of rubble falls onto Kameleon-in-the-form-of-the-Master’s head, and when he gets up again, he gives the bump on his head a little rub as if he’d just knocked it against something a little light. In some ways, it seems to give the impression that it’s only a tiny bump to a robot like Kameleon, but Anthony Ainley plays it far more ‘organic’ than that!

On the whole, I’m really not sure what to make of Planet of Fire. I had memories of it being a story which isn’t really here-or-there, and it didn’t leave any real impact on me. I don’t know if it’s simply that I’m waiting for the new era to kick in (and the fact that the next story has been voted the all-time-number-one Doctor Who adventure before now probably doesn’t help!), but I’m just not all that bothered by anything that’s happening here. We’ve come all the way out to Lanzarote (a location which still isn’t really being used to it’s best potential), we’ve got the annual return of the Master, the introduction of a new companion, a volcano about to erupt… and I’m just a bit bored by it all. I’m hoping that things can pick up in the next episode, because with so little Peter Davison left in the series - and having enjoyed the rest of this season quite a lot - I want to really get the most out of the Fifth Doctor while I can!

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