Time Lord Tees

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21 June 2014

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

Day 537: The Creature from the Pit, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I seem to be saying, and realising, this a lot at the moment: but Tom Baker is really very good at being the Doctor, isn’t he? In today’s episode, we have a sequence lasting several minutes in which all the action is carried by Baker. He’s essentially left alone in the studio communicating with some green bin bags, and yet it’s absolutely captivating. Another thing I seem to be saying lately: it’s the best that he’s been in the role for absolutely ages. It really does feel of late as though he’s found his interest in Doctor Who again and has started putting the effort back in.

From about Season Fourteen onwards (certainly parts of Season Fifteen), it felt as though he was bored and just doing whatever the hell he fancied once the cameras started rolling, whereas here it feels like every action has been considered in a split second to suit the moment. People say that he’s the actor who is most ‘like’ the Doctor in real life, and I think we’ve gotten back to a stage here where I can really see that - and I’m honestly very pleased about it. I’ve had the opportunity to be quite down on his performance a fair bit over the last couple of months, so I’m glad that he’s found his stride and is hitting the high notes again, because it’s certainly helping to reinvigorate my interest in the programme again.

It also helps that this ‘version’ of the programme really seems to chime with everything that I enjoy in Doctor Who. People talk about the Graham Williams era being the ‘comedy’ years of the programme, and that’s never more in evidence than here in Season Seventeen, possibly stemming from the influence of Douglas Adams in the Script Editor’s chair. I’ve seen that description of this ‘comedy’ period used as something of a stick to beat the show with - I’ve said before that there’s a subset of Who fandom which doesn’t like the show being too silly about itself. But everything we’re getting at the moment just seems to work for me! It’s pitching the comedy just right for me to enjoy it, and I’ve found myself again laughing rather too loudly at a number of moments in this instalment. My notes are brimming with snatches of dialogue from all the characters, and I’m simply being swept along with the story, instead of stopping to worry too much about it.

Before it sounds like I’m falling a little too much in love with this story, I have to report that it’s not all good news. K9 is really starting to irritate again. It’s not so much the character himself - he’s given lots of things to do again, today, even if many are fairly run-of-the-mill (‘K9 - blast that wall/creature/mirror/person’) - but rather his new voice box which just isn’t working for me. The metal mutt is being more sarcastic than ever, which I’m really enjoying, but I just can’t take to David Brierley’s performance in the role. I’m sure there’s nothing all that wrong with what he’s doing, but I’ve been spoiled by being so familiar with John Leeson’s version of the tin dog.

It feels almost as though Brierley is trying to imitate what Leeson did while also taking it slightly in his own direction, but I’m simply left longing to hear our original K9 back again! I’m surprised, all these years on, that no one seems to have had Leeson record the lines and create an edited version of the stories featuring K9’s more familiar voice - there’s certainly nothing in the dialogue to indicate that he’s switched his settings (though it’s been pointed out to me today that it’s explained away by the ‘laryngitis’ comment during Destiny of the Daleks. That was over a week ago for me, and frankly I’d forgotten it, so I’m not sure it causes that much of an issue!) Someone call John Leeson, I’ll meet him at the recording studio! 

20 June 2014

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

Day 536: The Creature from the Pit, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Despite my mountain of praise yesterday for the jungle set in this story, I haven’t really missed it all that much in today’s episode. It certainly appears a lot less (I’m not sure we actually see much new footage there after the first few minutes), but everything else is being shot in such a way that I’m distracted by lots of other nice sets! Let’s start with the obvious - the titular ‘pit’. It’s shot on both film and video at various stages throughout the episode, but I’m pleased to say that it fares well under both formats. Obviously, the film sequences have a depth and texture to them that’s lacking later on, but all the parts of the episode set in this area are lit beautifully, which bridges the gap somewhat nicely. It’s another one of those instances where you get the feeling that it really is dark here, and that simply adds to the mood of the whole piece.

While I’m at it, I feel as though I should also mention the creature that lives in this pit. All I’ve previously seen of this story is the infamous scene where Tom Baker tries to communicate with the creature by talking into one of its appendages. From that sequence, I’d drawn the conclusion that it was a large creature, but nothing quite in line with, say, Kroll. I found myself rolling my eyes, therefore, when it starts being described as being ‘huge’. Then, we get to the final scene, and it turns out that the creature really is huge! How brilliant! I love that even after all these years, there’s still things about Doctor Who that can surprise me. I’ve managed to make it this far assuming that the creature wasn’t overly large, so I really got the full impact of the reveal. Every time something like this happens during the marathon, I worry that it will be the last time - but I always hope it isn’t!

Out of the pit, and up on the surface of the planet (for most of the running time, anyway), Romana is holding a lot of the action. I don’t think you’d necessarily realise that this is Lalla Ward’s first stab at playing Romana if you didn’t already know. There’s one or two little moments where she doesn’t seem to have quite worked out what she’s doing with the part, but I’m wondering if these are simply standing out to me because - subconsciously, at least - I’m looking out for them? On the whole, she’s really hit the ground running, and the character doesn’t feel out of place with anything we’ve seen in the previous two stories. I’m also loving the way that she gets to interact with K9 - picking him up to use as a gun is a great moment, and it’s always nice to see them finding new things to do with him. We’ve settled, lately, into a pattern of him sitting in the TARDIS until the Doctor or Romana get someone to blow the dog whistle and summon him. That exact formula comes into play during the first episode of this story, but he seems to be getting a bit more to do now that he’s joined the action. There’s another thing I can hope to continue.

I think on the whole, I’m mostly enjoying the humour of this story. Geoffrey Bayldon as Organon has to be chief of the supporting characters who are bringing comedy to proceedings, and I laughed heartily at his introduction (‘The future foretold, the past explained, the present… apologised for’). He seems to be filling the companion to the Doctor role in this one, while Romana is off doing her own thing, and I’m not really looking forward to his inevitable death as the story progresses! It’s another thing we seem to be seeing a trend forming for - supporting comedy characters who really help to make the story for me!

20 June 2014

Our friends over at Ultra Records are pleased to announce the release of Frontload’s newest track, appropriately titled ‘Dr. Who’.

Their latest beat combines the group’s signature electronic sound while modernising the popular Doctor Who theme song from the long running British television series, which is currently in its 51st year worldwide.

The owners to the publishing rights of the Doctor Who intro theme gave their stamp of approval by clearing the theme part of the track.

Dr. Who’ is a follow up to the group’s previous popular track titled Rebels (Wake Up).

Hear the listening track for 'Dr Who' via Ultra Music's YouTube channel, below:

+  Download Frontload’s ‘Dr. Who’ on iTunes, here.
+  Stream Frontload’s 'Dr. Who', here.

[Source: Elaine Karlsson Management]

19 June 2014

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

Day 535: The Creature from the Pit, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’m not entirely sure if Creature from the Pit is a story that’s generally frowned upon by fandom, or one that’s simply caught in that ‘no man’s land’, where things are neither good or bad, they just… exist. Certainly, it’s not a story that get’s talked about very often. It seems a shame, in a way, because this story contains a number of notable things in the history of Doctor Who.

It’s the last story of the series proper to be directed by old hand Christopher Barry, who’s been turning up intermittently since The Daleks way back in 1963 (I’ve never noticed before the odd coincidence that both Chris Barry and Terry Nation joined the series with the same story, have input across each of the first four Doctor’s era’s, and then bow out from the series just a few stories apart here). It’s also the first story filmed by Lalla Ward as Romana, as opposed to Princess Astra. We also get to hear K9’s new voice box for the first time, with John Leeson sitting this season out, and David Brierley stepping in to the role. Less noticeably, it’s also the last story to feature Terry Walsh, who’s been turning up in (mostly action) sequences for a while now, too.

Quite aside from all that… this is a very good opening episode! It conforms in some ways to the same ‘Doctor and companion arrive and explore for a bit’ format that Destiny of the Daleks did, but it does something interesting with it, and has them caught up in the local action at just the right time. Indeed, this is one of those episodes where the cliff-hanger comes and it feels like you’ve had two episode’s worth of action packed into one. We move from the TARDIS, to exploring the landscape, to capture, through fights and scenes with barbarians, the Doctor meeting the local ruler, being taken to the pit, and then the Doctor’s jumped down it… the story stops for breath when it’s needed (there’s some lovely lingering shots of the Doctor examining the ‘egg’), but there’s an awful lot going on in these first 25 minutes.

It also helps that whereas Destiny of the Daleks saw the Doctor and Romana exploring a familiar quarry, we’ve got a gorgeous setting here. People rave about the jungle set from Planet of Evil (and, in fairness, that’s a very good jungle), but I’m completely captivated by this one! It feels so very real, clearly based more on Earth jungles than the one in Planet of Evil was, but with just enough alien items, such as the egg and the wolf weeds to keep it interesting. We’ve also got an awful lot of ‘fog’ going on in the background, and I can’t help but think back to my comments during Planet of the Daleks that the jungle simply wasn’t foggy enough to create any mystery. I’d love to see a Dalek shot on this set.

Because of the scale of the set, and the fact that lots of this episode is set out in the jungle, large chunks of this one are shot on film, which really does help. Every few weeks I bring up my wish that all 20th century Doctor Who could have been produced on film, and it’s episodes like this one which really make me think about it. I worry that as the story goes on, we’ll be seeing more and more scenes set away from this lovely setting, and moved to the various studio-bound locations, which would be a shame. Still, if Christopher Barry can keep this kind of style up for the remaining three episodes… what a way to part from the programme! 

18 June 2014

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

Day 534: City of Death, Episode Four

Dear diary,

There’s something very, very, brilliant about the fact that this story - one in which so much humour has been centred around Duggen’s love of violence to get the job done - all comes down to the most important punch in history being thrown to knock out the alien bad guy. Doctor Who isn’t usually a programme which delights in violence, and indeed it’s unique standpoint is usually that the hero doesn’t use violence unless really necessary, but it’s always great to have a solution as simple as this once in a while.

I’m always impressed in this episode with just how well the studio set of the prehistoric landscape matches with the model work. There’s something really rather nice about the fact that this is the most-watched episode of Doctor Who ever on initial broadcast (16.1 million viewers - a fact often put down to ITV being on strike, but actually, by the time this episode aired they weren’t any more), and it’s one of the most accomplished. People talk of ‘classic’ Doctor Who being filled with dodgy sets, and acting, rubbish monsters, and poor model shots, and this episode manages to take each one of those things and shoot them down in flames one by one.

Quite aside from the great model shot and the matching studio set, you’ve got the design of Scaroth, which must surely be one of the most unusual and recognisable creatures from the full history of the programme. When they brought the toy out a few years ago, they made a decision to ‘shrink’ the Scaroth head compared to that of Julian Glover, to better give the impression that the human features were a mask to go over the green… thing. It never looked right, though, because it’s such a striking design that trying to change it in any way simply moves you in to the territory of spoiling things.

Then there’s the acting. Sticking with Julian Glover, it’s worth pointing out that he really does give a very good performance throughout this story. There’s a reason that he’s a known name in the acting world - and that’s because he’s very good at what he does. As if it’s not enough to have him cast as one of the major guest stars, you’ve also got Catherine Schell cast in the role of his wife! A veteran of films like On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Return of the Pink Panther, she’s something of a coup for the show. Put these two in a scene together - as today, where the Count reveals to his bride exactly who he really is and berates her for never noticing, before leaving her dead - and you’ve really go something special.

The episode also features those famous cameos from Eleanor Bron and John Cleese - something which I never really appreciated when watching the story before, but now that I’ve grown to have a broader interest in archive television, it really means something to me. Plus, the gentle poking fun at the world of art critique is always welcome, and fits in so perfectly with the story.

Overall, City of Death has managed to justify its place among the programme’s greats. I don’t think I enjoy it quite as much as some people do, but I think it’s a tale I could watch again a year from now, and enjoy just as much as I have this time around. And again the year after. And the one after that, too. It’s a great example of what Doctor Who can be - and it’s no wonder that this is the story most people choose to use when introducing new viewers to the ‘classic’ years of the programme!

17 June 2014

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

Day 533: City of Death, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The further I get through this story, the more I wish that Duggan had stayed with the Doctor and Romana for longer than these four episodes. Can you imagine him being whisked off to an alien world? Punching an alien? It’s a similar dynamic to the Sarah/Harry one from Season Twelve in a way, only here the super intelligent aliens outweigh the regular people! He’s a real highlight in this episode, and he’s bringing out the best in Romana, too. I think this is probably the most that I’ve enjoyed her in this new incarnation so far, when she’s taking on the role of the Doctor, and doing all the explaining. I love, too, that she’s less used to ‘summing down’ for people, so she speaks to Duggan in the same way she’d explain things to the Doctor, and then you’re left just waiting for his reaction, and the punchline!

As if you can’t tell, it’s the humour again which I’ve been enjoying in this episode, and almost all of the characters get a stand out moment to really stretch their comedic timing. I think it works that no one (with the possible exception of David Graham as Kerensky) is sending up the material, but treating it with just the right balance of comedy and drama. It’s a very fine line to walk, but the script and the performances are all managing to stay largely on track with it all.

I think that my favourite moment from today’s episode has to be the way in which the Doctor distracts a Renaissance guard by taking a polaroid of the man and then knocks him out! In the same way as the Rock, Paper, Scissors scene in Destiny of the Daleks, there’s something about that sequence that’s just so very in keeping with what feels like ‘Doctor Who’. Realistically, though, I could cite almost every scene as being a favourite, and a very close second would be Duggan setting off the alarms after the Mona Lisa has been stolen! It’s those kinds of antics I’d love to see with him as a part of the TARDIS team. I’m somewhat surprised that Big Finish haven’t brought him in for any of their Fourth Doctor audios, yet, but I guess with Lalla Ward and Tom Baker teaming up for a full series in the near future, there’s the perfect opportunity on the horizon. Here’s hoping, anyway!

In today’s episode, we get a good examination of the way that Scaroth works - having been splintered through time during that explosion at the start of the story, he now lives through several time periods, having personas in Paris 1979, Italy 1505, some period of Egyptian history, what looks like the Crusades (oh, I hope he gets to meet Richard the Lionheart at some stage!) and several assorted other periods. He talks of being the man who caused the construction of the pyramids and who built the first wheel… he’s clearly been a major player in human history, nudging the species in the right direction to meet his needs (was he perhaps being controlled by the Silence without knowing it? If nothing else, he’s certainly been an inspiration on their creation).

That’s always caused me a bit of trouble, though… because I could never quite get my head around the way it all works. Were there one Scaroth, with a hugely elongated lifespan who had caused these things to happen as he went along… then fair enough. The fact that there’s so many splinters of them has always thrown me, though. Does he start each ‘splinter’ as a child, in the way it’s implied that Clara does when she’s split through the Doctor’s time stream? Does he simply arrive fully formed? How is each segment kept in synch with each other? Is it simply that they automatically ‘connect’ with a version at the exact same age but in a different time zone? Presumably, all the splitters eventually die, or there’d be lots of Counts around in 1979… it’s always been a bit too much of a headache for me!

16 June 2014

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

Day 532: City of Death, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’ve not noticed it before, but this episode doesn’t actually feature any of the Paris filming, beyond those establishing shots of the Scarlioni residence, which are re-used from yesterday’s episode! I wonder if the lack of such ‘running through Paris’ padding has been partly to thank for my enjoyment of this episode more than yesterday’s? It’s not only that, of course - the fact that the story is underway, and that this episode contains far more interesting developments than the last episode also combine to create an episode that - on the whole - I’ve very much enjoyed.

The episode really hinges on the Doctor’s three encounters with Scarlioni, and the fact that each one of these is played in a slightly different way. That initial meeting in the drawing room is perhaps the most famous of the three, with that immortal line ‘my dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems…’ summing up the Fourth Doctor (and Tom Baker’s) entire personality at this stage of the programme. This is then followed up by the later confrontation in the cellar, during which the Doctor gets the chance to interrogate his foe, receiving only brisk ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers in reply. The tables are then turned, to see the Doctor answering questions in a similar fashion. Of course, both of these scenes are there to set up that cliffhanger, and it’s one of the best we’ve had in ages. The Doctor has travelled back in time to visit Leonardo, and is set upon by a guard. His superior enters the room… and it’s Scarlioni!

Knowing how and why the man has been scattered throughout time means that I’d forgotten just how much impact that cliffhanger has - but as I say, it’s one of the best we’ve had for a long, long, time. Truth be told, I’m struggling to think of the last time a cliffhanger made me sit up and take notice as much as this one did, and I wish I could come to it clean, without the knowledge of what’s going on!

The main thing that I’m enjoying in this tale has to be the comedy elements. Adams was responsible last season for The Pirate Planet, a story where the comedy fell almost entirely flat for me. Here, though, things are on a much greater form. I think it helps that the story is set in the real world, and so there’s a more identifiable context for the jokes to be played in. Duggan is amusing with his blustering ways, because we all know someone like that. The Doctor is amusing as he goon around the laboratory, because we’re used to the Doctor doing that, but not often in this kind of setting (it’s strange that what would have felt like such a Doctor Who location only a few seasons ago - a large house with a home-made laboratory - feels so fresh and new here). And all of this takes place as part of a story which revolves around the theft of the world’s most famous painting. We don’t need to work to believe in this world - we already live in it.

It’s telling that almost all of my notes for today’s episode (and there’s a lot - I’ve not written so many for a while!) are snippets of dialogue, and almost exclusively that of the Doctor’s. Adams by now has a real handle on the way that Tom Baker plays the role, and so every line seems to have been written specifically for him, which seems to be keeping Tom in check a little more. He’s able to be commanding when he needs to be, but it never feels like he’s going over the top in the way he’s sometimes prime to doing! Even if things aren’t quite perfect for me, yet, I’m really able to see why people can love this story so much. 

16 June 2014

New Rock group; Space Elevator, have released a new track, titled 'I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)', as a tribute to Doctor Who.

DWO visitors wanting to listen to the song can download it here: http://www.spaceelevatorband.com/mp3-download/.

The password to download it is Gallifrey and you also need to include your email address.

You can also watch the music video, which features the track, below:

 
Space Elevator’s Lead Singer (and huge Doctor Who fan) ‘The Duchess’ says:

“Quite simply, our debut album is all about space and would not be complete without a Dr Who song. The song is a tribute as I have a Time Lord crush in all his incarnations. There’s something there for every woman! He’s strong, intelligent, unobtainable (crucial), he will fight daleks and cybermen..he has two hearts.. lol! ...or maybe I’m the only girl that dreamt of what her own Tardis would look like inside?”

The album Space Elevator (Cat No SECD1) is Out Now at HMV, Amazon and all good record stores, with the vinyl album (SELP1) being released on 14th July 2014. 

[Source: Paul Sabin]

15 June 2014

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

Day 531: City of Death, Episode One

Dear diary,

City of Death is one of those Doctor Who stories that can’t be separated from its reputation. For years it’s been hailed as one of the all-time greats (it came in at number 5 in the recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, and by contrast, the next-highest Graham Williams era story placed at number 32… and it was Horror of Fang Rock, which was already underway before Williams fully arrived on the scene!). Former producer Julie Gardner has described the story as being the one which convinced her that Doctor Who could work upon its return to TV in 2005, and has praised the mix of drama and humour within. I’ve seen it a few times, but despite its status, I can’t really say that I have a strong opinion on it either way.

It certainly gets off to a good start in this episode, though, opening with a brilliant model shot which sweeps across prehistoric Earth and comes to rest on a rather unique design of spaceship. The Jagaroth ship is one of the more striking from Doctor Who history, and there’s a reason that it’s always stuck in the mind more than any of the mrs generic ships seen in other stories over the years. That the episode opens with it being blown up is also quite a strong way to begin the story, and gets you hooked in right away. There’s none of that leisurely pace we had in Destiny of the Daleks here…

…Well, not until we touch down in Paris, anyway. Joining the Doctor and Romana at the top of the Eiffel Tower reminds me of my problem with this pairing of Doctor/Companion - they’re just too… smug. I love the type of relationship that he has with Leela, or Sarah Jane, or Jo, where he’s the smart one, and he gets to explain things away to them as he goes. I seem to recall the Doctor and Romana sometimes becoming a little insufferable as they wander around the universe being very clever together. Still, I could be wrong about that, and I have a feeling that some of it may have come from the opening of this episode.

That slowed-down pace continues for a while, with the pair making their way through the streets of Paris. We follow them as they head from the tower to a cafe, then from thecae to the Louvre, and then back to the cafe once more… there’s an awful lot of walking, jogging, and running around in this story. That’s clearly the result of the production team trying to say to us ‘look! We’re actually in Paris! As in, really, honestly, there!’ This is the first of Doctor Who’s ventures abroad for filming, and it certainly does lend a slightly different feel to the story than I’m used to.

In some ways, it feels more amateur. There’s several shots where passers-by, or commuters on the Metro, simply gawp into the camera, wondering what the crew are up to, and it looks to all the world like a bunch of tourists have set up a camera in the middle of the street and shouted ‘action!’ to a man in a ridiculous scarf and a woman dressed up as a schoolgirl. I wonder if they thought all British television was like this? It also seems to constrain Tom Baker’s performance in places. I’m used to him being loud and booming, domination the screen for every second that he’s on it, but here and there - most noticeably during some of the scenes outside the cafe, it feels like he’s reigning it in. It’s a slightly odd experience, when I’ve become used to watching him get louder and louder for the last five seasons! He’s on his regular form in the studio scenes, though, flailing about when experiencing a time-slip.

Almost to counter-act the less polished feel of these location shots, it’s being directed more like a film than anything I’m used to seeing in an episode of Doctor Who. Shots taken though an empty slot in a postcard rack, or from the other side of a river, all have a slightly more artistic feel to them than usual, and although I enjoyed Michael Hayes’ direction for both The Androids of Tara and The Armageddon Factor, I can’t quite remember it being this filmic before.

I wonder if the story is simply suffering from that age old problem - because I know it’s supposed to be such a classic, I’m seeing faults more than I might otherwise do. Here’s hoping that as the story goes on, I can simply sit back an enjoy it, without the weight of its reputation bringing it down… 

14 June 2014

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

Day 530: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

For a moment, I thought that this episode instantly negated my theory about the Daleks splitting off into factions and only this group becoming robots. Davros kept banging on about them being robotic creatures in general, and if he doesn’t know, then what hope is there for the rest of us? Actually, though, I think it can be reconciled with my earlier thoughts - he’s just been brought up to speed with the events of his sleep by these Daleks, and they’ve possibly only described to him their decent into being robots, and neglected to mention their mutant brothers who are still out there spreading hate among the stars. There we go, that solves it. If you squint a bit.

In all, I think that Destiny of the Daleks feels a bit… lightweight. The Daleks have come to revive Davros to fix their computer, and then the Doctor tricks him into blowing them all up before he can even get close to the machinery. Story over. I don’t know that it’s particularly more lightweight than many other Dalek tales, but it certainly feels like everything just been a bit too leisurely for my likings. I’ve enjoyed lots of individual elements from the story, but I think this is one of those instances where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Still, even this final episode manages to give me lots of things to enjoy. Chief among them is probably the Doctor getting a race of war-like robots to play games of Rock, Paper, Scissors in order to teach them a thing or two about logic - that has to be one of the most Doctor Who things in the world, and I absolutely love it. I’m also keen on the number of Daleks that are milling around today. I some shots, there’s only 5 of them, but the way the camera pans across seems to make it feel like a lot more. Then, when they all start blowing up, they go in pretty spectacular explosions!

The most important thing about this episode, though, surely has to be the fact that it’s Terry Nation’s final written contribution to the world of Doctor Who. He’s been with us since 1963, and the programme’s second story, and has been responsible for 7-and-a-half Dalek tales (eight-and-a-half, if you want to count Mission to the Unknown as separate to The Daleks’ Master Plan), and two non-Dalek adventures. He’s come in for a bit of stick from me, over the years, for his particular brand of writing, but looking at his average scores, he’s not doing too badly!

For his Dalek episodes (I’m including Mission to the Unknown, and only counting Episodes One - Five and Seven for Master Plan), he averages 7.02 as a score. For The Keys of Marinus and The Android Invasion, his two Dalek-less stories, he comes in at a slightly lower average of 5.80. Still, considering that the Daleks are his lasting legacy to the programme (and the world!), that’s not bad going!

13 June 2014

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

Day 529: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Ah, of course. How did I manage to forget about the central premise at the heart of Destiny of the Daleks - that the Daleks are robots, and thus they’ve had to return to their living (just about) creator to resolve their troubles. I’ve not actually watched this story before now, so I didn’t realise just how prevalent that is throughout, but this episode is filled with references to the Daleks begin robot creatures. Romana claims that the Doctor knows more about the Daleks than anyone… so the Movellan captain claims that he must be an ‘expert on robotics’. As if to hammer the point home to us, the Doctor even finds some kind of gooey Kaled mutant out on the wastes of Skaro and muses that the Daleks were ‘originally’ organic creatures…

It really does just sit uneasy with everything else we’ve ever been told about the Daleks over the years, and that it comes so out of the blue - in a story written by the man who invented them - just feels really bizarre. Still, I’m not entirely sure that it’s impossible to reconcile this notion with the rest of Doctor Who history. It’s generally accepted that the Cybermen of the classic series ended up branching off into two separate castes (some remaining ties to Mondas, and being reduced to skulking about the galaxy once it gets blown up, and the others relocating to Telos), and we know that by the late 1980s, the Daleks had developed a plot and started fighting amongst themselves.

I think there’s an argument to be made (almost) that a group of Daleks, perhaps most prominent in Skaro’s ‘local’ part of space, could have slowly developed themselves into more and more robotic creatures, until they went almost Cyberman with their approach, and ended up stripping out everything. Emotions gone, flesh gone, and - in the end - the little bubbling lump of hate gone, too. This particular group of Daleks could have ended up caught in this current impasse while the rest of their race are off ravaging the universe with the little mutants locked away inside their casings as normal. I think, unless anything comes along to contradict that in future Dalek stories, this is how I’ll be choosing to think of this situation from now on.

I’m more dismayed to see them being reduced to lesser characters again in this episode, now that Davros has woken up. They don’t need to fill the role of ‘bad guy’ in the story anymore, so whereas Episode Two saw them shouting and interrogating Romana while gliding around looking powerful, this episode reduces them almost to being Davros’ personal guard, out patrolling the surface of the planet, and wandering down corridors on the hunt for their creator. It does mean that we get a great few minutes in which the Doctor threatens his greatest enemies with a bomb (it’s not often that we get to see the Doctor do something quite as… powerful, as this, so it comes as quite a nice shock), but even that then dissolves into the Daleks gingerly picking the bomb off their father’s casing and then getting blown up for their troubles. All that great Dalek action from yesterday seems to have well and truly petered out now!

My biggest complaint, though… there’s a lovely scene in The Stolen Earth, when Davros looks up at the screen, with the Doctor’s ‘Children of Time’ all massing, preparing their own solutions to end the Dalek occupation of Earth, and several other planets. He looks up, sees Sarah Jane Smith peering round the side of Captain Jack and muses that she was there on Skaro, at ‘the very beginning’. I love that moment. It’s such a nice little addition, and it makes it all feel so much richer as a result. There’s a few pages in Russell T Davies’ The Writer’s Tale, where he toys with losing the line because he’s so short on space in the episode, but I’m glad it managed to survive the cut, because it’s just so lovely.

That line has slightly spoilt Destiny of the Daleks for me, because when Davros awakens here, knowing that he’s been entombed for several centuries, and finding the Doctor baring down on him almost instantly, he doesn’t even flinch. He’s not surprised to find the Time Lord there waiting for him. He’s not yet locked into his on-going battle with the Doctor that will span several lifetimes for the both of them, so it feels like a real shame that he doesn’t pass comment about the fact that this person is still meddling in his life. I assume that Terry Nation was trying to simply make this a direct continuation from his previous Dalek tale, and so didn’t want to make the point that the Doctor had been gone for so long between them, but it just feels… lacking as a result.

But for all the slightly odd little dissapoinments in this story… I’m enjoying it! For a start, and as I’ve said before, it does look gorgeous. I’ve already praised the Movellan spaceship, but we get some nice shots of it again today, so it’s worth mentioning again. Then you’ve simply got the flair of the story. Because it’s the first Doctor Who story to use a steadicam (I think I’m right in saying that it’s the first BBC production to use one - as a trial to decide if they corporation wanted to go ahead and buy some!), even scenes of the Doctor running around in a quarry are looking more impressive than they might usually do.

It’s also helped by director Ken Grieve having a good eye for certain shots - there’s a few lovely moments when the Doctor is evading his hunters, and we get to see some pretty extreme angles looking up at both our hero, and the Daleks patrolling the tops of the cliffs above him. It’s perhaps not the most original image a Dalek story has ever given us (and in a Terry Nation script, would you expect anything other?), but it certainly works well, and I think the visual feel of this story is going to stick with me after I’ve finished it more than the narrative itself will…

12 June 2014

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

Day 528: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I have to confess that I was a little nervous about starting on this story. Genesis of the Daleks fared so well with me, and went a long way to living up to the ‘classic’ status it’s always had, and I worried that it might ruin other Dalek stories for me that followed in its wake. Actually, though, I think the fact that we’ve had such a long break for the pepper pots since then has really worked in their favour. I’ve grown to really enjoy them over the course of this marathon, but I’ve not actively missed them over the past few months. But as soon as they start screaming and shouting in this episode, I was just glad to have them back. They’re such fun to have around, and actually, this batch of them are nasty.

During their brief confrontation with Romana right at the very start of today’s episode, where they bark orders at her (‘is-that-under-stood? is-that-under-stood? SPEAK!’), is actually quite frightening, and I’m not sure if I can remember the last time I actually found one of the Daleks menacing. They keep that up throughout the rest of the episode, shouting at her during their interrogation, and sneaking up on the Movellans ready to shoot in the corridors. I’m really enjoying the Daleks themselves, and I’m worried that they’re going to become second fiddle now that Davros has woken up.

That would be a shame, really, because as much as I’m enjoying them, I’ve loved the brief bit of Davros that we’ve had in this episode, too. From the Doctor realising what his foes must be digging for, and deciding that it was too bizarre, even for them, right up to the moment that they find the forgotten corpse of the creator sitting alone in the lower levels (Emma: “Davros needs a dust”). During those closing moments, when the light comes on, and the hand begins to twitch… yeah, it’s all rather exciting.

And yet, I can’t help feeling that we need a non-Davros ‘buffer’ story between Genesis of the Daleks and this tale. We see the creatures exterminate their leader, and then they go off to conquer the cosmos, without a second thought for their founding father. And then, in the story after that, we find them back on Skaro, trying to dig him out. It would work nicely as a part of Tom Baker’s final season in the role, as a nice counterpoint to their confrontation in his first year. As it is, is feels as though Davros is always a part of the Dalek stories, and from Genesis onwards in the classic era, that’s true. I’m sort of complaining for the sake of complaining, there, and looking at it with thirty-something years of hindsight. I’m enjoying Destiny of the Daleks partly because of Davros, not in spite of him.

Somrthing else I’m liking about this one is that ‘start of a new season’ feeling. Like The Ribos Operation last year, it’s clear that they’ve just been handed a pot of money with which to make the new season, and they’ve gone a little bit mad with it right out of the gate. The Movellan spaceship impressed during yesterday’s episode, and continues to do so here, and the Dalek control centre works rather well for me, too. There’s so much to both of these sets, and the use of steady cam means that they’re constructed in a way that’s slightly different to any Doctor Who sets before them. My only worry with this is that the money might be stretching it by the time we reach the season’s end…!

11 June 2014

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

Day 527: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

It’s been four and a half long years (or three and a half long months for me, in 50 Year Diary terms) since the Daleks last made an appearance in Doctor Who, and it feels as though things have moved on massively since then. When we last saw them, Tom Baker had just taken up his tenancy in the TARDIS, Sarah Jane and Harry were still traveling alongside him, and we’d not heard of Zygons, or Kraals, The Key to Time, or Janis Thorns. In many ways, the programme has moved on a long way in the period between Dalek stories, so it’s always nice to see such a familiar and reassuring figure from the programme’s past making an appearance to reassure us that this is still the same old Doctor Who.

I’ve always thought that the cliffhanger to this episode - even though it is one of those typical Dalek story cliffhangers in which they arrive at the end of Part One - should be really rather momentous. Suddenly, two Daleks come crashing through a mirrored wall, and confront Romana! They scream, and shout, and they’re back! Only… I’ve never realised that it was supposed to be them smashing through any kind of wall, I just thought it was a bit of an odd way to have them show up. It’s certainly not clear. The fact that bits of the shattered set end up stuck on the slightly tatty Dalek props doesn’t really help with the big return of the programme’s most iconic monsters, either. As we see it on screen, this is all a bit of a mess, whereas the Target novelisation paints a far more dramatic picture:

“The cell began to vibrate. She could feel the walls shuddering, and hear a high-pitched whine of machinery moving ever closer.

Cracks began to appear in the wall directly opposite. The cracks formed a kind of arch-shape, and suddenly the entire centre of the wall seemed to crumble inwards, leaving a great black hole.

With terrifying speed, two metallic shapes glided through the arch. They were shaped like huge metal-studded pepper pots, they had projecting metal arms and an eye-lens on a kind of metal stalk. They swept menacingly down on Romana, crowding her back against the wall, hemming her in so that there was no escape.

In harsh metallic voices they screeched, ‘Do not move! Do not move or you will be exterminated! You are a prisoner of the Daleks!’”

Still, I am impressed with much of the rest of the episode. The location, even if it’s the traditional quarry, is interesting enough, and the TARDIS looks rather nice perched among the rocks. It even allows for some nice bits of directorial flourish from Ken Grieve, in his only contribution to the series. We can perhaps forgive him for that cliffhanger, if the rest of the story lives up to some of his more impressive moments throughout this first episode.

Of course, the main thing that gets discussed about this episode is Romana’s regeneration. I’ve seen it before, of course, but never in context like this, coming at the end of all her other adventures. It really is rather odd, isn’t it? All of a sudden, at the top of the episode, Romana pops in and announces that she’s regenerating, and since she like Princess Astra’s form so much, she’s decided to copy it. Right down to the outfit. The swapping of bodies is quite fun, and I don’t really have much of a problem with any of that - I think my main issue is that the Doctor so casually accepts it all, as though he knows that they need to hurry up and get on with the main story.

That he doesn’t even question it beyond his first ‘what are you doing?’ is what makes it all seem a little out of place. It’s a shame that the regeneration couldn’t have been made more a focus of this first episode, even if they didn’t want to get Mary Tamm back. As it is, we’re left with fairly standard Terry Nation fare, in which the Doctor and his companion look around a desolate location for much of the episode before getting caught up in local events rather late in the day.

I think I would have preferred something a bit more dramatic to fill up these first fifteen minutes of the story - even if you go for that old Sixth Doctor’s regeneration trick, having the TARDIS crash land, and Romana waking up with the face of the princess. Throw in some technobabble about Romana’s exposure to the Key causing her current form, have the TARDIS hurtled towards Skaro in a fit of rage by the Black Guardian… just something to make it all seem a little less out-of-the-blue!

10 June 2014

BBC Worldwide today announce a major global publicity tour to launch episode one of the new series of Doctor Who and introduce Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor.

Doctor Who: The World Tour will begin in the UK on 7th August and finish in Brazil on 19th August. The trip will see Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi, on-screen companion Jenna Coleman, and the show’s Lead Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat*, visit seven cities across five continents in 12 days to take part in a series of media and fan engagements to publicise the show’s forthcoming Series 8 to a global audience.

The tour marks the largest ever promotional undertaking in Doctor Who’s 50-year history and will kick off in Cardiff, Wales before taking in London (UK), Seoul (South Korea), Sydney (Australia), New York (US), Mexico City (Mexico) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). More details of the itinerary will be available soon at www.doctorwho.tv/worldtour as well as reports from the tour as it happens, which fans everywhere will be able to enjoy across social and digital platforms.

BBC Worldwide’s ambition for the brand has grown considerably since the global success of the 50th Anniversary which saw the special episode The Day Of The Doctor broadcast simultaneously in 98 countries and in over 1500 cinemas across the world, setting a new record for event cinema in its first three days on general release.

Peter Capaldi, speaking ahead of the tour, said:

“It’s fantastic that so many people across the world love Doctor Who. After eight months solid filming deep in the world of monsters, Jenna and I are thrilled to be heading for the Planet of Fans."

Executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat added:

“I've always thought we'd all be a lot safer if the Doctor conquered the world, instead of the Daleks. Now with Jenna and Peter leading the charge, it looks like it's going to happen. I'll be bringing up the rear to handle the exposition scenes, and maybe carry some bags.”

Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director BBC Cymru Wales, said:

"Where better to start the World Tour than the Doctor's home for the last decade? The sight of the TARDIS and marauding aliens is now a familiar part of Welsh life - though they still scare the life out of the traffic wardens. There is a real sense of excitement and anticipation about the new series – and I know Peter and Jenna are going to be a breath-taking new team. Roll on August!"

Filming is well underway on the new series, with guest stars confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman including Frank Skinner, Ben Miller, Tom Riley, Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris.

* Due to production commitments, Steven Moffat will be unable to attend to the entire tour. The cities he will join the tour for will be announced soon. 

[Source: BBC Media Centre]

10 June 2014

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

Day 526: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Six

Dear diary,

I worried - correctly, it seems - that the whole business with the shrinking ray (another thing from earlier Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts to make a return!), was simply going to be used as padding for this final episode, until the story was ready to tie up the loose strands of the key to Time arc in the final scenes. The Doctor’s problem, if I’ve understood it correctly, is thus: He’s opened the door to the TARDIS, where the Key to Time is being held. He’s been  shrunk, so he can’t close the door! Oh no! The Shadow could, therefore, wander into   the TARDIS at any time he likes and simply pick up the Key (he later has a lackey do it).

My problem with this is that although they’re shrunk, the Doctor and Drax also possess the machine they need to make them large again! Not only that, they’re able to get hold of K9 if they need to. What I don’t understand is why they couldn’t simply dart out from the crack in the wall, make themselves larger again, use the confusion to knock out the guard, and then hotfoot it into the TARDIS? It’s painted as some big crisis for them, but there never actually seems to be any danger involved (beyond getting trodden on).

Oh, but that’s a minor quibble, and I’ve found myself enjoying everything else about this episode. I love all the moral dilemma around Astra being the Sixth Segment to the Key (and I love even more that it’s key to the resolution, too!), and I’m surprised but keen to find that she’s restored to human form at the end! I had no idea of that - I genuinely thought that becoming the segment killed her, and always thought that it was quite a dark way to end a season.

There’s plenty of spectacle on show in this one, too, with explosions, and more shrinking effects, K9 blasting his way through a wall (albeit somewhat clumsily), and the Key being dispersed back out through the universe… yes, I think this has probably been a fitting capstone to the whole Key to Time season, and even though the White Guardian doesn’t get to use the Key (or does he? The Doctor comments that the Black Guardian could use it while it’s assembled in the TARDIS, so has the White Guardian somehow managed to do that, too?), it doesn’t feel like a let down after 25 weeks of build up!

We say goodbye to Mary Tamm with this episode, although you’d not know it by watching the story. It’s a real shame that she was never invited back to film a regeneration sequence (Tamm even says in the special features to an earlier story in this set that she was waiting for the call!), and I’m actually going to miss having her around. Romana as a character has grown on me across the season, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her relationship with the Doctor develop, while still retaining a few key things that are uniquely ‘them’. Here’s hoping that I continue to enjoy the character as much in her second incarnation!

Another thing that we’re saying goodbye to today is the six-episode format of Doctor Who… well… sort of. The Armageddon Factor is the last Doctor Who story to be broadcast in six twenty-something minute chunks - a format that the show has been using to varying degrees since right back in Season One with The Keys of Marinus. Over the last couple of seasons, it feels as though they’ve settled into a nice format for five 4-part stories topped off with a single 6-parter to round out the season. It’s certainly worked better for me than those middle Pertwee seasons, when we had 6-part tale after 6-part tale!

I say ‘sort of’, because it’s not strictly the case. I’ll be watching the animated version of the never-broadcast Shada when I reach the end of Season Seventeen in about a month’s time, and that was made (and has been completed) in six parts. Then you’ve got The Two Doctors coming up in the mid-1980’s, where there’s only three episodes… but they’re almost twice as long! There’s also David Tennant’s swan-song, The End of Time, way out there in my future, and that clocks in somewhere around the length of a 6-parter, too.

Officially, though, this is the end of the road for stories like this. I can’t really claim to be sorry at their departure - I’ve often found six-parters to be something of a struggle, both when watching through, and when trying to write about them! Unless the story continues to give you lots of new things to talk about (this story has been a great example - spending broadly two episodes apiece on Atrios, Zios, and the Third Planet), you very quickly find yourself running out of things to say! It feels like another evolution for the programme to be dropping them from its style, and I always love a bit of evolution in the series. Now… what will Season Seventeen bring? 

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