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22 January 2015

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

Day 752: The Impossible Planet

Dear diary,

If The Idiot’s Lantern was especially notable because of the direction, then The Impossible Planet is notable for its music. There’s so many lovely cues in this episode that I could hum off by heart, despite having not seen this story since it was first on TV all those years ago. Evidently, I’ve listened to the soundtrack more often! Music isn’t something that I’ve really brought up a lot over the history of the Diary - only really commenting on it when it either stands out as being particularly beautiful or particularly rubbish - but this episode is one that I really have to lay some praise on. While I’m on the subject of music, mind… I finally understand those complaints that used to do the rounds about how bloody loud it’s been in these first two series. More than once, I’ve found myself having to sit adjusting the volume throughout the episode so that I can hear the dialogue clearly enough while not allowing the music to irritate anyone within a one-mile radius. I can’t say I ever noticed this in the past (though I was aware of other people complaining about it), but now I suddenly completely understand!

So, after yesterday being a lovely day where I got to talk of happy memories of watching the episode on first transmission, today we’re back to my usual, grumpy, recollection of the 2006 series. Oh, this one bored me to tears. For that one summer, I’d found myself really into a sport for the first and only time, and we’d set up a net on the lawn where we could while away the time playing. My only real memory of this episode’s first broadcast was wishing that it would hurry up and finish so we could get back outside and continue our game. I didn’t care about the people in the space base. I didn’t care about the black hole. I didn’t care that the TARDIS was lost down a cavern. I just wanted it to end!

I think, watching it today, that I know where my younger self was coming from. Compared to some of the other stories this year which start at a breakneck speed and simply refuse to let up for the entire running time, this one is positively glacial. Oh, there’s plenty of action - from the Ood closing in, to the earthquake, Scooti being sucked into the vacuum, and the decent in to the pit - but all of these serve to punctuate very long scenes in which people just… talk. I can’t remember the last time we had an episode as talk-y as this. Some sequences, notably in the control room of the base early on, seem to go on for ages as we’re introduced to each character in turn, given a history of their mission, told (repeatedly) how impossible it all is… everything really just slows right down for long stretches at a time…

…And it’s all the better for it. Oh, like I say, I can see where 2006 Will would perhaps get a bit bored with this one - nice day outside, an afternoon of tennis and the prospect of several more games ahead, and I’m sat inside watching people talk - but 2015 Will can’t get enough of it. I often see people online bemoaning the fact that two-part stories have become so scarce in Doctor Who over the last few years, and always thought that I wasn’t that bothered if we had one part or two (though, if I’m honest, I’ve always leant more towards the one-parters), but this episode totally sells me on the idea of a two-part story.

That long scene I’ve described above, where everyone and everything is introduced in great detail isn’t long and boring - it’s the atmosphere of the whole thing. You come out the other side of that scene with a real sense of this place, and the people within it. Everything is so much stronger for it. The slow pacing also means that the slow corruption of Toby is given the space to breathe that it really needs, and it picks up such a sinister vibe in doing so. I can’t imagine something as well crafted as that having any place in a single 45-minute story - you’d lose all of the atmosphere, and it would fall completely flat.

I think tomorrow’s episode is likely to pick up a greater pace now that everything has been manoeuvred into the right position for the story, but that’s probably necessary as the appropriate counter-balance to this instalment. Once again, watching things through with a few year’s distance and a more patient attitude is letting me see these episodes in a whole new light, and it’s good.

(Also, I shall rise from the pit. So there.) 

21 January 2015

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

Day 751: The Idiot’s Lantern

Dear diary,

Over the last week, I’ve banged on repeatedly about the fact that I simply couldn’t get in to this second series of the revived programme, and that I didn’t like this about it, or that about it… So it’s nice that today I get to share a happier memory with you all about the watching of this particular story. A friend was staying with me the week this one aired, and although he was vaguely aware of Doctor Who, he’d never really latched on to it. I seem to recall that in the summer of 2005, when I was raving about Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, he’d been bitten by the Star Wars bug, instead. I was also working in a shop at the time, and we sold the Doctor Who sticker book. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but somehow I was able to buy an entire box of stickers (40-something packs) for a real knock-down price, and we while away the summer evening opening each pack, laying the stickers out on the floor, and building up to a complete collection (although, actually, after all that - literally hundreds of stickers, I was still two or three short!). The only time we broke was to watch this episode as it went out, and it really is one of my happiest Who memories.

There’s just something about the bright colours and the sunny skies of this story that really connects with you on a warm summer evening, and I have to admit that - even on this watch-through for the marathon - the Tenth Doctor and Rose pairing has completely won me over. How brilliant is is, when they arrive in the 1950s, simply larking about? They laugh, and they joke, and yes I know there’s a few moments that really do make you want to cringe ridiculously hard (I’m thinking of the ‘Hiiiiiiiiiii!’ moment in particular), but somehow, magically, impossibly… they simply work. If I were to travel around in time and space, this is the life I’d want. A best friend by my side, and an inexhaustible sense of sheer adventure.

But, actually, I’m getting more from this story now than I have on any previous watches, because over the years my interests have changed. Specifically, they’ve changed in regards to archive television, which means that there’s a number of levels here which really speak to me in a way they simply couldn’t have before. I didn’t know it at the time, but the setting of Alexandra Palace means so much in the history of British broadcasting of course, but then there’s loads of little easter eggs woven in to the script.

Perhaps most obviously, there’s The Quatermass Experiment, with the hand clenching movements made by the faceless crowd, but then you’ve got a snippet of Muffin the Mule, strong overtones of Watch With Mother, and even the street name (‘Florizel Street’ was the original name given to the cobbles known better as Coronation Street). All of these thing went more-or-less over my head before, whereas they’re now references to things sat on my DVD shelves. This is one of the things I’m most enjoying about this phase of the marathon - seeing how my reaction to (and relationship with) these stories has been changed by the intervening years. It’s not something I’ve ever been able to really do before (even with the stories from the ‘classic’ series that I’d seen before) because I’d not seen any of those in context before, with the nostalgia and memories that revisiting them comes with.

Something else which has, I think, always gone over my head with this story is the direction. It’s Euros Lyn in the chair this week, and although I’m used to his direction from so many stories in this period of the programme, this one really stands out as unique in a way that I can’t recall of others off the top of my head. Specifically, it’s the use of the extreme angles for several shots that give the story a visual identity that really stands out, and I’m finding myself constantly impressed by this throughout! These individual tales in the middle of seasons can occasionally become a bit overlooked when you think back over a series, so it’s always nice to find that they’ve got their own hidden depths on a re-watch. 

20 January 2015

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

Day 750: The Age of Steel

Dear diary,

Oh, maybe I’ve not changed all that much in the last decade. Remember yesterday, when I bemoaned 2006 Will for his letter to Doctor Who magazine, in which I said I couldn’t decide if I liked the ‘new’ Cybermen design or not? Well, I’d decided in the closing moments of yesterday’s episode that on reflection, the answer was no. I didn’t care all that much for them.

But then, today… oh, I’m starting to have second thoughts about it! There’s a lovely shot of Lumic addressing his Cybermen, where the camera moves almost a full 180 degrees around one the the silver giant’s heads, and it does look like such a beautiful design… I’m completely torn! And then, later on, the Doctor and Mrs Moore venture down into the cooling tunnels under the Cyber Factory, and the suits look gorgeous down there, too, lit in that kind of half light, leering out of the darkness… Oh, I don’t know. For now, I’m chalking it up as being ‘yes, okay, I like this design,’ but there’s every chance that may change again come the end of this season… Maybe I’ve not changed all that much since 2006, after all!

While I’m on the subject of the cooling tunnels, I’m sort of wondering… why have these Cybermen been put on ice? The implication is that they’re fresh recruits (I think I’m right in saying that no one is actually converted before that lone ‘test’ Cyberman in the pre-titles teaser to yesterday’s episode, and the implication is that he’s the only one until the homeless people are rounded up and processed ready for the attack on the Tyler’s mansion… but then, actually, we were told that people had been going missing from the streets for ages; was that just for testing bits of the Cyberman technology?), but surely they should therefore be out and about patrolling the streets of London with the others, making sure they round up every last member of the population? I suppose you could argue that with people being converted so quickly they can afford to simply start putting people ‘on ice’, but still, it stuck out as a bit strange that they’ve already started putting them into the ‘ice tombs’…

Oh, but that’s really me just being picky, I guess. There’s nothing actually wrong with the cooling tunnels, but wondering why they’re down there did take me out of the story for a few minutes while I mused on it. When I returned to Pete’s World, I found myself staring at something that did bother me first time around, but I’d managed to block out since; the emotion of this episode.

Now, emotion is no bad thing to see in Doctor Who. Heck, last time Pete showed up, I found my eyes watering, because it was emotional. The programme has always done emotion (that first companion departure, when the Doctor gives his iconic speech to Susan is an early highlight), and since the revival in 2005 that strand has been more clearly defined than at any point since those early 1960s stories. But there are times - today’s episode being a prime example - where they get the emotion wrong. When I say ‘wrong’, what I mean is that they make the emotion false. Pete’s sacrifice in Father’s Day works for me because it feels like a truly human emotional response. Everything has been geared towards that moment, and all of the interaction between characters up to then has led us forwards. It’s emotion because everything ties together to make it so.

This episode, on the other hand, throws in things that are supposed to tug on our heartstrings… but they simply fall flat because that’s the only reason they exist. I’m largely thinking of the moment that they disable the emotional inhibitor of a Cyberman only to discover that the human converted in to this creature was due to get married the next day. The scene tries really hard to make you care about the woman inside there… but I just can’t connect with it because it feels too blatantly as though I’m supposed to connect with it. The same is true, to a lesser extent, when Mrs Moore dies mere moments later having just explained to us how she’s had to abandon her husband and kids to protect the world. I can’t connect because it all just feels a bit cynical and false (though I suppose that simply could be the product of my own mind, projecting that onto these moments - does anyone feel emotional at the Cyber-Bride? Really?)

Overall, I’m left a bit deflated by this two-parter. Several stories I’d not particularly liked in the past have gone through a bit of a re-evaluation this season, but this story has just been a bit… weak. It’s certainly not one of my favourites… 

19 January 2015

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

Day 749: Rise of the Cybermen

Dear diary,

I can still remember the announcement in Doctor Who Magazine that the Cybermen were to be making a return in the 2006 series, and I was absolutely thrilled by the idea. At some point prior, I’d decided that they were by far my favourite Doctor Who monster (though I’m fairly sure I’d only seen The Tomb of the Cybermen and Earthshock by then… had any others been released on DVD? I didn’t start delving into old Who on VHS until the summer this aired…), and I couldn’t wait to see what the modern programme would do with them. Unlike the four stories preceding this one, I can’t remember how I felt when the return actually aired. I don’t recall being as disappointed by it as I had been in the previous four episodes, but equally I can’t recall being particularly in love with the story, either.

The one thing that I can vaguely recall was that I didn’t like the idea of Pete Tyler coming back - it seemed to cheapen Father’s Day from the year before - but then even that comes to make a rather nice circle when the finale rolls around, and Rose gets packed off to this parallel universe to be with her complete family unit.

One other thing I can recall is writing to Doctor Who Magazine when the new Cybermen were first revealed during production, with a somewhat over earnest letter in which I gave my verdict on the new look, but couldn’t make my own mind up and threw in a reference to the Troughton-era just to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about… remember the other day when I said I was the kind of teenager who was always trying to be old and grumpy and important? Yeah, that’s exactly how that letter reads to me these days! To quote myself (with reluctance, honestly);

Hmm, I don’t know if I like them or not! I like the faces, the eyes and mouth are good - back to a more classic ‘Second Doctor’ style. But I’m on the fence about the shape of the face. On first sight, I thought that the body looked a bit too chunky, but now I’m warming to it… Hmm. Well, maybe I’ll just have to wait and see what the Tenth Doctor does with them!

That said, I know I went on to really like this model of Cyberman. Once it had made an appearance on screen and we’d seen them moving around, I was completely sold on the design, and it became one of my favourites… so it surprises me that I look at them today and think that it’s not all that great of a design! I wonder if it’s because I really love the look they’ve had since Nightmare in Silver, and so this version has been kicked a little further down the list? I certainly recall one of the reasons I was so impressed with them being that the action figure versions looked exactly like the full-size costumes on screen - they were by far the most accurate toy released in those early years!

I’d not remembered that they’re kept shrouded in mystery for the majority of this episode, though. We get to really feel their presence throughout - they’re seen out-of-focus in the background, or harshly illuminated from behind, keeping them just abstract enough to keep you wondering - until almost the very end of the episode, when they come in to storm the Tyler mansion. Even though I was well aware of the design marching towards us, I’m pleased to say that it’s worked really effectively here, and it’s possibly one of my favourite stylistic things about the entire story.

It’s not the favourite, though, because that honour has to go to the ‘dead’ TARDIS. I really enjoy the whole sequence of the ship tumbling through the gap between universes, blowing up and then resorting to being just a dead, empty shell (I particularly like the gas masks that come tumbling down from the ceiling!), and it’s somewhat impressive that the set can look so good when left simply blank. I’ve not really found a chance yet to discuss the different ways the TARDIS set gets lit throughout the Russell T Davies years (based, I believe, on the fact that there were two different Directors of Photography, who each liked to light the set in a different way - one more golden and one with that vibrant green that we see at the start of this story), but I’m surprised, watching through like this, just how much of a difference there is from episode to episode. It’s nice to see it in a somewhat more derelict state, here, though - although the Doctor seems oddly excited at spotting a little glow of power somewhere in the bowels of the ship’s workings when the floor lights around the edge have been burning brightly since they crashed! 

18 January 2015

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

Day 748: The Girl in the Fireplace

Dear diary,

Ah, now this episode I have seen since watching it on first broadcast, and more than once. I’ve a distinct memory of seeing it the first time around, and then texting a friend to admit that, nope, Doctor Who simply wasn’t doing it for me this season, and that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. I can’t remember why I felt that way so strongly after watching this particular episode, but I must have re-evaluated the decision pretty quickly, because only a few months later when preparing my final project for A Level, I used extracts of this script to illustrate a photography project about the passing of time (incidentally, I unearthed the final piece when I was visiting home last Christmas, and it was terrible. Maybe my opinion of the episode hadn’t changed, and I was simply venting my dislike through what I could only very loosely describe as being ‘art’!)

What’s struck me strongly today - so strongly that I’m going to have to discuss it before I get on to anything else - is just how much this story feels like an audition piece for the Eleventh Doctor’s era. I don’t know if I’ve seen this one since Matt Smith took over the role, but looking at it now it seems ridiculously obvious. Of course, it’s written by Steven Moffat, who will go on to spearhead the Eleventh Doctor years, but there’s just so much about this one that feels entirely in keeping with the Doctor we’d get a few years down the line. It’s most noticeable in the characterisation of the Doctor, and the lines that he’s given to speak. Take almost any of the lines David Tennant spouts here, and just spend a moment imagining them in Matt Smith’s mouth - they fit perfectly! I can very much imagine him dancing his way through the ‘drunk’ Doctor scene, which seems almost tailor-made for him! There’s something of a trend at conventions of getting various incarnations of the Doctor to read speeches from other incarnation’s eras - someone get Matt to read out this scene, please?

Perhaps what surprises me the most about this episode today is just how much I’ve connected to the story of the Doctor and Madame De Pompadour. I’ve never thought of the Tenth Doctor’s romantic streak as being the heresy some other people see it as, but I don’t think I’d really latched on to just how deeply the emotions run in this one, especially during the ‘mind reading’ scene. Again, we’re tugging on strings that will go on to make the Eleventh Doctor’s bow - the Doctor’s lonely childhood, and the fact that his name is more than just a secret (again, I’m tempted to think that Steven Moffat really likes Silver Nemesis) - and having now been through the show under Moffat’s stewardship, these scenes have picked up a bit more feeling for me. Reinette is painted as being so very much the perfect companion for the Doctor - intelligent, resourceful, flirty, and able to see and understand the Doctor’s great heartache (it was touched on in School Reunion, too, with the Doctor actively explaining to Rose the curse that being a Time Lord can bring).

I mentioned yesterday how much I disliked Rose’s reaction to Mickey going the TARDIS crew full-time, and said that I was pleased they dropped that thread without another word, but actually watching this episode I’m a little sorry that it doesn’t continue throughout. Rose and Mickey spend a large amount of this story on their own, with the Doctor off ‘dancing’ in France, and it does feel a little bit like a wasted opportunity to explore further the idea that Mickey is trying to move in on Rose’s special life with the Doctor. Especially given that he’ll be leaving us in the next story, I sort of wonder if it may have been more dramatically appealing to have the pair of them bickering more in this episode - he doesn’t fit in at home anymore (there’s shades of that at the end of The Christmas Invasion, where his heart is broken by Rose’s declaration that there’s ‘nothing’ for her back home), and he doesn’t fit in with Rose’s new life, either. Settling down in a parallel world would therefore be an entirely viable option, and it would carry all that extra weight if we’d seen the pair less happy with each other’s company here. It may also work as a nice counter-balance to the relationship blossoming on the other side of the time windows.

But who am I to complain, because it’s not as if The Girl in the Fireplace is exactly short of things to love. I think, if I had to choose my favourite element of the story, then it’s the idea that the Doctor and his friends never find out why they wanted Reinette, above any other person. Those final shots, with the TARDIS fading away to reveal the portrait, and then the words on the side of the ship are so masterfully done - as, while I’m on the subject, is the opening shot of the episode, where we see the vastness of space, with galaxies and stars, expecting to pan onto a spaceship… before actually panning down to reveal the palace of Versailles! It’s such a brilliant, and very Doctor Who, bait-and-switch, and it even had me fooled again watching today. It’s the perfect way to introduce a story which so clever blends the past and the future.

17 January 2015

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

Day 747: School Reunion

Dear diary,

Way back at the very start of this marathon, one of the key things I said I wanted to get out of it was a real sense of ‘attachment’ to the various characters from the programme’s past. Because of the somewhat unique way that Doctor Who has been released on video and DVD over the years, it’s always been a case of dipping in and out of varying eras as I please - I can go from Sarah Jane’s first story to her last story, then back to the middle with no trouble at all (indeed, at times the release schedule of stories necessitated it), but I never really form the same kind of bond with the character that you do with the current version of the programme that’s airing on TV week after week.

I’ve been pleased to find that by-and-large this effect has come out of doing a marathon - there have been occasions where I’ve been really sad to see a Doctor or companion leave the programme, knowing that from my point of view, I won’t be able to see them again for a fair old while. On the other hand, there’s been times when I’m more than ready for a character to go, because I’ve spent so long with them that they’re actively starting to bore me. I’ve been pretty strict with myself over the course of this Diary (if I’m entirely honest, I’m surprised just how well I’ve stuck to it), in that the only episodes I’ve seen ‘out of era’ are the brand new ones as they come out - so the latter half of Series Seven and into Series Eight. Oh, there have been times where I’ve been very tempted to go back and see a bit of the 1960s stuff, but I’ve been sticking to my game plan and not cheating. There’s a little voice in my head that says it’ll be worth it in the end, once this marathon is over and I can really savour those episodes again.

But all of this makes Sarah Jane Smith a fairly special element in the marathon - a companion who spends a fair old whack of time traveling with the Doctor… and then pops up again from time to time throughout the rest of the experiment! When she left in The Hand of Fear - Episode Four of which I watched on April 1st last year - I found myself entirely unmoved by her departure. Supposedly one of the saddest the programme has ever done, and yet it didn’t move me at all. I speculated at the time that it may be because I knew she’d be coming back, and now that I’ve reached that point… I think it’s fair to say that I was right. Since that fateful call back to Gallifrey for the Doctor, I’ve seen Sarah Jane pop up in K9 and Company last August, The Five Doctors in September, and Downtime in December - and we’re about to enter a period where she pops up a few more times in the main show, as well as receiving her own series of adventures to compliment it (More on what I plan to do with The Sarah Jane Adventures at the end of today’s entry). What I hadn’t considered, though it seems so obvious, now, is that this story has also suffered a bit from Sarah Jane’s numerous returns over the last few months.

I’m not watching School Reunion thinking ‘It’s Sarah Jane!’ in the way it was intended, because she’s just not all that exciting to me in the context of the Diary. When this story was first transmitted, she’d still made all of those returns (plus an audio series from Big Finish), but they were years apart - there was still an impact. It’s a shame, really, because it takes one of the story’s biggest selling points and flushes it away.

Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there from being plenty of other things to enjoy in this episode, and the return of Sarah Jane is still somewhat saved by the reaction of David Tennant to seeing one of his childhood icons sharing the screen with him. There’s something about the sheer look of delight on his face when Lis Sladen first walks in to the staff room… perfect. Even if the return of Sarah Jane in general isn’t enough to really make me sit up and take notice again, this scene alone justifies the entire idea. As a side note, their final goodbye outside the TARDIS is also beautiful - and especially poignant since Lis Sladen’s death. I still can’t believe it’s been four years!

I’m also rather fond of all the bickering that occurs between Sarah Jane and Rose - it’s so catty, and yet it seems to fit absolutely perfectly. It does, however, highlight another of the things I can remember being a bit annoyed with when this series was first broadcast, though, namely that Rose spends so much of it being so incredibly jealous and selfish. The reaction to discovering that the Doctor had an ex is overblown enough, but her reaction to Mickey asking to join the travels is something that’s always bothered me - especially since it’s completely overlooked in the very next episode, and never brought up again!

Speaking of Mickey, I commented last week about the way his character evolves over the course of his time on the programme, and we’re seeing another big step in that here. We’ve gone from him running whenever Rose calls him, or the TARDIS lands, to a position where he’s the one making the call and bringing the ‘experts’ in to investigate strange going ons. I know he thinks of himself as being the ‘Tin Dog’ of the team, but I really like the idea that he’s keeping an eye out for suspicious activities in London, especially in light of the fact that Sarah Jane goes on to do something similar in her own series. I love that the Doctor’s companions don’t stop fighting the good fight, just because they’re not aboard the TARDIS.

Besides, what’s wrong with being the Tin Dog, other than breaking down if you’d be too convenient to the story…? 

16 January 2015

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

Day 746: Tooth and Claw

Dear diary,

In a podcast recently, Russell T Davies said that one of the notes the Production team was given when planning began on this second series was to give the historical stories ‘a kick up the arse’. I think you can really see that in action in this story - because we don’t waste much time getting everything in place before there’s some mystery, some tension, and a bloody great werewolf charging around the place! This is a story that packs in a lot of action, and it’s probably the most adrenalin-filled that we’ve had since the programme came back to screens - compare this with The Unquiet Dead, for example!

What’s surprised me most though - nine years on - is just how well the CGI on the werewolf has held up, especially considering that I wasn’t too sure about it at the time (or, at least, that’s my memory of things). Of course, it’s never going to be perfect, and technology is constantly moving forward, but I don’t think this looks at all out of place compared to more recent efforts that the programme has given us. I’m also surprised at just how brutal this creature is - that scene where a character is wrenched up into the rafters is absolutely brilliant! I’m not sure how I’d managed to forget a moment like that, but I doubt I'll be doing so again this time around! He’s also more than a little creepy in his human form, while trapped in the cage - something which really did go over my head the first time I saw this one. There were moments of it yesterday, and several today, too, where i can sense how unengaged I was with the programme this point, because there’s so many little hidden things I’d never payed enough attention to before - and I’m really looking forward to uncovering them as I move along.

Aside from all the action and wolf business, the thing I’m enjoying the most about this story is simply the inclusion of Queen Victoria. Celebrity historicals aren’t anything new (they were doing them right back in 1964!), but I wonder if this might be a more ‘accessible’ historical figure than most? There’s such an iconic image of Queen Victoria that you just grow up with in Britain, and Pauline Collins certainly manages to fit into the preconceived idea of this person, while also breaking the mould a little bit - the moment when she kills one of the Brethren because her protector has been disarmed, for example, is a particular highlight. 

I’m also finding myself oddly drawn to the Doctor and Rose here, despite the fact that they’re firmly back in ‘smug’ mode. I wonder if that’s because this story is largely about their smugness, or at least it comes back to haunt them in the final scenes, and so it feels more justified? Quite aside from that, I’m sort of just enjoying these two best friends roaming around in time and space, having a bit of a laugh with each other. It seems so strange to think that the Tenth Doctor has only been around for a couple of episodes, because these two are already so embedded - and I like that!

Also - really small thing. Silly thing. I love the way the Doctor looks in this story. There’s something about his hair, and the outfit and everything that really just gels for me - and I think it’s my favourite ‘version’ of the Tenth Doctor’s look from across his entire time on the show. Is that weird? Please tell me that other people have odd episodes here and there where the Doctor just looks ‘right’ to you? 

15 January 2015

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

Day 745: New Earth

Dear diary,

It felt so strange, sitting down to watch this in 2006. I’d seen quite a few of the older Doctor Who episodes by this point, and I’d watched all of Series One over again when the DVD came out, but there was something really odd about the thought of another thirteen brand new episodes ahead of me for the next thirteen weeks. It was exciting! We had a new Doctor who I’d enjoyed at Christmas, and every new issue of Doctor Who Magazine brought with it some more exciting news - the Cybermen were going to make a comeback! So was Sarah Jane Smith - with K9! Oh, the excitement was building. I sat down to watch this one, so glad that my favourite show was back on TV…

…and, well, oh dear. Oh, I hated it. As in, by the end, I wasn’t even that bothered about the thought of the next twelve weeks - surely they couldn’t all be as bad as this? Actually, I had something of a backlash with Series Two. A week later, when Tooth and Claw was on, I didn’t even realise until someone called from the other room to say I’d missed ten minutes of Doctor Who. Once Girl in the Fireplace ended, I turned to a friend and announced that I simply couldn’t get in to Doctor Who this year. Something about it was wrong. I think, looking back, that it was simply that ‘second album’ effect - I was so used to the fourteen episodes we’d had in 2005, that these somehow felt like pretenders. It didn’t really let up for the rest of the series, and as the years have gone by Series Two has sort of sat in my mind as being Not Very Good. It means that there’s several episodes here I’ve not seen since their original broadcast. New Earth is one of them, and the same can be said for the Cyberman two-parter, the Impossible Planet two-parter, and Fear Her. I’ve been really excited about reaching this point of the marathon, because it’s almost like coming to these episodes as new - and seeing if my thoughts on them have changed, nine years on.

Certainly, time has been kind to this one, because I’ve really enjoyed New Earth! There’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to say! It didn’t start well, I’ll admit. There’s something about the scenes of the Doctor and Rose emerging from the TARDIS on that hillside that just doesn’t sit right with me - they’re far too smug (a complaint levelled at much of this series, and one which comes back to haunt them later on; it’s using the same trick that was employed between Boom Town and the Series One finale, but taken to extremes). Once they’ve arrived at the hospital, though, and things are underway, there’s a lot to really enjoy about this one.

Including, it has to be said, all of the body swapping! There’s that great line in Time Crash about the Doctor acting grumpy and important ‘like you do when you’re young’, and I think that’s very true of me. I can recall thinking that all of the body swapping and camping up the performances was really silly the last time I watched this one, but I’ve actually found myself laughing at it this time around. I wonder if it might be because I’ve seen all of David Tenant’s episodes, now, so can better appreciate what he’s doing here? At the time, I think I worried that he was going to be messing around like this every week, and that thought put me off a bit. It also means that I didn’t get to appreciate the more serious moments of the story - when he discovers the flesh and confronts the cat nuns… oh God there’s fire in that performance. Tennant can be really scary when he’s playing the Doctor as angry, and it’s great to see that done so well right here at the beginning of his tenure. If anything, it serves to heighten the scenes in which he’s playing Cassandra - really contrasting nicely with them.

Now, I’m not suddenly a convert. I’m not going to start proclaiming that New Earth is the best episode that I’ve ever seen, or trying to convince everyone that it’s fantastic (there’s still a few bits that leave me cold - the solution is all a bit quick and easy, for example, and I’m sure I’ve heard Russell T Davies describe it as being a bit ‘skin of [his] teeth’), but there’s far more in here to enjoy than I’d ever considered before. I’m therefore desperately hoping that more episodes I’ve not enjoyed over the last ten years will undergo a similar process of re-evaluation. I know they’re not all going to end up being classics, but if we can have another few stories go through the transformation process that New Earth has taken, I’ll be a very happy person…


14 January 2015

Filming has begun in Cardiff for series 9 of Doctor Who and includes a star-studded guest cast. The new series will be back on BBC One in Autumn 2015.

The episodes currently being filmed are written by Toby Whithouse (The Game, Being Human), produced by Derek Ritchie and directed by Daniel O’Hara (Silent Witness 2015, The Game, Being Human).

Steven Moffat, lead writer and Executive Producer, said:

“An amazing guest cast for a brilliantly creepy two-parter by Toby Whithouse. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are back in Cardiff, back in the box, and back in action - for one of our scariest adventures yet!” 

On set filming for the new series, Peter Capaldi added:

“The adventures begin again for myself and Jenna and I’m delighted to be back filming my second series of Doctor Who.”

Paul Kaye who played Thoros of Myr in the third series of Game of Thrones joins the Doctor Who cast for the two-part episode. A comedian and actor, Paul is also well-known for being the voice of Vincent the fox on the puppet-based BBC comedy Mongrels.

Commenting on his role, Paul Kaye, said: 

“As a kid of the 1970’s, the two shows you always watched were Top of the Pops and Doctor Who, they were unmissable. I actually wrote a song called ‘Looking for Davros’ in my first punk band and I sang it like a demented Dalek. I got to present TOTP back in the mid ‘90’s and landing this role in Doctor Who completes the dream double. Peter is a perfect Doctor and I’m loving every minute of the experience, even the five hours in make-up. What a treat, best 50th birthday present ever!”

Also starring in the episodes will be Morven Christie who recently played the role of Amanda in the crime drama Grantchester and featured in Death in Paradise (2014) and Twenty Twelve.

Arsher Ali who played the part of Malik Suri in the critically acclaimed The Missing (BBC One) takes up a role in the guest cast alongside Colin McFarlane who appeared in Eastenders as part of the Who Killed Lucy Beale? storyline.

Recognised for her theatre and TV performances, actress Sophie Stone appears in the show for the first time. Sophie was the lead actress in the play Woman of Flowers and has appeared in Midsummer Murders and Casualty.

Also joining Peter Capaldi (The Doctor) and Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) and confirmed for roles in the double episode are Zaqi Ismail, Steven Robertson and Neil Fingleton.

Further guest cast for series 9 will be released over the coming months.

[Source: BBC]

14 January 2015

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

Day 744: The Christmas Invasion

Dear diary,

Christmas comes around quick these days, doesn’t it? It seems strange, less than a month on from our tenth modern Doctor Who Christmas Special, that this felt like such a big deal back in 2005. These days, Doctor Who is just a part of the furniture on Christmas day, with all the presents, and turkey, and family, simply there to fill the time until the TARDIS arrives. Oh, but how exciting was this ten years ago? That wait between the regeneration in the summer and finally getting a chance to see the new man in action here felt like it went on forever.

There was one small way of plugging the gap, though, in the form of the Children in Need mini-episode Born Again, which came along in November and gave us a scant few minutes of the Tenth Doctor breaking himself in and reassuring Rose that he was still the same man. For years, I’ve thought it somewhat strange that this scene wasn’t planned all along, because it felt like such an integral part of the new Doctor’s introduction, but having watched it again as an appetiser for the episode proper, I’m not sure it really is all that necessary. For starters, it means that we get to see Rose accepting that this strange new bloke is the Doctor (‘Run!’) before slipping right back into being unsure and having to do the whole realisation again (I’d also never noticed that the way the Doctor convinces Harriet Jones in the episode is almost identical to the reassurance he gives Rose in the mini-episode).

But once we’re into the main event… oh, it races along, doesn’t it? I remember thinking at the time that it was somewhat brave to spend the new Doctor’s first episode with him largely tucked up in bed, but actually it works perfectly, and it means that when David Tennant is given the chance to start getting out and doing things, you’re really paying attention to his every movement. He really hits the ground running - that scene where he gets up and heads out to see the Pilot Fish is fantastic, and he’s so instantly the Doctor right away. Not that it harms the proper reveal of him later on, as the Sycorax language starts to get translated and we move in to see him framed in the TARDIS doorway. I’m not ashamed to say that I actually cheered at this bit. Out loud. To myself, in an empty room. It’s just so perfectly done, and then he’s really off - jabbering away, having a sword fight, threatening the Prime Minister… yeah, once he’s up and about, he’s a busy man!

Keeping him confined to bed rest for so long gives the rest of our supporting cast a real chance to shine, too, and on first transmission this was the episode where I suddenly ‘got’ Jackie, and fell in love with her. I can’t help but watch her during the tree attack and smile (‘I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas Tree!’). Mickey had always fared a bit better with me than Jackie, but it’s great to see them coming together as a proper family ‘unit’ now. Then you’ve got Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (yes, you know who she is), too! I really love that we get to see her come back to the programme, and I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated just how clever it is to show her downfall as the introduction to a new Doctor. Surrounding the new incarnation with familiar characters isn’t a new trick - we’ve seen the same thing done with Daleks in the 1960s, and UNIT in the 70s - but we’ve never seen a new Doctor really flex his regenerated personality in this way before. It really helps to set him out as a completely new man, and reinforce his ‘no second chances’ line just a few minutes earlier. I’ve often thought of the Ninth Doctor as being more angry and powerful than the Tenth, but I’m not sure I could imagine him in this scene. Oh, he would rage at Harriet and really express his disappointment, but I can’t imagine him using the six words to bring her down. It’s really beautifully done.

As is the entire end of the episode. Oh, Song for Ten. I love that piece of music. I sing it sometimes. Genuinely. It’s a really lovely piece, and it helps to underscore another change for the Doctor. The last few episodes of Eccleston’s run were all about the fact that the Doctor is constantly moving on - he doesn’t stick around in the aftermath. The adventure here is over, but the Doctor’s stuck around for Christmas Dinner with the Tylers (another change - the Ninth Doctor didn’t do ‘domestic’). It’s something we’ll see him willing to do a bit more from now on - In School Reunion, he’s still around once the Krillitane threat is over, for example. As he’ll say in tomorrow’s episode, we’ve got a ‘new new Doctor’, and he’s off to a good start… 

13 January 2015

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

Day 743: The Parting of the Ways

Dear diary,

Oh, where do you start with this one? The Parting of the Ways holds one of my strongest memories from this season - having to pause the episode for a few minutes before it started so that someone could finish up a phonecall. I can just remember being really anxious to get going with the episode, because of everything at stake; we knew that the Doctor was regenerating. The Daleks were back, en masse. Everything was to play for… I just wanted to get in to it already!

That sense of excitement hasn’t lessened in the decade since. The stakes for this one have been so successfully raised by Bad Wolf, and now it feels almost as though the story can really get going.

Last week, while watching Dalek, I complained that the Daleks were never as good or powerful after that episode, and mused that it was a real pity. Actually, though, I was wrong, because the Daleks in this story are from completely the same mould - and I’m a little saddened that the Daleks aren’t quite like this any more. My friend Nick describes it perfectly with just a single word - these Daleks are ‘ruthless’. It’s best summed up when they board the game station and venture down to the lowest levels to kill all the humans huddled there… simply because they can. They don’t need to - they’re no threat to the Daleks or their plans, but what the heck, we’ll kill them anyway. During our discussion, I compared it to a scene from The Day of the Doctor in which the Daleks close in on a group of Gallifreyans, ready to kill… but then they realise the Doctor has arrived elsewhere, and they hurry off to try and kill him instead. The Daleks of this story wouldn’t have been so lenient - they’d have headed off to find the Doctor, and then swivelled their middle section around while they retreated, to kill the group of people anyway.

And they’re all the better for it! I really get the idea that the Daleks are an unstoppable force when I’m watching them here, simply slaughtering their way up to the top of the station to find the Doctor. There’s something so powerful about the way that they don’t come in all-guns-blazing, but simply glide their way slowly upwards, killing anything that gets in their way calmly and efficiently. It’s best evidenced when we reach the ‘last man standing’ moment with Jack - a character we’ve grown to like over the last few episodes, and the Doctor’s companion - and they simply wait until he’s out of bullets, before taking him out with a single beam. I know the Daleks couldn’t always be this effective, but it would be nice to have them like this again just once…

While I’m on the subject of our pepper-pot friends, I need to finish up a bit of narrative that I started during Dalek. I was speaking then about why these Daleks are so much more powerful, but couldn’t tell the whole story until we’d been through this episode so that I could check the facts. There’s one or two little wrinkles, but they’re fairly easily smoothed out…

So. A Dalek in the closing seconds of the Time War manages to perform and Emergency Temporal Shift and escape the carnage. He’s the only one who does it - or the only one who successfully does it, at least - and he ends up burning in a crater for three days, screaming because his mind has been warped by the things he’s seen. Eventually, he ends up in Henry Van Staten’s vault, meets the Doctor, and learns that the war is over. What he witnessed in his final moments was the end of the Dalek race, and he’s the only survivor. Then he meets Rose, and through her touch he’s able to regenerate himself. Eventually, the presence of human touch changes the Dalek. It starts to feel, and eventually accepts orders to destroy itself. The last Dalek in existence, wiped out. 

But… what if that’s not what happens? What if those spheres coming out of the skirt and converging on the Dalek isn’t a self destruct protocol, but a dressed-up Emergency Temporal Shift? There’s an undercurrent through Dalek that the creature is simply looking for orders, and the Doctor confirms that he’s never going to get any orders, because there’s no other Daleks around to give them. Instead, what if it reverts to it’s base programming - that the Dalek race must survive under any circumstances? To this end, the Dalek Temporal Shifts to the future, and sets about manipulating the human race to create a brand new army of Daleks. Its contact with Rose has shown it that there is some benefit to the human condition, and even though he’s still picky (only one cell in a billion is suitable), he’s more willing to harvest the humans than Daleks would usually be.

This goes on for centuries. We’re told as much in these two episodes, that the Daleks have been behind everything that’s gone wrong for humanity - the loss of that Fourth Great and Bountiful empire. Over time, our original Dalek sets itself up as Emperor (it is the only remaining ‘genuine’ Dalek, after all, so the perfect candidate for the job) and goes slowly mad, thinking of himself as a god. By the time we catch up with him here, and find him surrounded by half a million other Daleks, the thought that his army is born from humanity sickens him - all that he learnt from Rose has been wiped away by time. It’s not a completely flawless plan, but it works well enough for me, and I think I prefer it to the idea that two Daleks managed to escape right at the end of the Time War, and that the Doctor encounters them in fairly quick succession. You can also build in the fact that the TARDIS visits this time and place immediately after the first adventure with a Dalek, and thus could be the ship trying to warn the Doctor what’s happened, but he’s too busy showing off and swanning about to take notice. 

It also builds nicely in to the regeneration, I think. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken a lot about this season of adventures being perfectly formed to tell the story of the Doctor’s post-war recovery, and I think it’s a nice capstone to have his regeneration brought about by the ‘final’ act of the Time War. 

On the subject of which… that’s it! Goodbye, Ninth Doctor! It’s gone quick, hasn’t it? Remember those days where I spent six months with the Tom Baker Doctor? We’re down to two weeks for an incarnation now! It strange, in a way, because even though Paul McGann was only around for the one night, it feels stranger to have a Doctor round for several stories, but still only a very short time. Yet, I think I’m glad that we only had the Ninth Doctor for this one run of adventures. Even though I think he’s great, these thirteen episodes tell a complete story so well (I think I’m right in saying that Russell T Davies planned them out so that if no further episodes were commissioned, then these would work as their own self-contained story), that it might somehow lessen them to spend another year in the company of this incarnation.

And besides, we’re off into the Tenth Doctor’s era, now! There’s several stories coming up in the next few weeks which I’ve not seen since their initial broadcast - up to nine years ago, in some cases - so I’m really excited to see how I take to them all. I’m in the swing of the way the new series works again now (spending two years in classic territory meant that the first few episodes of the Ninth Doctor threw me a bit!), and I’m ready for the next adventure!

12 January 2015

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

Day 742: Bad Wolf

Dear diary,

It’s been so long since I last saw this story that I’d sort of forgotten the Daleks don’t show up until the end of this first episode. In my head, this one has become a massive, sprawling, Dalek epic that closes out the season, but there’s a lot more to it than all of that. And, actually, it’s all the better for it - because there’s a lot in this opening episode which I’d never really paid all that much attention to, but which is really rather well done.

For instance; I’ve been banging on a lot in the last fortnight about the way episodes in this season are perfect placed to move the story on, and to take both us and the characters on the right journey. There’s lots in this episode which really pays off all that careful setting up, and I’m not sure that I’ve really noticed it on previous watches. The obvious one is that we’re back on Satellite Five a hundred years after the events of The Long Game, but this then plays in to the themes of Boom Town, with the Doctor realising that the ‘hundred years of hell’ the Earth has been experiencing is all his fault. It picks up the threads dangled by Margaret Slitheen yesterday when she commented on the way the Doctor swans off and leaves others to clean up the mess - and when you counterpoint that statement with a flashback to the end of The Long Game where he does just that… it really works.

On top of that, you’ve got the really rather brilliant idea of the gameshows themselves. I can remember finding it hilarious at the time that the Doctor had ended up in the Big Brother house (when this episode first aired, I’d dipped in and out of various seasons of Big Brother, so knew enough about the programme to really connect with the joke), and actually it’s still fun now. I can also recall something of a vague worry that it would cause the episode to date incredibly quickly, but I don’t think it’s really suffered from that. For starters, Big Brother is in the news a lot as I type this, and the likes of The Weakest Link - even though no longer in production - are so ingrained into popular culture that the joke is still relevant for us ten years on.

Something that did surprise me is the way that this episode is structured. The Doctor and Rose have been separated before now, but never quite as thoroughly as this - they only come close to each other during the break out from the Weakest Link studio (there’s a sentence!), and then communicate via video link at the end. I’m not sure I’d noticed that before, because the episode is largely about the Doctor fighting his way to get back to his companion.

We’ve also got the arrival of another potential companion in ‘Lynda-with-a-Y’, and I have to confess that I really didn’t take to her first time around. I’m not sure why that is, if I’m honest, because she’s not all that bad here. I think I thought she was so obviously the next companion (yes, yes, they hooked me!) that I didn’t like how blatant it was! And then when Rose is ‘killed’ by the Android…

But despite all the great build up in this one, things really get in to their swing during the final minutes, with the Doctor face-to-face with a new Dalek empire. To say I’m excited for tomorrow’s episode is probably a bit of an understatement…

11 January 2015

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

Day 741: Boom Town

Dear diary,

Much like The Long Game, Boom Town has something of a reputation that precedes it. Coming sandwiched between two big two-part stories, being shot almost entirely on location in Cardiff (as Cardiff, this time), and featuring really only our main characters and Margaret Slitheen, it’s got a bit of a reputation of being a little bit cheap and a little bit rubbish.

But you know what? It’s not! Hah! It’s brilliant! I can remember, back in 2006 when I first stumbled into fan forums, reading all the dislike for this one and recalling it as being rather good, but over the years I’ve sort of slipped into the thinking that it’s probably one of this first series’ weaker episodes - if probably not as bad as some people say it is. Actually, though, there’s so much that I’ve enjoyed in here that I think it’s quickly rocketed towards the top of my list for the series as a real belter.

Again like The Long Game, this story serves a very specific purpose to the season, and is placed in this ‘just-before-the-finale’ slot for a very specific reason, because it’s levelling the playing field ready for the final showdown. As so many of the stories in this latter half of the season have been, this is all about character, and about the relationships between all the characters across the entire season. Most powerful of all are probably the scenes between Rose and Micky, out on the Bay, where they finally confront her running off at the end of that first episode, and address the fact of their relationship. I’ve seen it said repeatedly that Micky’s character was ‘re-written’ as the show went on to make him less of a pushover… but that’s nonsense! His character isn’t written - it evolves, and you can see that process most clearly in this episode. There’s something so powerful about that final scene, where he watches Rose and chooses to leave. Coming so soon after his confession that he hates that he’ll always come running when she picks up the phone makes it all the stronger. For me, that’s the real heart of the episode.

But then you’ve also got the Doctor and Margaret Slitheen out for dinner together! The only bit I could remember of this scene was the comedy moments with the dart and the poison gas, but once again, there’s a real emotional discussion underpinning the whole scene, and it all stems from that rather brilliant synopsis of the episode that Margaret gives in the TARDIS;


I wonder if you could do it? To sit with a creature you're about to kill and take supper. How strong is your stomach? 


Strong enough.


I wonder. I've seen you fight your enemies, now dine with them.


You won't change my mind.


Prove it.

It’s such a powerful exchange, and it reveals so much about the Doctor - especially when he then tries to find an excuse to not do it.

Annette Badland’s performance throughout the episode, but especially in her TARDIS scenes is simply flawless. I think I’m right in saying that this episode was largely crafted simply on the basis that Russell T Davies watched her in the earlier Slitheen two-parter and decided that she had to come back. Of all the monsters and villains this series, I can’t think of another I’d rather sit face-to-face with the Doctor in this situation.

Plus, you know me, I’m a sucker for a Slitheen. I’m just glad that we got one back for another episode! It’s also telling that between the start of the shoot, when they filmed Aliens of London, and the production of this episode, they’ve learned an awful lot about the making of Doctor Who. All my complains about the way the Slitheen were handled in the earlier story have been washed away now, because they’re far more clever with it this time around. That’s partly because they’ve learned to keep the actual ‘big green monster’ moments to an absolute minimum, but also because they’re shooting them better on the rare occasion that they do come along. The scene with the Slitheen on the toilet* for example, really shows off just how great those costumes are, with the little mouth movements and detailing in the face.

Perhaps my absolute favourite thing about all of this, though, is the way the TARDIS team are presented at the very beginning. I said yesterday that I’d likely miss the air of distrust between the Doctor and Captain Jack, but actually I like the sense that these three have been travelling around the universe for a long time together, having no end of adventures and getting more-and-more comfortable with each other. They’re unbearably smug and irritating to start with - which only helps to strengthen Margaret’s prodding and stirring later on. Something similar will be tried with the Doctor and Rose next season, setting them up for another fall, but from memory I don’t think it works quite as well as this does here.

All in all, a hidden gem at the tail-end of the season, and the perfect sorbet to prepare for the big finale to come…

*Probably the closest we’ll ever come to the oft-quoted ‘Yeti on the loo’.

10 January 2015

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

Day 740: The Doctor Dances

Dear diary,

Back in the day, on the official Doctor Who website, they used to have a team of children who would watch the episodes and then rte them out of five for their ‘fear factor’ - ie, just how scary was that week’s episode. I can’t say that I’ve ever really found Doctor Who scary, but that’s possibly because I came to it as a teen, whereas I’d have probably had a better chance at hiding behind the sofa at five years younger. This episode very quickly racked up the maximum score from all four children - ranking the episode as ‘terrifying’. As much as I can’t say that I’m scared watching this one… I can’t help but see why you might be.

For starters, there’s a lot in here that’s almost quite adult compared to other parts of the modern series so far. Oh, sure, it’s horrifying to watch a Dalek sucker a man to death, or to see the Moxx of Balhoon perish as the sun dies, but there’s something really grotesque about the way that people transform into the gas-mask creatures… almost to the point that I’m surprised we see it a few times throughout these episodes. I think the scariest one must be the transformation on the train tracks as Jack watches on - there’s just something about it which really sells the horror for the situation to me, and it’s helped along by Nancy’s description just a few minutes earlier of how the process feels.

On top of that, it’s also perhaps the most desperate that the situation has felt up to now. Even in other stories where hope seems to be spread thin, there’s always been some clause - in Dalek, they’ve got the bulkhead, and in Father’s Day, if worst comes to worst, the Doctor knows that Pete’s death will save the day. Here, the Doctor simply doesn’t have a clue. The situation is too advanced, there’s a bomb about to fall… no hope. But then it’s all turned on its head magically, as the Doctor finally puts all the pieces together to work out who Nancy and the child really are, and starts to speculate that there might be another way out. The resulting scene (‘everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!’) is glorious, and perhaps the one we most needed for a Doctor overcoming the loss of his own people in a devastating war.

But the darkness in this episode doesn’t entirely define it, and there’s a lot of great humour in this one. Jack’s character, for starters, is a revelation. Written larger-than-life (and cast with John Barrowman, who isn’t exactly meek and mild-mannered!), the character fits in perfectly, and helps to add some much needed levity to certain moments. There’s also a lot of depth to him here that I’d simply forgotten about over the years, or things which I thought might have come later, what with successive returns to the programme, and four seasons in his own show. I’d completely forgotten, for example, the missing two years of his life; and, if I’m honest, a bit saddened that we’ve never found out what happened - not because I think it would be better if we knew, but because here it’s very much Jack’s driving force, and it’s a shame that he’s never been seen to get resolution for himself.

It’s an interesting relationship with Jack and the Doctor, too, with both men wary of each other while equally appreciating just how useful the other may be, and also finding their personalities oddly attracted. The Doctor almost slips back into being his ‘old self’ at times (I can so easily imagine the Fourth or Sixth Doctors during the Weapons Factory scenes). It forms a nice contrast with the inclusion of Adam a few episodes ago - because the experience with the boy wonder has no doubt further coloured the Doctor’s thoughts on Jack here. I know when we pick up with the team in the next episode things are much more jolly, but I wonder if I’ll miss the air of distrust that currently exists between them? It’ve certainly an interesting dynamic…

I also have to confess that I laughed a little too hard at Mrs Harcourt’s leg - a joke I’d completely forgotten, and perhaps my favourite in all Doctor Who.

9 January 2015

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

Day 739: The Empty Child

Dear diary,

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken a lot about the way that the Doctor and Rose have been portrayed since setting out again in Dalek. We’re long past the Time Lord giving the Earth girl her first few steps in to the universe, and far more on a level where the pair of them do this day-in, day-out. This is perhaps shown never better than in this story - where we open with them mid-adventure, chasing something mauve and dangerous through space and then see them get separated and spend much of the story following their own, different, lines of enquiry. Maybe it’s simply because it’s something that I’ve been consciously looking out for this last week, but I’m really impressed with the way that all the character beats have been handled in this season - and I don’t think I really appreciated just how well-done it was on my first watch through a decade ago. It’s very subtle in places, and all the stronger for it.

What stands out for me the most in this episode, though, is the way that the Doctor behaves when he’s off on his own. Last week, I postulated that the Doctor was in a pretty low place when we meet him in Rose - just setting out on a mission to clean up after the events of the Time War - and that he needed Rose to help him find ‘the Doctor’ again. I think we can clearly see in this episode just what kind of effect she’s had on him.

Gone is the man from Rose, who didn’t want some shop girl from London to get caught up in the adventure, and was far more suited to being alone. Here’s a man who connects almost instantly to the human side of the story - hooking on to Nancy and her band of homeless kids, and finding himself just as fascinated by them, and the way they live, as he is the child-that-isn’t-a-child. It feels as though its a logical step from his comments to the bride and groom in Father’s Day, where he’s fascinated by what may seem something ordinary and mundane.

Equally, splitting up our ‘dream team’ allows us to see Rose more ‘honestly’. I’ve said that we’ve seen her grow to be something of a seasoned traveller by the time we touch down in Dalek, but here she’s reminded that she’s barely out of the nursery when it comes to time travel. Meeting Jack is another significant step in her adventures - the fist time she’s met another time traveller. The story uses this to full advantage, comparing and contrasting the Doctor and Jack as they go along (and the use of ‘Spock’ as the comparison is a nice touch… is this the first time that Star Trek has been acknowledged as existing in the Doctor Who universe? I know the Doctor visited Vulcan right back in The Power of the Daleks, but…!)

Of course, there’s a lot more to capture my attention in The Empty Child than just the latest evolution of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose. Chief among them, perhaps, is the direction. Right from the off, we’re absolutely flooded with atmosphere, and it perfectly captures the Tone Meeting’s desire for this story to present a ‘romantic’ view of the wartime period. From the moment that the TARDIS arrives in the alleyway, we’re given some rather beautiful direction - James Hawes makes his Doctor Who debut with this episode, and it’s no surprise that he was later invited back to helm the first of the programme’s modern festive episodes, because he’s got such a way with the camera here. I once heard the direction in this story described as ‘the way Doctor Who was always directed in your head’, and I think that’s probably an accurate summation of it. 

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