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9 October 2014

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

Day 647: The Caves of Androzani, Episode One

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

8 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five things to look out for:

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

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]

8 October 2014

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

Day 646: Planet of Fire, Episode Four

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s change coming…

7 October 2014

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

Day 645: Planet of Fire, Episode Three

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

6 October 2014

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

Day 644: Planet of Fire, Episode Two

Dear diary,

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

KAMELEON (IN THE FORM OF THE MASTER)
You will obey me…

PERI
No.

KAMELEON (IN THE FORM OF THE MASTER)
I am the Master!

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

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

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

5 October 2014

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

Day 643: Planet of Fire, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’ve always thought that Nicola Bryant did quite well, joining the series here. Her very first story takes her out to Lanzarote for filming! It’s a far cry from Janet Fielding being introduced to the programme on the side of the Barnet Bypass! I’m going to have to mention Peri’s… arrival in the story, so I may as well get it out of the way quickly! It has to be said that the famous bikini shot is quite a departure for the programme! I often end up saying ‘we’ve never had anything quite like this in the programme before…’, but that’s very true in this instance! I’d somehow got myself to thinking that it was out first shot of Peri in the series, so I was quite surprised to see her given more clothes and character in several scenes before this one! I’d also forgotten how bratty Peri comes across in this episode, but I rather like that. By the time we reach Season Twenty-Three, we’ll have seen her grow up considerably, so I’m looking forward to watching the character grow over the next couple of seasons - we’ve got a great place to start from!

While I’m on the subject of companions… Kamelion is back! This is one of those times where I knew he was in the story (and played quite a major part), and I knew this as recently as yesterday… but completely forgot today until he started screaming out in agony! It’s a real shame that he’s been completely ignored since the end of The King’s Demons, because the Doctor’s cry of concern for the android here comes across almost as though he’s remembered that the thing exists. It would have been nicer to have a brief appearance from Kamelion in each of this year’s stories (there was one cut from The Awakening - I meant to watch the scene at the time, but got too caught up in the war games and forgot!), even if he was just plugged into the console and offered advice, or sarcastic K9-esque comments to the rest of the TARDIS crew. As it is, I don’t really care that he’s in any pain here, and I worry that it won’t make much of an impact on me as the story continues and we see him go through his final hours.

I’ve already mentioned the Lanzarote filming briefly today, but I can’t quite decide if it’s a good idea or not. On the one hand, it does provide some lovely locations - Peri out on the boat looks far more effective than it would have done being shot off the coast of England - but it’s not being treated as the focal point I’d expect. Our opening shot today, as two characters make their way across some rocky terrain, doesn’t try to give us a real cope of the vistas behind them; it lets them start to creep into shot as we follow their actions, but then cuts away before we can get a real decent look. For all it matters, this could have been shot in any old quarry!

I’m also struggling to keep on top of which location is meant to be where. The production team really got their money’s worth out of the trip abroad here, by having the island appear as itself and the planet of Sarn, but it’s causing me no end of problems. This is most noticeable when we cut from Peri out on the boat, to two of our Sarn… people, looking out over a body of water from atop a peak. There’s no indication that this is supposed to be a different body of water to the one we’ve just seen Peri in, and I can’t help but think that either Sarn would look better contrasted against something like a flat, grey, London locale, or Lanzerote would look better crossed with an alien planet filmed here in the UK. I’m hoping that the distinction might become more clear as the episodes roll by…

4 October 2014

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

Day 642: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Fanboy that I am, I can’t help but enjoy taking this episode, and retroactively inserting modern Time War continuity in to it. The Daleks’ plan here is to duplicate the Doctor (and his companions, because they wisely understand that the Doctor needs companions or he’ll look a bit… off), and then dispatch the clones to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly hard to try and view this as an early shot of the Time War, is it? In fact, this feels now like the first retaliation for the events in Genesis of the Daleks, where the Doctor was tasked specifically with wiping out the Daleks before they have a chance to become… well… the creatures we know and love to hate.

I also don’t think it’s hard to read the Doctor’s actions here as being aware that this could be the start of an almighty war. Once he knows what’s going on, and finds out where Davros is, he decided that he needs to go and put a stop to it all. There’s something almost brutal (and in keeping with this story) about the way he simply announces that he’s off to kill Davros, and then ruminates on the fact that he ‘held back’ once before when he could have put a stop to things. There’s a few more instances to come in the ‘classic’ series yet which can be seen as part of the Time War, but we’ve now got the aforementioned Genesis, The Invasion of Time (which I decided was the Sontarans ‘auditioning’ for a part in the battle), and this story. It’s fitting that the universe the Doctor’s in this season should be that little bit darker, and that little bit less safe.

Especially fitting, in fact, because it’s this kind of thing that prompts Tegan to make a decision and leave the Doctor behind. I must admit - I love Tegan’s departure. We’ve never had a companion exit quite like this before, in which they actively decide that they’ve had enough of the Doctor’s lifestyle and they want out. Usually, they’re off to better things, leaving for love, or a chance to get back home, or because they’ve found a new family. Tegan leaves because everything’s gotten a bit nastier of late. There’s certainly a feeling of this over the last few stories - In Warriors of the Deep, there should have been another way. The Awakening puts another one of her relatives in danger. Even Frontios takes its toll. I sort of with that they’d fed in a little bit more of this over the last few tales, knowing that she was on the way out.

For years and years, I’ve seen people complain that Tegan was a rubbish companion because she never wanted to be there in the TARDIS. It’s one of those things that you sort of subconsciously take in as part of your Doctor Who knowledge. I have to admit, though, that she’s been far less whiny than I was expecting. Yes, she spends some of Season Nineteen trying to get back to Heathrow, but when an adventure arose, she was able to jump in and be a vital part of the team. I have to say that I’ve really loved Tegan as a companion, and it’s surprising just how quickly her departure has come around. She’s moved a good few places up my list of favourite companions, and I’m going to be sorry to see her go. I’d like to take one final chance to heap some praise on Janet Fielding, too. She’s been fantastic in the part, and her final scene here is simply wonderful. Oh, Tegan, I shall miss you!

Today’s episode, while still a bloodbath, has been quite enjoyable. There’s some lovely direction on show (Tegan being chased by the fake policemen is home to probably the best shots of the story, especially as she tries to escape down a flight of steps towards the river), and I’m glad that Matthew Robinson will be back next series to helm the return of another popular monster. I can’t remember a great deal about Attack of the Cybermen, but I don’t think it’s quite as bleak as this one has been! 

3 October 2014

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

Day 641: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

Today feels extra special. It’s the start of a new story, the return of the Daleks after a five-year absence from the programme (brief cameo in The Five Doctors notwithstanding), Tegan’s final story, and it’s almost double-length! Yes, I’m going to be watching Resurrection of the Daleks in the 45-minute version that it was shown in on first broadcast (altered because of the BBC’s screening of the Winter Olympics, I think?). I’m not doing it this way because I’m trying to go for exact historical accuracy in this marathon, but more for nostalgic reasons. Having rented Invasion of the Dinosaurs from the local library in the autumn of 2003, my interest in Doctor Who had been sufficiently piqued. I’d rented out a few more tapes of the series (and for an idea of the effect that they had on me, I can’t remember which ones they were…), and had a read up online. I knew, therefore, that the Doctor’s greatest foes were the Cybermen… and the Daleks.

The first two DVDs of the programme that I purchased therefore were this story and The Tomb of the Cybermen, because I thought that they would give me a good idea about these two most famous of villains. I also wonder if this initial choice made an impact on the fact that I’ve always been more at home with 1960s and 1980s Doctor Who than the 1970s stuff that goes on in the middle? The original DVD release of this story came out with the as-broadcast two episodes, so that’s how I remember experiencing this tale the first time around. I’ve seen it maybe twice more since then, and I’ve been really looking forward to reaching it in the marathon.

There’s certainly a lot to like about this opening episode, isn’t there? We open with that gorgeous shot of the warehouses, the girders overhead, and then pan in to a man lighting up a cigarette. Already, thanks to the direction, there’s something somewhat eerie about all of this… and then a bunch of people dressed in ‘futuristic’ clothes come running in terror from one of the buildings, pursued by a group of policemen, who proceed to shoot them down… and take out the man with the cigarette too, just for good measure. I think I’m right in saying that Resurrection of the Daleks has the highest on-screen body count of any Doctor Who serial, and this opening scene certainly sets that stock out early on.

From there, the episode doesn’t let up, and I think the crowning moment is probably the crew of a space-prison setting up a barricade to fight from behind as the Daleks come blasting aboard the station. It’s the first time that we’ve ever seen the Daleks treated in such a manner - dropping them in to the kind of ‘gritty’ and ‘macho’ science fiction that was popular in the 1980s. The last time we saw them, in Destiny of the Daleks, they were trundling round a quarry and trying to save Davros from bombs. Here, they come gliding through the safety barrier and into the ambush, where they immediately manage to dispatch a couple of their opposition.

But then we get a couple of Dalek casualties, too! Seeing the two blown up in the entrance to the airlock is lovely, as is the way that reinforcements come along and just push these shells out of the way when recommencing the attack. And then you’ve got the destruction of the Dalek in the warehouse - which we get to see pushed out of a second-floor window and explode as it hits the street below. As if that weren’t enough, you then get the terror of the Dalek mutant, too, which prompts even the Doctor to take up arms. This certainly isn’t your standard Dalek tale.

Quite often, people talk about Eric Saward’s scripts for the programme being very bleak. This is, I think, the first time that we’ve really been able to see that in action - it’s certainly a lot bleaker than The Visitation was, and you can sort of track the through line from Earthshock to here. This is Saward taking the same starting point, and just really feeling free to go all out with it. I don’t think I’d want Doctor Who to be like this all the time, but having this type of tale peppered through the programme now and then is always nice, just to break things up a little. It’ll help make Tegan’s decision to go in tomorrow’s episode all the more relatable.

Today is also the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros. He’ll be seeing us through another two Dalek tales after this one, and I have to admit that I’m a fan of this ‘incarnation’ of the villain. I’d imagine it’s probably because I was first introduced to the character through Molloy’s portrayal (I’d seen all of his stories in the roll long before seeing either Wisher or Gooderson fill the part), and also because I’ve had the provalidge of seeing Terry give a performance first hand. When I was studying for my degree, we had to make a lot of short films, each one showing off a different technical aspect of film-making. For one of the pieces, we had to put together a trailer.

Of course, I decided to go ahead and create a Doctor Who trailer. We could only use footage that we’d created ourselves, though, so I set about getting shots in various locations that could be used. The crowning moment of the trailer was to be the TARDIS arriving, the door opening, and the light spilling out to illuminate Davros, sat alone in a dark space, ruminating on the mistakes he’s made in life. I wrote a short piece, and Terry was kind enough to come along and record it for me (in the back room of the shop I worked in at the time!). Just hearing him deliver the lines in a cold and calculating way (a performance honed by years of working with Big Finish, I’d guess, because it was incredibly subtle and nuanced, was a real joy, and when he finally broke out in to full on ‘rant’ mode… absolutely beautiful. For an hour afterwards, Terry crouched down behind the original Davros mask and operated the mouth, while I took shots of various angled and we synched it to the dialogue. It was something of an odd day, but a real highlight of the degree!

There’s a lot to like in Davros’ revival here, but it’s not quite as good as I remembered it. One of my favourite shots in this serial is the big ‘cryogenic chamber’ lifting up, and the smoke pouring out around Davros, revealing the scientist. I’d remembered it being the big introduction of Davros to the story, and thought that the chamber had appeared entirely filled with smoke up to then. Actually, though, he’s visible in the background of shots for ages before that happens, and it does lessen his arrival into the story. It reduces him to simply being a bit of the furniture that happens to be there, as opposed to exciting me about his return. I’m also somewhat baffled by his musing that he’d have loved to have seen the war between the Daleks and the Movellans… but he did! In his last story! Ninety years in suspension has obviously been playing a little with the grey matter! 

3 October 2014

DWO’s Spoiler-free preview of episode 8.7: Kill the Moon:

This year’s season of Doctor Who has really showcased the way that the programme can change and adapt its style each week. We’ve had comedy with Robot of Sherwood, action with Into the Dalek and even a bank job in Time Heist. What do we get with *Kill the Moon, then? Well… a feeling of dread, mostly.

That’s not a negative comment - it’s not a feeling of dread that the episode isn’t good - it is - but large swathes of this episode are imbued with that ‘pit of your stomach’ feeling that makes you a little bit uncomfortable. It could be the spider-creatures lurking in the shadows, or a moon base filled with cobwebs, it could be the mystery of the moon’s real purpose, and it could even be the way that the Twelfth Doctor behaves.

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has been quite unlike his immediate predecessors. He’s not the cuddly, human-loving Doctor we’ve come to know over the last ten years or so, and he’s stopped pretending to be our best friend. That’s perhaps never highlighted better than in this episode, in which he decides that it’s simply not his place to get involved. With each week, you can see Capaldi finding new facets of the character, and this week we get to swing between him being cold and uncaring, to excitement as he figures out what’s really going on.

If our Doctor is on fine form again in this episode, then the same is certainly true for Jenna Coleman in the role of the companion. Clara has been through a lot with the Doctor since his regeneration, and the cracks in their relationship are beginning to show. Coleman gives it full throttle in this episode, at times proving her best performance to date. Clara might struggle to get along with the Doctor after this adventure, and it’s not hard to see why…

It’s also time for our annual trip abroad, this time returning to Lanzerote (previously used for location sequences in 1984’s Planet of Fire), which is doubling up as the surface of the moon. It’s a very striking location, and it’s hard not to fall in love with it a little - perfectly representing our closest neighbour in the stars, while also transforming it in to something creepy and dangerous. Director Paul Wilmshurst has crafted a beautiful pallette for the episode, and his work here only serves to add to the tension, keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next little bit of terror…

Five things to look out for:

1) There’s shades of 1968’s Seeds of Death in here… beyond it being set on the moon…
2) A description of how the Doctor senses ‘fixed points’ in time.
3) “What’s wrong with my yo-yo?”
4) Two rules: “No being Sick. No Hanky-Panky.”
5) “The future is no more malleable than the past.”

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]

2 October 2014

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

Day 640: Frontios, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I really love the image of the TARDIS here, embedded in to the rock. It’s such a striking image, and it’s another one of those ones I can recall seeing long before I had a chance to watch this story, and it’s always stuck with me. Even the effect of the TARDIS being pulled back together looks fab - it’s a simple case of fading between two shots, but something about it just really works for me. As you can probably tell, I’m going to be raving about this episode a little bit more today!

Frontios is a tale which doesn’t really get a great deal of attention. It’s not often talked about, it just sort of exists as a part of this season. Even though I know I like it from a previous viewing, I tend to forget that it’s even here, so it’s lovely to watch it again now and find that it can really hit the right notes for me. It feels confident, it looks stunning, and there’s a great story at the heart of it. When we talk about showing stories to people as an attempt to interest them in Doctor Who, there’s a few candidates that always crop up - City of Death is normally in the number one spot. I think that Frontios might be a good addition to the list, though! There’s perhaps a little bit of continuity in the fact that the Gravis thinks the Doctor has been sent to spy on events here, but so long as someone sitting down to watch knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, you’re good to go!

Certainly, I think this is the strongest ‘space’ tale that we’ve has for a long time. I gone on at length over the last few days about how good the sets look, but it does bear repeating one final time here, because they’re stunning. I don’t think there’s a single set which doesn’t work for me, from the tunnels to the surface, they all have a very strong identity, and they’ve managed to really get the hang of that ‘battered future’ look that’s been creeping into the series for a while. This is a far cry from the sterile white corridors of the Nerva beacon - and while that set was gorgeous in its own way, this is just as beautiful - if not more so - in a completely different direction.

Director Ron Jones will be helming stories in the next two seasons, and I’m suddenly very much looking forward to seeing them. Everything here feels like such a step up from his previous efforts on the series, and I really can’t deduce what’s happened between Arc of Infinity and this story to warrant such an upswing in quality. He was never a bad director, but he’s never before made the impact on me that he has here. I’m hoping he can keep it up!

Someone who won’t be returning, though, is Christopher H Bidmead. I’ve not really discussed him a great deal in this marathon - despite the fact that he script-edited Season Eighteen, which did rather well in my scores - but it’s nice to see him bowing out of the programme on such a high. I think it’s fair to say that this is a far better script than Castrovalva was, and my thoughts on Logopolis are probably best being left where they are. The script for this story is filled with so many lovely little lines that I’ve been noting down over the last few days, and I’ve barely brought any up because it’s been too tricky to try and pick favourites. I do want to single this one out from Turlough in Episode Three, however, before the story is over:

TURLOUGH
The earth is hungry. It waits to eat. … I can see them. They are the appetite beneath the ground.

The whole idea of the earth being ‘hungry’ really appeals to me (it’s likely why The Hungry Earth is one of my favourite story titles from the new series), and it’s painted beautifully in this story, as a mixture of myth and madness. It’s a shame that Bidmead won’t get the chance to provide another tale like this one to the programme, but I think Frontios has shot right up my list of favourite stories, and I’ll certainly be returning to it fairly quickly once the marathon is over!

 

1 October 2014

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

Day 639: Frontios, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I think I played my ‘isn’t Mark Strickson good’ card a day too early. He was very good yesterday, but today’s episode has been a real tour-de-force for him! I think you can really see him sinking his teeth into having something different to do in today’s episode, and even though he’s required to mostly look troubled and spout half-complete sentences, he’s really giving it his all, and making the most of the part. I’m really, really impressed by him here, and I think this is likely to be his best performance in the programme, and the one that I’ll be remembering him for.

Yesterday, I tried to stay away from praising the direction too much, but I’m going to have to bring it up again now, because it really is fantastic. I still can’t quite get my head around the idea that this is the same man who directed Black Orchid or Time-Flight. Everything looks so polished, and it’s the use of lighting and colour that really works for me. The underground scenes have a unique feel all their own, and it does come across as a completely different alien environment to the world above the surface. I love the way that the green light is used in scenes with their own portable lighting tubes, and it helps to make this look even creepier than they could do. I’m also wondering if they’ve started using a different quality of video this season which could be helping to contribute to that slightly ‘glossier’ look that I was discussing yesterday - this story looks somewhat sharper than I’m used to, and I think the same was true of The Awakening, too, looking back…

I’d also like to give some praise over to the design team on this one. I’m so used to banging on about the way the BBC are so much better at creating historical or down-to-earth locations, and Season Twenty-One so far has been something of a case in point, with the poor quality sets in Warriors of the Deep being followed up by the church and the manor house in The Awakening. This story is the perfect example that they really can do space-age, and I think it’s probably my favourite futuristic design to date. The use of several glass shots (or, at least, I’m assuming they’re glass shots) in different locations really helps to give a sense of scale to the sets where needed, which helps to make the various tunnels all the more claustrophobic.

Of course, at some point, I have to mention the story’s resident monster - the Tractators. People dressed up like giant rubber woodlice. A concept which is frankly ridiculous, and the design department couldn’t be expected to do anything short of rubbish with it.

Which is why it’s all the more surprising just how well they work! Haha! There’s a moment early on in today’s episode, where Tegan throws one of the lights at a group of the Tractators, and they go shuffling off, waving their arms around… and it looks great! It shouldn’t - it should look absolutely awful. If you were to show the clip to a non-fan out of context, they’d probably think it looked stupid, and rubbish, and all those things that it quite possibly does… but I don’t care, because right there in that moment, I completely bought it. It was only after the episode ended that I remembered complaining about the Myrka waving its arms around the other day - it’s surprising just how differently everything combines together this time to create something that I’m really enjoying.

And while I’m on the subject of it, come on, Character Options! Where the hell is my Tractator action figure?

1 October 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“The end of the world is nigh. That’s what everybody is seeing in their nightmares. That’s why they are congregating in Liverpool for the party to end all parties, hosted by Rufus Stone, a celebrity turned doomsday prophet. He claims he’s the only one who can save them when the day of judgement comes. Because he’s on the side of the angels.

The Doctor, Ace and Hector arrive to find the city in the grip of apocalypse fever. There are lights in the sky, earthquakes and power cuts. The Doctor is determined to investigate, while Ace is more concerned about finding a way of restoring Hector’s lost memories.

Meanwhile, in the river Mersey, hideous, slug-like creatures are stirring...

 

***

So, here we have it, then: the absolutely-definitely final story for Hector/Hex we-promise-this-time-honest story.  I don’t think I need to put into words here the amount of scepticism I had going into this play, though I was comforted by the knowledge that the other two in this trilogy have been damn good.

I’ve been growing a bit… tired of the trilogy format for the monthly releases recently as it has perhaps grown a little stale, and you have to wait a long time between releases to encounter favourite Doctors or companions again, which can be a tad frustrating and stifles any real growth in affection towards said characters, but thus far this one had bucked the trend by giving us two strong releases back-to-back for the first time in a while.

I was also very, very wary of listening to yet another story in which they should get rid of Hex.  He should have gone in A Death in the Family, no doubt about it, but this was put on hold and, in fairness, there was some nice trickery going on with the Black and White TARDIS plot thread, and Protect and Survive was an incredible play.  And then Hex should absolutely definitely have gone in Gods and Monsters, and when he failed to then, I must admit that I just gave up.  It hasn’t diminished the quality of plays following, but was a really, really silly thing to do.  So then, exit point number three: does it make good on it?

I am pleased to say that Signs and Wonders does indeed, and also ends this strong trilogy on yet another strong release.  Set in Liverpool, a mysterious preacher man is foretelling the end of the world, people are having premonitions about their deaths, and Hector/Hex is fed up with not knowing who he is, and wants to return to his home, or the closest he has to one, to try and gain some perspective.  Throw in the return of Sally Morgan, some gods and slug monsters, and the scene is set for something final with a lot of explosions along the way for good measure.

At first, I feared that this story was simply going to replicate the big bangs and Elder God-related techno-guff of Gods and Monsters, but it quickly shows itself to have more heart and a plot two steps away from manipulation and ensuing confusion.  It’s also got Jessica Martin being wonderful in it as a Reverend who enjoys brass rubbing, which is nice.

As with the other plays in this trilogy, Matt Fitton gives us a good, strong story for Hex/Hector across four episodes, one which makes use of the plot developments for him without them getting in the way.  There is also plenty to do for the other characters, with the Seventh Doctor in particular having some fun with his brolly and Amy Pemberton excelling once more as Sally Morgan, one of my favourite additions to Big Finish in recent times.

I do not want to give much away here, but the play concludes with a very definite ending for Hex/Hector and a nice nod to the future for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, tying in to events we’ve already glimpsed in adventures such as UNIT: Dominion.  It’s a neat step forward.

The ending for Hex/Hector itself is absolutely perfect, and Fitton should be given full credit for pulling it off.  It’s a far, far more satisfying ending than Gods would have been in hindsight, though I still maintain it was where he should have gone if not in Death, which was every bit a natural conclusion to his character as this play is.  You couldn’t wish for a better ending to his story though, so colour me satisfied.

What is frustrating though is that it ever even got to this stage.  This is indeed the perfect ending (a Big Finish, if you will), so why didn’t we get this before? Why did we not get a trilogy as strong as this earlier? I’m glad that Big Finish got it very right ion the end, but disappointed that it took so very long to reach this destination.  It shows a lack of confidence in direction and an unwillingness to let go of actors and have the stories suffer accordingly.

The future is definitely looking brighter now, but please: have the courage of your convictions and know when to stop.

 

1 October 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

 

“The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on the planet Hydra, where Admiral Jonas Kaan leads a vast flotilla of ships trying to elude the vicious race that has invaded and occupied their world. But his ships are being picked off one by one, vessels and crews dragged underwater by an unseen foe.

The time travellers find themselves pitched into battle against the Voord, the ruthless enemy they last encountered on the planet Marinus. As they take the fight to the very heart of the territory now controlled by the Voord the stakes get higher. First they lose the TARDIS... then they lose that which they hold most dear. And that's only the start of their troubles.

In the capital, Predora City, they will learn the truth of what it means to be a Voord. And that truth is horrifying.”

 

***

The first of Big Finish’s new Early Adventures range, Domain of the Voord has a lot to do across its four episodes: kick the new range off, give the Voord an edge and background/serious identity which they so lacked on screen, and tell a good story in its own right.

The first category is perhaps the hardest to judge, as a lot of whether you enjoy it or not will depend, I suspect, upon what your expectations of the new range are.  I think, in some respects, that Big Finish have rather shot themselves in the foot this time around.

A lot of the advertising surrounding Doctor Who: The Early Adventures has been in monochrome and very clearly paints them out to be evoking the 1960s era: brand new audio stories, told in black and white, cheers the poster, and elsewhere David Richardson, the producer, has said how he wanted to recreate the feeling of listening to soundtrack recordings of missing episodes (still 97 missing, at the time of writing this) with these plays.

With all this in mind then, I think it is more than reasonable to assume that people are going to have specific expectations about the range in mind before pressing play and listening to the Voord do battle with our heroes once again.  With that in mind, I think it is more than reasonable to assume that said people may end up very disappointing when listening to Domain of the Voord and discovering that it is, in fact, nothing like listening to a TV soundtrack, being littered as it is with very audio-typical dialogue (“It’s been two weeks since we set sail on this large, metal boat on a sea of crystalline blue!”) and actors reading out characters’ lines with ‘he said’, ‘she said’ and other such quantifiers after each sentence.  What we actually have is a release somewhere between the Companion Chronicles, the TARGET Talking Books and Big Finish’s Lost Stories range when it covered adventures from the 1960s.  Indeed, it feels far more like the final range than any other, including lost episode soundtracks.  Perhaps some of this will depend on how authentic you found something like The Rosemariners when listening to it: did it feel like an enhanced audiobook, or a TV soundtrack? If the answer is the latter then... well, colour me impressed as I’ve no idea how you’ve happened upon this experience.  If the former, then that’s fine: an enhanced audiobook is a lovely thing to be listening to and in no way a bad thing.

That’s what we’ve got here, only with a brand new script this time as opposed to, erm, a brand new script based on a handful of scribbles, and in many cases flat-out contradicting said scribbles. (The Lost Stories range really was a curious beast at times.)

This is going to disappoint a hell of a lot of listeners, but what’s to be done? Well, maybe clearer advertising and statements, but what we have now is what we have, and that’s the end of that.  Perhaps with the news that roles such as Ben and Barbara have been recast, we have the possibility now of truly recreating that soundtrack nature in the future by having full-cast productions with additional narration, but right now, we’re not there.

Second point: does it feel like we’re back in the 1960s? Again, I would say no.  Not just because of the production values, which are obviously a step up from what could be achieved back then (though why do footsteps dubbed onto the track always feel so intrusive and fake?), but the story feels a mixture of being steeped in that era and true to it, and whole worlds away from it with some complex technical jargon and violence.  Carole Ann Ford herself remarks in the (very, very slim) CD extras that it would never have been done in the 1960s due to the imagery, so again, you wonder what is to come, and just hope it doesn’t disappoint too many people. (Seriously though: the CD extras are so slight, you wonder why they bothered. There’s no discussion at all of it being a new range and what they hoped to achieve, which for a series launch feels like a rather drastic oversight.)

This move away from rigidly trying to ape an era isn’t necessarily a bad thing: a hell of a lot of the first series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures suffered directly because they were hell-bent on emulating an era and forgot to tell necessarily exciting stories, so ignoring this could be a good thing.  It’s just not a thing it claims to be.

To return to the start though, let’s address the other two points I reeled off: does it move the Voord on, and does it tell a good story?

This time, the answer is a resounding yes, to both points.  I’ve mentioned it in these reviews before, but an Andrew Smith script is always an exciting prospect.  Do you remember those distant days way back when the only thing we had from Smith was Full Circle on screen and its rather beautifully written novelisation? (If you haven’t ever read it, please do: it’s the most wonderful love-letter to a show which the writer so clearly adores.) I’m terribly glad that those days are behind us now.  Big Finish should be praised for it.

Here with Domain of the Voord, Smith gives us a very exciting and fun script which intelligently scrutinizes the Voord based on their one on-screen appearance whilst also telling a decent tale in its own right.  The TARDIS crew land upon a ship in the midst of a planet-wide war with an alien aggressor.  Within minutes, Ian is fighting to save the day, the Doctor is in danger of losing the TARDIS, and the crew are aware that the Voord are back and mean business.

Along the way, we get duplicitous prisoners trying to engage in a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, an alien race that present as religious fanatics in many respects, a return to the fun days of TARDIS-loss and separation from the Doctor (I don’t think I’m going to be spoiling much here when I say I cheered when the first person declares the Doctor to be dead early on in the story: it’s always a fun staple of Who when you hear this, as you’re then waiting eagerly to see how he returns to save the day), and glimpses of birthright and blood ties, and what it is that makes someone who they are, or in this instance: what makes a Voord a Voord? Oh, and it also solves the age-old question of what the correct plural of the Alien Voord is: Voord or Voords? (Much like sheep and sheep, Smith favours simply ‘Voord’. So, there we have it.)

Despite my love and adoration of Yartek, Leader of the Alien Voord (to the extent where he ‘wrote’ on my blog weekly, dispensing advice and witticisms for nearly a year), I think it’s safe to say that he never really scared us much.  Smith manages across four episodes to make the Voord feel like a legitimate threat.  It’s no easy task, so credit where credit is due.  That said, the final episode is practically the length of two standard-sized ones, so it’s nearer a five-episode-span than you’d expect, another nail in the authenticity coffin.  In short though, this is a damn fun play, ably acted as ever by Ford and William Russell, and with a frankly terrific guest cast: take a well-earned bow, Daisy Ashford, Andrew Bone and Andrew Dickens.  They are all absolutely brilliant.

In the end though, Domain of the Voord is a difficult one to mark.  In terms of story alone, this is a nine out of ten affair, no questions asked.  However, in terms of what The Early Adventures purported to be and what they actually are, the score surely has to be docked some points.

I’m going to plump for 7 out of 10 in the end, which feels unfair to Smith but hopefully fair to other listeners.  But, please feel free to adjust the score accordingly.  And watch out for the Voord; they’re not as harmless as you’d imagine...

1 October 2014

If, like us, you loved the 50th Anniversary, Doctor Who story; The Day Of The Doctor, and can happily watch it over and over again, then, thanks to our friends over at Cult Box, you can play a cool new Bingo game the next time you watch the episode!

Cult Box have put together 3 Bingo cards featuring quotes and scenes from the episode which you can fill in to win. We have included the 3 cards to the right, which were designed by Rob Smedley.

Each card features a different Doctor; The War Doctor (John Hurt), The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith).

The team also have some cards for the Season 7 cliffhanger episode; The Name Of The Doctor, which you can download and print, here.

Print your cards out now, pick a Doctor and get ready with a pen!

DWO have put together some fun little Doctor Who related Bingo number nicknames, which could easily relate to show, below. See if you can guess which numbers they are:

Cup Of Tea
Knock At The Door
Doctor’s Orders
Key Of The Door

The 50th Anniversary year was one of the biggest in the entire history of the show. Everyone got involved to celebrate one of the most-loved icons of British TV, and you would have been hard pressed to find an outlet who didn’t cover the event in some way, shape or form.

It’s interesting to note that in the anniversary year alone, over 300 new Doctor Who fan sites popped up to help show their support and love for our best-loved SciFi show. 

If you were one of those people who started your own fan site last year, we would love to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch and email us your reasons for starting up your fan site, and why you love the show so much. Emails can be sent to: fansites@drwho-online.co.uk.

Those of you wanting to up the stakes a little can play a wide variety of cash-based bingo games via some renowned bingo sites. And if online bingo isn’t your thing, they have a wide range of other games you can play, too!

[Source: DWO]

30 September 2014

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

Day 638: Frontios, Episode Two

Dear diary,

There’s something quite striking about having a cliffhanger in which the TARDIS - effectively - blows up. I used to comment about enemies getting in to the ship being something truly unsettling, because that white console room is our beacon of safety for the main characters, but this feels like going several steps beyond even that. Having just the hat-stand left as a signifier of where the ship once stood is also a brilliant visual image.. but I’m not sure if it would make as much of an impact on me if I didn’t know that the hat-stand was supposed to be such an obvious part of the ship, with the Doctor drawing attention to it at the start of yesterday’s episode. I think of it as being iconic… because I’ve always been told it is. I know it’s been around in the console room for ages now (and will continue to be so right through to the new series), but I’ve never really noticed it before!

This story is still scoring an awful lot of thumbs up from me, though. I mostly mentioned the direction yesterday, so take it as read that I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of the tale today (though I do need to make mention once again of the way different coloured light is being used to great effect - yesterday it was the red of the ‘missile attack’, while today it’s the green of the underground tunnels - and close ups again of various characters is making this look really rather beautiful), but I’m getting caught up in lots of the actual narrative this time around. Despite the fact that I’ve seen Frontios before, I can’t remember a great deal about the plot. I know that the Tractators are dragging people down through the soil to power their machines… but I can’t remember why they’re doing it, or what they hope to achieve. It means that I’m finding everything really gripping as I try to piece it all together!

The last time Christopher H Bidmead penned a script for the series, it was filled with lots of high-concept ideas that simply couldn’t be realised all that effectively in a BBC TV studio. Now, it feels like he’s come back to the programme with a better idea of what they might actually achieve with the time and budget they’re given. He’s created a world here that I feel really invested in - it’s populated with very rounded characters, and a sense of shared history that I can completely buy in to. It’s always nice when this happens, and it’s putting me rather in mind of Kinda, which can only help to strengthen this story’s position! We’re being drip fed information about this colony, their back story, and their various power struggles really carefully, and it’s bringing me right in to the story. There’s no doubting that this is Bidmead’s best script for the show.

I’d also like to take a moment today to give some prise for Mark Strickson. He’s been in the series for a while now, and he’s given a great performance in every episode so far. He’ll be off in only a few episode’s time, so I wanted to make sure that I single him out for praise at least once! I fear that he gets rather over-looked in the grand scheme of companions, overshadowed by the likes of Tegan and Peri around him, both of whom are Doctor-defining companions. Turlough is just there, not always given the most to do, but Strickson makes sure to really flesh out the part every week. His performance today is a real highlight, when forced to come running through the caverns absolutely petrified by the thought of the Tractators - I’m really unsettled by his acting here, and that’s supposed to be a compliment! He’s managing to convey the terror of the situation perfectly, and I think it’s a shame that he doesn’t get credited for his work on the programme as much as he deserves to!

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