Time Lord Tees

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27 March 2014

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

Day 451: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode Three

Dear diary,

It’s somewhat strange that it’s taken this long – fourteen seasons! – before anyone has brought up the question of how everyone the TARDIS travellers meet seem to speak fairly perfect English! It’s been the case right from the very start of the programme (the Tribe of Gum didn’t have brilliant sentence structure, but they were otherwise perfect BBC English), yet no one has ever thought to bring it up before. The Doctor’s assertion that it’s a ‘Time Lord gift’ which he shares with his companions doesn’t quite chime with the 21st century programme’s version of this skill (where it’s a function of the TARDIS), but I suppose you could argue that the Doctor shares it via his ship.

It’s also somewhat unusual that Sarah only thinks to bring it up once she’s under some kind of hypnotic control. Then again, I suppose that you may not initially think to ask the question when you’re out and about among the stars. When the TARDIS rocks up on Exxilon, or Metebilis III, or Skaro, you’re too busy being caught up in all the wonder (and all the running!) to wonder how you can understand all these different alien species. Arrive in Italy, only a few centuries before your own time, however, and it’s a more glaring anomaly.

I’m sorry to say that this story still just isn’t grabbing me in the way that I’d like it to. I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I’m finding myself far more distracted by all the trappings of the sets, the locations, and the costumes, and I’m not being swept along with the story at all. That said, I really am distracted by all the of dressings in this story – I seem to be discussing it every day, but there really is some great work on display. After today’s episode, I watched a bit of the ‘making of’ special feature on the DVD, and was blown away by just how much work designer Barry Newbury puts in when he’s given a Doctor Who serial to work on. It was true of the Brain of Morbius, when he talks of giving thought to a whole new style of architecture for this alien world, and it’s just as evident here, when he talks of looking at paintings of the period and picking out specific details to use in his sets.

The effect of the temple being restored is also very well done. It’s a variant of the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ trick, as far as I can tell, which has been used in theatre for decades, and was at its first peak during the Victorian period. It creates a lovely effect, and brings to life another beautiful set in the form of the temple itself, which is another example of great design. Because the effect is based on such an old technique, it’s simply being presented here as a matter of course, thrown into the background of the shots with Tom Baker. As such, it comes across as even more effective – they’re not drawing attention to it, it’s just something that’s happening.

 


26 March 2014

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

Day 450: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode Two

Dear diary,

The best thing about this story really is the locations and sets. I’ve said it before more than once (and don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll say it again plenty of times, too!), but the BBC really do excel themselves when it comes to producing the period stories. Today, I’m fascinated to learn that the ruined temple we see in this episode was provided by the BBC in the form of expanded polystyrene (and, supposedly, the people of Portmerion were so keen on it they asked if it could stay!), because it looks so perfect. Admittedly, I had thought that it was lucky to find such a perfect location right where they needed it, but I never for a second suspected it was anything other than real.

I’m also very impressed to discover that the orange grove from yesterday’s episode was all rigged up by the production team, too, with the fruit attached to the trees via wires. I mean, I was surprised enough that they’d found the location, but I never suspected! Maybe I’m simply foolish?

But then, Portmerion itself is proving pretty perfect, even without the BBC props department helping out. The chase early in today’s episode gives us plenty of opportunity to look around, and after that I just couldn’t help myself - I had to take a look at the ‘Now and Then’ feature on the DVD. Portmerion is best known as the location for The Prisoner, so it’s not completely unknown to audiences of archive telly. While I do own that series on DVD, I’ve still not found the time to get round to watching it, and I’m only a few episodes in.

Therefore, I’m most impressed by just how… European the setting is - You could take a pretty good guess as to where we’re supposed to be this week, even if the Doctor didn’t keep reminding us. Certainly, watching this story is making me want to visit the place (it’s only a few hours up the road - worth a trip!), and that doesn’t often happen with the series.

Something else that doesn’t often happen is me commenting on the musical scores for stories. To be perfectly honest… I’m not usually all that aware of them. Maybe that’s just me being ignorant, but it’s rare that they really stand out for me. That’s a good thing, though! The music isn’t supposed to be big and blaring and in-your-face, it’s supposed to be there to underpin the scenes and help add to the mood and atmosphere. Today, it simply can’t be ignored, though. Sarah’s tied to an alter. Cultists in robes gather around her, chanting and preparing her for sacrifice. She’s even been changed into the traditional white robes for the occasion. The tension is building, she’s going to be killed any minute…

But Dudley Simpson has chosen to score the scene with - what I’ve described in my notes as being - ‘comedy parp-parp music’. I just can’t take it seriously. Simpson has been providing scores to the programme since as far back as Planet of Giants, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as put off by the music as I am in this story. It’s perhaps worrying, because this marks the start of an unbroken run for his composing work on the series, which will last right through to the end of Season Seventeen and The Horns of Nimon. I’m dearly hoping that this won’t be the start of me not liking his scores generally, as it could make the bulk of the Baker years a bit of a chore. Still, he’s been composer for 39 stories before this one, so I’m guessing it may just be an off day!

 

25 March 2014

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

Day 449: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Secondary Console Room has always been something of an anomaly as far as I’m concerned. When I think about the TARDIS in the classic series, it takes the form of the open, white, sterile space. Oh, sure, it goes through a fair few iterations over the years, but it always boil down to the same distinct template – the big white roundels and the large, hexagonal console in the centre. Once you reach the Eighth Doctor, things start to become a bit more flexible, and we have huge Jules Verne inspired cathedrals, or coral shells, or bright, orange monstrosities, but in the original series, there’s only one style of console room.

Except that there isn’t! I think it’s my lack of familiarity with this period that makes this room seem like such an anomaly for me (I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of the stories in which it appears, only odd clips of them like Sarah Jane’s farewell in the next tale). It’s also slightly strange to see how we end up with it, literally coming from a brief scene at the start of the episode where Sarah wanders the corridors of the ship and opens doors at random. It’s a lovely touch that earlier Doctors have their own effects scattered through the room (I can assume that the Third Doctor may have tried to jump-start the ship from here when in the earliest days of his exile, maybe in an attempt to bypass the Time Lord’s lock down), and I’m glad that we don’t spend too much time exploring the place before we’re caught up in the adventure.

And what an adventure to be caught up in! The TARDIS being sucked into the Helix is a beautiful effect (is it Mirrorlon, the same technique used for the Ice Warrior’s sonic weapons?), and then when the TARDIS rives at the bottom of the spiral, allowing the Doctor to step out into a mostly empty black void, it’s very effective. I’ve never seen this story before, but I have used some images from the production when doing design work before. There’s a lovely shot of the TARDIS against the CSO background which is perfect as an image of this era’s new prop: it seems obvious to me now that it was to be transplanted on another image for the episode, but I’d always assumed that the heart of the helix was a plain white void, which didn’t look very good! It’s always great when these kind of pre-conceptions of stories are overthrown, especially when they’re as good as this.

And then we’re off to 15th century Italy! I know that this story’s locations are filmed in and around Portmerion in Wales, but it’s easy enough to forget that fact when you’re watching the story, because it makes such a good stand in for Italy. We’ve not seen all that much of the town itself yet, mostly the surrounding areas, but they’re all uniformly lovely. Orange groves, and country lanes… I’m looking forward to watching the location work expand as the story goes on.

Ah, yes, the story. That’s the one thing which isn’t quite grabbing me yet. Due to the slightly odd nature of this episode, it feels almost like we get a false start with the Doctor and Sarah getting snared in the helix – when we cut to a hunt on horseback about ten minutes in, it feels like the opening scene of a new episode. But nothing in here yet feels very fresh or exciting. It’s portents and death, and there’s a sparkler floating around having hitched a ride in the TARDIS… I don’t know what it is, but something’s lacking for now. Still, it’s early days and we’re off to a good start.

 

24 March 2014

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

Day 448: Doctor Who and the Pescatons, Episode Two

Dear diary,

The beauty of listening to an audio story again is that I can put it on through my headphones and listen to it as I make my way home from the shops. And with the weather we're currently experiencing, it seems only right that I should listen to a tale of fish aliens looking for a wet new home while I try not to be completely soaked to the core by the rain. Maybe there's a Pescaton attack on the way? Was that a meteor I just saw falling into that river?

I suppose after all my comparisons yesterday between this story and Pemberton’s earlier script for the series in Fury From the Deep, I really should have seen this resolution coming. Of course the Pescatons were going to be defeated by the use of sound - it seems so obvious in retrospect. What seems less obvious is that the Doctor would come to this resolution while playing his paccalo, which as he tells us here, he always does when he’s nervous. Just like he did when he realised that Morbius may still be alive, or Sutekh may break free of his eternal bonds.

It’s not the only thing that’s somewhat out of character for the Doctor here. We end the story with him effectively committing genocide, and ensuring that the Pescaton civilisation is eradicated forever. Whatever happened to all that ‘do I have the right?’ stuff on Skaro last month? He reminds us (repeatedly) in this episode that Pescatons are creatures of pure evil - which means it’s ok for your hero to wipe them all out! - but it just feels very… odd.

Still, I’m more interested in the Doctor’s earlier trip to Pesca. When is this supposed to have happened? The assumption is that the Fourth Doctor made the trip, though that’s only because we’re listening to Tom Baker relate the tale to us. I suppose it could take place at the same time he makes his trip to the world of the Sevateem (I don’t know a great deal about that excursion, yet, but I imagine I will do in a few weeks’ time), but it could just as easily be an earlier Doctor who does those parts of the story. Sure, Zor seems to recognise the Doctor, but… oh, come on. You’re not really going to apply much logic to this one, are you?

On the whole… Hm. It’s a bit of an odd one, this, isn’t it? On the one hand, i can see it making quite a good story for TV (there’s some lovely moments, such as the cliffhanger for Part One), but on the other, it feels too much like a rehash of old ideas, mostly from Pemeberton’s other contribution to the series! And, at the end of Part Two, I’m not sure why they bothered to have Elisabeth Sladen even come down to the studios - she’s only got about six lines!

Day 448 EXTRA: *Exploration Earth: The Time Machine*

Dear diary,

Hello! It’s me! Again! Yeah, I know, I’ve already done my episode for today. There were shark aliens, and meteorites, and the Doctor played his piccolo to save the day. You know, like he does never. But you’ll never guess what! The best thing happened. I got to school, and we were learning all about the creation of the Earth, and to demonstrate the various stages of this, we were allowed to go on an adventure with the Doctor and Sarah Jane!

Oh, ok. What really happened is that I mentioned to Nick that I’d just listened to Doctor Who and the Pescatons, and he suggested that I’d have to do Evacuation Earth: The Time Machine next or there’d be uproar among fans of The 50 Year Diary that I just wan’t taking this experiment seriously. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten that this story even existed, but now that I’d been reminded… well, I had to do it somewhere. Since I’ve been taking a little sojourn into non-televised media between seasons, I thought I might slip this one in today and create a bumper entry - rather than spend another day kicking around on audio.

Produced for a BBC Schools series on the radio, this is probably the closest the programme has come in a long time to fulfilling it’s initial remit to both entertain and educate its audience. In the story, the TARDIS is dragged right back to the very formation of the Earth, and the Doctor takes Sarah on a journey through the evolution of her planet. It’s very clearly being made as an educational programme for children, and it features plenty of the dialogue you’d expect to hear in a schools-based programme (after Terror of the Zygons the other week, I watched Elisabeth Sladen’s episode of Merry Go Round which is on the DVD as a special feature. This is done in very much the same style, and they both remind me of the kinds of programmes we used to watch at school back in the 1990s - there’s a certain feel to these educational programmes).

That said, they’ve opted to use the characters of the Doctor and Sarah to tell the story of the Earth’s creation, and as Madame de Pompadour tells us, you can’t have the Doctor without the monsters. To that end, during their exploration of the planet’s history, our heroes keep running into Megron, High Lord of Chaos. Megron serves to introduce a bit of threat to the proceedings, but mostly he just pops up and booms at the Doctor for being near the Earth, and then gets shirty when the Doctor tries to teach us all a little something about geography and science.

I’ve been watching this little interlude in the form of some animations on YouTube by ‘adamsbullock’ (I watched his animation for The Feast of Steven, too, back in the day), and they’ve certainly made the story come to life a bit more. I’d have probably given up and switched off otherwise! It also helps to fill in some visual areas that would have been completely lost on me - when the TARDIS has come to a standstill at the start of the planet’s formation, the Doctor explains that there is absolutely no oxygen outside the ship… but he can still take Sarah Jane out to show her! Here, step into this handy capsule by the TARDIS door!

Oh, I’m not being fair, really. This isn’t supposed to be an episode of Doctor Who in the traditional sense, so it’s not fair for me to rate it amongst everything else (and that’s why it’s not received a day of its own on the Diary). It was created as a means to educate a young audience about the formation of the Earth, and in that respect I think it succeeds. It certainly gave my knowledge a bit of a brushing up! It should really be filed away with things like the Doctor Who Discovers books as an odd, educational, side-step.

24 March 2014

Doctor Who and Mark Gatiss' An Adventure In Space And Time have both received nominations in the 2014 British Academy Television Craft Awards.

Doctor Who was recognised in the Special, Visual & Graphic Effects category with the following nomination:

MILK VFX, REAL SFX, THE MODEL UNIT Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor - BBC Cymru Wales/BBC One

An Adventure In Space and Time was recognised in three categories:

Editing: Fiction
PHILIP KLOSS An Adventure in Space and Time - BBC Cymru Wales/BBC America/BBC Two

Make up & Hair Design sponsored by MAC Cosmetics
VICKIE LANG An Adventure in Space and Time - BBC Cymru Wales/BBC America/BBC Two

Costume Design
SUZANNE CAVE An Adventure in Space and Time - BBC Cymru Wales/BBC America/BBC Two 

+  The awards take place on Sunday 27th April 2014.

[Source: Mike Tucker]

23 March 2014

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

Day 447: Doctor Who and the Pescatons, Episode One

Dear diary,

It seems like an absolute lifetime since I had to listen to an episode of Doctor Who instead of popping in a DVD to watch. Doctor Who and the Pescatons was released on LP in June of 1976, between the transmissions of The Seeds of Doom and The Masque of Mandragora, and with Sarah Jane’s time in the TARDIS heading towards its end, I’m happy for any excuse to prolong her adventures with the Doctor.

My first thought in all of this is just how… familiar it all seems. The stories it most closely recalls are Fury From the Deep and Terror of the Zygons, and there’s elements from both present in this opening episode. We’ve got a killer seaweed, which is signalled in the soundtrack by an ominous, thumping heartbeat, which the Doctor first hears on the beach. The main enemies are trying to find a new world, because their old one is (nearly) destroyed. Then there’s a spaceship hidden at the bottom of a large expanse of water, and a creature swimming up the Thames, as people look on in horror. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised this story was written by Victor Pemberton, which perhaps makes the Fury comparisons even more obvious.

I found myself mostly confused by the scene in which the Pescaton swims up the Thames, but mostly because of my own preconceptions about this story. For some reason - despite what the cover to the LP clearly depicts - I’ve always imagined Pescatons as being short creatures. I don’t know why, but In my mind whenever I’ve seen an image of the one on the cover, I’ve assumed that they’re about three-and-a-half feet high. The kind of alien which would have been played by Jimmy Vee in the Russell T Davies era. I’ve also always assumed that they’re a kind of comedy alien played for laughs, but the script seems to be treating them in a deadly serious manner.

I’m not sure where any of these thoughts have come from, because I’ve never listened to the story before, or even really given it a second thought, but it’s certainly not what I was expecting it to be. I’m induing myself surprised, too, by how much this is Tom’s story. I was always under the impression that it was released due to the popularity of The Doctor and Sarah Jane as a partnership in the television series, but she harpy appears at all during this episode. She turns up to be attacked by a monster early on, and then to ask the Doctor what a Pescaton is, so that he can fill us all in on the idea, but that’s really all she gets to do in this one so far!

That’s not necessarily a complaint, because Tom Baker is (of course) on fine form throughout. I’m surprised by how much this feels like on of Big Finish’s ‘Companion Chronicles’ range, with Tom taking on the role of lead narrator, guiding us through the story. It moves at quite a pace, too - on more than one occasion, I had to skip back a minute or so, just so I could catch up with what’s going on, or where I was supposed to be. My favourite bit, though, has to be his opening speech, which introduces us to the story:

THE DOCTOR
My life is an endless journey across the bounds of space and time. A time traveller, drifting among the great galaxies of the universe.

It paints such a beautiful picture, and it sounds so right coming out in Tom’s very unique tones. It’s a lovely description, and it makes the episode worthwhile in those opening few minutes.

And then we end on an equally beautiful image, as we’re described a view of the sky over London lighting up as a shower of meteorites fall into the Thames. I’ve got my concerns about how well this would have been achieved on screen in 1976 (so perhaps it’s better suited to being on audio here!), but I’d love to see the modern team tackle it - I’m sure they could make it look lovely…

 

23 March 2014

As many of our regular readers will know, DWO is a spoiler-free site, and we very rarely post news items based around rumours, but we're hearing from several sources about some possible episode titles for the upcoming Eighth Series of Doctor Who.

We would of course like to remind fans that these titles are unconfirmed at this stage and are not official until the BBC states so, but we encourage discussion on them either way, in the DWO Forums thread link at the bottom of this article.

8.1: [Untitled] - written by Steven Moffat
8.2: [Untitled] - written by Phil Ford
8.3: Robots Of Sherwood*
 - written by Mark Gatiss
8.4: Listen*
 - written by Steven Moffat
8.5: Time Heist*
 - written by Stephen Thompson
8.6: [Untitled] - written by Gareth Roberts
8.7: Kill The Moon*
8.8: Mummy On The Orient Express*
8.9: Flatline*
8.10: [Untitled]
8.11: [Untitled]
8.12: [Untitled]
8.13: [Untitled]

* Unconfirmed

+  Series 8 of Doctor Who will air in August / Early September 2014.

[Source: DWO]

22 March 2014

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

Day 446: The Seeds of Doom, Episode Six

Dear diary,

Oh, there’s something rather sad about all of this. UNIT have been a part of Doctor Who since Season Six (and some characters, like the Brigadier, stretch back even further into Season Five), and for a while they’ve been a huge part of the programme. Now we’ve reached their last appearance for a good long time, and instead of going out in a triumphant blaze of glory, they’re leaving in a slightly diminished form. It’s like a popular TV series limping on for one more season once all the main cast have departed, and then facing a slow, agonising death.

We’ve been watching the break up of the ‘UNIT family’ for a long time now. If anything, it started as far back as Season Eight, with the Third Doctor’s first excursion off-Earth, and then continued on from there, with less and less time being spent on Terra Firma. Then we see Mike leave (he returns, of course, for Planet of the Spiders, but it’s not really the same), the Brigadier parts with Terror of the Zygons and has been stuck in Geneva ever since, while Benton bowed out with The Android Invasion earlier this year. That same story introduces Colonel Faraday to the UNIT team, but here he’s not even mentioned, and we’re left in the hands of Sergeant Henderson and Lieutenant Beresford.

It’s just not the same. This lot are all wearing the right uniform and running around in the right style to be UNIT soldiers, but there’s none of the shared history we have during the early 1970s. Part of the fun when Benton turns up in Ambassadors of Death is that we previously saw him helping the Second Doctor and Jamie repel the Cyberman invasion of London. By the time Mike turns on the rest of his colleagues, it holds impact because we’ve watched him work alongside them for so long. In this story, when Henderson is subjected to the composting machine it’s a shock because it’s such a brutal death, not because they’ve killed off one of our UNIT team. We’ll not see the organisation back properly for another thirteen years, when we’ll be given another new UNIT during Battlefield, so it’s been a shame to watch them face diminishing returns over the last few seasons.

It’s not enough to ruin the episode, mind, and there’s still an awful lot in here to love. After my praise for the shot of the house-sized Krynoid at the end of yesterday’s episode, I was sorry to see a similar shot not being done as well here, but it’s only a brief distraction because we spend much of this episode seeing the creature in the form of a model monster atop a model mansion… and that looks fantastic! There’s plenty of shots where the tentacles writhe and thrash around, while the building starts to crumble underneath them, and it’s all really effective.

And then of course – as is traditional – they blow up the model at the end. I joke about how often it happens, but it is always a very good effect. That we see it happen in stages here makes it a little different to the usual, but surely someone must have started noticing that every time UNIT get involved in a situation, the location ends up in flames!

The one thing that I don’t get… the adventure is over. The Doctor and Sarah decide that they need to go on holiday. I mean, it’s only natural – in the last few weeks, they’ve come up against alien doubles, sentient planets, Egyptian gods, alien doubles again, Frankenstein’s monster, and now this. Sarah’s got her swimsuit on, the beach ball is ready… and they arrive in Antarctica. Back where they started because the Doctor hasn’t cleared the co-ordinates from earlier in the story. Did they initially plan to take the TARDIS to the snow base before opting for the more traditional jet (don’t forget that they’ve spent most of this season trying to get back to UNIT HQ via the TARDIS, and failing spectacularly)? It’s a bit of an odd end to the adventure, but it’s a great way to end the season – with the Doctor and Sarah joking and laughing, and completely reaffirming his earlier statement that they’re the best of friends. Their time in the TARDIS is short now, with only a couple more adventures for the pair, so I’m glad that I’m enjoying them so much at the moment.

21 March 2014

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

Day 445: The Seeds of Doom, Episode Five

Dear diary,

I’d been worrying that this story was going to really suffer from being a six-parter. Everything just seemed to be happening too soon. The full transformation from Keeler to Krynoid was done by the end of Episode Four, which meant two episodes of the creature stalking around the gardens of an English country home… not great telly, surely? I genuinely worried about how the story was going to fill out for another 50 minutes. I’d not taken into account the idea that the shuffling, wobbling, Krynoid creature isn’t really the focus of the threat here. Oh, sure, it’s the main monster for the story, but we’ve also got Chase to deal with, and plenty of action with other plants.

Realistically, a story which revolves around vegetation that’s ‘more animal than plant’ should feel like the most typical Doctor Who tale ever. It’s a concept that Terry Nation has been toying with since as far back as the first season. Indeed, the scene in todays episode when Sarah and Scorby are attacked by the plants coming to life in the ‘Green Cathedral’, is hugely reminiscent of The Keys of Marinus. And yet it works! It’s been such a long time since we’ve seen the concept down this well, and it’s filtered through the way the programme works by this period.

The scary thing isn’t the plants on the attack, or the way that we watch characters writhe about under them gasping for air - it’s the way the camera pans around to find Chase sat in the middle of the melee, perfectly calm and content. When people all about the darkness in this era, I think a lot of it comes down to these types of moments. It’s not all about the rubber monster suit, but rather the human characters that the Doctor and Sarah encounter.

While Chase is a great character in himself (and thoroughly dislikable, in just the right way), I’m more impressed by Scorby. He started the story off as little more - really - than ‘hired gun of the week’, but we’ve gotten the chance to see lots of different sides to him as the story unfolds. It’s nice to see what an uneasy alliance he’s formed with the Doctor and Sarah here, too, because I’d feared that when the Krynoid started to grow, he may simply switch sides. Having him be distrustful of the Doctor’s escape, and still only out to save his own skin makes him feel a much more real character than I was expecting to find. He’s not the only one I’m loving, either. I think that Amelia Ducat may have become one of my favourite characters ever! She’s such fun! Oh, how I’d love to see her head off on an adventure in the TARDIS.

And then we’ve got the Doctor and Sarah Jane in the middle of it all. I mused during Pyramids of Mars the other week that I didn’t really buy into the severity of the threat. The Doctor kept on telling us how bad things would be if Sutekh were to break free and continue his reign of terror, but it never quite felt true. Even when we take a trip to 1980 to see how bad things could get, I still didn’t believe it. Here, on the other hand, I’m completely sold on how bad the situation has gotten. The Doctor snaps at people. He shouts, and rants, and he’s very obviously scared. It’s terribly effective, and I’m really very impressed by it all - this is another one of those occasions where Tom Baker really shows us why he’s the right man to be fronting one of the BBC’s biggest programmes.

Quite aside from the characters, I’m also very impressed with the effects work. There’s a shot at the end of the episode, where the Krynoid appears over the roof of the house, and it looks flawless. Those days of yellow fringing around CSO shots feel like they’re a million miles away from now, because this looks as good as any of the best effects we’d get today. Granted, it’s only a brief shot - so I’m hoping that it’ll be able to hold this kind of standard as we move into the final episode. With the Kynoid almost at full size, we’re going to be getting a lot of shots like this coming up, I’d wager…

 

20 March 2014

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

Day 444: The Seeds of Doom, Episode Four

Dear diary,

During Season Twelve, when the programme first started trying out some experiments with outside broadcast video for location work, I was less than keen on the results. Robot came across as looking a bit like a fan-made video in places, and The Sontaran Experiment was just lacking any kind of texture or depth for me. I thought that those two stories were the only examples (pre Trial of a Time Lord) of the programme using ‘all video’ inside and out, but it turns out that The Seeds of Doom falls into the same category. I can guess why. I know that the Krynoid will end up growing bigger than the house before the story is out, and I’m guessing that they’ll be using all-video so that they can do some effects with that later on.

What’s surprising to me is how much I’m enjoying the location sequences in this one, and how the video look to them isn’t putting me off in the same way it did last season. I don’t know if I’ve simply grown used to the feel of stories being made in this way, or if it’s because Douglas Camfield is back in the director’s chair (he could make anything look good), but I’m actually quite liking the finished product. It has the effect of making the studio-bound inside of the house and the location-recorded outside feel like they belong in the same place - you never get that switch which tells you that we’ve picked up the recording some weeks later and somewhere completely different.

Don’t get me wrong - I think I’ll always prefer the film look for the programme (and in some ways, I’m sad to see Camfield - the master of film sequences - going out without a final chance to use it), but this is the most I’ve enjoyed them attempting outside broadcast to date. Ten years from now, in Season Twenty-Three, this will become the norm for Doctor Who’s production, so I’m hoping this story is a step in the right direction.

Something which really does help, and can’t be underestimated, if just how great the locations themselves are. The Antarctic setting, the quarry, the grounds, and the house… there’s a real scope to this story, and all of the locations have been brilliant. It’s also nice to see them taking part in a night shoot outside the mansion - it’s still a relatively rare occurrence in the programme at this point, but it really does add a whole new atmosphere to things. My only slight gripe is that the lighting for these sequences is a little off, maybe a tad too bright. It’s only a minor quibble, though, and it doesn’t spoil the effect.

One of those things people tend to know about The Seeds of Doom is that one stage of the Krynoid’s evolution is produced by dragging an Axon costume out of storage and painting it green. They even did a similar thing with the action figure, so you can have both monsters on your shelf pulled from the same mold. I’m surprised to see how little tho version of the creature is actually used, though. It turns up most prominently during the first couple of episodes, when it’s the main form of the creature as it stalks around the snow base. Here, it’s only around for a matter of minutes before we move on to another - previously unseen - stage of the lifecycle. I think the version we see in the closing moments of today’s episode is perhaps a weaker design than the repurposed Axon, though, and the way it shuffles towards the camera in the final seconds is a bit reminiscent of the Slyther for me!

I’m not sure where it’s going from here, design-wise, because this feels like a far more cumbersome costume to use for two whole episodes than the one we had earlier on. I’m assuming that at some stage they’ll try and lure the creature towards the compost machine to destroy it (far too much is made of the device here to simply be for injecting drama to the Doctor’s situation), although I know that we’ll be escaping that fate before UNIT turn up at the end.

Everything is connected together a lot more than I was expecting it to be, actually. I’ve known for a long time that UNIT rock up at the end of Episode Six to save the day (sans any of our regular faces), but I’d assumed they came out of nowhere when the story was running out of time and needed a resolution. Here, though, they’re already being woven into the plot, with characters making reference to calling them in as the situation grows larger and larger. We’ve even got characters like Amelia Ducat creeping back into the narrative - I’d assumed she only featured in yesterday’s episode to provide some light relief! In many ways, this is making it feel more thought-through than your average Doctor Who story. Everything is tied to everything else, and it’s making for a very satisfying story. 

19 March 2014

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

Day 443: The Seeds of Doom, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’ve always thought of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who as being divided into three different ‘sub-eras’: The ‘Gothic’ Era, The ‘Comedy’ Era, and The ‘Serious’ Era. You may have guessed that these subdivisions are based on the tenures of Tom’s three producers, Philip Hinchliffe, Graham Williams, and John Nathan-Turner. Of course, there’s transitional periods (Season Twelve is a change from the Pertwee years, but it’s not as far removed as Season Thirteen is, for example), but largely, in my head, they’ve always been very distinct.

So I’d always thought of outright funny episodes featuring Tom Baker as coming from the Williams period of the show - with Douglas Adams as script editor, there’s plenty of moments of humour. The ones that spring to mind are from Season Seventeen: The Doctor’s excited exclamation of ‘Rocks!’ when the TARDIS lands in Destiny of the Daleks, or… well… every episode from City of Death. There’ve been flashes of this kind of Doctor ever since Baker took over the role (Indeed, at times, Robot didn’t feel all that far removed from that later period), but this episode is the closest I’ve ever felt to that style.

So many of the Doctor’s lines are funny. Even with the seriousness of the situation (don’t forget, the Doctor and Sarah come close to being murdered twice in this episode, and we’re in the unusual position of having already seen what will happen if the pod is allowed to grow), I found myself laughing throughout. Amelia Ducat’s sudden realisation that she was never paid for her painting. The Doctor’s attempt to introduce everyone in the room to Chase. The grin he gives when waking up in the snow to see Sarah’s face. And, of course, ‘That’s right! Grab us! We’re very dangerous!’

And yet, it never slips into farce. The whole episode is still very dark, but the moments of humour are being used very effectively to bring the tone up some more. Hope never feels lost, but you’re always aware of the severity of the events on screen. In amongst all the funny lines and the jokes, there’s some very powerful moments. The Doctor’s anger when he returns to the World Ecology Bureau is so effective - we’ve seen the temper of this incarnation before now, but this is perhaps the strongest its been yet. Even here we get to see the humour seeping through, in the Doctor’s description that ‘the end of everything’ will also include Sir Colin’s pension, but you almost find yourself laughing nervously, because you’re almost scared by the Doctor.

He’s even fairly violent in this episode, although only when trying to escape death himself. The way he jumps on the chauffeur, wrestles him to the ground and then punches him out cold is harsher than we usually get to see him behave, but then later on he cricks Scorby’s neck in order to make his escape. This kind of action is usually reserved for indicating someone’s neck being broken (indeed, at first I thought that’s what had happened, and I was almost a bit put off by it!), so it’s a very serious thing to see our hero doing.

It’s this fine line of ‘comedy’ and ‘darkness’ which is making this story (and, in some ways, this season as a whole) so appealing to me, and I’m rather glad to see that this period of the programme’s history isn’t quite as segregated as I’d imagined it to be. This story wouldn’t be half as effective if it was just bleak from start to finish, but it’s managing to be hugely entertaining this way.

Oh, and is it just me, or is the World Ecology Bureau based in BBC Television Centre?!

 

18 March 2014

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

Day 442: The Seeds of Doom, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It became so common during the Pertwee era as to almost become a cliche: when you’re done with the setting for your current adventure, you build a perfect model replica of it and then you blow it up to create a spectacular finale. The one upshot of it happening so frequently was that they became really rather good at it. But even deep in the heart of the early 1970s, where they were blowing up everything from churches to stately homes, they never went as far as to blow it up a third of the way into the story!

I suppose I should have seen it coming, really. I mused yesterday that I didn’t know about the story spending so much time in the Antarctic base, and I thought the whole story took place in England. At some point, the action had to shift. I’d assumed, though, that we’d simply see the Doctor and Sarah making a daring escape from the snowbase, possibly heading off in a helicopter while the Krynoid was left behind to fend for itself in the Arctic wastes. I figured that the second pod they’d uncovered would somehow make it onto the helicopter with them (probably placed there by a sneaky weed), and that they’d then all end up back home thinking the threat was over before it starts up all over again.

I’m glad I was wrong – this is a much more exciting way to do things! It’s typical of this period of the programme ot be so bloodthirsty, killing off all three of the characters I was so full of praise for yesterday, each in a gruesome way. That we say goodbye to this setting with a huge explosion of the set seems only fitting, because this is the end of an adventure – we’re off somewhere new from tomorrow, and I’m imagining that the whole story is going to feel a bit different as a result.

So it’s worth taking the time now to say how good all the Antarctica sets look. When Doctor Who Confidential followed the filming of Planet of the Ood a few years ago, they spent a bit of time telling us how they’d covered a large area of quarry with fake snow, and then used CGI effects to insert that into a larger ice world. Upon the Doctor’s return to the planet for The End of Time, they went a whole step further, and coated an entire ‘cliff face’ with the stuff.

But here we are, in 1976, and the sets we’re given here are just as serviceable. The over-layed ‘snow’ affect on top of many shots can get a bit much at times (it falls too un-naturally to look all that good), but you really do get the impression of a vast expanse that the Doctor and our guest cast are running around in. That’s good – because it contrasts very well with the cramped, claustrophobic interiors of their research station. There’s a shot early on in this episode, when Winlett (half converted into a Krynoid) makes his way towards the door, and we follow him down the dark corridor. It’s creepy, and beautiful, and you’re left in absolutely no doubt that you’re watching Douggie Camfield back behind the camera again.

Someone told me today that these first two episodes were crafted onto the start of The Seeds of Doom after the other four had been written, because they needed to extend it up to a six-parter. While these instalments do seem to have their own separate function, and I’ve not seen where the story is going from here, I can’t imagine that to be true (a bit of digging around on the web tells me that it isn’t, anyway). These episodes feel integral to the story – they set everything up nicely, and tell a rather nice, self-contained story of their own. If the rest of the tale can continue at the same quality, then we’re in a very good position for a season-closer…

 

17 March 2014

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

Day 441: The Seeds of Doom, Episode One

Dear diary,

Much like The Enemy of the World, or The Web of Fear, toady is exciting because I get to watch an episode which was lost from the BBC’s archives before being returned. The only difference is that The Seeds of Doom Episode One remains the only episode of Doctor Who history to be lost from the BBC before it was shown on television! The story has always fascinated me - this episode was filmed, edited, signed off… and then went missing! In a newspaper article at the time, Philip Hinchcliffe explained:

”Our tapes for the entire six-part serial were tucked away safely - we thought - the actors had all gone away, and the sets had been dismantled. We rang the library asking for our first episode and, after a check, the answer came back that they couldn’t find it. It had just vanished!

”Panic? It was more like a mass rave. They started checking, and I started making plans to re-edit the serial - a mammoth job with very little time to spare. Finally, after two days, they found it. It had been wrongly numbered. But in that time, I’d aged about 20 years!“

I’d love to know what the contingency would have been. It’s one of my favourite little bits of Doctor Who trivia, and in some ways I’m a little sorry that the episode didn’t turn up until years later - it would have made for a great, Shada style ‘lost episode’ saga!

I’m glad that it did turn up, though, because this episode is really rather good. The Seeds of Death is yet another one of those stories that I’ve never seen, but I know the general premise of. Alien seed pod is found buried in the ice at the South Pole. It turns people into plants, and they take over a country house. But I didn’t know that some of the story was properly set in the Antarctic. I thought that the majority of the story took place in (or around) said country house, so it’s a nice surprise to find ourselves somewhere a little more unexpected.

And it’s also nice to be in the company of some great guest characters. The three researchers at the polar base feel like real people, and they laugh and joke as though they’re real colleagues working together in tough conditions. We get plenty of time to bond with them, too, because aside from a brief scene with the Doctor at the World Ecology Bureau, our regulars don’t really show their faces until half-way through the episode. Until then, we’re left to bond with new characters, and get caught up in their lives.

Once our heroes do arrive, though, they’re on fine form as usual. I seem to be saying it under every single story at the moment (I had a similar issue when Troughton first took on the role. It’ll wear off slowly…), but Tom Baker really is great value for money. I could watch him all day long. The way he plays with his yo-yo during his briefing is great fun, and his warning (‘remember - no touch pod!’) is as childish and patronising as it could be - impossible not to love. And then once he’s reached the snowy setting down south, he’s back to serious, worried mode again. There’s something great about showing him as unable to feel the cold, and it helps with the kind of aloof, alien performance he’s giving throughout these scenes.

The whole episode is filled with a great atmosphere, the same as pretty much everything else this season, and it’s good to see them using stock footage again to set the scene right at the beginning. They used the same trick at the start of Pyramids of Mars, and it really does help to expand the scope of the series’ setting. Even though we’ve got lots of time spent on near-contemporary Earth (Zygons, The Android Invasion, and this story all take place in the same decade, while Pyramids of Mars is only set around half a century out), the scale of the series here feels much wider than it did during the Pertwee years.

This is another one of those stories that people insist on rating very highly, and it’s off to a good start…

 

16 March 2014

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

Day 440: The Brain of Morbius, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This episode contains another one of those scenes which Doctor Who fans find themselves arguing over. You know the one - the Doctor and Morbius are engaged in a spot of Time Lord wrestling, and we watch on the screen as an image of the Fourth Doctor’s face shifts into that of the Third Doctor. As the battle goes on, we then see the Second Doctor! And then the First! Hooray! All the old Doctors! But then… hold on… who’s that?

The… Zeroth Doctor… and the… Minus First Doctor… and… hold on… what?

Eight more faces appear up on the screen, all in various costumes plucked from history. Specifically, it’s the faces of Christopher Baker, Robert Holmes, Graeme Harper, Douglas Camfield, Philip Hinchcliffe, Robert Banks Stewart, George Gallaccio and Christopher Barry - all people working on the production team at the time. As the faces begin to appear, Morbius wonders how ‘far back’ the Doctor goes, and the implication is seemingly that these are the Doctor’s first eight incarnations, pushing Tom Baker up to number 12!

Obviously, this goes on to cause problems a year later, when it’s announced that Time Lords can only have thirteen lives (although we’ve recently seen the Doctor overcome this problem on Trenzalore). I’ve seen all kinds of theories thrown around over the years to try and explain away these various other faces, but to me the most plausible explanation is that they’re the faces of Morbius’ earlier forms. There’s nothing to contradict this, and while his dialogue about reaching back in to the Doctor’s past overlaps with the first of these faces, the longer they go on, the more Morbius seems to be in pain… and then the machine displaying the faces blows up! As fa as I’m concerned, this explanation is as good as any other, and it’s certainly the one I’ll keep in mind if I ever need to join the debate. To be honest, the whole sequence was less of a big deal than I’d been expecting it to be - considering all the fuss that seems to be made of it from time to time, it seemed to be quite tame!

I have to draw special attention to an exchange in this episode which may be my favourite ever between the Doctor and Sarah. She stumbles across him having escaped from the lab, and is surprised when he starts to wake up. ‘You thought I was dead, didn’t you?’ he asks, before adding ‘You’re always making that mistake…’ Considering how often I’ve drawn attention to it over Sarah’s time in the TARDIS, it’s lovely to see the show itself drawing attention to it!

It’s just another example of this being one of the best scripts that Terrance Dicks has ever produced for the programme. It was extensively rewritten by Robert Holmes one it had reached the production office (so much so that Dicks asked for his name to be taken off the broadcast, and have it put out ‘under some bland pseudonym’), but I think as a team working together, they’ve created something really rather special. Is it a perfect story? No, it’s not. As stories go, it probably isn’t deserving of the high praise it often receives. But there’s bits of this tale which are really very good, and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it again at some point in the future.

 

15 March 2014

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

Day 439: The Brain of Morbius, Episode Three

Dear diary,

In November of last year, when Night of the Doctor first premiered on the internet, everyone was thrilled and excited and surprised by the return of the Eighth Doctor after so long. But not me! There’s been rumblings for ages that we’d be getting a return of the character during a short episode simply to show his regeneration, and so that morning when I received word that the special would be arriving online later that day, I wasn’t surprised at all. Thrilled? Yes! Excited? Very! But not surprised.

What did come as a surprise, when I finally sat down to watch it a few hours later, was the Doctor’s return to Karn! And the return of the Sisterhood! I’ve not seen The Brain of Morbius before my current viewing, but I know enough about it to know of the Sisterhood, and their flame of eternal life. That set my mind wandering, though. Was the sister we saw in Night of the Doctor one of the ones from this story? Was the flame so key to regeneration when it made its first appearance back in the 1970s? I can’t tell you how tempted I was to head online and find out, but I wanted to wait and maintain the surprise. At the time, I was still knee-deep in the Pertwee era, and it felt wrong to skip ahead and read about the Doctor’s upcoming adventures. Like cheating, somehow.

So right the way through this story, I’ve been enjoying piecing things together. I’ve decided that the character who helps the Eighth Doctor to regenerate into the man he needs to become is not one of the ones during this story, but only because a quick scout round on the web just now seems to imply that she isn’t. Somewhere, deep in the back of my mind, I’d rather hoped that one of the original caresses had returned for the part. It’s no great loss, of course, but it was still something I liked to hope for. I’m more keen to see just how linked the elixir is to the Regeneration cycle.

The Doctor explains here that the Time Lords only use it for particularly difficult regenerations, which does tie in with the Eighth Doctor’s end. We also find out today that ships crash so often on Karn because of the Sisterhood, so it’s nice to think that they purposely brought the Eighth Doctor down to their world to further the course of the war, and eventually bring an end to it. There’s something quite fun about the Fourth Doctor here setting up the flame to burn brighter and longer than anyone had ever guessed, and knowing that this will one day come back to save his life - there’s a kind of neat symmetry to all that.

I’m also impressed by just how well the look of this original serial holds up. Night of the Doctor is shot with some very nice looking caves as the background, whereas The Brain of Morbius is one of the entirely studio-bound adventures. Thankfully, it’s one where all the design elements hang together very nicely. As much as I like the surface of Karn, I think it’s possibly the weakest element of the design - and I do prefer the digital matte painting we get during the planet’s second appearance.

The highlight in terms of the set design is probably Solon’s home. Every bit of it feels really well-done, from the entrance hall, to the basement, to the lab. It’s holds a pleasing sense of gothic architecture (and it wouldn’t look out of place in a horror film), but at the same time contains enough elements to make it interesting and unique. In a special feature on this DVD, Barry Newbery explains his thought process behind the design, and goes into great detail about my favourite aspect of the set - the various columns and buttresses that run throughout the house. He explains that on this world, architecture had taken a different course to that on Earth, where we place things like this on the outside, or at least with the walls where possible, and that he wanted to creature something different. Of course, ti also works out beautifully for a director, and leads to some especially nice shots in the ‘lower lab’ set - especially during Episode Two, when Solon and Morbius argue.

Perhaps the greatest bit of design on show here, though, is the Morbius creature itself. A few years ago, when the action figure for this one came out, I made a point of not buying it. It came as part of the second ‘wave’ of classic figures, where releases such as an Ice Warrior or an Earthshock Cyberman took up most of my budget. I was never all that fond of this design, and I didn’t think that it related particularly well to figure form. Now, though, I think that I appreciate it more. There’s something about the odd mash of elements that simply works, and I simply love that Condo’s missing arm has gone into creating the creature. In retrospect, that fact seems blatantly obvious (mad professor is building a body from various parts. Same mad professor is holding on to one of his servant’s arms. It’s not that difficult to put two and two together, but I didn’t! Hah!), but it comes as a lovely surprise when watching through.

My only complaint is that there’s nothing really recognisable within the Morbius design. I’m sure I’d be complaining if it were completely made up of creatures we’ve seen in the last few seasons, but having encountered a Mutt at the start of the story for the first time in years, it would have been nice to see one or two elements that I’d recognise as a part of the design. Someone did point out to me today that Morbius’ ‘claw’ could come from a Macra, and that’s something that I’m going to be clinging on to for now, but it’s a pity there’s nothing more immediately obvious to pick up on!

 

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