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18 December 2014

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

Day 717: Battlefield, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve decided that in my own ‘head canon’, it’s the Eleventh Doctor who gets caught up in all the events over in Morgaine’s dimension, and has the adventures as ‘Merlin’. This episode, with the note left to the earlier Doctor, managed to feel again like a Steven Moffat idea, so it seems quite fitting that one of his Doctor’s should be worked in somewhere. Plus, there’s a sense of fun about this story which I think the Eleventh Doctor could fit in to quite well!

I’ve continued to enjoy this one, and it really is much to my surprise. I wasn’t expecting to outright hate Battlefield, but I certainly thought that it would come out as the weakest part of this season. I’m really pleased that one final time before the ‘classic’ series is out, it can manage to surprise me in this way, because it’s times like this that doing the marathon of every episode in order really comes in to its own. I’ll be looking back on Battlefield as one of my favourites, which isn’t a title that I’d have given it even a few days ago!

You can’t talk about this story without mentioning the fact that it was to originally feature the Brigadier’s death - giving his life to defeat the Destroyer. I’ve never been sure if I like the idea or not. On the one hand, I’m keen on the Brigadier being given a final send off in that way, but on the other, I like that he can return home again at the end of the adventure, and that he can go on to have a few more adventures before he finally does meet his demise. There’s something really wonderful about the way that he takes charge of the situation here, by knocking out the Doctor and putting his own life on the line. It’s just so perfectly true to their relationship that we’ve watched grow over the years, and its one of the Brigadier’s finest hours.

On the subject of which, I think that the Destroyer may be the ‘classic’ run’s finest hour when it comes to prosthetic monster costumes. Let’s be honest - it’s a gorgeous design (in a sort of hideous way…), and it’s been realised so well. Certainly, it makes some of the other creatures we’ve had over the years look especially poor! I touched on this subject briefly during The Curse of Fenric while heaping some praise on to the Haemovores, too, but even then I’d forgotten just how well done this creature was. I’d never even noticed the way that he drools while breaking free of his chains, and it’s a pity that the creature isn’t on display anywhere - does anyone know if it still survives somewhere?

I’ve got so many other notes about things I could say in regards to this story, but I don’t want to bring up every little thing that I’ve written down and not mentioned in the last few days, so I’ll just focus quickly on the big one that I’ve been writing down over and over without finding a chance to bring it up in one of these entries. The design of the spaceship - both in terms of the model exterior, and the full-scale interior - is fantastic, and it look rather good whenever we get a good look at it. I don’t really have anything else to add on that point, but I wanted to mention it somewhere before I move on to the next tale!

18 December 2014

Check out the new Doctor Who parody from former journalist and long-time Whovian Darren M Bane.

Dr U Who, available as both a paperback and ebook, is the ‘true’ story – or at least, one timeline’s version of it – of Doctor Who’s triumphant return to prime time television, and subsequent world domination. It reveals the ‘real’ reason behind the BBC’s historic decision to bring Doctor Who back from Hiatus, and put an end to those long wilderness years.

Inspired by the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, this affectionate parody provides ‘definitive’ answers to a number of questions raised by the long-running series over the years, including the “real” reason why so many alien races speak English; the truth behind the ‘missing episodes’; the real cause of the dinosaurs becoming extinct (the cyber ship with Adric on board merely scratched the surface), the unfortunate typo which prevented the tenth Doctor from properly heeding a warning which could have prolonged his life, the reason why anti-matter is called anti-matter, why sci-fi fans are sometimes called anoraks - and plenty more. Just remember, when Cap’n Jack The Lad Harmless is about, then, whatever you do, don’t wink.

Dr U Who was originally published, briefly, exclusively on Kindle until the author discovered www.lulu.com, and the means to make it available as a paperback and on a wide range of ebook sellers, without breaking the bank.

But during that initial brief time on Kindle, it was downloaded 203 times, and attracted six reviews, two of which were five-star,  three were four-star and one was three-star.

Comments from reviewers included: “Well written, affectionate, Dr Who parody. The author has a nice way with words, making this an easy read, with plenty of giggles”, “a right reveting read, clearly written by a true fan of Dr Who”, “his love for, and knowledge of, the franchise shines through in an affectionate parody,” and “the best Doctor Who parody, great satire humour.”

Darren M Bane is a middle-aged kid whose earliest memory of Doctor Who was watching Jon Pertwee in hand-to-hand combat with a Sontaran in The Time Warrior; and he’s been in love with the show ever since. While working as a journalist, he reported on, and then became a member of the crew of, a low-budget fan-made film, Soul’s Ark, which starred Colin Baker, Wendy Padbury and Carole Ann Ford.

Dr U Who is available as a paperback from www.lulu.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and others, for £7.99.

It’s available as an ebook from www.lulu.com from 99p, and should soon be available through all the major ebook retailers including Nook, Kobo, Kindle and the iBookstore.

For more information about the author, and other books he has written and is planning to, visit his website at www.dazzab.co.uk.

[Source: Dazza B]

18 December 2014

Speaking at yesterday's press screening at the BFI for the 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special; Last Christmas, Steven Moffat confirmed the title for Episode 1 of Season 9 of Doctor Who.

The episode is titled 'The Magician's Apprentice' and will begin filming, together with the rest of Series 9, in January 2015, for an expected airdate of Autumn 2015.

[Source: BFI]

17 December 2014

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

Day 716: Battlefield, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I really do love it when a story comes along that I’m not really expecting a great deal from, and then I end up absolutely loving it. Battlefield is one of those stories. As the closing credits kicked in on today’s episode, I declared to the empty room that this is brilliant, and that I’m really - really - liking it. Oh, I’ve still not really forgiven that nonsense in the first episode about no one having the faintest clue about the Doctor, and opening the season with a shot of a garden centre is unforgivable (even if that wasn’t the original plan), but there’s an awful lot to enjoy about this one.

And I keep coming back to the fact that I know I’d have loved this as a kid. The more the story goes on, the more I’m watching it with the mind of an excited child as opposed to a ‘grown up’ fan. During the first episode, I thought that Bambera was rubbish - with far too much comedy for the character she’s supposed to be. Now, though, I’m actively embracing the comedy, and it’s a shame that we only ever get to see her this once! I’ve often mourned the lack of a consistent ‘UNIT family’ outside of the Pertwee years (which is why occasional returns for characters such as Magambo between Turn Left and Planet of the Dead, or the team headed up by Kate Stewart in the more recent episodes really appeal to me), and I’d quite like to see how one would have been handled in the early 1990s, with Bambera as the head of the organisation, and our faithful Lethbridge-Stewart cropping up from time-to-time to lend a hand.

Oh, and I have to mention him here, don’t I? There’s something quite bold about not having the Doctor and the Brigadier meet until this third episode, but the actual greeting is rather well handled when it does arrive; ‘who else would it be’ is absolutely perfect for the Brig we know and love. He settles in with the Seventh Doctor pretty much instantly, and they continued to amuse me as a pairing throughout the rest of the episode. I commented the other day about the programme bringing back as many of its icons as possible before the end, but I’m terribly glad that they got the Brig back for this one - his final appearance in Doctor Who proper (he’ll be cropping up for Dimensions in Time in a couple of weeks, and then for a Sarah Jane Adventures story later on, which I’ll certainly be watching, even if I don’t write about it in the Diary).

While we’re on the subject of bringing back old companions, I’d better make mention of Jean Marsh, too. In the special features on this DVD, Jean goes into quite a lot of depth about the way that she saw her character, and how she chose to play it based on the material she was given… you sort of get the impression that she’s giving it quite a lot more thought than perhaps anyone else. That said, I’m glad I listened to her opinions on the part last night, because it means I’ve been watching her performance in today’s episode with a slightly different view. She really is giving all she can to the character, and it’s coming off the better for it. Marsh talks at some length about the way that she thinks nothing of killing someone, but then restores the sight of a blind woman, and it’s really beautifully done in this episode; I’d sort of forgotten just how close together the two acts are, as part of the same scene.

Not all the credit can be given over to Ms Marsh, though, because a lot needs to be laid at the door of Ben Aaronovitch, who’s back on writing duties this time around. I was very impressed with his script for Remembrance of the Daleks last season, and he’s managed to bring the same skill in to this story. He’s managed to balance the comedy and the drama particularly well, and once again slipped in several continuity references to the past without them feeling overbearing or shoehorned in. It’s a pity that this is the last script we’ll be seeing from him in the programme - I’d have loved to see what he’d do in the early days of the 21st century series.

One final thing to bring up - Sylvester McCoy. During The Happiness Patrol last week, I seemed almost surprised by the fact that he was rather good in the part - having been so unsure about him during those first few stories. The one thing that’s always troubled me about McCoy’s performance, though, is when he’s asked to do something big, and angry. There’s a few sequences that stand out in my mind (notably from Survival), which I recall as not being very good, because he simply couldn’t handle such ‘big’ moments. But then you’ve got this episode, in which he runs in to the middle of a battlefield and bellows at the combatants… and it’s wonderful. It’s one of his greatest moments as the Doctor, and it’s really won me round on his ‘angry’ acting. I’m just hoping now that I’m mis-remembering the scenes from Survival, and they they won’t be tainting this one in the near future… 

16 December 2014

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

Day 715: Battlefield, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’m almost surprising myself when I say that this one is really good! Yesterday, I mentioned that Battlefield didn’t have the strongest reputation behind it, and I’d sort of resigned myself to thinking that it would probably be the weak link in Season Twenty-Six, but actually, I’m really caught up in things, and I’m really enjoying it!

In many ways, this feels a lot like a Matt Smith episode. There’s strange goings on with time, with the suggestion that a large chunk of the guest cast have encountered the Doctor at a point later in his time stream than he is currently, a lot of bluster on the part of the Doctor as he tries to remain in charge while piecing everything together, and lots of little moments that wouldn’t feel at all out of place in a more recent Steven Moffat episode. The Doctor looking down at the mysterious inscription in the ground and commenting that it says ‘dig hole here’ in his own handwriting elicited a huge laugh from me, and I love him working out how to open a door inside the space ship simply by barking ‘open up, it’s me’. It’s giving McCoy a chance to flex his more ‘entertainment’ muscles again, too, which is always fun.

Even the mythologising of the Doctor that we get in this story seems to fit better with the depiction of the Doctor in the 21st century version of the programme. Oh, sure, there’s been elements of it right the way through the programme, going right back to almost the very beginning, but there’s some lovely descriptions of the Doctor here - that he ‘rides the ship of time’ and that he has ‘worn many faces’ - which would sit right at home in the modern programme, and are really rather lovely. It often gets said that the McCoy years are very much a basis that the 2005 rival picks up from, and I’m seeing that more and more as the episodes roll by. Add in the on-going character arcs for Ace and the Doctor, the relationships with the companions’ family (this was perhaps more prevalent with Tegan, but there a new relative just popped up when they needed to put someone in danger), and the fact that the programme has become far more Earth-centric in this final season - there’s a solitary alien world in Survival, but even that’s tied to Perivale - I can really see where the comparisons come from.

Aside from all of that, there’s also the sheer fun of the idea at the heart of this one. It’s Doctor Who does the Arthurian legends… and being Doctor Who, they can’t just go for setting it in a time of myths and magic, but they instead make the knights dimension-hopping soldiers who’ve been caught up in a time-travel based plot with a future version of the Doctor, and they pit them against UNIT. I mean, come on, that’s a brilliant Idea, and it really is something I’d have loved as a kid. I was so completely in to castles and knights, and wizards… give them laser guns and point them towards a nuclear convoy, and it only gets better!

15 December 2014

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

Day 714: Battlefield, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’ve never noticed before just how neatly the final two seasons of the ‘classic’ run bring back all of the programme’s icons for one last outing before the end. Of course, the Daleks and the Cybermen turn up in Season Twenty-Five (they had to, somewhere in this era), but then you’ve got the return of the Brigadier here for the first time since The Five Doctors, UNIT back for the first time - really - since The Seeds of Doom, even Bessie is back out of mothballs, and the Master will put in an appearance before the year is out, having become such a regular part of the show for a few seasons before taking some time out.

Sadly, the appearance of Nicholas Courtney here as the Brigadier doesn’t quite have the same impact it did when he turned up in Mawdryn Undead, and it may all be down to the way that he’s introduced to us. In that story, we’ve watched two boys crash an antique car, and witnessed deals with the ‘devil’ before a figure turns around and it’s the Brigadier that we’ve not seen for ages. This time around we meet him - indeed, we join the entire story - in a garden centre. Where we then get some quite forced in dialogue to remind us who he is. Oh dear. I think the fact that the seasons have been so short lately means that even though it’s been six years since we last saw him (in The Five Doctors), it’s not been all that long for me. Between Terror of the Zygons and Mawdryn Undead, there were loads of adventures for the Doctor and his companions. This time around, it just doesn’t feel like that long since the Brig was last in the show (it’s not that long - he was in Silver Nemesis last season!)

I’ve also got major issues with the way that the Doctor is being dealt with here, which I’ve never actually noticed before. When he arrives at UNIT early on, Brigadier Bambara doesn’t have a clue who he is (even allowing for the change of face), and has to be told by one of her officers who served under Lethbridge-Stewart (when he was about eight years old, by the look of him!) that there was a man called the Doctor, who had occasionally changed his face. He goes on to say that the rumour was that he changed everything about himself, as if he’s not entirely sure. I can almost buy that the Doctor’s involvement with UNIT is so top secret that he’s effectively been struck from the official records, and the cases that relate to him have been conveniently ‘lost’, perhaps, so Bambera - even as head of UNIT in the UK - may not know all the precise details about him… but if there’s people still serving with UNIT at this point who were around when the Doctor was, then surely she’d have at least heard of him? A scientific adviser who used to work for them, was friends (sometimes) with their head of operations, and changed appearance from time to time? Even if the official story is that different people took over the role under the codename of ‘the Doctor’, there’s clearly rumours about this shape-shifting scientific advisor - because Zbrigniev knows about it! Can you tell, this wound me up a little while watching…

Oh, but it’s nothing compared to a few scenes later, when Geneva phones for the Brigadier. There’s something quite lovely about the idea that the Brig doesn’t care who it is on the phone, he’s retired and he’s doing his gardening. There’s also something really lovely about the fact that as soon as the Doctor is mentioned, he’ll drop everything to be there. It’s a beautiful kind of loyalty to the man, and it works really nicely. But then the Brigadier’s wife has to ask who the Doctor is?!?! I’ll accept that they’ve possibly not been married for long - although Doris was mentioned back in the day, she certainly didn’t seem to be on the scene when we last caught up with the Brigadier in 1983 (and I’m sure I’ll need to touch on the dating of this story at some point in the next couple of days…) - but good grief! She knows about his soldier days to some extent, because she brings it up at the garden centre, and the Brig can make a joke about Sergeant Benton, and yet he’s never told her about the Doctor? Really?

I’m willing to suspend my belief pretty far when watching Doctor Who - it’s a programme about an alien who travels through time in a phone box, after all - but this pushes me just that bit too far. It doesn’t feel consistent within the show’s own continuity that the Brigadier wouldn’t have brought this man up at all over the years, considering how close they were during lots of the Pertwee era, and it feels wrong that UNIT don’t even remember who he is, either. It’s convenient for story reasons, to build up a little bit of mystery around the character, which fits in well with the themes of the programme at the moment, but it took me right out of the narrative on more than one occasion.

All that said, I’ve still somehow managed to rather enjoy this one. Battlefield is a story I first watched on VHS years ago, and I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about it. Over the years, it’s managed to build up a bit of a poor reputation, but I don’t particularly recall not liking it. I’m sure I’ll be going in to more detail over the next few days about where things work for me, but I’m hoping that now everyone’s up to speed with who the Doctor is, I can stop worrying a bit, and just enjoy the action… 

14 December 2014

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

Day 713: The Curse of Fenric, Episode Four

Dear diary,

The cliffhanger to yesterday’s episode, leading in to this one, must surely rank among the very best that the programme has ever done? It’s so firmly embedded on to my mind that I can’t help but quote along as it plays out - right down the the intonation of each word. It’s also quite telling that the use of the words ‘Time Lord’ here carry real impact. We’re in a period of the show where there’ve been several references to the Time Lords and Gallifrey quite vital to the stories (Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis both go so far as to namecheck Rassilon and Omega, while inventing new parts of the Gallifreyan mythos), and yet somehow, the whole concept of the Time lords feels more distant than at any time since - quite possibly - the 1960s.

By the time Pertwee’s Doctor arrives on the scene, the Time Lords are always sending him off on missions, and they begin to lose some of their grandeur. Once you’re into the late 1970s, you’ve got the likes of The Deadly Assassin letting us actively in to their world, and then The Invasion of Time littering it with cheap plastic furniture. I’ve mentioned enough times in the last six months how much I dislike the 1980s version of the society, with its marble effect and pastel colours, but suddenly here it’s become something rather special again.

Our last actual contact with another Time Lord was the Rani at the start of Season Twenty-Four (and it’s strange how long ago that feels now - the programme really does evolve in to a different beast in these final two years), and then the season before that was littered with Time Lords, but we never get to visit Gallifrey because it’s in political turmoil. Suddenly, the idea that this entity knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord and can make the word sound so sinister - in a story where you’re so not expecting to hear it - is wonderful, and it might just be my favourite part of the entire story. I can wholeheartedly guarantee that I’ll have watched the closing moments of Episode Three several times over before I next watch The Curse of Fenric in its entirety.

Add to all this the fact that Fenric is really rather good, thank you very much. I love it when villains in Doctor Who are given a vein of comedy, and Dinsdale Landen plays the possessed Judson so perfectly. He manages to make the performance camp, but without pushing it too far. I love the way he reacts to the Ancient One not being around ready for his revival, and I’ve more than once used the line ‘don’t interrupt me when I’m eulogising’. Frankly, I find excuses to slip it in to my day-to-day life. I think the only issue that I have with Fenric is that he’s defeated very easily, isn’t he? We’ve had three episodes building up to his release, with the stakes (and the stress) growing steadily across those episodes. We then find out that he’s been manipulating other recent events in the Doctor’s life - citing the chess set in Lady Peinforte’s study and Ace’s arrival on Ice World as examples. He’s supposedly this great cosmic force, evil since the dawn of time… and yet he struggles very much with a chess problem until Ace gives him the answer, then he grandstands for a bit before being wiped out with a deadly poison. It feels as though he should be a bit more of a problem to dispose of…

Which brings up a point that I’ve been musing a bit in the last couple of weeks. As I’m making my way through the McCoy years, I’m becoming ever more determined to listen to all of the Seventh Doctor’s audio adventures. Don’t worry - I’m not suddenly going to be dropping them in to this marathon and extending it out by another year, but I’m certainly more eager than ever before to hear them all. I’ve dipped in and out of them from time to time, but I’d love to follow the continuing story, because it very much builds on what we see on screen in this period of the programme. I know, for example, that Fenric shows up again at one stage, and I’ve head an episode in which the Doctor and Ace manage to check in on little Audrey; there’s something very appealing about the idea of hearing this story continue to play out, and I think it’s probably going to be my next ‘marathon’ undertaking once this whole watch-through is over in a few months.

13 December 2014

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

Day 712: The Curse of Fenric, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Once upon a time, when I was living in my flat in Norwich, I used to have a shelf of Doctor Who action figures up in the living room. Each Doctor - from Hartnell to Smith at the time - was accompanied by an enemy from their era. Hartnell had a Dalek, Troughton had an *Invasion*-style Cyberman, Pertwee had a Sea Devil (and/or the Master, depending on my mood), Tom Baker had the K1 Robot, Davison had the Ainley Master (or, as Nick likes to point out, Kameleon), Colin Baker had an Earthshock-era Cyberman, and McCoy had two Haemovores. Now, Character Options have never produced any Haemovore figures, but I had a friend who made some really great custom models to suit the range, and when I saw that he was selling off a few of the vampiric creatures, I leapt at the chance to own them. Specifically, it was the couple that we see peering round the tombstone here - presumably the Sundviks? 

I love the design of the Haemovores, and I really think that they’re a great example of just how brilliant the monster design is in this season. In the next story we’ve got the Destroyer coming up - which is another fab design that I’m surprised hasn’t yet been immortalised in action figure form - but the Haemovores really made an impact on me early into my journey to becoming a *Doctor Who* fan. Regular readers will no doubt be surprised that they were etched on the my mind while reading Doctor Who: The Legend, and every time I come back to this story, I’m a little bit delighted to find that I’m loving the look all over again. That we get to see them besieging the church is just a bonus, really!

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been complaining that even though I knew where The Curse of Fenric was heading, it had completely lost me along the way. There’s been so much going on in this story, and it was all happening so quickly, that I’d completely failed to keep up with everything. Suddenly, today, I’ve realised why I’ve struggled so much - you’re not really supposed to understand what’s happening here. All the stuff with the Russians, and the vampires, and the evil fog… that’s all just to keep you interested and watching for two-and-a-half episodes, before you’re suddenly given some information about what’s happening at the same time as Ace. Quite how I’d managed to forget this beautiful exchange is beyond me;


You know what's going on, don't you? 




You always know. You just can't be bothered to tell anyone. It's like it's some kind of game, and only you know the rules. You knew all about that inscription being a computer programme, but you didn't tell me. You know all about that old bottle, and you're not telling me. Am I so stupid? 


No, that's not it. 


Why then? I want to know. 


Evil. Evil since the dawn of time. 


What do you mean? 


Will you stop asking me these questions? 


Tell me!

It’s the kind of scene that we’ve been needing to build towards for some time now with this pair - Ace has been caught up in the Doctor’s schemes since her second story, and while that’s not all that long ago at a time when the seasons are so short, it’s felt like a real through-arc building up to this. It’s taking that final scene from Silver Nemesis, and building on it before we move on to Ghost Light and seeing the Doctor push his companion into ever darker places.

And it’s something I’ve mentioned before, but you really do get the sense that Ace is growing up during her adventures. I’ve said elsewhere that I’d happily believe the pair of them have spent around two years beetling around the galaxies by this point, and I think all of Ace’s comments here in regards to not being a little girl any more and starting to change her mind about marriage and her future would certainly fit her at about eighteen years old. Yes, we all cringe a little bit during that flirting scene (‘faster than the second hands on a watch?’), but it’s another part of Ace’s evolution that feels right to be shown.

12 December 2014

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

Day 711: The Curse of Fenric, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this week, but I’m completely lost with this story! I mean… I know where it’s all building, as I said yesterday, and I’m enjoying it on the whole… but I’m struggling to keep up with it! Everything is moving very fast, with characters darting from one location to another, sometimes only remaining there for the duration of a very brief scene, before heading off to the next place. The Doctor is especially bad as a culprit of this, and I’ve very quickly lost track of everything. Is it just me? It’s not a particularly complex story, but it’s at a pace I’m simply not used to seeing from Doctor Who!

Still, as I’ve said, I’m enjoying the story irregardless of my ability to follow it. There’s just so much atmosphere to The Curse of Fenric, isn’t there? Something about the way the mist rolls in while Phyliss and Jean go for their swim sums up the entire story so perfectly, and it’s the first time in a while that I’ve been able to claim that it’s the kind of thing that would have taken a hold of my imagination as a child and hooked me right in to the programme. It continues to get better from there - when we next see them, having ended their previous scene on a shot of the empty water, it takes a moment to really register what’s happened. Have they been zombified? Are they simply okay? It’s not for a good few seconds that it hits you that their fingers and nails have grown long and spindly, and that they’re pale and drained of blood. They then tempt the Russian soldier in to the water, and watch on as the hands emerge from the water to drag him down. Later on in the episode, when those same creatures come marching from the sea, I always remember a note in the About Time books that makes reference to the fact that this is the late-1980s version of ‘monster emerges from water’, citing Full Circle’ and ‘The Sea Devils’ as earlier examples in the programme. It’s *such a great shot, though, isn’t it? And I think this may be the best example of it yet.

The thing I’m enjoying most about this episode has nothing to do with the effects or the eerie atmosphere, but is relevant to something I read recently. During Series Eight, I read a comment online regarding Frank Skinner’s appearance in Mummy on the Orient Express. Someone complained that it was ‘pushing stunt-casting to the same levels we got under John Nathan-Turner’, and suggested that it was bad for the show, citing ‘Beryl Reid, Ken Dodd, Nicholas Parsons, and Hale & Pace’ as examples. Now, I spoke about Beryl Reid’s casting during Earthshock and concluded that actually she probably wan’t quite right for the role. I also discussed Ken Dodd during Delta and the Bannermen, and decided that he was absolutely perfect for the part - and looking back he’s probably my favourite thing about that entire season; I still love the way he’s shot in the back as he tries to get away!

But I sincerely doubt I’m alone in saying that Nicholas Parsons in this story completely justifies the practice of casting well known ‘names’ for the show. He’s most well known for hosting Sale of the Century or for charing Just a Minute, and that’s often brought up when people take a pot shot at him taking on a dramatic role in this story, but he’s frankly wonderful as the vicar here. His performance is honestly one of the best that a guest actor has ever given to the programme, and I could quite happily spend time just watching him. I’ll admit that it doesn’t always work - again, Beryl Reid, I’m looking at you - but surely this is the ultimate example that just because you cast someone who’s mostly known for ‘light entertainment’, it doesn’t mean that they’re not right for Doctor Who, also?

11 December 2014

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

Day 710: The Curse of Fenric, Episode One

Dear diary,

Just as a recap to those of you who may not have been keeping up with the Diary over the last few weeks - I’m watching lots of Seasons Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six out of broadcast order because… well, because they work a bit better being watched in the order that they were intended to be seen in! I’m also going all out with The Curse of Fenric, and watching the Special Edition on the DVD, though I’m still breaking it down into individual days, just pausing the DVD at the appropriate cliffhanger points. I can’t tell you how tempting it was today just to carry on and watch it as a movie-length version, though! I think this story may have been the first McCoy tale that I ever saw, and there’s certainly a fair bit that I like about it…

Perhaps largely, it’s the relationship between the Doctor and Ace. It’s something I’ve been touching on for a while now, but they really do gel together as a team in a way that other Doctors and companions haven’t since about the time Romana was on the show. Don’t get me wrong - Davison worked very well with Tegan, and Colin Baker went well with Peri (even when they were arguing, in an odd sort of way) - but McCoy and Ace just fit, don’t they? I speculated during Remembrance of the Daleks that up to six months may have passed for the pair between their first meeting and the events of that story, and by the end of last season I’d decided that they’d already spent a year together. I think I’m willing to take another big leap here and say that we might well be coming up on the two-year mark. Something about the fact that the seasons are so short in this period (over in a fortnight!) makes it feel automatically as though there must be a lot of off-screen adventures happening somewhere, and the relationship between our leads just fits that idea beautifully.

I’m finding this episode a bit strange to come to now, because it’s a story that I’m so familiar with. I know that the Doctor will go on to battle with Fenric by the end, and that Ace is a pawn in this game, and yet this first episode doesn’t really give you many clues as to what’s going on. The Doctor has obviously come here with a distinct purpose (Ace is even dressed for the period when they arrive), and then he spends the episode running from location to location, but he seems to switch between knowing what’s going on, to not having a clue. I think I’m right in saying that he’s worked out that Fenric is involved somewhere (or, at the very least, he’s almost entirely certain that it must be him), but that he’s not entirely sure how everything factors in to Fenric’s plan? Or is he looking in to all of these things to confirm his theories about what’s happening? The problem is that because I’ve become so used to looking at this story as part of the ‘bigger picture’ within the era, it’s suddenly throwing me to be watching it properly again - it’s been a good few years!

From tomorrow’s instalment, I’m going to try and block all of that out of my mind, and just go along with the story. Certainly I’ve enjoyed today’s episode, but perhaps not as much as I was expecting to because there’s so much back and forth trying to get everything in to place so that the story can progress. It’s one of those occasions when knowing too much can have a detrimental effect - but I’m also quite keen on the idea of watching this story again in the very near future, once I’ve regained a better grounding of how the story works in itself, as opposed to being part of the overall story.

10 December 2014

As we reach that time of the year where the Christmas tree is up and we hang up all our favourite ornaments, make sure you save a place for some of the awesome creations by PJ McQuade.

PJ has crafted some fantastic Doctor Who themed Christmas cards, featuring all 12 Doctors, from Hartnell to Capaldi. Also available are some rather nifty tree ornaments made from the same artwork.

You can also get hold of some limited edition, hand signed prints of the art - all of which can be viewed on his Etsy page - but hurry as they are in limited supply.

Product details:


-  Dimensions: 4.25" x 5.5"
-  Clay coated 12 pt. premium card stock
-  Comes with one white envelope.
-  $5.00
-  Available in packs of 5, 10 or 20 at discounted rates.


-  5ml laminated prints, custom cut, hole punched with hanging hook.
-  Hand signed and dated on the back. All ornaments measure roughly 4x3"
-  Available individually or as a 12 pack combo. Free Doctor Who Christmas card with purchase of combo 12 pack.


-  Dimensions: 11x14". Printed on 300gsm MOAB Entrada Fine Art Rag with archival 8 dye inks. Hand signed, numbered and dated.
-  Limited edition of 175 for the regular.
-  Limited edition of 200 for the Santa Hat variant.
-  Every print purchased comes with a free Doctor Who Christmas card.

+  Visit PJ McQuade’s Etsy page.
+  Visit PJ McQuade's Official Website.
+  Follow PJ McQuade on Twitter.

[Source: PJ McQuade]

10 December 2014

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

Day 706: Silver Nemesis, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Right then, you might want to hold on to something, because I’m about to bang on about the Time War again. My friend Alex loves the Seventh Doctor. I mean, really loves him. His first exposure to the programme was through watching this era as a kid, and in the 1990s, it was picking up the spar odic McCoy-era video tapes that really kicked off his enthusiasm for the programme. Oddly enough, the last Seventh Doctor story that either of us saw is the one I’ll be starting tomorrow - The Happiness Patrol. He’d purposely put off watching it for years because he liked there being a little bit of the Seventh Doctor out there somewhere that he had yet to experience. Anyway, I’ve known Alex for years and years now. We used to work together, we even lived together for a while, and earlier this year I made the trek home from Cardiff to be at his wedding. In all that time, we’ve discussed a lot of things about Doctor Who, and one of my favourite things that we do is theorise. I don’t really do it as much with any of my other friends, but with Alex, we go over all the little details to build up our own head canon on any trivial point that we care to think of. The big one, and the one that’s relevant for today’s episode, is our theory on the Time War.

Back when we first met, we didn’t actually know an awful lot about the Time War. It was this vast and mythical event which took place at some point between the TV Movie and Rose. It had wiped out all but one Time Lord, and almost all of the Daleks. It had raged for millennia in various forms, and occasionally the Doctor would throw in a reference to some event that he witnessed in the war. As the seasons rolled by, we slowly got drip-fed more and more information about that time, and Alex built up a fairly intricate theory about the war, which I’ve always rather liked, and which largely fits with what we’ve seen on screen since - or, rather, it does with a bit of squinting.

The general gist of it for the purposes of this entry are that the Seventh Doctor knew the Time War was coming (he was the one who fired the first real blow in Remembrance of the Daleks, after all, having kicked things off way back in Genesis), and that what we see on screen between Seasons Twenty-Four and Twenty-Six is him preparing the battlefield. He wipes out Skaro - a seat of power which could easily be used to unify the scattered Dalek forces. He takes out the Cyberfleet here, so that they won’t be in the way while the battle is raging, and they’re one less destruction. I’m sure in the books there’s another similar incident which Alex had built in to his theory (and I’ve always loved one of Jamie Lenman's fab Doctor Whoa cartoons from Doctor Who Magazine, in which the Doctor is trying to offer the Ice Warriors an ancient Gallifreyan weapon). Then there’s the whole oft-stated plan that Season Twenty-Seven would have seen the Doctor pack Ace off to the Academy on Gallifrey. We theorised that he’d be doing this specifically to shake them up a bit, provide a kick up the arse, and get them out of their stuffy ‘observers’ role that many Time Lords have been stuck in for centuries.

Why would it be the Seventh Doctor doing this? Two reasons - firstly, the war could kick off at any point once he’d made that shot at Skaro, and secondly because he knew that his next incarnation wouldn’t be up to the job. When Night of the Doctor came along and the Eighth Doctor was presented as a conscientious objector to the war, it fitted the theory perfectly - and it meant that we felt even more sure about it being the Eighth incarnation who tried to save Davros from the ‘jaws of the Nightmare Child’*, because while the Seventh Doctor had gone around the universe wiping out all these old foes in an attempt to ‘clear the stage’ for the war, the Eighth Doctor was desperately trying to cling on to anything that made him still ‘the Doctor’, and knowing that Davros was out there somewhere plotting a new ridiculous scheme is part of that.

The bit that I most enjoyed about the theory is that it all works very nicely with the Doctor’s words in this episode - when he’s talking to the Nemisis statue about the future;


You might need me in the future, then?


I hope not.


That is what you said before.

In Alex’s theory, the Doctor hoped not to need the Validium any more, because he was hoping to find a way of averting the war.

Watching this story again now, there’s a few more ideas that crop up which I’m sure I’ll want to incorporate in to the theory, in light of the events of last year’s anniversary special. I’ve not quite got them worked out in my mind yet, but I love that Lady Peinforte knows who the Doctor is because the Nemesis told her - and in my head the Nemesis is such a complex construct that it can easily see all possible futures, but knows that the Doctor is the man who will one day use ‘the Moment’. Greater than the Hand of Omega, or the Validium, that’s the one weapon that should never be used. I love the thought that when Peinforte is saying that she knows who the Doctor truly is, it’s because she knows he’s the man who will destroy his own people and live to tell the tale.

I’m sure you don’t particularly care about all these Time War theories I keep throwing out there, trying to retroactively shoehorn modern continuity into the older stories, but it keeps me interested, and otherwise you’d have had a day of ‘there’s a lot to like again here, but also a fair bit of padding’…

*Incidentally, in Alex’s visions of the war, the ‘Nightmare Child’ is actually a Time Lord battleship made of pure Validium, and piloted by none other than Ace!

9 December 2014

Check out the fantastic range of products that our friends over at Toys R 4U have. Their prices an specialist products are hard to bear and the online shop at www.toys-r4u.co.uk is packed with loads of fun stuff.

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[Source: Toys R 4U]

9 December 2014

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

Day 708: Silver Nemesis, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Somehow - even though we’ve hit the phase of the programme where three-part stories, a format that I’ve been extolling as the best possible for ‘classic’ Doctor Who since pretty much the start of this marathon, have become common place - this story still manages to feel a bit padded out! Today opens very well, with an all out battle between the Cybermen, the Nazis, Lady Peinforte, and with the Doctor and Ace caught in the middle. There’s plenty going on, and if there’s one thing that Silver Nemesis is very good at, it’s the explosions. It’s all go for this battle, and it looks great. But then, once the fighting is at an end, everyone just sort of wanders off in their own separate directions.

The Doctor and Ace at least have a certain kind of logic to their actions - they steal the bow, take the TARDIS out of the way (as the Eleventh Doctor says in The Bells of Saint John, he doesn’t want to take the ship in to battle), and then set about tracking down the statue on foot. Fine, I’ll go along with that. The Cybermen, too, have a certain logic to their movements. They head off with the statue to take refuge in Lady Peinforte’s tomb, reasoning that she will go crazy when presented with her own death. I can sort of see their thinking there, but surely if she’s a foe powerful enough for the Cybermen to know about, then they should also be aware that she’ll not be overly bothered by the sift of the tomb. Still, I’ll nod along, because they’re at least doing something meaningful. The Nazis, on the other hand, seem to just wander off to the Safari Park. Genuinely, when the Cybermen’s ship gets blown up, we see the reaction of De Flores and he just happens to be stood around, without any purpose. They haven’t thought of using their bit of Validium to track down the rest (probably for the best, since the Doctor’s stolen it without them noticing), but have just taken a stroll. Speaking of which, you’ve then got Lady Peinforte and Richard, who wander down the high street and get caught up in a little side plot with some skinheads.

There just doesn’t seem to be any real sense of urgency to the proceedings here. The Doctor is written as though he’s desperately trying to catch up with events that have started to spiral out of his control, but then we get scenes of him laying in the grass with Ace as they listen to Jazz (it doesn’t matter that said Jazz is being used to block signals from the Cyberfleet - that could be done on the move, too), or lounging around on top of fallen trees while he has a think about what’s going on. He then seems surprised by the sudden realisation that there’s an entire fleet of Cybermen out there, when the implication up to even a few seconds before the revelation is that he knows this!

Oh, but there’s a lot to enjoy about this episode, too, when it’s actually going somewhere. I love the Doctor’s discussion with Ace about the nature of the Validium - and I’m especially keen on the way that it takes the similar conversation from Remembrance of the Daleks and manages to move it on a bit. In that story, the Doctor made a slight slip up, possibly revealing too much. Here, Ace is actively digging for the information;


Validium was created as the ultimate defence for Gallifrey, back in early times.


Created by Omega?










And none of it should have left Gallifrey. But, as always with these things, some of it did.

I know there’s even more padding to come in the next episode, with the arrival of Mrs Remington, so I’m hoping that the nice mythic bits of the story outweigh the filler elements that are currently threatening to dominate…

8 December 2014

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

Day 707: Silver Nemesis, Episode One

Dear diary,

Silver Nemesis is something of a black sheep in Season Twenty-Five, isn’t it? Among out-and-out classics like Remembrance of the Daleks, and stories that have gone on to be re-evaluated as the years have gone by, this one has always been seen as the eek link in this run of episodes. And yet, I’ve never been able to do anything but love it.

Oh, I mean, come on! Imagine how exciting this story sounded to me when I was first learning about it! Not only is it my favourite monsters, but it’s also the official anniversary story, there’s a witch, some Nazis, the Doctor working on another plan involving an ancient Gallifreyan relic… it just sounds really exciting! All that said, there is a lot crammed in to these first 24-or-so minutes. You’re almost left a bit confused because you go so quickly through events - there’s a comet approaching the Earth, this woman is trying to get to the future, the Forth Reich is being born, the Doctor and Ace are enjoying a jazz concert, then they’re under attack from gunmen, then they’re at Windsor castle, then they’re at the witch woman’s house, then they’re back at Windsor castle… it just never lets up!

Somehow, though, there’s quite a leisurely pace to the proceedings. We’re given a chance to watch the Doctor and Ace enjoy themselves at the concert (again, this pair just look so comfortable together doing this. It’s rare that we get to see a TARDIS team simply enjoying their travels in this way. I said during Remembrance of the Daleks that I thought maybe six months had already passed for the pair since they departed together in Dragonfire, and I think I’m willing to say that another six months could have passed before this point - we’re a far cry from the Peter Davison years, when every story very rigidly led us in to the next…). It’s perhaps because so much time is given over to savouring things like this that it all gets a bit convoluted later on. When the TARDIS is shuttling back and forth all over the place, it quickly becomes very difficult to keep track of everything that’s happening.

But there’s so many lovely little touches to this episode which perfectly sets it up as being the story to celebrate a half century of the programme, and makes it just so right for airing on November 23rd. Leslie French is perhaps the actor that I’ve been enjoying the most in this one - he was originally considered for the role of the Doctor right back when the programme started, and he’s playing his role here as very much the way I remember the First Doctor being, especially around Season Two. I can’t tell if he’s been specifically asked to play it in this way (though I imagine he has), or if it’s just a nice coincidence, but it’s lovely all the same. The only downside, perhaps, is that it makes me long to see some old black-and-white episodes again! I also didn’t realise that Fiona Walker (here as Lady Peinforte) had been in Doctor Who before - way back in The Keys of Marinus! Before starting out on this story, to try and keep up with the celebratory spirit, I re-watched the ‘making of’ documentary from the Silver Nemesis VHS, and when Fiona pointed out that she’d been in the very first series, I really had to wrack my brain to think of who she could have played (and then gave up and checked Wikipedia, instead!). You’ve also got cameo appearances from several other Who alumni, including Nicholas Courtney, John Leeson, Fiona Cumming, Andrew Morgan, and Peter Moffat.

It’s also very fitting that this story - sitting at the half-way mark in terms of the stretch of this marathon from An Unearthly Child in 1963 to The Time of the Doctor in 2013 - should have some notable firsts and lasts involved. It’s the last use of the programme’s original home, Lime Grove, which is used for some sound recording, but it’s also the first time that the programme has used on-screen captions to tell us where and when we are, and the first time that the TARDIS blows up a wind as it materialises - things which will become more frequent in the 21st century version of the series.

So once again, Happy Birthday Doctor Who. I’m glad you threw a bit of a party to celebrate turning 25!

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