Time Lord Tees

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8 April 2014

Ben Miller is set to guest star opposite Peter Capaldi when the new series of Doctor Who returns this autumn.

Commenting on his role, Ben Miller said:

"As a committed Whovian I cannot believe my luck in joining the Twelfth Doctor for one of his inaugural adventures. My only worry is that they'll make me leave the set when I'm not filming."

Miller achieved fame as half of comedy duo Armstrong and Miller before success in dramas, including Primeval and more recently, as DI Richard Poole, the central character in the first two series of the BBC’s Death in Paradise.

Miller’s partner in comedy, Alexander Armstrong, appeared in Doctor Who’s 2011 Christmas Special (The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe), playing Reg Arwell, but it’s Miller’s first time on the show and he’ll be starring in an episode written by Mark Gatiss.

Steven Moffat, lead writer and executive producer, added:

"Mark Gatiss has written us a storming villain for his new episode, and with Capaldi in the TARDIS, we knew we needed somebody special to send everybody behind the sofa. And quite frankly, it's about time Ben Miller was in Doctor Who!"

Other familiar faces confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in the new series, which will TX on BBC One later this year, include Tom Riley and Keeley Hawes.

Mark Gatiss' story will be Episode Three, which DWO believe to be currently titled, Robots Of Sherwood. 

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

[Source: BBC Media Centre]

7 April 2014

Doctor Who and Mark Gatiss' An Adventure In Space And Time have both received nominations in the 2014 BAFTA's.

Doctor Who was recognised in the Audience category with the nomination for The Day Of The Doctor. It features competition from Breaking Bad, Gogglebox, The Great British Bakeoff, Broadchurch and Educating Yorkshire.

An Adventure In Space and Time was recognised in the Best Single Drama category, featuring competition from Complicit, The Wipers Times & Black Mirror: Be Right Back.

Fans can cast their vote for the Audience award on the Radio Times website.

+  The awards take place on Sunday 18th May.

[Source: Tim Vine]

7 April 2014

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

Day 462: The Face of Evil, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Because I have a vague idea about the background to this story, I know that the Doctor arrived on this planet at some point in the past, and that the computer has taken on elements of his persona. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a clip of it, or simply a still screen capture, but I know there’s a scene at some point where the Doctor’s face appears on large screens shouting at him. What I didn’t know is that the computer spoke in the Doctor’s voice. I first noticed it during yesterday’s episode (Baker has such a distinctive voice, it would be pretty hard to hide it!), but it really starts to make an impact when the Doctor begins a conversation with - in effect - himself.

‘You. Me. We. Us…’ There’s something really un-nerving about the whole exchange, and the fact we simply focus in on the empty helmet as we hear the voice seems to just make things all the more effective. The Doctor piecing things together as he goes is pretty interesting too, and I can’t wait for him to figure out the rest of his previous visit to this world. I’m also surprised to see the invisible creatures revealed to be giant versions of the Doctor’s face! It’s such a bizarre concept, that should be really rather rubbish… but it works! I think it’s because it was so bonkers and unexpected that it makes such an impact. I even had to skip back a few seconds on the DVD, just to check that I wasn’t imagining it. Mind you, if they’re just giant floating Doctor heads… then how did they make to footprints we saw in the last episode?

Considering he takes on so many different parts throughout this episode, it’s perhaps useful to see that Baker is really at the top of his game. He’s made very few mis-steps since taking over the role, but I think we’re now entering the phase where he’s really at his peak. From the serious moments to the comedic ones (I love his tennis commentary as people argue over his life!), he’s rarely been better than this. He doesn’t even come across as acting - he simply is the Doctor.

The only slight downside to this comes during his trial against the Horda pit. Watching the programme as an adult, I’m well aware that the Doctor will find a way to make his escape. There’s no way that he’s going to die here and now, and he’s not in any real threat because I know he’s got another four-and-a-half seasons to go yet. But even putting that out of mind for a moment, Baker’s performance as the Doctor is so self-assured by this point, that I think much of the tension is drained from the scene. Right from the moment where he first steps onto the platform, you just know that he’s going to be able to hit the rope and get away. It was nice to see Leela dive in, though, in an attempt to save him. She’s only known him a few hours, but he’s already made such an impact on her.

I’ve really very little to add today. I’m simply enjoying the story, and I’m really interested to see where we go from here. Although I’ve enjoyed the overwhelming majority of stories so far in this marathon, it’s not often that I find it hard to ration myself to the one episode a day. I’m used to this pace, and I find it really suits me. Were I watching any quicker, I fear that I’d have burnt out a long time ago. This story is one of those one’s where I’m actually willing tomorrow to hurry up and get here, because I can’t wait to sit down for another episode. You can’t get much higher praise than that!

6 April 2014

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

Day 461: The Face of Evil, Episode One

Dear diary,

When I was watching Genesis of the Daleks, I mentioned a work colleague who used to watch Doctor Who back in the 1970s, but only really has a passing interest in the show these days. Every now and then, he asks me how the marathon is going, and I update him as to my whereabouts in the run. I told him the other day that Sarah Jane had just left the TARDIS, and his face completely lit up. He proclaimed this to be the start of ‘the greatest run’ of Doctor Who ever made. It’s clearly made some impact, because he was able to pick out details from the next few stories beautifully. He referred to ‘Tom Baker’s face on the side of a mountain’, ‘Green Robots’, ‘The little dummy man’, ‘The Lighthouse’, and several other things which are going to be making up the Leela era, before adding that Leela remains, to this day, his favourite companion. Considering the slight apathy I seem to have been feeling towards stories of late, maybe this is a good sign?

Certainly, we’re off to a very good start for the new season. Hm? What? No, no, I’m fairly sure that this is the opening episode for Doctor Who’s Fifteenth Season. Oh, go on then…

When Series Six was announced as being split in two for transmission in 2011, there was something of an uproar in fandom. We’d grown used to the idea of a straight, 13-week run in the spring. Suddenly, there was going to be a great big gap in the middle of the series, airing half in the spring, and the rest in the autumn. They did a similar thing for Series Seven, but at the time of writing, it looks like we’re back to a straight run for this year’s set of episodes. People complained that Doctor Who had never done such a thing before, but it had in a way. What we now think of as Season Fourteen was broadcast in two chunks in the mid 1970s. The Masque of Mandragora, The Hand of Fear, and The Deadly Assassin all made up the first half of the series, running twelve weeks from September to November.

The series then took a six-week break before resuming on New Year’s Day with The Face of Evil, and continuing on through to The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Even the Radio Times listing for this first episode bills it as being the start of a ‘New Series’. I’ve been a bit tongue-in-cheek above when I suggest that this is the beginning of a new season - from a modern perspective, it’s far easier to think of it as all one block - but it really does feel like a fresh new start, and I’m hoping that it’s a good sign for where things are headed.

So: where do I begin with this one? I’ve never seen The Face of Evil before, though I’m sure I’ve read at least some of the Target novelisation. Not that I can really remember all that much about it, mind. The one thing that I do know is the image of Tom Baker’s face being carved into the side of a mountain. It’s a shame, really, because it’s such a striking image, and I can’t begin to imagine how brilliant that must have seemed on first transmission. It’s fun, throughout the episode, to watch people react to the Doctor as ‘the Evil One’, because it gives the Doctor a great chance for some comebacks. Tom Baker is on fine form here - it’s almost as though he’s enthused by the fresh start to things, too.

He even gets to bring in the Jelly Babies for a few appearances. I’ve been surprised so far just how little they’ve been a part of his Doctor. When people talk of the fourth incarnation, they tend to mention the long scarf, the floppy hat, the curly hair, the toothy grin… and the Jelly Babies! It’s one of the defining aspects of this Doctor, but they’ve made a surprisingly small impact on the character thus far. When Tom took over the role, I decided to start keeping count of how often he said that famous phrase: ‘Would you like a Jelly Baby?’ By the end of The Ark in Space, we were up to three mentions, but then I sort of lost track. It didn’t turn up in every story, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I’ve heard it since those early episodes of his.

Here, though, they’re being used to great effect. I genuinely laughed out loud at Leela’s reaction to the sweets (‘They say the Evil One eats babies’), and the Doctor’s threat to poison someone with one of his ‘deadly’ sweets is similarly priceless. I’m wondering if this may be where the idea of the Doctor being so fond of the sweets really begins in earnest?

And then you’ve got the new girl. They don’t waste any time in setting Leela up as a new presence in the series, with her being front and centre in the very first shot of the episode. We’ve had contemporary Earth girls in the role of companion for a while now, and all of the Doctor’s recent companions have come to the TARDIS via UNIT (Sarah Jane is the only one who wasn’t under UNIT employ when they first met, but even she stumbled in during one of their assignments). It’s a stark difference, then, to be introduced to our new regular while she’s being put to trial in a fairly un-evolved court.

She’s great right from the start, though, standing up to the people in charge, making her voice heard, and refusing to bow down to their rules where she disagrees. When she’s then pursued through the jungle by two guards, and then proceeds to kill one of them, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a very different kind of assistant. I love that she continues to kill the people who threaten her – and I love even more than the Doctor is able to make a point of telling her not to do it. I know that she’s intended to have something of an ‘Eliza Doolittle’ vibe, with the Doctor teaching her to become a ‘lady’, and this is a great step in that direction.

It also helps that most of her scenes with the Doctor are set on that stunning jungle set. I praised the one from Planet of Evil to the high heavens (and rightly so, I think, because it was a brilliant design), but this one is up there in the same league. Once again, the majority of it is being shot on film over at Ealing, so it gives these scenes a different, richer quality than you might expect. The trees, the ‘vines’, the smoke… it all really works. The only bit which doesn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid, is the reveal of the Doctor’s face on the mountainside! I think the intention in the first shot (featuring the Doctor in the foreground while the mountain stretches up behind him) is that we don’t immediately notice what he’s looking at, but it means that I was desperately scanning the image for Tom Baker’s face, and then the impact of the sudden close up was a bit lost on me. I’m really pleased, though. After a few stories which haven’t really hit the mark, I’m glad to see that I’m not tiring of Who - I just needed a fresh start.

6 April 2014

Doctor Who is arguably one of the finest British sci-fi productions ever. In fact, this highly acclaimed TV series featuring Doctor Who  – the Time Lord – won the 2006 British Academy Television Award for being the best drama series. It also won 5 National Television Awards (between 2005 & 2010) in the UK.

In 2011 a BAFTA television award for best actor was presented to Matt Smith – the first time in the history of the show that such an accolade was awarded. More significantly, Doctor Who holds the record for the longest running sci-fi series on TV in the Guinness Book of Records. The show first aired in 1963 to 1989, for 26 seasons. It was picked up again in 2005 and is already in its 7th season.

The premise of the show for those who have not had the pleasure of seeing it is about an alien time traveller known as the Time Lord who explores the universe in his TARDIS. Of course there are many enemy combatants along the way, but Doctor Who is tasked with saving civilization and helping ordinary people at every juncture.

It has become a popular cult favourite in the UK and indeed across the United States of America. Television producers certainly hit jackpot pay dirt when they decided to reintroduce Doctor Who back in 2005. There's certainly no gamble when it comes to this show’s popularity. The Time Traveller seems to have it all figured out – much like a skilled card player employs blackjack strategy while sussing out opponents at the table!

[Source: Reach Web]

6 April 2014

Doctor Who is arguably one of the finest British sci-fi productions ever. In fact, this highly acclaimed TV series featuring Doctor Who  – the Time Lord – won the 2006 British Academy Television Award for being the best drama series. It also won 5 National Television Awards (between 2005 & 2010) in the UK.

In 2011 a BAFTA television award for best actor was presented to Matt Smith – the first time in the history of the show that such an accolade was awarded. More significantly, Doctor Who holds the record for the longest running sci-fi series on TV in the Guinness Book of Records. The show first aired in 1963 to 1989, for 26 seasons. It was picked up again in 2005 and is already in its 7th season.

The premise of the show for those who have not had the pleasure of seeing it is about an alien time traveller known as the Time Lord who explores the universe in his TARDIS. Of course there are many enemy combatants along the way, but Doctor Who is tasked with saving civilization and helping ordinary people at every juncture.

It has become a popular cult favourite in the UK and indeed across the United States of America. Television producers certainly hit jackpot pay dirt when they decided to reintroduce Doctor Who back in 2005. There's certainly no gamble when it comes to this show’s popularity. The Time Traveller seems to have it all figured out – much like a skilled card player employs blackjack strategy while sussing out opponents at the table!

Long may the show continue to wow audiences, far into the future!

5 April 2014

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

Day 460: The Deadly Assassin, Episode Four

Dear diary,

What with the Doctor reaching the end of his thirteenth body last Christmas, the way that a Time Lord’s regeneration cycle works has been in the spotlight a lot lately. For as long as I can remember in fandom, it’s always been a talking point, and there’s been any number of theories as to exactly how the Doctor would manage to escape his ‘final’ death. The suggestions ranged from the unconcerned (‘they’ll simply ignore it’), to the over complex (something about the number of trips he’s made in the TARDIS naturally extending his lifespan). Some people suggested that all ‘limits’ on the number of lives a Time Lord can have were lifted when the Time War became serious, and some have suggested that it’s never really been an issue.

In my mind, the whole ‘twelve regenerations’ thing has always been a suspension applied by the Time Lords themselves. The Doctor implies that - barring accidents - Time Lords can effectively live forever - I think the limit is imposed simply to stop them from going on, and on, and on. The Time Lord society may be stale, but they’d never want it to become so stale that they never changed, but the same group of people carried on forever. I’ve always imagined that the more you regenerate, the less effective it becomes. By the time you reach your twentieth-or-thirtieth body, the process is fairly unstable. There’s only so often that you’re able to change every cell in your body before the effect starts to wear off. It’s why the Ninth Doctor wonders if he’ll end up with two heads - or no head - and it’s why the regenerations have been getting gradually more explosive over the last few occasions.

The fact of the matter is that over the years, a number of different production teams have all had a hand in the evolution of the regeneration mythology. The Second Doctor implies that he couldn’t have done it without the TARDIS, and the Time Lords of The War Games seem to treat it as something unique to the Doctor (‘You have changed face before…’). By the time Romana fancies a change, she’s even able to ‘try on’ a few bodies before settling on one. When we get to The Five Doctors, the High Council are even able to bribe the Master with promise of a whole new regeneration cycle. It’s at this point that I have to wonder… did the Master give them the technology to do that?

In this story, we learn that the Master is on his final life, and it seems that the only way he’s found to overcome that is to tear Gallifrey apart by ripping into the Eye of Harmony. Could it be that Rassilon programmed the ’13 lives’ limit into all Gallifreyans and it’s being held in check by the Eye? Maybe, now that the Master has helped to show the Time Lords that it actually exists, and it’s left sticking through the ground of their grand Panopticon, they’ll find a way to harness the power and gain a bit more control over the way in which regenerations work?

Aside from inspiring a little speculation like this in my head (which is never a bad thing - Doctor Who, and indeed TV in general, is at its best when it makes you think), I’ve watched this episode with the same kind of disconnect which has tainted the rest of the story. My disinterest is perhaps best mirrored by Spandrell’s faction to the Master’s survival at the end of the story, in which he half heartedly points and exclaims ‘Look, it’s the Master’, with all the interest of a man who’s just seen some leftover cabbage in the fridge.

The highlight of today’s episode is, again, the Panopticon set, which actually does look rather impressive as it collapses around the Doctor and the Master. When the destruction first begins, and a few polystyrene rocks are thrown towards Tom Baker’s face, I worried we were in for a rather limp ending, but by the time the floor starts to split open and the roof really begins to cave in, things were looking decidedly upwards. It’s just a shame that the whole story hasn’t been as fantastic as that!

4 April 2014

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

Day 459: The Deadly Assassin, Episode Three

Dear diary,

In much the same way that the Doctor’s return to Gallifrey should feel like a really big deal, the return of the Master for the first time since Frontier in Space should feel absolutely huge. We’ve not seen him for about four years (which in terms of this marathon means that I’ve not seen him for almost three months), and he’s back to exact revenge against the Doctor. But it’s not treated as any kind of special event. The reveal of the Action Man miniaturised Time Lord in the Panopticon should be this stunning reveal as to who the real enemy is… but then it’s just treated as somewhat blasé - the Doctor simply confirms that it’s a sign of the Master’s presence, and then carries on with the story. As seems to be customary for this story, we get a chunk of information about who the Master is to bring us up to speed, but it’s lacking in any real fanfare.

I think the biggest issue is the fact that, by this point, Roger Delgado has been dead for some time. Looking back from 2014, when we’ve had several different incarnations of the Master, it’s difficult to think of a time when Delgado simply was the character, but watching through the series an episode a day like this means that I’ve not been through a Master story with a different incarnation since sometime back in 2012, and even then it was probably just an episode on in the background. To anyone who’s watching this series for the first time, and doing it in order (on first transmission, for example), all of this feels really, really, strange. We know that the Master is back… but where is he? Is he supposed to be the decaying figure in the cape? What’s happened to the suave gentleman we knew opposite Jon Pertwee? The one who looked so at home in a high-backed leather chair?

I’d really go for a story in which the Doctor and the Master fight each other in some kind of dream-scape (and we’ll come to that in a minute), especially if it comes as the reveal of the character. Someone’s been tampering with all this equipment. They’ve tried to have the Doctor framed for murdering the president. They stalk the Doctor through this land of nightmares for ages and ages, and when the face mask comes off… it’s the Master! After all this time! Obviously, they couldn’t have had Delgado back by this point, and in some ways I’m glad they haven’t just recast the role with an impersonator. But it doesn’t feel like they’ve brought the Master back because they have a story to tell featuring him - he’s simply here because someone in the production office has said ‘Hey! You know who hasn’t been in the show for a while…?’

Then we’ve got the land of nightmares inside the Matrix. I have to admit, even though I vaguely knew what was happening here (the end of Trial of a Time Lord is effectively a remake of this storyline), there were points where I was completely lost. I couldn’t figure out why the inside of the Matrix looked like this barren landscape, or why there were trains, and planes, and crocodiles in there. I think the implication is that Goth has spent so much time in the Matrix that he’s been able to create this ‘virtual reality world’ inside it, and some tampering with the machine means that the Doctor has gone straight there once he tries to enter the Matrix (as the master knew he would - earlier in the story he makes a comment about how predictable his foe is).

But then it begs the question… why has Goth populated his world with the aforementioned trains, and planes, and crocodiles? Not to mention clowns, and surgeons, and spiders. The implication earlier in the story is that Time Lords aren’t overly familiar with Earth, but does Goth have a special interest? Or are these things being drawn from the Doctor’s mind as fears? If so, then why don’t we see any Daleks, or Cybermen, or Koquillion? That’s my main problem with the episode: I love the idea of the Doctor and the Master trapped in a world of nightmares made real, fighting to the death… but that’s not what we get. This is the Doctor fighting the Master’s stooge in a landscape that’s not hugely interesting, with disparate elements thrown in to fill the episode out. It’s your standard ‘Episode Three’, but instead of running up and down the corridors from the previous two episodes, they’ve gone out to location.

3 April 2014

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

Day 458: The Deadly Assassin, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don’t know if I was simply feeling especially sour yesterday, but I’ve been much more willing to go along with The Deadly Assassin today. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a darn sight more solid than I was giving it credit for being. There’s still one or two moments peppered here and there which take me out of things (I can’t decide if the chalk outline of the murdered president - complete with Time Lord head gear - was supposed to be funny or serious), but on the whole I’m being much more swept along with the story.

Yesterday, I said that there were elements of the sets that I rather enjoyed, but I tempered my praise with complaints that they were - on the whole - a bit drab. I think I still feel the same way having watched this episode, but I’m willing to give them a bit more attention than I was before. Seeing the Panopticon set without all the Time Lords stood around inside it means that we get to see the full scale of the area. There’s some great high shots looking down across the space, and it’s here that the setting makes a real impact. We also get some nice wide shots which also seem to include a domed ceiling overhead (Though I can’t decide if we’re supposed to be looking at a painted dome, or windows looking out onto a night sky). This is the design at its best - the shape of the room and the scale of it really do make the impression that they’re supposed to.

But then it’s still all looking a bit drab. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not expecting some kind of fantastically elaborate setting that would cost a million pounds, but I’m just sort of looking for something… more. My favourite version of Gallifrey, I think, is the one we see briefly at the very start of the Animated Shada webcast. The Eighth Doctor returns home to visit President Romana in her rooms in the Capitol, and it’s a lovely hybrid of ‘classic’ Gallifrey, and the snatches we see of the war-torn planet in the more recent series. The animation is basic, but we get to see a room with high, arched windows which look out across the stunning landscape, bathed in reds and golds. This is the Gallifrey I imagine when Susan describes it during The Sensorites, or the Doctor recalls little details in Gridlock.

As I said yesterday, I completely understand that the idea here is that the Doctor ran away because Gallifrey is like this - he left because he didn’t like the place being so stuffy, and dull. It’s only when you’ve said goodbye to something that you start to really remember all the good aspects, and that’s what he’s doing when he tells Martha all about his home world. And yet, as much as I love the idea of a young(er) William Hartnell getting bored with all the tedious rituals and boring info dumps and running away in a TARDIS, I still want to see Gallifrey as beautiful. I want to see the place as stunning… but populated by people who simply can’t appreciate the beauty.

I was thinking about this yesterday, actually. For years and years, around the time Torchwood started up, and the TARDIS began making infrequent stops in Wales, I told myself that - one day - I’d live in Cardiff Bay. The image of that water tower, and the Millennium Centre, and the water… that was the dream for me. Well now… I do! I live about a four minute walk from that water tower, and I can see the Millennium Centre from my window. And it is brilliant, and amazing, and everything I’d ever hoped… but then you start to just take it for granted. When I go into the Bay now, it’s not because I want to go out and experience everything the area has to offer… it’s because I’m on my way to Tesco. Or the Bank. Or to collect a pizza.

It was a nice day, yesterday. One of those rare ones where the sun is out, it’s not too cold, and we’ve got tourists around. There’s people over there taking pictures next to the water tower, trying to figure out which of the paving slabs John Barrowman has stood on the most, and carrying bags to the Doctor Who Experience. They’re all full of the excitement and joy that I had, the very first time I was brought to the area. But now it’s all just there. I barely even look at the water tower any more, and whereas I used to purposely walk past it on my way to buy milk, I’ve now found a slightly quicker route, and I don’t even really miss seeing the tower - I know it’s there.

Then there’s times like the other day, where I rounded a corner on the way to the shop… and there was the TARDIS! The actual TARDIS, stood in the middle of the street. And there’s Clara Oswald (well… Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor (ok… Peter Capaldi) in the middle of an adventure. Crew, and cameras, and extras all busying themselves about. I smiled, text the missus, and then carried on with my day. There was a time when turning the corner and running into the Doctor Who crew making a new episode would have been the most amazing thing in the world, but now that I’ve been here a few years, it’s simply become a part of everyday life. I’m sure they’ll turn up a few more times before the year is out.

This is exactly how I imagine the Time Lords. They live in - or, rather, they should live in - the most beautiful place we’ve ever seen in the series. A world where the sky is a burnt orange and there’s trees with leaves of silver. I want it to all be the reds and golds of the new series, with a sense of grandeur which almost borders on the obnoxious. I think if you were to take all the characters in this story, exactly as they are, and drop them into that setting, I’d be on top of the world. All these stuffy old people who’ve been here so long that none of this is beautiful to them. But that’s when you start needing a character like Sarah Jane to be alongside the Doctor when he visits home. You’d need her to be pointing out how stunning it all is. How rich, and beautiful, and unappreciated. You need a scene where the Doctor and his companion gaze out across the landscape as the suns set, and she wonders how anyone could ever leave a place like this.

(For the record, not that you asked, my perfect Gallifrey would be filmed in the entrance hall to the Natural History Museum. Those huge stone staircases. The pillars. The arched windows, which would be perfect for streaming in that deep, orange light. If you get a change, Google for images of the place shot with a fish-eye camera lens - that’s my Gallifrey.) 

2 April 2014

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

Day 457: The Deadly Assassin, Episode One

Dear diary,

Has there ever been a better example of ‘fan wisdom’ than The Deadly Assassin? When it was first broadcast, the general feeling among fans seems to have been that it was a mis-step. Taking the Doctor home to Gallifrey, and destroying the mystery of the Time Lords forever more (I can’t speak for everyone, here, but that seems to be the impression that I get asking around). As the years have gone by, though, people seem to have re-evaluated their opinions on the story, and subsequent generations seem to have deemed this one yet another of those Hinchcliffe-era ‘classics’ - taking the Doctor home to Gallifrey, and finally giving us a good look at the Time Lords.

And certainly, when the story opens, you know you’re in for something different. There’s an opening monologue read out by Tom Baker, as the text scrolls over the screen (I did wonder, briefly, if they’d stolen the idea from Star Wars, but that wasn’t released for several more months, yet), which sets up the mythical status of the Time Lord society, and warns that they’re about to face the ‘greatest crisis in their long history’. As if that weren’t tantalising enough, you’ve then got the Doctor almost collapsing in his TARDIS as he gets a vision of the Time Lord president begin assassinated! It doesn’t waste time in setting up a lot of mystery and intrigue.

But once they’ve got that excitement out of the way, Gallifrey’s just a bit rubbish, isn’t it? There’s nothing here which stands out to me as saying ‘We’re On The Doctor’s Home Planet’ - it’s just this week’s ‘space’ set, with this week’s set of dusty old men to fill in the guest roles. If anything, it’s a bit boring, with lots of characters stood around spouting information at each other, so it feels more as though you’re being loaded up with facts rather than being presented with an interesting world you want to explore. When the Doctor tries to tune into ‘the local news’, I’d completely had enough. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea for another society to have a kind of television system like we do (it’s something lacking in many alien civilisations throughout the series), but it just feels so bloody dull for Gallifrey!

Even when the Doctor’s being chased around the corridors by guards, there’s no real excitement to any of it. He simply hides behind things and waits until they’ve moved on. This then gives us time for scenes in which the captain of the guards is chastised for allowing his captive to escape him. What I’m trying to say is… we’re on Gallifrey! The Doctor’s Home World! Where’s the spectacle? The majesty? I understand the idea that the Doctor stole his TARDIS and ran away to escape such a crusty, boring old life, and I’ve always been a fan of that idea, but actually reaching this episode now, after 400-odd other ones, it simply feels like a let down.

Oh, but I’m being unfair. It’s not all bad, and there;s several things in here which I have to confess a love for. On the whole, the sets don’t really do a lot for me, and they simply blend into this bland feeling across the episode. That said, when we get our first proper glimpse of the Panopticon, with raised levels and filled with people, there’s something fairly spectacular about it. We’re not too far away from it being quite a good design, and I wonder if I may grow to like it more in subsequent episodes, given longer to experience it.

The real stand out, though, has to be the costumes. I’ve complained about the ineffectual guards above, but I really do love their costumes. They’ve got the right blend of space-age and medieval, and they really stand out against the very flat colours of everything else on display. I think I’d go so far as to say that they’re one of my favourite costume designs from the entire series. Then we’ve got the now famous ‘Time Lord’ collar and robe combination. It’s another winner, and it’s strange to look back now and think that this design didn’t debut until Season Fourteen. It seems so iconic, now, when we’ve seen it crop up again and again throughout subsequent adventures.

So, a shaky start to a story which may - or may not - be a ‘classic’. I’m remaining cautiously optimistic for now, and hoping that once the initial disappointment at Gallifrey has subsided, I may continue to find more to love as the story goes on…


1 April 2014

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

Day 456: The Hand of Fear, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been putting off the writing of this entry all day. This is it! One of the big ones! It’s the final appearance of Sarah Jane Smith during her original run in the programme! A huge moment, and one which is filled with emotion and heartbreak. When Elisabeth Sladen died in 2011, Babelcolour uploaded a video tribute to her, and it’s always been my favourite Sarah Jane related video. The tone is perfect - joyous, but tinged with a bittersweet sadness - and the clips of her saying farewell to the Fourth Doctor are really rather moving. I’ve been creeping closer to this episode, just knowing that the actual scene, coming in context after all her other episodes, will be even more emotional.

But then… it wasn’t. Didn’t even seem to move me one jot. I don’t know if I’m broken, but I didn’t find it half as sad as I was expecting to. I mean - yes - it’s very well done, and the way both Baker and Sladen play it is beautiful… but I’m just not sorry to see Sarah leave. Because of her return to the series in 2006, and the years she’s spent in her own spin-off, Sarah has always felt like the companion. The ultimate. The definitive article, you might say. While I’ve really enjoyed her time in the TARDIS up to now, though, I can’t say that I view her as being all that much better than Jo, for example. Or Jamie. Ian and Barbara… She’s a good companion, yes, one of the better ones… but I’m not sure I really understand what all the fuss is about.

And that, I think, is the root of my problem. So much of what makes Sarah Jane so well regarded is the fact that she was the right companion at the right time in the programme’s history. She’s paired with two of the more polar Doctors, and her time with Tom covers one of the most successful periods of the programmes history - both in terms of creativity and general popularity among the public. I think there’s a certain amount of nostalgia to the decision to crown her as the ‘best companion ever’.

All of this sound like I’m taking pot-shots at Sarah Jane in her final moments, but I’m really not. I have loved having her aboard the TARDIS for the last few months, and I’ve really grown to see what so many people love about the character. The issue is that I was just expecting more from her departure. I was expecting to feel more moved by it, and I think I’m a little disappointed that I’m not. Equally, it could be because I know she’ll be back now and again. I know I’ll see her when I watch K9 & Company at the end of Tom’s run, and again during The Five Doctors. I know she’ll pop up fairly regularly during the Tenth Doctor’s era. Maybe it’s not so emotional because I know it’s not the end?

I think I’m also a little miffed by the way the episode unfolds before we even reach the big farewell, too. It plays out like a rehash of Death to the Daleks again - in which the Doctor and Sarah have to overcome a number of puzzles to make their way somewhere inside this alien city. We’ve only recently had a similar scenario pop up in Pyramids of Mars, so it’s little too fresh in the memory for me. We’ve even got the same ‘creature watching a screen turns out to have been dead for millennia’ trick which worked so well when Terry Nation first did it a few seasons ago. It’s not often in this blog that I’m caught praising Terry’s originality!

During The Masque of Mandragora, I mused that I was feeling ready for a change in the programme, and I think that’s contributing to my general weariness here. The programme has had so many strong hits of late that any time an episode doesn’t quite live up to that same standard, I find myself feeling somewhat let down by it. You attune yourself to the average quality of the era you’re in. You’ll notice sometimes (the last season and a half of Pertwee is a good example) that I seem to be levelling out with my scores. Lots of sixes and sevens. That generally means that an era has been of a consistent quality for a while, and so stories then start to gather as extremes when they’re slightly better (or slightly worse) than those around them.

We’ve now got four episode of the Doctor on his lonesome, and then we’re going to be getting a brand new companion. I think this shake-up could be just what I need to shake off my fatigue and get my head back in the game. For now, I’ll say goodbye to this phase of the programme’s history.

Until we meet again, Sarah…


31 March 2014

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

Day 455: The Hand of Fear, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The pacing of this story is really throwing me. Episode One moves relatively slowly (though that doesn’t mean it’s boring in any way), then Episode Two really races by, with two nuclear threats and lots of people getting possessed by Eldrad. Then we reach Episode Three. I’d assumed Eldrad’s full reveal would be saved for use during a cliffhanger, so when it didn’t arrive yesterday, I wondered what that would mean for the pacing of today’s instalment. I wasn’t expecting to see the fully-formed creature emerge a little way into an episode.

I then also wasn’t expecting us to leave the location of the power station this early, either. I had no idea that we spent time actually on Kastria - I assumed we only saw it during that opening scene of the story. Events at the power station are left a bit suddenly, but we do at least get a nice send off for Professor Watkins wondering who’s going to believe him about all the events we’ve just been through!

To be honest, it was looking like we were heading for the kind of story I’m more familiar with from Dragonfire - the guest villain would want to get back to their home world, only to find that so long has passed, their world is long since dead. There’s certainly shades of that kind of story in here, but at least there’s a home for Eldrad to return to. I’m convinced that there’s more to her story than we’re being told, though. If she’s such a key person in that planet’s evolution, why would they have been so keen to destroy her? The booby trap in the cliff hanger adds another dimension to the culture, too. Did she place it there to deter intruders, or was it designed to keep her at bay should she ever return?

I’m also loving her bargaining with the Doctor. This season is seeing a heightened amount of ‘Time Lord’ being added in to his character, and it’s making for an interesting new thread. During the Pertwee years (and even into Season Twelve and Thirteen), the Doctor was unhappy to be sent on missions for his people, but now he seems to be talking a greater interest in their cause. During The Masque of Mandragora, he claims that it’s ‘part of a Time Lord’s job’ to step in and save the day against the Helix. Here, when Eldrad questions him about his home world, he says again that he has to protect the indigenous population when they’re threatened. Obviously, the next story will see our first proper trip to Gallifrey (as opposed to the brief excursion at the end of The War Games), so maybe they’re trying to thread them in deeper in preparation?

And then there’s all the stuff in the TARDIS. I only touched on the new console room briefly when it first appeared in the last story (to be fair, it does only make a fleeting appearance itself before we’re off to Italy), but now that we get to spend some proper time in here I’m really rather fond of it. As I said the other day, this room has always stuck out as something of an anomaly, but I’m really rather impressed by the set. Something about it feels so right, and it really does suit Tom’s Doctor. We’re given a slightly odd description of it, though. The Doctor explains that when they’re inside the TARDIS, they don’t really exist, so they can’t be harmed. Now, in one of the Matt Smith stories he describes this ‘state of temporal grace’ as being a clever lie - so maybe he’s trying to throw Eldrad off here? - but it is a bit of an odd one!


30 March 2014

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

Day 454: The Hand of Fear, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I spent much of The Masque of Mandragora banging on about just how brilliant the locations looked, but the same is true of this story - perhaps to an even greater extent. Oldbury Nuclear Power Station, used for the interiors of the Nunton Power Complex, is huge, so it really makes an impact on screen. Way back during The Dalek Invasion of Earth, I was impressed because when Ian and the Doctor found a flight of stairs to go up, the camera followed them… and just kept going! I’d become so used to the size of set the programme could build, and was ready for them to cut away. That same feeling is in place here today, when the Doctor and Dr. Carter rush after Sarah, and then engage in a fight on a gangway. Watching as Carter falls over the edge and plummets to his death below only helps to increase the scale.

It’s also inspiring some rather brilliant direction from Lennie Mayne, in his final work on the series. While the location is vast, and we’re able to get some stunning shots which really highlight how much space they have to play in this week, many of the individual areas of the power station are very cramped, filled high with machinery and equipment. Thus, they’re having to be clever with the placement of the camera when they’re taking many of the close up shots. Mayne has turned this into part of the serial’s style, and you notice that the shots are becoming more and more unusual as we focus on any character who’s been possessed by Eldrad.

Ah yes, Eldrad. I know enough about this story to know that - at some stage - the hand will grow into a crystalline blue woman, but I’m surprised it wasn’t the cliffhanger to this episode. I’m assuming it will come as the next cliffhanger, meaning that she spends less time being part of the plot than I’d expected. Instead, we’re left with the hand to entertain us for these 25 minutes. That’s not a complaint, mind, because it’s very well realised. There’s some shots where the CSO trickery is very evident (and one where you can tell the actor is being hidden away just behind the set), but then there’s other bits, like that first shot of the hand coming to life in the tupperware box, where I really can’t tell how it’s been done. I’m assuming that it’s CSO, the same as elsewhere, but it’s just done far better than I’m used to!

Aside from the effects and the location, I’m really rather fond of the characters we’ve got in this one, too. Just as with Giuliano and Marco in the last story, it feels like we’re being given added depth to the characters here. Many of them are scotched in with the briefest of lines, but it gives us just enough detail to fill in the rest of their story. I wondered, for example, what the relationship might be between Miss Jackson and Professor Watson: there’s enough of a hint between them to suggest that there’s a little bit of a workplace romance going on. And then, when things get dire, he’s sent everyone out of the building… and he phones his wife. It’s a beautiful exchange (where he even briefly speaks to his daughter), and while he never tells her that something serious is happening and that he might not come home that night, he tells her everything she needs to hear for a final conversation.

In The Writer’s Tale, during the planning of The Waters of Mars, Russell T Davies speaks a lot about how important the ‘messages from home’ are for the crew of Bowie Base One. He talks of the way they ground the story in reality, while at the same time helping to reaffirm just how remote the situation is. It has the same effect here, and it helps Watson to be ever more real. I do wonder if the dram is undercut somewhat by having the complex evacuated, then bringing the staff back in, only to evacuate it again: It’s difficult to take the threat seriously a second time (indeed, there was once a day at work when the fire alarm went off three times. By the end, we were genuinely unsure wether to bother going back inside again). But that one phone call, a brief scene of calm in an episode where a lot is happening, means that I care about Watson. I worry that he may end up becoming collateral damage before the story is out - and I feel sorry for his wife and daughter. Now that’s an example of good writing in a Doctor Who episode.


30 March 2014

It is with deepest regret that DWO announces the passing of Classic Series Doctor Who Actress, Kate O'Mara.

Kate was perhaps best known to Doctor Who fans for playing the role of The Rani in the Classic Series adventures; The Mark Of The Rani, & Time And The Rani. She also appeared as The Rani in the 1993 Children In Need charity special, Dimensions In Time.

Kate's other career highlights include roles in; Z Cars, The Brothers, Dynasty, Howards' Way and Benidorm.

DWO would like to extend our sympathies to Kate's family and friends.

[Source: BBC News]

29 March 2014

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

Day 453: The Hand of Fear, Episode One

Dear diary,

By the time The Hand of Fear was released on DVD in 2006, I was regularly picking the stories up on release day as I passed by Woolworths. As if I didn’t already know from any number of guidebooks about the series, this particular release bore a sticker on the front, proclaiming it as ‘Sarah Jane’s final classic story’. Now that I’ve reached it in the context of the marathon, it’s as though things have come around a bit… quick. Sarah Jane has been companion for longer than most companions (even - just - edging out Jo Grant’s three seasons), but her time in the TARDIS has felt rather short.

I think it’s because of the change in teams throughout her time. She spends her first season alongside Jon Pertwee, and while they worked brilliantly together, they didn’t share the same rapport that she and Tom Baker would later build up. That said, in her second season, I often felt that she was overshadowed by the presence of Harry in the TARDIS. It’s only really through the stories of Season Thirteen that she’s become the wonderful companion that I know and enjoy.

But what on Earth have they dressed her in for her final appearance?!?! Of course, I’ve always known of the ‘Andy Pandy’ costume from this story (although I had no idea that it was described as such in the episode itself!), but it’s not until you actually encounter it watching through like this that you realise just how out of place it really is. Lis Sladen talks in her autobiography of making Sarah’s dress sense more and more ‘out there’ the longer she travelled in the TARDIS (and she makes the same point in the commentary for this episode), but this is, I think, the first time I’ve ever noticed it so much. Oh, sure, there’s been a few questionable clothing choices over the past few seasons, but this is batting things into a whole other league.

Thankfully, it’s not holding Sladen back, and she’s turning in a hell of a performance for her final story. She’s always been rather good with her ‘possessed’ acting, and it’s nice to see her really giving it her all in her final story. She gives a wonderful ‘far off’ look when trying to be disconnected from events, and I’m completely sold by it. Seeing a companion taken over like this isn’t new by any stretch (a similar thing even happened to Sarah in the last story!), but I’m loving the performance here. It sets this possession out above the rest, and that’s always nice.

I’ve never noticed before just how contemporary-Earth-centric these early Tom Baker years are. I’d always thought of the programme in the 1970s as being almost entirely Earth-bound for Jon Pertwee’s tenure, before barely touching down here again once Baker stepped into the role. It’s actually proved to be far more delineated than that, with every season from about 1972 onwards featuring at least a couple of stories set in the ‘present’. Since the Fourth Doctor took over, we’ve had Robot, Terror of the Zygons, The Android Invasion, The Seeds of Doom and now this one - almost half of his stories have taken place in this period of history. Sarah’s departure will change that, and we’ll start seeing less adventures placed here through the rest of Baker’s run. Maybe losing his human companion cuts another tie to the planet? After all, we won’t have another one until Tegan shows up, and that’s a long way off from now.

That said, this has a different feel to all the other stories set in this period over the last few years. For the first time since The Sea Devils, the Doctor has touched down on modern-day Earth in a story which won’t feature UNIT, and unlike The Seeds of Doom, he’s not been called in as such, but he’s simply arrived here while trying to give Sarah a trip home. It’s ironic, then, that the TARDIS should touch down in that most Doctor Who of locations - a quarry. There was a time, back around Season Three when quarries had first started to become shorthand for ‘alien world’, that I mused on how well they worked. It’s still true, now, but the language of the programme means that I watch the Doctor and Sarah Jane walk through this landscape, and my mind instantly sets it on some aline world. It’s only once we’re out of here and off to the hospital that things start to feel as though we’re really down to Earth. I’m also surprised just how often quarries do appear as themselves in Doctor Who. It was clever when they first tried it during The Ambassadors of Death, but we’ve only recently seen one at the end of last season!


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