Time Lord Tees

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7 June 2014

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

Day 523: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I realised that Zios was being controlled by some kind of battle computer at - I think - exactly the moment you’re supposed to, when K9 first approaches the door to gain entry to the commander’s quarters. Before then, all his talk about him speaking to his own ‘kind’ had me wondering if K9 had been taken over by the Shadow’s forces, and ‘brainwashed’ in some way. As soon as it was revealed that I was right, and that everything was being controlled by that one central device, I loved it. A Cyber Planner in all but name, and a rather natty design, to boot!

That’s true for a lot of this serial, really. The design work is some of the best we’ve had since Ribos. There’s something very typically ‘late 1970s BBC science fiction’ about it (indeed, when Shapp first steps out of the transmit and draws his gun, I had an overwhelming sense that this, costumes, sets, props, and all, is exactly what I imagine Blake’s 7 to look like), but it all really works, and despite it occupying the end of season slot, it feels like some real budget has gone into this. We get the first model shots of ships in the story (and I’m surprised that they didn’t use the same model earlier in the story), and it’s an example of the programme doing a good job with them. Then you’ve got the set of that ship’s cockpit, and it might just be the best that we’ve ever been given. Shot from behind and in front, it looks great, and feels very ‘real’. I look forward to its inevitable destruction at some point in the future!

I think I’m also enjoying the fact that there’s a couple of stories going on at once in here, and they each feel like they’re being given equal weight. The first two episodes were very much focussed on the war between the two planets, and the Doctor getting caught up in it. As we move into this episode, we’re introduced to the Shadow, and there’s a great scene between him and the Doctor (more on which in a moment). It’s not long before they fade back into the shadows (me so funny!) again, and we’re back to the story of the war once again. I have no doubt that they’ll be tied together some more before the story is out, but I’m enjoying that they’re running separately for now. It feels as though the Doctor is off having his own side adventure all alone, while everyone else continues on with the main story, and I like that.

In yesterday’s episode, I praised the fact that Tom Baker seemed to be getting really into this story and giving it his all. I think, in hindsight, I may have played that card a little too early, because I want to say exactly the same for this episode, but perhaps even more so! It was during Planet of Evil that I first really saw that Tom Baker had ‘the Doctor’ in him, and it surfaces again here. I love his confrontation with the Shadow, flitting so perfectly between light and dark: it really is the best performance that Baker has given since at least The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I’m absolutely captivated by it, and that’s no bad thing!

We’ve hit the end of Baker’s fifth season with this story, and after this he officially enters into ‘longest serving Doctor’ territory. I’ve felt of late (especially throughout this Key to Time season) as though I’m tiring of the programme, and of the style it’s currently in. Stories like The Pirate Planet and The Power of Kroll are simply leaving me cold, and it feels like I’m running out of any interesting observations to make. A lot of the time, I’ve thought that Baker has been showing much of the same strain, so it’s really heartening to see him so back on form again here. I’m hoping that he carries this energy and enthusiasm with him into the next season, too, because it’s just the thing I need to reinvigorate my love for Who right now!

6 June 2014

It's no secret that we at DWO are big fans of Apple - after all, practically 90% of all the technology we use to run the site is made up of Apple products. So imagine our surprise when we were trawling through Apple's new developer code (Swift), and much to our surprise, we saw a blatant reference to Doctor Who hidden in the code!

A quick navigation to Page 347 of 'The Swift Programming Language' - which is FREE to download in the iBooks store - will reveal that "Lots of planets have a north" - a direct reference to Christopher Eccleston's Doctor in the Series One episode; 'Rose'.

See the reference for yourself by clicking on the image to the right of this article.

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[Sources: DWO; Apple]

6 June 2014

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

Day 522: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Tom Baker is really on form in this story, isn’t he? It feels as though he knows the end of the season is coming up, so he’s just going for broke and enjoying himself in the story. The dramatic bits, the comedy bits… he’s really sinking his teeth into everything (including, in fairness, the scenery in one or two places!) and I’m really enjoying simply watching him be the Doctor here. I’ve given him a lot of stick over the last couple of seasons, so I’m always glad to see that he can still pull it out of the bag when he needs to.

Elsewhere, I’m simply enjoying the story here. In many ways it’s fairly standard stuff, and nothing much too taxing, but it’s all of a fairly good quality, and I can sit back and just watch it. I think I’m also impressed by the way my attention is being held so effectively with a small cast and very few sets (much of today’s episode takes place in three or four rooms, and some characters - like Astra - only appear in a single scene), whereas other stories recently with a lot more going on have completely failed to grip me.

I’m also very keen on the way that we watch the battle between these two worlds. Model effects in Doctor Who can vary from the extremely good to the… well… not good. I’d be weary of seeing them attempt any kind of large scale battle between various space ships, so it’s perhaps for the best that we see it all on the radar screen here instead. But you know what? It’s actually ten times more effective seeing it presented in this way than if we were to watch some big special effects scene. It really hits home to you just how fruitless this entire war effort is when it’s reduced down to watching six dots on a screen being reduced down to three. I don’t know if we might still get some kind of large scale battle before the story is out (the best of both worlds!), but if not then I’m glad that they decided to go with doing it this way.

As for the story itself… I don’t really know what to think. I did have a brief moment of wondering if it could feature the return of the Fendahl (when Romana peers behind the looking glass to find a creepy skull on a pedestal with knowledge of the Time Lords, it did lead me to think - could it be that I’d failed to realise the Fendahl ever made a reappearance, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure I’m wrong!). There’s a lot of bog-standard plotting going on here at the moment - the Doctor mustn’t die… yet! - but I’m enjoying all the performances, so they’re keeping me entertained so far.

My biggest worry is that things will all go toppling over the edge at some stage. I couldn’t help myself, and had to peek at the Doctor Who Magazine ranking for this story in their recent poll results, and I’ve found that it places relatively low - within the bottom fifth - and not much above The Power of Kroll. Suddenly, I worry that things might not be keeping me this interested for long! Still, I’ve been known to enjoy stories that others don’t before now, so The Armageddon Factor could yet turn out to be something of a gem for me! 

6 June 2014

FTS Media have announced that their fan-funded documentary, ‘Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom’, is available now on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as Video On Demand! This celebratory film explores what makes Doctor Who fans so special, and how not only has the show influenced them, but how they have influenced the show in return!

Featuring interviews with actress Louise Jameson, and members of the production team like Robert Shearman and prop builder Nick Robatto, this documentary is sure to “strike a chord with any Doctor Who Fan” (Who-News.com). They also take a trip across the globe to meet Michelle Osorio, a filmmaker from California who just so happens to have a Dalek named Gary in her garage! Most importantly though they speak to the fans, as without them, Doctor Who wouldn’t have been back on our screens for a 50th anniversary episode and this film would never have been made! “A thought-provoking and affectionate look at how fandom has evolved in 50 years” (The Gallifrey Times), this is one documentary you really can’t afford to miss!

With a string of 5 star reviews under their belt, ‘Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom’ really is a must for any fan! Joe Lidster, writer for Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and a string of Big Finish stories called it a “fantastic and insightful documentary that shows the fun fandom can bring!”, while Lisa Bowerman (Karra in ‘Survival’ and Bernice Summerfield for Big Finish) commented that 50 Years of fandom “reflects absolutely, and with huge affection the impact Doctor Who has had on peoples' lives. It plots the progress of fandom in all its diversity - talks to the people who know, and treats its subject with great respect. Brilliant.” 

Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom’ is available to purchase from their official website at www.ftsmedia.co.uk, priced at £9.99 for the DVD (here) or £13.99 for the Blu-ray (here

There’s also a whopping 70 minutes of Special Features on the Blu-ray version of the film, including full-length interviews with Louise Jameson & Robert Shearman, and an EXCLUSIVE 10 Questions with Louise, where she answers YOUR questions. Want to know if she’s worn her Leela costume since leaving the show? Then you’ll have to buy the Blu-ray to find out!

+  Celebrating 50 Years Of Fandom is Out Now, priced £9.99 (DVD) / £13.99 (Blu-ray).

[Source: FTS Media]

5 June 2014

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

Day 521: The Armageddon Factor, Episode One

Dear diary,

When I started out on the Key to Time season about three weeks ago, I explained that I’d sat and watched all the six stories before in quite quick succession. I think that my attention must have wained rather a lot as the season progressed, because with each passing story I’ve found that I can remember less and less about it. Today’s story - coming as the big finale to the entire season - is the one I can recall the least about. To put it bluntly, I can’t remember anything that happens. All I know is the identity to the segment of the Key here… and that’s sort of it.

I’m glad, though, because it means that I get to watch all the various Key to Time threads draw together as though it were a brand new story. It certainly feels like they’ve upped the stakes for the finale, too, with the Doctor and Romana arriving in the middle of a nuclear war, and with missing planets, near missile hits, kidnap, espionage, a lost TARDIS, and even two Romana’s (well, sort of…). Coming after a story which didn’t really grab me, it feels as though this one is pulling out all the stops to get me interested once again.

It helps that the story all looks rather pretty, too. There’s some lovely big sets, and a feels to all of this that simply smacks of it being the middle of a war. Many of the sets are really rather unappealing visually (lots of grey corridors), but that all works in the story’s favour, because it really fits the feel of the world we’re supposed to be in. I’m looking forward to having all of this unravel before me over the next few days, and getting to watch both versions of Romana around on screen together, almost like a transition period. Truth be told, I’d completely forgotten that Lalla Ward was in this one, until about three seconds before she made her first appearance on screen!

So far, Ward is off to a decent start, and I’m quite liking her. Mary Tamm is also giving her all even at this late stage in the game, and I have a feeling that as the story progresses, I’m going to be left wishing more and more that they could have done a proper regeneration scene between the two. I think I’m right in saying that Tamm officially decided that, yes, she was off during the recording of this serial, and that the decision to cast Lalla Ward came from a joking suggestion made by Tamm at the time of her departure! Emma vaguely joined me for this episode, too (she was in and out of the room getting on with something, but was sort of paying attention), and she quickly decided that she enjoyed the relationship between the Doctor and the current Romana. This left me thinking that actually, I’m really going to miss the way that Tamm and Baker bounce off each other - I’m hoping that the next few episodes will be a great showcase for Romana before her departure… 

4 June 2014

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

Day 520: The Power of Kroll, Episode Four

Dear diary,

There’s a single shot in this episode of Kroll on the horizon which really fails to work. It’s a split-screen job done wrong, and it really lets down the effect. I’ve known about it for years - everyone mentions the poor split-screen work on the effects shots in this story. And yet, I’m pretty sure that it’s the only dodgy one in the entrée serial. We’ve only had three or four appearances from the great and mighty Kroll over the last few episodes, but the others have all looked, I think, really quite good. Certainly worthy of kinder words that they currently receive. I’m even almost enjoying the shots of Kroll attacking the station here, too, even if I still think the model shots of that platform don’t look quite right.

As is often the case, it’s the sequences shot on film that have really impressed me in this episode. All the bits done out on location at the marshes continue to look fantastic, and they’re the real highlight of this story. I think I’ve taken my eye off that a little bit over the last few days, while finding The Power of Kroll a struggle, but they’re certainly the bits of this story that I’ll remember a year on from now. Today, though, we also get a sequence of the Doctor outside on the platform, doing battle with the giant squid. It’s a really rather nicely directed few minutes, and the fact that the Doctor has removed his scarf before heading outside simply serves to make it all the more striking. Tom Baker wears his scarf far less often than I always assumed he did (by which I mean he removes it more often than I expected), but not usually for such an extended period.

While I’m on that subject… I don’t know if it’s just me, but there’s been something about Tom Baker’s costume in this story that just looks right to me. It’s hard to explain what I mean, exactly, which is why I’ve been putting it off even though I made a note of it back during Episode One. It wasn’t until today’s episode that I realised - this is the very first time we actually see this version of the Doctor’s outfit! I’d sort of forgotten that we’d not had one quite like this before, but that he’d been wearing a different light coat way back when (we’ve not seen it for weeks now - he’s been in shades of brown since the start of the Key to Time season.

It’s the look that I’ve always thought of as being ‘The Graham Williams Era’, with this coat, and the various badges that adorn it. Today we’ve got the flying ducks, which are perhaps the most famous of his badges, even though they only appear in this one story. He’ll go on to wear the new coat introduced here in the next four stories as well, meaning that I’m familiar with it from lots of publicity photographs larking about in Paris, or felling from the Daleks. Maybe it feels as though the Graham Williams era has actually arrived suddenly? Even after all this time, I’m constantly surprised by just how much the Tom Baker ‘eras’ all bleed into one.

The other thing that’s been prominent throughout this story, but which really takes more of a central focus in this final episode is the idea of the Swampies having their faith in Kroll shaken. I wonder if I may have enjoyed the story more if this had been less of a sub-theme running through the story, and more central? It’s been really rather interesting to watch today, with the Swampies questioning why their ‘God’ would attack them. Of course, the priest claims that it was punishment for allowing the ‘dry foots’ to escape. When it’s pointed out that they only escaped because Kroll was attacking them, it’s declared to be a ‘test’ of their faith.

I’ve always been somewhat weary of religion, and the power that it can hold, and I think there’s a nice parable about that very idea in this one scene alone. It continues to be more and more prominent as this episode goes on, and I really wish that it could have been more the point of the whole story, especially in a season during which the Doctor is effectively on a quest for ‘God’…

3 June 2014

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

Day 519: The Power of Kroll, Episode Three

Dear diary,

It’s only really in the last few minutes of this episode that I actually started enjoying it. For the most part, this episode has simply felt like going through the motions, but during those closing minutes of the story, with the Doctor, Romana, and Rohm-Dutt making their escape and Kroll looming large on the horizon, I suddenly found myself interested again. My biggest issue is that this should have been the first big reveal of Kroll in all his glory. There’s a lot of tension to these scenes, as tentacles grab people, and Swampies are pulled underwater, and it’s a shame that the climax to this - the reveal of Kroll himself - is undermined by the brief appearance he made in the last episode.

The biggest shame about that is that Norman Stewart’s direction in the rest of the story is, on the whole, a better example than most of talent in the series. He’s got a real flair for choosing some interesting shots, such as the camera movements to give scale to the torture chamber in which our heroes spend lots of this episode, and he’s actually doing a good job of filling the story with tension on occasion. He’s managed to make the location work look fairly decent, too, and it’s certainly a better showcase for his skills than Underworld was last season!

Certainly, I think that the direction is one of the things saving this story from being completely tedious. It feels as though everyone is simply putting the effort in to get the story on the screen and nothing more. Everyone involved, from the writer to the actors, seems to realise that this is never going to be fondly remembered as some kind of stand out, and thus they’re not really trying. I think it’s fair to say that over the years, The Power of Kroll has rarely been regarded as a bad story, but simply as one of those mediocre tales, that everyone sort of overlooks (that said, the results of the recent Doctor Who Magazine poll place it story number 212 of 241, meaning that it had dropped 38 places since ratings were collected in 2009, although it’s score had moved up slightly over 2% since that time, too).

It’s a shame, really, because it should be really grabbing me. Lovely location, a great big monster with an effect which continues to work far better than I was expecting it to, and it’s quite a pivotal story behind the scenes, because it’s the first tale, in a manner of speaking, to be ‘produced’ by John Nathan Turner, who’ll soon become very important to the programme. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the final episode will be able to swing round my mood on this one, so I’m eagerly awaiting The Armageddon Factor and the big season finale to turn things around for me… 

2 June 2014

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

Day 518: The Power of Kroll, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don’t have a favourite movie. Truth be told, I don’t even really like films - I much prefer television as a format, for the way that it tells story, the intimacy that it brings, and the fact that I can stick on a series of something and just enjoy it episode after episode (I’m currently working my way through the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show as well as re-watching the fourth series of Big Brother for the first time since broadcast, one episode a night). But the way that the world works, you’re expected to have a ‘favourite’ film. I simply don’t. There’s a lot of films that I like, sure. Frankenstein, the Boris Karloff version. Singing in the Rain. A Man With a Movie Camera. The Harry Potter films, or The Lord of the Rings. I like all of these, but I’d not class any as my favourite.

It’s not easy to explain that every time you’re asked the question, though, so I tend to simply plump for a film to answer with, and I always choose one that no one ever questions, they just nod and agree: Jaws. I can distinctly pin-point the first time I saw Jaws. Because I’ve never been a big fan of films, I didn’t really watch many as a kid, so it wasn’t unusual that I didn’t see this one until I was 14, and at school. For the record, I haven’t seen other Spielberg classics like E.T. or Jurassic Park even to this day. It’s almost quite a fun game, when Emma talks about a film and I simply point out that I haven’t seen it.

Anyway. Jaws. It was a film studies lesson at school, and we were watching Jaws so that we could learn about suspense and build up in directing a film. It’s a brilliant example of that. You get plenty of Point Of View shots. There’s the odd glimpse of a fin, or the ripple of the water. You even see the shark on several occasions, but the real reveal, the big ‘It’s The End Of Episode One And Oh Look It’s A Dalek’ moment comes towards the end of the film, with the three men out on a boat, shovelling bait into the water, when Quin turns back… and the shark lurches at him! Despite the bits of him you’ve seen before, that’s the pay off, and it’s brilliant.

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with The Power of Kroll? Well, not a lot, admittedly. But also, everything. I mused yesterday that a giant squid might be the production team over-reaching themselves somewhat, but I was still keen to see what they’d do with it. It’s the perfect opportunity for them to tease us with the appearance of the monster - just like in Jaws - before revealing it, probably at the end of Episode Three. And you know what? They’re doing a good job!

We hear tell of this giant squid that the locals all worship, but then we discover that no one has actually seen the creature in living memory. And, actually, the ‘monster’ menacing Romana at the end of the last episode is a man in a costume. You almost start to relax… but then the scanners are picking up strange movements, miles and miles across, the entire bed of the marsh shifting. The cliffhanger features a tentacle attacking which is actually - I’ll admit it - rather effective! You could really build up the suspense here, and while the squid may not quite live up to it, at least you could enjoy the ride…

But then, about two-thirds of the way through the episode, the squid just pops up - literally - in the middle of the marsh. You almost want to over-dub it with him saying “hellooo!” to everyone, and asking what he’s missed during his nap. I’m only banging on about this so much because it came as such a massive let down. The effect of the squid actually looks alright, I think, but I’m not paying all that much attention because I’m too busy being annoyed that they’ve wasted any sense of suspense and drama by bringing him in so suddenly and with no fanfare or excitement.

Really, I’m just bitter today, I think. I’m also annoyed by the whole “Doctor, I dropped the Tracer out there in the Marsh and we may never find it again…” / “oh, don’t worry, I picked it up” exchange, because I thought that was going to provide us with some interesting drama over the next few episodes, as they tried desperately to find it while a war broke out around them, and a giant quid lingered on the horizon. As it is, I’m not really sure what they’re planning to do for the next two episodes, besides paint themselves green and run around a bit. 

1 June 2014

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

Day 517: The Power of Kroll, Episode One

Dear diary,

Ah, The Power of Kroll. Along with The Space Pirates, this one is sort of the Robert Holmes child that people try to overlook when discussing the man’s career. As I’ve said before, my memory of these last few Key to Time stories is hazy at best, so the most I can tell you about this one is that there’s a giant squid in it. I’m not sure if the squid is the reason for fans’ dislike of the story, but I’d wager that ti could well be a factor - the phrase ‘giant quid’ seems to go hand-in-hand with ‘Doctor Who production team over stretching themselves’…

As for this first episode, though, there’s plenty to enjoy. I love the look of the swamp, and after my moaning the other day about the season needing a bit more variety in its locations, I think they’ve satisfied it rather nicely. Especially wonderful is the moment when the TARDIS arrives, and we only see the very top of the prop poking out, and follow the thrashing around in the plants to see where our heroes are. It creates a very different look for this adventure, and that’s never a bad thing. We’ve also got more night shooting - something that’s becoming increasingly common in the programme of late, considering that it used to be such a rarity! All the shots of the Doctor out in his boat at night look lovely, and I’m hoping we’ll be treated to some more night scenes as the story continues.

It’s a shame, with such a nice location, that I’m so disappointed in the model of the refinery. It’s often pointed out that you have to be careful with explosions in model shots, because if you shoot them at the regular speed, they look like real flames on a scale model. The same seems to be true of water here - it looks like they’ve made a model of a refinery and plonked it down in the director’s bath tub! All the waves just look too large, and it spoils the effect for me. My other complaint about this comes as a counterpoint to my praise for the night-time scenes, and it’s the lack of lights on the model! We get the flashing code when the Swampie communicates with his own people, but it’s a shame not too see a few more lights to indicate windows and the like. As it is, it simply feels like they weren’t expecting night shots, so forgot to fit the model with electronics.

That’s only a small issue, though, and it hardly ruins the episode because of a few dodgy shots. There’s a lot of other things to commend this one. It might not be Holmes’ finest script (and the issue of slavery isn’t being weaved into the story with a great deal of tact, it has to be said), but he’s certainly got a nice handle on the Doctor, and it’s plain to see throughout. I love the way he sits and makes himself a flute, and simply slips away when people aren’t looking. There’s plenty of nice lines written in for the Doctor, too, and Baker seems to be genuinely enjoying himself still - something that’s been present for a few stories now.

I’ve yet to really make much mention of the Swampies, and I don’t really plan to until I’ve seen a bit more of them in action, but I will say that they’re almost effective here, simply because of the number of them they’ve got, painted head to toe in green and jumping around preparing to sacrifice Romana. Had they simply got three slightly uncomfortable supporting artistes to stand around looking cold then it wouldn’t have been as effective as it is here, and that’s saying something, perhaps!

31 May 2014

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

Day 516: The Androids of Tara, Episode Four

Dear diary,

During the first episode of this story, before I simply found myself enjoying it, I made a note that all the segments of the Key were hidden in fairly similar locales, and that we really needed to have a bit more variety. This thought stemmed from the fact that we’s just had two stories in a row that involved the Doctor and Romana standing around in green fields, and The Ribos Operation had also sported a castle setting. The more that I’ve watched through this story, the more I realise that I was just moaning about nothing in particular, because this story has enough of it’s own visual identity to set it apart from the others. It’s another one of those lush historical dramas, and I almost wonder if I’d prefer this story to have been a more straight-up historical drama, without all the nonsense with androids and the like.

This final episode is the closest that we come to that kind of story, with our three androids (the Prince/King, Strella, and Romana) all out of action, and the woman who builds androids for the Count dead. It reverts to a more traditional story of trying to seize power to the throne, with planned marriages, and assassination plots, and… well, admittedly, an exact double of the princess who just happens to be an alien time traveller. It feels like absolutely ages since we had a proper historical story, and this came close enough to whet my appetite for one. Thinking of the stories to come, it’s going to be a while again before we’re given something quite in the historical vein, androids or not!

It did, however, get me wondering if there could be a version of this story with the androids removed. It’s not the kind of thing that you’d be able to edit from existing footage, but I think a few brief alterations at the scripting stage could have made it a pure historical story somewhere along the line. The Count would have to kidnap the prince after the coronation, and they’d not be able to lure the Doctor with an android duplicate of Romana, but otherwise, the story is fairly sound.

Or, at least, as sound as it can be. Today’s episode provides us with another twist to the tale of ‘ways the Count can become king’. I said the other day that I simply couldn’t get my head around Taran politics, and I still can’t. Now it transpires that the Count will only be the true king if he’s married Strella, after she has come queen. What happened to the whole ‘having to choose another nobleman to be king, ‘cos the bloke who should be here is held up in traffic’? It really is the most bizarre system.

And it’s all presided over by Cyril Shaps, in his final performance for the programme. Shaps appeared in The Tomb of the Cybermen, which makes him an automatic winner for me, and then went on to be a part of The Ambassadors of Death and Planet of the Spiders before returning for this final swan song. He’s been one of those actors I’m always glad to see pop up in a story, so it’s a shame we won’t be seeing any more of him as this marathon progresses.

On the whole, I’ve rather liked The Androids of Tara. It’s just edged out The Ribos Operation for the position of my favourite Key to Time story (pushing the previous champion The Stones of Blood even further down the pecking order), and I’ve simply enjoyed watching it. I’m sorry to say then that things do go a little to pot in this final episode direction-wise. It’s the first story to be helmed by Michael Hayes, and has been rather good on the whole. Lots of nice shots that feel perfectly suited to what is in some ways a diary story, and lots of lovely shots used in sequences like the Doctor and K9 heading across the moat to break in to the castle.

But then you’ve got today’s big, climactic sword fight. It’s very much a key part of the episode, because it takes up a sizeable chunk of it. I enjoy seeing the Fourth Doctor being a little unsure of the way to hold a fight like this (he clearly forgot such things during his regeneration), and then growing more and more confident with it, forcing the Count around the room. It could be quite a nice sequence if it weren’t for the chronic lack of music over the first half of the fight! It simply leaves everything feeling incredibly stagey, and listening to the sound of the actor’s feet shuffling around the floor doesn’t quite inspire the effect I think Hayes wanted. Things pick up a lot when the sparring partners move outside, though, and I with the whole thing could have been done like that! 

30 May 2014

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

Day 515: The Androids of Tara, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Sometimes, often during ‘Episode Three’, Doctor Who stories have to resort to padding things out a little bit, just to stretch the story over to the next week. I think today must feature one of the most blatant examples of this that I can remember in the series for a very long time. Romana has come back in to contact with the Key segment again, and soon manages to escape the castle on horseback. She meets up with the Doctor, and they flee together… only for her to be recaptured and returned to the castle mere minutes later. This is the one thing which took me out of the story a little bit here, because Romana’s escape seems to have only been useful for the sake of giving us a cliffhanger into the next episode!

Still, that’s a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed today’s episode again. Despite The Pirate Planet being the story of this season written by the ‘comedy’ writer, I’m finding the humour in David Fisher’s two scripts much more in my own taste than anything that Adams gave us. I commented on it to some extent during The Stones of Blood, but I’m really noticing it in this story - and especially in today’s episode. It’s filled with amusing mounts, chief among them possibly the Doctor emerging into an ambush for the second time simply to call the Count a liar for promising not to attack! There’s also the Doctor’s comments on the way they always want you to go alone when you’re walking into a trap, and his musing that it would have been ‘fun’ to hear whatever reason Lamia may have cooked up to explain her arriving so early for their planned meeting: I’m enjoying lots of the little lines like these.

It’s also having an unexpected side effect in that I’m really enjoying Tom Baker in this story. I’ve complained a few times over the last season-and-a-half or so that Baker is getting somewhat too big for his boots in the role, not taking things as seriously as he perhaps should, and sending other things up way beyond what’s probably acceptable. Here, though, he seems to be pitching his performance just right, and it’s the most I’ve enjoyed watching him since around Season Thirteen, I think. Even when he’s going for the comedic moments (like the aforementioned ‘liar’ incident), I’m simply laughing along with the story - it’s all really working for me. Maybe it’s simply the tone of the script, which makes it feel as though Baker’s antics fit in easier?

Then we’ve got a few moments of him attempting a more serious stance, too. It was during Planet of Evil that Baker really sold himself to me as a dramatic actor, and I think there’s small shades of that performance here. I don’t think we’ve ever had him quite as powerful and imposing as he was there, but a few of his comments towards the count at the start of today’s episode seem to be brimming under with the kind of rage I’d expect to see from David Tennant’s performances in the same role. I love that I’m finding things to enjoy in his performance again, because it feels as though I’ve been giving him a lot of criticism of late.

29 May 2014

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

Day 514: The Androids of Tara, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Of all the companions so far - including Sarah Jane - I think that Romana must have the most… elaborate wardrobe. She’s had cause to change her outfit, or at leafs accessorise it, during most of the stories so far, and they’re always quite striking styles. I think that The Androids of Tara may be the most striking of them all! Mary Tamm gets to start the story off in that very flattering white dress from The Ribos Operation. I’m not much of a follower of fashion, but even I’ll concede that it’s a gorgeous outfit, and Tamm looks beautiful in it. She then gets to change into her purple… thing, and retain that for much of the last two episodes. People joke about Sarah’s ‘Andy Pandy’ look, but really, this must be the worst costume a companion ever gets forced into?

Even more than usual, this story allows Tamm to try out a few different styles, by virtue of her playing several different parts. I was oddly struck by how much of an impact was made, during the introduction of Strella, simply by giving Tamm different hairstyles for each character. It really does make a difference, and when she arrives in the throne room at the end of the story, here hair looks especially nice. As someone who was - I believe - very interested in style (I think I’m right in saying that Tamm herself had input to some of Romana’s costumes, certainly more than the actress would usually get), I’d imagine that Mary Tamm must have very much enjoyed working on this story in particular.

The thing I’ve been spending much of today trying to get my head around is the way that coronations operate on Tara. It already seems a little harsh that should the next-in-line to the throne be so much as a minute late for the coronation then they forfeit their right to the titles, but then the Powers That Be simply get to choose who will take their place on the throne? No wonder there’s some corruption going on, with a system like that! I then found myself getting gradually more and more confused by the way all of this works. I’m sure that, at some stage, Strella is described as second-in-line to the throne. So… if Prince Reynart doesn’t show up, why does the throne not pass to her?

I then considered that everyone may think she was missing, which could account for them worrying about needing to find a new monarch so quickly (lest the throne be empty for too long. Is Tara the planet, or simply this region? It could be that a lack of monarch makes the castle, and the area, look weaker to opposing forces who may be watching), but no one seems surprised when she seemingly arrived during the coronation to pledge her allegiance to the new king. On top of all this… I thought that Count Grendel planned to marry Strella simply to get himself onto the list of people who could get near the throne, but then he’s able to become king simply by being one of the nobles, anyway! It’s all a very confusing system, and I’m spending more time thinking about it than I really should! 

29 May 2014

British singer-songwriter Foxes will perform a track and appear in the new series of Doctor Who, which lands this August on BBC One.

Foxes, speaking about her casting said:

"I can't believe I'm actually going to be in an episode of Doctor Who! Especially as it all came about from a chance meeting. I was playing a gig and got chatting to the show's production team who'd been watching my performance. I was telling them how much I loved Doctor Who and next thing they invited me to be on it. I couldn't think of a better place to make my acting debut than on one of the UK's most iconic shows!"

Steven Moffat, lead writer and executive producer, said:

"We are completely thrilled that the amazingly talented Foxes is joining us on board ... well, you'll see. Let's just say, The Doctor is finally catching up on his phone calls."

Grammy award-winning Foxes has recently been on tour in the UK, supporting her album Glorious, which recently debuted top 5 in the official album chart. This follows on from her three hit singles - Youth, Let Go For Tonight and Holding Onto Heaven.

Guest stars confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in the new series, which will air on BBC One this August, include Frank Skinner, Ben Miller, Tom Riley, Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris.

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

[Source: BBC Media Centre]

28 May 2014

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

Day 513: The Androids of Tara, Episode One

Dear diary,

When I first started out on The 50 Year Diary (what seems like a lifetime ago!), people were very keen to give me tips and advice about how to do a marathon. Some people were very helpful, and spoke from experience in doing their own watches through the history of Doctor Who. Others were simply chiming in with the way ‘they’ would do it, and point out why my way was wrong. The thing that cropped up the most during that first season was the suggestion that I should really be working in ‘half marks’. I think it stemmed from a single entry early on in which I commented on how I’d spent a while deliberating over the score to give an episode. I couldn’t decide between a six or a seven, and it took most of the day to make up my mind. People kept on suggesting that I really should have just given a ‘6.5’, and be done with it.

Personally, I’m against that. I think that once you start adding half marks, the rating system goes out the window a little bit! I’m rating the stories out of ten… giving myself double the options for scores within that seems like a bit of a cheat! The thing is, I’ve never once regretted that decision. Oh, there’s been one or two stories where I’ve struggled with the score, but on the whole it’s become second nature. Like a gut instinct, I get to the end of typing up my entry and simply type the score - sometimes without thinking. Occasionally, I’m even surprised by the score I’m giving, but if I think about it, I can pinpoint exactly why awarded the score I have.

Today’s episode has been one of those ones which has left me a little bit stumped as to how I’m supposed to rate it. As the closing credit rolled, I found myself declaring to the empty room that I’d really enjoyed this episode, and that it was probably my favourite episode from the entire Key to Time season so far. To be perfectly honest, I was surprised by that fact, but simply because I can remember so little about this story from my previous viewing. I then told myself that it was very definitely a ‘7/10’, and that’s when my troubles started. I thought about the other episodes this season. Both The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood had received the same score for an episode apiece, but I’d enjoyed this one more than either of those. Ok, then, this must be an ‘8/10’. Except… it isn’t an ‘8/10’. I can’t describe it - I just know the rating in my mind. I’ve spent a couple of hours deliberating about it and I’ve decided that, no, this is a ‘7/10’ episode, but a very high ‘7/10’!

So, with that said, it will come as no surprise to you that I’ve rather enjoyed this one. It already has a different feel to it compared to the first three tales this season, and I really love the way that Romana sets out, declaring that she’ll have found this week’s segment in under an hour. What I liked so much about it was the fact that I actually scoffed out loud at the suggestion. The three segments they’ve retried so far have all come at the end of an adventure lasting the equivalent of four episodes, so there’s no way she’d be able to find it so quickly. But then, almost before I’d finished that train of thought, she’s located the segment, and turned it back into the actual piece of key. Oh. That was easy. Easy… and surprising! Of course it gets taken away almost immediately, but it still came as a rather nice way of shaking up the format.

No discussion of this episode would be complete without mentioning that fan favourite monster: the Taran Wood Beast. The creature is something of a joke within fandom, and perhaps for good reason. Even I have to concede that it’s not the programme’s finest hour as a poor artiste jumps around the woods in an ill-fitting gorilla costume. That said, some of the shots leading up to the reveal of the creature are nicely done, and actually build up some degree of tension! If only I didn’t know what was coming afterwards! Still, the beast only appears for a couple of minutes and then he’s gone, so at least we can be thankful for small mercies!

27 May 2014

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

Day 512: The Stones of Blood, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Nope. I’m still not really any wiser about some of the things which left me confused during yesterday’s episode. Mostly, I think that my confusion stems from the fact that I’m not entirely sure about the sequence of events which took place prior to this story, and led to the Hyperspace ship hunting Cessair of Diplos… but I know enough for the story to hang together for me. Alongside all of that, I’ve enjoyed Tom Baker being given the opportunity to showboat for a while during the ‘trial’ sequences, so I’m willing to overlook a few of the flaws.

What’s struck me the most about The Stones of Blood this time around is how much the story really does seem to change style right down the middle. From the first half of the story, you’d expect to be in for something right out of the Hinchcliffe years, with a remote location, a horror vibe, some ancient evil reawakening… it seems to be a style of Doctor Who which is less present in recent seasons. Then, we shift up to the spaceship, and we’re in an entirely different kin of story. As if to underline this point, they even take one of the cast and paint her silver as if to say ‘we’re in space now!’

I can’t recall noticing such an abrupt shift in style the last time I watched this story, and it certainly didn’t ham my thoughts about the tale. This time around, I’m not sure that I’ve enjoyed it as much as I remembered doing so before (Indeed, while I’ve always cited The Stones of Blood as being my favourite story from the Key to Time season, it’s been pipped to the post this time by The Ribos Operation, which achieved an overall score of 6.5/10, compared to this story’s 6.25/10), but I think I may still be suffering a little from the fatigue which so plagued The Pirate Planet.

Perhaps more importantly, though, this is the 100th Doctor Who story! As ever, my figures are a little out because I did Farewell, Great Macedon way back between Seasons One and Two, and I revisited The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear when they were returned late last year. That said, the number ‘100’ seems at once too many and too few stories. It seems like an age since An Unearthly Child (the programme celebrated its 15th anniversary between this episode and tomorrow’s), and the show has changed an awful lot in that time. Perhaps it’s inevitable that I’d start to be feeling a little bit of fatigue by this time?

It’s also worth noting that we’re almost at the stage where Tom Baker will take over the crown of being the ‘longest serving’ Doctor. It’s true that I’ve felt a little weary about all of the Doctors at some stage (most notably during Seasons Two, Six, and Nine), and so perhaps it was inevitable that I’d start to struggle a bit this far into the Baker era? In the same way that the thought of Season Eleven and breath of fresh air was a real ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ during some of the Pertwee years, I think I’m starting to long for Season Eighteen to arrive.

That said, we’re entering slightly more uncharted territory with the second half of this season. While I’ve seen all of the Key to Time stories before, I can remember next-to-nothing about the three after this one. I’m looking forward to seeing if any of them can shake up my opinions at all. Certainly, with The Ribos Operation already taking the top spot after seven years since my first viewing, anything could happen!

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