Time Lord Tees

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18 September 2013

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

Day 261: Spearhead From Space, Episode One

Dear diary,

Spearhead From Space makes me sick. You know how sometimes you can associate certain episodes of Doctor Who with certain memories? I've got a friend who assumes he must have cut his knee at some point while The Stones of Blood was being shown, because he always associates the Ogri with the smell of disinfectant, for example. Well for me, Spearhead From Space is the Doctor Who story that brings back the strongest of feelings.

The very first time I ever saw this story, I'd just had an operation. Nothing major, but it required me to be dosed up on pretty strong painkillers for a week or two afterwards. I can recall sitting in the hospital just after the operation, and asking mum to pick me up a copy of this story on DVD when she was in the city. At that point, I was still picking and choosing which Who stories to buy, rather than being all caught up and just buying them as they hit the shelves. A few days later I was sat home alone and decided that the time had come to watch the Third Doctor's very first story.

I cued the DVD up in the player, made lunch, and prepared my paracetamol. Thing is, I was pretty stupid when it came to anything medical (I'm not a fan of medication. Even now, I don't have a doctor), so I didn't realise that you weren't supposed to mix co-codemol with milk. For some reason, at the time, I was drinking a lot of milk. Anyway, tablets crushed and mixed into the milk (they were huge round 'discs', so there was no way I'd swallow them normally!), I settled down to watch the story.

And I was sick as a pig for the entire time. Spearhead, being the only story of Doctor Who's 'original' run to be shot entirely on film has a very distinctive look to it. Ever since that day, just the sight of footage from this story makes me feel a little queazy. The second DVD version was a little better because things had been sharpened up, but still there was something about it all that made my stomach twist. Even typing about it is having the same effect!

Then they announced that Spearhead From Space was to be remastered and released on Blu Ray in full HD. To be honest, I had absolutely zero interest in it. A story that made me sick on a format that I didn't own. When things came to the HD revolution, I switched over to iTunes downloads. Often cheaper, pretty immediate when I wanted to pick them up, and the Mac couldn't read blu ray discs anyway. It was the 'Coming Soon…' article about the release in Doctor Who Magazine that swayed me. It spoke of giving the release a very individual look, and went into a bit of detail on the way that they had changed the grading of the piece to look 'more like a one-off filmed drama' with more of a darkened tone. Could it be that this new format might rid me of the 'curse' of Spearhead?

I picked up a cheap external blu-ray drive, bought the blu-ray and it's been sat on the shelf waiting for me top reach this point for about a month. I'm pleased to say that having sat through the first twenty-five minutes, I'm still feeling fine. Hooray! It's meant that a story I've never been able to particularly enjoy suddenly has a shot at being fairly evaluated.

I'll talk more about the quality of the HD remaster in a later episode (but suffice to say, 'oh my God. Stunning'), because today I want to focus on the story itself. It's rather good, isn't it? I've never noticed just how much the 2005 relaunch borrows from this one. The opening shot, in which we pan from a starry sky into the Earth is fab, and I have to say that I think I prefer this one! It just looks more impressive than the CGI version that kick-starts Rose. There's the Autons, of course, but they haven't really arrived on the scene yet. The Doctor spends most of the episode tucked up in bed having promptly collapsed upon leaving the TARDIS, just as David Tennant does in The Christmas Invasion. We've even got a familiar face in the form of Lethbridge-Stewart on hand to help the change-over.

It's fair enough that you'd use this story as a template when reintroducing the series after a lengthy hiatus. At the time, Spearhead followed the longest gap in broadcast that Doctor Who had ever experienced. It returned in the first week of the 1970s with a brand new Doctor, a brand new assistant, and in colour! Forget replacing the original Doctor with Patrick Troughton - there you've got Ben, Polly, and the Daleks to tide you over. Forget about Tom Baker leaving the role after a record run. Even forget the sweet (effete!) Fifth Doctor giving way to one who strangles his companion! This is the biggest shake up that the programme experiences in the 'classic era.

I've made no secret of the fact that I've never been all that fond of Jon Pertwee's incarnation of the Doctor, but he's actually off to a pretty good start here. Despite spending much of the episode drifting in and out of consciousness, the times he spends awake are spot on, and I love the way he draws out his simple line: 'shoooeeeesssss…'. His conversation with the Brigadier, in which he reacts to his new appearance for the very first time is also great fun. When I think of the Doctor's checking out their new appearances, I often go right to either of the Bakers or Davison looking into the mirror, but this one is just as brilliant, and quite clearly the template for all those to follow.

We're off to a good start, and I'm hoping that this new release will help me to appreciate the story all the more. I'd desperately love to start this new era on a real high…

17 September 2013

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

Day 260 Extra: The Second Doctor Overview

Dear diary,

I can't begin to tell you how happy I am. Way back at the end of last year, when I was first starting to get ready for The 50 Year Diary, I was most looking forward to the Patrick Troughton years.

He'd always been my favourite Doctor, based on the surviving stories of his that I'd seen, and I was really looking forward to actually making my way through all he had to offer. I'd dabbled with the missing episodes from time to time, watching the odd recon if it could hold my attention, or listening to a soundtrack here or there, but now I'd have a reason to actually stick with it, and really enjoy it.

But then I started to worry. The further I got into the William Hartnell years, the more I found myself enjoying him as the Doctor. Watching the programme at the rate of one episode a day way working perfectly for one of my main aims - I was forming an actual bond with the older characters. It's tricky to do when you can dip in and out of the stories on DVD whenever you like and in any old order. I wanted to really grow attached to them in the same way you do when a new series airs.

So as we came to the tail-end of Season Three and things started to fall into place for Troughton's arrival, I started to panic. What if, having grown so used to Hartnell, I'd find I didn't really care all that much for a silly new Doctor? Could my love for his Second incarnation be completely destroyed by seeing them all in this way? Even more crucially, would my favourite story of all time - The Tomb of the Cybermen - suddenly seem rubbish compared to all the other stories I'd found myself really enjoying?

Well no. Of course not. It seems obvious from here, having just finished Episode Ten of The War Games, that I love Patrick Troughton because he's a genuinely brilliant Doctor. There's a reason that every Doctor since has fallen in love with him and borrowed a little bit of his performance. And it didn't matter if I'd found myself really enjoying the likes of The War Machines, or The Dalek Invasion of Earth, because The Tomb of the Cybermen is still fantastic anyway.

What really surprised me is just how much I enjoyed Troughton's first season. Because so much of it is missing from the archives, stories from Season Four are often forgotten. Everyone thinks of the three key stories (The Tenth Planet, The Power of the Daleks, and The Evil of the Daleks) and then forgets all the adventures with the Macra, the Cybermen on the Moon, or the Fish People. I'm just as guilty of it - I'd never really payed the season that much attention.

It's a crying shame that we can't see more of it, because there's a lot to love in there, and I think these stories would be held in higher regard if we were able to stick the DVDs in as simply as we can many other stories (though this is becoming closer to a reality even as I type, with three of the stories lined up for release in the near future).

Season Five, on the other hand, which I was expecting to really love, fell a little bit flat for me. Individually, several episodes rated very well, but by the end of the run I was really starting to flag. Poor Fury From the Deep is probably deserving of a much better score than I've given it, but I was simply washed out by that whole format by the time it rolled around. It's definitely high on my list for a rematch once the marathon is over. Surprisingly, and likely due to the fact that I loved both Tomb and The Web of Fear so much, this season currently holds the highest average rating - 7.2.

And then we come to Season Six. Being mostly complete in the archive, it's the one that everyone hails as the best of Troughton's three years, and it's the stories from this period that helped me to first fall in love with the Second Doctor. While I've liked many bits of it, the overall score has been brought down a little by my utter contempt for The Dominators (and I promise that I'll stop banging on about it now that I'm done with the 1960s) and my disappointment during The Space Pirates.

As a whole, the era comes in with a very respectable rating of 6.8, putting it a little ahead of the First Doctor. Troughton's stories have currently taken the top four spots on my ratings table of all the stories so far, but he's also gathered a few at the other end of the scoreboard, filling the bottom three spaces, too.

And now it's onto the 1970s. I've made no secret as I've gone along that the next decade (and the Third Doctor's era in particular) has never been a favourite of mine, but I'm actually really excited to be moving on. I'm ready for the programme to do something different, and the success of stories like The Web of Fear and The Invasion have actually geared me up ready for the next massive change.

Whereas with The Tenth Planet, it felt right to move straight onto the next episode the following day, here it feels like there should be a bit more of a gap. Maybe it's because it's such a clean break, with the departure of the Doctor, both his companions, and the programme moving into the new decade with the introduction of colour to the adventures? That's not how the marathon works, though, so it's right on to Spearhead From Space in the morning, and (perhaps surprisingly) I can't wait!

17 September 2013

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

Day 260: The War Games, Episode Ten

Dear diary,

'They'll forget me, won't they?' the Doctor asks solemnly, as he watches Jamie and Zoe led away and sent back to their rightful places in time and space. For me, the departures here pack more weight than just about any other that the series has ever witnessed. Much of this episode is a masterclass in building towards this, and the star of the show, put simply, is Patrick Troughton.

He's well aware that it's futile to try and evade the Time Lords. He knows that his companions have had their day and that their memories will be wiped. Their last desperate attempt to make a break for the TARDIS is simply the Doctor's way of getting his friends to the right place, so that they can be sent away with the minimum amount of fuss. It's evident from the simple way that Troughton plays the scene, with a sense of childish excitement, over-the-top in the way that people always think his Doctor is. It's patently obvious that he's well aware of their fate, and if anything he seems to be surprised that they're allowed to remember at least one adventure.

What surprised me is how the departures were followed up. I've seen the story before, so I knew that we got little scenes showing Jamie and Zoe’s returns to their own times but having now seen it in context - following on from every other episode made before it, they pack an even greater punch. And look! There's Clare Jenkins returning as Tanya to greet Zoe on her return to the Wheel! You'd almost expect something like that in the modern series, but in 1969? Tanya appeared for six episodes a whole year ago, but they've brought her back and recreated a part of the Wheel set, just to see Zoe off. Added to that, you've got that final line of hers - 'I thought I'd forgotten something important... but it's nothing.'

That, right there, is the saddest line in the history of Doctor Who. Zoe has learned so much, and evolved as a character hugely since she first came aboard the TARDIS. She's been through all those wonderful adventures (and The Dominators) but now she'll never be able to remember them. Worse than that - they're brushed off as not being important. The thing that gets me is that Jamie's return to Scotland isn't half as emotional. They play that as dropping him back off and watching him get right back into trouble again. Typical Jamie!

The downside to this decision is that Jamie's departure doesn't hit me half as hard as Zoe's does, even though he's been a part of my everyday life since way back at the end of May. It's fair to say that I'd started to go off him by the middle of the Sixth Season (it's the same trouble I had with Ian and Barbara when they started to out-stay their welcome, too), but I'd grown fond of him again by the time he's led away in today's episode. I don't feel the same sadness to see him go which is a real shame when his departure should really get to me.

Elsewhere, we get to enjoy something of a celebration of Doctor Who's last few years, with the Doctor projecting some mental images of his most fearsome foes (though he starts with the Quarks? Really?), we get plenty of messing around with the TARDIS as they try to escape the Time Lords, and we even get to see some footage from The Web of Fear and Fury From the Deep to illustrate their landings. It's a great way to tie up the era, and say goodbye to this phase of the programme.

I'm also really pleased to see just how effective the Time Lords themselves are in this episode. Over the years, they've become somewhat diluted to the point that they're almost a bit of a joke in the 1980s, but here they're absolutely terrifying. All that build up in the last episode was entirely justified by their appearance today - you'd really not want to run into this lot on a bad day. I remember someone once commenting that the Time Lords deserved to lose in the Time War because they were so horrible - the Daleks would never be as harsh as to wipe Jamie and Zoe's memories!

Their most effective moment comes during the Trial of the War Lord, in which his cool, calm, and collected exterior (which reminds me more and more of Steve Jobs with each passing episode) is completely shattered simply by having them stare at him. It's clear that they're performing some kind of mental torture on the man in order to make his speak, but watching this figure recoil in horror and scream his head off (and perhaps more significantly, watching his glasses - the absolute icon of his image - fall from his face throughout this moment) is extremely powerful.

As an episode, it's not really as good as the last few that we've watched. There's plenty of lovely moments, and it's a brilliant way to end the era (and, indeed, the decade), but it's mostly tying up the loose ends from the previous nine weeks. I'd completely forgotten that the War Lord had his guards turn up to make an escape attempt at one point, and recalled most of the episode being given over to the trial of the Doctor. Still, it's a great way to end the story, and entirely worth the long wait. 

And that's it! The last episode of monochrome Doctor Who. I can't really describe how massive it feels to be standing at this side of the 1960s, and realising that I've experienced every episode along the way.

There have been plenty of ups and downs, but when you look back at these first six seasons as the bedrock, there's no surprise that this is a programme still going from strength to strength all this time later. Inventive, funny, scary, absolutely bonkers, but absolutely brilliant. And now it's all change. From tomorrow, I'll be venturing into the 1970s, and one of my least favourite periods of the programme. I'm hoping that watching through in order will help to overturn my views on the era in the same way that it has for this decade (for better or worse!), but I think it's a whole new challenge.

Frankly, I can't wait.

16 September 2013

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

Day 259: The War Games, Episode Nine

Dear diary,

Had it been invented by this time, the end of this episode would have been the TARDIS' Cloister Bell sounding, and the Doctor's hand slid slowly away from the lock. As is becoming common for this story, we've got another one of those cliffhangers that joins the club of 'the best ever'. It's a stunning example of how to do it today, and I think this must be the most powerful cliffhanger of the entire black and white era. Forget the mysterious shadow on the sand outside the police box, the sink plunger creeping into view, or even the Doctor's seeming change of sides in the last episode - this is an absolute blinder.

We've been drip-fed hints about the Time Lords more and more as this story has progressed, but today's episode is all leading up to these final few moments. The War Chief teases the Doctor that calling them will mean the end for both of them, but you can really feel his fear when he realises that the Doctor really is going to go through with it. Everything about them is built up to be mysterious and sinister, right down to the Doctor going into a kind of trance and mentally building a box as a means to contact them. The War Lord hammers it home as he quips that the Doctor will wish he were dead rather than meet them, and then turns fearful himself as an ominous noise grows louder and he simply exclaims that they're coming...

Perhaps the thing that sells the threat more than any other, though, is how quickly and desperately the Doctor is willing to abandon Jamie and Zoe just to get away from the Central Zone in time and save his own skin. We've not seen a selfish side to the Doctor like this since Season One, and it really hits home. It's the way that he simply tells them that they'll be sent home, and he's sorry but he has to go... after everything they've been through together (especially Jamie!), that hurts. It's stunning, and really makes the stakes seem higher than ever before.

It helps that we don't actually see the Time Lords at all in this episode. I could of course remember this cliffhanger (even if the rest of the episode was practically like new to me!), but I had a vague image of the final shot being a trio of Time Lords staring down at the Doctor and his friends. I'm glad that was a false memory, because it's so much more effective to be left with that huge sense of anticipation. After all that build up, all that teasing, all that threat... we have to wait a whole week to find out what they're really like. Well, I don't, thankfully. I'll be tuning in tomorrow. With a cliffhanger this good, I'm really thankful to be pacing myself like this - I'm desperate to go on and watch the last 25 minutes, but I like that I have to wait. Tomorrow is going to go slooow...

Since they depart in this episode, I want to take a moment and sing the praises of two members of the guest cast. David Savile as Lieutenant Carstairs has been fantastic throughout, and I've really enjoyed him being a part of the team. It does somewhat beg the question though as to why he isn't counted as a companion when people do count Sara Kingdom. I decided, having watched The Daleks' Master Plan that she belonged on the official role call, and I'm wondering if I might add Carstairs to my list, too. True, he doesn't meet any of the traditional criteria, but he does travel in a TARDIS of sorts, and visits several time periods with the Doctor (technically). Aside from all that, he's bloody brilliant, so there.

Edward Brayshaw also turns in a brilliant performance as the War Chief, and it's sad to think that he won't be turning up in any other stories. I don't recall having a strong opinion on his either way when he was in The Reign of Terror, but here he's one of the main players across the story, and he's impressed me right from the get-go. I can't let the character die without mentioning the often-debated idea that the War Chief could be an early incarnation of the Master. Personally, I'm not sure if I like the idea, but I can see why it might be appealing. For now, I'm thinking that he probably isn't, but I might review that decision once the character starts to turn up more regularly from Season Eight. If anything, the War Chief has the better-crafted beard, so that's something, I guess!

I also need to mention James Bree as the Security Officer (I think his role might have actually been the 'Security Chief', putting him on an equal footing with his enemy, but I've called him this all along, so it's a little late to back out now...). Again, he's been on fine form throughout, and I've enjoyed the almost childish rivalry between him and the War Chief. I think it's a triumph of both performances that you cheer for both of them at some point in today's episode. When the Security Officer played the recording out and gets the proof he's so desperately wanted, we're really pleased to see him finally take the upper hand. But then when we watch him gunned down by his mortal foe, I was glad to see him get his just desserts! Maybe I'm just trying to side with the winning team?

Right then. Tomorrow's the big one. It sounds silly when you consider that this is only a TV programme (and one made almost half a century ago at that!) but I've genuinely got butterflies in my stomach. We're about to hit perhaps the biggest change that the programme ever sees, and tomorrow is that final episode of normality before everything changes. It feels like a really big deal, and The War Games has done all it can to ramp up that sense of occasion with every passing episode. I'm a huge mixture of excited and terrified to be reaching the end of the 1960s, but if anything, it's been one hell of a journey to get to this point...

15 September 2013

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

Day 258: The War Games, Episode Eight

Dear diary,

...Bloody hell. That could possibly be one of the best episodes that we've ever had. I'd started to worry that the story was beginning to feel a little bit padded out, and the fact that the Doctor had cooked up a plan to save the day in Episode Seven (of ten) left me a bit concerned about what was left to come. While parts of today's episode could be described as padding (and there's a whole host of comedy accents back again, including a Mexican who ends each line with 'eh?'. It's almost as though they're celebrating every little bit of the Troughton era all in one!), it really is a perfectly crafted 25- minutes.

We get to see a bit more of the various War Zones (though they all seem to look suspiciously like other war zones...) as the Resistance begin their coordinated attack, and it works really well. It's strange how seeing them take out a couple of communication units, coupled with an increasing rate of telephone calls and little flags on a map can make things seem so large-scale, but it does! It perhaps helps that when they destroy these things, they do it with a real vigour. The smashing up of the Roman Zone's screen puts the prop well beyond repair, while the explosion in the Crimean Zone is one of the programme's best.

We only see seven or eight members of the Resistance in this episode, but somehow it feels like we've got a whole army building up, ready to launch the attack. The one thing that does seem to be a bit of a shame is the lack of Lady Jennifer. She departed a few episodes ago to look after some wounded soldiers, and I keep waiting for her to return to the story, but it's looking increasingly as though it's not going to happen. Excitedly, I seem to have forgotten all of this from my previous viewing, so I really have no idea of where things are headed from here.

I'm surprised that I can't remember very much about any of this stage in the story because the cliffhanger at the end has to be the very best we've ever had. I've already stated my love for the cliffhangers in this story on more than one occasion, but this one in particular is stunning. We know that the Doctor is being put to the test, and that he's being forced to bring the leaders of the Resistance to the Central Zone, but I was fully expecting him to have some kind of get-out plan. As it is, the episode ends with that wonderful shout; 'Stand still! Don't move! You are completely surrounded!'

You could almost be forgiven for thinking that the Doctor really has gone over to the other side. Everything here is played as though the War Chief is the first Time Lord that the Doctor's encountered since leaving his home world, and you could really believe that he's managed to tempt him into being a part of the plans. The whole scene in which they converse, each stood on opposite sides of the War Table (for want of a better term), is flawless - it's almost as though all the battles and planning and stuff is there to keep Zoe and Jamie entertained while the Doctor goes off to have a 'grown up' talk in the other room.

He was at his best earlier in the story when commandeering the use of a military transport and bursting his way into the prison, but here he's on the absolute top of his game once more, in a completely different way. We get confirmation that the Security Officer's suspicions have been right all along and that the Doctor is one of these mysterious 'Time Lord' characters, and Troughton plays the scene with a quiet reserve. The actual revelation is almost brushed under the carpet - simply slipped into the conversation along with so many other little things that have become such an important part of Doctor Who's mythology over the years (is this the first time that they explicitly state that the Doctor stole the TARDIS? I've just watched through all of the 1960s stories in order, but it's such an obvious part of the narrative to me in 2013 that I honestly couldn't tell you wether it's been brought up or not at this stage).

'I had every right to leave,' the Doctor points out, and adds that he had his own reasons for doing so. People talk a lot these days about 'story arcs' and playing a long game with plot threads, but this is one that's been running for six whole years, dating right back to the very first episode in which the Doctor tells Ian and Barbara that he and Susan are cut off from their own people. We get some more references to it around Season Three in the Doctor's beautiful speech when Steven storms out, but it's largely been in the background since William Hartnell left. We even get the first hint that the Doctor may try to contact the Time Lords and alert them to what's happening here, but we're told that he won't because he risks giving himself away, too.

And yet it's funny to think that all these revelations - things which will go on to shape the series over the next forty-something years - came in the lowest rated episode of the 1960s! Worse that that, this will remain the lowest-rated episode of Doctor Who as a whole until Battlefield Part One takes the crown twenty years later! It's bizarre, but almost fitting considering the way that the revelations are treated so casually in the story that they should enter the programme in such an understated way.

14 September 2013

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

Day 257: The War Games, Episode Seven

Dear diary,

I like that we finally get the introduction of the War Lord this late in to the story. It almost feels like a shot in the arm when things were in danger of becoming a little stale. Philip Madoc turns in a fantastic performance here, and I'd completely forgotten that we last saw him only a few weeks ago in The Krotons. Maybe it’s the addition of a beard? Either that or most characters are just blurring into one as I watch more and more Doctor Who (is it telling that I can’t remember his name from that story?).

The downside to the addition of this character – the brains of the operation as it were – is that it really serves to highlight just how incompetent the War Chief and the Security Officer are. We’ve had several episodes in which the Doctor and his companions are able to run around, continually managing to overcome any attempt to suppress them, but seeing the War Lord’s reaction to the news really compounds the mountain of errors that have been occurring in his absence.

I think the best moment has to be the argument between the Chief and the Officer, as they blame each other for each successive problem, only for the War Lord to cut in an announce that if they can’t get along, they’ll simply be replaced. There’s something cool, calm and collected about him, and when he does lose it and shout at them it really cuts through.

Although I’ve been enjoying the last few episodes, it feels like today we’re finally starting to move towards some kind of conclusion. I’ve commented all along that the Doctor seems to know that this is too big for him to manage, but even here, just three episodes from the end of the1960s, there’s no indication of just how big the shake up to the programme is going to be. If anything, it looks like the Doctor has it all sussed out. Until the last couple of minutes, when the guards turn up and take him away, he’s completely in control of the situation. They’ve gotten together a fair number of the resistance group, the chateau has been secured in its own separate time zone so they can’t be attacked by the various armies gathering outside, and they’ve got the deprocessing machine, ready to convert any soldier from outside. Even on top of that, the Doctor is pretty sure that he can replicate the technology given enough time (how? It’s not like he can easily pick up parts from the 1917 zone!), so that it can convert whole groups of soldiers at a time.

It seems as if we’ve got our solution all worked out and ready to go. I can’t really remember what happens from here (until the cliffhanger to Episode Nine), so I’m hoping it’s suitably grand enough to justify the Doctor having to go all the way and call in the Time Lords for help.

Something I do have to mention today is the name of the alien’s time machines. All the way through these entries for The War Games, I’ve been referring to it simply as a ‘TARDIS’, but of course I know that’s not what they call it. ‘SIDRAT’ has always been the term used to describe them (see what they did there?), but the only mention of the name on screen is in this episode in which it’s pronounced ‘side-rat’. I have to say that despite that being their ‘official’ name, I’m just not that fond of it. I’m pretty sure that one of the novels even gives the description of what ‘SIDRAT’ stands for, but it just doesn’t work for me.

13 September 2013

Silva Screen Records have sent DWO the cover and full tracklisting for Doctor Who: The Snowmen / The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe Original Television Soundtrack.

Product Synopsis:

At one time Christmas Day on the BBC meant The Morecambe & Wise Show for families to gather around the TV but in the modern era that mantle has now been taken by the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

This release brings together the music of the last two Christmas specials broadcast on Christmas Day 2011 and 2012 and watched by a joint audience of close to 20m. This ninth release in the series brings the full canon of Murray Gold's prolific output up to date, eight years of elaborately created scores for one of the BBC's most popular shows worldwide.

The booklet for this release is reverse printed to allow the purchaser to display either of two covers for both soundtracks.


1) Geronimo
2) Dressed In a Hurry
3) Bumps
4) Ditched At Sea
5) Madge’s Theme
6) Armchair Waltz
7) I Know
8) Quite a Tree
9) Into the Present
10) Baubles
11) The King
12) The Queen
13) Interrogation
14) Lifeboat
15) You’re Fired
16) Flying Home for Christmas
17) Safe Landing
18) Never Alone At Christmas
19) Friendship
20) A Voice In the Snow
21) What’s Wrong With Silly
22) Psychotic Potato Dwarf
23) Remember the Worm
24) Clara Who?
25) Clara In the Tardis
26) Governess Clara
27) Hello Mates
28) One Word
29) Sherlock Who?
30) Antifreeze
31) Clara Lives
32) Whose Enigma

+  The Snowmen / The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe OST is released on 21st October 2013, priced £9.99.

[Source: Silva Screen Records]


13 September 2013

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

Dear diary,

It's strange how my priorities have shifted in the last six days. During Episode One, I was really glad to be seeing something akin to an old-style 'historical' story, with the minimum amount of science fiction involved. As the story has gone on, though, I've found myself enjoying the sci-fi more and more, and now I'm more interested in what's going on in the Central Zone than I am with any of the stuff in the Civil War area.

It's great to see the Doctor using the Sonic Screwdriver again here, and for an application other than unscrewing things. It's interesting to note that he struggles with another method of getting the wall panel removed to begin with (he talks of reversing the magnetic forcefield, but stops short of mentioning any neutron flows...), and it's actually Zoe who suggests that the Sonic Screwdriver might be of use here. Maybe my assumptions all along that the Doctor simply hasn't developed the device to the point that it can fulfil the magic-wand like qualities it's capable of these days are completely wrong? Could it be that he actually designed it simply to remove screws (that's what it's been used for in 50% of its appearances so far!) and it's not until now that he starts to think there might be other applications for it? I think it was the Doctor who thought to cut through the wall with it in The Dominators, so maybe it's a combination of the two? It's not quite there yet in terms of the 'software', for want of a better word, so he doesn't immediately think to use it when a situation arises?

Forget all that, though, because today's episode is home to a far more important moment - it's the first mention we've had in the series of 'Time Lords'. It's mentioned in passing, just as a single line in the middle of a greater conversation about the War Chief. It's chucked in as part of a reference to the fact that he's an alien to these people as much as he is to everyone else, and they're described as his people. There's absolutely no indication that there's anything important about the line, and that makes this one of the rare times that I'm glad to have former knowledge about the programme.

Usually, I'm complaining that knowing all about this stuff means that I don't get to experience events with the sense of excitement a new viewer might. Here, knowing how significant that line is, I can sit back and enjoy being ahead of the game, watching as they start to draw all the threads together, leading to the Doctor's capture at the end of the story. Like the references earlier on to the Doctor hoping his suspicions about what's going on could be wrong, it's great to know what's just coming up on the horizon. 

I'm also pleased to see Zoe being sent off back to one of the war zones, while the Doctor remains behind with Jamie. It's great to have him spending some quality time with both of his companions before they get separated, and having had several episodes in which he gets to interact with Zoe's superior logic, we end today with Troughton and Hines gurning as the ceiling presses down on them. It's like they're letting us enjoy the pairings one final time before they're so cruelly snatched away from us...

12 September 2013

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

Day 255: The War Games, Episode Five

Dear diary,

When the Doctor and Zoe first stepped out of the ‘TARDIS’ and into the Central Control Zone, I was a bit... surprised by the decor. Obviously, I’ve seen The War Games before, so I know what it looks like once they’re out of the various wars, but a bit of time away from the story really hammers the design in. It’s almost like the story is screaming at you: ‘This is the last Doctor Who of the 1960s!’

And yet, I really like it! The room they take Zoe to for interrogation today, with it’s huge black-and-white circle pattern on the wall, looks really striking, and in hindsight, they could almost be making the most of the departure from the monochrome era. The rest of the Central Zone sets are pretty unique as well, and I think a particular favourite has to be the way that the corridors are arranged. The odd banks of shaped 'partitions' create a pretty interesting effect, and somehow they're making it genuinely feel as though we're moving down different corridors, even though it's clear that they're simply changing the position of the camera. I think it's simply that it's not a long, thin set, but a much wider one. The use of the ramp down to where their time machines arrive helps with this sense of scale, too, and creates more opportunities for dramatic shots. Adding the height to the sets in this way has become more and more common over the last few seasons, but the stories from The Seeds of Death on have made it especially clear, and it really does add something.

The style used for the Central Zone extends out across all the other areas of design, too. I’m a big fan of the futuristic guns (the way the different squares flash as the weapon fires kept me amused. I've got a simple mind at times), though the guard's uniforms are perhaps less successful... I'm not all that keen on the way that the controls for their technology work either. While it's a good idea in principal, it does somewhat give the effect of those felt art sets you can pick up in a pound shop...

It’s brilliant that we’ve got David Maloney back for this one, too, since he did such a great job with The Krotons. It’s like with the more recent series, when the director who impresses the production team the most during the regular run gets invited back to do the special Christmas episode. Much of this particular episode has been pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, direction-wise, but there's been some lovely visual flourishes throughout the story so far.

For me, the highlight of today's episode has probably got to be the Doctor himself. Troughton really is on fine form for his last story, and they're showing off as many sides to this incarnation as possible before we see him bow out for good. Both yesterday and today we're being shown the fiercely intelligent side to him, as he tricks his way into finding the information that he requires. Yesterday he managed to get a scientist to give him all the information needed to remove the 'programming' from a soldier's mind, and today he manages to get the same scientist - who even points out that there's a warrant out for the Doctor's arrest! - to help get Carstairs back to normal.

Aside from that, we've got Zoe's interrogation scene. It's a wonderfully written piece, and I love the way Padbury plays her responses to the questions, with a sense of real desperation that she just doesn't know the answers. In some ways, it's a shame that we don't get a proper date of birth pinned down for her, aside from the repeated statement that she was born 'in the 21st century' and that she comes from the 21st century (which, if nothing else, is another nail in the coffin for the idea that The Wheel in Space takes place in the year 2000).

I'm a little sorry that I've already mentioned just how great the cliffhangers are in this story, though, because today's provides another real blow - Jamie and the rebels emerge from the time machine and are instantly gunned down! They're really not giving the companions an easy ride on their way out...

11 September 2013
a Dear diary,

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

Day 254: The War Games, Episode Four

Dear diary,

In June 1966, Peter Cushing went into a radio studio to record a 23- minute pilot for a potential Doctor Who radio series. This first episode - Journey into Time - serves as a brief introduction to the series as a whole, featuring a loose retelling of An Unearthly Child Episode One, complete with Susan baffling her teachers at school. The story differs after that and it's a boy from Susan's school who ends up stumbling into the TARDIS and being whisked off into time and space. The episode is written by Malcolm Hulke, one of his earliest contributions to the franchise, and ends with the Doctor, Susan, and Mike finding themselves caught in the American Revolution, surrounded at gunpoint by a group of soldiers.

It's not a million miles away from the American civil war that Jamie and Lady Jennifer have spent today's episode in, and the cliffhanger could be right out of The War Games, too. I'm surprised in some ways that we've never had this kind of setting in the series before now - it seems like such an obvious period of history to explore, and if The Space Pirates taught us anything, it's that the production team aren't afraid of filling six episodes with 'American' accents.

Sadly, Jamie and Lady Jennifer are relegated today into the role of filling out the episode. Their entire twenty-five minutes is spent being captured by and then escaping from different groups of soldiers. First they're tied up by the North, and set free by the South. Then the German commander turns up and uses his hypnotising monocle (that's not a sentence you often type) to have them tied back up again. A resistance fighter then sets them free, before they're rounded back up and brought back to the barn again. They just can't catch a break!

It could dent the quality of the episode that it's been reduced to such a runaround, but thankfully the Doctor and Zoe are given a far more interesting storyline to follow as they make their way into the headquarters of the war zone operation. All the stuff aboard the 'TARDIS' (look, I know it's not been identified as actually being one on screen, only being like one, but it's easier to keep typing than 'bigger-on-the-inside-space-and-time-machine') is fantastic, and the idea of seeing all the different soldiers lined up in their different compartments, waiting to be deployed, is a great concept. I'd love to see what a modern budget could do with this - a whole army waiting to be taken to the front line. I'm also glad that the Romans here make an effort to go round the back of the set and make multiple passes across the screen. At the end of yesterday's episode, when the American troops were deployed, Zoe commented on there being 'so many' of them, when only about five had actually turned up.

The real meat of the episode comes in the form of Lieutenant Carstairs' 'reprocessing'. I've never noticed it before now, but it's almost like a preview of what's going to be happening to Jamie and Zoe at the end of the story - he recognises the Doctor in the crowd, and then his mind is wiped leaving him with only memories of their earliest encounters, when he still believes the Doctor and Zoe to be German spies. I'm so glad that I've spotted it on this occasion, as it feels almost like the episode is foreshadowing future events, and really hammers home the fact that we're running out of time for this TARDIS team.

David Savile turns in a simply flawless performance as Carstairs in this episode, and really makes it sinister when he 'turns' on his friends. 'These are my brother officers,' he confirms, looking around the room of students, before fixing his gaze squarely on our heroes; 'Except those two people! They're German spies!' Even better is his simple exchange with Zoe during the cliffhanger moments - 'you're a German spy. It's my duty to shoot you.'

More and more, there's suggestions building that the Doctor really is out of his depth this time. Today's addition to that plot line is his response to Zoe's question as to who else could have a TARDIS-like machine, and he comments that there is an answer to that, but that he really hopes it's not the one he's thinking of. It's no wonder I'd always thought of this story as being some epic of the 1960s - it's fantastic, and treating itself as such...

Don't forget to 'like' the 50 Year Diary Facebook page - I'll be asking about your favourite Troughton stories this time next week!

11 September 2013

Following todays (official) announcement of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary programming schedule, DWO have put together an easy to use guide to the programmes and channels that will be providing Doctor Who content.

Channel Programme Name Description Date / Dur.
 7.14: The Day Of The Doctor  TV Episode. 23/11
   The Culture Show A look at the cultural significance of Who. TBC
   An Adventure In Space And Time Mark Gatiss' drama on the genesis of Doctor Who. TBC
  The Science Of Doctor Who  Professor Brian Cox looks at the Science behind Who. TBC
Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide A guide to all things Who.


[Untitled] A further "exciting" commission.


An Unearthly Child TV Episode
(restored format)


Blue Peter Two Live Blue Peter Doctor Who Specials.


12 Again Doctor Who stars share their childhood memories.


TROCK Documentary on TROCK (Time Lord Rock).


Who Is The Doctor? Documentary with interviews and archive material.


The Blaggers Guide To Doctor Who David Quantick gathers facts to Blag being a Who fan.


The Graham Norton Show
Doctor Who Special 
3-Hour show celebrating Doctor Who.

From 10am

Who Made Who? Documentary on the world that inspired Who.


**This guide will be updated over the coming weeks to reflect confirmations in airdates and airtimes.

[Sources: BBC Press Office, DWO]

11 September 2013

BBC Pictures have sent DWO the promo posters for the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day Of The Doctor

The images were designed by Lee Binding, who was resposible for the other Series 7 poster art, as well as some of the recent Doctor Who DVD covers. 

The posters (pictured-right) show The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and The 10th Doctor (David Tennant), with John Hurt's Doctor walking out of the carnage of The Time War (presumably). The words 'Bad Wolf' can be seen on brickwork, as well as Daleks and objects with Gallifreyan text.

DWO can also bring you clean versions of the posters (without text) below:

Enlarge Image Enlarge Image    

+  Day Of The Doctor will simulcast worldwide on 23rd November 2013, Time TBC

[Source: BBC Pictures]

10 September 2013
a Dear diary,

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

Day 253: The War Games, Episode Three

All the cliffhangers in this one are really good, aren’t they? The Doctor tied up before a firing squad as the first shot sounds. The ambulance emerging from the fog only for our heroes to be chased down by a group of angry Romans (they were probably still annoyed at the Doctor for burning down their city). Now we can add the Doctor and Zoe being swept off by a mysterious TARDIS-like machine, leaving Jamie and Lady Jennifer behind in the American Civil War.

If anything, I’d say that today’s closing moments need another couple of seconds before they cut, as it’s a little abrupt here, but the impact is still in tact. It’s another one of those times that I’m glad I’ve not seen this story in such a long time, because while I can recall the major plot revelations, I can’t remember each story beat along the way. I’d forgotten completely that the Doctor and Zoe were taken away in the ‘TARDIS’, so it came as a great surprise.

The thing that I’m enjoying the most at the moment is the very real sense that the Doctor is already a little out of his depth here. He’s soldiering on anyway and just carrying on with things, trying to investigate exactly what’s happening, but he doesn’t really have a clue. When the ‘TARDIS’ arrives in the barn, he looks so confused by what’s happening that it really sells the moment to me.

I’m also finding myself really dawn to Lady Jennifer and Lieutenant Carstairs. It really shouldn’t work giving the Doctor – in effect – four companions for his final story, but they’re such well crafted characters that you can’t help but fall for them instantly. All the business with Carstairs trying to distract another soldier while the Doctor blows up a safe is fab (and it gives a chance for Troughton and Hines to light up the screen again, too), and his sacrifice to help the others get away is actually quite moving.

The story is evolving at a nice pace, too. We’re barely a third of the way through, and yet nothing is feeling too stretched out at this stage. Episode One plays out as pretty much a standard historical, but with the addition of a mysterious hidden video screen, and with some handy hypnotic glasses. There’s something of a subplot about people forgetting chunks of time, and the court marshal is a bit suspect, but there’s nothing all that out there.

The second episode builds on the elements from the first and then adds in a redcoat out of his time, and then hits you with the Romans at the end. Today, we’re introduced to the map of all the war zones (though conveniently, they only draw attention to the wars that we’ve seen and the American zone that we’re about to visit) and then the Central Zone, policed by a sinister man answering to the ominous ‘War Lord’. In some stories, taking this long to reveal all these elements would be something of a slog, but everything else in The War Games is of such a good standard that I’m really enjoying the pace. If anything, I’m slightly sad to be moving away from the First World War setting – it’s so well realised and this TARDIS team suit it to a tee.

I do need to give a slight cheer for the return of the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, used here again to undo a screw. It’s telling that the device isn’t mentioned when he’s trying to break into a safe (though Jamie does make a joke about a tuning fork, referring back to The Space Pirates, which was a lovely touch), so it really isn’t built for breaking locks at this stage. If anything, it’s now making The Dominators look like the odd one out in terms of the Sonic’s uses, but I’m glad we’ve had one last appearance from it for the Second Doctor. 
10 September 2013

The title of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special has now been confirmed by the BBC as 'The Day Of The Doctor'.

We also have confirmation of the running time which will be 75 minutes approximately, as well as some of the other planned programming to surround the anniversary. 

Professor Brian Cox will be presenting a lecture on BBC Two on the science behind the hit show. This will be in addition to the drama 'An Adventure In Space and Time', written by Mark GatissThe one-off programme stars David Bradley, of the Harry Potter films, as William Hartnell.

BBC Four will introduce new audiences to Hartnell, with a re-run of the first ever story. The four episodes are being shown in a restored format, not previously broadcast in the UK.

BBC Two's flagship arts programme The Culture Show is to present Me, You and Doctor Who, with lifelong fan Matthew Sweet exploring the cultural significance of the BBC's longest running TV drama.

A 90-minute documentary on BBC Radio 2 will ask "Who Is The Doctor?" - using newly-recorded interviews and exclusive archive material to find an answer - while BBC Three will be home to several commissions.

Danny Cohen, Director BBC Television said:

"It's an astonishing achievement for a drama to reach its 50th anniversary. I'd like to thank every person - on both sides of the camera - who has been involved with its creative journey over so many years."

Smith has already started filming his final scenes as the Doctor, which are due to air in this year's Christmas episode. His replacement, Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, was announced in August.

Steven Moffat, lead writer and executive producer on Doctor Who said:

"50 years has turned Doctor Who from a television show into a cultural landmark. Personally I can't wait to see what it becomes after a hundred."

[Sources: BBC News]

10 September 2013

Well, of course he didn't! :) Doctor Who is a fictional (albeit awesome) television show - however, a recent discovery of a previously lost Van Gogh painting does provide a striking image of what looks like the TARDIS!

The Van Gogh Museum identified a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh painting (pictured-right) that spent years in a Norwegian attic because it was thought not to be authentic. It is the first full-size canvas by the Dutch master discovered since 1928.

"Sunset at Montmajour" depicts a dry landscape of oak trees, bushes and sky, painted with Van Gogh's familiar thick brush strokes. It can be dated to the exact day it was painted because Vincent described it in a letter to his brother, Theo, and said he painted it the previous day - 4th July 1888. He said the painting was done "on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow."

A brief glance to the upper-left side of the painting shows what appears to be a blue box complete with light box, but on closer inspection is actually a house with a chimney.

The great thing about art, however, is that it is down to the individual to decipher its meaning - and we see a TARDIS! :)

[Source: The Van Gogh Museum]

10 September 2013

Doctor Who has picked up two awards at this years TV Choice Awards, held at London's Dorchester Hotel.

The first award of the evening for the show was in the Best Drama category, where it beat off competition from Downton Abbey, Waterloo Road and Call The Midwife. 

The second award was for Outstanding Contribution, with Steven Moffat, David Tennant and Peter Davison taking to the stage to accept the award for Doctor Who, with Matt Smith appearing via a specially recorded video message.

On accepting the award, Steven Moffat said:

“I’m receiving an award about Doctor Who from Doctor Who while Doctor Who is busy filming in Cardiff.”

Matt Smith lost out on the Best Actor award, with ex-Doctor, David Tennant winning for his role in Broadchurch.

Jenna Coleman lost out on the Best Actress award, with Miranda Hart winning for her role in Call The Midwife.

[Source: TV Choice]

9 September 2013

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

Day 252: The War Games, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We've spent so much time lately stuck in scientific bases and out on alien worlds that you really do forget just how good the BBC are at creating a historical drama. Every detail of the sets and costumes in the last two episodes has been so spot on that it's a real treat to look at. It also means that when things do start to go a bit strange, and we find video screens built into the walls, they're all the more jarring and carry a much greater impact - because they look so out of place amongst all this period detail.

The locations for the story are lovely, too, especially the buildings around the Doctor's firing squad (of all the times to be admiring architecture!). I grew up on a farm with several buildings in a similar style, so it looks like just the sort of place I used to imagine Doctor Who adventures taking place. Were this a bad episode, details like the sets would be something to help bring it up a point or two in my estimations, but The War Games is still thundering along - the gorgeous design is just a bonus.

No sooner are we out of the cliffhanger to yesterday's episode (a real stunner, too, and another one to consider placing on a list of 'best ever'), than we get another shock reveal in the form of a TARDIS arriving in the General's office. It's key to remember that the last time we saw a TARDIS other than the Doctor's was during The Daleks' Master Plan, and that was over three years ago. It comes as a real shock even, I'm glad to say, to me. It's been so long since I've watched The War Games that I'd remembered these other time machines not turning up until the latter half of the tale. It came as a complete surprise, and that just made the whole thing better.

Then we've got the use of the General's glasses when he's hypnotising people. In yesterday's episode, when they're used to the very first time, it's done as he starts to read some papers. It's all framed as to suggest that the glasses just happened to go on before the need to hypnotise. As the story has gone on, it's become clearer that they're integral to the hypnotism process. It's also great to see Lady Jennifer and Lieutenant Carstairs start to break free of their own brainwashing, having seen it seeded in since their first meeting.

It almost serves to show the impact that the Doctor can have just by turning up somewhere. He's well aware that things aren't quite what they seem to be, but he's still piecing it all together. Meanwhile, his mere presence in this area has brought together two people who may never have met, and caused them to think differently. It's the great strength that this Doctor has displayed many times before and it's good to see it being used one last time before he bows out.

Elsewhere in the episode, Troughton is on absolutely blazing form. When he halts a car simply by standing in the middle of the road and shouting at the driver, it signals the start of one of his best ever performances as he smashes through the next few scenes with his volume control up to maximum. I often find myself quoting the Seventh Doctor when he says that you just need to 'act as if you own the place' to get through unquestioned (indeed, trying that once got me onto the set of a proper Doctor Who episode for a full afternoon as they filmed, but that's a story for another day), and it's this idea that's being shown at its best here.

Wendy Padbury deserves some praise again, too; she's really a brilliant foil for Troughton's Doctor, and after all my musing earlier this season that I'd like to see him traveling alone with her, I'm glad to see that the production team have obviously had similar thoughts, and keep pairing them off. If there's one thing I'm going to miss by the time this story is over, it's the developing relationship between the two.

After all that, we're sent on our way with another stunning cliffhanger, as the ambulance disappears into a strange void of smoke, and then reappears out in the English countryside, ready to be set upon by Romans. Obviously, I know what's going on, but I can only imagine how odd this must have seemed at the time. We've not had a historical story in ages and now there's two for the price of one (and there's even a redcoat thrown in for good measure!). 

9 September 2013

Ex-Doctors, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy were spotted outside TVC this morning, next to placards saying "No Doctors. No 50th!" and "Have a heart! Classic Doctors want a part!".

Colin Baker is also reportedly meant to be at the location too, which DWO believe to be for the filming of Peter Davison's tongue-in-cheek short film to commemorate the 50th Anniversary.

Davison has previously recorded a short for the Gallifrey One convention in LA. You can watch the short he recorded for the 2011 convention, below:

DWO will post more on this news as we get it...

[Source: Twitter]

8 September 2013
a Dear diary,

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

Day 251: The War Games, Episode One

Dear diary,

It's May 2006, and I've taken my friend Ben with me to Holt out on the Norfolk coast, where they're having a big Doctor Who celebration. Later that evening we'll settle down to watch The Idiot's Lantern play out on TV, but for now we're stood in the middle of a high street taken over by an attempt to break the world record for the number of Daleks gathered together in one place. I don't think they quite managed it.

Truth be told, the day was a bit rubbish, I seem to recall. Someone had dropped us off there in the morning, and wouldn't be back to collect us for hours. An early highlight was meeting Colin Baker, who surely has to be one of the nicest people ever connected to the series in any way, shape, or form, but then everything else was just a bit naff. There were plenty of stalls selling tat, none of which appealed to me, and I remember spending about an hour sat on a step somewhere while we tried to think of something to do.

The day got considerably better when we found a particular stall that was selling Doctor Who video tapes. It's funny how some things stick in your mind so clearly, but this is one of them. It was quite a small set up, a stall bordered with a rusty metal frame and covered with a blue tarpaulin on three sides and the top. They had loads of tapes spread out on the front desk, with more piled up on those cheap shelving units you can pick up in Argos all along the back. It was heaving with people, and you had to fight your way through the crowd a bit to reach the front and look through the collection.

I'd pooled my money for a few weeks in the hope that I might be able to buy something on this day out, and so far it had remained firmly in my wallet. Suddenly, I had the opportunity to spend it ten times over. All these VHS tapes, all these stories that we're miles away from any kind of DVD release! I can't remember all the ones I looked at - I must have picked up loads while trying to make my decision - but then I caught sight of one particular set up on the top shelf at the back.

The Time Lord Collection. A sturdy cardboard box wrapped around The Three Doctors, which I already had on DVD so wasn't that exciting, The Deadly Assassain, which was supposed to be a really good Tom Baker story in which he fights the Master on Gallifrey, and... no? Surely not? It can't be... a double tape release of The War Games, the epic ten-part Second Doctor story which introduced the TIme Lords to the series and saw Patrick Troughton's departure?!?!

It's strange, in 2013, with only a few DVD releases left before everything is easily available to pick up for a few pounds on Amazon, to explain just how exciting this was. I'd picked up one or two video tapes of the old stories on Ebay over the years, but they were usually the ones that went cheap - and thus weren't the ones with the best of reputations. Indeed, I took a flyer for the company selling the tapes on this day and handed out a highlighted version to family members when they asked what I'd like for my birthday that year.

The War Games had been released in 1990, and then again as part of this box set in about 2002. I think it was a limited edition, but I just wasn't aware of that kind of thing back then. To me, it was simply a chance to own The War Games. This story - mores perhaps than any other - was like a Holy Grail. It's ten episodes long! It's the first introduction of the Time Lords. The Second Doctor regenerates. I could type on for a half a million words and I'd never be able to accurately tell you how thrilling the thought of owning this box set was.

But it was out of my price range. Only by about £10 or so, but still. Thankfully, it was Ben to the rescue. I'd successfully managed to get him into the stuff they were currently showing on TV with David Tennant and Billie Piper, but he had zero interest in any of the old stuff. Indeed, Ben is one of the pair I spoke of during The Tomb of the Cybermen, who'd had the audacity to laugh at the silver giants! Ben stumped up the extra cash (for which I'm still thankful, seven years on) and I purchased this magnificent set.

If anything, it made the last few hours of the day go even slower. Not only had we now been round everything there was to see at this particular day out, but now I was holding a copy of The War Games in my hands, and simply couldn't wait to get home and watch it. I explained to Ben just how important this story was to the history of the series, but I don't think he really cared. I decided that I would ration the story out; no more than one episode a day (that sounds familiar), so that I could really make the most of it. Of course, that all went out the window once I'd gotten it home and put it in the video player because it was fantastic.

And, d'you know what? It still is. I've tried something of an experiment with today's episode, because I happen to be visiting Mum's house at the exact point that I should be sitting down to watch this one. So often throughout the course of the 1960s episodes, I've commented about how different it would have looked on an old telly compared to being on my Mac screen, so today I've hooked up an old VHS player to an old telly (it's from the early 80s, but I think it's about as close as I'm going to get) and popped in the VHS. The DVD is waiting at home for me in freshly restored glory, using better prints than were available to the VHS release, but I planned to have something really insightful and fascinating to say about the process of watching the episode in this way.

And I've completely failed! Because apart from noting that - yes - Patrick Troughton's face does actually look terrifying when you see it emerging from the title sequence on an old CRT screen, I've just been entirely swept up in the story, and I've not made a single other note about the way it looks on this old screen. Typical. If you want, you can pretend that I've said something really interesting here about it all.

Oh, but it is brilliant, this episode, isn't it? Right from the moment we see the TARDIS' materialisation in the reflection of a puddle on the muddy battlefield up to the second the Doctor scrunches up his face before a firing squad and a shot gets fired... every single bit of this episode is sheer brilliance.

I'm surprised to find how pleased I am to see the TARDIS back in history. We've not been anywhere before the 1960s since way back in The Abominable Snowmen, and I didn't think I'd been missing travels back into the past, but actually it feels fresh and different. It's probably helped by being an era that's so close to living memory (even more so on the original broadcast) and it makes it all feel that much more real.

This is especially true of the threat running through the episode. When the Doctor parts company with Zoe to be taken to a cell, he gives her a gentle kiss on the head and mutters 'Goodbye, my dear.' It's a simple moment, but it's so touching. Forget being stuck inside the Kroton's ship, or fighting the Karkus in the Land of Fiction, this is real, and there's an honest sense of danger to it all. The same can be said for the moment that Zoe breaks in to steal the set of keys. It feels far more dangerous than anything else in Season Six has - perhaps more than anything else in the Second Doctor's era. Being somewhere as sombre as the First World War, and being the final story for all three of our regulars, it all feels far, far, more true.

I could rattle on for ages about this episode, and the Doctor Who Online news page would disappear under a wave of my gushing with praise, so I'll stop now. There's another nine days to go with this one, so I'm sure there'll be plenty of time for me to say everything I could possibly want about The War Games.

For now, I'll settle for saying that I'm so happy that the story can produce this kind of emotion in me, all these years later, and having sat through so many other episodes already this year. This one really is something very special indeed.

For now, I'll settle for saying that I'm so happy that the story can produce this kind of emotion in me, all these years later, and having sat through so many other episodes already this year. This one really is something very special indeed. 

7 September 2013

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

Day 250: The Space Pirates, Episode Six

Dear diary,

And just like that, I've run out of missing Doctor Who episodes. It all seems so easy in retrospect, and actually 106 missing episodes doesn't feel like a massive amount when you think about just how many I've actually been able to watch. I sort of suspect that I should have a bit of a celebration or something to celebrate this key milestone, but it's The Space Pirates, so the era of missing episodes goes out with more of a whimper than a bang.

I think part of the problem I've had with the story is that I'm just not all that engaged with the situation. In The Seeds of Death, it felt as though the Doctor and his companions were willing to throw themselves into the line of danger in an attempt to help because they really wanted to do so. Here, the only reason that they're helping anyone is because they've been separated from the TARDIS, and have gotten swept along with events.

It means that when the situation is getting desperate and we're watching a (really long) countdown to an explosion, everything just feels a bit dull. I don't care about the situation, so I'm not that bothered by anything that's happening. It's an interesting feeling in some ways. I always know that the Doctor and his companions are going to get out of the danger (well, unless it's a regeneration story or something like Earthshock), but part of the fun is watching how they make their escape. It's about the Doctor being clever, or his companions being vital. Today, I know that they're not going to get blown up and I don't care how they get out of it, because it boils down to something as mundane (!) as diffusing a bomb.

As I've said before, I'm really disappointed by The Space Pirates. Based on the first couple of episodes, I was so looking forward to standing out from the crowd and proudly declaring a liking for the tale, but it's just not to be. I wonder if its reputation might be better had more episodes survived, or if more were to show up? The surviving Episode Two was rather good, and it gave me lots of little visual cues to enjoy. Because of the slower pacing throughout the rest of the tale, the audio just doesn't really help. Having something to look at (even if it is metal hair) would really benefit the tale.

It still doesn't deserve the title of the worst story of the 1960s, though, I don't think. The Dominators was much worse than this - and I could see all of that one!

Though I've joked about it above, this really is a pretty significant moment in the marathon for me. One of the things that's always been off putting about the idea of a Doctor Who marathon is the fact that such a large chunk of the early years is marred by huge gaps. I tiptoed into Season Three with a bit of a worry, because i genuinely didn't know how I'd cope with so many bits of the programme being missing, and getting stuck in a cycle of moving between the soundtracks, surviving episodes and back again.

As it is, I've really enjoyed it. The sheer quality of a lot of stories from this era has really helped to make the task more manageable, and in some ways it's gong to be a shame to leave behind the narration from the soundtracks. Season Six has been a nice way of easing back into actually sitting down to watch an episode properly again, which I have to confess has felt a bit alien so many days in a row!

Still, despite everything, I really do hold out hope that more will be returned to the archive at some point in the future - and I've absolutely no doubt that it will. These things always turn up in the strangest of places and just when you're not expecting it. Now that I'm ten episodes away from the end of the 1960s, it's sods law that some will be turning up any day now…

6 September 2013

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

Day 249: The Space Pirates, Episode Five

Dear diary,

I can't seem to make my mind up with this story. Every so often, I think I've worked out what's going on, and then I change my mind and they do something different anyway. For much of Episode Two, I kept switching between believing that Milo Clancy was definitely not in league with the pirates, to deciding that he definitely was. Even now, when it seems pretty clear that he's on the side of the law (even if it's grudgingly), I keep expecting them to throw a curve ball and make him the leader of the pirates anyway.

Then you've got Madeleine Issigri and her metal hair (though, for some reason, as I listened through today's episode, I kept picturing her as Miss Kelly from The Seeds of Death). From the moment she first turned up in the story I'd decided that she must be working with the pirates, then I figured that was too easy so started to think otherwise. Now it would appear that she is working with them, but only because she's in too deep now to withdraw. I rather like that. I'd assume that she was in it simply for the money (we've been told several times that the old Argonite mines are all but dried up, meaning that she's head of a dying company), but it turns out that she entered this operation with the best of intentions, when it was a simple 'salvage mission'.

As if that wasn't enough, you've then got the reveal today that her father - a man we've been told is dead - is alive and… he isn't well, but he's a live at least, and locked up in his old study not all that far away. I have to confess that I knew he was going to be turning up at some point, because I read an article in Nothing at the End of the Lane a few days ago all about the costumes in this story, and there's an image of his in there. Still, it makes for a nice reveal, and adds yet another layer to everything.

The problem with all this is that I've sort of lost track of who's chasing who. I know that the pirates are planning to set Clancy, the Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, and Dom all free in the LIZ 79, with the intention of sending it up for the Space Corps to find, but I'm not now sure if the Space Corps are still after Clancy or not. They discuss it a lot today as they try to piece the puzzle all together, but I'm sorry to say that they left me behind somewhere along the route.

One of the things that I am really enjoying about The Space Pirates is that we've got Jack May in as General Hermack. May is often familiar for playing Simms the butler in Adam Adamant Lives!, a series that I've got a lot of love for (indeed, I watched an episode a few months ago during The Tenth Planet to see Patrick Troughton's last acting work before becoming the Doctor. How fitting that May should then turn up in Doctor Who so close to Troughton's departure!), and it's great to see him here. I also didn't realise until today that May was also the voice of Igor in Count Duckula, a series that I was only praising a few weeks ago during The Invasion! It's a small world, British telly, innit?

And I think that's one of the key things about this marathon for me. For man years, my interest in archive television only really stretched as far as Doctor Who. I'd make the occasional excursion into Green Acres, but in terms of British television, it was all about the TARDIS. When I watched an old episode of Doctor Who then, for the most part, the actors were only familiar to me from that story, and nothing else. In some ways, I rather liked that. I quite enjoyed the fact that all of the Doctors were simply the Doctor, for example. I didn't know them as anyone else (though it blew my mind when I realised that Partrick Troughton was the priest in The Omen).

Over the last few years, though, my tastes have changed and I've taken quite a liking to lots of archive telly. I'd say at least half of my shelf is made up of series made before the 1970s. It's meant that as we've gone along, there have been plenty of instances of people turning up in the series that I know better from somewhere else, and I've really enjoyed that. It's not simply confined to the actors, either. Verity Lambert was producer of the previously mentioned Adam Adamant Lives!. Sydney Newman was the creator of The Avengers. Many of the writers have turned up across a great many of these different programmes, and it's been fun to watch their style crop up in all these different formats.

In a little under two weeks, I'll be exploding into colour with Spearhead From Space, and moving onto the 1970s. It's an era of British TV than I'm far less familiar with. Of all the titles on my shelves only three were made in the 1970s - Whodunnit (hosted from Season Two by Jon Pertwee, so there is still at least one connection!), the 1970s volume of Coronation Street, and the Morcambe and Wise box set. I'm hoping to use the marathon as a chance to explore other television as I go along (though I'll probably not be keeping much of a track about it in this blog - you're here to read about my journey through Doctor Who, after all!), but I am going to miss being in an era which I have such a strong love for. It's been an interesting experience, and it's helped to make the marathon all the richer.

6 September 2013

Louise Jameson is set to star in Mark Gatiss' upcoming directional debut of 'The Tractate Middoth'.

This new half-hour drama is a chilling adaptation of M.R. James's short story and will see a return of the cherished ghost story to BBC Two at Christmas.

She will be joined in the cast by Sacha Dhawan (Last Tango In Halifax, Being Human; The History Boys), John Castle (I, Claudius), Louise Jameson (Doctor Who, Doc Martin), Una Stubbs (Sherlock, Til Death Do Us Part), David Ryall (The Village); Eleanor Bron (Bedazzled, Women In Love, Absolutely Fabulous); Nick Burns (Nathan Barley) and Roy Barraclough (Coronation Street).

In a quiet academic library, John Eldred (Castle) seeks out the help of young Mr Garrett (Dhawan) in his search for a seemingly obscure Hebrew text. But there is something unusual about this book and something not entirely scholarly about Eldred’s intentions. Soon, Garrett's hunt for the Tractate Middoth provokes terrifying apparitions in the library and a vengeful menace from beyond the grave.

Mark Gatiss says:

"The wonderful adaptations of MR James's tales that I saw on TV as a child have been a lasting inspiration to me. I'm delighted to restore the tradition of a BBC 'Ghost Story for Christmas' and bring to life a personal favourite - The Tractate Middoth - one of James's most atmospheric, thrilling, and downright scary tales."

Mark Bell, Commissioning Editor for Arts, says:

“In his ghost stories MR James displays a beguiling mixture of dry wit, singular erudition and a joyful enthusiasm for the macabre. Mark Gatiss shares the same attributes and it is tremendously exciting to be working on both a new drama and a documentary investigation of what made this great British eccentric tick."

The drama will be complemented by a documentary, M.R. James: Ghost Writer (w/t) in which Mark Gatiss steps into the mind of M.R. James, the enigmatic English master of the supernatural story. A long-time admirer of James, Mark will explore how this donnish Victorian bachelor, conservative by nature and a devout Anglican, created tales that continue to chill readers more than a century on.

Viewers will join Mark on an atmospheric journey from James's childhood home in Suffolk to Eton College and on to King’s College, Cambridge, the two institutions where James spent most of his life, venturing into ancient churches, dark cloisters and echoing libraries along the way. By following in James’s footsteps, Mark will attempt to uncover the secrets of his inspiration.

[Source: BBC Press Office]

6 September 2013

BBC Consumer Products have sent DWO the details for the Doctor Who Blu-ray release of The Complete Series 1-7.

The Complete Series 1-7 Box-set (Blu-ray)
Featuring: The 9th, 10th & 11th Doctors

The only thing better than watching Doctor Who is watching it in high definition, which is why BBC Worldwide is celebrating Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary with the release of Doctor Who: The Complete Series 1-7 Blu-ray Boxset on 4th November 2013 with an RRP of £255.31. The set includes the complete adventures of the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston, Thor: The Dark World) and Tenth Doctor (David Tennant, Broadchurch, Fright Night), available in newly remastered Blu-ray versions at full 1080p resolution for the first time ever, sitting alongside those of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) in this high definition collection. 

BBC Worldwide has gone above and beyond to bring fans the best possible Doctor Who experience, and has also fully remastered the complete Tenth Doctor Specials as well as The Complete Fifth and Sixth Series (previously available on Blu-ray), to full 1080p resolution as well. Throw in the new Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series Blu-ray set along with hours and hours of bonus features from the past collections PLUS 120 minutes of bonus material that has never previously been available on disc, as well as more goodies than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at, and this is one blue box that just might actually be bigger on the inside.

With 29 blu-ray discs of episodes, specials and bonus features, this limited edition gift set will keep on giving for years to come. So share it with a friend or keep it for yourself, but don’t miss your chance to pre-order this limited edition set.

Special Features:

•  “The Doctor Who Ultimate List of Lists” from BBC AMERICA’s The Brit List - BBC AMERICA’s pop culture correspondent, Asha Leo (@ashaleo), is joined by special guest John Barrowman (“Torchwood,” “Doctor Who”) to announce the rankings of the “Top Five Companions,” “Top Five Scariest Moments,” “Top Five Best Monsters,” “Top Five Guest Stars” and “Top Five Things You’ll Only See on Doctor Who.” Rankings are based on votes from readers of BBCAMERICA.com’s Anglophenia blog.

•  Doctor Who at the Proms 2010 - Doctor Who’s own Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill host a spectacular evening of music from the series played live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall.  Includes video projections, appearances by the monsters and a special guest appearance from 11th Doctor Matt Smith.  For the first time, the collection will include the full 90-minute concert and has been remastered in 5.1 Surround Sound.  

•  Doctor Who: The Best of the Christmas Specials - This previously unreleased special from December 2011 takes an inside look at the very best moments from the incredible Doctor Who Christmas specials that have captivated audiences around the world. A collection of fans from the celebrity, comedy, sci-fi and digital worlds discuss their favorite moments from both David Tennant and Matt Smith era Christmas episodes.

+  The Complete Series 1-7 is released on 4th November 2013, priced £255.31.

+  Preorder Now from BBC Shop for just £167.25
+  Compare Prices for this product on CompareTheDalek.com.

[Source: BBC Consumer Products]

5 September 2013

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

Day 248: The Space Pirates, Episode Four

Dear diary,

As anyone who's been reading these entries for a while will know, I'm really not the biggest fan of missing episode recons. For one reason or another, they usually fail to hold my attention, and the ticker-tape descriptions of the action move far too quickly for me to get me head around. With the odd exception for an animated instalment, or occasionally dipping my toe into the world of the recon (I couldn't actually get through Marco Polo without watching one - how times change!), I've experienced pretty much all the missing episodes in the form of the narrated soundtracks.

It's been a perfectly good way of going through the stories, and I really don't feel that I've missed out on my thing by going the purely audio route a lot of the time. They're all incredibly well produced, with fantastic linking narration (even if the script for The Space Pirates' narration really is going out in a blaze of glory. At one point today, Hines takes great delight in opening a scene with the words 'the Doctor is busily twanging his tuning fork…' Is he indeed!?), and they've been great to listen to on my way home from work each day, lasting just long enough to end as I step through the door, or thereabouts.

But last night, having not enjoyed Episode Three of The Space Pirates as much as I had Episode One, and realising that this really is the end of an important stage in the marathon, I felt all nostalgic. I decided that before I move on to the era in which everything exists in the archives, I needed to give reckons one last chance to prove themselves. I'll admit, there were one or two selfish reasons for it, too. The Space Pirates is one of the Doctor Who stories with the least surviving visual material, no tele snaps, and there's even a few characters we don't have any photos of. I wanted to see how a recon would cope with such a situation.

The answer, it seems, is 'pretty well'. I did have a moment, about three minutes in where I decided that it just wasn't going to work, so muted the recon and keyed up the right place in the soundtrack so that I could actually follow what on Earth was happening. I think I probably looked like a bit of an idiot sat in front of the computer screen with my headphones plugged into my phone, but there we go.

The reconstruction overcomes the lack of available images by creating plenty of its own, and pretty cleverly, too. There's several shots of the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe taken from the surviving second episode of the story, and some which I'm pretty sure are taken from elsewhere. One particular image of Milo Clancy came up so frequently that I worried the image may be burned onto the screen for good, but it did the job. For the actual space pirates themselves, the recon used CGI people. I have to confess that it's not a style of CGI that I've ever really liked, but it works pretty well in this instance.

Sadly, watching it in this form hasn't really helped me enjoy the story any better. I'm genuinely quite disappointed, because having enjoyed the first third after years of being told how rubbish the tale was, I was hoping to be all contradictory, stand proud and say how much I liked it. And there is an awful lot to like! Troughton is - of course - on fine form, and there's a wonderful moment after their fall in the cliffhanger resolution in which he moans in pain and produces a handful of drawing pins that he's landed on. When Zoe asks him what he's carrying the pins for, the Doctor replies simply; 'I like drawing pins!' If anything, it put me in mind of the Second Doctor we had back in Season Four, who is a little bit weird, a little bit 'kooky', but completely loveable, and totally 'the Doctor'.

It's a shame to see him using his tuning fork as a means to break out of their cell, as I was hoping the Sonic Screwdriver was here to stay after it had turned up for a second appearance in The Dominators. Maybe he still hasn't managed to work out all the kinks in the design, and it just won't work on locks yet? It's either that, or the door is made from wood (which, for all we know, it might have been).

Things seem to have gone off the rails a little, it's true, but The Space Pirates is still not as bad as everyone would have you believe. I'm hoping we can make it through the next two episodes relatively unscathed, and it might be able to redeem itself just a bit…

4 September 2013

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

Day 247: The Space Pirates, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Something that I've always really enjoyed about the Troughton era is that it spends so much time looking at the future that's just within reach of the audience. Many of the adventures over the course of the last three seasons have taken us into the Twenty-First Century, which at the time must have felt remote and distant enough to really be 'out there'.

It's conceivable, though, that a ten year old watching in the late 1960s would be around to witness mankind's evolution into the type of world we see in these stories, in which the weather for the entire planet is controlled from the Moon, goods and people can be teleported across the globe in a split second, and we'd have all manner of high tech space stations in near-Earth orbit, just ripe for a Cyberman invasion.

Admittedly, it can be a bit tricky to tie everything together from time to time, and the dates given to these stories from years of 'fan wisdom' don't always make the task easier. The second volume of the About Time series makes a pretty good stab at it, and I've had their timeline in mind as I've moved through the last few months. It gives placements to stories such as The Enemy of the World, The Wheel in Space, The Moonbase, and stretching out beyond this era of the programme, Warriors of the Deep (placing them in that order, chronologically, starting from around 2030 and moving through the the 2084 stated on screen for Warriors).

It's in a more recent book - A History of the Universe in 100 Objects, by James Goss and Steve Tribe - that Milo Clancy and the era of Argonite mining is really slotted into the equation. It speculates that the political troubles of the 2080s are what gives rise to the era of lawless spacefaring we've heard spoken of in this story. Clancy likely left the Earth at about the same time the Silurians and the Sea Devils were teaming up to fight the Fifth Doctor, and then the Space Corps were set up far more recently, after the turn of the century.

While I'm not a fan who spends a great deal of time obsessing over making sure that everything 'fits' absolutely within the Doctor Who universe (for a programme that's lasted in some shape or form for half a century, with literally thousands of stories told in all different media it would be entirely impossible for everything to click), I'll admit that it's nice when there's a kind of internal consistency like this.

I'm sorry to report that this episode hasn't really grabbed me in the same way the first couple did, but there's still plenty to be going on with. I think the main thing I'm enjoying is the fact that Zoe is still being used as… well… Zoe. Back during The Wheel in Space, I considered that her character would probably have been washed down the TARDIS' waste system before long and we'd end up with Victoria in all but name.

Actually, though, she's faring pretty well on the whole. Her intelligence has been a key part of the plot in every story so far (with the possible exception of The Dominators, but you know what? That was weeks ago, and I can't actually remember anything other than the drilling scenes towards the end), wether it be in the form of blowing up an annoying computer or - as in today's episode - working out the best way to get the TARDIS back. It's great to see her coming across so well, and I'm finding myself really enjoying Wendy Padbury more and more. I'm so glad, as it's moments with her, Patrick Troughton, and Frazer Hines that really do help to perk up even the most lacklustre of episodes.

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