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9 January 2015

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

Day 739: The Empty Child

Dear diary,

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken a lot about the way that the Doctor and Rose have been portrayed since setting out again in Dalek. We’re long past the Time Lord giving the Earth girl her first few steps in to the universe, and far more on a level where the pair of them do this day-in, day-out. This is perhaps shown never better than in this story - where we open with them mid-adventure, chasing something mauve and dangerous through space and then see them get separated and spend much of the story following their own, different, lines of enquiry. Maybe it’s simply because it’s something that I’ve been consciously looking out for this last week, but I’m really impressed with the way that all the character beats have been handled in this season - and I don’t think I really appreciated just how well-done it was on my first watch through a decade ago. It’s very subtle in places, and all the stronger for it.

What stands out for me the most in this episode, though, is the way that the Doctor behaves when he’s off on his own. Last week, I postulated that the Doctor was in a pretty low place when we meet him in Rose - just setting out on a mission to clean up after the events of the Time War - and that he needed Rose to help him find ‘the Doctor’ again. I think we can clearly see in this episode just what kind of effect she’s had on him.

Gone is the man from Rose, who didn’t want some shop girl from London to get caught up in the adventure, and was far more suited to being alone. Here’s a man who connects almost instantly to the human side of the story - hooking on to Nancy and her band of homeless kids, and finding himself just as fascinated by them, and the way they live, as he is the child-that-isn’t-a-child. It feels as though its a logical step from his comments to the bride and groom in Father’s Day, where he’s fascinated by what may seem something ordinary and mundane.

Equally, splitting up our ‘dream team’ allows us to see Rose more ‘honestly’. I’ve said that we’ve seen her grow to be something of a seasoned traveller by the time we touch down in Dalek, but here she’s reminded that she’s barely out of the nursery when it comes to time travel. Meeting Jack is another significant step in her adventures - the fist time she’s met another time traveller. The story uses this to full advantage, comparing and contrasting the Doctor and Jack as they go along (and the use of ‘Spock’ as the comparison is a nice touch… is this the first time that Star Trek has been acknowledged as existing in the Doctor Who universe? I know the Doctor visited Vulcan right back in The Power of the Daleks, but…!)

Of course, there’s a lot more to capture my attention in The Empty Child than just the latest evolution of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose. Chief among them, perhaps, is the direction. Right from the off, we’re absolutely flooded with atmosphere, and it perfectly captures the Tone Meeting’s desire for this story to present a ‘romantic’ view of the wartime period. From the moment that the TARDIS arrives in the alleyway, we’re given some rather beautiful direction - James Hawes makes his Doctor Who debut with this episode, and it’s no surprise that he was later invited back to helm the first of the programme’s modern festive episodes, because he’s got such a way with the camera here. I once heard the direction in this story described as ‘the way Doctor Who was always directed in your head’, and I think that’s probably an accurate summation of it. 

8 January 2015

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

Day 738: Father’s Day

Dear diary,

When you’re a Doctor Who fan living in Cardiff, you often find you’re walking around with a strange sense of Déjà vu (You’ll be glad to know I’ve wrestled all day about making a ‘Déjà Who joke, but thought better of it. Whoops.). In the last ten years, so much of this city and the surrounding area has been used for the programme that you stumble across places from the Doctor’s adventures on an almost daily basis. Just on the walk from my house to Tesco I pass the Torchwood Hub, the New Earth hospital, the restaurant from Deep Breath, the Scovox Blitzer’s den, the Cherub basement from New York, and the police station from Blink… and it’s only a five minute walk!

Before I made the move, I used to beetle over to Cardiff every few weeks to visit the other half, and finding myself in locations like this was one of the most exciting things ever. She lived up about 20 minutes from Cardiff, and the first time we pulled up to her house I realised that it was the street where the Doctor and Donna arrived to see the Earth being moved in Series Four. Queue excitement! You’d stand in a street for five minutes trying to work out where in the programme it was used, and the moment when everything clicked in to place and you actively realised where you were was brilliant. Four years on, though, it’s sort of become a bit old hat. I’m still stumbling across new bits and pieces that can excite me (someone pointed out only last week that Captains Jack and John walk right past my house in an episode of Torchwood, for example, and I love the weird coincidence that I would have watched that episode in 2008 little knowing that I’d end up living in a building on the screen), but by-and-large the thrill has died down.

Sometimes, though, you do get simply magical moments of finding locations that feel massive and important, and ones that you never knew were there, right under your nose. Before I moved to my current address about a year ago, I lived the other side of the Bay in a little flat, and the quickest route into the city was to cut through a different part of town. I was never smart enough to simply check maps to find the best route, I’d simply pick different streets every time I went and see if it was any quicker, or just a nicer walk. One day, in the pouring rain, I thought I’d got it sussed. I’d worked out the quickest possible route from town back to my flat, and I hurried off to take it. After walking almost two miles through unfamiliar streets I found myself at what might as well have been a dead-end - getting round and back into the right area would mean almost entirely retracing my steps back for half the journey. I was just stood on a street corner, in the pouring rain, outside a big old church. 

A very familiar big old church.

The church from Father’s Day! (See, and you thought I was just off on some wild tangent…). It was so unexpected, and so out of the way of all my usual routes, that I was ridiculously excited to realise where I was. It’s not the nicest area of town, but it certainly brightened up a somewhat rubbish day.

Oh, I’m rambling, I know. Really I’m just trying to avoid admitting to you all that as this episode ended, with Jackie telling Rose the re-written version of Pete’s death… I actually teared up! That happens very rarely to me during Doctor Who. It certainly hadn’t happened the first time I watched this episode. I’m not even entirely sure what it was that set me off on this occasion - certainly the situation, the script, the performances all lead towards it being an emotional moment, but in watching today that really fell in to place for me in a way that it simply hadn’t done before.

I think it’s also because watching this episode knowing that Pete will have to make his sacrifice at the end of the tale lends even more emotional weight to so many other moments in the episode. It’s a very clever script, and in ways I’d never noticed before. Almost as soon as the core cast is barricaded inside the church, the Doctor looks out at the car appearing and vanishing… and works out how to solve the problem. Then, in the same moment he tells Pete that he doesn’t know what to do, and tries desperately to find another solution. He might not be happy that Rose has essentially brought about the end of creation but he loves her too much to let that stop him from trying his hardest to care for her.

The real revelation, though, must be Shaun Dingwall as Rose’s dad. Just in the same way that the Doctor very quickly figures out what’s going on, Pete starts to put everything together well before the halfway point of the story, slowly building up a picture in his mind of what’s really happening. We then get that delivered in two large places - firstly when he and Rose discuss who she really is, and then again at the end, when he admits that he knows what he has to do. It’s connecting to the very human side of this story that makes it all the better, and Dingwall turns in a fantastic performance that really feels every beat. 

7 January 2015

Doctor Who Magazine have sent DWO the cover and details for Issue 482 of DWM.

Jenna Coleman, who plays the Doctor's companion Clara Oswald, gives a revealing interview about her time so far on Doctor Who...

DWM asks Jenna if the Doctor and Clara can finally move on in their relationship – and after the sacrifice of Danny Pink, can things ever be the same again? “I think so," Jenna says. "But they are a bit addicted to each other, and to the dynamic that they share. It's getting so that one can't go without the other, and I think that's definitely what Clara's realised. In a way that's quite dangerous now, because she realises that there is no going back for her..."

Also inside Issue 482 of DWM:

·  Rachel Talalay, director of the 2014 series finale two-part finale, reveals the secrets of how Death in Heaven was brought to the screen.
·  Peter Purves, who starred as companion Steven Taylor in the 1960s, talks in-depth about his time on Doctor Who.
·  Discover fascinating new facts about the acclaimed Seventh Doctor story The Greatest Show in Galaxy in The Fact of Fiction.
·  Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat answer readers’ questions – including the knotty problem of the Doctor's many wives! – in his exclusive column.
·  Writer David Fisher, who wrote three memorable stories for the Fourth Doctor in the 1970s, revisits his work.
·  The Doctor and Clara face Sontarans and Nazis as The Instruments of War continues, a brand-new comic strip written and illustrated by Mike Collins.
·  Sarah Jane and the Brigadier are reunited, as the Time Team watch The Sarah Jane Adventures: Enemy of the Bane.
·  Jaqueline Rayner wonders how the Doctor's companions would get on in the Cubs in Relative Dimensions.
·  Last Christmas is put under the spotlight in The DWM Review.
·  The Watcher considers the many surprising ways that Doctor Who stories can change from script to screen in Wotcha!.
·  The Watcher gives the answers to his Fiendishly Festive Christmas Quiz! How well did you do?
·  Have your say on Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor in the DWM Season Survey.
·  The DWM Crossword, prize-winning competitions, and much more!

+  Doctor Who Magazine Issue #482 is out on Thursday 8th January, priced £4.99.

+  Subscribe Worldwide to DWM from just £19.49 via Unique Magazines!

+  Check Out The DWO Guide to Doctor Who Magazine!

[Source: Doctor Who Magazine]

7 January 2015

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

Day 737: The Long Game

Dear diary,

Oh, poor The Long Game. It’s always had a reputation of being the black sheep of Season One, hasn’t it? I didn’t really wander in to online fandom until sometime during 2006, but I can recall learning very quickly that this wasn’t an episode that people really liked. I can also remember being a little bit surprised by the fact, because I’ve never really though of it as being a weak episode, it’s just A. N. Other episode of Doctor Who. Perhaps that’s the problem? People talk of the stories they love, and the stories they hate, and episodes like The Long Game just disappear down the cracks between the two sides, nestled forever with the likes of The Smugglers.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s partly because The Long Game is situated here in the middle of Series One for a very specific purpose. It’s not an episode as exciting as last week’s, which you can just pop on and watch because you want to see some action; it doesn’t hold the same emotional punch that we’ll get with the next episode, and I don’t think it’s even scary in the way that the Steven Moffat two-parter on the horizon will be. It’s far more about the relationships between the characters, and taking stock of where we’ve been so far, and where we’re yet to go.

Most obviously, this can be seen in the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, but I’m only noticing just how nicely done it is on this viewing, perhaps because the pace of one episode a day is allowing me enough time to ruminate on them, without leaving it so long that I lose the subtleties. Those first three stories of the season were very much about the Doctor taking Rose out to show her the universe. Expand the horizons of a girl who felt trapped in her humdrum life. Oh, sure, Rose get’s to be central to these episodes and not just a tag-along, but she’s very much the novice. By the time of Dalek, they do something very clever - stepping out into Van Stattan’s museum, both the Doctor and Rose get to recognise an exhibit. Suddenly, she’s not the new girl anymore, she’s a somewhat seasoned traveller.

The Long Game then comes along and reminds us that she’s not really up to the Doctor’s level yet, though, and we get the brilliant scene of the Doctor priming her on their new time and place so that she can showboat to Adam. Ah, yes, Adam. He’s the other very clever thing about this episode, and he’s in some ways the heart of it - right back in Davies’ initial pitches for this episode, it was always ‘the companion who couldn’t’, and it further helps to reinforce Rose’s position in the ship. It’ll have knock on consequences for later in the season, too, when we get another male companion coming aboard who is the right material for life with the Doctor.

Adam also gets to play an important role in re-shaping the Doctor post-Time War, too. I commented the other day that Series One, and the Ninth Doctor, is all about building to that rebirth that allows him to really be himself again. This incarnation more than any for a long time really sees humans as a bit thick, by and large. And yet both Micky and Adam - two people he mocks brazenly - as questions he initially dismisses before realising that they’re exactly the ones to ask. They serve a purpose in helping him remember to listen to the little people.

Otherwise… it’s no wonder he goes a little bit off the rails, is it? They’re not long on the station before the Doctor and Rose have swanned off to investigate and explore, and he ends up just wandering around on his own like a kid in a sweetshop. For someone who’s incredibly tech-savvy and has spent years studying alien artefacts… it was never going to end well, was it? I love the idea of a companion coming aboard and then being immediately kicked out again because they’re just not up to scratch - and it’s a bold thing to do in the first ‘new’ series of the show, really helping to cement Rose, Martha, and all the others to come as being the cream of the crop.

7 January 2015

Speaking in a recent interview with Radio Times, ex-Doctor Who show runner and head writer, Russell T. Davies, discussed his reasons for ruling out a return to writing for the show anytime soon, as well as why there shouldn't be a 10th anniversary this year.

When asked if he would like to write for Series 9, Davies replied with a polite 'thanks but no thanks' when approached by the BBC:

“Someone from the branding team sent me a very lovely email saying do you want to do something. I don’t know what they imagined - a talk or a convention perhaps. I just said no, to be honest. A programme can’t have its fiftieth and then it’s tenth. I think that’s just confusing. It's marvellous and glorious; let it carry on.”

When asked if he would ever write another episode of the hit show, Davies replied:

“Wouldn’t that be nice? The lovely Steven invites me every year to come and write one. And I love him and I love them and I love watching it, but here I am, moving on. I love Doctor Who with all my heart but nothing is more important to me than my own stuff.”

Davies’ latest project is Cucumber, Tofu, Banana, a three-pronged project examining gay life in modern Britain.

+  Cucumber, Tofu, Banana will be shown on Channel 4, E4 and 4oD in January 2015.

[Source: Radio Times]

6 January 2015

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

Day 736: Dalek

Dear diary,

Dalek has something of an unenviable position within Doctor Who history, doesn’t it? Introduce the Daleks to a whole new generation - with the added complication that they’re now inescapably tied up with the programme’s background mythology. Be the first Dalek story of the 21st century. Stand on its own as a decent story, not too overwhelmed with continuity. Introduce a new companion. And all that in 45 minutes. Looking back on it a decade on, the episode has even more importance now we’ve learnt more about the Time War, and it holds a pivotal place in the Doctor’s personal story.

And, frankly, it’s the best episode of the modern series so far. It manages to take all of the things noted above and pull them off rather well. By the time Adam steps inside the TARDIS at the end, I feel as though I know enough about him to accept him in the TARDIS (perhaps the fact that I know he won’t be around for long mans I’m expecting less of him, somehow, but I still think we’re given everything we need, even if he doesn’t get an awful lot to do here). There’s a decent enough story going on here that would be enough to keep my interest even if it wasn’t a Dalek in the Vault - though, let’s be honest, the story would lose a lot were it simply a Toclafane, as briefly considered, or some other nondescript alien, in place of the Doctor’s Arch Enemy.

Because that’s the real success of this one. It manages to take the Daleks, those funny little Pepper Pots who’ve been showing up at fairly regular intervals in the Doctor’s life since the programme’s fifth episode - which I watched two years ago yesterday - and bring them right in to the 21st century. It manages to put a Dalek on screen that is quite unlike any Dalek we’ve ever seen in the programme before… and yet perfectly capture exactly what the Daleks have always been like in our heads. This does however, bring me to the one problem I do have with this episode;

The Daleks aren’t really ever this powerful again!

Dalek presents us with a single creature - the last surviving Dalek in the universe - and goes to great lengths to make sure we know just how powerful it is. Once it’s out of its cage, the creature can download the entire internet in a matter of moments. It can crack a code with a billion combinations in two seconds. Bullets have a hard time getting at the Dalek because they melt when they get close to it. The centre of the machine swivels round, allowing the Dalek to attack in any direction. At one point, the Dalek is able to take out a room full of trained soldiers with just three blasts of the gun. When the Daleks pop up again at the end of this season, a few of them retain these special abilities, but then we don’t really see a lot of them again after that (I don’t think we’ve seen the bullet-melting at all since).

I’ve just about got a workaround in my head, but I’m not entirely convinced by it. It’s based on the idea that this really is the last surviving Dalek in the universe - the Doctor’s counterpart, from the other side of the battlefield. The only reason that this Dalek is so powerful - more powerful than any Dalek we’ve seen in the series before - is because it’s been off fighting the greatest war in Dalek history. Throughout the war, the Daleks have upgraded themselves further and further in an attempt to gain the upper-hand (The Time War-set novel Engines of War suggests that the creatures even go so far as to head back in time to alter their evolution - perhaps the failure of that experiment is what led them to simply upgrading their casings so much here?).

So. Let’s consider where this Dalek has come from:


The records say it came from the sky like a meteorite. It fell to Earth on the Ascension Islands. Burnt in its crater for three days before anybody could get near it and all that time it was screaming. It must have gone insane. 


It must have fallen through time. The only survivor.

Using bits of lore that have been added to the series since this episode was first broadcast, I think we can paint a fairly accurate image of what might have happened. Imagine, if you will, the closing moments of the Time War. Thirteen TARDISes (Fourteen, the Seventh Doctor came twice) all spinning around Gallifrey, preparing to take it out of time and space, and keep it nice and safe in a Cuppa Soup. The Daleks know what’s happening - the War Council report an increase in firepower. Every Dalek in the universe has been summoned to Gallifrey to take part in this final assault. Among their number is this Dalek. Amidst the chaos the the battle and the whizzing blue police boxes the Dalek somehow realises what’s happening. As the planet below disappears and Dalek firepower starts to take out its own comrades, the Dalek attempts an Emergency Temporal Shift.

With so many versions of the same TARDIS whizzing around, compounded by the sheer number of time manipulations that have gone on during the war itself, there’s no wonder the Temporal Shift hurtled this poor Dalek into the Vortex, spiralling it backwards in time until it lands in the Ascension Islands. It’s also no wonder it screamed for three days - it’s just watched a lot of its comrades wiped out. It doesn’t know yet that all the other Daleks have gone, just that the large majority certainly have, and it’s not until the last surviving Time Lord shows up that it learns the truth…

…And I’m going to have to leave it, there. There’s more to my suggestion of why the Dalek we see here is so uniquely powerful, but I’ll have to wait until we reach The Parting of the Ways to explain further, as the events of that story play heavily in to my narrative, and I want to refresh my mind on everything that’s said there and make sure it all fits before I continue.

I do hope that you’ll forgive me these occasional flights of fantasy into my own personal head canon, but they tick away in the back of my mind so much that it’s sometimes nice to share them with you all. 

5 January 2015

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

Day 736: World War Three

Dear diary,

Oh, I love the Slitheen. That’s not a particularly popular opinion, is it? It’s true, though. I loved them when this episode was first broadcast, and I love them now. Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing lots of graphic design bits for the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. It means that I spend odd days in there while it’s closed to the public, getting the images we need and planning out what needs to be done. One of my favourite moments has to be going through a number of costumes tucked away in storage, pulling back a protective sheet and finding a Slitheen bearing down on me. They’re such a great design, managing to be exactly what you expect a Doctor Who monster to be (‘big and green’) and yet doing something fun with it. As the first real ‘monster’ of the 21st century - in the sense of being a man in a big monster outfit - I think it’s great, and I’m sort of hoping we see a return for them, however brief, this year to mark their tenth anniversary.

Something I didn’t notice as much when I first saw this one (or, at least, something that I didn’t notice enough to actively remember it a decade on) is just how poorly the costumes match up to the CGI versions of the creatures. Each, in their own right, works rather well. The costume allows our human cast to properly interact with a towering big monster in front of them (and it means that when we see, for example, one of the Slitheen pick up the secretary, it looks better than the CGI equivalent might have done), while the CGI creatures allow them to run and move in a way that the costumes simply wouldn’t have allowed. The problem comes when they try to cut between the two versions of the Slitheen - or perhaps more notably, the problem is when they’ve chosen to do so.

Take the moment that Harriet and Rose make their initial escape from one of the creatures in the Cabinet Room. We get a shot of a rubber monster chasing after Harriet, and it’s possibly the worst that they ever look. Because of the way the costume is designed (with the Actor’s head concealed in the neck of the outfit), the head bobs around as it moves, making the whole thing look like… well, making the whole thing look - again - like the kind of thing you expect when you think ‘Doctor Who Monster’. It’s not their finest moment. But we cut from this to the rather more fluid CGI version of the same Slitheen chasing them, and it’s suddenly much more polished! It actively took me out of the moment, and that’s a shame. Still, I should probably be thankful that we didn’t have to watch the bobbing head as some poor actor tried to run across the set in that outfit…

Aliens of London and World War Three were filmed alongside Rose as the first stories of 21st century Doctor Who (indeed, I think I’m right in saying that the first line spoken on recording the series came from Tosh, and Eccleston’s first shot as the Doctor involved chasing a space pig down a corridor), and I think they’ve got a style that sets them apart not only from what came before, but also everything that would come after them, too. Russell T Davies’ vision for the series is entirely present throughout all three episodes - you can see the seeds being sown for things which will be utilised over and over in the next few years - but they feel far more ‘children’s television’ than the programme would later become. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but it really stands out when you’ve had quite a while away from these episodes, and watch them again; especially after the likes of Series Eight last year!

They’re also set apart visually by the direction of Keith Boak, who doesn’t return to Doctor Who after this production block. I can’t say that his direction has been particularly outstanding or noticeable (whereas watching the TV Movie prompted me to note the direction on about every third shot, the work in these episodes has been far more workman like), but there’s one expiation to that - I love the way that Boak shoots the TARDIS set. There’s lots of moving cameras and caring angles that I can’t remember seeing a lot of anywhere else - at least, not in this style. I could be wrong, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it over the next few seasons, but it’s certainly something I noticed both in Rose and again in the last few days.

4 January 2015

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

Day 735: Aliens of London

Dear diary,

It’s the first cliffhanger of the 21st century Doctor Who… and my god they botch it, don’t they? It’s possibly only because it’s the most recent thing in my mind, but it’s really sticking out as a massive error. They’ve gone all out for the first cliffhanger, placing as many people into danger as they possibly can… and then cut directly into a ‘next time’ trailer, that shows all those same people up and about and continuing the adventure next week! I don’t think you’re ever expecting any of our main characters to be in any real danger (even if you’re not coming to this episode having just sat through 700-and-something others, you know that nothing serious is about to happen), but you still want to have that suspense of waiting to see what happens! Am I right in saying that they later moved the trailers to after the credits for a two-parter? That seems a more sensible option than this!

Anyway, now that’s out of my system…

Right back during The Web of Fear, I commented on how much I liked the Doctor to have a number of friends scattered throughout the universe that he can drop in on from time to time. I don’t necessarily mean the likes of the ‘UNIT family’, where he was regularly a part of their lives, but just people who crop up now and then to share in his adventures. This episode is really where that concept is brought to the fore for the revived version of the programme, and it’ll remain a key factor through the rest of Russell T Davies’ time on the show, and to varying degrees through the Steven Moffat years, too.

And what a way to start! Not only does this one bring us back in to contact with Jackie and Micky (more on which in a moment), but it introduces both Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale North), who’ll be back again at Christmas, and once more after that to help the Doctor, and Toshiko Sato, who’ll go on to have a prominent role in the first two seasons of Torchwood. It’s that introduction that I think most interests me. I’ve not watched these episodes since Torchwood began, and it’s lovely to go back and see them now knowing more about Tosh, and the story she’ll go on to have. There’s something poignant about seeing her character now, having seen her death, and knowing that the Doctor has yet to meet and travel with her boss. It makes the fictional world of the programme feel so much larger when you’ve got all these elements playing out in the background. Aside from these ‘friends’ of the Doctor, you’ve also got the Slitheen. Margaret will be back later this season, and we’ll be following up on their scheme here when The Sarah Jane Adventures comes around. I can’t begin to tell you how tempted I am to watch them in tandem with the ‘parent’ show, just to see all the storylines weaving along!

Now. Jackie and Micky. The fact of Rose’s disappearance for a year absolutely fascinated me on first viewing. We’d been to watch the sun expand, and back to Victorian Cardiff, but it was this moment, hidden away in the pre-titles of this episode, which really hammered home to me that the TARDIS is a Time Machine. I’m not even sure why that is, but for some reason, this completely struck a chord. I think it’s the way that it’s written so beautifully, cutting from Jackie’s reaction to seeing her daughter and the Doctor suddenly realising his error. It all just works for me. What I didn’t notice at the time is just how quickly all of that blows over. There’s a few lovely scenes where they confront the reality that Rose has been missing for a whole year (and the effect it’s had on Mickey’s life is especially well played), but it all gets forgotten about so quickly. By the time that friends and neighbours are gathering in the Tyler household to watch the events on TV, it’s almost entirely ignored. In some ways, that’s completely right. Of course it gets swept away! An alien spaceship has just crashed in to the Thames! There’s a story to get on with, never mind focussing on Rose’s missing year…

…But then I started thinking; does it ever get mentioned again after this episode? Admittedly, it’s been a good few years since I’ve seen any of Rose’s travels in the TARDIS, but I can’t remember it ever actually coming up again during her time on the show. That’s really surprised me, because it felt like such a big moment at the time. I’m wondering if, having noticed it, it may stick out more for me now? I’m hoping not, because I can’t remember even giving it a second thought at the time, and it’s really niggling right now…

3 January 2015

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

Day 734: The Unquiet Dead

Dear diary,

Over the last week, I’ve been musing that the revived series in 2005 had an easier job in some ways that the TV Movie did in 1996. A couple of people have messaged on Twitter to take issue with that idea, so I thought I’d better explain myself a little better. What I actually mean is that the TV Movie had a single 90-minute slot to hook your attention, get you up to speed with Doctor Who, and tell a decent story. It manages some if not all of those to varying degrees. The 2005 series has the added benefit that it’s already guaranteed thirteen weeks to cover all those bases. It doesn’t have to worry about cramming in all the set up for the programme in that first instalment - it can slowly drip feed it to you as time goes by. I said the other day that any follow up to the TV movie would be a difficult thing to judge, because we don’t really see the TARDIS go anywhere (it makes a hop at the very end of the story, but not much is made of that fact), whereas Rose shows the TARDIS transporting from place-to-place quite often, and it becomes very clear that it has abilities beyond that.

Once that first episode is over, we can then venture off and set up the time travel aspect of the TARDIS rather neatly by venturing off in to the future. We then go the opposite way, back in to the past. It’s got the freedom of a continuing story to get you used to everything you need to know, so it doesn’t have to be quite so ‘full-on’ about it. Does that make any sense? I hope so. Thinking about it, I’d never realised just how often the revived programme for the first three episodes of the season. Right up to and including Season Five, we get the past/present/future set up to open each season, though they do play around with the order. I don’t think I’ve ever considered just how well that works as a good set up for the series, and for the fresh introduction of bringing in a new companion most years. It’s almost like taking things right back to 1963, where we had a similar set up - present day in Coal Hill School, way back to 100,000BC, and then off to the far future, and the home world of the Daleks.

I’ve said it before, but the Victorian era feels so right for Doctor Who. We’ve not spent a great deal of time there in the ‘classic’ run (off the top of my head, I can only think of The Evil of the Daleks, The Talons of Weng Chiang, and Ghost Light actually taking place in that period), but it’s going to become a fairly regular setting from now on. It’s good to note, then, that the BBC haven’t lost their touch at creating historical settings in the time that the programme has been away. It really is bread-and-butter stuff for a television design department, and it’s quite nice to note just how close this serial looks to Ghost Light. I spent such a long time commenting that the McCoy years were starting to resemble the ‘new’ series, so it’s always nice to see that the same can be said of the production standards. I’ve also commented before that had more people been watching the series in the late 1980s, it could have had the kind of acclaim that stories like this one received.

It doesn’t hurt that we’ve got a fantastic guest star for this episode in the form of Simon Callow as Charles Dickins. It’s a performance that’s always stuck in the mind right the way from the first time I saw the episode, so I’m really pleased to see that it’s holding up as well as I’d remembered. The series has attracted its fair share of big names over the years (and, it has to be said, the same was true of the ‘classic’ run), and you can really see that being set out in these early episodes. Three weeks in and we’ve already had the likes of Zoe Wannamaker and the aforementioned Simon Callow, and tomorrow we’ll be adding Penelope Wilton to the list. I mused yesterday that you could see the programme really setting out what it was going to be, and that’s true of the guest casts, too. There’s a very clear attempt to cast ‘big’ names… but proper actors in doing so. They’re going for respected talent and making sure that the programme can’t be taken as a joke.

That extends right the way to the top, too. Three days in and I’ve not properly mentioned Chris Eccleston yet. To tell the truth, it’s because I’m not really sure what to say of him. I’d experienced bits (sometimes all) of every Doctor’s run before starting out on this marathon, but the Ninth Doctor is the one that I first watched right the way through on television. Although I’d seen a few others before he grabbed Rose’s hand and urged her to run, Eccleston is really, I suppose, ‘my’ Doctor. So I’m not really watching him in the same way that I’ve been watching all the others for the last two years. He simply is the Doctor. That said, I’m noticing more this time around a slight unease with the role. I mean, he’s very good - don’t get me wrong - but he’s not slipping as naturally in to the part as I remember him doing. That’s something I’m going to be making sure to keep an eye on going forward, because we’re still in very early days (and the next two episodes were filmed before these last two, so I’m wondering if we may be taking a step back).

2 January 2015

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

Day 733: The End of the World

Dear diary,

Over the years, The End of the World has become something of a magnet for ‘stories’. Little anecdotes from the production team. I’ve heard it said a hundred times that this was the programme really setting out its stock in terms of what could be achieved - combining practical effects and CGI into one of the most expensive episodes of that first season. I think I’m right in saying (or, if I’m not, I’ve heard it repeated so often that it’s become fact in my own mind) that the Face of Boe only ended up becoming so important in later stories because he’d cost too much to build only to use the once. Cassandra appears as a CGI creation for ages on screen, at a time when they were still trying to work out how much could be spent on such things. We’ve even got more aliens introduced in this episode than I think we did for the entire Sylvester McCoy years!

But for all these stories getting repeated over and over, they do all set out what this episode is. Russell T Davies has said before now that they set up the scale and the scope of this first series in such a way that the BBC couldn’t later turn around and massively slash the budgets. They needed to make a point with a story like this so early on to ensure that everyone knew what they were aiming for, and also what they can achieve. And yet, for all the scale and grandeur of this one, it really boils down to a couple of small character pieces, with Rose coming to terms with her decision to travel in the TARDIS, and the Doctor starting to come to terms with the life he’s now living.

When Rose first aired, and we saw our new companion kiss her boyfriend goodbye before running off into the TARDIS, I can clearly recall my mother saying ‘that’s how so many young girls get abducted…’. It really is a split second decision (there’s none of the building up to an almost identical scene that we had with Scream of the Shalka), but it’s no more sudden than some of the companion introductions that we got back in the classic run. Dodo, anyone? That scene needs this episode, and Rose suddenly realising what she’s done, to really carry the kind of impact that it should. Another story I’ve often heard repeated is that the plan was once to air Rose and The End of the World back-to-back, and I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t have been a bad move - the two stories are opposite sides of the same coin.

But I’m more interested here in the Doctor’s story. At the time, I was enough of a Who novice to assume that this ‘war’ they kept mentioning was something which happened in the latter days of the original run, in some of the many stories I’d not seen. It’s interesting, then, to watch this back now knowing as much as we do about the Time War, and having pieced together the history of it through all those classic adventures (yes, even the ones where I’ve shoe-horned it in). It does beg the question - how long has the Doctor had between what he thinks is the destruction of Gallifrey and now? It’s certainly been a contentious point over the years - almost akin to a 21st century UNIT Dating conundrum.

The facts are these; We see the War Doctor start to regenerate into this incarnation at the end of The Day of the Doctor. Rose then features a scene where he looks in a mirror and comments on his appearance - seeming to imply that he’s only recently taken on this new form. It’s certainly written to be the same moment that we watched the likes of Troughton, Pertwee, Davison and both Bakers have in their first stories. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel right to have these stories following so immediately on from the events of the Time War. For a start, the Doctor’s given the TARDIS a wash since we saw him fly off in it from the Curator’s museum, and the console room has had a relatively major overhaul.

For what it’s worth, I think the sequence of events which best fits is something like this; the War Doctor starts to regenerate. In doing so, he forgets the encounter with his future selves, and awakes from the transformation alone in his TARDIS, his last memory being the thought that he would be forced to survive pressing the button and ending the war. He’s lost and alone. His people are gone. His greatest enemies are gone. He doesn’t want to live on, but he knows he must serve out his penance. In doing so, I imagine that he exiles himself deep into the TARDIS, allowing the battered old box to go drifting right to the very edges of the universe. He explores every room of the near-infinite ship, and goes a bit Beauty and the Beast, covering up all the mirrors, and refusing to face himself. As he’s off wandering the corridors, the console room is allowed to grow over with coral, naturally reforming itself as the ages roll by.

Until one day, he finds it again. He’s not really been keeping track of where he’s walking, but when he steps back into the main console room, he knows exactly where it is, despite its changed appearance, and it somehow feels right that he should be there. In the back of his mind is a nagging thought that he knew it would look this way when he found it again (he saw it in The Day of the Doctor, for example, and while he can’t remember the events of that adventure properly, I’d imagine there’s little tugs at his memory - we’ll be seeing another one in a moment). He doesn’t know how long has passed since he was last here, but he knows what he has to do. He needs to atone for the Time War. If he’s the only survivor, then he can’t spend eternity hiding away. He needs to get back to his former life as the Doctor, and try to rebuild the universe he helped to knock down.

In doing so, he whizzes off to a few different places - plenty and galaxies he knows were deeply affected by the war. As he’s doing this, he still can’t bring himself to look at his own face. He carries this on for a while, until he gets wind the Nestene Consciousness trying to take control of the Earth. He knows the protein planets were destroyed in the war, but that’s no reason to shunt out a whole other civilisation. He tracks the creature down to Henricks in London… where he meets Rose Tyler in the basement. There it is! Another pang of memory. He can’t quite place it, but he knows this girl ,and he likes this girl. The next day, they bump in to each other again, and then once more at the restaurant. We’ve then got a bit of a Scream of the Shalka situation going on, where the ‘emotional island’ starts to enjoy being with this person. When she turns him down at the end of the story, he heads off again and continues to clean up after the war for a bit. Maybe he arrives in 1912 and has a Titanic-based adventure. Or heads to 1963 for the assassination of JFK. Maybe those adventures don’t come until much later. But either way, there’s a nagging voice in the back of his head - the Doctor needs a companion, and he knows it has to be her. Did he mention, it also travels in time?

It’s probably not perfect, but it’s what I like to believe in my own mind. I’ve had a version like this in my head for a while now, but watching the stories now is letting me start to really nail it down some more. Certainly, when he has his moment with Jabe in this episode, it feels as though it’s the first time anyone has ever really spoken to him about what’s happened in the war - so the wounds are still fresh, but it doesn’t feel right for him to go from those events straight to all of this. Does anyone else have their own pet theories? I’ve a friend, for example, who swears blind that the Doctor’s just had his haircut, and it’s that which he’s reacting to in the mirror! 

1 January 2015

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

Day 732: Rose

Dear diary,

Two years ago today, I sat down to watch An Unearthly Child; the very first episode of the original Doctor Who. Now, I’m setting off on another adventure - the ‘revived’ series that started in 2005.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point of the marathon. Long-time readers of the 50 Year Diary will know that my first dabble in the world of Doctor Who was a VHS copy of Invasion of the Dinosaurs in late 2003, and while that raised my interest a little bit in the programme, it was really this first series in 2005 that turned me in to a fully-fledged ‘fan’.

I can remember sitting down to watch this episode in the living room, with my mum and stepdad, and watching it again today brings back a lot of the feelings I had about it first time around, and even a few of the comments that were made in the room during that broadcast. That’s why I’ve been so looking forward to reaching the 21st century series - for the first time in this marathon, I can recall my feelings on watching these stories for the first time. In some cases, that equates to the only time, too. I’ve never been someone who can watch Doctor Who over and over on repeat, so there’s lots of these episodes that I’ve not seen in a long time. Thinking back, the last time I watched this episode, for example, was probably when the DVD set of this season came out - which is a little over nine years ago now!

Since then, a lot has changed for me, and in ways that I’ve been assuming will impact the way I watched these stories. I used to tell myself - round about the time of The Last of the Time Lords - that I would one day live in Cardiff Bay. It was the home of Doctor Who, after all, and of Torchwood, and I’d grown so used to seeing it on screen that I’d sort of made up my mind that I’d make my home there. Fast forward to 2011, and I really did find myself moving to Cardiff. In reality, it transpired that I didn’t move to Wales simply because of the connection to my favourite Time Lord, but because that’s the way life moved. I spent a few years living just across the water from the Bay area, and now live less than a four-minute-walk from the Torchwood Water Tower. It means that watching the series now is a slightly different experience. Just on the walk between my house and Tescos, I pass a tonne of locations that have most recently turned up in Series Eight - from the Italian Restaurant and Victorian streets of Deep Breath to the run down buildings of The Caretaker, and the entrance to the Bank of Karabraxos. I seem to live my life in the Doctor Who world now, and that does change the way you look at things.

To use some examples for today, while the Doctor was making his speech about the turn of the Earth, my thoughts were split between ‘isn’t Eccleston great’ and ‘That street is less than half a mile over there…’. As Jackie found herself caught up in the terror of the Auton attack, I was musing that she’s coming out of the door leading through to the post office, and finding myself distracted by the fact that the doors don’t quite match up with the insides of the location. They’re silly things to be pre-occupied with, I know, but I’ve not seen the story since I made these places my home, and it’s going to take a few days, I think, to get over the sudden shock of seeing the episodes again now that I know the place so well.

So. Anyway. What’s my reaction to watching Rose now, after all this time? It’s more-or-less the same as it was first time around - it’s alright, but it’s never going to win an award as being the best bit of Doctor Who ever made. Something I’d completely forgotten until about three seconds before it happened here is that it wasn’t the episode itself which really hooked my interest in the series - it was the trailer for The End of the World. I can suddenly remember really thinking that was a subject which fascinated me, and making a mental note to make sure I’d be watching the following week. That’s not to say that this is a bad episode - it’s far from that, but it’s very much an episode with a function. Introduce Rose. Introduce the Doctor. Introduce the TARDIS, and the world that this series takes place in, and all the danger and excitement and fun that goes hand in hand with it. A few days ago, I commented that the TV Movie and Rose both have similar jobs - introducing Doctor Who to a brand new audience - but that they’re by no means doing the same thing. The TV Movie feels like the more complete story, whereas this episode has another twelve to come which can allow us to explore the scope of the program further.

Something I do want to draw attention to while making a direct comparison, though, is the introduction of the TARDIS. I meant to bring it up during the movie but then got distracted. In the opening titles to the TV Movie, we find the police box flying through a space/time vortex. It’s an unusual image, especially if you’re not familiar with Doctor Who on the whole. We then cut from this to some kind of gothic Jules Verne library, where a funny little man in tweed is settling down to read a book. There’s absolutely no proper indication that the large space we’re now seeing is supposed to be inside that blue police box. In this episode, though, it’s set up brilliantly - first by having the box crop up a few times in the background, then setting up the idea that it can vanish, and then the actual moment when Rose crosses the threshold for the first time is one of the best directed bits of the episode. She runs inside, and we see her enter… but we hold on her reaction. You don’t get to see what she’s looking at, only the back of the doors and the look on her face. She ten heads back outside to check that it really is a blue box, and then we follow her inside and get a proper look at the scope of the room. It’s quite possibly one of the best ‘first entrances’ to the TARDIS we’ve ever had, and it’s the ideal way to set it up for a whole new audience. I think it also serves to show how Rose introduces such elements far better than the movie does.

What’s surprised me, though, is that I’ve enjoyed this episode less than the TV Movie. For years and years now, I’ve always thought of this as being the more successful of the two, and therefore, to my mind, the better of them. When I suddenly realised the other day just how much I liked the TV Movie, I decided that they’d probably end up sitting on the same level as each other… but it just hasn’t quite worked out that way. I think the fact that I’m so looking forward to the next episode, and indeed knowing that there is a next episode for these characters, has actually harmed this one in my mind, whereas I really had to savour everything about the Movie.

All this sounds like I’m being incredibly negative, but that’s not the intention at all. I think it’s more that I’ve spent so many years thinking of this first season as being absolutely perfect in my mind that it’s never going to quite live up to the image I’ve built up for it. People mock John Nathan-Turner for his comment that the memory cheats, but I think there’s a lot of truth in there. The episode has gone down in my estimations because it’s never going to be as good as I remember it being! Oh, but there I go sounding negative again. It’s such a culture shock to be at the new series - you’ll have to excuse me a few days while I adjust.

There’s lots that I do like in here, so let’s touch on them. The design of the Autons is great - by far my favourite from their various appearances over the years. I love how quickly we go from that opening montage of Rose’s everyday life into the creepy atmosphere of the basement. Her whole life changes just as that music stops playing out in the background, and it’s only about three minutes into the episode. The CGI explosions ion the Nestene lair hold up better than I was expecting them to. Eccleston and Piper are great right from the start, and you know what? I actually ‘get’ Jackie this time around, whereas it took me a while on first viewing!

1 January 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Justin Richards

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“The TARDIS arrives in the CAGE – not a trap, but the College of Advanced Galactic Education, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in colonised space.

Not a trap. Or is it?

The Doctor’s here to receive an honorary degree in Moral Philosophy. But there’s something rotten at the heart of the Medical Facility. Someone is operating on the students. Someone without a conscience. Someone with access to a Sidelian Brain Scanner – a technology that hasn’t been invented yet.

That someone is the ruthless Time Lord scientist known as the Rani – in her new incarnation. But will the Doctor and Peri recognise the Rani’s hand before her trap is sprung?


Ah, the Rani.  Until her triumphant lack of reappearance on TV post-2005, no-one really seemed to give two hoots about her, which is a pity as Kate O’Mara always gave it her best, and The Mark of the Rani is, for my money, one of the Sixth Doctor’s strongest televised adventures.

Suddenly though, things had changed.  Doctor Who was back, and fandom got it into its head that the Rani should be involved for… well, for whatever reason fandom had at the time.  It’s never been entirely clear, but maybe the ‘Bring Back McGann!’ brigade were on holiday.

Whilst BBV and Pudsey Bear had both tried and failed to kill her reputation for good, Russell T Davies’s stubborn refusal to include Mistress Rani in the revived series was the last straw, and then— and then! —he only went and truly rained on everyone’s parade by teasing us all, naming a character Rani who, crucially, wasn’t the Rani in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and if that wasn’t enough, the Master came back and then went and regenerated into a woman.  By then though fandom seemed to have forgotten about it altogether and were busy attacking Philip Morris for having the sheer audacity to return nine missing episodes to us all.  The bastard.

Step forward Big Finish, professional fanboys who had undertaken the steady resurrection of the Voord, the Mechonoids, the Rutans, the Nimon, the Nucleus of the Swarm and even some of their own characters such as Hex and Hex and… erm, Hex.

It was time to bring out the big guns; it was time to bring out the Rani.

The Rani Elite is the first Big Finish outing for the character, pitting her once again against the Sixth Doctor and Peri, albeit in regenerated form this time around due to the sad death of Kate O’Mara.  You can feel its shadow looming over much of this production, largely due to the dialogue being very clearly written for O’Mara and her portrayal of the role.  In much the same way that the Doctor is the Doctor but just swapping, say, mentions of Bessie for mentions of Jelly Babies won’t paper over all the cracks (yes, BBC Books, I’m still looking at Drift all these years later), so it is here.  Siobhan Redmond is wearing the tyrannical Time Lady’s shoes now, and she clearly has a lot of fun with it, but I felt throughout that I wasn’t hearing her interpretation of the role, just her reading someone else’s lines.  I would love to hear Redmond do her own thing with it in later appearances, as what we get here is fine, but not a whole new Rani.  More a Rani 1.5 affair.

As for the story itself, it’s not bad at all.  Justin Richards is always a very safe pair of hands in which to place a slot in the schedule, and there are enough twists and turns along the way here to keep you guessing and feel very true to the era, arguably far more so than any other story in these past few Sixth Doctor/Peri releases (though references to Time and the Rani make this very firmly Big Finish territory).

Set on a school with the Rani pretending to be one Professor Baxton, Richards’s script treads territory walked on by The Unquiet Dead previously, but with enough flair and difference to hold its own.  The questions posed are big ones: at what point does living become a privilege and not something one simply does? Is there a hierarchy over who should live and who should die?

Being Doctor Who, I think you can answer those questions without hearing the play, but all the same the script, and characters within it, handle them well and it helps the four episodes to move along nicely.  As a play in its own right, it’s not bad at all.

As a conclusion to this latest set of Sixth Doctor and Peri plays? Well, it hints at things to come briefly with regards to Peri and her health, but is mostly a standalone play, which is a blessing, really.  The trilogy format has grown increasingly stale as of late, with arcs being imposed on them rather than feeling like natural states of affair, and it’s nice to have heard three mostly standalone plays that just happen to feature a particular Doctor and Companion(s) pairing.  I’d love to see a return to the days of alternate Doctors and no big arcs month on month, but maybe that’s just me.  As it is, I’d like to see fewer arcs with no real cause to be there, and more individual releases such as this has been.

Lastly though, as a reintroduction to the Rani, I think it only half works.  It gives us her amorality writ large and some nice scenes to play with alongside Colin Baker’s Doctor, but as I have already said, it’s a story for O’Mara and not Redmond.  As such, we’ll have to wait a while longer to see what her incarnation brings to the table.

Whatever else though, it’s nice to have the Rani back with us, whatever face she decides to wear.

Now, let’s start moaning about Philip Morris again.  How DARE he only return nine episodes! Who does he think he is…? 

1 January 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £10.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“1950s London: newcomers arrive daily on British shores seeking a fresh start, new opportunities, or simply the chance of a different life. However, some are from much further afield than India or Jamaica...

After an emergency landing, the TARDIS crew must make the best of it, and look to their new neighbours for help. But the Newman family has more than the prejudices of the time to contend with. A sinister force grows in strength amid the pubs, docks and backstreets of London...

And without the Doctor, marooned in a time and place as alien as anything they've ever encountered, Steven and Sara may well face their greatest challenge yet. To live an ordinary life.”


This one, according to the CD Extras and David Richardson’s notes, has been in the pipeline for a long, long time now.  Richardson hit upon the central ideas of this play a while back but it’s only now, in the form of An Ordinary Life and with Matt Fitton in the writer’s seat, that we can hear it in all its glory.

You can see why Richardson kept persisting with this idea and holding back until he had found the perfect writer and team: the notion of the Doctor’s companions being forced to live life day by day in a past as alien to them as the far-flung future aboard a starship would be to us (well, me anyway: I cannot speak for the rest of you all) is a good one, and Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom prove themselves to be the ideal subjects for such a story, as Fitton’s very strong script goes out of its way to show you time and again.  Indeed, such is the strength of the drama and scenery, that it’s acutely disappointing when aliens pop up and turn the tale away from the domestic. (I am certain that this will not be an original observation by any stretch, but all the same, I mean it.)

Perhaps the smartest thing about this play is the time in which it is all set.  It puts us in England in the 1950s with a family of first-wave immigrants, a time of quite some social unrest and upheaval, and Fitton neatly draws parallels between the family with whom Steven and Sara stay, and the companions themselves: both learning, both cautious, both more frightened than they let on.  It could be done in a very clunky manner or grow patronizing, but Fitton never lets that be the case.  He continues with the slight will-they-won’t-they take on Steven and Sara’s relationship as put forward in The Anachronauts (still one of my favourite Companion Chronicles) and develops it slightly, but, again, not enough to rock the boat too much, nor to cause any continuity errors further down the line.  Whether it necessarily needs to happen is a matter of personal taste, really: I’m sure their personal relationship/story could have been as strong without this take on it, but it is far from the worst thing in the world.

Of course, a script is only as strong as its execution, and never more so is that the case when it’s so people-orientated as this one is.  Thankfully, everyone is great.  As Who fans, we practically expect that from both Jean Marsh and Peter Purves, but it really is worth stressing here just how incredibly good they are: this play would crumble without them.  It would also be nothing without its guest cast, and here we have Ram John Holder and Sara Powell in particular delivering about as good a set of performances as Big Finish gives us.  One thing definitely worth saying at this juncture is how good the guest cast has been across this first series of Early Adventures, which bodes very well for the future.

As noted earlier though, things falter when the story shifts from domestic to alien, and sadly it is that which stops this from reaching the dizzy heights that it rightly deserves to scale.  It is a crying shame really, but fewer bodysnatchers and more scenes of Sara kicking policemen to the ground would have given this the 10 out of 10 it probably deserves.

By the time the TARDIS departs and the story ends with that oh-so-familiar theme tune, we feel like we have really grown to know everyone involved, regular- and guest-cast alike, and Fitton has every right to hold his head up high, as does David Richardson, whose dogged persistence has paid off in spades here.  Hearty congratulations to all involved.

And with that, we reach the end of the first series of The Early Adventures.  I’ve noted before flaws I perceive to be present in this series, so it’s not worth retreading old ground here, though I will note that the issue of authenticity chimes again, sadly.  An Ordinary Life is great in that it very cleverly puts 1960s companions into the 1950s, the recent past for contemporary viewers of Hartnell’s adventures, but most of that impact, especially with regards to political and social repercussions, only works now, decades later.  As with some of the very best Companion Chronicles, it makes use of both the present and past simultaneously and plays with them to create something wonderful, but the one thing it is definitely not is period-authentic.  A smart use of 1960s settings and characters? Yes, but not a story that would (or perhaps even could) have been tackled back during the relevant period of Doctor Who.

This recurring issue doesn’t stop the stories from being any good (indeed, you’ll note that three out of four of these reviews have been positively glowing) but it does make Big Finish look a bit silly, or to be more kind naïve perhaps, to keep screaming on about how these accurately recreate 1960s soundtracks.

They do not; they do not come even close, but they’re bloody good fun all the same.  Stop being ashamed of letting them be what they are; drop the slogans and taglines and just admit that these are the new Lost Stories, which in themselves were fuller-cast Companion Chronicles at times.  There’s no shame in that at all.


31 December 2014

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

Day 730: Scream of the Shalka, Episodes Five and Six

Dear diary,

Increasingly as this story has gone on, I’ve had cause to think that it suffers by being the only adventure for this particular Doctor, and in this particular format. The special features on the DVD (some of the best in the range, I think) make it clear that the original plan was to have twelve& episodes, which would have allowed three four-part stories making up a short ‘season’ of adventures for our heroes, but as budgets were changed and interest in the project shifted, it was cut down to the one story. It really *does suffer for this, because it means that Scream of the Shalka doesn’t have enough presence to really make any kind of impact on the world of Doctor Who. It’s easily ignored as a slightly strange bit of ephemera from the early naughties, and nothing more.

It also means that we get lots of tantalising glimpses into the world that the series could be set in, without actually following through on them. The Doctor here is a loner because he’s lost someone, and the implication is that it was someone very close to him and under circumstances that were particularly distressing. You’ve also got him travelling around the universe with a robot version of the Master… and it’s simply presented as the Doctor’s way of saving his old friend’s soul. At the end, Alison ditches her dead-end relationship to go gallivanting in the TARDIS (something that’s going to be cropping up tomorrow, too!), and there’s the promise of plenty more to come for her… but we’ll not be seeing her again. In all, it means that the story doesn’t really pack much of a punch, and I can guarantee that I’ll have forgotten most of it by the time that this marathon is over.

Which is a shame, because there are a lot of interesting ideas in here, and you can sort of see what they were aiming to do with the series. It’s a different approach to it - and one that’s squarely aimed at an existing fancies hungry for new content, as opposed to the TV Movie or Rose, both of which are designed as ‘introductions’ to Doctor Who). I think I’d love for there even to be just another six episodes - one or two more stories just to flesh out this attempt at making the series, so that there’s more of a mission statement for this incarnation of the show.

What has become quite fun in the last few years is the idea that this can now be somehow shoehorned into actual Doctor Who continuity if you squint a bit. It’s all thanks to the fact that the Great Intelligence ends up taking a form very similar in style to the ‘Doctor’ we’re presented with here, and then he throws himself into the Doctor’s time stream, getting scattered throughout the Doctor’s life in the process. I don’t think you have to make too much of a mental leap to say that this incarnation is simply the Great Intelligence playing at being the Doctor, and maybe that would explain his slightly angry demeanour at the very start of the adventure. You could even use that to rationalise the whole ‘Master as a robot’ thing, if you say that the Intelligence recognises the man’s role in the Doctor’s life and so creates his own version to make it all seem more real. Hey, if the Intelligence is mad enough to lure the Doctor to his own grave and then commit suicide jumping in to the time stream, then I’m willing to bet he’s mad enough to pretend he’s an incarnation of the Doctor as a bit of fun now and then!

So, in all, Scream of the Shalka has been an interesting little diversion over the last few days. I’m glad that I didn’t cave during that first episode and skip over it straight to the ‘new’ series, because I’ve found a lot more to enjoy here than I was expecting to, but it’s never going to be a classic - only a strange sort of ‘what if’, floating around in the mists of time…

30 December 2014

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

Day 729: Scream of the Shalka, Episodes Three and Four

Dear diary,

This one definitely grows on you, doesn’t it? Having almost reached the point of turning off during yesterday’s episodes because I just couldn’t enthuse myself enough to care about Scream of the Shalka, today I’ve come away having quite enjoyed it! I think it helps that the cast seem to have woken up by this point in the recording - they must have been doing that first episode early in the morning before they’d had their coffee. Suddenly, everyone is giving a lot more to their performances - chief among them being Richard E Grant.

I mused yesterday that the character he’s being asked to play here has several ver Doctor-ish traits to him, but that it feels like they’re being read from a page, rather than coming naturally to him. Today, though, and from about the moment he slips away from the soldiers and sets out on his own to have the adventure, he suddenly comes alive and seems to realise that it’s supposed to be a fun part to play! Contrast the way he acts in the Fourth episode with the way he does in the first - very clearly the same character, but a world of difference in the way they’re being played.

Not much difference in the way they’re being written, though, because he continues to be very much ‘like the Doctor’ here. I think a highlight is probably falling through a wormhole but taking the time to leave a voicemail (that feels bot very Doctor Who and very 2003, for some reason), and the way he struts back into the TARDIS and very quickly ejects the creatures who’ve taken up residence. You could very easily imagine most of the post-2005 Doctors playing out these exact scenes, and I think that’s probably the biggest compliment I can give.

The script doesn’t only serve the Doctor, though. It seems to have joined the cast in really coming alive with these middle segments, suddenly finding the voice it wants to use. There’s several lines that I’ve noted down as making me laugh or at least raising a smile (always a sign of a good episode when I’m noting down every fourth line of dialogue), and the story itself has started to grab my attention, too.

Something I’ve not mentioned yet is the actual animation of the story… it’s not bad, is it? There’s lots of moments when you can tell they’re supposed to be buffering the next section of playback (I think I’m right in saying that Scream of the Shalka was designed just to buffer as it went with as little delay as possible), and this means we get static images just panning across the screen, or we switch to a view of our characters in silhouette against a barely-moving background, but all of this actually adds to the particular style of the adventure. It certainly looks very different to the way Doctor Who usually did - and not just because we’re now being animated, but because it’s been consciously designed to look different. I think it works, too, and there’s some areas where it stands up especially well. Considering that this was made for broadcast on the website as something of an experiment, an awful lot of love has gone in to it.

And there’s lots of little bits of the design which I really like! The TARDIS Console Room is beautiful with those stairs and the harsh shadows (though I’m not so keen on the actual console itself), and the design of the Shalka is lovely, looking enough like a man in a monster costume to fit in with the rest of Doctor Who and yet unique enough to take advantage of the animated format. I’d love to see an attempt at creating a ‘live-action’ version of the creatures - surely that’s something that someone has photoshopped over the years? No? Right then. I’m off to Photoshop…

Just as an aside, I checked my notes while writing this paragraph in order to see if there was anything I wanted to quote, and I’m pleased to say that some of the lines actually caused me to laugh out loud again. Of particular highlight was the Doctor’s reaction to the Shalka’s plans being grander than invading a small portion of Lincolnshire - ‘you mean… Nottinghamshire?!’

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