Time Lord Tees

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8 October 2014

DWO’s Spoiler-Free preview of Episode 8.8: Mummy on the Orient Express:

“An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space.”

Fans have been wondering for four years if we might get to see the Doctor catch up on his phone calls and finally head off to the Orient Express in Space to ward of an Egyptian goddess. While this episode doesn’t contain a goddess, it does provide us with an ancient legend, an Egyptian mummy, and the Orient Express. In space.

Let’s start on the design for this serial, because it really is one of the strongest of the season so far. The various production departments have really gone all-out to recreate the look and feel of the Orient Express in the 1920s, from costumes to the train carriages themselves. There was always a risk that a story set in such a confined location as a train would end up lacking the visual impact of something like Robot of Sherwood, or Kill the Moon, but Mummy on the Orient Express really holds its own. Director Paul Wilmshurst returns for a second outing on Doctor Who - having made his debut last week - and again proves himself to be one of the programme’s strongest current directors. I’d wager that there’ll be a few kids having nightmares about the mummy stalking towards them, one foot dragging along the floor…

Making his debut in the series this week is writer Jamie Mathieson, who makes a strong start for his first outing in the Who world. Mathieson’s script manages to blend humour with darker moments, and this work perfectly for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who has perhaps never struck that balance as effectively as he does here. There’s something almost joyous about watching him piece together the mystery of the mummy, and lie awake at night, talking to himself in the absence of a companion. The episode deals somewhat with this incarnation’s coldness, but we get to see him enjoying himself again, too, showing off to a carriage of people, or waxing lyrical about the area of space they’re flying through.

Stepping in to a temporary companion role this week is Frank Skinner, a self-proclaimed Doctor Who fan. In the announcement of his casting, Skinner made reference to (1964 serial) The Sensorites, and he’s spoken on chat shows in the past about his desire to appear in the series. You can really sense how much Skinner is loving being on the set, getting to work with the Doctor to save people’s lives, but you never get the impression that he’s there simply to appease his wish to be part of the programme - he’s perfectly cast in the role of Perkins, and by the end, you almost want him to tag along in the TARDIS full-time!

Five things to look out for:

1) Would you like a Jelly Baby?
2) “Goodbye to the good times…"
3) “The real wonderful is through here…”
4) Don’t stop me now…
5) “I’m not a passenger. I’m your worst nightmare.”

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]

8 October 2014

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

Day 646: Planet of Fire, Episode Four

Dear diary,

The Master stands surrounded by flame as the healing energies are replaced with fierce nature

Help me! I'll give you anything in creation. Please! Won't you show mercy to your own… Argh!!!

Oh, of course I was going to have to bring this up today. Along with the introduction of Peri, the departure of Turlough, and the fact that it was filmed abroad, this is the thing everyone knows about Planet of Fire. They were finally going to reveal that the Master is the Doctor’s brother! Do you know, it’s been so long since I last saw this story that in my head it was far more… explicit. The way the line is spoken in my head makes it sound much more as though he’s been cut off, but Anthony Ainley’s delivery doesn’t quite have the same effect - it’s more stilted. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the Doctor and the Master are siblings. It just seems too neat somehow, and I much prefer the idea that they’re friends and contemporaries. Indeed, I rather like the thought that one of them ran away from Gallifrey first, and the other followed suit because they were always trying to keep up with their cooler friend. I can’t quite decide who went first, but I love not knowing. It’s a little piece of mystery in my own head canon, and I enjoy that.

I’m not enjoying Planet of Fire as much, though, I’m sad to say. Right the way through, the story has simply failed to connect with me, and it’s hovered around a fairly average score. Today is no exemption. While there’s plenty in here that should be appealing to me… it simply isn’t. I’m not overly bothered by the plight of the people on this world, and I don’t really care about the struggles they have to go through to get to the end.

Where I am interested is when we get all of Turlough’s background. Because I’m coming to all of this some thirty years later, I know that Turlough is from Trion, and a prisoner following a bitter civil war. What surprises me is just how much all of that only gets invented here. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I’d convinced myself that little hints had been drip-fed to us right through Turlough’s time in the TARDIS, but really, this is the only mention we’ve had that he’s an alien since his arrival… and even there it’s not made all that explicit! In many ways, I should be complaining that all of this comes as an info dump in his final episode, but I really like everything we’re told, so I’m willing to completely overlook that fact. I’ll miss having Turlough (and Mark Strickson) in the programme, though, because he’s been a highlight in several stories lately!

Still, we’ve got the arrival of Peri well and truly started now. I’d forgotten (are you sensing a theme here? Lots of Planet of Fire simply failed to stick in the mind!) that she actively asks to come along with the Doctor, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves over the next two stories. What a time to join the ship! It seems an odd decision to want to tag along, mind, considering she’s had relatively little time with the Doctor so far - though they get some great time together today - and she’s spent most of the episode being threatened and running around Lanzarote trying to keep alive! I can’t fault her enthusiasm, and after a fair old stretch with Tegan in the show (much as I loved her), this comes as a real breath of fresh air.

There’s change coming…

7 October 2014

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

Day 645: Planet of Fire, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The Master’s… situation in Planet of Fire might just be the most ridiculous one he’s ever caught up in. I’ve already mocked it more than once during the course of The 50 Year Diary, and I’m sure I’ll end up mocking it again (probably tomorrow, if I’m honest). That said, the cliffhanger for today’s episode, in which Peri opens up Kameleon’s ‘Control Box’ to find a miniature Master inside, is so ridiculous and stupid… that I can’t help but love it! I think it’s almost one of those situations where something is so bad that it actually ends up twisting back round to ‘good’ again.

In fairness, I’ve rather enjoyed the Master in a lot of this story so far. He’s certainly coming across better than he did in The King’s Demons or Time-Flight. There’s something really wonderful about the fact that the Doctor is trying to convince these people to follow his advice and to help him, while making a point of telling them that he’s not the ‘Chosen One’ they’ve been waiting for. The Master (or the Kameleon-Master), on the other hand, strolls into the room and immediately starts playing the part of the man they’re expecting. I love the way he raises his arm and starts to give a sermon akin to an over-the-top preacher as he orders the Doctor to be put to the flame. It’s times like this that the Master is at his very best (it’s just a pity that it ends up undercut by the fact that he needs helping out of a box… What do you know, I didn’t even have to wait until tomorrow to mock it again!)

It feels quite monumental, too, that we’re seeing Anthony Ainley’s final confrontation with the Fifth Doctor. Back when Ainley first appeared in the programme, I commented that having him work against four different incarnations robbed him of the ‘mirror image’ effect that we had with Pertwee and Delgardo. Those two were perfectly matched - both a little pompous and arrogant, both entirely convinced that they’re right… there’s so many instances that I flagged up while watching where they’re simply made for each other as ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’. Ainley has already fought the Fourth Doctor (and even caused his demise, indirectly), and yet I’ve grown to think of him as being very much the Peter Davison Master. I’m wondering how I’ll find him in the next few seasons, when forced to go up against Colin? Certainly, at the time, I believe this was planned to be the end of the character at least for a while, and it’s sort of a shame that they ended up bringing him back so swiftly.

Also worth mentioning - the Master’s outfit in this story. When I think of the 80’s Master, I think of the velvet outfit that he’s most famous for. He gets a few variations (most notably in this story and in Survival), but it’s usually confined to being that one standard ‘costume’. It’s amazing how much swapping him out into a suit for his appearance as Kameleon helps, though! It really looks good as an outfit for the Master, and it feels so much nicer than the one he usually has to wear. I’ve seen people complain that the action figure of this Master is technically a figure of Kameleon in a suit… but I’m somewhat glad it’s the one we’ve got!

It was only during today’s episode, too, that I’ve noticed the Doctor’s outfit! You’d think, after two-and-a-half season of seeing him so often with his jacket and jumper on, that his appearance here would make more of an impact. In fact, it genuinely washed over me until today. I think it’s because this is another one of those useless facts you build up as a Who fan - I know this is what he wears for the story, so my brain doesn’t bother to kick in when I see it! As a costume, I think it works for the Doctor, and I like how much more relaxed it makes him seem. Having Turlough out of the school uniform makes it really look like the pair are on holiday, and I think I rather like that!

6 October 2014

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

Day 644: Planet of Fire, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’m not sure what the general consensus is on Peri as a character, but I really do love the way she’s being introduced in this story. With the Doctor and Turlough off having their own adventure for much of today’s episode, and Peri stranded on her own with the Kameleon-Master, it feels almost as though she’s waiting in the wings for Turlough to up and leave, before she can take her place as one of the programme’s leads. I’ve never noticed how strange this period of the programme is, with three consecutive stories ending with the departure of a lead cast member… it’s really starting to hammer home to me now that things are all change once more! I’d also like to highlight some of my favourite dialogue for Peri ever, and a line that I often find myself quoting to people completely out of context for no real reason:

You will obey me…


I am the Master!

So what? I'm Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can.

I love that she’s not taking any of the Master’s grandiose rubbish - as far as she’s concerned, he’s just a slightly shonky robot who isn’t particularly friendly. I must admit, in the past, I’ve found it hard to wrap my head around Kameleon’s role in this story, because even the cast don’t always seem to be entirely sure when someone is playing their original character, or the Kameleon copy of them. There’s a moment in today’s episode, where a piece of rubble falls onto Kameleon-in-the-form-of-the-Master’s head, and when he gets up again, he gives the bump on his head a little rub as if he’d just knocked it against something a little light. In some ways, it seems to give the impression that it’s only a tiny bump to a robot like Kameleon, but Anthony Ainley plays it far more ‘organic’ than that!

On the whole, I’m really not sure what to make of Planet of Fire. I had memories of it being a story which isn’t really here-or-there, and it didn’t leave any real impact on me. I don’t know if it’s simply that I’m waiting for the new era to kick in (and the fact that the next story has been voted the all-time-number-one Doctor Who adventure before now probably doesn’t help!), but I’m just not all that bothered by anything that’s happening here. We’ve come all the way out to Lanzarote (a location which still isn’t really being used to it’s best potential), we’ve got the annual return of the Master, the introduction of a new companion, a volcano about to erupt… and I’m just a bit bored by it all. I’m hoping that things can pick up in the next episode, because with so little Peter Davison left in the series - and having enjoyed the rest of this season quite a lot - I want to really get the most out of the Fifth Doctor while I can!

5 October 2014

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

Day 643: Planet of Fire, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’ve always thought that Nicola Bryant did quite well, joining the series here. Her very first story takes her out to Lanzarote for filming! It’s a far cry from Janet Fielding being introduced to the programme on the side of the Barnet Bypass! I’m going to have to mention Peri’s… arrival in the story, so I may as well get it out of the way quickly! It has to be said that the famous bikini shot is quite a departure for the programme! I often end up saying ‘we’ve never had anything quite like this in the programme before…’, but that’s very true in this instance! I’d somehow got myself to thinking that it was out first shot of Peri in the series, so I was quite surprised to see her given more clothes and character in several scenes before this one! I’d also forgotten how bratty Peri comes across in this episode, but I rather like that. By the time we reach Season Twenty-Three, we’ll have seen her grow up considerably, so I’m looking forward to watching the character grow over the next couple of seasons - we’ve got a great place to start from!

While I’m on the subject of companions… Kamelion is back! This is one of those times where I knew he was in the story (and played quite a major part), and I knew this as recently as yesterday… but completely forgot today until he started screaming out in agony! It’s a real shame that he’s been completely ignored since the end of The King’s Demons, because the Doctor’s cry of concern for the android here comes across almost as though he’s remembered that the thing exists. It would have been nicer to have a brief appearance from Kamelion in each of this year’s stories (there was one cut from The Awakening - I meant to watch the scene at the time, but got too caught up in the war games and forgot!), even if he was just plugged into the console and offered advice, or sarcastic K9-esque comments to the rest of the TARDIS crew. As it is, I don’t really care that he’s in any pain here, and I worry that it won’t make much of an impact on me as the story continues and we see him go through his final hours.

I’ve already mentioned the Lanzarote filming briefly today, but I can’t quite decide if it’s a good idea or not. On the one hand, it does provide some lovely locations - Peri out on the boat looks far more effective than it would have done being shot off the coast of England - but it’s not being treated as the focal point I’d expect. Our opening shot today, as two characters make their way across some rocky terrain, doesn’t try to give us a real cope of the vistas behind them; it lets them start to creep into shot as we follow their actions, but then cuts away before we can get a real decent look. For all it matters, this could have been shot in any old quarry!

I’m also struggling to keep on top of which location is meant to be where. The production team really got their money’s worth out of the trip abroad here, by having the island appear as itself and the planet of Sarn, but it’s causing me no end of problems. This is most noticeable when we cut from Peri out on the boat, to two of our Sarn… people, looking out over a body of water from atop a peak. There’s no indication that this is supposed to be a different body of water to the one we’ve just seen Peri in, and I can’t help but think that either Sarn would look better contrasted against something like a flat, grey, London locale, or Lanzerote would look better crossed with an alien planet filmed here in the UK. I’m hoping that the distinction might become more clear as the episodes roll by…

4 October 2014

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

Day 642: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Fanboy that I am, I can’t help but enjoy taking this episode, and retroactively inserting modern Time War continuity in to it. The Daleks’ plan here is to duplicate the Doctor (and his companions, because they wisely understand that the Doctor needs companions or he’ll look a bit… off), and then dispatch the clones to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly hard to try and view this as an early shot of the Time War, is it? In fact, this feels now like the first retaliation for the events in Genesis of the Daleks, where the Doctor was tasked specifically with wiping out the Daleks before they have a chance to become… well… the creatures we know and love to hate.

I also don’t think it’s hard to read the Doctor’s actions here as being aware that this could be the start of an almighty war. Once he knows what’s going on, and finds out where Davros is, he decided that he needs to go and put a stop to it all. There’s something almost brutal (and in keeping with this story) about the way he simply announces that he’s off to kill Davros, and then ruminates on the fact that he ‘held back’ once before when he could have put a stop to things. There’s a few more instances to come in the ‘classic’ series yet which can be seen as part of the Time War, but we’ve now got the aforementioned Genesis, The Invasion of Time (which I decided was the Sontarans ‘auditioning’ for a part in the battle), and this story. It’s fitting that the universe the Doctor’s in this season should be that little bit darker, and that little bit less safe.

Especially fitting, in fact, because it’s this kind of thing that prompts Tegan to make a decision and leave the Doctor behind. I must admit - I love Tegan’s departure. We’ve never had a companion exit quite like this before, in which they actively decide that they’ve had enough of the Doctor’s lifestyle and they want out. Usually, they’re off to better things, leaving for love, or a chance to get back home, or because they’ve found a new family. Tegan leaves because everything’s gotten a bit nastier of late. There’s certainly a feeling of this over the last few stories - In Warriors of the Deep, there should have been another way. The Awakening puts another one of her relatives in danger. Even Frontios takes its toll. I sort of with that they’d fed in a little bit more of this over the last few tales, knowing that she was on the way out.

For years and years, I’ve seen people complain that Tegan was a rubbish companion because she never wanted to be there in the TARDIS. It’s one of those things that you sort of subconsciously take in as part of your Doctor Who knowledge. I have to admit, though, that she’s been far less whiny than I was expecting. Yes, she spends some of Season Nineteen trying to get back to Heathrow, but when an adventure arose, she was able to jump in and be a vital part of the team. I have to say that I’ve really loved Tegan as a companion, and it’s surprising just how quickly her departure has come around. She’s moved a good few places up my list of favourite companions, and I’m going to be sorry to see her go. I’d like to take one final chance to heap some praise on Janet Fielding, too. She’s been fantastic in the part, and her final scene here is simply wonderful. Oh, Tegan, I shall miss you!

Today’s episode, while still a bloodbath, has been quite enjoyable. There’s some lovely direction on show (Tegan being chased by the fake policemen is home to probably the best shots of the story, especially as she tries to escape down a flight of steps towards the river), and I’m glad that Matthew Robinson will be back next series to helm the return of another popular monster. I can’t remember a great deal about Attack of the Cybermen, but I don’t think it’s quite as bleak as this one has been! 

3 October 2014

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

Day 641: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

Today feels extra special. It’s the start of a new story, the return of the Daleks after a five-year absence from the programme (brief cameo in The Five Doctors notwithstanding), Tegan’s final story, and it’s almost double-length! Yes, I’m going to be watching Resurrection of the Daleks in the 45-minute version that it was shown in on first broadcast (altered because of the BBC’s screening of the Winter Olympics, I think?). I’m not doing it this way because I’m trying to go for exact historical accuracy in this marathon, but more for nostalgic reasons. Having rented Invasion of the Dinosaurs from the local library in the autumn of 2003, my interest in Doctor Who had been sufficiently piqued. I’d rented out a few more tapes of the series (and for an idea of the effect that they had on me, I can’t remember which ones they were…), and had a read up online. I knew, therefore, that the Doctor’s greatest foes were the Cybermen… and the Daleks.

The first two DVDs of the programme that I purchased therefore were this story and The Tomb of the Cybermen, because I thought that they would give me a good idea about these two most famous of villains. I also wonder if this initial choice made an impact on the fact that I’ve always been more at home with 1960s and 1980s Doctor Who than the 1970s stuff that goes on in the middle? The original DVD release of this story came out with the as-broadcast two episodes, so that’s how I remember experiencing this tale the first time around. I’ve seen it maybe twice more since then, and I’ve been really looking forward to reaching it in the marathon.

There’s certainly a lot to like about this opening episode, isn’t there? We open with that gorgeous shot of the warehouses, the girders overhead, and then pan in to a man lighting up a cigarette. Already, thanks to the direction, there’s something somewhat eerie about all of this… and then a bunch of people dressed in ‘futuristic’ clothes come running in terror from one of the buildings, pursued by a group of policemen, who proceed to shoot them down… and take out the man with the cigarette too, just for good measure. I think I’m right in saying that Resurrection of the Daleks has the highest on-screen body count of any Doctor Who serial, and this opening scene certainly sets that stock out early on.

From there, the episode doesn’t let up, and I think the crowning moment is probably the crew of a space-prison setting up a barricade to fight from behind as the Daleks come blasting aboard the station. It’s the first time that we’ve ever seen the Daleks treated in such a manner - dropping them in to the kind of ‘gritty’ and ‘macho’ science fiction that was popular in the 1980s. The last time we saw them, in Destiny of the Daleks, they were trundling round a quarry and trying to save Davros from bombs. Here, they come gliding through the safety barrier and into the ambush, where they immediately manage to dispatch a couple of their opposition.

But then we get a couple of Dalek casualties, too! Seeing the two blown up in the entrance to the airlock is lovely, as is the way that reinforcements come along and just push these shells out of the way when recommencing the attack. And then you’ve got the destruction of the Dalek in the warehouse - which we get to see pushed out of a second-floor window and explode as it hits the street below. As if that weren’t enough, you then get the terror of the Dalek mutant, too, which prompts even the Doctor to take up arms. This certainly isn’t your standard Dalek tale.

Quite often, people talk about Eric Saward’s scripts for the programme being very bleak. This is, I think, the first time that we’ve really been able to see that in action - it’s certainly a lot bleaker than The Visitation was, and you can sort of track the through line from Earthshock to here. This is Saward taking the same starting point, and just really feeling free to go all out with it. I don’t think I’d want Doctor Who to be like this all the time, but having this type of tale peppered through the programme now and then is always nice, just to break things up a little. It’ll help make Tegan’s decision to go in tomorrow’s episode all the more relatable.

Today is also the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros. He’ll be seeing us through another two Dalek tales after this one, and I have to admit that I’m a fan of this ‘incarnation’ of the villain. I’d imagine it’s probably because I was first introduced to the character through Molloy’s portrayal (I’d seen all of his stories in the roll long before seeing either Wisher or Gooderson fill the part), and also because I’ve had the provalidge of seeing Terry give a performance first hand. When I was studying for my degree, we had to make a lot of short films, each one showing off a different technical aspect of film-making. For one of the pieces, we had to put together a trailer.

Of course, I decided to go ahead and create a Doctor Who trailer. We could only use footage that we’d created ourselves, though, so I set about getting shots in various locations that could be used. The crowning moment of the trailer was to be the TARDIS arriving, the door opening, and the light spilling out to illuminate Davros, sat alone in a dark space, ruminating on the mistakes he’s made in life. I wrote a short piece, and Terry was kind enough to come along and record it for me (in the back room of the shop I worked in at the time!). Just hearing him deliver the lines in a cold and calculating way (a performance honed by years of working with Big Finish, I’d guess, because it was incredibly subtle and nuanced, was a real joy, and when he finally broke out in to full on ‘rant’ mode… absolutely beautiful. For an hour afterwards, Terry crouched down behind the original Davros mask and operated the mouth, while I took shots of various angled and we synched it to the dialogue. It was something of an odd day, but a real highlight of the degree!

There’s a lot to like in Davros’ revival here, but it’s not quite as good as I remembered it. One of my favourite shots in this serial is the big ‘cryogenic chamber’ lifting up, and the smoke pouring out around Davros, revealing the scientist. I’d remembered it being the big introduction of Davros to the story, and thought that the chamber had appeared entirely filled with smoke up to then. Actually, though, he’s visible in the background of shots for ages before that happens, and it does lessen his arrival into the story. It reduces him to simply being a bit of the furniture that happens to be there, as opposed to exciting me about his return. I’m also somewhat baffled by his musing that he’d have loved to have seen the war between the Daleks and the Movellans… but he did! In his last story! Ninety years in suspension has obviously been playing a little with the grey matter! 

3 October 2014

DWO’s Spoiler-free preview of episode 8.7: Kill the Moon:

This year’s season of Doctor Who has really showcased the way that the programme can change and adapt its style each week. We’ve had comedy with Robot of Sherwood, action with Into the Dalek and even a bank job in Time Heist. What do we get with *Kill the Moon, then? Well… a feeling of dread, mostly.

That’s not a negative comment - it’s not a feeling of dread that the episode isn’t good - it is - but large swathes of this episode are imbued with that ‘pit of your stomach’ feeling that makes you a little bit uncomfortable. It could be the spider-creatures lurking in the shadows, or a moon base filled with cobwebs, it could be the mystery of the moon’s real purpose, and it could even be the way that the Twelfth Doctor behaves.

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has been quite unlike his immediate predecessors. He’s not the cuddly, human-loving Doctor we’ve come to know over the last ten years or so, and he’s stopped pretending to be our best friend. That’s perhaps never highlighted better than in this episode, in which he decides that it’s simply not his place to get involved. With each week, you can see Capaldi finding new facets of the character, and this week we get to swing between him being cold and uncaring, to excitement as he figures out what’s really going on.

If our Doctor is on fine form again in this episode, then the same is certainly true for Jenna Coleman in the role of the companion. Clara has been through a lot with the Doctor since his regeneration, and the cracks in their relationship are beginning to show. Coleman gives it full throttle in this episode, at times proving her best performance to date. Clara might struggle to get along with the Doctor after this adventure, and it’s not hard to see why…

It’s also time for our annual trip abroad, this time returning to Lanzerote (previously used for location sequences in 1984’s Planet of Fire), which is doubling up as the surface of the moon. It’s a very striking location, and it’s hard not to fall in love with it a little - perfectly representing our closest neighbour in the stars, while also transforming it in to something creepy and dangerous. Director Paul Wilmshurst has crafted a beautiful pallette for the episode, and his work here only serves to add to the tension, keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next little bit of terror…

Five things to look out for:

1) There’s shades of 1968’s Seeds of Death in here… beyond it being set on the moon…
2) A description of how the Doctor senses ‘fixed points’ in time.
3) “What’s wrong with my yo-yo?”
4) Two rules: “No being Sick. No Hanky-Panky.”
5) “The future is no more malleable than the past.”

[Sources: DWOWill Brooks]

2 October 2014

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

Day 640: Frontios, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I really love the image of the TARDIS here, embedded in to the rock. It’s such a striking image, and it’s another one of those ones I can recall seeing long before I had a chance to watch this story, and it’s always stuck with me. Even the effect of the TARDIS being pulled back together looks fab - it’s a simple case of fading between two shots, but something about it just really works for me. As you can probably tell, I’m going to be raving about this episode a little bit more today!

Frontios is a tale which doesn’t really get a great deal of attention. It’s not often talked about, it just sort of exists as a part of this season. Even though I know I like it from a previous viewing, I tend to forget that it’s even here, so it’s lovely to watch it again now and find that it can really hit the right notes for me. It feels confident, it looks stunning, and there’s a great story at the heart of it. When we talk about showing stories to people as an attempt to interest them in Doctor Who, there’s a few candidates that always crop up - City of Death is normally in the number one spot. I think that Frontios might be a good addition to the list, though! There’s perhaps a little bit of continuity in the fact that the Gravis thinks the Doctor has been sent to spy on events here, but so long as someone sitting down to watch knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, you’re good to go!

Certainly, I think this is the strongest ‘space’ tale that we’ve has for a long time. I gone on at length over the last few days about how good the sets look, but it does bear repeating one final time here, because they’re stunning. I don’t think there’s a single set which doesn’t work for me, from the tunnels to the surface, they all have a very strong identity, and they’ve managed to really get the hang of that ‘battered future’ look that’s been creeping into the series for a while. This is a far cry from the sterile white corridors of the Nerva beacon - and while that set was gorgeous in its own way, this is just as beautiful - if not more so - in a completely different direction.

Director Ron Jones will be helming stories in the next two seasons, and I’m suddenly very much looking forward to seeing them. Everything here feels like such a step up from his previous efforts on the series, and I really can’t deduce what’s happened between Arc of Infinity and this story to warrant such an upswing in quality. He was never a bad director, but he’s never before made the impact on me that he has here. I’m hoping he can keep it up!

Someone who won’t be returning, though, is Christopher H Bidmead. I’ve not really discussed him a great deal in this marathon - despite the fact that he script-edited Season Eighteen, which did rather well in my scores - but it’s nice to see him bowing out of the programme on such a high. I think it’s fair to say that this is a far better script than Castrovalva was, and my thoughts on Logopolis are probably best being left where they are. The script for this story is filled with so many lovely little lines that I’ve been noting down over the last few days, and I’ve barely brought any up because it’s been too tricky to try and pick favourites. I do want to single this one out from Turlough in Episode Three, however, before the story is over:

The earth is hungry. It waits to eat. … I can see them. They are the appetite beneath the ground.

The whole idea of the earth being ‘hungry’ really appeals to me (it’s likely why The Hungry Earth is one of my favourite story titles from the new series), and it’s painted beautifully in this story, as a mixture of myth and madness. It’s a shame that Bidmead won’t get the chance to provide another tale like this one to the programme, but I think Frontios has shot right up my list of favourite stories, and I’ll certainly be returning to it fairly quickly once the marathon is over!


1 October 2014

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

Day 639: Frontios, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I think I played my ‘isn’t Mark Strickson good’ card a day too early. He was very good yesterday, but today’s episode has been a real tour-de-force for him! I think you can really see him sinking his teeth into having something different to do in today’s episode, and even though he’s required to mostly look troubled and spout half-complete sentences, he’s really giving it his all, and making the most of the part. I’m really, really impressed by him here, and I think this is likely to be his best performance in the programme, and the one that I’ll be remembering him for.

Yesterday, I tried to stay away from praising the direction too much, but I’m going to have to bring it up again now, because it really is fantastic. I still can’t quite get my head around the idea that this is the same man who directed Black Orchid or Time-Flight. Everything looks so polished, and it’s the use of lighting and colour that really works for me. The underground scenes have a unique feel all their own, and it does come across as a completely different alien environment to the world above the surface. I love the way that the green light is used in scenes with their own portable lighting tubes, and it helps to make this look even creepier than they could do. I’m also wondering if they’ve started using a different quality of video this season which could be helping to contribute to that slightly ‘glossier’ look that I was discussing yesterday - this story looks somewhat sharper than I’m used to, and I think the same was true of The Awakening, too, looking back…

I’d also like to give some praise over to the design team on this one. I’m so used to banging on about the way the BBC are so much better at creating historical or down-to-earth locations, and Season Twenty-One so far has been something of a case in point, with the poor quality sets in Warriors of the Deep being followed up by the church and the manor house in The Awakening. This story is the perfect example that they really can do space-age, and I think it’s probably my favourite futuristic design to date. The use of several glass shots (or, at least, I’m assuming they’re glass shots) in different locations really helps to give a sense of scale to the sets where needed, which helps to make the various tunnels all the more claustrophobic.

Of course, at some point, I have to mention the story’s resident monster - the Tractators. People dressed up like giant rubber woodlice. A concept which is frankly ridiculous, and the design department couldn’t be expected to do anything short of rubbish with it.

Which is why it’s all the more surprising just how well they work! Haha! There’s a moment early on in today’s episode, where Tegan throws one of the lights at a group of the Tractators, and they go shuffling off, waving their arms around… and it looks great! It shouldn’t - it should look absolutely awful. If you were to show the clip to a non-fan out of context, they’d probably think it looked stupid, and rubbish, and all those things that it quite possibly does… but I don’t care, because right there in that moment, I completely bought it. It was only after the episode ended that I remembered complaining about the Myrka waving its arms around the other day - it’s surprising just how differently everything combines together this time to create something that I’m really enjoying.

And while I’m on the subject of it, come on, Character Options! Where the hell is my Tractator action figure?

1 October 2014

If, like us, you loved the 50th Anniversary, Doctor Who story; The Day Of The Doctor, and can happily watch it over and over again, then, thanks to our friends over at Cult Box, you can play a cool new Bingo game the next time you watch the episode!

Cult Box have put together 3 Bingo cards featuring quotes and scenes from the episode which you can fill in to win. We have included the 3 cards to the right, which were designed by Rob Smedley.

Each card features a different Doctor; The War Doctor (John Hurt), The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith).

The team also have some cards for the Season 7 cliffhanger episode; The Name Of The Doctor, which you can download and print, here.

Print your cards out now, pick a Doctor and get ready with a pen!

DWO have put together some fun little Doctor Who related Bingo number nicknames, which could easily relate to show, below. See if you can guess which numbers they are:

Cup Of Tea
Knock At The Door
Doctor’s Orders
Key Of The Door

The 50th Anniversary year was one of the biggest in the entire history of the show. Everyone got involved to celebrate one of the most-loved icons of British TV, and you would have been hard pressed to find an outlet who didn’t cover the event in some way, shape or form.

It’s interesting to note that in the anniversary year alone, over 300 new Doctor Who fan sites popped up to help show their support and love for our best-loved SciFi show. 

If you were one of those people who started your own fan site last year, we would love to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch and email us your reasons for starting up your fan site, and why you love the show so much. Emails can be sent to: fansites@drwho-online.co.uk.

Those of you wanting to up the stakes a little can play a wide variety of cash-based bingo games via some renowned bingo sites. And if online bingo isn’t your thing, they have a wide range of other games you can play, too!

[Source: DWO]

30 September 2014

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

Day 638: Frontios, Episode Two

Dear diary,

There’s something quite striking about having a cliffhanger in which the TARDIS - effectively - blows up. I used to comment about enemies getting in to the ship being something truly unsettling, because that white console room is our beacon of safety for the main characters, but this feels like going several steps beyond even that. Having just the hat-stand left as a signifier of where the ship once stood is also a brilliant visual image.. but I’m not sure if it would make as much of an impact on me if I didn’t know that the hat-stand was supposed to be such an obvious part of the ship, with the Doctor drawing attention to it at the start of yesterday’s episode. I think of it as being iconic… because I’ve always been told it is. I know it’s been around in the console room for ages now (and will continue to be so right through to the new series), but I’ve never really noticed it before!

This story is still scoring an awful lot of thumbs up from me, though. I mostly mentioned the direction yesterday, so take it as read that I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of the tale today (though I do need to make mention once again of the way different coloured light is being used to great effect - yesterday it was the red of the ‘missile attack’, while today it’s the green of the underground tunnels - and close ups again of various characters is making this look really rather beautiful), but I’m getting caught up in lots of the actual narrative this time around. Despite the fact that I’ve seen Frontios before, I can’t remember a great deal about the plot. I know that the Tractators are dragging people down through the soil to power their machines… but I can’t remember why they’re doing it, or what they hope to achieve. It means that I’m finding everything really gripping as I try to piece it all together!

The last time Christopher H Bidmead penned a script for the series, it was filled with lots of high-concept ideas that simply couldn’t be realised all that effectively in a BBC TV studio. Now, it feels like he’s come back to the programme with a better idea of what they might actually achieve with the time and budget they’re given. He’s created a world here that I feel really invested in - it’s populated with very rounded characters, and a sense of shared history that I can completely buy in to. It’s always nice when this happens, and it’s putting me rather in mind of Kinda, which can only help to strengthen this story’s position! We’re being drip fed information about this colony, their back story, and their various power struggles really carefully, and it’s bringing me right in to the story. There’s no doubting that this is Bidmead’s best script for the show.

I’d also like to take a moment today to give some prise for Mark Strickson. He’s been in the series for a while now, and he’s given a great performance in every episode so far. He’ll be off in only a few episode’s time, so I wanted to make sure that I single him out for praise at least once! I fear that he gets rather over-looked in the grand scheme of companions, overshadowed by the likes of Tegan and Peri around him, both of whom are Doctor-defining companions. Turlough is just there, not always given the most to do, but Strickson makes sure to really flesh out the part every week. His performance today is a real highlight, when forced to come running through the caverns absolutely petrified by the thought of the Tractators - I’m really unsettled by his acting here, and that’s supposed to be a compliment! He’s managing to convey the terror of the situation perfectly, and I think it’s a shame that he doesn’t get credited for his work on the programme as much as he deserves to!

29 September 2014

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

Day 637: Frontios Episode One

Dear diary,

Frontios was one of the last Peter Davisons stories to be released on DVD, coming out towards the latter end of the range in 2012. Up until then, there wasn’t much I could have told you about it, other than it was broadcast as a part of this season. It was just one of those Doctor Who stories that existed, but whereas the tales around it in this season featured the return of creatures like the Silurians, or the Daleks, or were the location of major cast departures and arrivals, this one was just A. N. Other story. Because it was one of the later DVD releases, I was long since caught up on buying them, and I’d pick them up on day of release on the way to work. Even if it wasn’t a tale I was desperate to watch immediately, I’d still dutifully buy the DVD, because a) I’d want to see it one day, and b) there would be a gap in the collection and it would drive me mad knowing that it was still to be filled. That said, I’ve still not actually bought The Web of Fear on DVD, because I picked it up on iTunes…

With this being one of the stories I knew so little about, though, I couldn’t wait to get it home and watch it. At some point, I’d sort of made a conscious decision not to find much out about it, because I liked the idea that there could still be Doctor Who stories that were almost completely alien to me. Actually watching my way through the series for The 50 Year Diary has revealed that there’s loads of stories I know very little about - even if I didn’t realise it - but for a long while Frontios was an example of a story that I was aware of knowing very little information on. I still wonder, if I’m honest, if that’s why I enjoyed it so much on that first viewing, because I can remember being simply glued to it throughout.

It’s one of those times when I want to say ‘you can always tell that so-and-so is back in the director’s seat this week…’, but actually, it’s not as simple as all that. When I started out on today, I made a note that it must be Peter Grimwade directing, because it was looking so polished and he’s one of the best director’s we’ve got at this point… but then I remembered that he bowed out of the series with Earthshock. I had to wait for the closing credits to roll around to find out that this one was being directed by… Ron Jones!?!?! Surely that’s an error in the credits? Ron Jones was the director responsible for Time-Flight, which wasn’t particularly stand out direction, and for Arc of Infinity, which even in Amsterdam didn’t make any impact! This is the man who turned the corridors of Gallifrey into a tacky office block corridor, complete with sofas!

I’m being rude, yes, and unfair. I was just so surprised by the revelation, because I’m loving the direction in this story. The main courtyard set looks fantastic when it’s being struck by the ‘missile attack’, and there’s a lot of really nice close ups that make this story feel quite unlike anything… well, quite unlike anything from before Season Twenty-One. I’ve been musing over the last few days that this season has its own very unique style. The costumes worn by the ‘locals’ here are very similar to the ones we see in Warriors From the Deep, and we’ll be seeing similar things cropping up in at least a couple of other stories before the season is out. It’s not just the design that feels different this year - the whole ‘look’ of the season feels more polished and glossy than anything from the last few years has. It’s almost as though we’ve done that ‘Season Eighteen Upgrade’ thing again, where everything has suddenly started to look completely different from the Doctor Who that came before…

28 September 2014

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

Day 636: The Awakening, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh dear. Yesterday, The Awakening had so much promise. Although the central mystery was botched a little bit - informing us that the people in this village are playing a war game before trying to drum up mystery about the fact that they're all dressed in period costume - there was enough going on to keep me really interested and I was enjoying things. Today's episode has been much more of a mixed bag.

For starters - we get the revelation that Sir George is under the influence of the evil Malus in the church. I'd wondered if there was some kind of influence being applied to the people in this village, or if they were just going too far by their own accord, and I really like the idea that it's a bit of both. Sir George is under the influence, and because people know and respect him, they all get caught up too. We also find out today that they plan to really recreate this battle in the village - complete with casualties. That's a great revelation, and I think it needs to have been seeded in to the story a little bit earlier on. You can get away with explaining the concept of the war games and then building mystery about the fact that they're all going too far to make it accurate, but that didn't come across on screen as well as it perhaps should have.

The other issue I have is in the form of Tegan's grandfather. He's the reason that they're here in Little Hodcombe, and much was made in the first episode about the fact that he was 'missing', and the locals were being more than a little bit shady about it. After all of that, though, he turns up today without any real fanfare - he simply happens to be locked up in the same barn Turlough gets taken to, and is introduced to the plot with a simple 'hello, I'm so-and-so'. This probably shouldn't bother me as much as it does, but then he doesn't actually make any difference to the story after that. We discover that he's the one who found the Malus, but for all the difference that makes, it could have been any character in the village. Thank goodness Tegan asks for time to spend with him at the end of the story, or he'd be completely redundant!

On the plus side, I really like the Malus creature in the church here. It's an image that I just know would have been burned in to my mind as a child, watching the bits of the wall crumble away to reveal the evil face behind. Indeed, I can claim that it's been burned into my adult brain, because it was one of the images I an most clearly recall from the Doctor Who: The Legend book, about a decade ago. I've said before during this marathon that that book was responsible for inspiring and growing my love of Doctor Who all the more in the early days of my interest in the programme, and this is just another example of it. I think I like that even though it's only a two-part story, and we only really get to see the creature in this second half, they've created what looks like a fairly expensive prop for it - complete with moving lips and glowing eyes, billowing smoke… yeah, definitely one of the greatest creations of the era, if not the entire 'classic' series.

I didn't bring him up yesterday, but I'm really loving the character of Will in this story (and not just because he's my name-sake. Is this the first time we've had a 'Will' in the programme? No others spring to mind immediately…). It's quite nice to see a return to that Season Nineteen format of pairing the Doctor off with a 'local', while the companions go off to play a different role in the story. Peter Davison works well with a 'child' companion, and Keith Jayne turns is a really lovely performance. I've also been enjoying Polly James in this one as the schoolteacher - she works very well with Davison's Doctor, too. I think I'm right in saying that both these characters travel with the Doctor for a while in the novels - presumably while taking Will home again at the end of the adventure, leaving Tegan and Turlough behind in the village for a little bit (there's a point - I can understand Tegan wanting to stay put for a day or three, but Turlough has been so desperate to never see the planet again - I'm surprised he doesn't want to hurry away again!).

It's a real pity that this has all fallen apart so much for me, because I so enjoyed various aspects of the first episode, and it seems like a real shame to see them go to waste like this.

While I'm here, I'd also like to draw attention to the 'making of' feature on this DVD - Return to Little Hodcombe. I don't watch special features for every story as I go through the marathon, but I tend to dip in and out here and there. This particular one is a real highlight, though, and probably one that I've enjoyed the most from the entire range. It takes this story's director - Michael Owen Morris - back to one of the locations used for the story, as well as bringing back Eric Sawad, Janet Fielding, and Keith Jayne to talk about their various involvement in the story. The feature is peppered with input from local residents who remember the filming, and it's lovely to hear them recall it, and to see their photographs from the time. It adds a really nice new angle to these kinds of features, and I've really enjoyed watching it!

27 September 2014

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

Day 635: The Awakening, Episode One

Dear diary,

I watched this episode hours ago. I usually write up the day’s thoughts fairly quickly after viewing (if I don’t, I’ll get distracted by something shiny, or some Doctor Who action figures or something, and I’ll never get round to it), but I’ve been wrestling with myself on this one. You see, I really want to give it an ‘8/10’, but I don’t think the episode quite deserves it, because… oh. Right. Tell you what. Let’s start with all the (many) positives, shall we?

For starters, this episode looks gorgeous. It does! Once again, the BBC are most comfortable when filming something down to Earth with actors in period costume. They’re rather gorgeous costumes, too, because the period of the Civil War allows for a certain amount of flamboyancy to be introduced into the design of the story. That also extends to the various sets, which are also gorgeous (and represent Barry Newbury’s final work on the programme, capping a tenure that’s stretched back intermittently to the very first story, with stops via Marco Polo, Doctor Who and the Silurians, and The Brain of Morbius). Visually, you couldn’t ask for much better.

I also love the whole idea of the war game, and that the entire village is all a bit too caught up in things. I can’t tell if that’s going to turn out to be down to the Malus’ influence (Will here does say that the creature makes the fighting worse), or if it will simply end up being just the way humans behave, which could be a nice way to take things. I just know that I’d enjoy getting caught up in these games, and the rural life on display here isn’t a million miles from what I grew up around (indeed, it’s almost making me a bit homesick!), so I’m enjoying that aspect of things, too.

And then you’ve got Tegan’s grandfather going missing, and everyone getting a little bit cagey as to what’s really going on here. I can’t tell if any of the characters are directly under the control of the Malus, and thus are behaving oddly on its orders, but it’s certainly fun to watch the Doctor come up against these obstacles in a slightly different way to the norm. I’ve become so used to him coming up against people in power that it’s always fun to see him caught up in some slightly different dynamics.

My problem with the episode, then, is the way that information is seeded out to us. There’s a lovely moment, when the TARDIS crew arrive and Tegan declares that they’re in the wrong century. Turlough tells her that he checked the instruments himself, and it’s definitely 1984… so something strange is going on. As our trio continue to explore, lots gets made of the fact that they’re surprised by the events around here, and the story tries to build up a real mystery around it all. But… we’ve already been told that it’s a recreation of the Civil War! We know that it’s just the present-day villagers getting dressed up and having a bit of a laugh. Surely it would work better if we have to wait and find out that information along with the Doctor? This is where I’m not sure that the episode deserves a full-on 8/10 score, because it feels like such an oversight.

Today also sees the introduction of Peter Davison’s new costume as the Doctor. I’ve always known that he had a slightly different version for this final season (though I assumed it would have debuted with Warriors of the Deep - I assume his original costume is still in the wash after the events of that story…!), but I always thought it was just the little changes - the shirt switching from red lining to green, the bands on the jumper, and the stripes on the trousers. But unless my eyes deceive me, we’ve got a slightly different jacket, too? I’m not sure what it is about the piece, but it doesn’t looks quite right - almost like a budget cosplay version of his regular jacket. It’s not something I’ve ever noticed as a problem before now, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it during the rest of the season to see if it’s just having an ‘off day’ (or, rather, if I am!)

Something else I’ve found amusing in today’s entry - and it’s the kind of pathetic thing I think of when watching several episodes but then don’t bother to write about here - has been an odd string of coincidences. The episode opens with the local schoolteacher searching the barns for someone. As she appeared on the screen, I thought to myself ‘she looks bit like an older Polly Wright’ (no, no, I know she doesn’t as the story wen’t on, I couldn’t decide why I thought that). As if on cue, she then starts calling out for her missing person… and it’s a man called ‘Ben’! That raised a smile, but then when the credits began to roll, I realised that the schoolteacher was being played by an actress called Polly James! So there we have it - a Ben and Polly reunion, taking place entirely in my own head!

Anyway. Coming to the end of this entry, and having finally written everything out… no, I can’t give this one an 8/10. The slightly strange seeding of information feels too out of place for me. I’ll stick with a solid 7/10, and hope that tomorrow might be enough to tip it up slightly… 

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