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5 February 2015

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

Day 766: Human Nature

Dear diary,

Let’s start off with a confession, shall we? I’ve never been a big fan of the New Adventures novels. There’s some lovely ideas in there, and I love the fact that when Doctor Who finally gets taken off television (seemingly for good), it simply shifts over to another medium and continues to thrive there (am I right in saying that, taking into account the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures, and the modern series tie-in novels, the Doctor Who book holds the record for most books officially published about a single character? Sure I read that somewhere…). The start of the New Adventures really is the start of Doctor Who becoming invincible - there was no way it was simply going to fade away quietly, simply because it wasn’t in active production any more. But despite that admiration, the stories themselves largely aren’t for me. It’s just not a style of Who that I can get properly invested in. But when they announced that Human Nature was to be adapted for the TV series, even I could appreciate what a big deal it was. Human Nature was probably (and still is, thanks in no small part to this adaptation) to most famous of all the New Adventures, and the central premise - the Doctor turns human - is such a good one, that it was automatically something to be excited about.

And speaking of things that you can be ‘automatically excited about’, am I alone in thinking that this episode might have the best pre-titles sequence in all of Doctor Who? Oh, it hits the ground running. Bang! There’s explosions, and laser bolts fired (inside the TARDIS, of all places - our safe haven). The Doctor and Martha are running - scrambling for their lives. There’s shouts, and screams, and pressure, and adrenalin. The Doctor is actively worried, and Martha (who’s shown herself to be so good at remaining calm and composed on the whole) is struggling to keep up with him. Then there’s a plan forming and the watch, and the statement that the watch is…

…before we wake up in a study. On Earth. In the past. The Doctor isn’t the Doctor, and Martha is his maid, and the Time Lord claims to be completely human. I come to this episode knowing that the main hook is ‘the Doctor turns himself human’, but it’s still so exciting. How must this feel to people who don’t know the basic premise? Talk about grabbing your audience’s attention!

Yet for all that madness, and rushing around, and blood pumping, Human Nature is a very measured episode. Oh, it’s slow. It’s possibly the slowest-moving episode we’ve had since the show came back. It ceases the running and panic once the titles have played out and opts instead to spend time setting up the world, introducing the characters, and evolving their relationships. We only get to find out the real nature of the watch and answer some questions about that opening scene in drips and drabs as the story progresses - only bringing things to light when the time is right and the narrative demands it. Actually, I’m not sure ‘slow’ is the way to describe this one - it’s ‘crafted’, and it’s done beautifully.

This is one of those occasions - and it’s been a little while since we last had one - where I have very little to actually say about an episode, because I’ve simply spent the time enjoying it. My notes are littered with things I’ve liked (ranging from lines of dialogue, to specific shots - mentions that the TARDIS looks beautiful here, both in the way it’s shot from the outside, and the way it’s been lit as ‘emergency power’ on the inside - and references to the Journal of Impossible Things*), but I don’t actually have much to write about them, because it would simply turn into a list of things from the episode, and I’d rather avoid that if I can. So for now I’ll just bask in the fact that we’re into a ‘golden’ period for the programme, and I’ll worry about trying to describe things like that tomorrow…

*Actually, no, I can’t not mention the Journal, can I? Doesn’t it seem strange - in a post-Night of the Doctor world - to think that there were debates as to the canonicity of the Paul McGann Doctor right up until about the point that this episode aired, and his face was front and centre among the other incarnations in the Journal? I still remember the reaction to that, with some people cheering because, of course, he’d always counted as a Doctor, while others complained that he shouldn’t really be there. Even at the time, I found the concept that he somehow ‘didn’t count’ bizarre, so it was nice to have some sort of official decree!

4 February 2015

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

Day 765: 42

Dear diary,

Although I grouped it in under the heading of ‘appalling’ during a quick summing up yesterday, I’ve never actively disliked 42. It’s just one of those stories that gets forgotten about and overlooked - possibly in light of the run of episodes that immediately follows it. In comparison to adaptations of the New Adventures, the introduction of the Weeping Angels, and the return of the Master, 42 is just left as something of a filler in the middle of the season. And, sadly, that’s almost entirely what it’s become for me today, I’m afraid. I think it’s a combination of the fact that I’m looking so forward to the next week’s worth of episodes, and the fact that I’ve never really cared for this one. It all just clusters together in my mind and makes it hard for me to really muster the enthusiasm.

So, tell you what, I’m going to try extra hard, just for you lot, and find things that I like about 42. I could go all-out and try to find ’42’ things that I like about the episode, but we’d probably be here until Christmas. Anyway;

The design of the ship. I’m talking largely interior settings, here, though the exterior design is a rather nice one, and different to anything we’ve seen before in the show. No, specifically, I really like the kind of ‘run down’, ‘industrial’ look of the future that’s so prevalent in the Russell T Davies era, and it’s rarely (if ever) done better than it is in this story. The use of the steam and the very harsh lighting really ties everything together, and really gets you caught up in the setting. Lovely.

2) The ‘pub quiz’ doors. It’s a perfect example of taking something that’s a bit of a sci-fi cliche (having to get through several security doors, all coded, to reach the controls that you need to save the day) and subverting it through a Doctor Who prism. It also gives us that Beatles reference which allows me to see Series Three as a homage to The Chase, so that’s always got to count in its favour.

3) The ‘real time’ element. It’s odd to think that this had never happened before in the programme, but then I suppose that the serialised nature of the ‘classic’ series didn’t especially lend itself to introducing such a thing (and it wasn’t so much part of the television language in the 20th century in the same way it was when this episode rolled around). It’s a bit of a gimmick, but one that works nicely enough, and this is probably the best way of exploiting it for Doctor Who - ‘you’ve x minutes until this spaceship crashes into a sun’. Lovely. That said, it did start to bother me that the countdown was read out at completely random times - surely it would be set to announce the time exactly on the minute, or at least on a regular loop? Instead, we get random minutes and seconds such as ’12:55’, ’40:26’, ’34:31’… it’s a really pedantic niggle, but it bothered be more and more the longer it went on… 

4) It’s basically the same story as Planet of Evil, compressed down to a 45-minute time slot, and with a living sun as opposed to an antimatter gateway. I loved Planet of Evil

Oh, and I also rather like the red version of the Doctor’s spacesuit. But that’s a very small detail, so that really only counts as half a ‘thing I liked’. Actually, no, let’s make it count for less than a half, and dub today’s entry ‘4.2 things that I like about 42’…

4 February 2015

Doctor Who and LEGO® fans around the world received exciting news today as The LEGO Group announced that it would be producing a LEGO Doctor Who set.

The concept for a Doctor Who set came from the LEGO® IDEAS website where fans can submit ideas for a set and vote for their favourite idea to be produced.

 

The BBC launched Doctor Who in 1963 and it is the worlds longest running sci-fi drama. Starring Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Jenna Coleman as his companion, the hit BBC One show has become a global phenomenon with a loyal and passionate fan base.

 

The Doctor Who concept from fan Andrew Clark received the 10,000 votes requisite for The LEGO Group to consider it for production.

 

A licensing agreement between BBC Worldwide and The LEGO Group will see the new set available in all of The LEGO Groups key markets before the end of the year.

 

Andrews winning design featured a range of Doctors, companions and monsters across the shows history, but fans will have to wait until later this year to discover what will be produced.

 

Marcus Arthur, MD of BBC Worldwide UK said:


“Both Doctor Who and LEGO enjoy a particularly close relationship with their fans and I cant wait to see what LEGO produce.”

 

Emma Owen, UK spokesperson for LEGO Ideas commented:


“We
re extremely excited to announce that a Doctor Who and a WALL-E set will be released as our next LEGO Ideas fan based sets, congratulations to the designers Andrew Clark and Angus MacLane! 
After receiving over 10,000 votes from the online community and having gone through rigorous toy testing from our expert panel, these awesome sets are on track to be on shelves later this year. The final set designs, pricing and availability are being worked out as we speak, so watch this space for the final details!”


[Source: BBC Worldwide]

4 February 2015

Doctor Who Magazine have sent DWO the cover and details for Issue 483 of DWM.

Paul Wilmshurst, director of the recent Doctor Who episodes Kill the MoonMummy on the Orient Express and Last Christmas, explains the challenges of working on the series, in his first major interview....

"We were all very proud of the fact that the Mummy was so scary they wouldn't put it in the series trailer," Paul tells DWM. "It's always about how far can you go? I think the old joke is true: how complicated can you make it to hold a child's attention, and how simple can you make it for adults? Can you make it scary enough for the children to be satisfied, but not too scary for the adults to be worried?"

ALSO INSIDE ISSUE 483 OF DWM...

•  Doctor Who's very first director, Waris Hussein, reveals how the classic 1964 adventure Marco Polo was made – with the help of unique documents unseen for 50 years!
•  Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat answer readers’ questions – including one from former showrunner Russell T Davies! – in his exclusive column.
•  Peter Purves, who played companion Steven Taylor in the 1960s, looks back at some of his most memorable adventures in the second part of an exclusive interview.
•  En garde! Discover fascinating new facts about the swashbuckling Fourth Doctor adventure The Androids of Tara in The Fact of Fiction.
•  DWM presents an exclusive prelude to the new series of books featuring Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, in the form of a complete short story by Andy Frankham-Allan: The Ambush.
•  Bernard Kay, the much-loved actor who appeared in four Doctor Who stories, is remembered by his friend Toby Hadoke.
•  The Doctor and Clara tackle both Sontarans and Rutans in the concluding part of The Instruments of War, a brand-new comic strip written and illustrated by Mike Collins.
•  The Time Team watch the Tenth Doctor take a bus to alien world, as they visit the Planet of the Dead.
•  Jacqueline Rayner demonstrates the fun to be had in spotting Doctor Who actors in other roles in Relative Dimensions.
•  The DWM Review assesses the very latest Doctor Who audio and book releases.
•  The Watcher examines the changing nature of history in Doctor Who, in the latest Wotcha!
•  The DWM Crossword, prize-winning competitions, official news and much more!
   

+  Doctor Who Magazine Issue #483 is out on Thursday 5th February, 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]

4 February 2015

American Doctor Who fan, Mary Nicholls got the surprise of her life last year when Christopher Eccleston (The 9th Doctor) helped play a part in her engagement. Mary's boyfriend asked Christopher if he could help out, and the result is truly heartwarming.

So all you naysayers out there who think Christopher Eccleston hates Doctor Who - think again, and enjoy the video, below:

 
[Source: Kasterborous]

3 February 2015

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

Day 764: The Lazarus Experiment

Dear diary,

Series Three has always felt like something of an odd beast in my mind. When I look back on it, there’s a really good opening episode, a few good-but-not-great episodes in The Shakespeare Code and Gridlock, a run of appalling episodes from Daleks in Manhattan to 42 (inclusive), and then one of the programme’s strongest runs of episodes with the likes of the Human Nature two parter, Blink, and Utopia. In the end, it sort of fizzles out with a finale that I can remember liking but hardly loving. It’s always felt like a bit of a mishmash of very strong stories, nestled alongside very poor ones. But as has often been the way with this marathon in the last few years, on re-watch it’s not been anywhere near as black and white as that. Smith and Jones was still the great opener I could remember, but then The Shakespeare Code was an absolute blinder - and moved right up my list of favourites. Gridlock didn’t fare half so well, but even the two Dalek episodes surprised me by being really rather good. Sadly, The Lazarus Experiment hasn’t undergone a similar transformation (even if the elements are there, untapped, in its DNA… sorry, no, I am).

It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t, upon re-watch, call this story ‘appalling’ any more. Over the last 700-odd days, there’ve been only maybe a handful of episodes which I’d slot in to that category (and even then, I’d have reservations), and this isn’t one of them. I can’t hand-on-heart say that I’ve really enjoyed this one all that much, but there’s still lots in there that I have liked, and which have made today’s 45 minutes worthwhile. For example, there’s lots of dialogue in this one which I really like, including one bit that I’ve been able to quote verbatim ever since my only previous viewing, because I thought it was so beautifully crafted;

LAZARUS

I came here before, a lifetime ago. I thought I was going to die then. In fact, I was sure of it. I sat here, just a child, the sound of planes and bombs outside… In the morning, the fires had died, and I was still alive. I swore I'd never face death like that again. So defenceless.

There’s one or two other nice moments that stand out, too (I really like the Doctor and Martha’s various conversations around the subject of her leaving here), but none quite so much as that bit. It really moved me first time around, and I’m pleased to find it’s got the same poignancy today.

What’s pleased me the most, though, is Martha’s Mum. Martha’s family has never really worked for me. They’ve always come across as being a bit of a mess - especially when they’re outshone by the likes of Jackie on one side, and Sylvia and Wilf on the other. The dynamic is a good enough one (Mum, Dad, Dad’s Girlfriend, Brother, Sister), but they never felt as cohesive as I’d have liked. Part of that problem lies in the fact that - from their point of view - Series Three only takes place over a few days (meaning things like Tish’s frequent promotions and new jobs without mention in earlier appearances stand out more than they should). Another part of the problem is the availability of various people, meaning that when Reggie Yates couldn’t make the filming of the finale, they had to quickly script in a very brief scene to explain where he was. They’ve always felt far less rounded out than the other relatives of the Russell T Davies era.

But much as with the quality of these various episodes, it had become exaggerated over the years in my mind, and there’s a lot more to enjoy about the way Francine gets written here. I’d forgotten lots of little details like the Doctor knocking a drink out of her hand and the agent of Mr Saxon drip feeding her subtle warnings throughout the evening - in my head she’d just taken a dislike to the Doctor and then been approached by the government at the very end. I’m pleased to see that there’s a bit more to it than that. I’m also pleased to see that Leo makes an appearance in this one! I’ve mentioned above that they could only get Reggie Yates in for the single scene during the finale, but I thought that was the only other time he appeared after Smith and Jones! Granted, he doesn’t get a massive roll, here, but at least there’s a bit more to him that I could recall!

2 February 2015

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

Day 763: Evolution of the Daleks

Dear diary,

Spoilers! I’ve never been able to make my mind up, really, when it comes to spoilers and Doctor Who. I’ve never been one to actively go out of my way looking for spoilers, but I’ve never really been the type to go into a complete sensory blackout, and avoid the things at any and all costs (something of a fools errand, I think. Does anyone ever manage to avoid everything? Really?). It’s funny that Doctor Who is the type of show that attracts spoilers, and it’s position and popularity over the last decade has meant that those spoilers are considered to be newsworthy. It means that occasionally, without even realising it, you’ve spotted a spoiler completely by accident, and there’s absolutely no way to avoid it. 

This story is probably the ultimate example of that - because in the week leading up to this story going out, the Radio Times cover was a nice big image of the Dalek Sec hybrid staring out at you, with the strap-line ‘Half-Human, Half-Dalek, Total Monster?’. I think this may be the only time that a Doctor Who spoiler has ever really irritated me, and it’s all down to how much I already knew. There’d been rumblings that Dalek Sec would be creating the ultimate heresy and diluting the Dalek gene pool by splicing DNA with humans (It may have even formed a part of the episode’s preview in Doctor Who Magazine), but they’d managed to keep a pretty tight lid on what the result would look like. Even if I knew that the hybrid was coming, it was to be a great reveal, and right in the closing moments of Daleks in Manhattan… and then it’s all spoiled by walking in to a shop few days before broadcast, and seeing this cover staring out at me from the magazine racks! That said, I’ve just googled the cover to check I’d written the strap-line correctly (I had - that’s how much it’s seared into my memory! hah!) and I’m impressed by just how dramatic that cover is. The photo of the hybrid is lovely, and no matter how much it annoyed me at the time, I can’t argue with the logic of using this as publicity for the story.

So I said yesterday that I’d be holding off on commenting about the actual story of this one until now, because I’d been enjoying it far more than anticipated, and wanted to see how the rest of the piece held up. If I’m being honest, I think I was expecting everything to fall apart in today’s episode and I’d find my previous dislike of this one justified, but that’s not happened - I’ve found a whole new appreciation for this two-parter!

My previous complaint was largely centred around the fact that I’d always thought of this as being a Dalek story for the sake of having a Dalek story - not because they had something interesting to actually do with them… but I’m not sure I’d agree with that any more. I’d rather forgotten the whole storyline about the humanised Dalek Sec starting to come around to the Doctor’s way of thinking, and I’ve never appreciated how well done it is across these 45 minutes. That it works its way in slowly, with the new hybrid becoming picked by the killings his ‘troops’ make is rather powerful, and I’m still surprised by Solomon’s death here (remember during Series One when I complain that Daleks later on don’t just kill people for the sake of it? I’d completely forgotten this death - and it actually shocked me on today’s viewing!). I can’t help but think that there should be some reference to the fact that the Daleks we had back in Parting of the Ways were desperate enough to start using humanity as a replenishment for their forces, though. Much is made today of the fact that this is only being considered because that’s the entire point to the Cult of Skaro - the rally dare to think outside the box - and it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity not to make a connection in there.

I’m also rather fond of the way the Doctor is written in this one. There’s something really rather fun about the way he greets the Daleks in the beginning (‘hello, surprise, boo, etc.’), and the way they interact throughout. It’s that daring to believe that there could be a spark of goodness indie a Dalek’s mind which is still plaguing the Time Lord right up to the most recent series. That line from yesterday - ‘they always survive while I lose everything’ - sums the Doctor up so well, and is perhaps the Time War summed up in seven words.

So, yes! A complete about-face from me on this story, and I’m really pleased. There’s nothing better than taking a story you previously thought very little of, and finding things to love about it. I’m in the middle of what I’ve always thought of as being a weaker batch of episodes, so I’m hoping that the trend might continue…

1 February 2015

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

Day 762: Daleks in Manhattan

Dear diary,

I’ve made much in the last couple of days about the fact that Doctor Who has suddenly exploded in scope between the Second and Third Series. Everything has gotten bigger, and louder, and more extravagant, to the point that Series One feels almost quaint in places. It’s probably more noticeable to me watching through like this (it’s only been a month since I started out on Rose, so we’re racing through the stories), because at the time, the two years between that Auton invasion and reaching this point felt like a lifetime. Several lifetimes. And yet, occasionally, something comes along that makes even this third series look all innocent compared to what we’ve still got to come. Today’s episode is a case in point. I can recall Russell T Davies really promoting the fact that this two parter features shots specially filmed in America. A small team headed over, took some plate shots of New York, and then found a near-matching wall in the south of Wales somewhere to insert the Doctor and Martha in. It sounded huge at the time, and all the publicity was really geared towards the fact that they’d managed to do this. And yet, it feels quite provincial knowing that the following year they went off to Rose to film the fall of Pompeii, and then on to Dubai the year after that, then Croatia, and Utah, and… well, you get the idea. I’m really enjoying this aspect of watching the new series back, and seeing how it evolved over the years. It’s so noticeable in this episode-a-day format.

It’s also great - as I’ve said before - to go back and revisit my opinions on the episodes. This Dalek two-parter is another one of those tales I’ve not watched since the original broadcast in 2007. Even this morning, I was explaining to Emma that this story was a Dalek story for the sake of having a Dalek story, and that it hadn’t worked, and it wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t looking forward to watching it at all. And then, I’ve sat down, and found myself really engrossed for 45 minutes! With other recent episodes I’ve not seen since broadcast, bits and pieces have come back to me as I watch - usually just ahead of those same things actually happening on screen. Today, though, has been like sitting down to watch a brand new episode for the very first time.

Oh, I could remember the basics - Hooverville, Pig Slaves, Laszlo, Daleks in the Empire State Building (which, as far as my head canon is concerned, was a plan formed after they archived the building’s design during The Chase - that’s Shakespeare, now the Empire State Building… Isn’t there a question about the Beatles in 42? Series Three is shaping up to be a proper Chase-fest), but the actual story at the heart of it; the emotional beats of the tale? Not a clue. Maybe that’s worked in the episode’s favour? Having spent almost eight years thinking that it was one of the very worst stories in Doctor Who’s long history - and certainly one of the weakest from the recent past - I’d actually done the episode something of a dis-service. There was no way it would end up being as bad as I remembered (a similar thing occurred last week with Fear Her, though not quite to the same extent).

To that end… I don’t actually plan on really discussing the story here today. Sorry! I’m so surprised by the fact that I’m actually liking it, that I want to wait and watch the whole thing play out before I really make much of a comment on it!

One thing I will talk about it something that*does* still bother me a little bit about this one, and no matter how good the story turns out to be at the end of tomorrow’s episode, I doubt it’ll allay this particular complaint. It feels like there should be a sort of buffer between Gridlock and this one. It always felt a bit strange that the Doctor and Martha go straight from New New York (actually the fifteenth New York since the original, which makes it… no, actually, never mind) to good old New York, without there being more of a point about it (Martha comments ‘I've always wanted to go to New York. I mean the real New York, not the new, new, new, new, new one,’ but it doesn’t specifically make mention of the fact they’ve just come from the latter). In some ways, this feels like a similar scenario to School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace last season, where something has been missed in the changeover from one writer to another. There’s also something that feels slightly ‘off’, narratively, about having the Doctor first tell Martha about the Daleks and the war at the end of one episode… only to have them run into the Daleks in the very next episode. Until I’ve re-watched The Lazarus Experiment in a couple of days, I won’t really know if it might have fitted neatly in between Gridlock and this one (though I’m certainly going to be keeping it in mind), but it’s just something that’s always bothered me. Am I the only one? 

31 January 2015

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

Day 761: Gridlock

Dear diary,

Macra! Hahaha! Oh, I love the fact that after almost 40 years, the bloody Macra can show up again in Doctor Who, and completely unexpectedly. Oh, true, they’re not really the same creatures that I loved so much back during The Macra Terror, but it’s still something truly wonderful and bizarre, and a nice way of linking the 21st century show right the way back to the early days of the Second Doctor. Mind you, we’re into 2015 now, and I’m still*waiting for the return of Zaroff and his Fish People…
Looking back at this story, it’s a bit of an odd one. I recall being really excited at the time because we knew the Face of Boe would be dying and passing on his final secret… but then everyone had sort of worked it out. As soon as I joined online fandom in the summer of 2006, it had already been taken as established fact that Boe’s final words would be ‘You Are Not Alone’, because they were the words used in Russell T Davies’ write up of the Time War for the 2006 annual. I can’t remember *how
people had made the leap (did Russell make a comment that Boe’s secret was a four-word-phrase? That rings a vague bell in the back of my mind…), but when the moment came, and Boe breathed his last… it was a bit of an anti-climax, really.

I can’t help feeling that the same is sort of true for Gridlock as a whole. There is a certain amount to like in here - the different peoples on the motorway have been nicely sketched in with just a few brief seconds on screen for some, and the re-dressing of the ‘car’ set is very well executed, for example - and I’ve found on this watch that I’ve really enjoyed moments like the singing of the hymn, but I spent far too long thinking about elements that just don’t add up. Something’s never sat right with me about the whole idea of the people trapped on the motorway, and while this time around I connected strongly with the idea that they know it’s not right, but they just don’t talk about the fact, it still just didn’t really feel… I don’t know. Believable? Is that what I mean? It feels rich to be talking about the believability of a motorway in the year five billion, where giant crabs snap at your bumpers, but something just never really worked about the idea for me.

With that, we’re sort of back to the age-old problem that used to crop up from time to time during the ‘classic’ run of this marathon - once the story had lost my interest, it was something of a fight to get it back again, and I’m not sure it really managed it. There’s a lovely upswing at the end where the Doctor sits and tells Martha about Gallifrey, but I couldn’t tell you much, a few hours on, about other things which happened throughout the story. A pity, perhaps, but after the highs of the last few days, this one simply hasn’t found favour with me.

31 January 2015

Every once in a while a genuine surprise turns up to treat Doctor Who fans. This week came the news that a long lost episode of Desert Island Discs featuring William Hartnell (The 1st Doctor) had resurfaced.

The programme which was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service Radio channel on Monday 23rd August 1965, is now available to listen to on the BBC Radio 4 website.

[Source: BBC Radio 4]

30 January 2015

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

Day 760: The Shakespeare Code

Dear diary,

Let’s start today with a confession, shall we? I can’t bloody stand Shakespeare. His work bored me in school. It bored me at A Level. I’ve recently had a lodger staying while she took a part in Richard the Third, and it bored me when she tries to discuss the play with me (and seemed to take offence when I asked if they’d updated the plot to end in the car park). I know he’s considered the greatest English writer in history, and that his plays are heralded as works of genius, and talent the likes of which is rarely seen… but I just can’t get in to them. Nothing doing for me, I’m afraid. Maybe if he threw in a Dalek or two? 

Where I’m going with this is; I wasn’t all that excited when it was announced that the Doctor would be meeting the Bard in Series Three. I vaguely thought that it’d be inevitable at some stage (following a brief earlier appearance in The Chase some 40 years previous, and numerous mentions down the decades), but I wasn’t exactly hyped up for it. But then the genius of what’s been done with the man here is painting him in a way that you simply don’t expect. I was all prepared for something a bit stuffy and literate, but he’s written and played as some sort of rock star (I’m sure I’ve read an interview with Gareth Roberts where this was the stated intention, too). As soon as you realise that they’re doing something different and interesting with the man, it’s much easier to get on board. 

Quite apart from the way that Shakespeare is portrayed in this one, I’m rather fond of the Doctor and Martha, too. There’s the one moment of him pining for Rose, but really they’ve slotted very well into this whole ‘best friends in time and space’ thing, haven't they? There’s something so fresh about bringing in a new companion, and as much as I’d taken to the Tenth Doctor last series, it’s like he leaps up a whole lot more in my estimations across these last few episodes. I love the way he wanders around in Elizabethan London (the moment where he runs hand-in-hand with Martha to see the Globe is lovely), and I love they way they spark off each other. Humour is rife in this episode, and they get to share lots of it (my favourite moment - and it’s one I’ve always loved - is when the Doctor comments that Martha can tell people back home that she’s met Shakespeare, and she retorts ‘yeah, and then I can get sectioned…’).

I also have to confess that I love the confrontation between the Doctor and Lilith. I think I’m right in saying that it was originally a sword fight, right up to the point where the scene was being filmed, and a stuntman was injured (I might go even further and say I think he might have taken a blow to the eye, or something… it was nasty, nonetheless!), but the craft of the rewrite is such that I genuinely couldn’t tell. Until it was pointed out in a commentary, I’d have always assumed it was meant to play out thew way we see on screen.

Oh, but I can’t heap all the praise on to the writing. During The Runaway Bride, I said that you could really see the programme (and the production team) stretching their wings out and seeing just how far they could push this programme. How big they could make it. That’s carried on to this point, because The Shakespeare Code is possibly my favourite episode of Doctor Who from a visual standpoint. It just looks so good! Taking a week out from Wales and effectively touring the country to take in so many locations - including the Globe Theatre itself - really does pay off, because it gives this story a visual identity that really stands apart from anything else. I’ve been saying for two years now that the BBC are always very good at doing historical stories, but I don’t think we’ve ever had it done as well as we do here. From the outdoor locations to the sets, everything feels so perfectly right. 

That extends to the computer effects, too. The digital matte paintings for this story have always stuck in my mind - especially the shots looking out across the Thames, with the Doctor and Martha running around somewhere in the back of the shot. I can also recall Russell T Davies raving about the fact that you’ve got tiny little people running away from the Globe in those final shots of the theatre being consumed by the Carrionites, and can’t help but look out for them every time I watch.

And yet, despite all the praise I’m heaping on this one today, I don’t think I’d ever realised how much I liked it. It’s certainly been a good few years since I last saw it, and while I knew it was one I’d enjoyed, I’d always just thought of it as being a good story, if not a particularly great one. Yesterday, when I said Smith and Jones wasn’t ‘going to be the only high point in this run of episodes’, I was thinking more specifically of the latter half of the series, when we reach the obvious stories like Human Nature, Blink, and Utopia, so I’m delighted to see that I’m having to bring out the higher ratings sooner than anticipated - Series Three really is something a bit special!

29 January 2015

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

Day 759: Smith and Jones

Dear diary,

When this first episode went out, I remember walking to the shop afterwards practically skipping with happiness (under a big full moon, no less!), because I’d enjoyed it so much. Having been less interested in ‘current’ Doctor Who during 2006, this suddenly felt like I was right back in the thick of it again. It’s by far the strongest season opener the programme has given us since the revival, and there’s lots of little things in here to really enjoy. Thankfully, I’m pleased to say that I’ve rather liked it this time around, too, and I think I’ve picked up on things that I specifically like in here.

One of those things has to be Martha. I’m not sure when it started, but there’s a general feeling among Doctor Who fans that Martha is a rubbish companion, and that no one ever really liked her. Is that true, though? I remember liking her the first time around, and I’ve never had any problem with her in the years that followed either. Maybe she’ll grow unspeakably rubbish as the series progresses, but certainly she’s off to a flying start in the companion stakes today. There’s large portions of this episode that are simply designed to thrust her into the companion position, and get her to shine. 

There’s lots of keeping a cool head during a crisis (and it’s even nicely - if unsubtly - demonstrated by the way her college reacts during the same scene, and making the Doctor single Martha out as the one to accompany him on his investigations), thinking logically and reasonably (the windows aren’t airtight, she reasons, so they must be getting their oxygen from somewhere), and just generally getting a bit stuck in when everything is going a little bit mad around her. My favourite ‘Martha moment’ (possibly of her entire tenure, thinking about it) comes when she’s out on the balcony with the Doctor, and they’re doing their proper introductions;

MARTHA

People call you the Doctor? 

DOCTOR

Yeah. 

MARTHA

Well, I'm not. As far as I'm concerned, you've got to earn that title. 

DOCTOR

Well, I'd better make a start, then.

Reading it written down, it could almost be read as flirty, but that’s not how it’s set out. It very much puts the Doctor on a different playing field, having spent especially the last season with a companion who completely worships the man, and never doubts him for a second. It’s good to see the Tenth Doctor having to work a bit to earn someone’s trust (even in The Runaway Bride, he kept telling Donna to just trust him for a while), and I love the dynamic of the two characters both impressing the other throughout the episode.

And then we do get some flirting! That final scene in the alleyway is a fantastic first look at the TARDIS for Martha (I’ve only just noticed that Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who has a thing about alleyways and being asked to travel in the TARDIS - it happens to Rose in, um, Rose, to Martha here, and to Donna in Partners in Crime next series. There’s something in that - the Doctor skulking round the back streets looking for his new companion! But the way these two characters play off each other here simply works for me, and I can’t help but love the way the Doctor repeats the ‘bigger on the inside’ line behind Martha on her way in!

It’s an incredibly strong start to a new series - I’ve spent a lot of today veering between giving it an eight or a nine out of ten (and it’s not often anymore that I have to really consider my score; after two years of doing this marathon it’s boiled down to something of a gut instinct), but I’ve played it safe and give with an eight for now. This isn’t going to be the only high point in this run of episodes, and I fear I’d be peaking too soon.

Still, I’m pleased to say that all this time later, Smith and Jones can ramp me up and excite me for the ‘new’ series - it does exactly what a season opener needs to, better than many others.

 

28 January 2015

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

Day 758: The Runaway Bride

Dear Diary,

About a month before Christmas, 2006, there was a big Doctor Who concert held in Cardiff. It was - I think - for Children in Need, and it was designed to celebrate the scores that had been created for the programme since its return to screens the previous year. As much as I’d enjoyed the music in the series, that wan’t the reason I watched when the episode made it to TV (or the website? It’s hard to recall). No, the highlight for me was a brand new clip of the Christmas Special… and it was tremendous. They showed the TARDIS chasing a taxi down the motorway, and it looked amazing! In some ways, I’m surprised that it’s the moment they chose, because it’s such a highlight of the episode… but on the other hand I’m not surprised, because it’s not the only septic we get in this one! The Runaway Bride is perhaps the first time that you can really see the scope of the programme increasing vastly. By comparison, Rose looks positively lightweight!

Not only is there the chase with the TARDIS (which has dated a little, but still holds its own), but there’s the size of the Empress of the Racnoss prosthetic (which really holds up now - has there been a physical monster of this size in the programme since?), the amount of CGI and practical effects - especially in the climax… You can really see them going for it with this one, pulling out all the stops and making a point of saying ‘this is the scale we want to achieve with Doctor Who.

And as iff all of that wasn’t enough… we’ve got the introduction of Donna! Oh, can you imagine, there’s a world out there where Catherine Tate only showed up for this one special. That world is a cold, heartless place. It seems odd to think now that there was a time when this was all we had of Donna! It was ages (well, it felt like ages) before we had confirmation that she’d be returning for the fourth series, and I find it hard to imagine that we might have been deprived more of this character. She’s brilliant right from the off, if written a little ‘broader’ here than when she makes a comeback later on. I think the fact that I know what she’s like now as a regular companion means that there’s all the more to enjoy about her appearance in this one - don’t think I’ve actually watched The Runaway Bride since Donna and the Doctor hooked up again.

The story also serves as a nice way of moving the Doctor’s story on, following the departure of Rose. To pick up fresh here with a new companion would have felt a bit strange, I think, were we just carrying straight on into new companion territory (in the same way that Time-Flight only gives us the smallest of nods to Adric’s death before moving on - completely dispersing the atmosphere at the end pf Earthshock). Instead, it allows the Doctor’s story to carry forward, and we get some nice nods to Rose and the Doctor’s time with her scattered throughout, while making sure that there’s enough happening to keep these few and far between (and tied to the story). I can recall a lot of Series Three feeling like it had Rose’s shadow hanging over it, but if we carry on in the same vein as this one, then maybe it’ll be better than I’m remembering in that respect!

27 January 2015

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

Day 757: Doomsday

Dear diary,

D’you know, it’s strange looking back to think that it took forty years for the Daleks and the Cybermen to go head-to-head with each other. I think I’m right in saying that the idea was proposed right back in the 1960s, and it was vetoed by Terry Nation, but it still just seems so strange that it took them this long to actually manage it. Does such a thing even happen in any of the spin-off media from the 1990s? Nothing springs immediately to mind. There’s also something curiously wonderful about the fact that these two great Doctor Who icons go head to head in their most powerful forms ever, and we don’t get some massive all-out war, but a bit of a bitch-fight in a corridor. It’s so perfectly Doctor Who, and I can’t help but love it!

That said, the Daleks and the Cybermen aren’t given a great deal to actually do in this episode, are they? The Cybers stop around the streets a little (and the constant clips of the same family that we keep cutting back to makes it seem like they’ve just picked four people to terrorise), while the Daleks go for a stroll to break their mates out of prison, and then the lot of them get sucked out in to the Void*. Still, there is at least a nice bit of mystery in the form of the Genesis Ark. Oh, the speculation at the time was so surely centred on the fact that Davros must be inside it, and that’s how he’d sat out the Time War. I think I prefer the idea that the Time Lords used their ‘bigger on the inside’ science to create prisons for the Daleks… it’s just a shame we don’t get to see more done with the idea before they vanish back down the plughole between realities!

Of course, I can’t discuss this episode without making mention of the fact we say goodbye (for now, at least) to Rose Tyler. At the time, I was so ready for her to leave. It had only been a little over a year, but it felt like she’d been the companion for ages - I suppose being the only regular female companion since the show had been revived made it feel like she’d been there forever - and I’d so disliked her throughout this second series that I was just ready to see someone new aboard the TARDIS.

Watching through this time… I’m warmed more to her throughout the second run. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot about the extremes of her character this series which rub me up the wrong way, but there’s other bits that I really disliked before which suddenly feel right to me. I’m talking mostly about that smug attitude that the Doctor and Rose share through many of these episodes, and I’ve grown to sort of enjoy it, in a weird way. Maybe it’s because I know this time around exactly what fall they’re heading for? Or because I’m more willing to just accept the fun that the pair are having in travelling the stars together?

Either way, I don’t think you can underestimate the importance that Billie Piper played in bringing the programme back. If Christopher Eccleston was the perfect choice to relaunch the Doctor (slightly unexpected, and more of a proper ‘actor’ than people may have expected), then Billie was certainly the right choice for the new companion. While I don’t think I can jump on all the hype of her as being one of the absolute best ever, I can certainly look back on her time in the show as being very strong, and that she was a big part of making that a success.

 

*Actually, that said, the Daleks get sucked back in to the Void, the Cybermen get lifted up from the ground, and then… well, we don’t see them again! Not a single shot of a Cyberman being sent in to Hell! This really bugged me at the time, and it really bugs me now - they’ve even been using nice handy CGI Cybermen throughout the episode here and there, surely they could have managed to add some in at the crucial climax moment?

26 January 2015

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

Day 756: Army of Ghosts

Dear diary,

By the time this finale rolled around, it didn’t matter how much or how little I’d enjoyed the individual episodes throughout the season - excitement was at fever pitch, and I’d been oh-so-clever and worked it all out, you see. I’d been piecing it together for months. Little snippets of info would turn up in Doctor Who Magazine, or in press releases, and when you added it all together, it was obvious what was going to happen. Rose and the Doctor were going to break up. I didn’t know how, or why, or when, but before we reached the season finale, the dream team would be no more. And I knew this because at the end of School Reunion, Sarah Jane makes such a point of telling Rose to find her one day if she needs to - should the Doctor leave Rose behind. Oh, that was too significant to not be followed up on, so Rose was going to go and hunt Sarah Jane down, and then the world was going to come close to the end.

Because that was the other thing that had been confirmed - the Cybermen weren’t only going to turn up for one two-part story this season, they were coming back fro the finale, too. Doctor Who Magazine made a point of saying that the finale was going to be really heart breaking and terrible, and there was a press release that claimed the DVD artwork couldn’t be released until after the finale, because it had a special lenticular sleeve, and the artwork on there would give away major spoilers about the finale. Oh, it was all so obvious - Rose was going to get turned into a Cyberman! Somewhere else, a point was made that the Doctor and Rose would be separated permanently, and that there’d be absolutely no way to get her back; what’s more final that the companion being turned into a Cyberman, and the Doctor having to sacrifice his companion as part of the overall victory? That would certainly qualify as heart-breaking, it would explain the spoilerific DVD sleeve (obviously it was going to alternate between the face of Rose and a Cyberman), and it would tug nicely on the threads right back to the first season - ‘I could save the world but lose you…’

Oh, but then I was wrong! About all of it! Hah! Not the last time, either; we’ll be having another couple of paragraphs like this next month when we reach Journey’s End. There’s no Sarah Jane… Rose doesn’t become a Cyberman… there really is a way to get Rose back (repeatedly)… ho-hum. It was a nice theory while it lasted, and every new bit of information that slipped out fitted so perfectly into the narrative I’d imagined that it was too good to not be true! Well, almost every piece of information. Do you remember when the Doctor Who team went up to collect an award for the programme (was it a BAFTA?)… and Dalek Sec comes trundling out on to stage! A Dalek painted head-to-bumper in black. Well that certainly didn’t show up in Series One, so obviously the pepper-pots would be back again at some point… only then Russell T Davies made a point of saying somewhere that people were wasting their time speculating - they’d painted the Dalek black to match all of their own formal outfits for the awards event. It was clearly rubbish… but I fell for it hook, line, and sinker! It didn’t fit my nice neat theory, you see, in which Rose underwent conversion, so I was happy to go along with the idea that the Daleks weren’t going to be cropping up before the series was out. I didn’t even twig, until that moment when you get the tiniest hint of an eyestalk coming out of the Void Sphere. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I thought was in there.

I said, the other day, that Love & Monsters was perfectly placed within the season to give us a look at the way Jackie’s life has been affected by the Doctor, before she gets to take on a bigger role than usual for this finale. I don’t think I really appreciated just how true that is, though, because almost everything she does here is informed by what we see in that episode. Her conversation with Rose aboard the TARDIS, in which she worries about her daughter’s future is so beautiful, and true, and perfectly in keeping with the character as we saw her a few days ago. And then so’s the way she starts to describe the plot of EastEnders to the Doctor, too! Hah! Oh, I hooted at that one.

Jackie takes on an even bigger role than I remembered in this one - somehow I’d completely blanked out the fact that she has to pretend to be Rose for a while as the Doctor starts to investigate Torchwood. In many ways, she serves as the comic relief for the episode, and she does it perfectly. I’m glad she got the chance to really play up the humour in this second series (it all starts - in some ways - with the killer Christmas tree), and that she gets to leave the programme with this little sub-plot. It’s simply making me grin like a fool throughout. I really find it hard, watching the show back now, to think that I didn’t like Jackie to begin with, first time around!

One other thing that really stuck out for me today was the Doctor’s description of what a Void Ship does. Do you recall, just a few days ago, how the Doctor was so adamant that nothing could exist that comes from ‘before’ the universe? Well, here, he very quickly states that some people call the Void ‘Hell’, and that if you sit inside a Void Ship, you’re completely outside of time… and you could go past the end of the universe and into the next! Now, in fairness, he does say that he’d always thought of Void Ships and being merely a theory - not something that actually exists - but still, if he’s aware of the idea, then he wouldn’t be so set on his belief? Maybe meeting the Beast has loosened up his thinking on such things? 

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