Time Lord Tees

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18 June 2014

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

Day 534: City of Death, Episode Four

Dear diary,

There’s something very, very, brilliant about the fact that this story - one in which so much humour has been centred around Duggen’s love of violence to get the job done - all comes down to the most important punch in history being thrown to knock out the alien bad guy. Doctor Who isn’t usually a programme which delights in violence, and indeed it’s unique standpoint is usually that the hero doesn’t use violence unless really necessary, but it’s always great to have a solution as simple as this once in a while.

I’m always impressed in this episode with just how well the studio set of the prehistoric landscape matches with the model work. There’s something really rather nice about the fact that this is the most-watched episode of Doctor Who ever on initial broadcast (16.1 million viewers - a fact often put down to ITV being on strike, but actually, by the time this episode aired they weren’t any more), and it’s one of the most accomplished. People talk of ‘classic’ Doctor Who being filled with dodgy sets, and acting, rubbish monsters, and poor model shots, and this episode manages to take each one of those things and shoot them down in flames one by one.

Quite aside from the great model shot and the matching studio set, you’ve got the design of Scaroth, which must surely be one of the most unusual and recognisable creatures from the full history of the programme. When they brought the toy out a few years ago, they made a decision to ‘shrink’ the Scaroth head compared to that of Julian Glover, to better give the impression that the human features were a mask to go over the green… thing. It never looked right, though, because it’s such a striking design that trying to change it in any way simply moves you in to the territory of spoiling things.

Then there’s the acting. Sticking with Julian Glover, it’s worth pointing out that he really does give a very good performance throughout this story. There’s a reason that he’s a known name in the acting world - and that’s because he’s very good at what he does. As if it’s not enough to have him cast as one of the major guest stars, you’ve also got Catherine Schell cast in the role of his wife! A veteran of films like On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Return of the Pink Panther, she’s something of a coup for the show. Put these two in a scene together - as today, where the Count reveals to his bride exactly who he really is and berates her for never noticing, before leaving her dead - and you’ve really go something special.

The episode also features those famous cameos from Eleanor Bron and John Cleese - something which I never really appreciated when watching the story before, but now that I’ve grown to have a broader interest in archive television, it really means something to me. Plus, the gentle poking fun at the world of art critique is always welcome, and fits in so perfectly with the story.

Overall, City of Death has managed to justify its place among the programme’s greats. I don’t think I enjoy it quite as much as some people do, but I think it’s a tale I could watch again a year from now, and enjoy just as much as I have this time around. And again the year after. And the one after that, too. It’s a great example of what Doctor Who can be - and it’s no wonder that this is the story most people choose to use when introducing new viewers to the ‘classic’ years of the programme!

17 June 2014

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

Day 533: City of Death, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The further I get through this story, the more I wish that Duggan had stayed with the Doctor and Romana for longer than these four episodes. Can you imagine him being whisked off to an alien world? Punching an alien? It’s a similar dynamic to the Sarah/Harry one from Season Twelve in a way, only here the super intelligent aliens outweigh the regular people! He’s a real highlight in this episode, and he’s bringing out the best in Romana, too. I think this is probably the most that I’ve enjoyed her in this new incarnation so far, when she’s taking on the role of the Doctor, and doing all the explaining. I love, too, that she’s less used to ‘summing down’ for people, so she speaks to Duggan in the same way she’d explain things to the Doctor, and then you’re left just waiting for his reaction, and the punchline!

As if you can’t tell, it’s the humour again which I’ve been enjoying in this episode, and almost all of the characters get a stand out moment to really stretch their comedic timing. I think it works that no one (with the possible exception of David Graham as Kerensky) is sending up the material, but treating it with just the right balance of comedy and drama. It’s a very fine line to walk, but the script and the performances are all managing to stay largely on track with it all.

I think that my favourite moment from today’s episode has to be the way in which the Doctor distracts a Renaissance guard by taking a polaroid of the man and then knocks him out! In the same way as the Rock, Paper, Scissors scene in Destiny of the Daleks, there’s something about that sequence that’s just so very in keeping with what feels like ‘Doctor Who’. Realistically, though, I could cite almost every scene as being a favourite, and a very close second would be Duggan setting off the alarms after the Mona Lisa has been stolen! It’s those kinds of antics I’d love to see with him as a part of the TARDIS team. I’m somewhat surprised that Big Finish haven’t brought him in for any of their Fourth Doctor audios, yet, but I guess with Lalla Ward and Tom Baker teaming up for a full series in the near future, there’s the perfect opportunity on the horizon. Here’s hoping, anyway!

In today’s episode, we get a good examination of the way that Scaroth works - having been splintered through time during that explosion at the start of the story, he now lives through several time periods, having personas in Paris 1979, Italy 1505, some period of Egyptian history, what looks like the Crusades (oh, I hope he gets to meet Richard the Lionheart at some stage!) and several assorted other periods. He talks of being the man who caused the construction of the pyramids and who built the first wheel… he’s clearly been a major player in human history, nudging the species in the right direction to meet his needs (was he perhaps being controlled by the Silence without knowing it? If nothing else, he’s certainly been an inspiration on their creation).

That’s always caused me a bit of trouble, though… because I could never quite get my head around the way it all works. Were there one Scaroth, with a hugely elongated lifespan who had caused these things to happen as he went along… then fair enough. The fact that there’s so many splinters of them has always thrown me, though. Does he start each ‘splinter’ as a child, in the way it’s implied that Clara does when she’s split through the Doctor’s time stream? Does he simply arrive fully formed? How is each segment kept in synch with each other? Is it simply that they automatically ‘connect’ with a version at the exact same age but in a different time zone? Presumably, all the splitters eventually die, or there’d be lots of Counts around in 1979… it’s always been a bit too much of a headache for me!

16 June 2014

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

Day 532: City of Death, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’ve not noticed it before, but this episode doesn’t actually feature any of the Paris filming, beyond those establishing shots of the Scarlioni residence, which are re-used from yesterday’s episode! I wonder if the lack of such ‘running through Paris’ padding has been partly to thank for my enjoyment of this episode more than yesterday’s? It’s not only that, of course - the fact that the story is underway, and that this episode contains far more interesting developments than the last episode also combine to create an episode that - on the whole - I’ve very much enjoyed.

The episode really hinges on the Doctor’s three encounters with Scarlioni, and the fact that each one of these is played in a slightly different way. That initial meeting in the drawing room is perhaps the most famous of the three, with that immortal line ‘my dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems…’ summing up the Fourth Doctor (and Tom Baker’s) entire personality at this stage of the programme. This is then followed up by the later confrontation in the cellar, during which the Doctor gets the chance to interrogate his foe, receiving only brisk ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers in reply. The tables are then turned, to see the Doctor answering questions in a similar fashion. Of course, both of these scenes are there to set up that cliffhanger, and it’s one of the best we’ve had in ages. The Doctor has travelled back in time to visit Leonardo, and is set upon by a guard. His superior enters the room… and it’s Scarlioni!

Knowing how and why the man has been scattered throughout time means that I’d forgotten just how much impact that cliffhanger has - but as I say, it’s one of the best we’ve had for a long, long, time. Truth be told, I’m struggling to think of the last time a cliffhanger made me sit up and take notice as much as this one did, and I wish I could come to it clean, without the knowledge of what’s going on!

The main thing that I’m enjoying in this tale has to be the comedy elements. Adams was responsible last season for The Pirate Planet, a story where the comedy fell almost entirely flat for me. Here, though, things are on a much greater form. I think it helps that the story is set in the real world, and so there’s a more identifiable context for the jokes to be played in. Duggan is amusing with his blustering ways, because we all know someone like that. The Doctor is amusing as he goon around the laboratory, because we’re used to the Doctor doing that, but not often in this kind of setting (it’s strange that what would have felt like such a Doctor Who location only a few seasons ago - a large house with a home-made laboratory - feels so fresh and new here). And all of this takes place as part of a story which revolves around the theft of the world’s most famous painting. We don’t need to work to believe in this world - we already live in it.

It’s telling that almost all of my notes for today’s episode (and there’s a lot - I’ve not written so many for a while!) are snippets of dialogue, and almost exclusively that of the Doctor’s. Adams by now has a real handle on the way that Tom Baker plays the role, and so every line seems to have been written specifically for him, which seems to be keeping Tom in check a little more. He’s able to be commanding when he needs to be, but it never feels like he’s going over the top in the way he’s sometimes prime to doing! Even if things aren’t quite perfect for me, yet, I’m really able to see why people can love this story so much. 

16 June 2014

New Rock group; Space Elevator, have released a new track, titled 'I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)', as a tribute to Doctor Who.

DWO visitors wanting to listen to the song can download it here: http://www.spaceelevatorband.com/mp3-download/.

The password to download it is Gallifrey and you also need to include your email address.

You can also watch the music video, which features the track, below:

 
Space Elevator’s Lead Singer (and huge Doctor Who fan) ‘The Duchess’ says:

“Quite simply, our debut album is all about space and would not be complete without a Dr Who song. The song is a tribute as I have a Time Lord crush in all his incarnations. There’s something there for every woman! He’s strong, intelligent, unobtainable (crucial), he will fight daleks and cybermen..he has two hearts.. lol! ...or maybe I’m the only girl that dreamt of what her own Tardis would look like inside?”

The album Space Elevator (Cat No SECD1) is Out Now at HMV, Amazon and all good record stores, with the vinyl album (SELP1) being released on 14th July 2014. 

[Source: Paul Sabin]

15 June 2014

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

Day 531: City of Death, Episode One

Dear diary,

City of Death is one of those Doctor Who stories that can’t be separated from its reputation. For years it’s been hailed as one of the all-time greats (it came in at number 5 in the recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, and by contrast, the next-highest Graham Williams era story placed at number 32… and it was Horror of Fang Rock, which was already underway before Williams fully arrived on the scene!). Former producer Julie Gardner has described the story as being the one which convinced her that Doctor Who could work upon its return to TV in 2005, and has praised the mix of drama and humour within. I’ve seen it a few times, but despite its status, I can’t really say that I have a strong opinion on it either way.

It certainly gets off to a good start in this episode, though, opening with a brilliant model shot which sweeps across prehistoric Earth and comes to rest on a rather unique design of spaceship. The Jagaroth ship is one of the more striking from Doctor Who history, and there’s a reason that it’s always stuck in the mind more than any of the mrs generic ships seen in other stories over the years. That the episode opens with it being blown up is also quite a strong way to begin the story, and gets you hooked in right away. There’s none of that leisurely pace we had in Destiny of the Daleks here…

…Well, not until we touch down in Paris, anyway. Joining the Doctor and Romana at the top of the Eiffel Tower reminds me of my problem with this pairing of Doctor/Companion - they’re just too… smug. I love the type of relationship that he has with Leela, or Sarah Jane, or Jo, where he’s the smart one, and he gets to explain things away to them as he goes. I seem to recall the Doctor and Romana sometimes becoming a little insufferable as they wander around the universe being very clever together. Still, I could be wrong about that, and I have a feeling that some of it may have come from the opening of this episode.

That slowed-down pace continues for a while, with the pair making their way through the streets of Paris. We follow them as they head from the tower to a cafe, then from thecae to the Louvre, and then back to the cafe once more… there’s an awful lot of walking, jogging, and running around in this story. That’s clearly the result of the production team trying to say to us ‘look! We’re actually in Paris! As in, really, honestly, there!’ This is the first of Doctor Who’s ventures abroad for filming, and it certainly does lend a slightly different feel to the story than I’m used to.

In some ways, it feels more amateur. There’s several shots where passers-by, or commuters on the Metro, simply gawp into the camera, wondering what the crew are up to, and it looks to all the world like a bunch of tourists have set up a camera in the middle of the street and shouted ‘action!’ to a man in a ridiculous scarf and a woman dressed up as a schoolgirl. I wonder if they thought all British television was like this? It also seems to constrain Tom Baker’s performance in places. I’m used to him being loud and booming, domination the screen for every second that he’s on it, but here and there - most noticeably during some of the scenes outside the cafe, it feels like he’s reigning it in. It’s a slightly odd experience, when I’ve become used to watching him get louder and louder for the last five seasons! He’s on his regular form in the studio scenes, though, flailing about when experiencing a time-slip.

Almost to counter-act the less polished feel of these location shots, it’s being directed more like a film than anything I’m used to seeing in an episode of Doctor Who. Shots taken though an empty slot in a postcard rack, or from the other side of a river, all have a slightly more artistic feel to them than usual, and although I enjoyed Michael Hayes’ direction for both The Androids of Tara and The Armageddon Factor, I can’t quite remember it being this filmic before.

I wonder if the story is simply suffering from that age old problem - because I know it’s supposed to be such a classic, I’m seeing faults more than I might otherwise do. Here’s hoping that as the story goes on, I can simply sit back an enjoy it, without the weight of its reputation bringing it down… 

14 June 2014

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

Day 530: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

For a moment, I thought that this episode instantly negated my theory about the Daleks splitting off into factions and only this group becoming robots. Davros kept banging on about them being robotic creatures in general, and if he doesn’t know, then what hope is there for the rest of us? Actually, though, I think it can be reconciled with my earlier thoughts - he’s just been brought up to speed with the events of his sleep by these Daleks, and they’ve possibly only described to him their decent into being robots, and neglected to mention their mutant brothers who are still out there spreading hate among the stars. There we go, that solves it. If you squint a bit.

In all, I think that Destiny of the Daleks feels a bit… lightweight. The Daleks have come to revive Davros to fix their computer, and then the Doctor tricks him into blowing them all up before he can even get close to the machinery. Story over. I don’t know that it’s particularly more lightweight than many other Dalek tales, but it certainly feels like everything just been a bit too leisurely for my likings. I’ve enjoyed lots of individual elements from the story, but I think this is one of those instances where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Still, even this final episode manages to give me lots of things to enjoy. Chief among them is probably the Doctor getting a race of war-like robots to play games of Rock, Paper, Scissors in order to teach them a thing or two about logic - that has to be one of the most Doctor Who things in the world, and I absolutely love it. I’m also keen on the number of Daleks that are milling around today. I some shots, there’s only 5 of them, but the way the camera pans across seems to make it feel like a lot more. Then, when they all start blowing up, they go in pretty spectacular explosions!

The most important thing about this episode, though, surely has to be the fact that it’s Terry Nation’s final written contribution to the world of Doctor Who. He’s been with us since 1963, and the programme’s second story, and has been responsible for 7-and-a-half Dalek tales (eight-and-a-half, if you want to count Mission to the Unknown as separate to The Daleks’ Master Plan), and two non-Dalek adventures. He’s come in for a bit of stick from me, over the years, for his particular brand of writing, but looking at his average scores, he’s not doing too badly!

For his Dalek episodes (I’m including Mission to the Unknown, and only counting Episodes One - Five and Seven for Master Plan), he averages 7.02 as a score. For The Keys of Marinus and The Android Invasion, his two Dalek-less stories, he comes in at a slightly lower average of 5.80. Still, considering that the Daleks are his lasting legacy to the programme (and the world!), that’s not bad going!

13 June 2014

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

Day 529: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Ah, of course. How did I manage to forget about the central premise at the heart of Destiny of the Daleks - that the Daleks are robots, and thus they’ve had to return to their living (just about) creator to resolve their troubles. I’ve not actually watched this story before now, so I didn’t realise just how prevalent that is throughout, but this episode is filled with references to the Daleks begin robot creatures. Romana claims that the Doctor knows more about the Daleks than anyone… so the Movellan captain claims that he must be an ‘expert on robotics’. As if to hammer the point home to us, the Doctor even finds some kind of gooey Kaled mutant out on the wastes of Skaro and muses that the Daleks were ‘originally’ organic creatures…

It really does just sit uneasy with everything else we’ve ever been told about the Daleks over the years, and that it comes so out of the blue - in a story written by the man who invented them - just feels really bizarre. Still, I’m not entirely sure that it’s impossible to reconcile this notion with the rest of Doctor Who history. It’s generally accepted that the Cybermen of the classic series ended up branching off into two separate castes (some remaining ties to Mondas, and being reduced to skulking about the galaxy once it gets blown up, and the others relocating to Telos), and we know that by the late 1980s, the Daleks had developed a plot and started fighting amongst themselves.

I think there’s an argument to be made (almost) that a group of Daleks, perhaps most prominent in Skaro’s ‘local’ part of space, could have slowly developed themselves into more and more robotic creatures, until they went almost Cyberman with their approach, and ended up stripping out everything. Emotions gone, flesh gone, and - in the end - the little bubbling lump of hate gone, too. This particular group of Daleks could have ended up caught in this current impasse while the rest of their race are off ravaging the universe with the little mutants locked away inside their casings as normal. I think, unless anything comes along to contradict that in future Dalek stories, this is how I’ll be choosing to think of this situation from now on.

I’m more dismayed to see them being reduced to lesser characters again in this episode, now that Davros has woken up. They don’t need to fill the role of ‘bad guy’ in the story anymore, so whereas Episode Two saw them shouting and interrogating Romana while gliding around looking powerful, this episode reduces them almost to being Davros’ personal guard, out patrolling the surface of the planet, and wandering down corridors on the hunt for their creator. It does mean that we get a great few minutes in which the Doctor threatens his greatest enemies with a bomb (it’s not often that we get to see the Doctor do something quite as… powerful, as this, so it comes as quite a nice shock), but even that then dissolves into the Daleks gingerly picking the bomb off their father’s casing and then getting blown up for their troubles. All that great Dalek action from yesterday seems to have well and truly petered out now!

My biggest complaint, though… there’s a lovely scene in The Stolen Earth, when Davros looks up at the screen, with the Doctor’s ‘Children of Time’ all massing, preparing their own solutions to end the Dalek occupation of Earth, and several other planets. He looks up, sees Sarah Jane Smith peering round the side of Captain Jack and muses that she was there on Skaro, at ‘the very beginning’. I love that moment. It’s such a nice little addition, and it makes it all feel so much richer as a result. There’s a few pages in Russell T Davies’ The Writer’s Tale, where he toys with losing the line because he’s so short on space in the episode, but I’m glad it managed to survive the cut, because it’s just so lovely.

That line has slightly spoilt Destiny of the Daleks for me, because when Davros awakens here, knowing that he’s been entombed for several centuries, and finding the Doctor baring down on him almost instantly, he doesn’t even flinch. He’s not surprised to find the Time Lord there waiting for him. He’s not yet locked into his on-going battle with the Doctor that will span several lifetimes for the both of them, so it feels like a real shame that he doesn’t pass comment about the fact that this person is still meddling in his life. I assume that Terry Nation was trying to simply make this a direct continuation from his previous Dalek tale, and so didn’t want to make the point that the Doctor had been gone for so long between them, but it just feels… lacking as a result.

But for all the slightly odd little dissapoinments in this story… I’m enjoying it! For a start, and as I’ve said before, it does look gorgeous. I’ve already praised the Movellan spaceship, but we get some nice shots of it again today, so it’s worth mentioning again. Then you’ve simply got the flair of the story. Because it’s the first Doctor Who story to use a steadicam (I think I’m right in saying that it’s the first BBC production to use one - as a trial to decide if they corporation wanted to go ahead and buy some!), even scenes of the Doctor running around in a quarry are looking more impressive than they might usually do.

It’s also helped by director Ken Grieve having a good eye for certain shots - there’s a few lovely moments when the Doctor is evading his hunters, and we get to see some pretty extreme angles looking up at both our hero, and the Daleks patrolling the tops of the cliffs above him. It’s perhaps not the most original image a Dalek story has ever given us (and in a Terry Nation script, would you expect anything other?), but it certainly works well, and I think the visual feel of this story is going to stick with me after I’ve finished it more than the narrative itself will…

12 June 2014

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

Day 528: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I have to confess that I was a little nervous about starting on this story. Genesis of the Daleks fared so well with me, and went a long way to living up to the ‘classic’ status it’s always had, and I worried that it might ruin other Dalek stories for me that followed in its wake. Actually, though, I think the fact that we’ve had such a long break for the pepper pots since then has really worked in their favour. I’ve grown to really enjoy them over the course of this marathon, but I’ve not actively missed them over the past few months. But as soon as they start screaming and shouting in this episode, I was just glad to have them back. They’re such fun to have around, and actually, this batch of them are nasty.

During their brief confrontation with Romana right at the very start of today’s episode, where they bark orders at her (‘is-that-under-stood? is-that-under-stood? SPEAK!’), is actually quite frightening, and I’m not sure if I can remember the last time I actually found one of the Daleks menacing. They keep that up throughout the rest of the episode, shouting at her during their interrogation, and sneaking up on the Movellans ready to shoot in the corridors. I’m really enjoying the Daleks themselves, and I’m worried that they’re going to become second fiddle now that Davros has woken up.

That would be a shame, really, because as much as I’m enjoying them, I’ve loved the brief bit of Davros that we’ve had in this episode, too. From the Doctor realising what his foes must be digging for, and deciding that it was too bizarre, even for them, right up to the moment that they find the forgotten corpse of the creator sitting alone in the lower levels (Emma: “Davros needs a dust”). During those closing moments, when the light comes on, and the hand begins to twitch… yeah, it’s all rather exciting.

And yet, I can’t help feeling that we need a non-Davros ‘buffer’ story between Genesis of the Daleks and this tale. We see the creatures exterminate their leader, and then they go off to conquer the cosmos, without a second thought for their founding father. And then, in the story after that, we find them back on Skaro, trying to dig him out. It would work nicely as a part of Tom Baker’s final season in the role, as a nice counterpoint to their confrontation in his first year. As it is, is feels as though Davros is always a part of the Dalek stories, and from Genesis onwards in the classic era, that’s true. I’m sort of complaining for the sake of complaining, there, and looking at it with thirty-something years of hindsight. I’m enjoying Destiny of the Daleks partly because of Davros, not in spite of him.

Somrthing else I’m liking about this one is that ‘start of a new season’ feeling. Like The Ribos Operation last year, it’s clear that they’ve just been handed a pot of money with which to make the new season, and they’ve gone a little bit mad with it right out of the gate. The Movellan spaceship impressed during yesterday’s episode, and continues to do so here, and the Dalek control centre works rather well for me, too. There’s so much to both of these sets, and the use of steady cam means that they’re constructed in a way that’s slightly different to any Doctor Who sets before them. My only worry with this is that the money might be stretching it by the time we reach the season’s end…!

11 June 2014

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

Day 527: Destiny of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

It’s been four and a half long years (or three and a half long months for me, in 50 Year Diary terms) since the Daleks last made an appearance in Doctor Who, and it feels as though things have moved on massively since then. When we last saw them, Tom Baker had just taken up his tenancy in the TARDIS, Sarah Jane and Harry were still traveling alongside him, and we’d not heard of Zygons, or Kraals, The Key to Time, or Janis Thorns. In many ways, the programme has moved on a long way in the period between Dalek stories, so it’s always nice to see such a familiar and reassuring figure from the programme’s past making an appearance to reassure us that this is still the same old Doctor Who.

I’ve always thought that the cliffhanger to this episode - even though it is one of those typical Dalek story cliffhangers in which they arrive at the end of Part One - should be really rather momentous. Suddenly, two Daleks come crashing through a mirrored wall, and confront Romana! They scream, and shout, and they’re back! Only… I’ve never realised that it was supposed to be them smashing through any kind of wall, I just thought it was a bit of an odd way to have them show up. It’s certainly not clear. The fact that bits of the shattered set end up stuck on the slightly tatty Dalek props doesn’t really help with the big return of the programme’s most iconic monsters, either. As we see it on screen, this is all a bit of a mess, whereas the Target novelisation paints a far more dramatic picture:

“The cell began to vibrate. She could feel the walls shuddering, and hear a high-pitched whine of machinery moving ever closer.

Cracks began to appear in the wall directly opposite. The cracks formed a kind of arch-shape, and suddenly the entire centre of the wall seemed to crumble inwards, leaving a great black hole.

With terrifying speed, two metallic shapes glided through the arch. They were shaped like huge metal-studded pepper pots, they had projecting metal arms and an eye-lens on a kind of metal stalk. They swept menacingly down on Romana, crowding her back against the wall, hemming her in so that there was no escape.

In harsh metallic voices they screeched, ‘Do not move! Do not move or you will be exterminated! You are a prisoner of the Daleks!’”

Still, I am impressed with much of the rest of the episode. The location, even if it’s the traditional quarry, is interesting enough, and the TARDIS looks rather nice perched among the rocks. It even allows for some nice bits of directorial flourish from Ken Grieve, in his only contribution to the series. We can perhaps forgive him for that cliffhanger, if the rest of the story lives up to some of his more impressive moments throughout this first episode.

Of course, the main thing that gets discussed about this episode is Romana’s regeneration. I’ve seen it before, of course, but never in context like this, coming at the end of all her other adventures. It really is rather odd, isn’t it? All of a sudden, at the top of the episode, Romana pops in and announces that she’s regenerating, and since she like Princess Astra’s form so much, she’s decided to copy it. Right down to the outfit. The swapping of bodies is quite fun, and I don’t really have much of a problem with any of that - I think my main issue is that the Doctor so casually accepts it all, as though he knows that they need to hurry up and get on with the main story.

That he doesn’t even question it beyond his first ‘what are you doing?’ is what makes it all seem a little out of place. It’s a shame that the regeneration couldn’t have been made more a focus of this first episode, even if they didn’t want to get Mary Tamm back. As it is, we’re left with fairly standard Terry Nation fare, in which the Doctor and his companion look around a desolate location for much of the episode before getting caught up in local events rather late in the day.

I think I would have preferred something a bit more dramatic to fill up these first fifteen minutes of the story - even if you go for that old Sixth Doctor’s regeneration trick, having the TARDIS crash land, and Romana waking up with the face of the princess. Throw in some technobabble about Romana’s exposure to the Key causing her current form, have the TARDIS hurtled towards Skaro in a fit of rage by the Black Guardian… just something to make it all seem a little less out-of-the-blue!

10 June 2014

BBC Worldwide today announce a major global publicity tour to launch episode one of the new series of Doctor Who and introduce Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor.

Doctor Who: The World Tour will begin in the UK on 7th August and finish in Brazil on 19th August. The trip will see Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi, on-screen companion Jenna Coleman, and the show’s Lead Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat*, visit seven cities across five continents in 12 days to take part in a series of media and fan engagements to publicise the show’s forthcoming Series 8 to a global audience.

The tour marks the largest ever promotional undertaking in Doctor Who’s 50-year history and will kick off in Cardiff, Wales before taking in London (UK), Seoul (South Korea), Sydney (Australia), New York (US), Mexico City (Mexico) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). More details of the itinerary will be available soon at www.doctorwho.tv/worldtour as well as reports from the tour as it happens, which fans everywhere will be able to enjoy across social and digital platforms.

BBC Worldwide’s ambition for the brand has grown considerably since the global success of the 50th Anniversary which saw the special episode The Day Of The Doctor broadcast simultaneously in 98 countries and in over 1500 cinemas across the world, setting a new record for event cinema in its first three days on general release.

Peter Capaldi, speaking ahead of the tour, said:

“It’s fantastic that so many people across the world love Doctor Who. After eight months solid filming deep in the world of monsters, Jenna and I are thrilled to be heading for the Planet of Fans."

Executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat added:

“I've always thought we'd all be a lot safer if the Doctor conquered the world, instead of the Daleks. Now with Jenna and Peter leading the charge, it looks like it's going to happen. I'll be bringing up the rear to handle the exposition scenes, and maybe carry some bags.”

Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director BBC Cymru Wales, said:

"Where better to start the World Tour than the Doctor's home for the last decade? The sight of the TARDIS and marauding aliens is now a familiar part of Welsh life - though they still scare the life out of the traffic wardens. There is a real sense of excitement and anticipation about the new series – and I know Peter and Jenna are going to be a breath-taking new team. Roll on August!"

Filming is well underway on the new series, with guest stars confirmed to join Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman including Frank Skinner, Ben Miller, Tom Riley, Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris.

* Due to production commitments, Steven Moffat will be unable to attend to the entire tour. The cities he will join the tour for will be announced soon. 

[Source: BBC Media Centre]

10 June 2014

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

Day 526: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Six

Dear diary,

I worried - correctly, it seems - that the whole business with the shrinking ray (another thing from earlier Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts to make a return!), was simply going to be used as padding for this final episode, until the story was ready to tie up the loose strands of the key to Time arc in the final scenes. The Doctor’s problem, if I’ve understood it correctly, is thus: He’s opened the door to the TARDIS, where the Key to Time is being held. He’s been  shrunk, so he can’t close the door! Oh no! The Shadow could, therefore, wander into   the TARDIS at any time he likes and simply pick up the Key (he later has a lackey do it).

My problem with this is that although they’re shrunk, the Doctor and Drax also possess the machine they need to make them large again! Not only that, they’re able to get hold of K9 if they need to. What I don’t understand is why they couldn’t simply dart out from the crack in the wall, make themselves larger again, use the confusion to knock out the guard, and then hotfoot it into the TARDIS? It’s painted as some big crisis for them, but there never actually seems to be any danger involved (beyond getting trodden on).

Oh, but that’s a minor quibble, and I’ve found myself enjoying everything else about this episode. I love all the moral dilemma around Astra being the Sixth Segment to the Key (and I love even more that it’s key to the resolution, too!), and I’m surprised but keen to find that she’s restored to human form at the end! I had no idea of that - I genuinely thought that becoming the segment killed her, and always thought that it was quite a dark way to end a season.

There’s plenty of spectacle on show in this one, too, with explosions, and more shrinking effects, K9 blasting his way through a wall (albeit somewhat clumsily), and the Key being dispersed back out through the universe… yes, I think this has probably been a fitting capstone to the whole Key to Time season, and even though the White Guardian doesn’t get to use the Key (or does he? The Doctor comments that the Black Guardian could use it while it’s assembled in the TARDIS, so has the White Guardian somehow managed to do that, too?), it doesn’t feel like a let down after 25 weeks of build up!

We say goodbye to Mary Tamm with this episode, although you’d not know it by watching the story. It’s a real shame that she was never invited back to film a regeneration sequence (Tamm even says in the special features to an earlier story in this set that she was waiting for the call!), and I’m actually going to miss having her around. Romana as a character has grown on me across the season, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her relationship with the Doctor develop, while still retaining a few key things that are uniquely ‘them’. Here’s hoping that I continue to enjoy the character as much in her second incarnation!

Another thing that we’re saying goodbye to today is the six-episode format of Doctor Who… well… sort of. The Armageddon Factor is the last Doctor Who story to be broadcast in six twenty-something minute chunks - a format that the show has been using to varying degrees since right back in Season One with The Keys of Marinus. Over the last couple of seasons, it feels as though they’ve settled into a nice format for five 4-part stories topped off with a single 6-parter to round out the season. It’s certainly worked better for me than those middle Pertwee seasons, when we had 6-part tale after 6-part tale!

I say ‘sort of’, because it’s not strictly the case. I’ll be watching the animated version of the never-broadcast Shada when I reach the end of Season Seventeen in about a month’s time, and that was made (and has been completed) in six parts. Then you’ve got The Two Doctors coming up in the mid-1980’s, where there’s only three episodes… but they’re almost twice as long! There’s also David Tennant’s swan-song, The End of Time, way out there in my future, and that clocks in somewhere around the length of a 6-parter, too.

Officially, though, this is the end of the road for stories like this. I can’t really claim to be sorry at their departure - I’ve often found six-parters to be something of a struggle, both when watching through, and when trying to write about them! Unless the story continues to give you lots of new things to talk about (this story has been a great example - spending broadly two episodes apiece on Atrios, Zios, and the Third Planet), you very quickly find yourself running out of things to say! It feels like another evolution for the programme to be dropping them from its style, and I always love a bit of evolution in the series. Now… what will Season Seventeen bring? 

9 June 2014

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

Day 525: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Five

Dear diary,

This episode has been something of a string of surprises, coming thick and fast for twenty-five minutes! For a start, I’d completely forgotten the existence of Drax, and his sudden appearance left me baffled for a moment before I remembered. I can safely say now that I’ve never watched this far before - so on my initial viewing of the Key to Time season, by this point I’d switched off either the DVD or my brain! K9 says it best, I think: Drax is, frankly, silly. But that’s not a bad thing! In a story which has been fairly bleak so far (when you start off with a nuclear war, and things get worse from there, you know you’re in trouble!), it’s quite nice to have a new character turning up who provides some much welcome comic relief.

It’s nice to see that he’s actually a bit more than just a bit of comedy in the story, though. He’s there to try and tempt the Doctor off the rightful path, but of course our hero spots that right away. I can’t tell, in the closing moments, whether he’s shot his old school friend because he’s still planning to work alongside the shadow or because he’s just a bit of a bumbling fool. It’s nice to see the angle that this spins on the Doctor, too. He’s often been portrayed as the renegade, who runs away from Gallifrey and gets himself caught up in all manner of trouble. Here, though, he’s painted as a real grown up for the first time in ages - almost looking wearily down on Drax, who’s only going to get in the way of whatever plan the Doctor is forming for getting through all of this as unscathed as he possibly can.

No discussion of this episode would be complete without mentioning it - the Doctor has finally been named. It’s only taken them 15 years to do! It’s long been established that ‘Theta Sigma’ is simply the Doctor’s nickname from school, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s the intention of the scene! Certainly, when Drax first addresses him as ‘Thete’, that’s him using a nickname, but it then seems to go on for him to clarify the Doctor’s actual name. And, realistically, it does fit in with the world of Time Lord society! We’ve had Omega before now - another Time Lord figure named after a letter of the Greek Alphabet. I should clarify that I don’t really think that his name is Theta Sigma (though, I do believe that it’s perhaps his given name on Gallifrey?), but it’s interesting to see someone finally attempt to answer that ‘first’ question: Doctor who?

It’s also fitting that it should come in this story - the final one to be penned by the writing team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin. It seems somehow right that they should be bowing out of the series before the 1970s are out - I’ve come to associate them very much which this era of the programme. They’ve been responsible for quite a few additions to the Doctor Who mythos over the last eight years, and several of them make reappearances here, including the aforementioned Greek naming convention for Time Lords (it was Baker and Martin who created Omega, after all). Bob Baker will be back on his own next series, but we’re saying goodbye to Martin here, who aside from a few books throughout the 1980s, doesn’t make any more contributions to the world of Doctor Who. Still ,it’s not too bad going to be one of the men who created k( (told you I’d be back to loving the metal mutt today!)

Over the years, the Bristol Boys have fared quite well in my ratings. Taking into account my average ratings for each story, their lowest effort was The Sontaran Experiment, which scored just 5/10, followed then by The Mutants and Underworld which both averaged 6/10 from me. The Hand of Fear fared a little better at 6.5, with The Invisible Enemy scraping a little ahead with 6.75. The Three Doctors comes in with a solid 7/10, but it’s The Claws of Axos which has been my favourite Baker and Martin offering - it achieved an average score of 7.5/10! For those of you keeping track, The Armageddon Factor is currently sitting at 7/10, but there’s everything to play for in the final episode… 

8 June 2014

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

Day 524: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I really can’t make up my mind about K9 in this story. On the one hand, he’s being absolutely indispensable to the Doctor, seemingly making up for his lack of involvement during The Power of Kroll by helping the Doctor escape from danger, holding off enemies, scanning for radiation and other signals, being the conduit through which out heroes can communicate with alien battle computers and more…

…While on the other hand, he’s really, really, stupid. He’s always been resolutely logical - that’s where a lot of the humour comes from - but when he’s trying to identify the alien signal which is used to lure him into the teleport, he’s just being plain ignorant. Relying on the ‘logic’ that he must receive an answer from the device, instead of simply giving up and going to find the Doctor, which might well be a more sensible solution. On the plus side, it looks lil we’re going to be getting a bit of ‘evil K9’ action in the next episode, so I’m sure that will swing me firmly back into the ‘I love K9’ camp once again.

Today is also our first proper look at Lalla Ward. She’s appeared in the other three episodes to greater or lesser extents, but today feels like the first time she’s actually been able to get out there and show us some acting, instead of simply being where the story demands her to be for whatever plot reason. She’s certainly making a good impression so far, and while it’s hard to watch it without the knowledge that she’ll be around for the next season-and-two-thirds, I can see why the production team were impressed with her - she’s doing a good job so far!

I’m also really glad to see that the Key to Time has become an integral part of the story, with the Doctor and Romana needing to use it in order to save themselves from certain death in this episode. I’d started to worry that the Key would simply come into play during the final few scenes of the serial, to tie up the entire season, and then that would be it. I rather fear that the full 26 episodes may have felt like something of a write off had that been the case, so it’s great to see that this story really does focus on the object.

It’s also interesting to watch the Doctor work out where - and what - the sixth segment is. I’ve no doubt that he already knows it’s Astra herself (it very much fits the way he’s been characterised this season to be one step ahead of the game: I’d not be surprised if he’s known since the moment he first laid eyes on her up on the screen in Episode Two), so it’s interesting to see him pussyfooting around her, trying to see how much she knows about it all. I’m less keen on the idea that he can simply knock up a makeshift sixth segment when the story requires him to do so, though. Lots is made about the fact that it’s far from perfect, and that it only works because they have the other 5/6 segments of the device, but it almost feels as though it somehow cheapens the immense power of the Key. If it’s supposed to be this mighty object which can give people the power of Gods across the entire universe, I’m not sure I like the idea that the Doctor can knock up spare parts in the back room of the TARDIS between scenes!

7 June 2014

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

Day 523: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Three

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

6 June 2014

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

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

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

Why not check out DWO's Apps on the App Store:

Doctor Who: iWho
by DWO Media - £1.99 (iOS & Android)

Why not kick off with our signature Doctor Who app, providing you with all the latest Doctor Who news, as well as in-app streaming of the latest DWO WhoCast Podcast episodes, Videos, Tweets, Polls, Locations Guide and R2 DVD Guide and more!

Download for iOS. + Download for Android.

Doctor Who: WhoGuide
by DWO Media / £2.99

WhoGuide, provides in-depth guides to every televised episode of Doctor Who, complete with guides to all the Doctors, Missing Episodes, Locations, DVDs and more!

Download for iOS. + Download for Android

[Sources: DWO; Apple]

6 June 2014

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

Day 522: The Armageddon Factor, Episode Two

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

6 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Source: FTS Media]

5 June 2014

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

Day 521: The Armageddon Factor, Episode One

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

4 June 2014

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

Day 520: The Power of Kroll, Episode Four

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 June 2014

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

Day 519: The Power of Kroll, Episode Three

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

2 June 2014

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

Day 518: The Power of Kroll, Episode Two
 

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 June 2014

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

Day 517: The Power of Kroll, Episode One

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

31 May 2014

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

Day 516: The Androids of Tara, Episode Four

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 May 2014

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

Day 515: The Androids of Tara, Episode Three

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

29 May 2014

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

Day 514: The Androids of Tara, Episode Two

Dear diary,

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

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

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

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

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