10 April 2013

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

Day 100: The Traitors (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Hooray! This is my one hundredth consecutive episode of Doctor Who (It's not the hundredth episode of the programme, because I took a six-day gap between seasons one and two to listen to Farewell Great Macedon). What better way to celebrate such a milestone than by… Oh. Having a complete and utter bloodbath of an episode.

Yesterday, I spoke about my impatience in waiting for Katarina to die. How I'd spent the entire story so far somewhat on edge just waiting for her to kick the bucket. It felt almost as though she had to die before the story could get going properly. And here, she does die! I've reached that point in the tale and things can continue on from here nicely. It's the one story-point that I know about in The Daleks' Master Plan (aside from the fact that Episode Seven is something of a Christmas special), and now everything else is a delicious unknown. A real adventure.

Except… I'd always thought Katarina's death would be a cliffhanger. An 'end-of-the-episode' shock, leaving you reeling for the next week while you wait to see what happens next. That's why it threw me so much yesterday when the episode drew to a close, everything seemed to be in place and then she just screamed. How were they going to stretch out this episode inside the spaceship for a full 25 minutes before she died? The simple answer: they don't.

Katarina's dead within about five minutes of the episode starting, and then we just carry on with the story. There's a few minutes spent to mourn her before the story moves forward, but it's very quick, very sudden, and very… un-affecting. Yes, yes, yes, I know we're supposed to revere this moment - it's the first time we've seen one of the Doctor's companions (and I've decided that she is a companion, as we'll see below) has died. The problem is that I just don't have any kind of connection to Katarina.

While the idea that she thought she was dead and on the way to limbo was interesting enough to begin with, by the time she was sucked out of the airlock, I'd grown a little weary of it. The problem was that they needed her to be at once blissfully ignorant of everything that she's being introduced to, but at the same time able to pick it up quickly enough to be of some use to the plot. In the end, wether it's because I knew she was destined to die or because it's just the way that the character feels for five episodes, she never quite fitted in for me.

I think I'm right in saying that when Terry Nation first delivered his scripts for this story, he'd not realised that Vicki would be leaving in The Myth Makers, and thought that it was her who would be killed off here. Now that would have been a shocker. Especially had the story moved with the same beats for the rest of the episode, moving on very quickly from the death. In some ways, I wonder if it would have been too distressing for viewers at the time - especially children. Having followed Vicki through the series for a year, to suddenly see her killed in such a brutal manner. In that sense, at least, it feels right that we should have a temporary stand in.

All that said, I still don't believe it when the Doctor says he will remember her always. I bet he'll have forgotten her by the time ben and Polly turn up.

Now, this is the best time to bring it up again - Katarina's companion status. Over the years, I've seen many different criteria for what forms a companion. 'They have to have travelled in the TARDIS!', ''They need to appear in consecutive stories', 'They have to be described as one in the press' etc etc. The problem with most of the theories is that they all end up needing to use the 'except for' phrase. For example, I've seen someone say 'If they don't travel in the TARDIS, they're not a companion. Except for Liz, who is'.

More closely tied to this story, I've also seen people say that even though Katarina does travel in the TARDIS, and she is in consecutive stories, she still 'doesn't count' as a companion. Just because, you know?

The best criteria I've ever seen for deciding if someone is a companion or not (aside from just 'gut instinct') is: 'Someone whose presence hasn't got to be explained but whose absence does need to be'. Basically, they're a companion if you expect them to be there. It seems to make sense to me. If Katarina suddenly stopped appearing between episodes, it would need explaining, since she was there in the TARDIS.

Equally, you don't need to explain the Brigadier's absence from Pertwee stories set on other planets, because you don't expect him to be there. He's not a companion, he's an acquaintance of the Doctor's who appears when stories are set on Earth. And don't even get me started on Kamelion, who's absence isn't explained for about a season! To that end, I've decided that Katarina is indeed a companion of the First Doctor - albeit a very temporary one.

While I'm on the subject of the Brigadier - I didn't know that Bret Vyon died here, too! I knew that Sara Kingdom killed him, but I assumed it was at the end of the story somewhere! I thought he was in this one for the long haul! That came as a bit of a shock.

Next Episode: Counter Plot

Next Episode: Counter Plot 
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