12 April 2013

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

Day 102: Coronas of the Sun (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

Hooray! The Doctor and his friends have made it back to his ship, the TARDIS. And while the Daleks are massing outside, with some fake Terranium in tow, out heroes have escaped, in the TARDIS. And it turns out that the scanner isn't working inside the TARDIS. And if either Steven or Sara were to step outside the Doctor's ship - the TARDIS - they would be in big trouble, because the atmosphere is poisonous!

Genuinely, though, was there a reason that the Doctor kept referring to it as his ship, the TARDIS? Did I miss something there? Was it because Steven was under suggestive control? If so, why did he say it to the Daleks a lot, too? In the last five minutes of the episode, the Doctor refers to 'my ship, the TARDIS' on three occasions, and simply 'my TARDIS' on one other. The word TARDIS also crops up twice more in the dialogue, and three times in the narration. I know that's where the end of the episode takes place, but it really does feel incredibly clunky!

For all intents and purposes, this feels like the end of a story. The Doctor and his friends have evaded the Daleks, made it back to his ship, the TARDIS, and have landed somewhere brand new, but can't leave the ship because of the bad atmosphere. Under any other circumstances, this would just be the beginning of a new adventure. I know it's because they wanted the Christmas story to stand alone, but I also can't help but wonder if there was another reason?

Back during Season One, I often mused that I'd love to not know what was coming up. As a viewer in the 1960s, not knowing where one story begins and ends. Right at the very beginning, we go from a four episode story, into a seven-parter, before back to the Doctor's ship, the TARDIS for a two-part tale, followed by another seven parter starring Marco Polo. From there we spend six episodes on Marinus and four with the Aztecs, before heading off for two consecutive six-part stories.

By this point, shortly after the programme's second birthday, it's more-or-less settled down into either 4-parters or 6-parters. There's the odd anomaly, like The Rescue, or Mission to the Unknown, but a regular viewer will have picked up the drill. If they've not started wrapping up by mid-way through the fourth episode, then there's another two to come. Coronas of the Sun is the sixth episode of The Daleks' Master Plan, and so it feels perfectly natural to have reached this point, and be heading off to a new story. I can't help but wonder if this was part of the intent?

It also makes me wonder whether these twelve episodes should really be counted as one big story or not. I'm going to have to watch right to the end before making my decision, but there certainly seems to be some scope here for breaking it up a little. I'm looking forward to seeing how that develops as we go on. I know that there's three Sara Kingdom stories set between the Seventh and Eighth episodes as part of the Big Finish Companion Chronicles range (and they're supposed to be some of the best they've ever produced), so there certainly seems to be a gap of some kind. Incidentally, I'm wondering if I might do those stories in the gap between Seasons Three and Four? I'm already planning on listening to The Destroyers, the Terry Nation solo Dalek story, but that was written at the time, while these Sara audios are brand new… Any thoughts? Leave a comment below, or pop over to the Facebook Page and let me know!

There's a lot to like in this episode, and it's certainly a step up from the last one. One of the most interesting aspects has to be the Daleks themselves. This is their most ruthless story so far, and it's a far cry from the pepper pots we saw in The Chase. There, they were being used for humour, ranging from the coughing Dalek as is rises from the stand, or the one who has to think about its answer before it gives one ('Uh… in Earth Time… Uh… Four… Uh… Four MInutes…'). Here, they're played decidedly straight and they've actually become chilling in a way I don't think we've seen before.

This is closer to their original appearance than we've seen since then (and it's nice to have the Doctor forming a plan that involves caking a Dalek's eye in mud, just as they did in the cell on Skaro - I half expected to have a reference to that one), and it's also a sign of the Daleks to come later in the show's development - the all-conquering galactic force that swamp in and take over. What's nice, though, is the way that they can still be undermined if done properly.

A few episodes ago, a Dalek orders their pursuit ship to return to base, before severing communications with it and instructing that it be destroyed because they do not tolerate failure. This is a sentiment reiterated here, when the Dalek proclaims that the squad from Mira will also be punished. This moment comes at a time where the same Dalek has been berating Mavic Chen for failing in his own orders, and he gets the chance to turn the situation on its head, by pointing out that it's the Daleks who keep failing. I quite like the dynamic we've got going on between the two sides - not quite trusting each other, but needing each other all the same.

Anyway, I must be off to bed. I've left out a glass of warm milk and a plate of cookies in the hope that Santa will come (tomorrow is Christmas, after all). He'll have a job getting down my chimney, though, because I don't have a fireplace and live in a third-floor-flat in Cardiff Bay. He can ring the buzzer, I guess. I've been a really good boy this year (hey - I sat through all of The Space Museum and didn't complain all that much…) so I'm hoping for some extra special presents!

Next Episode: The Feast of Steven

Next Episode: The Feast of Steven 
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