5 August 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 217: The Dominators, Episode One

Dear diary,

Well this is odd. I’ve gotten so used to the format of the programme involving bases under siege either on or near the Earth that this episode has felt like a real shock to the system. For some reason, when we watch a spaceship descend on the planet and two people walk out, it put me in mind of The Space Museum (No, I don’t know why, either). As the episode went by, I realised that it was more a general feeling of a Hartnell story that I was associating things with. Aside from Telos – where we spent most of the time inside the Tomb – we’ve not had a proper alien world in ages. (Incidentally, this is the first time since The Tomb of the Cybermen that I've been able to put a DVD for an individual story in the player too - that felt like a novelty!)

Here, we’ve got a vast landscape, and it really works. There’s a shot early on when the passengers of the 'ship' run across the terrain, with the sky stretched out overhead and it looks simply fab. There’s a joke to be made about this episode seemingly being filmed in a quarry, but it’s pretty effective all the same. It helps that we get lots of chance to see the landscape in question, and it’s often shot from some pretty creative angles, really making the most of the area. The cliffhanger, for example, in which Toba appears on a ledge flanked by two Quarks actually manages to look pretty good, whereas they’re not the easiest of aliens to take seriously. It’s also doesn’t hurt that the studio sets match up pretty well with the actual location. There’s some shots where I wasn’t entirely sure which was which.

What’s strange is that the TARDIS doesn’t arrive today for a full 8 minutes. We spend the majority of that time with guest cast, setting up the situation on this world. There came a moment, about halfway through all of this, that I realised I was thoroughly bored by the whole thing. That said, I was invested in it. There’s been several episodes over the course of this marathon that have let my mind wander and which I’ve struggled to pay attention to… but this isn’t one. It's not good, but it survives!

That’s true for the rest of the episode, too, even after the Doctor and his companions arrive on the scene. It feels like the kind of Doctor Who that gets parodied on countless spoofs throughout the years – the TARDIS arrives on a planet the Doctor has been to before (even his description of it, 'It was so splendid, I didn't want to leave', sounds like someone mocking the way the Doctor speaks), and sinister men in silly outfits stalk around in an attempt to be threatening.

It’s a low-key start to the new season, and not exactly a bold way to kick off the Doctor’s new set of adventures. For the last of the black-and-white seasons, I was hoping that things would start with a real jolt of energy: the programme reinvigorated by the introduction of a new companion! It could yet happen before the story is out, but I’m not on the edge-of-my-seat.

Still, I am excited to be at Season Six. Right from the beginning of the marathon, I’ve thought of Seasons Three – Five as being ‘the difficult ones’. They’re the years where not a great deal survives (since Troughton took over, I’ve only been able to actually watch 21 episodes, and that’s including today’s). I knew they were going to be a challenge, but actually, they turned out to be a great deal of fun. Many of the lost stories benefit from not being in the archives, and there’s several others that are so good it doesn’t matter what format they exist in.

It was only at the end of today’s episode, knowing that I’m going into another surviving instalment tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day, and the next etc etc) that it really hit me. We’re out of the ‘missing’ period, and now I can really settle in to enjoy watching the show again…

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