31 August 2013

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

Day 243: The Seeds of Death, Episode Five

Before we start, there's something that really does need to be addressed… just how big are Patrick Troughton's sideburns?! I know he's just had a week off, with plenty of time to grow them out and all, but come on! It doesn't help that we get lots of close up shots on the side of the Doctor's head (are there lots more than usual, or am I just noticing them because of the massive sideburns? Perhaps director Michael Ferguson was just really impressed by them, so kept trying to get them into shot?), and it's only highlighted by the fact that we cut very quickly from a side-on shot to one filmed several weeks earlier, in which the sideburns don't exist! Forget UNIT dating, surely this is the biggest controversy in the history of Doctor Who? The Time Lords' ability to grow huge sideburns at the drop of a hat!

Ahem. Anyway. Back to business…

Dear diary,

There was a time, way beck when, that I said I couldn't often spot the difference between film and video tape when it came to watching Doctor Who. Now, obviously, I'm not an idiot. I can see the difference between them in an instant, but I'd never really picked up on it before. It never impacted me when I sat down to watch a serial, it just happened to swap styles from time to time.

Watching through at the pace of an episode a day means that it's just become part of the visual language that I'm used to at the moment. Every so often, we'll cut to film and a little voice in the back of my head will note that an effect is about to take place. It's usually either that, or we've ventured outside. This has it's advantages, and one of them comes in today's episode.

We already know that the foam is spreading out across the world (or, since this episode seems to be playing on a smaller stage, we know that it's at least present in a park somewhere in England), and we've seen plenty of shots of a lone Ice Warrior walking through it as he makes his way through the trees to an unknown destination. Therefore, when we follow a sequence of the Warrior outside in a park and then the shot changes to him approaching a building, a little voice in my head told me that it was being filmed outdoors, just like the rest of the shots I've just seen.

It was only the more that I looked at the building, with its odd 'futuristic' twists on architecture that an alarm bell started to ring. Surely they hadn't gone and stuck bits onto a real building to make it look more 'space age'? Even if they had, surely they couldn't have done it so well, and made it look this good? But, by that same token, it's too big to have been built in the studio, and it's shot on film so it must be outside…

Having finished the episode, I immediately returned to the DVD menu and turned on the Production Subtitles, before finding that point in the episode again. Thankfully, the subtitles do draw attention to it, and confirm that the whole thing was shot on film at Ealing, as was our cliffhanger moment of Troughton turning into the foam (without his massive sideburns). It shouldn't impress me, but I like that my brain has become so accustomed to the way in which the programme is made in this era that it can so easily be tricked into thinking they've done an even better job on the design front!

Anyway, with Troughton back (and sporting those ginormous sideburns…), there is of course plenty that I could single out for praise. I'm only going to choose two, though, and neither of them are on the side of his head. The first is the way in which he comes around from his week off, rubbing his head and groaning slightly as he regains consciousness. As he tries to sit up, he mumbles briefly under his breath - 'Victoria…'. It's a lovely little call back, and so nice to see that she's not been completely forgotten. In many ways, we're deep into the era of 'revolving door' companions, so it's always good to have these tiny little references snuck in.

The other thing to notice is that Matt Smith must have watched this episode at some point in the past. It's well documented that he watched The Tomb of the Cybermen and, according to Steven Moffat in Doctor Who Magazine #450, spent '20 minutes on the phone just raving about how brilliant [it] was', but there's a moment in this episode which wouldn't feel at all out of place featuring the Eleventh Doctor.

Crowding into the T-Mat booth on the Moon, the Doctor smiles and exclaims the he thinks it will be quite fun to experience this kind of travel. Arriving back on Earth, he steps out of the machine completely deflated, complaining that there was no sensation at all. I can completely see Matt Smith playing this scene, with the same sense of schoolboy excitement and the crushing sense of disappointment that follows.

In that same feature from Doctor Who Magazine, Moffat goes on to say that Matt falling in love with Troughton's portrayal of the Doctor is 'just as every actor [to have played the part] since Troughton has done.' It's wonderful, as I draw towards the Second Doctor's final couple of adventures, to think of his spirit being so alive and well in the programme right up to this day, almost a half a century later. It really hammers home just how brilliant this incarnation is.

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