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

Day 361: Frontier in Space, Episode Five

Dear diary,

I try to avoid finding out too much about a story before watching it for the marathon, whether I’ve seen it before or not. I occasionally brush up on a few basic facts (usually by sending a message to Nick to say ‘am I right in thinking that…’) so that I have a vague idea what the hell I’m talking about in these entries, but I try to go in as unbiased as I possibly can.

It’s rare, then, that I hurry to the internet during the opening moments of an episode to check things out. Today was something of an exception, because I had to find out if the director had changed since the last episode. Right from the off, the direction here seems to be of a far higher standard, and I spent a good deal of time today really enjoying it. The camera moves about a lot more here – both in terms of what I’d loosely define as ‘sweeping shots’ and in making the various space ship sets look as though they’re being rocked about – and it creates a wholly more polished look. A particular highlight is the moment the Master demands that he be taken to the Draconian Emperor, and the camera pans in to him as two guns are pointed in his direction. The framing is fantastic, and it was this shot which drove me to do a quick Google check.

It transpires that it is still the work of the same director - Paul Bernard, in the last of his three contributions to the programme - but for some reason this episode has just felt far more attractive in its presentation. Even the flight deck of the stolen prison ship, which I singled out for ridicule yesterday, looks quite good here! It’s great, because it means that I can sit back and enjoy the story itself more than worrying about the effects of Kirby wires on the space walks, or the design of the sets.

As a result, I’ve enjoyed today’s episode a lot more than yesterday’s, but I still get the feeling that I should be liking it more than I am. There’s lots of ides in here still that really appeal to me, and I love that it’s very much the second half of the story we saw with the Doctor and Jo being held prisoner on Earth. The dynamic of the Draconian Emperor and his son is very similar to that of the Earth president and her second-hand-man, quite deliberately so.

The main difference, being on Draconia instead of Earth, is that we get to see lots of close ups of the Draconian make-up. It really is stunning, isn’t it? I know I spent most of Episode One drawing attention to how much I’d liked the designs, but I’m truly impressed by it. More and more, I’m becoming convinced that it’s the best alien prosthetics we’ve seen in the programme, and it really is up there with the very best that the new series has to offer.

As ever with a Malcolm Hulke script, the dialogue is absolutely brilliant, too. One laugh-out-loud moment follows the master’s speech about devoting his life to the preservation of law and order (‘are you feeling alright, old chap?’ the Doctor asks, leaning in over his soldier), but the real stand-out has to be the final scene, in which the Master tries to hypnotise Jo only to be met by a resistance of nursery rhymes. It’s quite childish, and a little bit silly, but sounds perfect coming from Katy Manning. Plus it means that – in his final story – we get a last chance to watch as Roger Delgado tells us that he is the Master, and that we will obey him…

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