29 January 2014

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

Day 394: The Monster of Peladon, Episode Six

Dear diary,

Poor Sarah Jane isn’t half being put through the wringer at the moment, don’t you think? A few episodes ago, she was told that when the Sonic Lance self destructs, anyone in the area (including the Doctor) will be killed instantly. She then watches in horror as the machine goes up in smoke, and the Doctor’s unconscious body vanished behind the fallout. For half of the next episode, she believes her friend to be dead. She cries, she mourns for him, she foreshadows his ‘where there’s life…’ speech from the next story… and then she finds out that he is, in fact, alive and well.

Today, she finds that he’s succumbed to the Refinery’s alarm system and is lying back in his chair, somewhat lifeless. She hurries down to see him and once again the tears start as she mourns the death of her friend. There’s a lovely shot with the Doctor’s body in the foreground as Sarah looks on through the hole in the door, and then she slowly enters the room and approaches her friend… just in time for him to wake up! Now it’s his turn for some foreshadowing, as he comes round, looks at Sarah, and questions: ‘tears?’

And then in the next story, she’ll have to go through this roller coaster of emotions all over again when she actually does watch him die! Crikey. It’s lovely to watch Elisabeth Sladen’s performance during her mourning - especially this time around, where the whole thing is played far more as though it were really the end of the Third Doctor. The shocked face she pulls when he starts to come round is hilarious and brilliant, and it really helps to shift the tone of the scene. Impressively, Sarah Jane doesn’t worry about the fact that she’ll be stranded on Peladon if the Doctor dies, that thought doesn’t even seem to cross her mind. It’s all about mourning her friend, the most alive man she’s ever known.

Something I quite like about the Doctor and Sarah’s relationship is that - at least for now - she’s not a full-time companion. ‘Come on, Sarah,’ the Doctor says as they enter the TARDIS, ‘it’s time I took you home…’. There have been earlier hints towards this, too, but it’s quite nice to see. In a way, it’s the same model that Liz Shaw and Jo Grant set up, although by the time the Doctor had gotten the TARDIS working again, the implication was that he’d been dragging Jo around the universe for longer and longer stretches at a time, and she was longing to return to Earth by the end of Season Ten.

With the TARDIS in (almost) fully working order by now, there’s no need for the Doctor’s companions to spent their every waking moment with him, and it’s a model that Steven Moffat seems to favour with his companions: the Doctor arrives, scoops them off for some adventures, then pops them home again so they can carry on with their normal life for a bit. I know that some people really aren’t keen on this way of TARDIS travel, but for me it feels like the most natural and realistic way to depict the Doctor’s various friendships. I’ve always thought that if I were traveling round in a battered old police box, I’d have a revolving set of companions whom I could take on various adventures most suited to their interests - you’d surely get the most fun from that! Maybe when Matt Smith’s Doctor isn’t picking up Clara for her Wednesday adventure, he’s got another few companions? One for every day of the week?

In all, I’m actually rather sorry to be leaving Peladon. I know, I never thought I’d say that, either. Our first trip here a few seasons ago wasn’t my favourite story (indeed, it averaged only 4.5 in my ratings, which places it towards the bottom of my list overall), and I’d been somewhat dreading this return journey. Several people had warned me that this was the worse of the two tales, but I’ve found myself going against the grain. Sure, there’s bits of this story which have left me a little cold, and without much to say, but then there’s that fourth episode, which was so close to perfect and had me completely hooked. It’s almost a perfect metaphor for how I’ve found the Pertwee era as a whole - better than I was expected, with one or two moments of near-perfection.


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