3 March 2014

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

Day 427: Planet of Evil, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Someone asked me today how I was finding the marathon at the moment, and I told them that I felt the show had gained back some of its momentum, and that Tom coming into the role had sparked up a renewed interest from me. I went on to say that I was mid-Planet of Evil, and that while I was loving the sets, and the performances, the story was leaving me cold. The truth is, though, that I’m not sure who I’m kidding when I say that. I finished today’s episode with a vague sense of not really caring about the plot… but I spent the 23 minutes before that completely wrapped up in the story. I always know that something is going right when I find myself thinking ‘I should really make a note about something’, but I don’t want to miss a second of what’s happening on the screen.

Today, I’ve found myself interested really by the various effects in the story. It’s like the first time I watched The Ark (oh, so long ago now!), and it was throwing in all manner of special effect shots as if they were just a matter of course. The same seems to be true here – there’s all manner of various effects being thrown around in this story, and they’re all being pulled off extremely well. When I brought up this story earlier today, someone joked that it was ‘the one with the string monster’, and while that is a fairly good description of the anti-matter guardian, it was said with a tone to suggest that it wasn’t a very good creature, when it is!

I think what impresses me the most about it is that while I have a vague idea of how they’ve created the effect, I can’t really be entirely sure. I like that! No, I love that! It’s so easy to become jaded when watching through Doctor Who at such a consistent pace and seeing the same old tricks being used over and over again. When the programme pulls something like this out of the bag it’s genuinely pleasing. I’m also very impressed by the way they have the creature rise up out of the big anti-matter pit at the close of yesterday’s episode (and covered here in the episode recap), because it really does look like it’s rising out of the set, even when it’s just camera trickery.

It’s even impressive against a simple black background, where it does risk loosing some of its uniqueness. I think it’s helped by having such an enormous scale next to the Doctor, and coming after we’ve just witnessed some really surreal scenes of the Doctor falling through the darkness. To start with, those shots reminded me of The Three Doctors, and Pertwee preparing to square off with Omega’s mind, but the more that I think about it, the more I realise they remind me of The Krotons - all those slightly unusual angles and actions, with our hero in genuine pain. It’s really quite a striking sequence.

Then you’ve got all the various bits of model work, too. The spaceship exteriors are nicely done, and the way the ‘coffin’ is ejected while the ship carries on with its journey is especially well done (we’re at a point in the history of the show now where spaceship models are simply becoming par-for-the-course). Then you’ve also got the flying CCTV camera. It’s mostly prominent in Episode Two, but it looks really good whizzing through the jungle, and it gets some lovely high-angled shots to go along with it. There’s a particularly nice one (again, from yesterday’s cliffhanger) that follows the Doctor as he makes his way through the jungle. Although I’m not sure this is one of the better quality prints we’ve had for a story, I can’t say that I saw any wires or anything supporting the device, which all helps to add to the effect.

This is one of those wonderful and somewhat rare things for me – a Doctor Who story which I know very little about suddenly turning out to be really right up my street. Thinking back, I seem to recall that Lis Sladen cites it as being one of her favourites in her autobiography, and I’m starting to see why. And yet, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my mind that I’ve seen it all before…

It started yesterday, when the Doctor explained why they wouldn’t be able to leave this planet. A slight twinge, somewhere in my memory that said ‘this feels familiar’. The moment from today’s episode, when Sorenson looks into the mirror and sees his eyes glowing with a bright light simply confirmed it – this story is very much an inspiration of the Tenth Doctor’s adventure in 42. A group of humans exploiting a celestial body (here, it’s the planet, while in 42 it’s the living sun), trying to steal parts of it to take back for their own uses. Their victim is then able to take control of them and turn them into killers.

In the more recent story, the sun is specifically said to be taking possession of the humans (and the Doctor), whereas in this story that’s left down much more to the pull of the anti-matter stopping them from getting any further away while it corrupts Sorenson. Still, I can’t judge them for taking elements of this story to use again – I’m completely loving it.

The only downside – and this is a criticism of this period of the show, rather than the story itself – is the way that Sarah Jane reacts any time the Doctor gets hurt. Here, they watch the feed from their flying CCTV camera as our hero falls into the anti-matter pit, and Sarah screams out ‘No! Not the Doctor! He can’t be dead!’ You think she’d be used to this by now. She thought he was dead twice in The Monster of Peladon, saw him die and be reborn during Planet of the Spiders, and has spent time in both The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks assuming that he’s dead, too. She’s a bit too quick to jump to this conclusion every time, and watching all the episodes so quickly in succession means that I’m noticing it more and more… and it is starting to grate a bit. That’s nothing against Lis Sladen’s performance, though, because she sells it particularly well on this occasion. Mind you, it’s no wonder that when she encounters the Tenth Doctor for the first time, having not seen her friend for decades, she tells him that she thought he’d died, it seems to be a recurring trend!

 

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