28 March 2014

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

With the passing of Ray Cusick last year, it only felt right that I should speak a little bit in the Diary about him and his contribution to the story of Doctor Who. Sadly, given the recent passing of Christopher Barry, it’s becoming a more regular occurrence than I’d like.

I heard today that another one of those stalwarts from the early years - Derek Martinus - had passed away. Last month, I commented on the way that Christopher Barry had helmed to many important stories in the early years of the programme, and it has to be said that Martinus is the other side of that same coin. Between them, these two men directed the first three ‘post regeneration’ stories, and Martinus was also responsible for seeing out William Hartnell - taking the directorial helm of the first ever regeneration inThe Tenth Planet.

What strikes me, looking at the list of stories Derek Martinus had a hand in, is what an exciting period it’s been for them over the last few years. Galaxy 4 has seen an episode returned to the archives The Tenth Planet and The Ice Warriors have seen their missing episodes animated for DVD release (and Mission to the Unknown has been the subject of an unofficial ‘fan’ recon), while Spearhead From Space has been spectacularly cleaned up and released in High Definition on Blu Ray. I hope Derek got the chance to see this version of the story - and enjoy it in all it’s detail. Indeed, the only story he directed which hasn’t seen anything exciting or new happen with it lately is The Evil of the Daleks… but never say never, eh?

I’ve said it before, and I have the sad feeling that I’ll have to say it a few more times before this marathon experiment is over, but when you’re talking about a TV series that’s run for (over!) 50 Years, you’re going to find more and more of the key people connected to it passing on. We seem to be losing some especially big names at the moment, and I think Derek Martinus has to be hailed as one of the most important directors to ever work on the programme. It’s sad that I’ve no more of his episodes to come throughout the rest of the run on The 50 Year Diary, but I’m sure I’ll be popping in one of those fantastic adventures again before too long, once I’ve made my way to the end.

Day 452: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’m not sure what it is, but something about this story has completely failed to connect with me. I’ve spent three days banging on about how gorgeous the locations are, how great the sets look, and how lovely the costumes are, but I’m just sort of… watching the story, instead of connecting with it.

The one thing it has done for me is make a bit more sense of K9 and Company. No, no, I assure you I’m not entirely mad. I’ve always thought it strange that they should choose a cult of robed figures in masks for the adversaries in that tale, because they had no relation to the adventures Sarah had taken during her time aboard the TARDIS, but now I realise that she did encounter this kind of thing in Doctor Who. If anything, I’m a little saddened that they didn’t take the opportunity to bring back the Mandragora Helix for that story – there’s the perfect set up given in this episode, when the Doctor announces that the helix should be ready for another attempt on Earth at the end of the Twentieth Century. There was briefly a plan to bring it back during the second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures, but ultimately the story moved into a different direction.

I fear that I’m going to end up boring you a bit today, because I’m about to praise all the things that I’ve already drawn attention to in the story. Most noticeably, I want to comment on the style given to Sarah for the Masque Ball in this episode. She looks absolutely stunning - and it’s nice to see her given the opportunity to dress up and enjoy herself (even if she is worried for the Doctor throughout the party). It’s also quite nice to see the Doctor having a bit of a laugh throughout. The situation is dire, he’s not sure how to get out of it… but he’s still got time to put on his lion’s head mask and have a joke with Sarah. With the series seeming to grow darker and darker, it’s nice to see a few moments of light relief.

Otherwise… I’m really not sure what to make of this one. Speaking to various people this week, it looks like this may be something of a ‘marmite’ story – people seem to either really love it, or find it just a bit… ephemeral. I think, for me, it may just be burn out. I’ve been loving the pairing of the Doctor and Sarah Jane, but they’ve been together for a long time now, and maybe the time has come for a change of pace. The next story could be coming along at just the right time, then…

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Ray Bayly