16 May 2014

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

Day 501: The Ribos Operation, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Doctor might describe some days as being ‘Temporal Tipping Points’ - special days which are so full of important (in some sense of the word) events. For me, there’s always 24th September 2007. Not only was it my very first day of University, but it was also the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures Series One (following the pilot episode some nine months earlier). As if all of that wasn’t exciting enough, it was also the release date for not one, or two, or even three new Doctor Who DVDs… but for six of them! 24th September 2007 was the release date for the set of Key to Time stories, Doctor Who’s entire Sixteenth Season. But there was a problem.

The fact that the set contained six brand new releases was special enough (and more than had been collected together at any other point in the range), but it was also a limited edition, in a nice box designed to look like the Key to Time itself. Ah, but the internet was awash with rumours. No-one was quite sure exactly how many sets there were going to be, and people who worked in various entertainment stores confirmed that they’d only be getting one or two copies in, and that they’d been unable to order any more, because the suppliers had run out already. There was no way I was going to miss it, which meant that I’d have to hurry up to Woolworths before heading off to University first thing. The only problem was… Woolworths didn’t actually open until the exact minute that my very first day of Higher Education was supposed to begin, and there was no way I could possibly be late for my very first day!

Well, we can all guess what happened. Nine o’clock came, and I was waiting outside Woolworths. Degree be damned. To be fair, all these years on, I can’t even remember what grade I achieved at University. I passed, that’s good enough for me. I sat through the day as they explained the way the course would work for the first year, then hurried him in time to catch Miss Smith battling the Slitheen. And then I settled in to start watching Season Sixteen. I decided to ration myself - a few episodes a night. Yes, this was the most ‘new’ classic Doctor Who I’d ever bought in a single hit before, but there was no point in rushing through it all too quickly!

I can’t recall mush of the season, looking back. I know that The Stones of Blood was my favourite of the bunch, and I’m sorry to say that I know I was thoroughly bored by pretty much everything else. Ever since then, I’ve consciously skipped over these six stories if choosing a Doctor Who DVD to while away a Sunday afternoon. General reception seems to be pretty mixed, all told. Some people swear by the season (indeed, some claim that it’s the programme’s final hurrah before getting steadily worse from here on out), while others think that it’s tedious, and dull, and everything I seemed to think that it was back in the day.

And yet… I think I’ve rather liked today’s episode. I’ll warn you now that I’m not really going to be discussing the story or anything too much like that in this entry - there’s another three days in which we can get around to all that! - I’ll be focussing today, really, on the first ten minutes or so of the episode. It’s something of a brave voice to introduce the entire arc of the season in what is effectively a massive info-dump right at the top of the first episode (hey, kids! Doctor Who is back on TV, and he’s chatting to an elderly man in a chair!), but there’s a lot to enjoy about it. That shot of the TARDIS being plunged into total darkness before the roundels become backlit and a blinding glow floods through the doors is beautiful, and it’s always been my favourite image of the ‘classic’ style console room. Back when I used to make up Doctor Who stories and take photos of the action figures acting them out, I always found excuses for the TARDIS to look like it does here.

And then I even quite enjoy the exchange between the Doctor and the Guardian. As I’ve said, it really boils down to a massive explanation of what this season is going to be about, but there’s some nice little moments in there. I love the threat that if the Doctor doesn’t co-operate then nothing will happen to him (…ever), and there’s something quite surreal, and perfectly Doctor Who about the most powerful being in the universe sipping his drink in a wicker chair while he explains the stakes to our hero. Most of all, though, I love that the Doctor is brought down to size, almost. Right the way through his conversation with the Guardian, the Doctor is trying to keep his flippant arrogance in check (not very well, it has to be said), while remembering that he’s addressing, basically, God. I’ve mused before about the fact that the Doctor is getting s bit big for his boots, and Tom Baker is starting to think of himself as being irreplaceable, so it’s nice to have a moment like this which cuts him down a little.

Then there’s Romana! Mary Tamm has massive shoes to fill following on from Louise Jameson (though the pair were contemporaries at drama school, so I have high hopes!), and I’m not sure she’s made the best first impression. Romana is tricky to judge so far, because she’s supposed to be slightly unlikable and superior, and that’s exactly how she’s coming across. I’m going to enjoy watching her own character arc unfold across the season (and beyond, once she’s regenerated), and see how much I like her by the end…

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