Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Forty-Eight: Farewell, Great Macedon! (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Six)
There's a moment in this episode, just after Alexander's death, where his eyes are closed, and it is declared that he now 'belongs to history'. Actually, that's a very good description of Farewell Great Macedon as a whole.
The story has focussed very much - especially in its earlier segments and this last one - on the idea of not changing history, picking up on things that have been present elsewhere in Doctor Who's first series and running with them as a real focus to the story. Sure, you've got all the evil scheming and plots to take control of the throne, but that's just there as a background to the real story.
In many ways, I'm glad that I've opted to listen to this story during the gap between the first two seasons of the show, because it forms part of a natural through-line in the Doctor's historical adventures, from The Aztecs, where he states with absolute certainty that they can't change history ('not one line!'), via The Reign of Terror, in which we get Ian and Barbara musing on the futility of their actions, as they know they're on the losing side, and then we end up here.
This takes the most interesting aspects of those two stories and combines them together. The Doctor is very well aware that he can't alter history, and he's more than well informed enough that Alexander will die here on this day. Still, he's determined to help the man because he is a Doctor, after all, and therefore he has a moral oath to at least try to spare his life.
Dovetailing with the discussion in the TARDIS at the end of the last story, about what would happen if they tried to change history, here we get to see it in action; the Doctor has devised a potential survival plan for Alexander and Ian has built it, but the Grecian himself refuses it because the Doctor's knowledge of the future gives him nothing to live for.
To be honest, I'm a little pleased with the way that things turned out. Early on in the story, when we're first told that the king will die during his stay in Babylon, I mused that it changed the story to being about when and how he would die. But, truth be told, I've worried all along that they wouldn't actually show it. I'd feared that they'd have shied away at the last minute and cut away before it could happen.
To see it coming about in this way, with so much emphasis on the ideas of changing history? Wonderful. It helps that Alexander's - and then the Doctor's - speeches here are so good; they really help to sell the moment.
It's not all sunshine and roses, though. This final episode clocks in at a whopping 44 minutes - almost twice the length of the episodes that I've been watching for the last six weeks. I'm not going to lie; it was a bit of a struggle to keep up my attention to the end here. Indeed, that's been true of the story all along. It's been very good, but it's just been too long.
Still, I wanted to listen to it here and now, because I wanted to see how it would feel integrated into the stories that were intended to be it's stablemates. I'm pleased to say that it really does work. As I've said, it forms a perfect continuation of the narrative building up over the historical stories, which gives the feeling of almost a story arc forming. Definitely a detour worth making on a marathon from the start.
That said, I'll not be making too many of these on the way along. I can't tell you how excited I am to be getting back to moving pictures tomorrow!
And an overall story rating of;
Next Episode: Planet of Giants