Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Forty-Seven: In the Arena (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Five)
I've become too ingrained in the Doctor Who of 1964. As part of the process of immersing myself fully into the marathon, I'm only watching the episodes as they come up, day-by-day. The only exemption I'll be making to this is when the new episodes begin to air in the spring. There's no way I'll manage to avoid watching them!
This means, though, that the only exposure I've had to Doctor Who for the last six weeks is via the early Hartnell episodes, and… it's started to have an effect on me. Here I am, listening to this episode as I do the washing up (what? I have to do it *sometime*…), with some great incidental music, and the sound of a vast crowd cheering Ian on as he partakes in the wrestling, in what's sure to be an enormous arena, with several gladiators, and a blazing hot sky overhead…
And it all looks - in my mind's eye - as though it's been shot on film at Ealing. In my head, as Ian left his companions to join the championship, the look of what I was imagining shifted to film. And actually, thinking back on it (though I may be attaching more to it now that I've noticed) the whole thing in my mind has been rather small-scale in terms of the setting, when there's the opportunity for it to look grand and vast on a scale I've not been seeing yet with the series.
That's probably a testament to how in-keeping with everything else in the series to date this story has been. I'm glad that it seems Big Finish have stuck closely to what was written in the 60s, as this truly does feel like a 'lost' episode of Doctor Who.
I've spent a bit of time this week competing this story to Marco Polo, but actually, in this episode, things shift slightly so that it's more in keeping with The Aztecs. You've got the aforementioned situation in which Ian has to prove himself through a contest of strength (and it's those scenes with Ixta on the temple which have formed much of my vision during the final five minutes or so here), while his friends watch on.
Elsewhere, you've got the Doctor using his knowledge of science to produce what could almost be called magic - there he gives poison to help win in a fight, and here he makes his feet perspire so that he can walk back and forth across the coals. The only downside, really, is that William Russell doesn't attempt to mimic Hartnell's laugh, but merely narrates that the Doctor does so…
I must admit, one of the things I'm enjoying the most is the idea of the TARDIS team being used to cover up the murderous plot line. During the first episode, when 'evil' characters all sat around spouting stuff about killing four people to become king I thought it was going to be blatantly obvious what was going on, even if they were going to frame our regulars.
Actually, though, through the use of the bad omens being prophesied, and the way that the blame has been pinned to the good guys rather late on in the story, it's managed to avoid feeling too much like an obvious ploy. It's hanging together quite nicely for the baddies at the moment… if only they wouldn't whisper so obviously about poisoning the king about three feet away from him!
Next Episode: Farewell, Great Macedon!