Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Forty-Three: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode One)
I hope you'll forgive me this little side-step into slightly different territory. I started this marathon with the express intention to watch all of televised Doctor Who, one episode a day, from the start. It's been going well! I've just finished the first season! The thing is… this was too tempting to miss.
Farewell Great Macedon was a story written by Moris Farhi in 1964, to be included as a part of Doctor Who's first run. For one reason or another, it didn't end up getting made, and sat there as one of those things talked about in whispers of Doctor Who fandom for many years.
But then, in 2010, Big Finish produced it as a part of their 'Lost Stories' range of audios - it's the main feature of their First Doctor box set. Now, I love Big Finish. I even wrote a book all about the Eighth Doctor's adventures with my friend Nick Mellish. Knowing that this story was out there, a script written at the time of the first season, with that mindset… I had to include it as a part of the marathon.
Originally, the plan was that I'd just give it a listen between the first and second seasons. Maybe split it over a couple of nights to enjoy, while this blog just kept chugging along toward the Planet of Giants. Thing is, I've really been enjoying the pace of the marathon so far. Watching at the rate of one installment per day, the stories really get a chance to breathe.
So here we are! Slightly off the beaten track of Doctor Who, but still very much following in spirit. I won't be taking these side-steps between every season, but there are one-or-two others to take as I go along (and we'll come to them when the time is right). Mainly, I'm interested to see how well this story fits in with what's around it. I want to see how much it feels 'of the era' that it has come from.
Now, obviously, the script has been adapted for its audio release. The sad loss of William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill means that we'll never have it quite as we would have done in 1964. Add to that the fact that things need to be slightly more 'described' on an audio play, and we're going to encounter differences.
Know what though? This first episode is pure, 1964 Doctor Who. I'm so pleased! I worried, plugging the headphones in this evening, that I'd find it a bit of a shock. I thought there was a risk that things would feel incredibly out of place compared to all the stuff I've been watching, but this just fits right in.
The story is mainly carried by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, who play Ian and Susan as normal, but also provide much of the linking narration, and one-or-two other voices. I've never noticed before, listening to any of the Big Finish Companion Chronicles, but having just come from forty-two days of seeing these characters, their voices really do sound 50 years older!
That's not a complaint, though. It's still very recognisably them, and they slip back into their respective roles with a great deal of ease. Susan is still very much in the over-the-top mode she spent most of The Reign of Terror portraying. Early on, when the power drains from the TARDIS and strange music filters in, she shrieks that they might be dead. That's a cheery teenager for you.
Elsewhere, the script contains plenty of humour, and it's very much in keeping with the stuff we've seen in the show recently. Upon Susan's suggestion that they could be in heaven, the Doctor protests that they can't be, as he doesn't know the way. It's a great moment, as is a scene later on in which our regulars encounter a lamb being sacrificed, and the Doctor steps in to give some tips on cooking it!
Perhaps most noticeable, though, is how much the story feels like one of those from the first era of Doctor Who. We've got a historical setting, a character famous from history (in this case Alexander the Great - a presence which awes Barbara. It's good to see her back in history-teacher mode again), and a plot from a few stock 'evil' characters.
When the priest makes portents of a 'Four-headed tragedy' falling across babylon, I made a note to say that they'd link it to the TARDIS team before the third episode was out - it doesn't waste time, though, they make the connection for the cliffhanger to this one!
In all, it's a sting start to the story, and reminds me of Lucarotti's work from earlier in the season. That can only be a good thing!
Next Episode: O, Son! My Son!