8 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Eight: Day of Armageddon (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Two)

Dear Diary,

A few years ago, when I first started reading the Wife in Space blog, it used to astound me how easily Sue could spot an episode directed by Douglas Camfield. I mean sure, every director has a distinct look, but it's not something that I often notice while watching Doctor Who. For Season One and most of Season Two of this marathon, there's a fair few places where I wouldn't be able to tell you where one directer stops and another takes over.

I've never really noticed the direction in Doctor Who before. It's usually being made under such pressures that it becomes very basic, with plenty of use being given to stock framing and basic direction of actors. In fact, then only time I've ever really connected to a Who director was shortly after Blink aired for the first time, and I found myself in an interview for a place at university, studying film production. I wasn't sure what to expect at the interview and was caught completely off-guard when they asked about my favourite example of direction. The first thing I thought of was Blink (since it was the most recent episode to air) and I managed to make up a load of stuff about how much it had affected me.

Of course, I couldn't remember that it was Hettie MacDonald who'd directed it, so I had to stall on using the name for as long as I could. Then I spoke about how Graeme Harper likes to shout 'lots of energy' before each take. Bizzarely, I actually landed a place on the course, but six years on, my own directorial work amounts to an afternoon of Blue Peter and a selection of rubbish student films.

Anyway, it always struck me how easily Sue reacted when Camfield was behind the cameras, but suddenly, I get it. I didn't have a clue that he was the man responsible for tackling this twelve-part Dalek epic, but as soon as I loaded up the Lost in Time DVD for today's episode, it was obviously him.

For a start, the sets are of a quality in places that is very reminiscent of The Time Meddler. For the last episode, my image of the jungles of Kembel were based more on the look of The Chase than of the animated Mission to the Unknown. As soon as they appeared today, though, I couldn't quite believe it. They're stunning! I mean, really, stunning. I was a little disappointed by the Daleks gathering around the TARDIS - the narration on the soundtrack made it sound more impressive than it actually is - but the shots Hartnell creeping around in the foliage are great. He's got the same confident air here that I praised during A Battle of Wits a few weeks ago - Camfield really brings out the best in him.

Then we've got the Dalek's council chamber, for want of a better description. Oh, sure, it's not the best-looking set we've ever seen in the series - it's mostly a load of drapes and some fancy chairs - but the sheer size of it! There's a shot early on, when Mavic Chen sits at the table writing and a Dalek glides down the ramp to meet him and it feels like ti takes the Dalek an age to reach him! I don't think we've had a bigger set in the programme than this before.

Of course, while I'm raving about the direction (there's only 25% of this story available to watch, so expect me to really latch onto the direction when I can see it!), I have to talk about the way the Daleks themselves look. There's shots of them talking that involve the eyestalks reaching out towards the camera, and just giving them more of a screen presence than we've had before. It just feels like this is the best they've ever looked.

And there's the scene of them burning down the jungle. I have to admit, it was terribly exciting to see them first ignite their flamethrowers. I'm a twenty-three-year-old-man, I shouldn't be as excited by the thought of a Dalek with a flamethrower, but frankly… how brilliant! The way they come on, one at a time…

I mean, in fairness, things then feel a bit dragged out as we watch them - slowly - trundle around and wait for the set to catch fire, but it's still brought about by a terribly exciting moment. If anything, this episode has made me regret that I'm not going to get to see more of this story than I am. I mused the other day that of all the ones to be missing from the archives, Galaxy 4 wasn't perhaps the biggest visual loss. I'm getting the feeling that this one might be…

Next Episode: Devil's Planet

Next Episode: Devil's Planet 
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