Time Lord Tees

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28 October 2014

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

Day 666: Revelation of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

This is more the relationship that I like to see between the Doctor and Peri. Yes, they're poking fun at each other's weight and having a bit of a bicker, but it comes across more as good-natured joking around than anything malicious. I think it's clearest when the pair are trying to scale the wall into Tranquil Repose, and the Doctor makes a point of saying he may not be able to lift Peri, considering how much she weighs. She then calls him 'porky' in response. It feels perhaps more natural to a real friendship, where you might joke around and call each other names, and I think I quite like that. I could have done without all the innuendo with the Doctor's fob watch, though! This is the last story in which the Doctor is given his very 'rough' persona, before it all gets toned down a bit for Trial of a Time Lord. On the whole, I've enjoyed the concept of having a less-likeable Doctor, but I think they did mis-step a little bit in first giving him four episodes at the end of the previous season (leaving the audience nine months before the next one to muse on the fact that they don't like the new Doctor), and in planning to soften him across his entire era - I think we needed to see more of this incarnation's softer side as this season wore on, just to reassure us that he's the same Doctor underneath it all.

This is also the last story to feature 45-minute episodes during the 'classic' run of the programme. Again, I think it can be a good idea - the 21st century series has shown that - but the production team at this point just haven't quite known what to do with them. In the making of documentary on the Attack of the Cybermen DVD, Eric Saward comments that he liked the 45-minute format because it allowed you longer to really flesh out your characters, but I don't think many of the writers have really done that! Robert Holmes has still been the master with The Two Doctors, and even Saward himself is doing a better job than usual of populating his world in this story (though here perhaps more than ever, you can see him trying to emulate Holmes' style), but I think episodes have largely felt a bit clunky this season. It was most highlighted in Timelash, when the episodes just dragged on-and-on, well past the point when I would have comfortably have liked a break from them. I'm almost wondering if I might watch that story again at some point with the international-style cliffhangers reinserted to make it four episodes - it could fare better!

Thankfully, there's a lot more to like in today's episode than there was in the last few. I really wasn't sure what I'd make of this story - it's been so long since I've seen it that I couldn't remember a great deal. I think I quite like it, with plenty of action going on to keep me interested, and I almost like the fact that the Doctor and Peri don't actually get involved with the main plot at all in this first half. I'd worried that it would feel like it was taking the mick too much, but it's allowed the cast of guest characters to firmly establish themselves before our regulars arrive. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like once the two worlds collide - I don't think we've ever had so much time setting up the guest cast before the Doctor or his companion meets them, have we?

Perhaps the one slight disappointment that I've got about it is the way the Daleks have been used. We're introduced to their part in the narrative without any fanfare - we simply cut right to some of them in Davros' lair. I know I used to joke about the fact that the 'Episode One Cliffhanger' would be the pepper pots turning up, even though we know they're in it from the title, but I sort of want a bit more of a song and dance made of them. The best Dalek moment in the entire episode, for instance, is as we watch the Doctor and Peri walking off down a large ramp into the complex, and suddenly behind them, right up close to the camera, a Dalek whizzes by. That's actually scary. If we hadn't seen the Daleks in the story yet - and if you didn't know that they were in it - I think that would be a real 'heart skips a beat moment'.

It would also be helped by the fact that we've got Daleks in this episode quite unlike the ones we're use to. Back in Day of the Daleks, I complained that in the colour-era stories, the Daleks always looked a bit rubbish. They're tatty, and broken. The different props have been mixed and matched and put together wrong, so they don't fit. The paint work has been touched up in dribs and drabs, where you can still see the wet patches, and they're that dull grey colour. It worked well for the bleak Genesis of the Daleks, but they just don't have the flair or style of the 1960s versions. But here! Oh! They're white and gold! They're brand new, and I've always loved this colour scheme on them. It adds to the moment when one glides past the camera, because you're almost not quite sure. It looked like a Dalek, but could it be…?

This episode is also home to the glass Dalek, and it's - you've guessed it - another image that's been seared on my brain from reading Doctor Who: The Legend years and years ago, before I saw this tale. There's something so wonderful about the idea, and I love the way it's been lit, sat up on its little platform. Beautiful. I'm sure that a similar creature appears in Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, and it's no wonder that it's made the jump from page to screen, because it's such a beautiful visual concept.

While I'm on the subject of visuals - how lucky were they to have been hit by so much snow during the filming of this one? That opening shot of the TARDIS arriving on the bank of a river, with the snow being blown around by the wind, and the winter sun sitting in the sky… oh, it's beautiful. As the Doctor and Peri explore, you can't help but think that there really is something a bit alien about all of this, and it seems so perfectly suited to a story that's so steeped in the tones of death. I can't help but think that had they filmed this simply on a regular wet autumn day, it would have looked pants.

27 October 2014

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

Day 665: Timelash, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don't know if I'm just in a more forgiving mood today, but this episode has been much more enjoyable than the first one was. Even some of the sets that seemed ridiculously bland yesterday have grown on me - and I rather like the light design on the wall of the Council Chamber! Not all the decor is to my tastes, though - the mural of the Third Doctor I could do without. It just seems far too much a fan-pleasing exercise than a good idea…

If I'm being honest - there's lots that I've enjoyed in this episode, but I think the whole is a great deal less than the sum of its parts. Lots of the things that I've liked don't really bare talking about at any length, so among them are the android's voices (and the way that they seem to be so at odds with the stature and shape of the creatures), The Timelash itself (I know it looks a bit rubbish, but an image of Colin being lowered down it on a rope is another one that captivated me as a young fan, seeing it for the first time), the cell that Peri is chained up in very briefly (possibly the best set in the entire story - a great design that wouldn't feel out of place in a German Expressionist film), and the smug look that Colin has on his face when he's ten seconds in the future and gets to push people; he science is nonsense, even by Doctor Who standards, but he just looks so pleased about it.

There's two things in today's episode that really are worth mentioning separately. The first is the make up on the Borad. Let's be honest, it's some of the best make up in all of Doctor Who, from 1963 right up to now. It's a great design, it's been well applied… yeah, it's hard not to like. I think I'd go as far as to say that it's the best thing in the entire story, and it's sort of a shame that it's let down by everything else around it - make up like this would still be the best thing in a fairly good story, so why waste it here!

The other thing I've loved… Herbert! Haha! I've never noticed before, but you wait nineteen years for a real-life historical figure to put in an appearance (the last such instance was right back in 1966 and The Gunfighters), and then you get two in one season! After George Stevenson, we've not got H. G. Wells, too. And you know what? I rather like the way that he's been used in this story - usually, we go in to them knowing who our famous 'historical celebrity' is going to be, but this time it comes as a surprise reveal in the final few minutes. There's loads of allusions to Wells' work throughout Timelash, but I'm not overly familiar with his stories, so I can't claim to have picked up on them all.

I just think that Herbert works ridiculously well with Colin's Doctor, and he's even become another one of those characters that I'd love to see return in an audio adventure some time - putting him up there with the likes of Duggan! I laughed out loud ridiculously hard when the Doctor has forcibly removed Peri from the TARDIS, only to take off and be confronted with Herbert. There's something about the way that they exchange 'hello' before getting in to everything! I love the scene in the first episode, too, where Herbert comes wandering out from the TARDIS corridors to explain that the ship is bigger on the inside… and the Doctor simply replies 'I know!'

Sadly, Herbert getting on so well with the Doctor comes at a price - he's especially awful to Peri in this story. Their relationship has never been quite as pleasant as, say either the Third or Fourth Doctor with Sarah Jane, or the Second Doctor with Zoe, but it's felt in the last couple of stories that they've settled into a groove where they bicker and argue, before they hug and make up, and simply love being with each other. In Timelash, he's perhaps worse to her than at any other time (even when trying to kill her!), and that's also put me off the story just a bit.

Sorry, Timelash, but great make-up and Herbert just isn't enough to stop you from becoming my lowest-rated story.

26 October 2014

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

Day 664: Timelash, Episode One

Dear diary,

Although I try to keep an open mind about every story in this marathon as I reach it, I have to admit that I've been dreading this one. Unlike, say, Underworld, which had a bad reputation, but I'd never judged for myself, or The Twin Dilemma, which I'd enjoyed in spite of such an awful reputation, Timelash is a story that I can remember coming away from on a previous viewing and actively thinking that it had a well-deserved reputation for being rubbish. Ever since, it's existed on my list of 'stories I don't plan to watch again'. Now, this isn't the first time in this marathon where I've come across such a story, and it can usually swing wildly in one direction or the other - I'll either come away loving it because it's better than I'm expecting, or I'll hate it even more because I've spent the last few days being so sure that I would. Sadly… I think we're falling in to the later of those two categories.

Something that's been becoming more and more prevalent this season is that the Doctor and Peri spend such a long time in the TARDIS. In this episode, they don't make it out of the ship until something like 23 minutes through - in 'old money', that would mean the entire first episode stuck in there! It's a trend that's been steadily growing for a while now (especially through the last two seasons, but it started as far back as Season Eighteen), and I think I'm just a bit bored of it. There was a time, when I was quite a new fan of Doctor Who, when the more time spent inside the TARDIS, the better the episode was - I was absolutely fascinated by it, and loved a chance to just look at the console room. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm also not keen on the way that the TARDIS is being set up this season.

Put simply, it no longer feels like a powerful time and space machine in the way that it did right back at the start of the programme, and it's all down to the way it's being treated. In Vengeance on Varos, when the Doctor retires to muse on the rest of eternity being spent in a dying ship, he sits on a garishly 1980s chair, that just happens to be plonked in the console room, away from anything else! It doesn't feel as though it's part of this console room at all (and neither, for that matter, does the entirely different chair which occupies a similar spot in The Twin Dilemma). Way back when, the TARDIS console room used to contain a little wooden chair, and various other odds and ends like that, but they somehow seemed to fit in perfectly with this strange place inside the police box. During the events of The Edge of Destruction, for example, the chair Barbara has to slump in doesn't feel incongruous, it simply feels natural that it should be there. I think the fact that the TARDIS is now less a collection of different elements - different attempts at making roundel walls, and fault locators, and ceiling lights - and more of a white void, coupled with the fact that the chair is so dated by being made in the mid-1980s, really does harm it.

In today's episode, it's the sudden appearance of straps being used like seat belts which feels out of place. When the Second Doctor gets up from regeneration and starts rummaging through a chest in the TARDIS console room, pulling out knives and cloaks and mirrors, it somehow feels natural. Similarly, when the Tenth Doctor does the same in The Unicorn and the Wasp, I'm somehow able to suspend my belief for long enough to just accept it. Here, though, it simply feels odd, and completely out-of-place with the set. If anything, it comes across as an excuse to pad out the running time a little (and I think I'm right in saying that the second episode, at least, did need some padding out with extra TARDIS scenes, so I may not be that far off the mark…!)

All that said… maybe they're better off being stuck inside the TARDIS, because the set design on Karfel leaves plenty to be desired. I get the impression that they're going for a kind of totalitarian minimalism effect - all blank walls and very little to inspire the people - but it just comes across as looking bland. Note how much more interesting it all looks, and how much my attention picked up, when we go in to the… I don't know, 'power chamber'? Suddenly, the lights are down, and they're trying something interesting with the colours. The sets aren't just flat blank walls, but rather there's some detail to them. Even the bland costumes look rather nice when there's some shadow to them!

I've little else to add, really, because Timelash simply isn't inspiring me to talk about it all that much! I'm in the sorry position of simply wanting to get tomorrow's episode over with, so I can move on to something that's hopefully a little bit better…

25 October 2014

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

Day 663: The Two Doctors, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The one part of this story that I've never been very keen on is the Second Doctor's transformation in to an Androgum. It's always just felt a bit odd, and seemed like such a strange thing to do to Patrick Troughton - surely if you'd got the Second Doctor back for one story, you'd want to spend as much time as possible with him simply being the Doctor? Watching it this time, though, I suddenly 'get' it - Patrick Troughton is absolutely relishing the part, and I dare say that he's giving a better performance as an Androgum than he is as the Doctor! He's really going for it, and I can't help but love that!

It's nice that he gets to spend some time with Colin Baker in this episode, too. I always think of the Second and Third Doctors failing to get on with each other, but the way that these two gently tease each other is brilliant, and I'm almost sorry that we don't get more of it. From the way the Second Doctor tells his Sixth self not to expect any thanks for saving him, through to the little jibe at the end about keeping out of each other's way… it's all just such good fun! There's a clip on Youtube from an American showing of Doctor Who in the 1980s, where they have a quick chat to Troughton, and ask him to introduce one of Colin's adventures. He makes a point of referring to Colin's Doctor as 'miss piggy', and it's clear that the good-natured playfighting continues well beyond the screen - I can imagine that the pair of them had a great deal of fun, sending each other up in rehearsals!

I figure that this is also the perfect point to bring up one of my favourite legends about the programme. There's a long-standing rumour that at one point in the 1980s, Patrick Troughton came back to the show and played a monster (possibly only for a single scene during the studio day). I've never known of the rumour being confirmed at any point… does anyone know? I'm aware that Troughton stood in for Peter Davison during some of the camera set ups on Castrovalva, but I'd love to think that he's inside a monster costume at some point in this period! It wasn't that long after this story that Troughton died, and so the thought that he may have made just one more appearance somewhere is appealing!

As for this story on the whole… Oh, I can't help but quite like it. The Sontarans are bumbling fools (but they're rarely anything else), lots of the stuff about the way that time machines work doesn't really tally with anything else we've ever been told about them, and there's really no point at all for being in Spain, but everyone is clearly having a good time making the story, and that enthusiasm is infectious.

I'm also wondering if I can find a way of incorporating this one into my ever-growing narrative of the Time War. The Time Lords are worried about the emergence of potentially viable time machines within the Third Zone, and send a Doctor to help… could it be that it's because they're worried that the Daleks might get their protrubances on one of the crafts? Equally, could it be that the Sontarans don't want the machine simply for the reasons they claim here, but because they're still trying to 'audition' for the Time War (as I postulated during The Invasion of Time)? Or, even, is it viable to imagine that maybe Chasene isn't simply working for herself to take over the universe, and is actually working for some more Dalek-y pay masters behind-the-scenes? 

24 October 2014

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

Day 662: The Two Doctors, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I can clearly remember buying this story on DVD. I was at college, and we'd taken a trip to Cambridge for the day, for some reason. I'd decided at some point on the route down there that I'd be picking up this story at some point, and when the time came, my friend Ben and I slipped off to the local WH Smiths to collect it. I recall this distinctly, because when the time came to pay, I realised that I was a few pounds short, and I remember being overjoyed that Ben agreed to foot the shortfall. On the trip home, I tried to explain the plot of the story to him (by this point, I was fairly clued up on most of the general plots of the older stories), and he was completely baffled by the fact that there could be two Doctors in one story. I only bring this up because it's another one of those weird coincidences that The 50 Year Diary throws up from time-to-time. I've only ever been to Cambridge properly that once. When I travel back home from Cardiff now and then to visit family, I sometimes end up at Cambridge station, but we're only there a matter of minutes and there's not a great deal to see. Today, though, I'm trying a bus across the country, and it just so happens that while I'm watching this episode on my iPad… we've pulled up outside the WH Smiths in Cambridge! The exact shop that I bought this DVD from seven or eight years ago! These little coincidences do crop up from time to time, and they always fascinate me a bit!

Anyway, today's episode. It's all a but of a mixed bag, isn't it? On the one hand, Robert Holmes is peppering the script with lots of his trademark elements, and that' always fun to have. On the other… it feels as though everything is just a bit wasted. We've got Patrick Troughton back as the Doctor for three nights only… and he's spent most of it either unconscious or strapped to a table (at times, both! I'll come back to the Second Doctor in a minute). We've headed off to Spain for the annual trip abroad… and it doesn't look all that much like there was any point. Oh, sure, the Hacienda looks nice enough, I guess, as does the olive grove, but I'm not convinced that they couldn't have replicated this kind of look back home for a bit less money. I think I'm right in saying that before they ended up in Seville, this story was planned to take place in New Orleans, which may have added more character perhaps? Still, I know we venture into the town itself in the next episode, so maybe that will help out a little?

So, the Second Doctor. As I've said, it feels almost as though he's being wasted in this episode. He gets some nice scenes in yesterday's instalment, getting to do his conversation with Dastari, but here he really is kept under wraps a fair amount, isn't he? It's telling, I suppose, that Patrick Troughton can still absolutely shine even in this diminished state, though. His chat with the Sontaran is fantastic, and I really laughed right the way through (of particular highlight was him asking 'tea time already, nurse?' as a trolley of medical equipment was wheeled in, and then commenting that the Sontaran's don't have faces built for laughter.)

Speaking of the Sontarans… I can never quite make my mind up on this pair. For a start, they're that bit too tall to be Sontarans (In my write-up of the species for the Doctor Who: Adventure in Time and Space Role Playing Game, I made a point of saying that Sontaran scientists are somewhat taller than the regular soldiers. It doesn't quite hang together, but it's close enough for me to squint and believe it), but it's really the masks that I'm not sure about. I think they're very good - the features are harder set and more 'militaristic' than any of the previous versions we've seen - and they've lost that heavy eye-shadow they'd become so fond of for The Invasion of Time. But then, the mouths don't really work, with the actor's lips visible behind the sculpted Sontaran lips. That's off-putting. And then there's the fact that the neck-rings seem to have beed just placed on to the costume, and not affixed in any way! There's several shots in today's episode where they seem to just float independently of the body, and that certainly doesn't look right to me!

And then you've got the Sixth Doctor and his companions. I've not really touched very much on the way that the Sixth Doctor and Peri's relationship seems to work - where he's often a bit of an arse to her, and she simply goes along with it - but I think this story shows it up very nicely. He is an arse to her, but you can see that they share a deep bond under all of that. Peri seems to go along with him because she knows that under all the pomposity and bluster (and rudeness, let's be honest!), he's a very good man, and she's proud to travel alongside him. As Clara said recently in The Caretaker, you get to see wonders, and Peri's willing to put up with this guy for those! I think she's the perfect companion for him in many ways, and I always love it when she cuts right through his showboating and brings things back down to earth. We get it in today's episode, where he ruminates on the approaching end of the universe, and then announces that it'll take a 'very few centuries' to occur. Peri laughs this off, and ventures off to find Jamie, leaving the Doctor performing to an empty room.

Jamie is working very well here, too, for that matter, and I'm enjoying the way he bounces off the Sixth Doctor. I think if I had to pick my favourite exchange from the episode, it would be from the Doctor trying to explain his different incarnations to the Highlander;

JAMIE
He's not the Doctor I know.

DOCTOR
I am too, Jamie McCrimmon. I am another aspect of him, just as he is of me.

JAMIE
Eh?

DOCTOR
I was him, he will be me.

JAMIE
Who will I be?

Although I'm longing to get just a bit more time of Jamie with his Second Doctor, I'm glad that he works so well with the Sixth, at least. By the time The War Games rolled around, and we waved goodbye to Jamie, I'd had more than enough of him, and was ready for him to leave. Enough time has passed now, though, that it's great to see him again - I'm glad to have him back, if briefly! I know he was paired with the Sixth Doctor again on audio a few years ago, and I think that might be worth checking out once this marathon is complete!

23 October 2014

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

Day 661: The Two Doctors, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Two Doctors has always felt like a bit of an oddity. It's not an anniversary story, like The Five Doctors, or an excuse to bring back all the previous incarnations, as in The Three Doctors, but rather an excuse to get Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back together again for a bit of a knees up in Spain. Who am I to complain about that, though? There's something a little bit magical about the way the titles fade into a black an white image of the pair (heightened by the fact that the titles are especially saturated today!), and the story starts off from there. Indeed, we don't even see Colin Baker's Doctor until almost ten minutes in to the episode!

The only issue that I now have, coming to this story having watched all the episode that precede it, is how wrong it feels for the Doctor and Jamie to be talking so casually about running a mission for the Time Lords, and the fact that he's able to pilot the TARDIS so well (for him, anyway). When I first saw The Two Doctors, it was simply The Second Doctor coming back in to the programme after many years away, and that was simply brilliant. Now it's all just a bit… off. I'm not going to go wildly in to the theory of Season 6B (I've never really decided if I like it as a concept or not…), but I can at least understand why people feel the need to explain these oddities away - they really do stand out.

Having had the Second Doctor and Jamie taking up the majority of the tale for the first ten minutes… we then barely see them again for the rest of the episode! The space station is attacked by an unseen menace (though we already know it's the Sontarans), and then we're more-or-less with the Sixth Doctor and Peri for the rest of the running time. That's not a bad thing, though, and in fact it may be some of the best time we've spent with the Sixth Doctor so far. There's something so sinister about the way that the Doctor comments on the work being done on this station 'threatened no one', and being answered by a booming voice, 'it threatened the Time Lords…'

I almost wonder if I would have liked that to come before we spend any time with the Second Doctor? It would be a wonderful hook for opening a story - the Doctor collapses and feels unwell, he goes to see Dastari, finds the station in ruins, hears the booming voice of the computer… and then starts to remember the last time he visited the station. Cue Jamie and the Second Doctor arriving at the station in their TARDIS, and deciding to slip in quietly. There's nothing wrong with what we've got here, but it seems odd to have such a wonderful mystery being set up for the Sixth Doctor while we already know what's happened!

While I'm on the subject of the station - isn't it a lovely design? I really like every bit of it, from the main station design right through to the service areas down below. There's something very 1980s about the style, but it really appeals to me. It also look fantastic when the Doctor and Peri get to explore in the dark, silhouetted against small pockets of colour and light. It's not often that Peter Moffat gives us something this well executed, so it's always nice to see when he does!

22 October 2014

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

Day 660: The Mark of the Rani, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Well… we do have to spend a lot more time in the studio today than we did in yesterday's episode, but we still get a fair few sequences shot out on location, too, where the direction really does continue to be fantastic. It feels a bit like I'm watching a proper drama, with lovely close-ups of the actors, and beautifully composed three shots. I think, if there's one thing I'll be taking away from The Mark of the Rani, then it'll be just how good it looks.

There also needs to be a certain amount of love given for the location that they've used here. I think I'm right in saying that this story carried a dedication from the BBC to the 'Ironbridge Gorge Museum', where much of the story was filmed, and it's not hard to see why. I often find myself in stories like this praising the way that the BBC can build fantastic historical sets in the studio, but this is probably the best location that we've had for a historical tale in ages. I have a feeling that even going off for a holiday in Spain for the next episode is going to pale in comparison!

I'm also compelled to praise the Rani a little bit more with this episode, because she's brilliant! This story makes quite a point about the way the Master operates - seemingly always obsessed with killing the Doctor over anything else - but it also presents the Rani as the character that should be the Doctor's nemesis. Do you remember, back in The Mind of Evil, how I praised the way that the Master was able to control all of the events while sitting quite happily in the back of a car, smoking a cigar? Or the way he moves all the pieces in The Time Monster, sat in a high-backed chair before a fireplace? That character hasn't regenerated into the Master that's been doing battle with the Doctor from Traken to Sarn, that character became the Rani as we see her here.

She's not on Earth with some diabolical plan - she's here because she needs to be. There's no grandiose attempts to take control with robots shaped like the king, or huge radar dishes. She's here, she's set up everything she needs, and she's getting on with it. I also love that when the Master tries to get her assistance in killing the Doctor and taking control of Earth, she points out that she doesn't need to do that - she's already the ruler of a planet, and she's quite content, thank you very much. I'm even impressed by a fact about the Rani that's always left me a little cold in the past. It's said that she was exiled from Gallifrey because she bred giant mice, and one ate the Lord President's cat. It's always seemed like such a silly idea to me in the past, but the way that Kate O'Mara delivers the line is wonderful.

I can't talk about this episode without mentioning another one of the most famous things about it… the trees. Oh dear, the trees. I'm sure you know the story: Luke has been hypnotised by the Master. He's led Peri off to get her out of the way. The Rani has set some lethal land mines for the Doctor. Luke steps on one of these mines… and it turned in to a tree. Later on, a group of rebels carrying the Doctor on a pole also find themselves turned in to a tree… with the Doctor's pole suspended between branches. It should be silly, and indeed, I've always thought of it as being so… but I rather enjoyed it here! The trees don't look all that convincing, and the moment when Tree-Luke swoops down a branch to save Peri from the same fate is a bit ludicrous, but I rather like the actual transformation effect! I think it's generally a result of simply enjoying the episode so much that it can do very little wrong in my eyes!

The Mark of the Rani is Pip and Jane Baker's first contribution to the programme, but they'll be back for a few more stories over the next few years. They've never been hailed as the greatest writers Doctor Who has ever had (indeed, I was hugely saddened, and more than a little offended, recently when Jane Baker passed away and there were some comments on my Facebook News Feed to the effect of 'good riddance, her episodes were rubbish'. Suffice to say, those people no longer show up on my newsfeed), but I have to say that I've really enjoyed this particular story. There are more than a few examples of their trademark thesaurus-needing dialogue on show, but I didn't find it distracting to the plot in the way that I'd expected to. That's another thing to keep an eye on, I think, over the next few stories from them. So as far as I'm concerned, they're very welcome to the programme with a story like this, and I'm actively looking forward to their next one (which I seem to recall enjoying more than any other part of the Trial season…!)

21 October 2014

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

Day 659: The Mark of the Rani, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Mark of the Rani is, for me, another one of those 'fact' stories. What I mean is that I can rattle off plenty of information about it - it's the first Pip n' Jane story, the first appearance of the Rani, the Master's first face off against the Sixth Doctor - but I couldn't have told you just how good it is! I'm watching today's episode on a coach, making my way across the country, to visit family. I was praying that it might be an interesting enough instalment of Doctor Who to help break up the monotony… and is it ever! I've loved it!

The thing which is appealing to me the most here is the direction. It's genuinely some of the best we've ever had in the programme (it's better than The Caves of Androzani, which is the one every bangs on about direction-wise in this era, though for different reasons), and I'm gutted to know that this story represents Sarah Helling's only work on the programme, because she's got a talent that really could help improve the stock of the series.

I think it's partly helped by the fact that so much of today's episode takes place out on location (is this one of the highest film-to-videotape ratios that we've ever had?), and regular readers of the 50 Year Diary will be well aware of my feelings towards film in Doctor Who. There's lots of shots that look simply gorgeous here - beautifully framed - and I'm a little bit stunned by them. I've seen The Mark of the Rani before, but couldn't remember it being this visually gorgeous! I'm just hoping now that I won't have to pay the price tomorrow, and spend most of the episode trapped inside on video…

I've already made brief mention of the fact that this is the first appearance of the Rani in the programme. She's built up something of a reputation over the years for being a bit of a rubbish character, but I have to confess that I'm rather fond of her. I think it helps that this is the serial in which she's given less over-the-top eccentricities, and her plan is half-way decent, too. She's not here trying to impersonate the Doctor's companion, or trap him in a time loop on Albert Square, but rather because she's got her own experiments to work on.

I'm less thrilled to see the Master turning up, and surely this is the most ridiculous disguise that he ever wears? There's something quite creepy about the way the scarecrow's head moves as he watched the Doctor and Peri depart, but then when he takes off the costume (in one of the few poor areas of direction, sadly), there seems to have been no reason for the disguise at all. I can just about buy that he's ended up in the same place and time as the Rani, because he claims to have followed her here, but he seems to have been standing in the field just for something to do on a Tuesdays afternoon!

That said, when he's paired up with the Rani, I can't help but really love it. The way the pair spark off each other is hilarious, and you can't fault the Rani's description of the Master's schemes - ' It'll be something devious and over-complicated. He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.' The one area which does feel a bit out of place is that they seem to all subscribe to the Gallifreyan Academy's alumni newsletter. The Rani is well aware that the Master's last plan went wrong for him and seemed to finish him off, and they both know on sight exactly what this new Doctor looks like! It must be terribly awkward for him - every time he turns up to a reunion, he's got a different companion in tow, the old dog!

20 October 2014

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

Day 658: Vengeance on Varos, Episode Two

Dear diary,

When Doctor Who was first taken off the air in the mid 1980s, one of the things that was heavily discussed was the level of violence in the programme. The opinion seemed to be that it had reached new and inappropriate levels by this season, and it wasn't acceptable. This particular episode is probably a good place to bring it up, because it features the infamous 'acid bath' scene, in which the Doctor quips about the death of two guards, as they fall to their (rather gruesome) death.

It's often been cited as an example of the programme going too far with violence, but I'm not sure that it's all that bad, really. I think the most objectionable thing about the scene is the Doctor's reaction, when he jokes that he 'won't be joining' the guards in the acid. Even then, I'm not overly sure that I'm bothered by it, though. The same is true of another oft-mentioned scene from Attack of the Cybermen, where Lytton has his hands crushed by a pair of the silver giants. Further than the programme usually goes? Yes. Too far? It didn't make me bat an eyelid, but I can sort of understand not letting young children watch that. On the whole, I'm not finding this season to be any more violent than the programme usually is - some of the deaths in Resurrection of the Daleks were pretty horrific (although that's still from this period of the show's history), but it's no more out there than Harry attacking Sarah with a pitchfork in Terror of the Zygons, of Sara ageing to her death in The Daleks' Master Plan. It's a subject which may well crop up again before the season is out, so I'll make a note to watch out for it.

As for this story itself… It's a bit of an odd one. I'm enjoying it (and I think I've liked this second episode more than yesterday's), but at the same time, it's not been my favourite of all time. I think where it's excelling is still in Philip Martin's script - there's just so much skill involved in crafting this tale, and I'm impressed by it. Martin has written several scripts for big Finish over the years, some of which have been very much not to my taste (and bordering on bad taste in at least one instance), but there's certainly enough on display here to demonstrate the man's obvious talent. I'm particularly impressed with the way that we're slowly brought round to supporting the governor throughout, and it's something that's only heightened by having Martin Jarvis turn in a good performance.

Indeed, the guest cast in this story are really giving their all in every part, and that's always nice to see. Chief among them has to be Nabil Shaban as Sil. I spent some time yesterday praising him as a character, and I can't help but love him even more in today's episode. I'm somewhat surprised by how little he features in the plot - I'd sort of come to think of him as being the main baddie in this story, but he's really more of a sideline nuisance to the Doctor and Peri… and, well, to everyone in the story, really! 

19 October 2014

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

Day 657: Vengeance on Varos, Episode One

Dear diary,

Although the Baker years on the whole have something of a bad rep, there are a few stories that tend to break the pattern, and garner a fair amount of praise. Both of Philip Martin's contributions to the series (this story and The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp next season), are usually considered to be some of these exceptions. I've seen this story before - it was one of the first that I picked up on DVD, but I have to admit that I can't recall it making all that much of an impact.

That said, the story's rather strong visual style did stick in the memory - I commented about the very 1980s hair on display in Terminus, but even that story has nothing on this one! Oh dear?

There's plenty to enjoy in this episode, though, and a fair amount of that needs to be put at Philip Martin's door. The script is filled with great dialogue, and possibly the best description of politics I've seen in a while;

ETTA
What would the next [Governor] do any different?

ARAK
Everything! Anything.

It's just one of many rather nice examinations of the way people in power work throughout this episode (another notable example is the difference between being allowed an opinion and a vote). It's in these moments that Martin really flies with the writing here - and it's some of the best commentary on the subject that Doctor Who has done in a long time. I'm hoping that we get plenty more of it in the next episode, too.

Elsewhere, the thing that people usually point out when discussing this story is how relevant it is to 'reality' TV these days. It has to be said that it does seem to be especially perceptive of the way that TV has moved, right down to being able to vote for what you want to happen, and it really does work as quite a nice idea for a Doctor Who story. My only concern is that I'm not really feeling the threat of the Punishment Dome yet; We've spent a lot of time in the hallucination areas, whereas I'm a vindictive sort of chap, and I'd rather see more of the other types of torture. I'm just not quite feeling the threat yet.

Also a little bit vindictive in this episode is Sil. He's often touted as a real stand-out character from this period of the programme (and he'll be back in Martin's next story for the programme, too), and I'll be honest when I say that I've never really understood the love for him. Actually, though, he's great! I can't help but like him, even when I know that he's trying to cheat the Governor (and, indeed, the whole planet). I'd imagine that I'll be discussing him more tomorrow - because he may well be one of my favourite things in the story!

18 October 2014

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

Day 656: Attack of the Cybermen, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Just how many stories is this one a sequel (or at least a follow-up) to? There’s the obvious ones - we’ve come back to Telos and the Cybercontroller from The Tomb of the Cybermen, and their planning to alter the events of The Tenth Planet - but then we’ve got Cybermen in the sewers (as in The Invasion), the TARDIS returning to Totter’s Lane (An Unearthly Child, and seemingly for no reason at all), Lytton’s story continuing from where it was left off in Resurrection of the Daleks… People talk about needing to be a fan of Doctor Who with a degree in time and space to understand this story, and mostly, that all comes down to the fact that there’s so much pointless continuity in here!

The sad thing is… I think it could almost work, but not like this. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another instalment of ‘how I would have done it’. If you’re going to insist on having so many old elements come back in this story, then it really needs to be done as a kind of nostalgia piece. You can have the Cybermen in the sewers, but make them the design from The Invasion, because by 1985 that design has already become something of a retro thing, and if you’re catering to an audience of people who remember and love those earlier stories, then it’s the perfect way to hook them in. While you’re at it, hire better actors to play them. Then, once you’re on Telos, do the tombs in the same style as the ones from the 1960s! This bit seems so bloody obvious that I can’t believe they missed it. In the making of feature on this story’s DVD, Eric Saward even mentions the fact that he saw a photograph of the original Tomb of the Cybermen set and was so impressed that it inspired this story… and then they go and build the hideous version we see on screen here. Oh dear.

As for the story itself… to a certain extent, I rather like the idea. A time machine has crash-landed on Telos, and the Cybermen plan to travel back in time and stop their home world from getting destroyed. That’s the simple plot at the heart of this story, but it doesn’t come across because it’s buried under pointless trips to Totter’s Lane, and other assorted rubbish. What I want to see is a small group of 1960s-style Cybermen who have been woken from their hibernation by a time ship crashing on the planet. They’re alone in the universe, the last desperate survivors of the Cyber-race, and they plan to go back in time to change that. There’s a fairly simple - yet, hopefully - exciting - story to tell, as the Doctor and Peri battle to save the Web of Time.

Under that circumstance, you don’t need to worry about the fact that you’re following up on Tomb of the Cybermen and The Tenth Planet, because everything you need to know can be explained away in a few lines of dialogue - the Cybermen come from the planet Mondas. They tried to invade the Earth, but their planet was destroyed. The few survivors settled here and went into hibernation. Done. There’s no need for some of the convoluted explanations given in today’s episode, which seem to be there more to make it look like the writer has seen lots of Doctor Who, and not because it needs to be said.

I think this is just one of those stories that frustrates me because it should be good. There’s a few really nice ideas in here - like the Cybermen going mad when not revived properly, and even the plan to crash a comet into the Earth, which would have been topical at the time, with Halley’s Comet coming back around. In the end, though, it’s just become a great big mess, and I can’t really forgive it that. A pity. 

17 October 2014

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

Day 655: Attack of the Cybermen, Episode One

Dear diary,

This feels as though it should be a real shot in the arm for Doctor Who. After three seasons of being shown twice-weekly in a mid-week slot, the programme has returned to its ancestral home of Saturday night. Not only that, but after the forced experiment of screening Resurrection of the Daleks as two 45-minute episodes last year, the programme has been switched permanently to that format. It’s almost like growing up, and a chance to really tell a great story with a bit more time to breathe in each part. We’ve got a new Doctor, who’s somewhat eider and less predictable than his immediate predecessor, a companion who’s also relatively recent and has been rather good so far, and in case you’re still not excited, they’ve even brought back the Cybermen, in sequels to… well, pretty much everything.

And you know what? It’s bloody rubbish.

I never set out in to any story in this marathon with a ‘mission’. Sometimes, I go in expecting to like something and I will. Sometimes, I go in expecting not to like something, and I don’t. Sometimes - and these are the best of times - I go in expecting to hate something, and end up finding loads to love, making a story a bit of an undiscovered gem in my Who knowledge, and rocketing it right up my list of favourites. But I go in to each story, and every episode, with an open mind. I rate each one on gut instinct from watching, and take it day-by-day. That said, while I don’t enter in to any story thinking “I’m join to rate this one highly no matter what”, I do go in to them looking for the best. It doesn’t always work, as the likes of The Dominators, The Curse of Peladon, or Logopolis will attest. On the whole, though, knowing that the Sixth Doctor’s era isn’t rated very well, I think I’m consciously making an extra effort to find things that I can love. I didn’t have to try all that hard with The Twin Dilemma, but today’s episode… oh dear. It’s really irritated me.

Let’s start with the biggie: the Cybermen in this story are downright s*t. I try to refrain from swearing in these entries, so knowing that I’m resorting to it hopefully helps to make my point. The Cybercontroller moves around as though he’s a stereotypical robot, while the others working around him wobble around as they speak and move, as if they’re all having a bit of a boogie. Worst of all is the over-eager Cyberintern who’s helping out with their base in the London sewers - jumping in at every opportunity to kiss the arse of his cyberboss! This particular Cyberman has *really started to annoy me, and by the time we’ve reached the end of the episode, where he’s popping up over his boss’ shoulder to enthusiastically point out that the Doctor’s presence would explain the time distortion they detected, I’d genuinely lost the will to live. I’m not going to bother going in to the whole debate over who wrote what in this story (frankly, they should all be clambering to wash their hands of it), but it’s highly likely Eric Saward had a major part in it. I’m stunned, therefore, that the man who gave us such great Cybermen in Earthshock not all that long ago has managed to make such a complete mess of the characters here!

Then you’ve got the return of Lytton. Much awaited by… well, by Eric Saward, presumably. Lytton was in last season’s Dalek story, and it’s telling that even though I watched it a little over a week ago, I’ve pretty much forgotten everything about him. My friend Nick summed it up perfectly for me;

”He Argued with the Black Dalek, killed his workmates, and never met the Doctor”

I think that’s my biggest issue with his return here - the Doctor reacts to news of the man’s involvement with ‘I should have guessed’, but I was sure that the pair hadn’t actually crossed paths before! It’s a shame, because actually, that final scene of Lytton cutting his losses and wandering off into the sunset with his two ‘policemen’ was great, and having them return here should be a great idea… but it just doesn’t work. They’ve been taken out of the wonderful gritty locations of that earlier story, and plonked down here, in a tale that I couldn’t care much less about.

Still, let’s look on the positives, shall we? Starting with the Cybermen, I do enjoy the way that they get properly beaten up on the surface of Telos. In the same way that there’s something really pleasing about watching them get massacred during the events of The Five Doctors, there’s something about seeing their heads and hands knocked off here that would really appeal to me as a child. That sounds quite sadistic, actually.

The Doctor and Peri are also continuing to be something of a highlight - I love the way that their relationship has mellowed, and that the Doctor has decided that the time to fix the TARDIS up is now. In many ways, I also love that they’ve ditched the Chameleon circuit… but it feels too much like a gimmick. I know it’ll be reset by the end of the story, and it doesn’t feel as though they’ve gone to all that much trouble of thinking about what it could turn in to here. The ornamental pillar and the organ feel that bit too much like they’ve simply been hauled out of some BBC props store, and trundled along to the location. At least turn it in to a red telephone box or something, so that Peri’s joke about it being ‘much better’ now could be funny (NB: I’d find that funny. Your milage may vary!)

To be honest, it really is the rubbish Cybermen in this episode that have put me off more than anything. I’m struggling to care about anything much in the plot, because every time we cut back to them, there’s something new there to irritate me. Here’s hoping that things pick up in the next episode, because I’m struggling to find much to love here…

16 October 2014

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

Day 654: The Twin Dilemma, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I knew there was something that really perplexed me about The Twin Dilemma, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Today’s episode brought it all flooding back - it’s Mestor’s plan. I rather like the idea that they plan to make the sun expand, pushing the Gastropod eggs out among the galaxy (I’m sure that’s not completely scientifically accurate, of course…), but I’d lost track of why the twins were there. For ages now, I’ve assumed that they were a bit like the Logopolitans, and that they were so good at mathematics that their sums were able to physically change the universe. Indeed, in Episode One, their father tells them that they don’t understand just how powerful their maths can be. I’d figured that Mestor needed the twins to use their maths to aper the state of the sun, therefore bringing it to the point of expansion. Where this had always confused me was that I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just have them calculate a way to send the eggs scattering anyway. But the impression I get from this episode is that the boys are simply required to do the maths and figure out where to point the Tractor beam, and for how long? Do you see where I may have gorton confused?

It also strikes me as very odd that Azemel can have overlooked the disastrous consequences of this for so long, considering how easily he realises when the Doctor points out that there’s a flaw in the plan. It’s put down to him having a lot on his mind, but wouldn’t it be so much more sensible to have simply said that Mestor was blocking off any thoughts about that? We know the king slug is in the man’s mind reading his thoughts, so it seems so silly to not then use it as a better excuse! It’s just an example, and there are several in The Twin Dilemma, it has to be said, of simply lazy writing. I think I’m right in saying that this story went through several problems at script stage, but you’d think they’d still try and pay a bit more attention at script stage!

Over the last few days, I’ve managed to avoid discussing the Gastopods themselves, but I can’t just ignore them forever! I’m sorry to say that they really don’t work. It’s a pity, because Mestor’s face design isn’t all that bad, but it’s when you see the full body, or watch his soldiers stalk around in the tunnels, that everything simply falls apart. It seems especially sad when you think about how well they did the woodlice-esque Tractators earlier in the season! Another example of the end-of-season budget deficit in action?

I mentioned on Facebook the other day that I’d just started out on this story and that I was really enjoying it. There were a fair few responses, ranging from complete bafflement at the fact that anyone could enjoy this tale, to people agreeing that it’s nowhere near as bad as everyone says it is. I think my friend Malcolm summed it up best, and managed to get in some nice examination of the Doctor’s evolution across the four episode, too;

”It's engaging, and Colin shines really well - and he is really up against it too, but he is committed, as he has been since (in fact no other actor has had his level of commitment to the show in my view). As a kid, the Gastropods made a bigger impact than anything in Androzani, and there's more than a glimmer in truth about the new Doctor not having a certain 'feckless charm’.

Even the scene where he attacks Peri is, at least, a brave, if very misguided, experiment. Horrible, though. And at the end when he says that he is the Doctor 'whether you like it or not' comes after a lot of soul searching - The Twin Dilemma for me is one moment where the Doctor knows he's strange, unlikeable, garish and hard to swallow, and that he even lacks any dress sense. In the end, despite the unsavoury moments, the Doctor's acceptance of himself, whether people externally think he's popular or not, or whether they'd laugh or deride him for his clothes/style, is a really powerful message - you can be different and you can be proud to tell the world that - whether they like it or not.”

Even though the story has slowly gotten bogged down a bit more each day, I can honestly claim that I’ve really enjoyed it. All four episodes have been completely fun and engaging to watch, and I know that it’s a story I’ll be able to throw on again and still enjoy. I dare say that it’s something I could watch over and over far more than something like The Caves of Androzani. While that story may be technically very good, with well-rounded characters, fab direction, and a real sense of doom, The Twin Dilemma is Doctor Who enjoying itself, and that’s always good fun... 

15 October 2014

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

Day 653: The Twin Dilemma, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Do you know, I’d quite forgotten that the Doctor makes a comment in this episode about his lack of dress-sense. I suppose that means that this is the right point to actively discuss the Sixth Doctor’s costume, because I’ve not really touched on it before - and I can’t ignore it forever! Recently, I’ve done some graphic design work on a range of postcards for the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. One ‘strand’ of the postcards is images of all the Doctor’s costumes, from Hartnell onwards, even side-stepping in to ‘other’ Doctors, such as John Hurt’s War Doctor, Tom Baker’s Curator, or David Morrisey’s Jackson Lake.

The complete set looks - if it’s not immodest to say - fantastic. There’s something really nice about having all of the different costumes displayed like this, and it’s a great chance to really look at each individual one. It has to be said that Colin’s really does stand out, coming between Peter Davison’s outfit (largely beige), and Sylvester McCoy’s first costume (with - again - a beige jacket). Although I’m rather fond of both those costumes, I can’t help but like the way that the Sixth Doctor’s ‘totally tasteless’ outfit shines through in the middle of them.

The same is true when I’ve got the action figures out on a shelf - there’s something oddly pleasing about the way that the Sixth Doctor makes an instant impact. I used to have them on display in the living room of a previous flat, and this was always the one people pointed out when first seeing them. It’s a talking point, if nothing else! Where I think it perhaps went a little bit wrong was in keeping this style for Colin’s entire run on the programme. He’s often spoken in the past about how much he’d have rather Chris Eccleston’s ‘look’, and there’s lots of fan-made examples of this incarnation in various velvet jackets (indeed, when he tries on a Pertwee-style top in this story, it really suits him). I can’t help but think that we needed this outfit here to show him completely at odds with the world, before slowly pairing it back to something a little less brash as time wore on. Still, his comments on the outfit today come as part of him addressing his new persona rather beautifully:

THE DOCTOR
But look at me. I'm old, lacking in vigour. My mind's in a turmoil. I no longer know if I'm coming, have gone or have even been. I'm falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense.

It’s the Doctor being over-dramatic once again (and, as in Episode One, Peri beautifully cuts through this pomposity by telling him to stop feeling sorry for himself), but it’s possibly the best example of the plan to have this Doctor soften out as time went by. It’s the Doctor actively musing on the way his new incarnation, and it’s not the only example of it in this episode. There’s plenty of self-reflection early on, too, when he contemplates that Peri would still be worried for him, when he’s been rude, and arrogant, and has tried to kill her. I’m hoping that there’s more of this to come - not only in the rest of this story, but the rest of this era - because it’s rather wonderful.

Ah, but hark at me, focussing all of my attentions on Colin Baker again! Around him, The Twin Dilemma continues to lose me a little - but more because it’s falling back into beans simply an ‘average’ story, not because it’s a bad one. I rather like the idea that Azmeal has brought the twins here in an attempt to ‘save’ his world, and I even believe that the idea of the twins could be a good one… but this pair aren’t really the best actors the programme has ever seen, are they? There’s lots of moments in the episodes so far where they’re talking in unison, or even alternating their lines to form a complete conversation with other characters, and it should be unnerving. With a better pair of actors in the role, I think it really would work!

Sadly, they’re not the only performance I’m not completely enjoying. Kevin McNally has something of an unenviable job in the role of Hugo here, and I’m sorry to report that I’m finding him more annoying than anything else. Yesterday, I mentioned that the way he was dressed (both in uniform and then in the… thing he takes from the TARDIS wardrobe did him absolutely no favours, and it seems today that the script has stopped trying to help him either. He gets his feet caught in the Gastropods’ slime trail, with it setting like concrete. It takes ages for him to free himself from the predicament… but why doesn’t he just slip his shoes off? He can even nip back in to the TARDIS for some glittery ones if he wanted! All I can assume is that he has to pay a fine to the space police for every bit of uniform he loses, and he can’t really afford that this month…

14 October 2014

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

Day 652: The Twin Dilemma, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Well… yesterday’s entry seems to have ruffled a few feathers! Hugely pleased to see so many comments of praise for the story, too! I’m sticking by it, though, because those first 25 minutes of The Twin Dilemma are brilliant, and easily as good as some of the real ‘classics’ from over the years! That said, I’ll admit that this is the episode where the problems really start to set in. While I’ve still enjoyed today’s instalment, there’s a lot more things cropping up which are harder to see the good in. Let’s start with one of our guest characters: Lieutenant Hugo Lang.

Some characters in The Caves of Androzani - I’m thinking especially of Morgus and the upper ranks of the army - are forced to wear 1980s ‘futuristic’ BBC costumes. They’re not great looks, and they could become quite distracting. What helps is that the people inside those costumes are well rounded, and therefore we spend more time focussing on who they are, and what they’re doing, rather than the clothes they wear. Here, Lang isn’t given a whole lot of character so far, and the frankly awful costume they’ve stuck him in really doesn’t help. He’s not even a tenth as rounded as the characters in Androzani, and that really does count against him. When we first see Lang in the police office, he comes across as - effectively - a junior office boy. He answers the call about the Zanium, and passes the memo on to his superior. He’s then the one tasked with leading the fleet in pursuit, and suddenly he’s supposed to be a somewhat powerful person! We then see him as the only survivor of Mestor’s attack, where he takes it upon himself to apprehend the Doctor and Peri.

In some ways, I’d be able to buy this with only a few minor tweaks here and there. It’s really in this episode that things start to fall apart for him. Passing out, he’s then left alone in the TARDIS, though Peri has taken the precaution of hiding the power pack to his gun. Fine, not a problem. That she chooses to hide it in the wardrobe isn’t all that perplexing, either, considering that they’ve just spent a fair amount of time in there while choosing the Doctor’s new togs. But then, as Lang goes searching for his ‘prisoners’, he happens to stumble into the wardrobe purely by chance. Is it near the console room? It didn’t take long to collect the Fourth Doctor’s coat during Mawdryn Undead, so again, I can just about buy it.

But then! Lang seems to decide that since his clothes are a bit dirty, he’ll try on some of the ones he’s just found in the wardrobe room! Why the heck not? He ends up picking something ridiculous and garish - even more so than the Doctor’s clothes - and it just happens to be the outfit that Peri has stashed the power pack in. It’s all just a bit too much of a coincidence for me to go along with.

To bring this back around to my initial point, the fact that Lang comes across as pretty incompetent as a character isn’t helped by the design that they’ve created for this intergalactic police force. They look like they’re wearing ‘futuristic’ BBC costumes, and not particularly good ones at that. The character already starts off at a disadvantage because he’s been designed to look a bit silly. It’s things like this which harm The Twin Dilemma more than anything.

Thankfully, though, Colin Baker is still electrifying in the role. I enjoy the way that he strides up the hills of Titan 3 performing to Peri, and then has another turn in the tunnels, where he begs the aliens not to harm him, and instead offers up Peri in his place. It’s still quite unlike anything we’ve become used to for the Doctor, and Baker is really going for it! I have a feeling that even when other ares of the stories are letting themselves down, he could well be a saving element! 

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