Time Lord Tees

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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! 

13 October 2014

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

Day 651: The Twin Dilemma, Episode One

Dear diary,

I feel the need to open today’s post with a confession. I love The Twin Dilemma. I really do. When it first came out on DVD about five years ago, I dutifully picked it up on day of release, took it home and tried to prepare myself for what has consistently been voted the worst Doctor Who story of all time. It’s just a fact that we all know is true. They don’t come any worse than this. But then, the story played out, and I really enjoyed it! It’s bright, and bold, and colourful. It’s bombastic, and loud. Colin Baker hits the ground running just as well as Tom Baker did in Robot, and watching these four episode the first time round is one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who viewing experiences that I’ve ever had. That said, I’m not blind to the story’s faults (and there are many), but I think it’s probably key, in the ‘worst story of all time’, to look on the positive.

In today’s episode, the positive is almost certainly Colin Baker. I’ve already said how well he hits the ground running, and it’s worth repeating, because he’s fantastic in this one! Over the years, a reputation has built up to suggest that he was a rubbish actor, and thus the series went downhill when he appeared. No, sorry, that’s simply not true! He’s great, and I love the way that he’s playing the part here! There’s one moment in the episode where his performance does get incredibly hammy, but then it’s instantly cut through by Peri, and it’s supposed to have been so awful! It’s this exchange;

DOCTOR
Titan Three. Thou craggy knob, which swims upon the oceans of the firmament. Receive this weary penitent.

PERI
I think I'm going to be sick.

That’s just one of the moments that left me hooting loudly in front of the screen today. Having the Doctor and Peri trapped alone in the TARDIS for most of the episode means that we get plenty of time to watch them scope each other out post-regenration. Which brings me to the defining moment from today… the strangling incident. On the one hand, it’s probably not the best idea to show your new Doctor trying to strangle his companion in their first episode together. It’s not exactly the best way to endear the man to the audience. On the other hand, though, it does make a kind of narrative sense!

The Doctor’s fairly stable here, but he occasionally lapses into moments of insanity. During one of these, presumably, he remembers that of his last two companions, one was put aboard the TARDIS by the Black Guardian with a plan to kill the Doctor, and the other was in constant contact with his arch nemesis all along! No wonder the Doctor suddenly suspects that Peri could well be an alien spy - and with the Master’s penchant for disguises, anagrams, and games at this point, calling the spy ‘Peri’ as a nod to Persian mythology is just the kind of thing he would do!

I think where this starts to fall apart is that it’s over with almost instantly. The Doctor snaps, and tries to strangle his companion. She manages to repel him with his own reflection. The berates him briefly for trying to kill her… and then things just carry on as normal! Oh, sure, she’s not really very happy with him, but it’s as though we’re suddenly supposed to just think that they’re past that little misdemeanour. I think it’s something lacking in the scripting department - in the same way that it bothers me how quickly the Doctor decides to go and get changed. That could be fixed so easily, too: He asks Peri about his appearance, and then adds that the clothes are easily changed. All we need then is a line of the effect of ‘in fact, I’ll do so now!’

I’ll talk about the actual story of The Twin Dilemma, and the guest cast, over the next few days, because I fear I’ll not be able to be as glowing with praise as I am about other things in this episode, but I’d like to point out two things in this episode that are very well done, and might not crop up later in the tale. For a start, the model shots of the Freighter and the Police… vehicle, are fantastic. They’re some of the best models that we’ve had in the show. The surface of Titan 3 doesn’t look too shabby in model form, either! Then you’ve got the wreckage of the crashed spaceship, and it’s brilliant. I mean, really brilliant. By far, it’s the best thing they’ve created for this episode - it’s huge, and set in that landscape, I’m really impressed with it. I think it’s great that even a story which gets consistently voted the worst the programme has ever produced can have so many things to love about it - there’s something about Doctor Who that truly is special. 

12 October 2014

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

Day 650 Extra: Fifth Doctor Overview

Dear diary,

We’ve reached a turning point for the marathon with the Fifth Doctor. Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee all have a similar number of episodes, so they each take about the same amount of time to complete at the pace of an episode each day. Tom Baker comes along and really up the ante by having around 50 episodes more to sit through, so he ends up taking even longer to watch. Then you reach Peter Davison, and things drop right off. He’s been around less than three months for me, and that’s simply unheard of. Worse still, from here on out, things don’t get much better! Colin Baker’s only going to be with us for the next month or so, and Sylvester McCoy for a month after that… McGann’s only here for one night, and even when we reach the new series, there’s only a fortnight of Eccleston! In short: it feels really strange to be writing a Doctor Overview post so soon after writing the last one - it feels like I’ve hardly gotten to know the Fifth Doctor.

That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed having him around, though. If anything, the last three seasons have chimed with my inner child more than anything else that I’ve watched for this marathon so far. That’s not to say that they were always perfect (they weren’t, as some of my scores will attest), but they covered topics and locations that I know I would have lapped up at the ages of eight or nine. This particular incarnation, the people who travelled with him, everything about this period of the programme just feels so right for me.

We kicked off with Season Nineteen - which has come out with the highest average rating of Davison’s three seasons for me, at 6.96. I think it’s fair to say that the season was helped massively by the fact that Kinda received a full-on ’10/10’ for one episode, the first score that high I’ve given out since Genesis of the Daleks right back at the start of Tom’s time in the TARDIS. That said, Earthshock fared rather well with me, and even stories like Four to Doomsday, which I’d never given a second thought to, were right up my street.

Season Twenty was the one I was looking lest forward to, and I think that comes across in the scores. It averaged just 6.18, which puts it in last place for the Fifth Doctor. I don’t think there was any real stand out classic for that season, even though Mawdryn Undead fared well with me, and that’s a shame. General reaction seems to be that Enlightenment is the great one from that year, but it simply didn’t really work for me - certainly one to try again in the future, I think. The weight of the Black Guardian trilogy bearing down on it just took away from the story I wanted to enjoy. Just as an aside, I’ve not included The Five Doctors as part of Season Twenty - that one sits out on its own, just as it did on broadcast.

Then we get to Season Twenty-One, and what feels like a real shot in the arm for the programme. This is the first time since the 1960s that I’ve been looking at a season average while I’m still working through that run of stories - with The Twin Dilemma finishing up the year from tomorrow. We’re back up to an average of 6.7 so far, but that could obviously change after the next few days. I’ve really been enjoying Season Twenty-One, especially stories like Frontios, which really grabbed my attention. I have a feeling that there may be some grumbles about the fact that The Caves of Androzani hasn’t come out on top for me - I enjoyed it a lot, but I just liked a couple of other Davison stories better! 

The Sixth Doctor is likely to fly by - it’s only another month or so until I’ll be writing another one of these ‘overview’ posts! He comes in for a lot of stick in Doctor Who fandom, but I have to say that I’ve been really looking forward to reaching this period. I’ve seen all of his stories before, and I’ve always enjoyed them, but I’m excited to see how they fare in the context of all the other stories I’ve been watching. Here’s hoping they still stay strong in my mind!

12 October 2014

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

Day 650: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been banging on for the last couple of days about the way the Doctor is being put through the wringer in this story, and this final episode doesn’t disappoint in holding that tradition up! I love that we spend the full episode with him in a state so unlike we’re used to seeing - with a cut on his head, and his costume caked in mud and blood. The Doctor has never looked so out of his depth and lost before, but by the same token, he’s never looked this determined, either. This really has to be Peter Davison’s finest hour in the role - do you remember through Season Nineteen, when I used to track the way his performance was evolving while he worked out how to play the part? He’s been on good form for ages now, but this episode is probably where it really clicks for him… just in time for him to die!

I’ve not really mentioned the direction of this story all that much so far, because I’ve been waiting to bring it up at the end here. Grahame Harper remains the only director who worked on the ‘classic’ series who came back to do work on the 21st century version, too. It’s not hard to see why when you’re watching something like The Caves of Androzani, and you can really see the skill that he’s putting into everything. There’s no end of little moments that I could pick out - like the scene in Episode One where Morgus has a conversation with Chellak on a kind of video screen. It’s almost become the bread-and-butter of futuristic Doctor Who stories, and we’ve seen characters video-conferencing like this since the Hartnell days of the programme, but Harper has managed to find a new and unique way of shooting it - including the back of Chellak’s head for reverse-shots! As I say, a simple thing, but something which really does stand out as being different.

Then there’s today’s episode, and particularly the chase of the Doctor across the barren landscape. It’s possibly the finest moment of the story, and I have to admit that I was gripped throughout. Thankfully, Harper manages to then take this interest and hold it in place for the rest of the episode. When the Doctor’s journeying through the tunnels to find the bat’s milk, it feels tense. In the back of my mind, I know there’s not long left in the episode, and we’ve still got to fit the regeneration in there somewhere… there’s a real energy to it and it almost makes you feel a bit sick, just knowing how much the Doctor is up against the clock. Truly, masterfully done.

Of course, though, the crowning moment comes in the form of the regeneration. As with all of them throughout the programme’s run, I’ve seen this scene more times than I’ve seen any individual episode of Doctor Who. Every line, and ever beat of every line, is burnt onto my memory. That said, it really is no substitute for watching the action in context - not only with the rest of the story, but the 649 days that have led me to this moment. I’ve already praised Davison’s performance today, but it really does bear repeating - because his absolute finest moment comes as he lay dying on the floor here.

There’s been debates for years about how the Big Finish audios giving Peri more adventures with the Fifth Doctor between Planet of Fire and this story can lessen the impact that he’s given his life to save this girl he’s only just met. I have to admit that I prefer the idea that they’ve not spent much time together, but it’s because I think the Doctor is feeling incredibly bitter here. There’s one exchange in particular which has always felt a little bit scary to me:

PERI
Where is it?

DOCTOR
What?

PERI
The bat's milk!

DOCTOR
Finished. Only enough for you.

There’s a hint - just the tiniest hint - of resentment in the way that Davison delivers that final line. There’s almost shades of the Tenth Doctor’s rage at having to give his life to save Wilf, having already survived saving the entire world. It’s not explicit, and I think that works to its advantage - the Fifth Doctor isn’t a man who would outwardly resent having to give his life for another person. Indeed, of all the Doctors to date, I think he’s the one who would most willingly do so to save another (just take Mawdryn Undead as an example, where he refuses to give up his remaining regenerations, until he knows that Nyssa and Tegan are in danger), but still, I like that in his final seconds, he’s allowed to have just that tiny bit of anger, just tucked away under the surface.

Speaking of Nyssa and Tegan… here they are! And Turlough, Kameleon, and Adric, too! This is my favourite example of the classic companions coming back to hall will the Doctor on into his new life, and there’s something really rather poignant about Adric being there, and being the Doctor’s final word. It’s great to see them all again - albeit briefly - and I love the way that they all pop up out of his mouth! The Master puts in an appearance, also, and he’s possibly never been more terrifying than he is here! willing the Doctor to his death… yeah, that’s rather smart.

And that’s it! The Fifth Doctor has taken his final bow, and we’re off on some more colourful adventures with the Sixth Doctor from tomorrow. It’s all change, again, and it’s… well, it’s come around rather quickly! You’ll find my ‘Fifth Doctor Overview’ post further up the news page here on Doctor Who Online. 

11 October 2014

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

Day 649: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s a special feature on the DVD for The War Games all about regeneration in Doctor Who. It’s one of those features that you’d watch once and that’s it - I’ve been a fan of the programme long enough, and I know all there is to know about a topic like regeneration. Except, I’m not all that familiar with The Caves of Androzani, I’d never watched it properly before, and thus I’d never noticed that the Doctor doesn’t start his regeneration by laying on the floor of the TARDIS console room, with Peri leaning over him… he starts it here. It’s Clayton Hickman who points it out in the documentary:

”You get a fore-shadowing of his regeneration at the end of Part Three. Just when he’s trying to steal that spaceship, he starts looking at the stars, and you get the sort of Quantel-y regeneration thing coming towards him and he fights it off! So you’ve got a whole episode of Peter Davison surviving just so he can save Peri. It’s not flagged up - there’s no fan fare - it’s just him refusing to die until he’s saved his friend. That’s Davison all over.”

I have to admit that I really love this. Once it’s been pointed out, you can’t un-see it, and it does add a whole new layer to the Fifth Doctor’s departure. I’m also loving just how much this Doctor is being put through the wringer before he’s allowed to bow out. I’ve already touched on it in the last couple of days, but here we’ve got the Doctor being smacked by Sharaz Jek, abused by the gun runners, still in a lot of pain from the slow death of his infection, and now he’s crashing in to a planet! It’s fair to say that he’s really going out in style!

On the whole, I’m finding a lot to really love in The Caves of Androzani (and much of that does continue to come down to Robert Holmes’ way with scripts), but I can’t let it go by without mentioning the Magma Beast that provided the cliffhanger from yesterday’s episode in to today’s. I’ve seen it pointed out as the one flaw in an otherwise perfect story, and it has to be said that it really isn’t good, is it? Even Grahame Harper’s direction isn’t able to save it. I’m sort of surprised that it doesn’t get picked up on more ‘worst monster’ lists, with things like the Myrka, the Nimon, and the Gastropods.

And while it’s not a fault of the story, I feel the need to make note of how awful the subtitles on this DVD are. Not the ‘Information Text’ ones, but just the regular programme subtitles. I’ve taken to keeping them on while watching episodes, because they come in handy when working out how to spell a character’s name, or hearing some of the less audible parts of the dialogue. On the whole they never bear talking about because they simply do a good job of transcribing what’s happening on screen… but they’re appalling on this story, and have been since Episode One. There’s several lines that have been missed out completely or altered (changing the meaning in at least one case!), and in today’s episode they twice manage to get the planets ‘Major’ and ‘Minor’ the wrong way round! A shame, because the quality is usually rather higher!

10 October 2014

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

Day 648: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We’ve not had Robert Holmes writing for Doctor Who since The Power of Kroll, an absolute age back. Indeed, we’re in a period of the programme’s history where writers from the older seasons aren’t as welcome any more. It has to be said that Kroll didn’t really fare all that well with me (a victim, I think, of The Key to Time series being a bit of a slog - I was just a bit burnt out), but before that, he kicked that year off with The Ribos Operation, which I enjoyed a lot more. Something that I praised there was Holmes’ ability to build convincing worlds, and to populate them with believable characters and situations.

There’s certainly that skill on show again in The Caves of Androzani, and it shows up far more today than it did yesterday. Here, we’re presented with two planets, and it feels as though the stories the Doctor and Peri have wandered in to are truly fleshed-out. I can understand Jek’s motivations for prolonging this war, because we’ve seen first-hand just how despicable Morgus can be. In the first episode, cutting away to the man in his office, staring straight down the camera, felt like a distraction from the story I wanted to be watching, but here I can really appreciate the role it plays in building this society - his interactions with the president are simply fantastic. I particularly enjoy this exchange;

MORGUS
Those without valid employment cards will be shipped off to the eastern labour camps.

PRESIDENT
Of course, the irony is while you've been closing plants here in the west, you've been building them in the east. So if the unemployed were sent to the eastern labour camps, a great many of them would be working for you again, only this time without payment.

MORGUS
I hadn't thought of that.

PRESIDENT
Of course you hadn't.

It’s hugely revealing of the way the system works in this world, and it’s all crafted so beautifully into just a few short lines. I’ve condensed the conversation above, to spare the space on the page here, but the heart of the conversation is preserved, and wonderful.

I think it’s also telling that everyone in this world is operating selfishly, and you sort of take a dislike to them all… apart from Jek! He’s acting out of pure hatred and revenge for what’s happened in the past, while Morgus is helping to line his own pockets with the above exchange, and Chellak is willing to send his men on ‘deep penetration’ missions in order to save face in front of his superiors. This is a harsh world, where people look out for themselves, and it seems fitting for Season Twenty-One’s darker tone.

Speaking of which… we get a rather nice description today of the Fifth Doctor’s final few hours, as Salateen describes the effects of Spectrox Toxaemia is great detail. I love that this description comes as we’re already seeing the Doctor and Peri experiencing some of the effects, and knowing that this is the Fifth Doctor’s final adventure adds even more poignancy to the situation - we know he’s going to be dying soon anyway, so it’s a shame to see it come in the form of such a slow and painful infection. All the previous Doctors have gone out simply through events in their final episodes (Hertnell is perhaps the one exemption, as he’s been weakening throughout The Tenth Planet, but it’s not really until the end that the energy drain really affects him), so as the Doctor himself will go on to note later in the story, it ‘feels different this time’. The sweetest of all the Doctors is the one who has to endure the most drawn-out demise. 

9 October 2014

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

Day 647: The Caves of Androzani, Episode One

Dear diary,

Right then! It feels like an age since I’ve had the chance to say this, but The Caves of Androzani is one of those Doctor Who stories that people always cite as being an absolute ‘classic’. A full-on, 10/10. In 2009, it was even voted the number one story out of the programme’s first 200, by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine. I’ve seen it before, mostly, and I have to admit that I didn’t really find it much better or worse than any other tale. I can hear you sharpening your pitchforks now. I’m hoping that on this occasion, I’ll finally understand just what all the fuss is about, and even though it means saying goodbye to Peter Davison, I’ll admit that I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point.

I think the highlight in today’s episode has to be the cliffhanger. Or, rather, the cliffhangers. They just keep piling up at the end here, don’t they? Not in a bad way, where it feels like the episode just needs to end already (which is a problem I had with Enlightenment), but in the sense that the situation just gets more and more unavoidable. The Doctor and Peri are in a cell, awaiting execution, when suddenly… a door slides open and someone is watching them! Cliffhanger? Not yet. The guards come to the cell to retrieve the pair, and it appears to be empty, but the camera pulls back, and our heroes haven’t managed to escape! Cliffhanger? Not yet. The Doctor and Peri are lined up before a firing squad and say their final words, before the hoods are pulled over their faces. Cliffhanger? Not yet.

That’s really the point, because in any other Doctor Who story, that moment would be the cliffhanger. Our leads would make their final declarations, the squad would take aim, prepare to fire, and just as the order comes… we’d crash into the closing titles. At the start of the next episode, we’d get a reprise followed swiftly by someone bursting into the room to delay the execution. Or something would cause a distraction, giving time for the Doctor and Peri to make a run for it. Something would come along at just the right second to spare their lives. Here, though, we’re really kept guessing, because we close on the shot of the guns firing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know how they escape this cliffhanger, but it doesn’t lessen the impact one jolt - it’s a striking way to close the episode, and shows that they’re really not letting Davison’s Doctor go out easily…

Elsewhere… are we still abroad? Planet of Fire took us all the way to Lanzarote to film the vistas of Sarn, but here we’re back in the UK… and we might as well be in Lanzarote! I meant to bring up yesterday how much better the location work was in that episode compared to some of the earlier ones (the smoking landscape, though artificially created, looks fantastic), but then we’ve got something almost as impressive here, too. It looks like we’ve got glass shots in place again to help give some extra scale to this week’s quarry, but it allows for some gorgeous wide shots of the Doctor and peri as they explore their new surroundings. You get the same sense of open space (perhaps even more so) that going all the way out to Lanzarote gave us, but done at home! I’ve often thought of this story and the last one as having very similar landscapes, but looking at it here, I can see how wrong I was on that count. It’s similar in scope, but has a completely different feel to Sarn, and I’m really impressed by it!

8 October 2014

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

Day 646: Planet of Fire, Episode Four

Dear diary,

The Master stands surrounded by flame as the healing energies are replaced with fierce nature

THE MASTER
Help me! I'll give you anything in creation. Please! Won't you show mercy to your own… Argh!!!

Oh, of course I was going to have to bring this up today. Along with the introduction of Peri, the departure of Turlough, and the fact that it was filmed abroad, this is the thing everyone knows about Planet of Fire. They were finally going to reveal that the Master is the Doctor’s brother! Do you know, it’s been so long since I last saw this story that in my head it was far more… explicit. The way the line is spoken in my head makes it sound much more as though he’s been cut off, but Anthony Ainley’s delivery doesn’t quite have the same effect - it’s more stilted. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the Doctor and the Master are siblings. It just seems too neat somehow, and I much prefer the idea that they’re friends and contemporaries. Indeed, I rather like the thought that one of them ran away from Gallifrey first, and the other followed suit because they were always trying to keep up with their cooler friend. I can’t quite decide who went first, but I love not knowing. It’s a little piece of mystery in my own head canon, and I enjoy that.

I’m not enjoying Planet of Fire as much, though, I’m sad to say. Right the way through, the story has simply failed to connect with me, and it’s hovered around a fairly average score. Today is no exemption. While there’s plenty in here that should be appealing to me… it simply isn’t. I’m not overly bothered by the plight of the people on this world, and I don’t really care about the struggles they have to go through to get to the end.

Where I am interested is when we get all of Turlough’s background. Because I’m coming to all of this some thirty years later, I know that Turlough is from Trion, and a prisoner following a bitter civil war. What surprises me is just how much all of that only gets invented here. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I’d convinced myself that little hints had been drip-fed to us right through Turlough’s time in the TARDIS, but really, this is the only mention we’ve had that he’s an alien since his arrival… and even there it’s not made all that explicit! In many ways, I should be complaining that all of this comes as an info dump in his final episode, but I really like everything we’re told, so I’m willing to completely overlook that fact. I’ll miss having Turlough (and Mark Strickson) in the programme, though, because he’s been a highlight in several stories lately!

Still, we’ve got the arrival of Peri well and truly started now. I’d forgotten (are you sensing a theme here? Lots of Planet of Fire simply failed to stick in the mind!) that she actively asks to come along with the Doctor, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves over the next two stories. What a time to join the ship! It seems an odd decision to want to tag along, mind, considering she’s had relatively little time with the Doctor so far - though they get some great time together today - and she’s spent most of the episode being threatened and running around Lanzarote trying to keep alive! I can’t fault her enthusiasm, and after a fair old stretch with Tegan in the show (much as I loved her), this comes as a real breath of fresh air.

There’s change coming…

7 October 2014

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

Day 645: Planet of Fire, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The Master’s… situation in Planet of Fire might just be the most ridiculous one he’s ever caught up in. I’ve already mocked it more than once during the course of The 50 Year Diary, and I’m sure I’ll end up mocking it again (probably tomorrow, if I’m honest). That said, the cliffhanger for today’s episode, in which Peri opens up Kameleon’s ‘Control Box’ to find a miniature Master inside, is so ridiculous and stupid… that I can’t help but love it! I think it’s almost one of those situations where something is so bad that it actually ends up twisting back round to ‘good’ again.

In fairness, I’ve rather enjoyed the Master in a lot of this story so far. He’s certainly coming across better than he did in The King’s Demons or Time-Flight. There’s something really wonderful about the fact that the Doctor is trying to convince these people to follow his advice and to help him, while making a point of telling them that he’s not the ‘Chosen One’ they’ve been waiting for. The Master (or the Kameleon-Master), on the other hand, strolls into the room and immediately starts playing the part of the man they’re expecting. I love the way he raises his arm and starts to give a sermon akin to an over-the-top preacher as he orders the Doctor to be put to the flame. It’s times like this that the Master is at his very best (it’s just a pity that it ends up undercut by the fact that he needs helping out of a box… What do you know, I didn’t even have to wait until tomorrow to mock it again!)

It feels quite monumental, too, that we’re seeing Anthony Ainley’s final confrontation with the Fifth Doctor. Back when Ainley first appeared in the programme, I commented that having him work against four different incarnations robbed him of the ‘mirror image’ effect that we had with Pertwee and Delgardo. Those two were perfectly matched - both a little pompous and arrogant, both entirely convinced that they’re right… there’s so many instances that I flagged up while watching where they’re simply made for each other as ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’. Ainley has already fought the Fourth Doctor (and even caused his demise, indirectly), and yet I’ve grown to think of him as being very much the Peter Davison Master. I’m wondering how I’ll find him in the next few seasons, when forced to go up against Colin? Certainly, at the time, I believe this was planned to be the end of the character at least for a while, and it’s sort of a shame that they ended up bringing him back so swiftly.

Also worth mentioning - the Master’s outfit in this story. When I think of the 80’s Master, I think of the velvet outfit that he’s most famous for. He gets a few variations (most notably in this story and in Survival), but it’s usually confined to being that one standard ‘costume’. It’s amazing how much swapping him out into a suit for his appearance as Kameleon helps, though! It really looks good as an outfit for the Master, and it feels so much nicer than the one he usually has to wear. I’ve seen people complain that the action figure of this Master is technically a figure of Kameleon in a suit… but I’m somewhat glad it’s the one we’ve got!

It was only during today’s episode, too, that I’ve noticed the Doctor’s outfit! You’d think, after two-and-a-half season of seeing him so often with his jacket and jumper on, that his appearance here would make more of an impact. In fact, it genuinely washed over me until today. I think it’s because this is another one of those useless facts you build up as a Who fan - I know this is what he wears for the story, so my brain doesn’t bother to kick in when I see it! As a costume, I think it works for the Doctor, and I like how much more relaxed it makes him seem. Having Turlough out of the school uniform makes it really look like the pair are on holiday, and I think I rather like that!

6 October 2014

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

Day 644: Planet of Fire, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’m not sure what the general consensus is on Peri as a character, but I really do love the way she’s being introduced in this story. With the Doctor and Turlough off having their own adventure for much of today’s episode, and Peri stranded on her own with the Kameleon-Master, it feels almost as though she’s waiting in the wings for Turlough to up and leave, before she can take her place as one of the programme’s leads. I’ve never noticed how strange this period of the programme is, with three consecutive stories ending with the departure of a lead cast member… it’s really starting to hammer home to me now that things are all change once more! I’d also like to highlight some of my favourite dialogue for Peri ever, and a line that I often find myself quoting to people completely out of context for no real reason:

KAMELEON (IN THE FORM OF THE MASTER)
You will obey me…

PERI
No.

KAMELEON (IN THE FORM OF THE MASTER)
I am the Master!

PERI
So what? I'm Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can.

I love that she’s not taking any of the Master’s grandiose rubbish - as far as she’s concerned, he’s just a slightly shonky robot who isn’t particularly friendly. I must admit, in the past, I’ve found it hard to wrap my head around Kameleon’s role in this story, because even the cast don’t always seem to be entirely sure when someone is playing their original character, or the Kameleon copy of them. There’s a moment in today’s episode, where a piece of rubble falls onto Kameleon-in-the-form-of-the-Master’s head, and when he gets up again, he gives the bump on his head a little rub as if he’d just knocked it against something a little light. In some ways, it seems to give the impression that it’s only a tiny bump to a robot like Kameleon, but Anthony Ainley plays it far more ‘organic’ than that!

On the whole, I’m really not sure what to make of Planet of Fire. I had memories of it being a story which isn’t really here-or-there, and it didn’t leave any real impact on me. I don’t know if it’s simply that I’m waiting for the new era to kick in (and the fact that the next story has been voted the all-time-number-one Doctor Who adventure before now probably doesn’t help!), but I’m just not all that bothered by anything that’s happening here. We’ve come all the way out to Lanzarote (a location which still isn’t really being used to it’s best potential), we’ve got the annual return of the Master, the introduction of a new companion, a volcano about to erupt… and I’m just a bit bored by it all. I’m hoping that things can pick up in the next episode, because with so little Peter Davison left in the series - and having enjoyed the rest of this season quite a lot - I want to really get the most out of the Fifth Doctor while I can!

5 October 2014

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

Day 643: Planet of Fire, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’ve always thought that Nicola Bryant did quite well, joining the series here. Her very first story takes her out to Lanzarote for filming! It’s a far cry from Janet Fielding being introduced to the programme on the side of the Barnet Bypass! I’m going to have to mention Peri’s… arrival in the story, so I may as well get it out of the way quickly! It has to be said that the famous bikini shot is quite a departure for the programme! I often end up saying ‘we’ve never had anything quite like this in the programme before…’, but that’s very true in this instance! I’d somehow got myself to thinking that it was out first shot of Peri in the series, so I was quite surprised to see her given more clothes and character in several scenes before this one! I’d also forgotten how bratty Peri comes across in this episode, but I rather like that. By the time we reach Season Twenty-Three, we’ll have seen her grow up considerably, so I’m looking forward to watching the character grow over the next couple of seasons - we’ve got a great place to start from!

While I’m on the subject of companions… Kamelion is back! This is one of those times where I knew he was in the story (and played quite a major part), and I knew this as recently as yesterday… but completely forgot today until he started screaming out in agony! It’s a real shame that he’s been completely ignored since the end of The King’s Demons, because the Doctor’s cry of concern for the android here comes across almost as though he’s remembered that the thing exists. It would have been nicer to have a brief appearance from Kamelion in each of this year’s stories (there was one cut from The Awakening - I meant to watch the scene at the time, but got too caught up in the war games and forgot!), even if he was just plugged into the console and offered advice, or sarcastic K9-esque comments to the rest of the TARDIS crew. As it is, I don’t really care that he’s in any pain here, and I worry that it won’t make much of an impact on me as the story continues and we see him go through his final hours.

I’ve already mentioned the Lanzarote filming briefly today, but I can’t quite decide if it’s a good idea or not. On the one hand, it does provide some lovely locations - Peri out on the boat looks far more effective than it would have done being shot off the coast of England - but it’s not being treated as the focal point I’d expect. Our opening shot today, as two characters make their way across some rocky terrain, doesn’t try to give us a real cope of the vistas behind them; it lets them start to creep into shot as we follow their actions, but then cuts away before we can get a real decent look. For all it matters, this could have been shot in any old quarry!

I’m also struggling to keep on top of which location is meant to be where. The production team really got their money’s worth out of the trip abroad here, by having the island appear as itself and the planet of Sarn, but it’s causing me no end of problems. This is most noticeable when we cut from Peri out on the boat, to two of our Sarn… people, looking out over a body of water from atop a peak. There’s no indication that this is supposed to be a different body of water to the one we’ve just seen Peri in, and I can’t help but think that either Sarn would look better contrasted against something like a flat, grey, London locale, or Lanzerote would look better crossed with an alien planet filmed here in the UK. I’m hoping that the distinction might become more clear as the episodes roll by…

4 October 2014

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

Day 642: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Fanboy that I am, I can’t help but enjoy taking this episode, and retroactively inserting modern Time War continuity in to it. The Daleks’ plan here is to duplicate the Doctor (and his companions, because they wisely understand that the Doctor needs companions or he’ll look a bit… off), and then dispatch the clones to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Time Lords. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly hard to try and view this as an early shot of the Time War, is it? In fact, this feels now like the first retaliation for the events in Genesis of the Daleks, where the Doctor was tasked specifically with wiping out the Daleks before they have a chance to become… well… the creatures we know and love to hate.

I also don’t think it’s hard to read the Doctor’s actions here as being aware that this could be the start of an almighty war. Once he knows what’s going on, and finds out where Davros is, he decided that he needs to go and put a stop to it all. There’s something almost brutal (and in keeping with this story) about the way he simply announces that he’s off to kill Davros, and then ruminates on the fact that he ‘held back’ once before when he could have put a stop to things. There’s a few more instances to come in the ‘classic’ series yet which can be seen as part of the Time War, but we’ve now got the aforementioned Genesis, The Invasion of Time (which I decided was the Sontarans ‘auditioning’ for a part in the battle), and this story. It’s fitting that the universe the Doctor’s in this season should be that little bit darker, and that little bit less safe.

Especially fitting, in fact, because it’s this kind of thing that prompts Tegan to make a decision and leave the Doctor behind. I must admit - I love Tegan’s departure. We’ve never had a companion exit quite like this before, in which they actively decide that they’ve had enough of the Doctor’s lifestyle and they want out. Usually, they’re off to better things, leaving for love, or a chance to get back home, or because they’ve found a new family. Tegan leaves because everything’s gotten a bit nastier of late. There’s certainly a feeling of this over the last few stories - In Warriors of the Deep, there should have been another way. The Awakening puts another one of her relatives in danger. Even Frontios takes its toll. I sort of with that they’d fed in a little bit more of this over the last few tales, knowing that she was on the way out.

For years and years, I’ve seen people complain that Tegan was a rubbish companion because she never wanted to be there in the TARDIS. It’s one of those things that you sort of subconsciously take in as part of your Doctor Who knowledge. I have to admit, though, that she’s been far less whiny than I was expecting. Yes, she spends some of Season Nineteen trying to get back to Heathrow, but when an adventure arose, she was able to jump in and be a vital part of the team. I have to say that I’ve really loved Tegan as a companion, and it’s surprising just how quickly her departure has come around. She’s moved a good few places up my list of favourite companions, and I’m going to be sorry to see her go. I’d like to take one final chance to heap some praise on Janet Fielding, too. She’s been fantastic in the part, and her final scene here is simply wonderful. Oh, Tegan, I shall miss you!

Today’s episode, while still a bloodbath, has been quite enjoyable. There’s some lovely direction on show (Tegan being chased by the fake policemen is home to probably the best shots of the story, especially as she tries to escape down a flight of steps towards the river), and I’m glad that Matthew Robinson will be back next series to helm the return of another popular monster. I can’t remember a great deal about Attack of the Cybermen, but I don’t think it’s quite as bleak as this one has been! 

3 October 2014

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

Day 641: Resurrection of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

Today feels extra special. It’s the start of a new story, the return of the Daleks after a five-year absence from the programme (brief cameo in The Five Doctors notwithstanding), Tegan’s final story, and it’s almost double-length! Yes, I’m going to be watching Resurrection of the Daleks in the 45-minute version that it was shown in on first broadcast (altered because of the BBC’s screening of the Winter Olympics, I think?). I’m not doing it this way because I’m trying to go for exact historical accuracy in this marathon, but more for nostalgic reasons. Having rented Invasion of the Dinosaurs from the local library in the autumn of 2003, my interest in Doctor Who had been sufficiently piqued. I’d rented out a few more tapes of the series (and for an idea of the effect that they had on me, I can’t remember which ones they were…), and had a read up online. I knew, therefore, that the Doctor’s greatest foes were the Cybermen… and the Daleks.

The first two DVDs of the programme that I purchased therefore were this story and The Tomb of the Cybermen, because I thought that they would give me a good idea about these two most famous of villains. I also wonder if this initial choice made an impact on the fact that I’ve always been more at home with 1960s and 1980s Doctor Who than the 1970s stuff that goes on in the middle? The original DVD release of this story came out with the as-broadcast two episodes, so that’s how I remember experiencing this tale the first time around. I’ve seen it maybe twice more since then, and I’ve been really looking forward to reaching it in the marathon.

There’s certainly a lot to like about this opening episode, isn’t there? We open with that gorgeous shot of the warehouses, the girders overhead, and then pan in to a man lighting up a cigarette. Already, thanks to the direction, there’s something somewhat eerie about all of this… and then a bunch of people dressed in ‘futuristic’ clothes come running in terror from one of the buildings, pursued by a group of policemen, who proceed to shoot them down… and take out the man with the cigarette too, just for good measure. I think I’m right in saying that Resurrection of the Daleks has the highest on-screen body count of any Doctor Who serial, and this opening scene certainly sets that stock out early on.

From there, the episode doesn’t let up, and I think the crowning moment is probably the crew of a space-prison setting up a barricade to fight from behind as the Daleks come blasting aboard the station. It’s the first time that we’ve ever seen the Daleks treated in such a manner - dropping them in to the kind of ‘gritty’ and ‘macho’ science fiction that was popular in the 1980s. The last time we saw them, in Destiny of the Daleks, they were trundling round a quarry and trying to save Davros from bombs. Here, they come gliding through the safety barrier and into the ambush, where they immediately manage to dispatch a couple of their opposition.

But then we get a couple of Dalek casualties, too! Seeing the two blown up in the entrance to the airlock is lovely, as is the way that reinforcements come along and just push these shells out of the way when recommencing the attack. And then you’ve got the destruction of the Dalek in the warehouse - which we get to see pushed out of a second-floor window and explode as it hits the street below. As if that weren’t enough, you then get the terror of the Dalek mutant, too, which prompts even the Doctor to take up arms. This certainly isn’t your standard Dalek tale.

Quite often, people talk about Eric Saward’s scripts for the programme being very bleak. This is, I think, the first time that we’ve really been able to see that in action - it’s certainly a lot bleaker than The Visitation was, and you can sort of track the through line from Earthshock to here. This is Saward taking the same starting point, and just really feeling free to go all out with it. I don’t think I’d want Doctor Who to be like this all the time, but having this type of tale peppered through the programme now and then is always nice, just to break things up a little. It’ll help make Tegan’s decision to go in tomorrow’s episode all the more relatable.

Today is also the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros. He’ll be seeing us through another two Dalek tales after this one, and I have to admit that I’m a fan of this ‘incarnation’ of the villain. I’d imagine it’s probably because I was first introduced to the character through Molloy’s portrayal (I’d seen all of his stories in the roll long before seeing either Wisher or Gooderson fill the part), and also because I’ve had the provalidge of seeing Terry give a performance first hand. When I was studying for my degree, we had to make a lot of short films, each one showing off a different technical aspect of film-making. For one of the pieces, we had to put together a trailer.

Of course, I decided to go ahead and create a Doctor Who trailer. We could only use footage that we’d created ourselves, though, so I set about getting shots in various locations that could be used. The crowning moment of the trailer was to be the TARDIS arriving, the door opening, and the light spilling out to illuminate Davros, sat alone in a dark space, ruminating on the mistakes he’s made in life. I wrote a short piece, and Terry was kind enough to come along and record it for me (in the back room of the shop I worked in at the time!). Just hearing him deliver the lines in a cold and calculating way (a performance honed by years of working with Big Finish, I’d guess, because it was incredibly subtle and nuanced, was a real joy, and when he finally broke out in to full on ‘rant’ mode… absolutely beautiful. For an hour afterwards, Terry crouched down behind the original Davros mask and operated the mouth, while I took shots of various angled and we synched it to the dialogue. It was something of an odd day, but a real highlight of the degree!

There’s a lot to like in Davros’ revival here, but it’s not quite as good as I remembered it. One of my favourite shots in this serial is the big ‘cryogenic chamber’ lifting up, and the smoke pouring out around Davros, revealing the scientist. I’d remembered it being the big introduction of Davros to the story, and thought that the chamber had appeared entirely filled with smoke up to then. Actually, though, he’s visible in the background of shots for ages before that happens, and it does lessen his arrival into the story. It reduces him to simply being a bit of the furniture that happens to be there, as opposed to exciting me about his return. I’m also somewhat baffled by his musing that he’d have loved to have seen the war between the Daleks and the Movellans… but he did! In his last story! Ninety years in suspension has obviously been playing a little with the grey matter! 

2 October 2014

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

Day 640: Frontios, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I really love the image of the TARDIS here, embedded in to the rock. It’s such a striking image, and it’s another one of those ones I can recall seeing long before I had a chance to watch this story, and it’s always stuck with me. Even the effect of the TARDIS being pulled back together looks fab - it’s a simple case of fading between two shots, but something about it just really works for me. As you can probably tell, I’m going to be raving about this episode a little bit more today!

Frontios is a tale which doesn’t really get a great deal of attention. It’s not often talked about, it just sort of exists as a part of this season. Even though I know I like it from a previous viewing, I tend to forget that it’s even here, so it’s lovely to watch it again now and find that it can really hit the right notes for me. It feels confident, it looks stunning, and there’s a great story at the heart of it. When we talk about showing stories to people as an attempt to interest them in Doctor Who, there’s a few candidates that always crop up - City of Death is normally in the number one spot. I think that Frontios might be a good addition to the list, though! There’s perhaps a little bit of continuity in the fact that the Gravis thinks the Doctor has been sent to spy on events here, but so long as someone sitting down to watch knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, you’re good to go!

Certainly, I think this is the strongest ‘space’ tale that we’ve has for a long time. I gone on at length over the last few days about how good the sets look, but it does bear repeating one final time here, because they’re stunning. I don’t think there’s a single set which doesn’t work for me, from the tunnels to the surface, they all have a very strong identity, and they’ve managed to really get the hang of that ‘battered future’ look that’s been creeping into the series for a while. This is a far cry from the sterile white corridors of the Nerva beacon - and while that set was gorgeous in its own way, this is just as beautiful - if not more so - in a completely different direction.

Director Ron Jones will be helming stories in the next two seasons, and I’m suddenly very much looking forward to seeing them. Everything here feels like such a step up from his previous efforts on the series, and I really can’t deduce what’s happened between Arc of Infinity and this story to warrant such an upswing in quality. He was never a bad director, but he’s never before made the impact on me that he has here. I’m hoping he can keep it up!

Someone who won’t be returning, though, is Christopher H Bidmead. I’ve not really discussed him a great deal in this marathon - despite the fact that he script-edited Season Eighteen, which did rather well in my scores - but it’s nice to see him bowing out of the programme on such a high. I think it’s fair to say that this is a far better script than Castrovalva was, and my thoughts on Logopolis are probably best being left where they are. The script for this story is filled with so many lovely little lines that I’ve been noting down over the last few days, and I’ve barely brought any up because it’s been too tricky to try and pick favourites. I do want to single this one out from Turlough in Episode Three, however, before the story is over:

TURLOUGH
The earth is hungry. It waits to eat. … I can see them. They are the appetite beneath the ground.

The whole idea of the earth being ‘hungry’ really appeals to me (it’s likely why The Hungry Earth is one of my favourite story titles from the new series), and it’s painted beautifully in this story, as a mixture of myth and madness. It’s a shame that Bidmead won’t get the chance to provide another tale like this one to the programme, but I think Frontios has shot right up my list of favourite stories, and I’ll certainly be returning to it fairly quickly once the marathon is over!

 

1 October 2014

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

Day 639: Frontios, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I think I played my ‘isn’t Mark Strickson good’ card a day too early. He was very good yesterday, but today’s episode has been a real tour-de-force for him! I think you can really see him sinking his teeth into having something different to do in today’s episode, and even though he’s required to mostly look troubled and spout half-complete sentences, he’s really giving it his all, and making the most of the part. I’m really, really impressed by him here, and I think this is likely to be his best performance in the programme, and the one that I’ll be remembering him for.

Yesterday, I tried to stay away from praising the direction too much, but I’m going to have to bring it up again now, because it really is fantastic. I still can’t quite get my head around the idea that this is the same man who directed Black Orchid or Time-Flight. Everything looks so polished, and it’s the use of lighting and colour that really works for me. The underground scenes have a unique feel all their own, and it does come across as a completely different alien environment to the world above the surface. I love the way that the green light is used in scenes with their own portable lighting tubes, and it helps to make this look even creepier than they could do. I’m also wondering if they’ve started using a different quality of video this season which could be helping to contribute to that slightly ‘glossier’ look that I was discussing yesterday - this story looks somewhat sharper than I’m used to, and I think the same was true of The Awakening, too, looking back…

I’d also like to give some praise over to the design team on this one. I’m so used to banging on about the way the BBC are so much better at creating historical or down-to-earth locations, and Season Twenty-One so far has been something of a case in point, with the poor quality sets in Warriors of the Deep being followed up by the church and the manor house in The Awakening. This story is the perfect example that they really can do space-age, and I think it’s probably my favourite futuristic design to date. The use of several glass shots (or, at least, I’m assuming they’re glass shots) in different locations really helps to give a sense of scale to the sets where needed, which helps to make the various tunnels all the more claustrophobic.

Of course, at some point, I have to mention the story’s resident monster - the Tractators. People dressed up like giant rubber woodlice. A concept which is frankly ridiculous, and the design department couldn’t be expected to do anything short of rubbish with it.

Which is why it’s all the more surprising just how well they work! Haha! There’s a moment early on in today’s episode, where Tegan throws one of the lights at a group of the Tractators, and they go shuffling off, waving their arms around… and it looks great! It shouldn’t - it should look absolutely awful. If you were to show the clip to a non-fan out of context, they’d probably think it looked stupid, and rubbish, and all those things that it quite possibly does… but I don’t care, because right there in that moment, I completely bought it. It was only after the episode ended that I remembered complaining about the Myrka waving its arms around the other day - it’s surprising just how differently everything combines together this time to create something that I’m really enjoying.

And while I’m on the subject of it, come on, Character Options! Where the hell is my Tractator action figure?

1 October 2014

If, like us, you loved the 50th Anniversary, Doctor Who story; The Day Of The Doctor, and can happily watch it over and over again, then, thanks to our friends over at Cult Box, you can play a cool new Bingo game the next time you watch the episode!

Cult Box have put together 3 Bingo cards featuring quotes and scenes from the episode which you can fill in to win. We have included the 3 cards to the right, which were designed by Rob Smedley.

Each card features a different Doctor; The War Doctor (John Hurt), The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith).

The team also have some cards for the Season 7 cliffhanger episode; The Name Of The Doctor, which you can download and print, here.

Print your cards out now, pick a Doctor and get ready with a pen!

DWO have put together some fun little Doctor Who related Bingo number nicknames, which could easily relate to show, below. See if you can guess which numbers they are:

Cup Of Tea
Knock At The Door
Doctor’s Orders
Key Of The Door

The 50th Anniversary year was one of the biggest in the entire history of the show. Everyone got involved to celebrate one of the most-loved icons of British TV, and you would have been hard pressed to find an outlet who didn’t cover the event in some way, shape or form.

It’s interesting to note that in the anniversary year alone, over 300 new Doctor Who fan sites popped up to help show their support and love for our best-loved SciFi show. 

If you were one of those people who started your own fan site last year, we would love to hear from you! Feel free to get in touch and email us your reasons for starting up your fan site, and why you love the show so much. Emails can be sent to: fansites@drwho-online.co.uk.

Those of you wanting to up the stakes a little can play a wide variety of cash-based bingo games via some renowned bingo sites. And if online bingo isn’t your thing, they have a wide range of other games you can play, too!

[Source: DWO]

30 September 2014

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

Day 638: Frontios, Episode Two

Dear diary,

There’s something quite striking about having a cliffhanger in which the TARDIS - effectively - blows up. I used to comment about enemies getting in to the ship being something truly unsettling, because that white console room is our beacon of safety for the main characters, but this feels like going several steps beyond even that. Having just the hat-stand left as a signifier of where the ship once stood is also a brilliant visual image.. but I’m not sure if it would make as much of an impact on me if I didn’t know that the hat-stand was supposed to be such an obvious part of the ship, with the Doctor drawing attention to it at the start of yesterday’s episode. I think of it as being iconic… because I’ve always been told it is. I know it’s been around in the console room for ages now (and will continue to be so right through to the new series), but I’ve never really noticed it before!

This story is still scoring an awful lot of thumbs up from me, though. I mostly mentioned the direction yesterday, so take it as read that I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of the tale today (though I do need to make mention once again of the way different coloured light is being used to great effect - yesterday it was the red of the ‘missile attack’, while today it’s the green of the underground tunnels - and close ups again of various characters is making this look really rather beautiful), but I’m getting caught up in lots of the actual narrative this time around. Despite the fact that I’ve seen Frontios before, I can’t remember a great deal about the plot. I know that the Tractators are dragging people down through the soil to power their machines… but I can’t remember why they’re doing it, or what they hope to achieve. It means that I’m finding everything really gripping as I try to piece it all together!

The last time Christopher H Bidmead penned a script for the series, it was filled with lots of high-concept ideas that simply couldn’t be realised all that effectively in a BBC TV studio. Now, it feels like he’s come back to the programme with a better idea of what they might actually achieve with the time and budget they’re given. He’s created a world here that I feel really invested in - it’s populated with very rounded characters, and a sense of shared history that I can completely buy in to. It’s always nice when this happens, and it’s putting me rather in mind of Kinda, which can only help to strengthen this story’s position! We’re being drip fed information about this colony, their back story, and their various power struggles really carefully, and it’s bringing me right in to the story. There’s no doubting that this is Bidmead’s best script for the show.

I’d also like to take a moment today to give some prise for Mark Strickson. He’s been in the series for a while now, and he’s given a great performance in every episode so far. He’ll be off in only a few episode’s time, so I wanted to make sure that I single him out for praise at least once! I fear that he gets rather over-looked in the grand scheme of companions, overshadowed by the likes of Tegan and Peri around him, both of whom are Doctor-defining companions. Turlough is just there, not always given the most to do, but Strickson makes sure to really flesh out the part every week. His performance today is a real highlight, when forced to come running through the caverns absolutely petrified by the thought of the Tractators - I’m really unsettled by his acting here, and that’s supposed to be a compliment! He’s managing to convey the terror of the situation perfectly, and I think it’s a shame that he doesn’t get credited for his work on the programme as much as he deserves to!

29 September 2014

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

Day 637: Frontios Episode One

Dear diary,

Frontios was one of the last Peter Davisons stories to be released on DVD, coming out towards the latter end of the range in 2012. Up until then, there wasn’t much I could have told you about it, other than it was broadcast as a part of this season. It was just one of those Doctor Who stories that existed, but whereas the tales around it in this season featured the return of creatures like the Silurians, or the Daleks, or were the location of major cast departures and arrivals, this one was just A. N. Other story. Because it was one of the later DVD releases, I was long since caught up on buying them, and I’d pick them up on day of release on the way to work. Even if it wasn’t a tale I was desperate to watch immediately, I’d still dutifully buy the DVD, because a) I’d want to see it one day, and b) there would be a gap in the collection and it would drive me mad knowing that it was still to be filled. That said, I’ve still not actually bought The Web of Fear on DVD, because I picked it up on iTunes…

With this being one of the stories I knew so little about, though, I couldn’t wait to get it home and watch it. At some point, I’d sort of made a conscious decision not to find much out about it, because I liked the idea that there could still be Doctor Who stories that were almost completely alien to me. Actually watching my way through the series for The 50 Year Diary has revealed that there’s loads of stories I know very little about - even if I didn’t realise it - but for a long while Frontios was an example of a story that I was aware of knowing very little information on. I still wonder, if I’m honest, if that’s why I enjoyed it so much on that first viewing, because I can remember being simply glued to it throughout.

It’s one of those times when I want to say ‘you can always tell that so-and-so is back in the director’s seat this week…’, but actually, it’s not as simple as all that. When I started out on today, I made a note that it must be Peter Grimwade directing, because it was looking so polished and he’s one of the best director’s we’ve got at this point… but then I remembered that he bowed out of the series with Earthshock. I had to wait for the closing credits to roll around to find out that this one was being directed by… Ron Jones!?!?! Surely that’s an error in the credits? Ron Jones was the director responsible for Time-Flight, which wasn’t particularly stand out direction, and for Arc of Infinity, which even in Amsterdam didn’t make any impact! This is the man who turned the corridors of Gallifrey into a tacky office block corridor, complete with sofas!

I’m being rude, yes, and unfair. I was just so surprised by the revelation, because I’m loving the direction in this story. The main courtyard set looks fantastic when it’s being struck by the ‘missile attack’, and there’s a lot of really nice close ups that make this story feel quite unlike anything… well, quite unlike anything from before Season Twenty-One. I’ve been musing over the last few days that this season has its own very unique style. The costumes worn by the ‘locals’ here are very similar to the ones we see in Warriors From the Deep, and we’ll be seeing similar things cropping up in at least a couple of other stories before the season is out. It’s not just the design that feels different this year - the whole ‘look’ of the season feels more polished and glossy than anything from the last few years has. It’s almost as though we’ve done that ‘Season Eighteen Upgrade’ thing again, where everything has suddenly started to look completely different from the Doctor Who that came before…

28 September 2014

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

Day 636: The Awakening, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh dear. Yesterday, The Awakening had so much promise. Although the central mystery was botched a little bit - informing us that the people in this village are playing a war game before trying to drum up mystery about the fact that they're all dressed in period costume - there was enough going on to keep me really interested and I was enjoying things. Today's episode has been much more of a mixed bag.

For starters - we get the revelation that Sir George is under the influence of the evil Malus in the church. I'd wondered if there was some kind of influence being applied to the people in this village, or if they were just going too far by their own accord, and I really like the idea that it's a bit of both. Sir George is under the influence, and because people know and respect him, they all get caught up too. We also find out today that they plan to really recreate this battle in the village - complete with casualties. That's a great revelation, and I think it needs to have been seeded in to the story a little bit earlier on. You can get away with explaining the concept of the war games and then building mystery about the fact that they're all going too far to make it accurate, but that didn't come across on screen as well as it perhaps should have.

The other issue I have is in the form of Tegan's grandfather. He's the reason that they're here in Little Hodcombe, and much was made in the first episode about the fact that he was 'missing', and the locals were being more than a little bit shady about it. After all of that, though, he turns up today without any real fanfare - he simply happens to be locked up in the same barn Turlough gets taken to, and is introduced to the plot with a simple 'hello, I'm so-and-so'. This probably shouldn't bother me as much as it does, but then he doesn't actually make any difference to the story after that. We discover that he's the one who found the Malus, but for all the difference that makes, it could have been any character in the village. Thank goodness Tegan asks for time to spend with him at the end of the story, or he'd be completely redundant!

On the plus side, I really like the Malus creature in the church here. It's an image that I just know would have been burned in to my mind as a child, watching the bits of the wall crumble away to reveal the evil face behind. Indeed, I can claim that it's been burned into my adult brain, because it was one of the images I an most clearly recall from the Doctor Who: The Legend book, about a decade ago. I've said before during this marathon that that book was responsible for inspiring and growing my love of Doctor Who all the more in the early days of my interest in the programme, and this is just another example of it. I think I like that even though it's only a two-part story, and we only really get to see the creature in this second half, they've created what looks like a fairly expensive prop for it - complete with moving lips and glowing eyes, billowing smoke… yeah, definitely one of the greatest creations of the era, if not the entire 'classic' series.

I didn't bring him up yesterday, but I'm really loving the character of Will in this story (and not just because he's my name-sake. Is this the first time we've had a 'Will' in the programme? No others spring to mind immediately…). It's quite nice to see a return to that Season Nineteen format of pairing the Doctor off with a 'local', while the companions go off to play a different role in the story. Peter Davison works well with a 'child' companion, and Keith Jayne turns is a really lovely performance. I've also been enjoying Polly James in this one as the schoolteacher - she works very well with Davison's Doctor, too. I think I'm right in saying that both these characters travel with the Doctor for a while in the novels - presumably while taking Will home again at the end of the adventure, leaving Tegan and Turlough behind in the village for a little bit (there's a point - I can understand Tegan wanting to stay put for a day or three, but Turlough has been so desperate to never see the planet again - I'm surprised he doesn't want to hurry away again!).

It's a real pity that this has all fallen apart so much for me, because I so enjoyed various aspects of the first episode, and it seems like a real shame to see them go to waste like this.

While I'm here, I'd also like to draw attention to the 'making of' feature on this DVD - Return to Little Hodcombe. I don't watch special features for every story as I go through the marathon, but I tend to dip in and out here and there. This particular one is a real highlight, though, and probably one that I've enjoyed the most from the entire range. It takes this story's director - Michael Owen Morris - back to one of the locations used for the story, as well as bringing back Eric Sawad, Janet Fielding, and Keith Jayne to talk about their various involvement in the story. The feature is peppered with input from local residents who remember the filming, and it's lovely to hear them recall it, and to see their photographs from the time. It adds a really nice new angle to these kinds of features, and I've really enjoyed watching it!

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