Time Lord Tees

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23 November 2014

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

Day 692: Delta and the Bannermen, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’ve been looking forward to this one, because it’s the first ‘real’ three-part Doctor Who adventure. Planet of Giants in Season Two was recorded as four parts, but later cut down, and The Two Doctors was shown in three parts, but was the length of six, but Delta and the Bannermen is three episodes of regular-length, planned from the start as a three-part story. This thought has been exciting me, because I’ve said several times across this marathon that three episodes is really the perfect length for the programme, cutting out all of that running around and getting captured in the third quarter, and helping to tighten everything up, which should in theory help the stories.

It’s a pity, then, that the format is used to badly in this story! The pacing is all over the place, and I’m not really sure that they’ve gotten the hang of it yet. I’d say that the first episode was more or less spot on, introducing the story, the characters, and the location, before ending with a cliffhanger that moves the narrative along. Episode Two then does up the stakes, before this final episode is just a bit of a mess. There’s so many characters, and everything’s been escalating so quickly - it’s another way of looking at the point I made yesterday, about the way that everyone just goes along with the Doctor, even though he’s given no one any real reason to do so, and Billy instantly accepts Delta’s situation, even going as far as to try and change his biology and fly away with her in a spaceship at the end, completely unfazed by events!

There’s not been enough time spent introducing us to these people as a group, so we’ve simply got bland ciphers doing whatever the story requires of them. Right up to the goodbye scene at the end, it doesn’t feel like anyone is a believable person here. When Ray says goodbye to the Doctor and rides off on the bike, it feels completely wrong - she got to see inside his spaceship, remember, the boy she loves has just flown off with another woman, and she’s filled the role of the Doctor’s companion for the entire story… she should at least ask to see another planet, before swanning off. This kind of thing also means that the tone is still wrong right across this episode - there’s not a single mention of the tourists who got blown up in their bus yesterday, because the plot was finished with them, and doesn’t even think to bring it up again. I’d at least expect the doctor to say something a little bit poignant about the situation.

I’m a little bit gutted about all this to be honest, because that first episode really did show an awful lot of promise, and I was looking so forward to seeing the programme attempt this type of format. We’ve got another three part story coming up next, so I’m keen to see if they’ll be any better at managing the pacing issues in that one, or if - like the rest of Season Twenty-Four - it’s all something of a failed experiment.

 

22 November 2014

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

Day 691: Delta and the Bannermen, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I really can’t make up my mind with the Seventh Doctor so far. In Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers, I veered from thinking ‘he’s not got this at all’ to ‘ah, now he feels like the Doctor’ and back again (sometimes within the same scene), but I’m starting to think that by the time Delta and the Bannermen went in to production, he’s sort of picked a direction that I’m liking. Put simply: while I’m not sure he’s quite the Doctor that I’m waiting for (I’m becoming ever more convinced that I’ll have to wait for next season for that), there’s a version of the character shining through in this story that I’m really warming to. It’s present in the way that he takes instantly to Ray, and goes to comfort her after the dance, asking for her life to be spared, and generally ditching Mel for this story to hang out with someone cooler! I’m not sure if I like how quickly everyone is taking to the Doctor here, though, with people following his every whim and order without much question - at least the camp Major has to have a look inside the TARDIS before he’ll start to believe in what he’s being told!

It’s been a while since I had the chance to track any kind of story arc in the programme, and I think I may have found another (very) tenuous one forming here in regards to the Seventh Doctor’s persona. He’s often thought of as the arch manipulator, the one who goes in to his adventures with a plan in mind, and is working to a greater scheme that we can’t really see. It’s most prevalent in the books, but will start to come to the fore with Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis in Season Twenty-Five, and then even stronger through Season Twenty-Six, in regards to Ace. I’m wondering if we might be seeing the very beginnings of that character starting to develop here.

I’m thinking specifically of the last story, in which the Doctor initially claimed to know very little about the Great Architect and Paradise Towers in General, but when things started heating up, he was suddenly all-knowing, and keen to make sure that the Architect really had been destroyed. In the cliffhanger to today’s episode, we get to see McCoy deliver the first of his big speeches - the kind of thing that he’ll face off against the likes of Davros and Fenric with later in his life - and then muse that he may have gone too far. It feels as though, early in to his new body, he’s flexing his muscles, and trying to see how he can handle events. What better way to test it than with a war over the final two members of a species? Go big or go home, I guess!

The one other thing that I’m struggling with in this story, and it’s related in a way to the fact that everyone just goes along with the Doctor and accepts everything he says, is the fact that Billy is so accepting of Delta’s situation! He spots her at a dance, takes a bit of a shine to her, pops round with some flowers, and then is told that she’s in fact an alien queen, and this is her child, and it’ll grow up incredibly fast, and there’s an army on the way to kill them all. His reaction to all of this? He takes her out on a date! With child in tow! Doesn’t bat an eyelid. I know he’s grown up in South Wales, with the Cardiff Rift nearby (I did wonder when Goronwy mentioned all the weird lights in the sky, if it could retroactively be thought of as the result of the Rift), but surely he shouldn’t be quite this accepting of the situation?

Several times over the last few days, I’ve mused that Season Twenty-Four has amore lightweight, ‘comic book’ feel to it than other Doctor Who seasons. It’s still in evidence here, with the bright colours of the camp and many of the supporting characters, but sometimes the tone does veer off the path somewhat, and leave you with an uncomfortable clash of styles. It worked very well yesterday when the Tollmaster was shot in the back, but here we see the entire tour bus of characters blown up! Mel then points out that all those innocent people have died! It should be a massive shock to the system because it really shows off the might of the Bannermen, and makes them unpredictable cold killers, but it just completely jars with everything else in the episode.

Instead, it shocks you because it’s not played quite right, and you’re left with a bit of a sour taste. If I’m honest, I had to skip back a minute or two to make sure that it had really happened, and that they didn’t manage to escape in the final seconds! I’m somewhat resigned to the programme having such an ‘off’ tone this year, and I can’t quite decide if it’s the result of there being a new script editor finding his feet in the show, or John Nathan-Turner coming to the season late (having assumed that he’d be allowed to move on), or simply that they’ve over-reacted to the criticisms of the programme a season late. A pity, because there’s still lots of ideas that I’m loving - as I say, the death of the passengers could be great - but it’s just not coming together for me!

 

21 November 2014

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

Day 690: Delta and the Bannermen, Episode One

Dear diary,

Today feels like an appropriate time to return to the subject of ‘stunt casting’ in Doctor Who. Ken Dodd’s appearance as the Toll Master in Delta and the Bannermen is often singled out as an example of John Nathan-Turner completely missing the point and casting light entertainment figures in the programme, but it’s an example that I think proves he knew what he was doing! Quite apart from the fact that Dodd fits the ‘comic book’ version of Doctor Who that we’re being given with Season Twenty-Four, he’s actually really good in the part, and his slightly zany antics (and very zany costume) work wonderfully in context, offset nicely against the run-down backdrop of the toll port.

Dodd’s character doesn’t make it out of the episode alive, and there’s something that really works in watching him die - throughout the scene I continually flip-flopped between thinking he was going to snuff it and thinking that he’d be spared, but I’m so glad they killed him off. It’s the perfect way to highlight Gavrok’s character, and having him shot in the back as he tries to get to freedom is just delicious. It always hurts that little bit more when a character dies who you rather like ,and who hasn’t done anything wrong.

You may have noticed from that opening paragraph that I’ve been a bit finder of today’s episode than either of the last two stories fared. There’s just so much to like here. Right from the off, we’re set down in to the middle of an alien battlefield, with a distinctive blue hue which really sets off the explosions. There’s little green army men (what a fantastic idea for a design - I’m almost surprised that the programme has taken this long to do it - one of those ideas that just feels perfectly ‘Doctor Who’), and alien princess, an evil villain and his army on the attack… it’s more action that the programme has seen in a while, and it’s rather nicely done! Even the shot of the space ship taking off to flee from the battle is something different- even though I’m sure it was achieved simply.

And then the whole idea of the story, well that’s another thing that’s pure Doctor Who! A spaceship, disguised as a bus, taking a tour group of aliens to visit Disneyland in the 1950s. It’s a great concept, and again I think it’s perfectly suited to this particular season of the programme. I can’t imagine it working at any point prior to this (and not really any point afterwards, either, though I think the Eleventh Doctor could just about fit in to this adventure), but it’s just so right for this season, and especially for Mel.

She looks so right sat on the bus, singing along with all the other passengers. It’s just a shame that she reverts to being a bit wet afterwards, though. There’s some nice character moments in her room with Delta - sympathising with the poor woman and trying to help where she can - but then as soon as she sees the alien egg, she bursts into a scream… before anything has even happened! Delta shows her a christmas decoration, and Mel screams at it! I’m surprised that she didn’t simply pass out when the little green creature emerged from inside!

The actual effect of the baby… thing coming out of the egg is lovely, and one of the best we’ve had in a long time. It looks genuinely creepy, and it’s enough to leave an impact for the week until the next episode. It’s not the only decent effects shot in here, either, and I was rather impressed by the TARDIS model as it followed the bus through space. The programme has been doing TARDIS models for ages by this point - decades! - but it’s always nice when they do it well, and having not seen many of them recently!

One last thing, though. Weismuller, one of the Americans pulls up to a police box and puts in a call to the States. He claims to be calling from ‘Wales in England’. I’ve lived in Cardiff long enough by now to know that they really don’t like it when you say things like that (we’re also not allowed to question the dual language on all the signs)!

 

20 November 2014

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

Day 689: Paradise Towers, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Somehow, I’ve managed to make it through this entire story without making mention of Richard Briers’ performance as the Chief Caretaker. I think I’m right in saying that Briers once told an interviewer that he’d taken a part in Doctor Who as an excuse to ‘act badly’, and I think you can see that throughout appearance in this episode, because his performance is appalling…

…and completely right for the tone of the story! It works brilliantly, and I can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s so over the top that it’s almost grotesque, and it fits the slightly ‘comic book’ theme of this season particularly well. He’s been playing the part in a particularly bizarre way throughout (though, again, it’s fitted the story), but it’s really once his mind has been taken over that things really work for me.

It means that I’m also wondering if maybe I’ve been approaching Season Twenty-Four from slightly the wrong angle. I’ve spoken in the last week about how disappointed I am with the programme all of a sudden, shifting its tone from being television for children to strictly being ‘kids telly’, but with concepts and ideas that go beyond that area. I wonder if maybe I should have been looking at Time and the Rani and this story with a mind more willing to enjoy them on their own merits, including the ‘comic book’ tone that the programme has currently adopted. In the Last Chance Saloon feature on the Time and the Rani DVD, John Nathan-Turner comments that they were asked again to tone down the violence, and that they replaced it with more humour. I think that’s been very evident so far, and I’m looking forward to them managing to strike that right balance of violence and humour in the programme again.

All that said, I’ve still not really enjoyed this episode. There is - as usual - lots of little bits that I rather like, but they simply don’t add up to a satisfying whole for me. I’m thinking that this may be another story to add to my ‘must watch again’ pile (there’s at least one in every era), because taking a different approach may help. Today’s episode also isn’t helped by the inclusion of something that was so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but be put right off by it. The Doctor has brought Mel to Paradise Towers because she’s desperate to go swimming. Fine. Before they make it to the swimming pool, they get caught up in an adventure. Fine. During this adventure, Mel gets set upon by cannibals, and then screams for her life when she thinks she’s stuck in the basement. Fine. Mere minutes later, they arrive at the pool, so she decides to forget the events of the last few hours and take a dip! No! What the hell were they thinking? Does she think that now she’s found the swimming pool, all the dangers have gone? That she can simply abandon the adventure? What on Earth is she doing?

I think this is all part of my continuing dislike of Mel - and that’s not helping the season in my estimations much, either! Bonnie Langford isn’t actually bad in the role, but the problem is that she’s only as good as the material she’s being given. Mel is the absolute stereotype of a Doctor Who companion, screaming and asking questions, and getting in to trouble. She’s not in any way believable for me as a character, and I don’t think it helps that I know Ace is coming up soon; a character I’ve always liked. We’re shifting format to three parters for the next few stories - the format I’ve often claimed in this marathon to be the perfect length for a Who story - so I’m hoping it might help to give me a bit of a shot in the arm, because I really don’t like not enjoying the series!

19 November 2014

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

Day 688: Paradise Towers, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s something I’ve never understood about Paradise Towers… where is it set? In my mind, it’s always been a single tower block just out in the middle of… well, the middle of nowhere if I’m honest. In my head, there’s a void, and the tower block, and that’s it. Somehow it’s never felt right to have it just somewhere on Earth, and even being a part of a city feels wrong - if people can get out and nip down to the shops or to the local park, then it really lessens the tension of the whole thing.

The implication from the video the Doctor watched in this episode (on DVD, no less! Forward thinking, there…) is that it’s on some other planet, and he comments that as ‘space is a big place’, the Great Architect could always move on and find work elsewhere. I’m not quite sure what to decide, I’d say that it can’t be far from Earth - it won awards in the 21st century, and we’re still in ‘Solar System colonising’ mode by the timeline established with the Second Doctor…

While I’m on that subject, I’m not sure if I like the image of the towers that we see at the start of each episode. It feels wrong that this world - so run-down and grimy on the inside - should be so beautiful and gleaming outside, with fresh flowers growing. It’s a concept that can work, and rather well, I think, but because we only ever see this ‘veneer’ of the building in a single establishing shot, and it’s not brought into the story at all, it seems out of place.

That said, I’ve found myself enjoying the interior of the place more and more today. The interior of the flat is still a weak point, as is the swimming pool (it just looks too ‘generic’), but the actual walkways and corridors are lovely. In the making of documentary to this story, writer Stephen Wyatt makes a point of saying that each floor of the building has its own streets and squares, and I’m rather taken with that idea, I think!

On the whole, I think I’ve been more amenable to this episode than either of the previous two. Paradise Towers still isn’t grabbing me in quite the way that I’d like it to, but I’m finding lots more to enjoy, and I think it’s a bit like Time and the Rani, in that I can see lots of brilliant ideas all bubbling under the surface, crying out to be done slightly better. The story is still hampered by that ‘kids show’ vibe that we’ve had since the Seventh Doctor arrived, but there’s so many dark and sinister ideas in here that the jolly tone almost works - helping to make them even more sinister!

I think I’ve just got a sort of general apathy towards Season Twenty-Four, because this simply isn’t grabbing me at all, despite numerous things which by rights should be. I’ve spent so long thinking of this season as one I’d hopefully champion, that I’m somewhat crushed by the fact that it’s not connecting - and I think that’s even leading to harsher scores on episodes which might otherwise fare a little better…

19 November 2014

As one of the absolute gems of British television programming, Doctor Who has been enthralling audiences since its first airing in 1963. The all-ages science fiction drama is well known for being appropriate for all ages, and as such the series has attracted a significant better-than-cult following, and with the release of the most recent bout of series, starting in 2005, the series has truly gone global, attracting an enormous cohort of fans; known as ‘Whovians’; whose number realistically could trump long standing sci-fi veterans Star Trek and perhaps even Star Wars.

The fan base is, as one might expect, a diverse one. Fan clubs are run across the world; New Zealand, Canada, USA; and local clubs are so enormously widespread that in 2012 a Google Map project commenced with the aim of logging all of the local Doctor Who groups in the UK so that fans could more easily find and join a club in their area!

As with any science fiction series, conventions are a large part of the Doctor Who fan experience. The first was held in 1977 by The Doctor Who Appreciation Society, quickly becoming the well known and fantastically well attended Panopticon, the largest of the Dr Who gatherings. Within these events fans have the chance to meet the stars of Dr Who, watch fan productions based on the show and indulge in a little collectible hunting. 

Collectibles are naturally big business in the Dr Who community. In 2007, a full sized Dalek prop from the 1988 series was auctions at London’s Bonham's auction house, reaching £7000. This is small change compared to an auction that took place just two years earlier, however, when an older specimen was sold for a gigantic £36,000! 

With Who-themed merchandise an important aspect of the fan community, one can see why many manufacturers and businesses have been keen to hop aboard the Doctor Who bandwagon. Clothing, mugs, TARDIS-themed fairylights, Dr Who-themed gelatine moulds and all-important Dr Who teapots; one wonders what other product ideas will be hatched regarding the series. Perhaps we could soon see Who-themed games on sites such as JackpotCity in the near future? There wouldn’t be any time travel involved though- it would surely defeat the object of playing! 

Dr Who is huge news and a cemented aspect of pop culture across the world, not just in its spiritual home of the United Kingdom, and with new series planned and no end of the entertaining adventures in sight, the Doctor seems set to reign long into the future!

[Source: Superserp]

18 November 2014

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

Day 687: Paradise Towers, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Over the last few days, there’s been something wrong that I simply couldn’t put my finger on. Something just didn’t feel right about the episodes I’ve been watching, and I’m coming away from them really unsure about the scores I’m giving. On the one hand it seems like I’m being too harsh on them, but on the other I know I’m rating in the same way I always do. And then last night, I finally found time to sit down and watch the Last Chance Saloon documentary on the DVD for Time and the Rani and finally managed to figure out what isn’t working for me - it’s Sylvester McCoy.

I’ve mentioned in the last few days that he’s not quite playing the role of the Doctor here in the way that he will over the next couple of seasons, but I don’t think I’d really considered that it could be the barrier stopping me from getting completely in to the stories. It’s not the only problem, I can’t place the blame entirely at Sylv’s door, but I think it’s what’s been putting me off. What helped me realise this was the way that Sylvester talks about Season Twenty-Four in the documentary, and specifically the way that he approached the part;

”I remember from Patrick Troughton that he’d been light-hearted in many ways, and comedic, and that was what attracted to me. I mean, I’d done straight drama as well, but a lot of my kind of natural instincts are towards comedy. You might be surprised to hear this, but it is! And so, I went for the comedic choices. And, I think, wrongly when I look back. Too many, it was too many.”

There have been several occasions in the last few days where I’ve mentioned Sylvester settling in to the role, but what I think I really mean is that there’s glimmers coming through of the Seventh Doctor I know from later seasons - an incarnation I like more than the impish clown we’ve got on screen at the moment. It’s a strange position to be in, really, because I’ve never had it before. The first six Doctors I’ve taken to immediately (even Pertwee, whose era I was dreading, and Davison, who perhaps took until his second season to really ‘find’ the Doctor he wanted to play), but this version of the Seventh Doctor isn’t quite doing it for me at the moment. I’m interested, now, to see if I start taking to him during the latter half of this season, or if it might take until next year.

As I’ve said above, the Doctor isn’t the only thing putting me off this story. As with Time and the Rani, the production team seem to be aiming this at a directly ‘kids show’ audience again, and sets which should be the bread-and-butter of the BBC design department don’t come across as well as I’d have liked. The actual run-down corridors of Paradise Towers are rather nice, and they largely work for me (some of the large windows against which McCoy is silhouetted in parts of this episode look lovely), but then we cut back to Mel in the flat with the cannibals, and it all starts to fall apart a little.

Still, tomorrow’s another day, and I’m still determined to like some of this season! 

17 November 2014

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

Day 686: Paradise Towers, Episode One

Dear diary,

I don't have the first clue what to make of this one. As I seem to keep saying a lot in this period, this story doesn't have a particularly high reputation among Doctor Who fans, placing 230 out of 241 on this year's Doctor Who Magazine poll (the highest story of this season is Dragonfire in position 215), and this is one of those sad times where I think I can see where the dislike comes from.

The episode is very much a game of two halves - or more accurately, it's a game of thirds. The first two thirds is great, but after that… I loved the Doctor and Mel meeting the Red Kangs (they're the best), and it's another example of the way that McCoy is finding his feet more and more as the episodes roll by, I think, and while he's still not quite on form as the Doctor he'll be playing in his latter two seasons, he's certainly showing signs of very ‘Doctor’ behaviour here. My favourite exchange comes as the Red Kangs introduce themselves;

FIRE ESCAPE

Red Kangs. Red Kangs are best. Who's best?

RED KANGS

Red Kangs, Red Kangs, Red Kangs are best.

BIN LINER

So, who's best?

DOCTOR

The Red Kangs, I gather.

and everything that follows in that scene, with the Doctor and Bin Liner performing a kind of ritual greeting. It’s a scene that I can imagine most of the previous Doctors in, though for some reason I’d love to see Pertwee confronted with this situation! I'm also rather fond of the fact that the Kangs don't like Mel, because the feeling is regrettably mutual - but more on that in a moment. Then you've got ‘Caretaker number three four five stroke twelve subsection three’ venturing off on his duties and finding himself 'cleaned', in scenes that are filled with lots of great atmosphere.

It's then later on in the episode that things start to fall apart for me. I can't say that I found anything to enjoy during the scenes of Mel being confronted by the two cannibals, and it simply left me longing for a version of the pair speaking the language of Robert Holmes. Those scenes aren't helped much by the fact that Mel is continuing to grate on me. I'm trying to like her, I swear, but it's really not happening very well. It's a pity, because I assumed I'd end up being a champion for her in the same way that I so loved the much-derided Twin Dilemma, but I'm really struggling to get on with her. We're almost at the point when I'm counting down the days to Ace's arrival. I'm also sorry to say that I think it may be Bonnie Langford that I'm struggling to like as much as it is the character… but I don't think that's really her fault. She's been cast to fill the part of the plucky young companion, who screams at every monster and gets to excitedly recite such clichéd lines as 'look, Doctor! Look!'. She's not being given much of a chance, and I'm getting the sad impression that she'll leave the series fairly low down on my list of favourites.

16 November 2014

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

Day 685: Time and the Rani, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I can't help but feel that Time and the Rani isn't necessarily let down by a poor script, but simply by the fact that the rest of the production seems to have fallen apart. I mused the other day about the fact that it looked and acted like a kids show, patronising the audience and overplaying everything, and I think that's the biggest problem - there's actually a half decent story in here about the Rani setting down on a planet, enslaving the population, and setting up her own deadly experiments in to creating a time weapon. I even like the fact that part of her plan is to go back and ensure the survival of the dinosaurs, because it makes sense of the T-Rex embryos in her TARDIS during her last appearance.

The direction of the story swings from being somewhat pedestrian to having moments where you can really see some flair, and I don't think that's been helping this one, either. It's hard to get involved when even the director doesn't know where he's pitching the tale. Andrew Morgan will be back to direct next season's opener - Remembrance of the Daleks - and I remember that story having a much better feel than this one - everything there just comes together so much better.

It's a shame, really, because this is the Rani's last proper appearance in the series, and I'm still finding her a really interesting character. She's not been quite as strong in this story as she was in Mark of the Rani, because she's been forced in to falling for the Doctor's prattling in lots of places, but there's still a lot to like about her. While I'm on that subject, I really wasn't keen on that final shot of her, being strung up by the Tetraps in her TARDIS, because it feels too much like a rehash of the way she was trapped in there last time, and with a less-beautiful TARDIS console room!

Four episodes in, I think I can go with the Doctor's comment that he'll grow on me - he's already been doing that for the last few days. I know from past experience that I like the Seventh Doctor, but he didn't win me over as much to begin with here as I was expecting him to. I think you can clearly see McCoy feeling his way in to the part throughout this story (and I'd imagine the same will be true of the next story, too, if not the season as a whole), and you really get the sense that like with Peter Davison, he's just been dropped in to the show and asked to get on with it.

I have a feeling that this story will be a good example of how I'll feel towards Season Twenty-Four as a whole, because I seem to recall finding the tone of this year's stories not quite right, even when the ideas at the heart of them are sound. I'm quite excited to find out what i make of the next three tales, because this season is the one I'm least familiar with from the Seventh Doctor era (though I've seen all the stories before). I'm willing to be impressed by it, but we'll need to step up a little from here…

15 November 2014

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

Day 684: Time and the Rani, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I'm really pleased that the Rani needs the Doctor for her current experiments. Somehow, I'd convinced myself that she was simply out fir revenge against him in this adventure, and that seemed like a real pity after all the mocking of the Master she did in Mark of the Rani in regards to having a petty vendetta against the man. It's much better that the Doctor has been summoned to Lakertia in order to help. I'm also quite keen on the fact that while the Rani needed him to be plugged in for the main part of her plan, she was also seeking his assistance earlier on in actually making the experiment work. It just feels so much more realistic that she can appreciate the Doctor's skills, in a way that the Master simply can't.

It's just a shame that we had to put up with all that tedious 'pretending to be Mel' nonsense earlier on in the story, because I think I'd rather watch a story in which the Rani tries to convince the Doctor to help her while he's in the middle of his post regeneration trauma. It's something that I could believe the Rani would do, and I think she might even be able to convince him that it's a good idea (though she may have to lie). I'm still not quite sure what the Rani's scheme is in this story, mind. I realise it has something to do with the asteroid of strange matter overhead, and there's a giant brain involved but… have we actually learned what she's up to yet?

Something that I've been meaning to mention for the last few days and haven't found a chance to is how good the 'bubble' effects look in this story. This is one of the first Doctor Who stories to use computer effects in quite this way, and while is has dated, when watching through the programme in order, it comes across as rather effective. I've seen the location footage on the DVD before now, and seen just how simply the explosions of the bubbles hitting rocks are done, but they come across well on the screen! It's no wonder that we've been treated to examples of it in all three episodes so far, and I don't think I'd be surprised if we get one tomorrow, too!

While I'm on the subject of dated computer imagery… the new titles. I know they're not very popular, but I've always liked the McCoy title sequence. I've never noticed before just how ropey some of the CGI looks in there, though, especially on the TARDIS in the bubble. At the time, did this look any more impressive than it does now? John Nathan-Turner was always quite good at being forward-thinking, and I can imagine that going for these titles was probably another step forward from his point of view at the time. Oh, and then there's the new logo… I'm afraid that I love that! It's probably the least admired of all the 'classic' series versions, but it's one of my favourites (and I think it's certainly better than the famous 'diamond' one!). That said, I think it works best when seen in two-tone, such as on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine.

The new theme music is fine, although as I think I’ve said before, they all sort of end up blurring in to one for me! This story also marks the first of Keff McCulloch’s incidental scores for the programme. McCulloch doesn’t have the best of reputations among Doctor Who fans, but the score is one of the things I’m enjoying the most about this story so far! He can stay, as far as I’m concerned!

14 November 2014

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

Day 683: Time and the Rani, Episode Two

Dear diary,

The Tetraps might well be one of my favourite monster designs from Doctor Who. There's something about them which makes me think that they should be a bit rubbish, but I just can't help but really like them. For a start, the design is quite nice in itself, taking enough from the look of a bat and yet tweaking it enough to make them truly alien. Then the actual masks are fantastic, especially when they have to snarl at people. I've always thought that the work on creating monsters in the McCoy years of the programme is especially good, and it's nice to see that it's a trend which starts right from the very first story. I'm rather keen on the way that the various different point-of-veiw shots are overlaid, then focussing in on specific images. I think this must be the first time since about Doctor Who and the Silurians that a POV shot has impressed me this much by doing something different with it.

I'm not so fond of the Lakertians design, because I'm not entirely sure that they work. I appreciate the attempt to do something a bit different with their make up and design (and the fact that the director has thought to give them a very distinctive way of running, which makes them stand out alongside the other characters) but there's something about them which doesn't appeal to me as much as their furry friends.

This episode seems to have allowed Sylvester McCoy the chance to settle in to the character a bit more, too, and I can't help but wonder if it's because he's no longer having to play amnesia, and because he's been reunite with a real companion, as opposed to thinking that the Rani's disguise made her look anything like Mel. When he finally is reunited with his friend, it feels like the moment that he suddenly becomes the Doctor - having spent a couple of minutes distrusting each other, the Doctor and Mel finally look at each other across a table;

DOCTOR

Mel?

MEL

But you're completely different. Nothing like you were. Face, height, hair, everything's changed.

It's such a lovely moment, and something about it really gels for me. There's a bit of conversation earlier in the scene where the Doctor suddenly remembers something about carrot juice, and it feels like the two of them are already starting to find their groove.

That said… I really can't take to Mel. I'm trying, and she showed a fair bit of promise during Terror of the Vervoids,but something's just really not gelling for me here. I don't know if it's the way that Bonnie Langford is playing her (certainly, this is her weakest performance so far), or just the way that the character is written - she's certainly the archetypal 'screaming' Doctor Who girl, isn't she? I actively had to turn the volume down today while she screamed and screamed at the sight of a Tetrap!

13 November 2014

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

Day 682: Time and the Rani, Episode One

Dear diary,

Is it really that time again? It almost doesn't feel right watching another post-regeneration story (or, I suppose, plain old regeneration story) so soon after the last one. Like The Twin Dilemma, this tale isn't exactly considered one of the best to start off a new actor in the role, and perhaps more than with Twin, I can see why. When The Sarah Jane Adventures was on television, I used to hear people say they didn't want to watch it because it's a 'kids show' (I didn't point out that their favourite time-travel based series was, too), but I always argued that The Sarah Jane Adventures wasn't a 'kid's show' - it was drama for children. There's a difference in there. Lots of children's telly (not so much any more, thanks to Sarah Jane and the likes of Wizards Vs Aliens and Wolfblood) talks down to the audience, and fills the screen with things that aren't always worth watching. I remember Christopher Eccleston during publicity for the first series of Doctor Who making the point that if you give children good drama when they're young, they'll demand good drama when they're older, and I think there's a lot of truth to that.

Time and the Rani, then is what I would describe as being a real 'kids show', in the worst way. As I've intimated above, Doctor Who has always been for children - there's parts of it designed to appeal to every member of the family, but it's predominantly for the young ones. It's usually very good at balancing itself to be accessible for children while also having enough in there for an enquiring mind. This story is just a bit patronising, with very little beneath the surface. Everyone involved in the production is pitching their performance and their work as though this were a show for the youngest of children (even if the subject matter, and the skeletons and death seem to go against the grain of that).

Even Sylvester McCoy doesn't really seem to fit in here. He's not slipped in to the role with the same ease that Colin Baker did, and you can really see him feeling his way here. That''s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because I know the character that the Seventh Doctor will become, and it's quite fun to see him clowning around so much here. There's moments where you can see the more manipulating Doctor of his later seasons shining through, though - as in the moments when he first wakes up and starts going over a list of things he needs to do. We've never really seen the Doctor work to any grand scheme before, so it feels immediately fresh. I think McCoy is having to struggle against the story and the production, so I can't wait to see how he blossoms when placed in other settings. Also, I have to say, how much I love the way Colin's costume doesn't fit him! In all the other regenerations, the clothes all either change with the Doctor, or we see him choose new ones too quickly to get a feel for them in their predecessors outfit. It's great seeing the way McCoy tumbles around while being completely drowned by Colin's outfit.

I guess I should probably mention the elephant in the room for today's episode - the regeneration itself. Now, I have to admit that I don't really have all that much of an issue with it. No, the wig doesn't look all that convincing as Colin's hair, but the actual regeneration effect itself isn't bad - I certainly know several people who were completely fooled by it as children on the first transmission. There's a bonus version on the DVD for this story which edits in Baker's face to the sequence, just enough to make it look a bit better. I think this is probably the best that they could do in the situation with Colin not wanting to come back to the programme to film the scene, but wanting to show it anyway.

I think they would have been somewhat better not showing it at all. ave the TARDIS crash down in to the quarry, and then have the Tetraps drag the newly regenerated Doctor from the police box. The fact that he's in Colin's clothes would be enough of a giveaway for us that this is the same man, and we can then come to terms with is as Mel does, suddenly being told that her friend has a different face. Even better, they could just have carried on the way that the 2005 series did - with a brand new Doctor, and brand new adventures. Starting fresh, and moving on from the troubles of the last few seasons.

12 November 2014

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

Sixth Doctor Overview

Dear diary,

These modern Doctors. Just no sticking power, is there? If I thought the Fifth Doctor era was over quickly, it did nothing to prepare me for this - Colin Baker's only been with us for about a month, and now that's the Sixth Doctor gone, too! This is the first time that I've had to write an overview post before the regeneration has occurred, but I thought I'd let the Sixth Doctor bow out with Colin, rather than with the outfit and a wig in the next episode. 

So, just how has this very short era stacked up against everything that came before it? There's a common conception within Doctor Who fandom that the mid-to-late 1980s are rubbish. When I first took my steps into the world of fandom, it was a fairly strong message that almost gets drummed in to you - everything is great in the 60s and 70s, and the early 80s aren't awful, but don't bother with either Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy because they're rubbish and a taint on the great tapestry of Doctor Who. Actually, though, I've always found a lot to enjoy about this period of the programme's era, and I'd choose to re-watch it sooner than a lot of others!

I'm not entirely blind to its faults, however. The Sixth Doctor stories on the whole, from The Twin Dilemma through to the end of the Trial rated on average 5.77 - which makes it my lowest rated era for any Doctor. I can pinpoint exactly why that is, though, and it's two culprits from Season Twenty-Two. Both Attack of the Cybermen and Timelash averaged just 2.5, bringing them in as my lowest rated stories on average from this entire marathon. Both of them rated only a 2/10 for an episode, and only a handful of other episodes from the first twenty-one years of the programme have done that. Something about them just left me entirely cold, and that's really harmed the era overall. It's perhaps telling that if you were to take out the four episodes that comprise those two tales, the average for the era would be a far nicer 6.25 - a massive improvement.

At the other end of the scale to those two stories, the story I've rated highest for the Sixth Doctor, with a score of 7.5, is The Mark of the Rani, which really captured me right from the word go. A combination of stunning direction coupled with an interesting new villain in the form of the Rani, and a beautiful location really came up trumps. Next in line from this is The Mysterious Planet, coming in with an average score of 7, and then a score of 6.5 for Vengeance on Varos, Revelation of the Daleks, and The Ultimate Foe.

I'm quite pleased to see two of the four Trial of a Time Lord segments so high up the list, there, because it's another season that isn't thought of very highly in general. Terror of the Vervoids came in with an average of 6, while Mindwarp really failed to connect with me and only mustered an average of 5. Taken as a whole across the fourteen episodes, The Trial of a Time Lord garnered 6.07.

If there's one thing to have come out of this era of the programme, it's a realisation of just how good Colin Baker is as the Doctor. I've always rather liked him, and I know he's had something of a reinvention on audio, where people have been better able to appreciate his talents, but he shows so much promise in these two seasons. I genuinely think that Colin's sacking after Season Twenty-Three may well be one of the biggest missed opportunities in Doctor Who - I'd love to see how he would have continued to develop the role as the seasons went by...

...And under a different stewardship. I'm still something of a fan of John Nathan-Turner, but I really do think that it's incomprehensible to take the programme off the air, publicly state that it's no longer as good as it used to be... and then let the same producer and script editor carry on with it! The powers that be now claim that there was no one else to do it, but it just seems so bizarre not to get a new team in to replace the one they felt wasn't working. The events surrounding the end of the season, with Saward's resignation, show that the team was being pushed to breaking point, and it's a real pity that we never got to see Colin shine on screen with a better set of stories around him!

12 November 2014

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

Day 681: The Ultimate Foe, Episode Two (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Fourteen)

Dear diary,

The problem with doing an epic, 14-part Doctor Who story is that the payoff in the final episode has to be worth paying attention to the preceding weeks. You have to feel as though you've been given adequate entertainment for the time that you've invested in the programme. The problem with this episode in particular, is that it's possibly got the most tortured journey to screen of any episode the programme has ever produced. Forget your Shadas , your Greatest Shows and your TV Movies, they're still in the nursery compared to The Ultimate Foe. Originally scheduled to be written by Robert Holmes, tying up all the elements he started putting in place at the start of this season, it ended up being taken over by Eric Saward when Holmes fell ill and later died. While all of this was going on, Saward and John Nathan-Turner finally came to the end of the road, and Saward left the programme, refusing permission to use the completed script. Ultimately, writing duties were taken over by Pip and Jane Baker, who JN-T felt could provide an adequate episode on time and using sets, actors, and costumes already budgeted for and contracted.

Now, I'm not going to go out and claim that this is a fantastic episode - because it isn't. I am, however, going to claim that it's not a bad one. It's not even the worst episode of the season, as far as I'm concerned, and there's an awful lot crammed in to this episode that I know would have entertained me as a child watching at the time. There's so much in there, that the episode is actually extended from the usual length, to create thirty-minute extravaganza! I'm not going to go in to detail about everything that I've enjoyed here, but in brief; the cliffhanger to yesterday's episode is fantastic, and the resolution here as the Doctor emerges clean from the sand is equally good. The exploding quills. The interaction between the Master and Sabalom Glitz. The fake trial. Even the often ridiculous dialogue has been rather fun, and I can't help saying 'There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality' to myself, and I'd imagine it's something that I'll be doing for a while, yet!

I will say that you can tell the difference here between the half of the story written by Robert Holmes - yesterday's episode - and this one. I think being out on the same locations and with the same characters makes it more apparent than it would normally be going from story to story, with completely different settings and different casts. Yesterday's episode was filled with an awful lot of bokum, but today's episode suddenly has people talking as though they're in a science fiction programme - it's especially noticeable with the Doctor during all the beach scenes, because he's not talking properly any more. Don't get me wrong, it sounds perfectly fine coming from the Doctor's mouth (and this Doctor, in particular), but it's not as natural as the lines Holmes gave him.

On the whole, I've rather enjoyed the Trial of a Time Lord season. I won't go in to great detail about the way the story has come out ratings-wise, because we're at the end of another era, and I'll be doing that in my Sixth Doctor Overview post, which will be a post above this one of the Doctor Who Online news page. I will say, however, that I'm not against the idea of the trial format as I know some people are. It doesn't work quite as well as the production team think it does, and I have a feeling that it's largely down to the three main bits of 'evidence' not really filling the roles they're supposed to properly. The concept is a rather good one, but the execution has left a little to be desired, I think. The programme has returned from an 18-month break with a good series, largely, and I think I would have enjoyed it as a kid on first broadcast. It's been bright and colourful, with a Doctor who can be taken to much easier than last year. I don't think I could have asked for much more!

11 November 2014

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

Day 680: The Ultimate Foe, Episode One (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Thirteen)

Dear diary,

I don't think I've ever really understood the Matrix in Doctor Who. It seems to be too many different things all at once. It's a whole pocket universe. It's a virtual reality. It's the place where Time Lord consciousness is uploaded when they die. It's a communications network. For the last twelve days, it's been a DVD collection of the Doctor's adventures. In The Deadly Assassin and in this story, it's playing the part of a virtual reality that can be bent to the will of the strongest inhabitant… I just get lost in trying to keep up with it. Today adds an additional complication in that not everything is an illusion in the way the Doctor expects it to be - somethings, like the harpoon thrown at Glitz, are decidedly real!

I'm also confused about the way that you actually enter the Matrix. In this episode, we're introduced to 'the Keeper', who announces that you can only enter the Matrix with the Key of Rassilon, which is always kept in his possession (unlike the Key of Rassilon which featured in The Invasion of Time). He says that people are very rarely allowed to enter the Matrix, and it happens perhaps once a millennia with him blessing and the key. And yet, in The Deadly Assassin, the Doctor simply needed to be wired to a machine to enter the realm, as did Goth, whose equipment wasn't exactly up-to-scratch! We then enter the Matrix here through the 'Seventh Door', which happens to be on this space station (that I can buy, the High Council would have ensured it).

What's lost me about all this is… did the Valeyard actively go in to the Matrix to alter all the footage we've been watching? While the Doctor was off reviewing the events of Terror of the Vervoids, was the Valeyard skulking around in a Matrix-version of the Hyperion III, altering events behind the Doctor? And if you only need someone to physically enter the Matrix once every thousand years or so, then why do you need to have a minimum of seven doors? Surely that's just Inviting a leak of the contents?

Then we've got the revelation that the secrets Glitz was hunting in The Mysterious Planet were leaked scientific advancements from the Matrix itself. Right. Okay. So now, the Matrix is also a Dropbox file, where the Time Lords can store all their scientific information, when they're not slipping in to the pocket dimension to play a game of cat-and-mouse? Please tell me that I'm not the only one who can't quite wrap my head around all of this?

All that said, I do like the idea that Glitz is trading in Gallifreyan secrets. There's something about it which feels again as though it could fit quite neatly in to my vision of the Time War drawing closer, with the Daleks trying to hack in to the Time Lord's great big databank, and the 'lesser species' all flocking to the breach to try and swipe some of the secrets for themselves. I've mentioned before how much I enjoy these odd little hints of Gallifreyan mythology to seep in from time to time, and this is a perfect example. I also love that the current High Council is so utterly corrupt, and that they'd made a deal with the Valeyard to set up this whole trial, and to use the Doctor as a bit of a scapegoat.

It then raises the interesting question of which High Council this may be. Is it the current one, back on Gallifrey? I'm almost tempted to think of it as being a future High Council (possibly even the one we see in The End of Time, headed by Rassilon himself?), who have opted to come back in time and put the Doctor on trial in this particular incarnation because he's a) the most violent of all the Doctors up to the point where the Time War kicks off, and b) the next Doctor is the one who helps to kick it all off, when he blows up Skaro! There may be a bit of fudging to be done in the next episode, but I think it's a theory which can just about hang together, so I think I'll be accepting it into my own 'head canon' from now on!

Today is probably the best moment to actually discuss the Valeyard, too. There's been lots of talk about him within fandom in the last year or so, with it being revealed that the Matt Smith incarnation of the Doctor is the final one in his current life-cycle. The general topic that keeps being raised is that we should have therefore seen the Valeyard come in to being when David Tennant became Matt Smith, with some people actively suggesting that the Meta-crisis Doctor could well be the birth of the Valeyard, because it fits in with the timeline. Actually, it's simply that these people aren't listening to what's said in this episode! I saw lots of complaining that the Valeyard is supposed to appear between the Doctor's twelfth and thirteenth incarnations, but that's not what the Master actually says - he specifically describes it as being between the Doctor's 'twelfth and final' incarnations. Now, at the time, this was intended to mean between twelve and thirteen, but in hindsight, not knowing that the Doctor's life has been extended with a new regeneration cycle, it opens up one or two more interesting possibilities. For what it's worth, I don't think that we'll ever see the Valeyard in the programme again, but I don't think we've missed the boat recently in the way that some people seem to claim!

I really do love the way that the revelation of the Valeyard's origins comes about, too. It's not made a bit thing of, there's not massive reveal, it's simply slipped out in the middle of the Master's sentence, and then he carries on talking. That works so beautifully, because it leaves you almost not listening to the rest of the conversation - you're too busy trying to work out if you've understood what was said properly or not. The Doctor then picks up on it a moment later to help confirm your suspicions. It's very cleverly done, and I'm glad that in his final episode, Robert Holmes could slip in something as beautifully executed as that.

The Doctor himself is on fine form again today. During The Mysterious Planet, I picked out his speech about stars dying as a real highlight moment of his era, and I think that we've got another one today. It comes as he decrees the assembled Time Lords in the courtroom for their part in events on Ravalox;

THE DOCTOR

In all my travellings throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. Ha! Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, they're still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power, that's what it takes to be really corrupt.

It's such a grand speech, and it works especially well for this most grandiose of Doctors - I think a few of the earlier incarnations could have pulled it off (Pertwee and Tom Baker especially), but it seems very fitting for the Sixth Doctor, and it gives Colin one more chance to shine before he bows out tomorrow…

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