Time Lord Tees

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20 August 2014

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

Day 597: The Visitation, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Is it just me, or is Adric really getting the short straw today? The Doctor is treating him horribly throughout and it’s almost a little bit off putting. Adric said the other day that he didn’t think Tegan liked him very much - I have a feeling that it’s the Doctor he should be worrying about!

I’m somewhat disheartened that today’s episode sees the start of something that becomes a bit of a trend during the Peter Davison era of Doctor Who: guest characters getting to look around the TARDIS. It’s almost something of a running joke between a friend and me that it’s the default solution to the Doctor’s problems in this period of the programme once the Sonic Screwdriver has appeared. At least in today’s instance it’s a character who’s filled a large part of the narrative. It’s really in the next story that it starts to get a bit silly.

But we’re also starting to see a bit of a mockery about the way the TARDIS can work. Three times now, we’ve seen the Doctor aiming to get Tegan back to Heathrow in time for her first shift and failing in some way. Only last season the Doctor went on about just how difficult it is to control the TARDIS on short hops. And yet here, Adric is able to manoeuvre the ship into the drawing room of the manor house (mere feet from the Doctor) with interference caused only by Nyssa’s recent attack on an android, and then the Doctor is able to take the ship all the way to London and appear right outside the bakery in which the aliens have hidden!

Now, it could be (and I think this may be my theory for it) that the TARDIS is going out of its way to make sure that these short trips are working out so well because as soon as they touch down in 1666 the Doctor’s place in the flow of history is set in stone. Now that he’s here, he has to be the cause for the Great Fire of London, and thus time is ensuring that the TARDIS can work properly for a short while (could it even be the Time Lords manipulating it?). It’s in this final sequence that we come to one of the things that everybody knows about The Visitation, and that’s the Doctor dropping his flaming torch and setting the place ablaze. He’s getting quite the reputation for this, what with the fire of Rome, too…!

Overall, The Visitation has been something of a mixed bag for me, and I’m coming away from it now really knowing what I think. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the dialogue (particularly anything to have come from Richard Mace’s mouth), been impressed with the Terileptil costumes (another one of those instances where I’m surprised they spent the money on three when only one ever features prominently - making me even more surprised that they weren’t used again), and it’s been a visually nice tale. On the other hand, I’ve been bored during segments of the story, and I’ve got those few issues with it as discussed above. I think this may be another one to add to that list of ‘needing a re-watch once the marathon is over’ to see if it improves at all next time around. I certainly hope so - it’s a story that I’d really like to enjoy more!

 


19 August 2014

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

Day 596: The Visitation, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’ve always been a bit surprised that the Terrileptils never really made a return to the world of Doctor Who after this story. I think I’m right in saying that they feature in a few novels (though never majorly - usually in the form of a namecheck more than anything), but they never had another story on TV, or featured in any of the Big Finish audios. I’m not especially gagging for them to make a return, but I’m just somewhat surprised to think that they haven’t - when you consider how much of the programme’s history has been mined over the years.

Part of the surprise that they never came back on TV (outside of a brief appearance later in this same season) stems from the fact that they’re suck a nice design for a creature. There’s something about them which is wholly unlike any other monsters we’ve had… I’ve been searching for a way to describe it, but all I can think of at the moment is that the mouth reminds me of Barney the Dinosaur! I don’t mean that in a bad way, simply that we’ve never had a monster costume quite like this before. It’s been so long since I’ve seen The Visitation that seeing the close up detail on the scars to our lead monster came as quite a surprise to me today - to the point that I even wondered if the costume had simply been damaged between recording sessions! I was watching through wondering if I’d just seen an eye missing, so I’m rather pleased that the damage gets addressed and even becomes a part of the dialogue. I like that, and it’s another point in favour of this story.

Still, all this talk of Terileptils is really just ignoring the elephant in the room, because this episode features the moment for which The Visitation is most famed - in which the Sonic Screwdriver meets its demise, and we wave good bye to the tool until it turns up again in the TV Movie. It’s always spoken of as though it were some huge important event in the programme’s narrative… but it really isn’t! Not for me, anyway, because the Sonic Screwdriver has never felt like that much of a big part of the show. I remember the anticipation of getting to Fury From the Deep and seeing the device for the first time, and although its uses have expanded vastly since then, it’s never really felt like a particularly important tool. Even Tom Baker’s Doctor stopped bothering with it from time to time!

Fury From the Deep is a useful point of reference for something else that seems to go a bit wrong with the device in this story, too. The Sonic is blown up, the Doctor is hurt because he’s lost ‘an old friend’, and I simply don’t care. I say that the Sonic hasn’t felt like a particularly important tool in the programme, but that’s possibly my viewpoint being coloured by the stories we’ve had so far in Season Nineteen. The Doctor makes good use of it during Four to Doomsday to disable the Monopticons, but then he sort of stops caring about it. At the start of Kinda, when Adric points out that he’s not got the tool on him, the Doctor wonders what use they could possibly have for it! Of course, it would have come in useful for escaping from a cell, but that doesn’t even get mentioned, as I recall.

Anyway, yes, Fury From the Deep. In that story, you can tell that Victoria is about to pack her bags and leave life aboard the TARDIS because she’s suddenly become completely indispensable to the Doctor. We get none of that with the Sonic, though. As I’ve said, it’s completely dismissed in Kinda, and even in this episode the Doctor has looked at it and wished for a ‘proper key’ while musing that he should probably get a ‘real’ survival kit together (good advice, actually, Doctor!). I don’t feel as though the Sonic’s destruction is any great loss, because the Doctor himself doesn’t seem to care about it any more. If nothing else, the fact that he doesn’t bother to make a new one until late in his Seventh incarnation probably tells us how useful he was finding it. All ‘kettle and a piece of string’ from now on, I think!

 

18 August 2014

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

Day 495: The Visitation, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Big Finish have just released a box set containing two stories set during Season Nineteen. It’s the first time that Matthew Waterhouse has been back to reprise the role of Adric since he left the programme, and the first time that the ‘original’ Davison team have been reunited for work. One of the stories in particular is set immediately after the events of Castrovalva, and is a chance for this compliment of companions to really meet each other properly for the first time. I’ve mused before how quickly all the stories since The Leisure Hive seem to have passed for the Doctor, and the events around his regeneration - including the introduction of Tegan to the cast and Nyssa as an ongoing character - all came from nowhere and then was just accepted pretty quick. We’ve never had a chance to see the characters bonding, they simply fall into their roles and head off on the next adventure.

Today’s episode is probably the first time that Tegan has been able to spend any quality time with Adric, for example. They’re together in Logopolis as the world collapses around them, he’s out of the picture for Castrovalva, they’re kept largely apart for Four to Doomsday and she spends much of Kinda having a nap and dropping apples on people’s heads! It’s strange to think that she’s been a part of the programme now for sixteen episodes, and getting locked in a cell here with Adric is the first real time together that they’ve ever spent! Even here, they just fall into their plot-specific roles, each trying different ways to break out of their confinement. Coming from the depth a script like Kinda gave to even the smallest of guest characters, it feels a shame to be lacking that in our regular cast. They do get a couple of moments of being supportive of each other, but they never feel particularly ‘true’.

But again, we’ve got another ‘companion in the making’ with Richard Mace. I love the Doctor being paired off with him, and I really do think that a historical companion like this could work well as an on-going character for a short time before they get too impractical. I love his entry to the spaceship for the first time, asking quite reasonable questions about it being bigger inside than out (a recycling of the clever trick from The Claws of Axos, in which the ship has buried itself in the ground on impact, so they only have to pay for and construct a small portion of the ship on location), and the way in which the room is lit.

It’s a lovely design of ship, too, and the lighting on this set is used especially well. People talk of the way that 1980s Doctor Who had trouble with lighting in the studio - and that will be an issue further on in this era - but I think this story is a great example of how to do it just right. All the scenes in the cellars of the manor house are dark and dim and they feel like centuries-old cellars. The crashed ship on the other hand is entirely different: enough to have been done by a different designer. I had to check the director, and it turns out that it’s Peter Moffatt, who has something of a reputation for bland direction. While I can admit that I’m not blown away by it in this story, it’s competent enough, and there’s some really nice touches.

One thing, though… when the Doctor exclaims ‘not again’ during the cliffhanger, is he referring to a recent event that I’ve forgotten where he’s almost lost his head? It’s played as though we’re supposed to have seen something similar recently, but I don’t think we have!


17 August 2014

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

Day 594: The Visitation, Episode One

Dear diary,

Is it just me, or is the opening to this story very reminiscent of the opening of The Time Warrior? A group of period characters watch as a ‘shooting star’ falls to the ground one evening, and then bad things ensue! That said, it’s a very strong opening to a story, and a somewhat bold move to go and kill off a load of guest characters before the TARDIS has even arrived in the time period! There’s something rather brilliant about watching these people prepare for battle, and then cutting right to the next morning to find the house deserted. It’s fitting, I guess, that Eric Saward’s first script for the series should open in such a bloodthirsty manor, considering his reputation for violent stories over the next few years.

Once the TARDIS is back in the picture, though, things are a bit more of a mixed bag. We open with the Doctor telling Adric off for the reckless use of the Total Survival Suit in the last story, and while it feels right that there should have been some kind of follow up to that action, I’m not sure we actually needed to see it. The whole exchange just feels like a hang over from Kinda, and is possibly the worst example of linking between stories that we’ve had of late. This is quickly contrasted by Tegan filling Nyssa in on the envenoms of the last tale, and worrying that she may not be free of the Mara’s influence - this is the kind of link that feels right! It gives Janet Fielding another chance to do some proper acting, and it feels far more real than the Doctor’s anger with his young companion.

I rather like the idea that the Doctor is just out looking for some fun in his adventures. While the Fourth Doctor and Romana often felt like they were simply bumming around the universe with nothing much better to do, Davison’s more youthful Doctor feels like he really wants to go out and explore, meeting new people and experiencing new times and places. I feel like I’ve referenced Time Crash a lot so far during this era, but it can be a good touch stone, and this story is the perfect example of the Doctor stopping that sense of ‘trying to be important’, and just going out looking for a good time (although, ironically, this story is one of those instances where he does end up being important to the flow of history).

His meeting with Richard Mace is another great example to show how much better this Doctor can work with one off characters compared to his own companions, and he’s still showing that wonderful sense of wit, especially when he’s making a point of just going where he wants at the manor house. Mace is another of those characters that everyone sings the praises of, and if the partnership with the Doctor continues in this vein for the next few episodes then I think I can understand why, because it’s great fun.

Most of all, though, I think I’m just happy to be back in a historical setting once again. I think I’m right in saying that the last such example of this was Horror of Fang Rock way back in Season Fifteen, and while we’ve had stories like The Ribos OperationThe Androids of Tara, and State of Decay set in almost historical settings since then, we’ve not actually visited Earth’s history for a full adventure in absolutely ages. I’ve already compared this season to the early 1960s years of the programme before now, and I think this may just be another link. It really does feel as though the programme is being taken back to the original format once more, and that really rather appeals to me…

16 August 2014

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

Day 593: Kinda, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Full disclosure: I’ve watched today’s episode with the CGI effects option turned on. I’ve been a fan long enough to have seen the original ending with the original snake more than once, and having loved Kinda so much all along, I wanted to go out on a high, instead of… well… with that original snake! I’ve dabbled with the CGI effects over the course of this marathon, but I think that this is the release that gets it the most right. It’s not having to replace lots of small effects across the entire story, but concentrating it all into the final showdown, and I think the CGI here is of a quality that I wouldn’t blink at on television today. It really does serve tohelp the story, and I think it does make the ending all the better for it.

I’m also pleased to say that I finally ‘get’ the Mara. The concept is actually quite simple in the end (I thought it might be, and that I’d just been missing the point for a while), but it’s certainly at its weakest when forced out of Aris’ mind and in to the open. The large snake is supposed to be the climax to the story, the big fearsome monster, but it just doesn’t scare me as much as the thought that the Mara could be inside anyone’s mind, and that it could just as easily infect you as anyone else. I think that’s where showing Tagan as the one who initially lets it enter our world inside her head really works wonders - it can infect a member of the TARDIS crew, the Doctor’s companions, so it must be powerful. Maybe to a child watching at the time, the snake at the end is a massive part of the tale, and the culmination to everything we’ve seen. I’ve built up a following of a few people in the comments to these entries who were watching at the time - help me out guys, was the snake scary at the time (even in its original form?), or had you enjoyed the creeping sense of unease across the episodes leading up to it?

Something I realised watching today’s episode is that I didn’t really take the time to praise Janet Fielding’s performance during the early stages of this tale. There’s been so many brilliant aspects of Kinda to comment on that things have somewhat fallen by the wayside! Fielding has always been a good actress in regards to the series, and one of the better companions, but given the chance to really go off and do something abstract with the ‘dream’ sequences in this tale, she’s really excelled. It’s almost a shame coming to this episode and finding her back in to the standard companion role of asking questions and getting annoyed at the Doctor! I think I’ve praised most members of the cast at one stage or another during this story, so let’s just say that everyone has been on absolute top form throughout Kinda, and the finished result is all the better for it.

Now, though, I’m sad not to be following the adventures of the Fifth Doctor and Todd as they head off to another time and place. Peter Davison and Nerys Hughes have really just fallen in to step with each other throughout this story, and Nyssa cutting short their conversation at the end by whining that she wants to leave (having only been awake a few minutes!) really just hammered home to me how much I’d rather have the Doctor leave her behind, drop Tegan off home, and travel on with Todd instead! I’m somewhat surprised that the character has never come back for Big Finish - especially with Hughes having worked for them over the years - and I’ll be crossing my fingers now and hoping for a trilogy of adventures for the pair. I can dream, can’t I? Maybe not too much, though. I don’t want the Mara to get me…

15 August 2014

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

Day 592: Kinda, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I think the cliffhanger to yesterday’s episode - resolved in today’s one - has to rank among the very best that the programme has ever given us. There’s something just so wonderfully Doctor Who about the fact that it can start off as being truly scary (we’ve seen Sanders open the box and lose his mind already, and then there’s Todd’s scream), move that fear into being funny, with a small figure bursting from the box, and then make it truly eerie as you realise that there actually is something in the box, as it starts to shut off all the power in the base and allows the cell door to slide slowly open… It’s carried out perfectly, and it’s a sign of the episode ahead. I’ll spoil things for you slightly here by telling you that today’s episode is - for the first time since Genesis of the Daleks - a full on 10/10 from me. I’ve really loved it.

Since finishing the episode a couple of hours ago, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around just what it is that’s working so well about Kinda, and this episode in particular. I simply end up coming back to the same things I was banging on about yesterday. Everyone involved is treating this episode as though it were something special. It’s got a feel to it that transcends simply being another four episodes in an ongoing series, and it almost feels as though it could be a one-off play by itself. Removing some of the trappings from this era simply helps to reinforce the feeling of this being something different - Nyssa is still locked away in the TARDIS (and not been mentioned here), Tegan only gets a single brief shot in today’s episode, in which she’s asleep, and even Adric’s role is kept small and away from the Doctor.

Meanwhile, out hero is paired off with Todd as they encounter the Kinda tribe and start to piece things together. I toughed briefly yesterday on Nerys Hughes working well opposite Peter Davison, but this episode takes that and really runs with it. When they escape from the dome and start to explore the jungle, they just click as a Doctor/Companion pairing, and much like the Fourth Doctor and Duggan in City of Death, I think this will end up being one of those team ups that I long to see more of.

It’s also bringing out the best in Davison, who’s turning in his most confident performance yet (more confident, perhaps, than even inCastrovalva, which was filmed after this), and has finally really bedded in as the new Doctor for me. His exasperation at being constantly called an idiot throughout the meeting with the wise woman is brilliant, and he plays it so very perfectly. I spent a fair while yesterday praising Simon Rouse’s turn as Hindle during the story, and I fear that I’m simply going to have to repeat myself here. He’s walking a very thin tightrope between underplaying and overplaying the part, but it’s working just so brilliantlyfor what’s required.

Something else that’s really working for me in this episode is just how fully developed the tribe of the Kinda is. We’re given several bits of information about them - such as the fact that they have seven fathers - which could feel completely irrelevant (there certainly doesn’t seem to be any need for that information to further the plot), but actually just helps to strengthen them as a society. It means that when we’re given information about their prophecies, or we’re asked to go along with the more outlandish aspects of their culture, it’s far easier to do, because Ibelieve in this species, and I’m willing to accept anything I have to.

That’s a reflection on Christopher Bailey’s script, which I fear I may have been doing down over the last few days. I keep talking about how good the cast and the direction is, but they can only work with what they’re given. What they’ve been given here is an intelligent, entertaining script, from someone who’s totally sure about the story he wants to tell. He’s done the thing that all the best Doctor Who stories do: created a world, populated it with people, and then dropped the TARDIS in to see what happens to it. Bailey’s name doesn’t often come up during discussions about people’s favourite Doctor Who writers, but I think it’s going to start coming up when I’m asked the question, because Kinda really is one of the best scripts that the programme has ever had.

14 August 2014

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

Day 591: Kinda, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Back when I was really enjoying The Macra Terror (and doesn’t that just feel like ages back?), I commented that it was too good to be Doctor Who. Don’t get me wrong, I love Doctor Who to pieces. Of course I do. I wouldn’t be making my way through this marathon if not! But there’s always a vague sense you get when watching that it’s simply Doctor Who. It’s rarely high art (nor does it aspire to be), and many of the people involved, especially guest actors, seem to treat it with that same sense of mind - it’s ‘only’ Doctor Who.

One of the places that Kinda is really holding up for me is that - as with parts of The Macra Terror, for me - it’s better than I’ve come to expect of the programme at this stage. Everyone involved, from the writer, to the director, the set designers, the costume-makers, and the guest cast, is treating this as something special. There’s lots of moments that I could point to here, but I think I’m going to focus specifically on our guest cast for the day, because they’re all uniformly brilliant. They’re treating it as though it were any other piece of ‘proper’ drama on television - performances that you’d be able to get away with in the most high-end production of Shakespeare, under the most exacting producers.

That’s true of everyone involved (including our regular cast - I’d hate to be excluding them here, and I’ll get on to them shortly), but it’s especiallytrue of Simon Rouse playing the part of the put-upon Hindle. The cliffhanger to yesterday’s episode requires him to go somewhat over-the-top as he declares his power of life and death over everyone else. It’s a moment that’s very easy to ham up… and I think it’s also fair to say that Rouse actually does ham it up. He goes at that scene with all he’s got and it really is a little bit over the top. What’s so wonderful about his performance in this story is that it works to take that moment too far! It all helps to add to the sense of this man completely snapping, and when he’s toned things down for today’s episode, they help to make that line even more unnerving and - yes - actually a bit scary.

I can’t stop watching him when he’s on the screen - even if he’s not the focus that that particular moment, I’m watching to see what choices he’s making with his movement, because it’s all incredibly well thought through. I think in his performance more than at any other time in the ‘classic’ series so far, you can really see the period of rehearsal before each recording session making a difference. He’s thought through every facet of this character, and he’s really giving it his all - far more than I’d usually expect to see for a few week’s work on a single Doctor Who story.

Then you’ve got Nerys Hughes as Todd - who’s almost become the defacto companion for this story! While Nyssa is asleep in the TARDIS, Tegan is off in the jungle, and Adric is pretending to go over to the dark side (again), the Doctor’s being paired up with another companion! It’s remarkable how well he works opposite a slightly older person, too, compared to the three youngsters that he’s usually with!

I suppose this is the right point to turn to my daily evaluation of Davison’s performance. He’s still feeling his way a little, but we’re more-or-less at the point where he’s settled down into a version of the character that we’ll be seeing for the next few years. There’s a lot to like in his performance today, but I can’t decide if he’s simply humouring Adric when they’re playing the ‘guess which hand’ game. To start with, I was entirely convinced that the Doctor was simply going through the motions in an attempt to pass the time in the cell, but then as the scene goes on he seems to become more and more fascinated by the idea. I don’t know if this is down to an odd bump in the performance or simply because I’m a bit dim - probably the latter!

Speaking of being a bit dim, mind, why is the Doctor so convinced that Hindle’s fear of the vegetation in the jungle is a sure sign that the man is mad? Has he already forgotten all those Terry Nation adventures he had to go through in his first few incarnations?

13 August 2014

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

Day 590: Kinda, Episode One

Dear diary,

People often describe 1980s Doctor Who - the Peter Davision years and Season Nineteen in particular - as being a bit too much like a soap opera. I think I can see where they’re going with that, and it’s seen mostly in the way that every episode joins up relatively neatly with the next one. The Leisure Hive sees K9 damaged by sea water, and when Meglos begins, he’s under repair. That tale ends with a call from Gallifrey, which is where the Doctor and Romana are heading when they find themselves catapulted into E-Space in Full Circle. Adric then sneaks aboard the TARDIS, where we find him during State of Decay, and an attempt to return the young stowaway home at the end of that tale leads to the events of Warrior’s Gate, trapped in the void. When The Keeper of Trakenshows up in the Console Room, Romana has only just departed, and that story ends with Nyssa looking for her father, which she’ll contact the Doctor about in Logopolis.

The next one is obvious, with the Fourth Doctor taking a tumble at the end of that story, and those events picking up in CastrovalvaFour to Doomsday opens with the Doctor trying to get Tegan back home, and this story starts off with a discussion of Nyssa’s collapse at the end of the previous one, a device which will write her out of the next four episodes almost completely. Doctor Who hasn’t felt this much like a continuing adventure serial since the early days of Season One, when every story would feature a similar linking device from one tale to the next. I don’t think I mind it - it builds in a nice sense of continuity - but it does mean that all these adventures take place over a fairly short space of time. There’s one or two points of that narrative I’ve just outlined in which youcan find a bit of wiggle room, I think, but it’s tight.

But anyway! We’re on to Kinda, one of the stories that’s generally considered to be something of a ‘classic’, and another one of those ones that I’m not sure I completely understand. I’ve seen it before at one time or another, and I remember enjoying it but not being entirely sure about the nature of the Mara creature. I’m not one who really goes in for ‘fan fiction’, but the one time I did write a story for a friend’s run of fan fics, I chose to write one about the Mara, setting it in a jungle (because, well, that’s where this is set), and with a dome full of research scientists (um…), and a big snake turning up that could eat people. Because, frankly, I liked the image of a giant snake lurching out of the darkness and gobbling up one of the characters. So there. I also included a crystal that the Mara was trapped in (because I think that’s a plot point in Snakedance) and a cave in which the walls are covered with mirrors (because mirrors are the key to defeating the creature in this story). I love the idea of the Mara… but I don’t completely understand it. Here’s hoping that I’ll work it out on this viewing!

We’re certainly off to a good start. The writing out of Nyssa is a little clumsy to begin with, but once she’s out of the way, it leaves us with room for the Doctor to breathe a little, accompanied by only two of his companions. It’s not long before Tegan is taken out of action, too, and we’re left with the Doctor and Adric getting some quality time together. Aside from a brief period in yesterday’s episode (which was under considerable pressure), this pair haven’t had a great deal of time to spend together since the regeneration. It’s nice to see them given the chance to bond, and in such a nice environment, too. The jungle set for this story is really rather lovely, and it’s another thing that feels like a throwback to the 1960s - the Doctor and his companion being given a chance to explore their strange new surroundings.

I’m also absolutely loving the somewhat surreal edge that we’re being given in this episode, with Tegan trapped inside the dreamscape. There’s something about these scenes which puts me in mind of a 1980s music video (I think the make up and almost ‘new romantic’ feel to parts of the sequence help with that), and it’s really great to see the programme going off in this direction once again. The last time that I can really remember the show doing anything quite this triply is right back in The Krotons, when the Doctor and his companions were subjected to all the mind scans, so it’s about time we had more of it!

While I’m at it, I should update my thoughts on the way that Peter Davison is growing in to the part. Once again, we’re seeing him settle in a lot more here than he has done over the last few episodes, and his performance is starting to feel much closer to the one I think of when picturing this incarnation of the Doctor. What struck me most in today’s episode is the fact that he’s almost more like the Tenth Doctor than the Fifth in places - the moment when he describes the one-man travel machine as being ‘obviously an armoured suit of some kind’ is the one that sticks in the mind most clearly. I compared his anger in yesterday’s episode to the character we see in Time Crash, and I think that this is the closest we’ve come to seeing where the Tenth Doctor gets it from. When he tells his earlier incarnation how much he loved him… I think he meant he’d been watching Kinda!

12 August 2014

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

Day 589: Four to Doomsday, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Four to Doomsday has never had a particularly strong reputation amongDoctor Who stories, and often people’s criticism of it seems to stem from this episode. In particular, it’s the whole sequence of the Doctor having to perform a spacewalk to reach the TARDIS, and using his cricket ball to propel himself further. I’m not sure what the problem is, though, because I really enjoyed this bit of the story! It was certainly staged a lot better than I was expecting it to be (for a start, the Doctor’s coat actually hangs better here - there’s none of that Castrovalva style, Zero Room nonsense here), and I just know that watching this as a kid I would have absolutely loved this whole segment.

In fact, I think that’s fair to say of this story as a whole - it’s damn near perfect for the intended audience. As a ten-, eleven-, or twelve- year old, I think that this would have appealed to me perfectly. It’s got everything I could want: impressive, large-scale space ship sets, frog creatures, killer cliffhangers, androids, the space-walk scene, Tegan managing to move the TARDIS outside the ship (just)… it’s a story that’s very sure about the audience it’s pitching to, and it pulls it all off with a real flair.

Something else that’s really been appealing to me through this story is the way that Adric gets so easily swayed by Monarch’s argument, and tries to convince everyone else to see things from that point of view. It was a similar situation that got him in to trouble during State of Decay, and it’s nice to see such a thing being continued in his character here and now. People often describe the Fifth Doctor as travelling with a group of children, and while that’s certainly true to some extent (I believe Tegan must be the oldest of the companions, and even she’s fairly young), it’s in story lines like this that we can really see Adric’s youth being used to its full advantage.

It also means that we get to see the Doctor round on him somewhat, and even call him a ‘young idiot’. Davison still isn’t completely sure on the way he wants to play this part, yet, but we’re certainly seeing him figure it out more and more as these episodes go by. If anything, this is probably closer to the performance that he’s giving at the start of Time Crash, when asked to be annoyed at the presence of another Doctor in his TARDIS. It’s fun to watch, and it might actually be my favourite part of his performance so far.

Sadly, though, there’s a number of things in this final episode which really just don’t work for me. Chief among them is the fact that Monarch has spent the last few episodes determined to get his hand on the TARDIS, and yet when he’s stood just a few feet from its open (!) doors, he just continues to mill around, waiting for someone to stop him. Things have slightly fallen apart for me at the end here, but certainly I think Four to Doomsday is better than its reputation would suggest. And with the collapse of Nyssa in the closing moments, we’re about to head on to a story which has a reputation all of its own, and one quite different to this story…

11 August 2014

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

Day 588: Four to Doomsday, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’ve often said - indeed, I think I’ve mentioned it before in The 50 Year Diary - that my favourite Doctor Who story ever is the Eighth Doctor’s final comic story, The Flood. It’s always been the one Cyberman tale which just works for me. The one in which the entire idea of their species just feels most clear, and I think it’s the most effective use of them that we’ve ever seen. I won’t go into detail on the specifics of that story (although I will implore you to pick up a copy if you’ve never read it), but the gist is that the Cybermen are poisoning the rain with a drug which heightens people’s emotions. If something’s funny, you’ll laugh until you drop. If something’s a little sad, you’ll cry until you’ve no more tears. They then proceed to use this to show how awful emotions are, and thus how becoming a Cyberman isn’t something terrifying and scary, but rather something wonderful - a salvation from emotions.

I’m somewhat surprised, then, to see that Monarch is using a similar argument to this - and others presented in The Flood about humans being weak with disease and war and famine - to justify the way that he operates here. He talks of chicken pox, and heart disease, and my personal favourite, the description of internal and external organs as being ‘the greatest tyranny in the universe’. Lovely stuff.

While I’m at it, I should probably take this opportunity to praise Stratford Johns’ performance in this story, too. As we move further in to the 1980s, the programme will see a lot more of John Nathan-Turner’s insistence on casting ‘big names’ partly for the publicity that they’d bring to the show, rather than what they could bring to the role. Often in this cases, it’s theless successful attempts of bringing people in that are talked about, but it’s important to remember that he did manage casting coups such as this one, and I’m really loving every moment of Johns’ time on screen. Certainly, you could never be bored by him!

I’m also enjoying Peter Davison’s performance in this story, too, but for entirely different reasons. As I said yesterday, this being his first story recorded, you can see him trying to figure out exactly what he wants to do with this part over the next few years. Instances of the Sonic being waved around like a Harry Potter wand are at their peak in this episode (and it still doesn’t look right to see him using the tool at all), and there’s a few moments in the dialogue which are either not suited to the Doctor that Davison will ultimately evolve in to, or that he’s just not comfortable saying yet. I have a feeling that the line ‘the devils!’ probably falls into the former category, while ‘of course! That’s it! He’s after the silicon!’ is firmly in the latter.

Still, it’s entertaining to watch him feel his way around the part in this early stage, and although it may seem as though I’m complaining, I’m really not. There’s something quite charming about all of this, and it’s nice to see a version of the Fifth Doctor who is slightly different to the way I usually think of him.

10 August 2014

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

Day 587: Four to Doomsday, Episode Two

Dear diary,


I think the thing that’s impressing me the most about Four to Doomsday has to be the sets. They’re stunning! For starters, they’re a nice design in an of themselves, but then they’re also massive. There was a sense of this in yesterday’s episode, too, right from the moment that the TARDIS arrives in the laboratory. There’s just a real sense of scale to the area, with the camera pulling back at times so that we can really take this all in. There’s stairs, and a sense of the ship going on far beyond what we can see before us. Even when we go into corridors (the same corridor sets do get reused as different locations here, but there’s a few of them), they feel somewhat more special than the ones we’re used to seeing. I praised the corridors on location in The Sun Makers because you could see them going on for miles - here you don’t need to see that, because you simply get the impression that they do.

I think my favourite set of all has to be the ‘greenhouse’ one that you see today - lots of trees and other assorted plants poking out and again really feeling massive. I had to check if this story had been given one of the larger studios in Television Centre, because I’m not used to seeing sets looking quite so large. Often, you’ll get a set which is impressive (the throne room in State of Decay, for example, or the Decider’s chamber from Full Circle), but then several smaller sets to help free up the space they need. Here, though, every set seems to be on a grand scale, and it’s absolutely fascinating me!

Such impressive scenery isn’t quite enough to stop me from noticing that Peter Davison hasn’t quite figured out how he wants to play this role yet, however. That’s not necessarily a criticism, by all accounts he was basically put into his costume and pointed towards the studio, but it does make things feel ever-so-slightly off kilter here. It’s perhaps at the most unusual when he’s asked to use the Sonic Screwdriver. I’m so used to the idea of the 1980s Doctors not using this device (we’re only a few stories away from its destruction), that it simply feels wrong to see him waving it around like a wand here to take out the CCTV cameras that insist on following them around. I’m keen to see how long it takes for Davison to settle in to the role from here, so that’s likely to be the think I’ll be keeping an eye on across this first season, at least.

Because the Doctor still isn’t quite 100%, it means that he’s still relying very heavily on his companions, and the script uses this to a great advantage. I spoke yesterday of the way the Doctor tries to keep all of the ‘kids’ entertained, letting Nyssa explore the technical equipment while taking Tegan to meet a new alien species. Here’s he finally finds a use for Adric, too, asking for his assistance when it comes to mathematics. He’s not entirely dependant on them, though, and I rather love that Tegan’s knowledge of ancient history isn’t as great as all the other talents she’s suddenly acquired throughout the story!

The cliffhangers in this story deserve a mention too, while I’m at it. The one yesterday, in which the two drawings Tegan had made earlier in the episode have come to life and are revealed to be the frog creatures we’d met earlier in the episode, was a great one: perfectly Doctor Who with a sense of being somewhat bizarre and whimsical. Today’s is also very well done, as Bigon opens his chest to reveal his android interior. When he lifts up his face, it’s perhaps not quite as effective as they’d like it to be, but it’s a nice twist on the 1970s way of showing off androids.

9 August 2014

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

Day 586: Four to Doomsday, Episode One

Dear diary,


We’re at a proper milestone, with this episode. I’ve already had five days since Tom Baker fell from the satellite dish and relinquished the role of the Doctor, but because Season Nineteen was filmed wildly out of order, this is the first episode of Doctor Who since 1974 to be made without Tom Baker involved. It’s hard, looking back on it from thirty-something years later, to really appreciate how much of an impact that must have been at the time. The mid-to-late 1970s were often seen as the ‘golden age’ of the programme, and certainly viewing figures have at various times lately been higher than ever… but I fear that it was starting to get a little stale. Season Eighteen managed to breathe a bit of new life in to the programme, but now we’ve got an entire cast made up of people who haven’t been here longer than about a year. This is where the 1980s begin.

And it’s apparent right from the off that things are slightly different here. Whereas Tom Baker would swan on to a set and simply own everything in there, Peter Davison commands an entirely different presence. He’s the youngest Doctor that we’d had up to this point (by quite some margin), and it shows. There’s something entirely wonderful about the way he reacts to all the various technological equipment on the space ship - he’s much more an excited youngster than we’ve seen before. There’s one particular shot (you’ll know it if you watch the episode) where he looks so thrilled to be exploring this location that he could burst - and you can’t help but smile along with him.

You also can’t help but feel that he’s slightly glad to be out of the TARDIS for a few minutes and away from the chorus of companions he’s currently got around him. In the same way that State of Decay felt like a mum and dad looking after the youngest son, the Fifth Doctor here seems to be trying his hardest to keep up with all his ‘kids’, and making sure that none of them feel left out. I love that he takes the time to show Nyssa the machinery, knowing that it would be of interest to her, and that he takes Tegan with him to meet the masters of this place. Poor Adric has sort of slipped out of being the cute kid now, though, and been recast as the sulky teenager, almost throwing a strop when he’s told to stay behind with Nyssa.

It’s nice to see the Doctor and Tegan getting a chance to bond. She’s had a mad few hours, really: preparing for the first day at a new job, a car breakdown, the murder of her aunt, and alien world, a radio telescope, another alien world, a man changing his face and personality right in front of her… Yikes! People complain that she can be a bit gobby - I think we’re lucky that she hasn’t had a breakdown yet! I also love that the story opens with the Doctor trying to get her back to her rightful place and time. It feels like the right kind of acknowledgement of where she’s come from, and the fact that unlike Adric, she hasn’t chosen to join in with this adventure.

Good job that she’s the one he picks to come along, mind, because she proves to have all the talents they could possibly need for this one! She just happens to be a fantastic artist (and very quick, too!), drawing up images of modern fashion trends, and then she just happens to speak the right aboriginal dialogue to communicate with the people on this ship! Adric tells her she needs to study maths and get a better job - but with talents like hers, I’d imagine she could walk into a job with relative ease!

8 August 2014

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

Day 585: Castrovalva, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Ah yes, that’s right. This episode contains the bit of Castrovalva that I’ve always thought of as being simultaneously very clever and very confusing. The Doctor manages to work out that everything here is a fictional creation because he’s identified the books as being five hundred years old, and yet they chronicle the history of Castrovalva from centuries ago... right up to the present day. The first time I saw this story, I loved that idea. I thought it was such a clever way of figuring it all out. But ever since, I’ve been confused by it. In yesterday’s episode, we saw a tapestry which records events as they happen. We’re told that only big events - like the arrival of the TARDIS - are enough to make it in to the image, but still... could it not be possible that 500 years ago they started to chronicle the history, and those ancient books are still being automatically updated as things happen? The pages would still be five hundred years old, but the information on them would be right up to date. That’s always been the sticking point for me - it’s a giveaway, yes, but I’m not sure hat there couldn’t be another explanation for it.

I’m impressed, though, that the Doctor works out that things are wrong even as he’s not sure of himself. It’s not really until the end of this episode that he’s managed to settle in to his new persona (and it’s splendid), so even in his varying states of uncertainty about everything, he’s still able to sense when things simply aren’t right. I like that, it seems fitting somehow. It’s great to see him flanked by his three young companions at the end of the story, too. There’s a range of images taken on location of the four lead actors, and this is a great counterpoint to those. The TARDIS hasn’t looked this fresh in years, and I’m really excited about it.

I suppose that I need to mention the Master, too, while I’m discussing this story. I really like his reveal in the narrative, as the Portrieve stands up straight, having been hunched over for every prior appearance, and revealing his true identity. It’s great make up, and I’m not sure that I’d have guessed it was the Master if I’d already known. It feels like a very petty reason for him to appear, though, in that he’s simply looking to destroy the Doctor once and for all. It feels a bit like a step down from the last story - there, he was wiping out half the universe while planning to subjugate the other half, while here he’s just trying to get one over on some bloke. It feels like he’s been around for ages now, so I’m keen to get back to some stories in which he isn’t the villain at the end of it all!

Something else I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on is the format of stories over the next few seasons. Peter Davison’s run as the Doctor saw the programme moved away from Saturday nights and shown twice weekly in an early evening slot. The days vary from season to season (and even location to location, in some cases!), but it means that the series is being shown in an entirely different shape. That’s somewhat evident in Castrovalva: the first two episodes are largely set aboard the TARDIS or outside the city, and revolve around mostly our regulars, while the second half of the take is set inside the city, and introduces a large guest cast. I’m keen to see if this distinct ‘split’ between halves of a story (and between weeks) is as noticeable in other tales of this era, or if it’s just a peculiarity of this one tale.

7 August 2014

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

Day 584:
Castrovalva, Episode Three

Dear diary,

In some ways, Castrovalva is the perfect example of Doctor Who talking a story with a fascinating idea at the heart of it, but not quite being able to pull it off due to time, or budget, or ability. I love the idea of an entire town being based around the work of Escher, and it’s a great cliffhanger to have the entire place collapsing in on itself, but because of the way Doctor Who was made in studio at this point, it just isn’t an idea that can be very well realised. I’d really like to see what they could do with it these days, given the time to really do it properly - the sequence of the Doctor and his companions trying to make their escape would be the subject of a full day’s filming now, whereas they probably had to do it in about twenty minutes originally!

Ah, yes, the Doctor and his companions. I’d never noticed before just how little Adric actually appears in this one... and the story doesn’t really suffer as a result. That’s not a slight on the character (I’m still rather liking him, and the appearance he makes today standing behind Nyssa in the mirror is one of the better performances he’s given), but the Doctor is working well with just Nyssa and Tegan at his side. Not that he gets to spend a great deal of time with them, though, because they’re teamed off on their own for a large portion of the story, and they’re working really well together. I’m hoping that it becomes clear just how much the pair get on as this season progresses, because if there’s a perfect bonding situation for them, then trying to look after the Doctor in this story would be it!

It’s nice to see the Doctor start to get back some more... ‘Doctorish’ moments, too. Peter Davison has been good in his first two episodes, but there he’s been playing a somewhat amnesiac version of the character, and we’ve not really gotten a good look at the way that this new Doctor is going to be carried. Things get off to a great start here when we find him laying halfway along the trail of blood, crunched up on the floor... and then it transpires that he’s fine, and he’s listening in to get the measure of his surroundings. Tellingly, it’s a scene I can imagine Tom Baker playing, but not with such a subtle approach. It helps that I’m coming to this from a standpoint where I know that Peter will be around for a few years yet, but it’s great to see how quickly you get over the departure of the Fourth Doctor and start simply enjoying the Fifth.

There’s other parts of his character slipping in to place today, too. He takes a big bite of some celery (there’s a great clip of the original take on the DVD here somewhere where Davison takes the bite... and then clearly shows how little he actually likes celery with the expression on his face), gets to do some of his hands in pockets and breathless acting... we even got the spectacles in yesterday’s episode. Everything is starting to come together very quickly.

I’m also pleased to say that bringing in a supporting cast has helped to give the story a bit of life. As much as I like our regulars, and I’ve enjoyed their performances so far, it’s nice to see them bouncing off other actors, and being thrown in to a busy setting. I can’t really remember how the story winds up from here, so I’m looking forward to seeing where things go, and then we can move on from the ‘introduction’ story, and start simply enjoying this new era properly.

6 August 2014

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

Day 583: Castrovalva, Episode Two

Dear diary,

There are very few bits of music from ‘classic’ Doctor Who that I can hum off the top of my head. The ‘Space Adventure’ theme that was so typical of the Cybermen in the 1960s is one of them. The ‘UNIT Theme’ from The Invasion (among others) is another one, and the music that accompanies Tom Baker’s regeneration scene, as the camera moves down from the girder to find out hero laying in the grass is another. Although I know these ones well enough to hum them while doing the dishes, the theme from this story is the only one which I occasionally find stuck in my head at the most unusual of moments. Oh, you know the one I mean: do de do de do, do, de do.... I rather like it, and there’s something about it that just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Last season, I mentioned that this period of the programme feels autumnal to me. For some reason, I simply equate it with that tail- end-of-the-year feeling, and perhaps none mores that this tale. I can’t even begin to describe why to you, but I watched this episode with a huge feeling of nostalgia - it just makes me feel comfortable. I can remember the first time I saw this story. It was some time before the DVD came out, and I hadn’t been a fan for all that long. I’d say it was probably around 2005, but it could even be as late as 2006. In the farmhouse I grew up in, I’d converted one of the back bedrooms into my own sitting room, moving in a massive old book case, and a couple of old armchairs when the suite of furniture downstairs had been replaced. This became my den. The walls were covered with posters of anything and everything, and the shelves were filled with as much ‘geeky’ stuff as I could lay my hands on.

Oh, I loved that room. The absolute pride of it was the growing collection of Doctor Who stories sat upon the bookcase. It was an odd assortment - a mixture of VHS and DVD, with the stories slotted in to match broadcast order. I used to pick up odd tapes from charity shops, or make lists of ones from adverts in Doctor Who Magazine to hand around for my birthday, or Christmas. I can’t recall how long I’d actually owned Castrovalva, but it had been on the shelf for a while before I decided to watch it for the first time. What followed was one of the happiest times I’ve ever had watching Doctor Who. I made myself a drink and something to eat, curled up in one of the armchairs with a big quilt wrapped around me, and settled in to enjoy Peter Davison’s first story.

And you know what? I loved it. I loved every god damn minute of it. There was something about it all that just really appealed to me. I was at that stage which most fans go through, where a story largely set in the TARDIS was awesome, because it meant that we got to explore the Doctor’s ship, and when we finally reached the woodlands of Castrovalva itself, they resembled the gardens outside where I’d go for walks. I lapped up every minute of the story, and it’s that feeling that’s coming back to me now when I watch it again (I think this is probably the first time I’ve seen it since then).

I wonder, though, if the happy memory of that first viewing is effecting how much I’m liking this one? I’m happily sitting through it, enjoying the story, but with a sneaking suspicion that it might not actually be all that... good. Today’s episode features a long segment in which two characters we barely know wheel a cabinet around the woods, for instance! It’s still not the most thrilling way to introduce a new Doctor! Patrick Troughton got to face off with the Daleks, Jon Pertwee had the Autons to contend with, plus a military organisation, and the benefit of film, while Tom Baker was wrestling with a Giant Robot by this point! Everything seems to be just that bit too... slow for me.

But it’s ok, because I’ve got faith. The whole set up changes from this next episode, and we’re off into the city itself with a whole new cast of characters. It’s hard to remember that aside from the guards at the very start of the story, we’ve only actually seen the regulars so far (Anthony Ainley might as well count as a ‘regular’ from now), so I think some new blood will give the story a boost. I’ve tried to temper today’s score to allow for the fact that a lot of my enjoyment currently is simply that glowing sense of nostalgia...

5 August 2014

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

Day 582:
Castrovalva, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’d forgotten what an odd opening episode this is for a new Doctor. Having gone with a relatively unknown actor in Tom Baker for the part of the Fourth Doctor, this time around they’ve cast Peter Davison in the role - and he’s somewhat famous at the time of all this, what with his work on All Creatures Great and Small, among  other things. Lots of expectation, all eyes on the first episode of the Fifth Doctor, a show being re-launched in a new slot away from the Saturday night home it’s had for the last eighteen seasons... and they go with showing this.

That probably sounds a lot more negative that I’m intending it to, because this isn’t a bad episode. In many ways, it’s quite a strong episode. It’s simply a bit of an unusual choice to go with when you’re trying to present your new Doctor to the public for the first time. For starters, it opens picking up the events from Logopolis. That’s fine, in a way, because we’re given a recap of the regeneration before the titles start (the first pre-credits sequence we’ve ever had?), but I sort of want them to hurry up, get in the TARDIS, and be off. It probably doesn’t help that I didn’t take to the last story, so I’m keen to be away from it as quickly as possible. But then even when we do finally make it back to the TARDIS, we spend the whole bloody episode in there!

It’s lucky, really, that we’ve got quite a strong team on hand here, both in terms of the actors and the characters. This particular TARDIS crew come in for a lot of stick from various parts of fandom, but they really do work well in this episode. I love that the Doctor can call on all of them to help him in this time of need, and assign roles for them that suit their personalities. If anything, my biggest issue is still how well Tegan has settled in to all of this... but I’m enjoying her so much that it’s hard to really care too much. I’m hoping that this slightly jarring feeling of having her so au fait with everything, taking it all in her stride while still having only been around for a single afternoon!

And then there’s the new Doctor himself. This isn’t the first story that Peter Davison recorded as the Doctor (he started with Four to Doomsday, to ‘bed in’ to the role a little first), but it’s amazing just how well he takes to everything here. I love his near-breakdown when he’s roaming the corridors, and unravelling the Fourth Doctor’s scarf as he goes couldn’t be more perfectly symbolic. His impersonations of the earlier Doctor’s aren’t the best, but that’s besides the point - he’s very good when he’s just doing his own thing. I think we’re probably in for a treat with this one.

There’s the traditional ‘choosing an outfit’ scene, although it’s less about ‘choosing’ and outfit, and more just picking up the first one he sees. I don’t dislike this idea, though, and I really enjoy that he tries the recorder first, decides that it’s not for him, then suddenly realises his affinity with a cricket bat. I assume that the clothes were left out for him by the Watcher (it’s the only logical explanation, surely?) but I do rather wish that there’d been a few outfits, and he realised that this was the one for him.

On the whole, this entry of the Diary has sounded very negative, but I assure you that it’s not supposed to. I have enjoyed today’s episode, and they much have done something right - 9.1 million viewers tuned in to see Peter Davison’s first appearance as the Doctor, but by Episode Four of this story, the ratings will have hit 10.4 million! When you compare that to the fact that Logopolis Part Four, which saw off the ‘most popular Doctor ever’ only attracted an audience of 6.1 million (and Season Eighteen as a whole attracted a high of 8.3)... you start to wonder if this refresh of the programme was the best thing they could have done, after all.

4 August 2014

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

Day 581: K9 & Company: A Girl’s Best Friend

Dear diary,

So here it is. Merry Christmas. I know, I know, I said I was eager to get on to the Peter Davison stories (and I am. Just be thankful that I’m not doing the Five Faces of Doctor Who season. I considered it. Genuinely), but you can’t do a marathon, going from Logopolis to Castrovalva without making a pit stop in the middle to watch K9 & Company. Well, I can’t anyway. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in the Dairy just how much I love The Sarah Jane Adventures. I do, really. They’re brilliant. What we’ve got here is - effectively - a pilot for that series, but made 25 years early. The thing about pilot episodes, though, is that they’re not always the best example of the series that follows. That’s certainly the case with A Girl’s Best Friend - were it to be considered as a part of The Sarah Jane Adventures, it would be a long shot from the best story in the run.

I think what bothers me about this story is that there’s so much potential in the idea, and it’s simply wasted. The idea of Sarah Jane Smith teaming up with K9 and a young companion to investigate things is a great one (and they proved that it can work well when they made it in to five seasons later on), but you do wonder why they’ve decided to launch the series with this story. There’s lots of talk about market gardening which isn’t... well... it isn’t the most thrilling dialogue that the Doctor Who universe has ever given us. Indeed, early on in the story before K9 arrives I even found myself feeling somewhat bored by everything.

The story just doesn’t flow well for me. Scenes are cut together in a way which removes all sense of time scale from events - Lavina is at home, preparing to leave. Suddenly, Sarah Jane is arriving - it’s a few weeks later. Then she’s got to pick Brendan up from the train station, and within the space of a minute, she’s made the trip, met him, had a chat, and come home again. From the manor house to the neighbours and back again... you easily get lost with everything that’s happening, which is odd, really, because not an awful lot is happening. The story never feels like it really gets going.

I think what they needed if they wanted to really sell the idea of a Sarah Jane and K9 spin off was to have something big and spectacular. If nothing else, this went out around Christmas, and while it captures the feel of the winter brilliantly, there’s nothing that really screams at me that this is something I need to be watching. When Sarah announces that she’s come to Morton Harwood for the foreseeable future, you start to wonder if every episode would be like this one. Perish the thought!

It feels like it needs some aliens in there somewhere, really. Probably some from Doctor Who, if they want to sell the idea even harder. Maybe Zygons could work, impersonating the locals? You could go for a Sontaran scout if you wanted (a story like The Last Sontaran from the second series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, for example), or even the Master! As it is, everything feels somewhat wasted - even K9. Once he’s out of his box, he gives us some more thrilling info about the gardening, shoots a few people... and that’s about it. You almost want him to trundle out of the box, announce that he’s been sent by the Doctor-Master to help Sarah Jane with some specific alien threat, and then go from there. Were we not between Doctors, you’d also almost want the TARDIS to appear at the end, so that the Doctor himself can tell Sarah to keep the tin dog (incidentally, I love that the Fourth Doctor’a three main companions - Sarah Jane, Leela, and Romana - have all ended up with their own versions of the mutt.)

It’s quite strange, writing this entry, because I’m suddenly realising that I disliked the story more than I even realised. A shame, because I so want to enjoy is based on everything that came afterwards. Still, as an interesting diversion between Doctors, it’s perfectly watchable - and I don’t know if I’d be so down on it had I not known what it could have been like. I’ll be doing some episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures when the time comes, so here’s hoping that I can see them in a much better light!

4 August 2014

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

Day 580 Extra: Fourth Doctor Overview

Dear diary,

Well. It feels like a long old time since I’ve had to write one of these entries, doesn’t it? As is tradition, let’s take a look back to my Third Doctor Overview (posted way back on February 4th) and see what I said about the era ahead of me...

And now I’m off into a bold new era. It’s a bit of a false start from tomorrow, because while Tom Baker is new to the mix, we’ve still got the same UNIT lab, with Bessie, and the Brig, and Barry Letts in the producer’s chair. It’s a few days from now, when The Ark in Space rolls around and Philip Hinchcliffe takes over the reigns that I’ll be entering the period that’s repeatedly held up as being ‘the best Doctor Who ever made’.

...I’ve never really understood the fuss. I’ve seen plenty of his stories before, and while I know he’s very good in the role, I’ve never been completely floored by his performance in the way that people seem to expect you to be. But I’m excited. Watching through this far has given me a whole new perspective and insight into the first eleven years of the programme, and I’m sure I’ll keep finding things to love as I move into the Fourth Doctor’s era.

All of that sounds cautiously optimistic, doesn’t it? I’m pleased to say that these last seven seasons have given me a great insight in to the Fourth Doctor, and I can understand why people love him so much, even if I’m still not able to call him my favourite Doctor ever. As usual, in the sidebar to the right, you’ll find a list of all the Fourth Doctor stores, listed by their average rating from The 50 Year Diary. You can click on the image for a larger one.

As ever, looking at the figures gives some somewhat surprising results for me. I’d expected my highest rated seasons to be Season Fourteen (for the boost the programme gets when Leela joined), and Season Eighteen, because I’ve felt as though I’ve really enjoyed this one. Actually, though, Season Thirteen takes the lead, with a whopping average of 7.22/10 - making it one of my highest rated seasons ever! Maybe there is something to the idea of calling that period a ‘golden age’!

At the other end of the spectrum, the Key to Time arc in Season Sixteen has come out as my lowest rated season ever - averaging just 5.81/10. I think I’d just grown weary of things by that point, and a dislike for The Pirate Planet really didn’t help matters very much. Indeed, that story came in as my lowest rated of all the Fourth Doctor’s tales - averaging just 3.75 across the four episodes. It’s a score which also (sorry, The Pirate Planet) pushes it in to being my lowest rated story of the first eighteen seasons. Ouch.

That Season Fourteen ‘Leela Boost’ does rear its head in the figures, though, because The Face of Evil has come out as my highest rated Tom Baker story - with an average of 8.25. It’s not enough to push it in to the spot of ‘top story’, but it does make it joint-fourth place alongside The Macra Terror and Inferno. Well done, Evil One!

And that’s that! Seven seasons later, Tom Baker has hung up his scarf and handed over the keys of the TARDIS to Peter Davison. I’m really looking forward to this new era, and seeing how it stacks up against everything that we’ve been through so far. The Tom Baker years have been a bit of an up-and-down, with stories from all three producer- ships doing both very well, and not so well. As with all Doctor Who, there’s good bits and bad bits, but there’s always something to enjoy.

Most surprising to me was that on average, Tom is actually my least favourite Doctor! With an average of 6.54 across his seven seasons, he comes in marginally behind William Hartnell in the runnings (which also surprises me, because I remember rather liking Hartnell). I guess if there’s a moral to this, it’s that I don’t really have a ‘least favourite Doctor. Not really. He just happens to be my fourth favourite at the moment...

Although this last season has taken place in the 1980s, it’s really the arrival of Davison to the role which kicks off the decade, and it’s not one which is famed for being Doctor Who’s best. I’m keen to get on with it, though, and see what I think... 

3 August 2014

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

Day 580: Logopolis, Episode Four

Dear diary,

In some ways, it seems almost inconceivable that Tom Baker can have left Doctor Who. He’s been striding his way through time and space for seven seasons, and yet suddenly, as this episode ends, there’s some youthful-looking man laying around, swamped by the over-sized clothes of the Doctor.

I think any story would have a tough job to write out the man whom really does embody the programme. Unfortunately, for me, Logopolis has fallen even shorter than you might expect it to. Let’s start with some positives, though. For a start, this is my favourite episode of the story. Bringing it back down to Earth again really does help, and even though the Pharos Project control room is the same set that we’ve been seeing for a few episodes now, there’s something about seeing a regular person in there, instead of a man in robes with ‘sic fi’ hair, which just makes it so much more relatable.

This is also the signs of our three companion team starting to really gel with each other. Nyssa and Adric had plenty of time during The Keeper of Traken to bond, and it’s great to see how well they work together here, too. Tegan launching herself in to the fray is rather brilliant, too. While I’m still not entirely convinced that she’s been given a proper character yet, there’s some basic elements in here that are starting to feel believable - she helps the Doctor not simply because, as she puts it, he’s her ‘ticket out’ of the situation, but because she can see that he’s a good man, and needs someone at this point in his life.

I’ve made a fair few notes about things to mention today - largely about the companions as mentioned above (though I’ve also made note to say how brilliant Sarah Sutton is when she watched her home world destroyed. ‘I can’t see Traken...’ is wonderfully understated, and it’s played beautifully), or about the special effects. There’s some good ones on display here - the Monitor’s death, for example - and some less-effective ones... is that a cardboard cut out of Anthony Ainley watching as the Doctor starts to lose his footing on the telescope?

But all that seems largely irrelevant, because what we’re really here to see is the death of the Fourth Doctor. I’ve never been able to make up my mind about this. Is it perfectly small-scale, allowing the Doctor to go out in such a simple way (albeit having saved the entire universe!), or is it just too simple for this longest-lived of all Doctors? To be honest, I’m still not sure if I know the answer to that one. Having sat through so many Tom Baker episodes, it still doesn’t quite compute that this could have been it. I think, for now, I’m siding with the idea that it was a bit of a naff way to go.

It’s not helped, of course, by the fact that Logopolis just hasn’t worked for me in general. Can you imagine this story without the regeneration at the end? If it were to finish with the Master simply getting away (chuckling, I’d imagine), and the Doctor heading off to the TARDIS two companions heavier, I think it would be thought of as one of the weaker Doctor Who stories of all time. It’s not faired too poorly as it is, coming in at number 62 in the recent Doctor Who Magazine poll - significantly higher than I think I’d have placed it... This feels like a let down to me as the end of Season Eighteen, let alone as the end of Tom Baker’s Doctor.

Ah well, you can’t win them all.

(The traditional 'Doctor Overview' post will be coming up tomorrow, along with a side-step to catch up with Sarah jane and K9...)

 
(Aside-steptomorrow,tocatchupwithSarahJaneandK9,andalsolookbackontheFourthDoctyor\'sera...)
2 August 2014

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

Day 579: Logopolis, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Good news, everyone! I’ve finally managed to understand what Logopolis (the place, not necessarily the story) is all about. I’ve always known the vague specifics of it, but never really got my head around it properly. It actually seems to be quite simple, now - in the same way that the Carrionites can use words as powerful science to make things happen, so too the people of Logopolis are able to use a string of complex mathematics to alter the universe around them. The power of these calculations are so powerful that they can’t be done in something as crude as a computer, because the equations would alter the state of the machinery itself. The only thing capable of withstanding it is a living mind. Ok, great, with it so far.

But that’s not necessarily the interesting part of the idea. I’d never really worked out how the whole idea of entropy factored in to this. The idea that the Universe should have died a long time ago, and that the peoples of this world are keeping it going through the use of their equations is fascinating, and I love that it was they who created the CVE that the TARDIS travelled through earlier in the season to get to E-Space - it just feels like quite a neat idea. It means that I also understand better now why the universe starts collapsing so quickly after the Master has enacted his plan.

Ah, yes, the Master. For every bit of good news, there usually has to be some kind of bad news to balance things out. I’m afraid that today, it has to be him. It feels like the production team have sat down with the plots to all of the Pertwee Master stories and realised that the usual pattern is for the Master to enact some kind of plan to dominate/kill/be generally evil (delete as appropriate), and then find he needs the Doctor’s help once he’s in too deep. In this story, all of that’s been boiled down to this single episode! The Doctor realises that the Master’s target is Logopolis... but... um... why? He doesn’t seem to realise what power the numbers here have, so he can’t be planning to use them to bend the universe to his will. As it stands, it looks like all of this was simply because he wanted to know why they’d build a big radar dish in the middle of their city. And the Doctor thinks that curiosity is his own downfall!

He gains the upper hand for a few minutes while he shuts everyone up, then instantly realises what a bad idea it is and grudgingly agrees to help the Doctor put it right again. I know he’ll turn on our hero in the next episode, but he genuinely seems to be taken aback by everything that’s happening here, so his whole plan looks ridiculously weak. It’s also not helped by the fact that Anthony Ainley has clearly been asked to play the part as a proper panto villain - there’s none of the subtleties of his Tremas performance in here. Even when he’s just having to push buttons on a remote control, it’s done with over-the-top-gestures and just generally hammy.

He’s somewhat offset by Tom Baker, though. For much of the episode, he’s on auto-pilot. That’s not always a bad thing - it suits the Doctor’s state of mind in this story quite well. As he strides through the streets of Logopolis, Tom has a look of just wanting to get it over with and be gone, which is somewhat fitting for a Doctor who’s well aware that this will be his final adventure in his current form. When he needs to hit the mark, though, dear God does he do it. His rant at the end of the episode about choosing his own company is glorious, and easily up there with the performance from Planet of Evil that I so often rave about. I thought he’d managed to capture some of that again in Full Circle, but nothing quite as wonderful as he does here - it’s a delight to see him giving such a powerful bit of acting one last time before leaving the series.

It’s also oddly true, in a way that I’d never noticed before. On the whole, the Fourth Doctor hasn’t really chosen his companions. If we want to dig further back, then it’s true that in the last decade or so, he’s not really chosen any of them. Liz and Jo were foisted on him by UNIT. Sarah Jane stumbled in to the TARDIS, but they got on well so he let her stay on. Leela forces her way in and sets them off before he can stop her. Professor Marius asked him to take K9, and Leela really wouldn’t have let him say no. Romana was sent by the White Guardian. Adric, as pointed out is a stowaway, Nyssa begged for his help, and Tegan has her curiosity to blame. The only companion he’s really ‘chosen’ for himself in the last few years is Harry - and even then it’s only because he wants to show off!

While I’m on the subject of companions... Tegan. It’s been an odd introduction for her character - possibly the oddest since Dodo (and perhaps even more so than that one!). Her three episodes so far have been something of an emotional roller coaster for her, but I really can’t decide if I’m liking the way she’s been written or not. She seems to settle in perfectly well when confronted with an alien world, taking it all in her stride. She’s believably upset when she discovers that her aunt has been murdered (the fact that you hear her crying in the background for a minute or so even after she’s left the screen and the focus isn’t on her is a beautiful touch), but then she’s all but forgotten it a few scenes later... by the end, when she’s against the Doctor and the Master teaming up, she seems to be fully up-to-speed with everything that comes with being a companion. I’m hoping that she’s rounded out as we go along - all the right elements are there, but they’re being thrown at us so thick and fast that none really have the chance to bed in.

And, actually, that’s not a bad analogy for Logopolis as a whole...

1 August 2014

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

Day 578:
Logopolis, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Frankly, this episode is bonkers. Genuinely, I’m used to the way that Doctor Who works - able to go anywhere and do anything, adapting its format to suit any story you care to tell - but I’ve come away from today’s episode with a headache. It’s all so... odd.

To start with, you’ve got the Doctor being arrested. Now, that doesn’t sound particularly out there, but it does look very unusual to see Tom Baker’s Doctor being directed into the back of a police car. I wonder if it would have felt less unusual with the Third Doctor, considering how used to seeing him on Earth I was? This incarnation has spent more time on contemporary Earth than I expected him to, but even then it’s in places like laboratories, or old houses (sometimes, both): it’s rare to see him in such an ‘everyday’ situation as this. That’s not a complaint - it’s actually quite interesting to see him like this. I know he can talk his way out of a showdown with a monster, but you almost wonder how he’ll pull of escaping from the police.

It’s after that that things start to go really off-the-wall. The Doctor reasons that the Master’s TARDIS must still be inside his ship somewhere. Ok, that’s quite neat idea. You could use that as the basis of a story in itself (a short one, perhaps...) as the Doctor and Adric get caught up in a chase around ever-moving TARDIS corridors in the hunt for their foe. What’s barmy is his realisation that the only viable solution is to materialise underwater and use the force of that to flush the Master out of the ship. I genuinely cannot get my head around this. For a start... where’s the Master going to come out? Is there a back door large enough for the water to force him out of? How does the Doctor think he’s going to cope after that, with a ship full of water? Does he really think that he and Adric can simply hold on to something to avoid being washed away? Absolutely bizarre.

In fairness, though, it leads to a couple of wonderful moments, and the ones that I enjoyed the most in today’s episode. First, the Doctor tells Adric that they’ve managed to perfect a nice soft touchdown. Seconds later, the ship lurches, and they’re thrown to the ground. There’s something about the timing of that sequence that just really works, and had me laughing. Then the image of the TARDIS having materialised on the boat is also wonderful, as is the shot that follows, of the Doctor spotting the white figure on the bridge overlooking them. It’s a great image when he goes to speak with this watcher, and you simply see the Doctor hang his head. Really quite striking, and probably the first time that you get a real sense that the end is fast approaching.

From here, we continue down the route of simply strange sequences, with the Doctor and his companions arriving on Logopolis, where the universe is held together by a group of people doing sums. I’ve never been able to really get my head around this place, either, but I’ll see what tomorrow’s instalment has to offer before I try to pick at this any further. Before the episode is out, Nyssa has suddenly turned up (despite an earlier message warning of her father’s disappearance, this feels entirely random - and besides, how does she get in touch with the Doctor? Did he leave a space-time telegraph on Traken? Maybe Adric simply gave her his number in a hopeful teenage way?), and the TARDIS has begun to shrink.

I’ve come out of this episode just lost, and I’m not sure - those few brief examples above - that I’ve enjoyed it.

31 July 2014

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

Day 577: Logopolis, Episode One

Dear diary,

Picture the scene: It’s early 1981. After seven years in the role, Tom Baker is about to begin his final adventure. Just four episodes until he departs the TARDIS, and that bloke from All Creatures Great and Small is about to take over. For a generation of kids, this is inconceivable. Tom Baker has been the Doctor (I know, I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating) for seven years. To many of the children watching, he’s the only Doctor. Even if they were old enough to remember a time when Jon Pertwee used to save the universe, all of that was a lifetime ago in the world before repeats. It’s a momentous occasion, and you can only wonder what will be enough to finish off this incarnation of the Time Lord. You sit down, ready to begin the march to the end...

And then, they show this. Bloody hell. I’m sorry, but this episode is just dull! Don’t get me wrong - there’s plenty of nice things about it, and I’ll come to those in a moment, but as the start of such a momentous story, it’s really, really boring. All that happens, really, is the Doctor paces around the TARDIS a bit, and some Australian you’ve never seen before tries to replace a flat tire on the side of a bypass. I’m bored watching it now, so I can’t imagine how kids must have found it thirty years ago.

Now, I need to be fair, I suppose. when I say ‘the Doctor paces around the TARDIS a bit’, I’m being facetious. Boiled down simply, that is all he does, but he breaks it up with some measuring in the middle. No, sorry, I’m still not being fair. It’s given some character by the whole ‘recursive TARDIS’ stuff (and, I have to admit, that the image of the Doctor and Adric walking from TARDIS to TARDIS as they each get progressively darker is one that’s stuck in my mind for years. This, at least, would have captivated me as a kid... although the Doctor suddenly emerging from the back of the police box always felt rubbish, and it still does here).

In the case of the ‘Australian you’ve never seen before’, it has to be said that Janet Fielding makes a striking impression. That voice! It’s quite nice to see her arriving now, as I’ve always thought of Tegan as one of my favourite companions. I’m perhaps forgiving because I know of her significance to the programme over the next few years, because she really isn’t given a whole lot to do in this episode. I’m not sure I’d care at all about her scenes if I didn’t know that she was about to join us as a companion. The one highlight to come from these sequences today is that I’ve only just realised that the Watcher seems to show up and... um... watch her. It sort of adds something to the idea of him rippling back through time time stream, but it’s again something you only really connect with if you know who she is.

It’s in times like this that I always seem to turn to my friend Nick for feedback. Today was put simply, when I told him that I was thoroughly bored throughout this episode. Nick and I often have very similar views on Doctor Who stories, so it’s always interesting when we differ. This may be one of those times, because he suggested that he may end up championing the story if I don’t care for it. He pointed out how much he liked ‘sombre direction and atmosphere’, which I have to admit are rather nice here, and I’ll be looking out for it more in the coming episodes, but he also vocalised my problem with the episode far better than I could: ‘the script is not aimed at children or even a family audience’. I think that’s possibly my issue - I just can’t connect with the episode because it’s not aimed at the same level as Doctor Who usually is.

There’s one other interesting possibility at play. I’ve seen Logopolis before, and my vague memory is that I didn’t much care for it. Maybe, having been through all the other Tom Baker episodes in the last six months, it’s just not going to feel like a fitting end for such a powerful and important figure in the programme’s history?

30 July 2014

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

Day 576: The Keeper of Traken, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I can’t decide if the Doctor is trying to play along with the Master’s game in this story, or if he’s just being especially slow this week. There seems to be a point early on in the episode where the Doctor clearly knows that the Master is the one controlling the Melkur (though he doesn’t say as much), but then later on, when he’s trapped inside the thing, he seems somewhat surprised to find that it’s his old foe behind events here. I’d imagine that there’s a way of reading these events as the Fourth Doctor getting a bit slow - another sign of his approaching death - but that only seems to find its way into events because I know the magnitude of the next story, not because it’s been actively inserted to the story here.

But this is just a symptom of a wider issue at play here - it feels like all the build up has been for very little. In the special features for this story on the DVD, Christopher Bidmead makes mention of the Master being shoehorned into the script at the last minute, and I think I can see his point in this final episode. The fact that the Master is inside the Melkur is really irrelevant, and the story would work just as well if the creature was simply a being that had bided its time in the garden on Traken for years, waiting for the right time to seize control and make a move. In fact, there’s almost something quite clever in there, with the idea that all evil turns to stone in the goodness of Traken, but if the Melkur were a creature made of stone, then it could be immune... Then there’s the idea of people flocking to worship at the cult of the Melkur (something which is touched on and then seemingly forgotten in the story as-is), which could also provide an interesting story.

If anything, I’d dare to say that the story is almost weakened by the reveal that the Master has been pulling the strings all along, because it’s such a weak denouement here that I’m left completely underwhelmed by his return. I mused yesterday that the audience may not have really remembered or cared who this person was on the original transmission, but all the same, it feels like I should be punching the air with surprise at the return of the Doctor’s greatest foe. When the final scene comes along and Tremas is taken over by the Master, it’s all the more out-of-place - it feels tacked on (it is).

Still, for all my sourness at the way the Master has been used here, I have to admit that I’ve rather enjoyed The Keeper of Traken as a whole. The world really feels more rounded and complete than we’ve been seeing in the series for a while (though it’s becoming more common in Season Eighteen, with the likes of Full Circle and State of Decay featuring worlds just as whole as Traken), and I’ve liked spending the last few days here. Now, though, I’m heading in to Tom Baker’s final story as the Doctor... and that feels like a pretty special moment...

29 July 2014

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

Day 575: The Keeper of Traken, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’m so used to thinking of this story as the first part of a ‘Master trilogy’, that it’s easy to forget that he doesn’t actually show up until this point in the story! We’ve heard his voice right the way though, and there’s been hands flicking switches for a while, but it’s not until the end of this episode that he finally swings around to reveal himself to the audience (and I can’t help thinking that he has the look of an excited puppy in doing so!), and announce his true identity - even if the Doctor doesn’t know it yet.

My wonder is, though... did this have impact when it first went out? The Master here is only a slightly modified version of the one seen in The Deadly Assassin (am I right in thinking that one story goes that they found the cloak from that story in the skip just as they were preparing for this one, and salvaged it in time?), but that last appearance was ages ago. That story went out around October/November 1976, whereas The Keeper of Traken didn’t make it to screen until early 1981! You’re looking just over four years between appearances, and a lot has changed in the programme since then! Graham Williams has come and gone, as have Leela, Romana, and K9... did the audience at the time sit up in their chairs here thinking ‘bloody hell, it’s the Master!?!?’ or was it just an excited puppy in a tatty, skip-bound cloak?

Oh, I’m just nit-picking really, because it is a very good cliffhanger when you’re watching through in order like this. The mysterious bad guy who has been wreaking all this havoc on Traken and causing problems for the Doctor is none other than the Master! And he finally reveals himself to us just as Kassia takes the seat of the Keeper, and is instantly replaced with the Melkur sitting on the throne! It really is a very striking way to end the episode, and the fact that the Doctor has felt more hopeless in this story than many others makes it feel like the Master is a very real threat to him again.

I’m a little puzzled by exactly what this ‘Source’ is that he’s gained control of, mind. As far as I can tell (bear with me): it’s the power source for the Keeper. A kind of technology that needs to be guided by a living mind (the Keeper), and has the ability to keep everything in check throughout the Traken Union (is this a series of planets? That’s how I understand it, though it could simply be a number of countries on the one world of Traken). Being connected to the Source grants the Keeper an unusually long life, because... well... because it does. Hence, when a Keeper dies, they’re unable to hold back forces of chaos any longer, and thus storms begin to brew etc etc. In some ways, it’s the struggle between the Black and the White Guardian in miniature. If I’ve got that right, then it’s a great target for the Master, and fairly reminiscent of his plan in The Deadly Assassin, without all that boring Time Lord Stuff.

I think what’s throwing me is the mashing of a fairy tale world, all groves and stone corridors, with people dressed in crushed velvet, and the world of science fiction, with lots of machinery and intelligent creations like the Source itself. It’s throwing me even more that they can create technology as powerful as this seems to be, but not an adequate way of mankind the transition more stable between two Keepers. I know Nyssa goes on to have an ability with science once she’s a regular member of the TARDIS crew, and I’m wondering if it may feel less of a clash once she’s away from the trappings of her home world?

28 July 2014

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

Day 574: The Keeper of Traken, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’m somewhat surprised just how well-rounded this world feels to me, considering that this is only the second episode of the story. While we’re spending our time mainly among the nobility of the planet, when they dispense the crowds outside the Grove it feels as though they really are all heading back to lives of their own off- screen somewhere. The procedures and rituals of these people don’t feel as though they’ve simply been made up to serve a purpose in the story as and when needed, and all of the Consuls are rounded enough to have existed in harmony for a long time before the Doctor and Adric arrived.

I wonder if this is down to all the flashbacks that we were given in the last episode? Although they were brief, it means that we’ve had a sense of Kassia - for example - since she was a child, through her marriage, and into the present day. When she falls under the influence of Melkur, we can understand why it is, and you actually feel for her, when she’s forced to turn against even her own husband. In fact, the only aspic of the story which doesn’t seem to fit right for me so far is the idea that Nyssa is their daughter. She just doesn’t seem to fit in with that world as nicely as other elements do.

Also surprising is the Doctor and Tremas teaming up together for such a large part of the story. I’ve seen The Keeper of Traken before, but probably not since it first came out on DVD seven years or so ago, so I’d forgotten a lot of the things that are happening here. I’ve grown so used to Anthony Ainley in the role of the Master that it feels unusual to see him working so much in favour of the Doctor in this story. And yet... when he first appeared yesterday, I couldn’t see past him being the Master. The white hair and beard simply looked like a disguise to a man who was clearly the Doctor’s nemesis. Now, though, I’m not seeing it any more. He doesn’t look like the Master any more - he looks like Tremas, and it’s almost a stretch to think of him in the other role. I’m not sure if that’s down to the script or the performance. Possibly, it’s a little bit of both.

It’s also nice to see Adric being paired off with Nyssa here. It really feels like all the elements of the Peter Davison years are starting to slot in to place, and frankly, the series hasn’t looked so youthful since the 1960s! I’ve grown used to the idea of the Doctor traveling with grown ups of varying degrees over the last few years, and it’s really not since the days of Jamie and Victoria that we last had a pair of regular characters who were little more than children. They’ve got their own adventure here, proving them to be capable enough, and it really feels like the winds of change blowing through. Just as Tom Baker has started to look older than ever, things are really being shaken up. I did feel a bit sorry for Adric today, though. For the first few scenes, every time it looks like the poor boy is about to speak, something gets in the way and cuts him off! I was starting to wonder if they were paying him by the word... 

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