Time Lord Tees

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18 July 2014

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

Day 564: Full Circle, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Something that I’ve not yet drawn attention to is just how lovely the direction of this story is. It’s Peter Grimwade’s first attempt at directing for the series, and I’m pleased to know that he’ll be cropping up for another three stories over the next few seasons. There’s a certain filmic look to Full Circle that feels very out-of-keeping with the way that Doctor Who is usually shot, but works well to create something very unique to this story. The making of documentary on the DVD seems to present the fact that everyone was very keen on Grimwade, and I think that shows, because he’s really getting the best out of everybody.

I think my favourite shots would have to be the various ones of the Marsh Men entering the ship, as the mist swirls around them. There’s several of these shots that are all effectively the same action, but each one is subtly different enough to not get repetitive. The contrast, when the creatures are rushing to escape the Star Liner, is just as well shot, and I think that’s the image that I’ll be remembering for this story in the future. That’s far from being the only scene in this episode to stand out, though, and I’m captivated by shots of Romana stalking around like a vampire (ironic, perhaps, considering the next story), or the Doctor holding K9’s severed head up to his face in an attempt to scare off the monsters coming for him.

It’s a real example of everything pulling together in a final episode to really work. It’s a shame that Andrew Smith never returned to the series, though, because I’ve really enjoyed his work on this one. I know that he’s come back into the fold to pen a few titles for Big Finish over the last few years, so I think I’ll be seeking them out once I’m done with the marathon, because Full Circle has definitely whet my appetite for more.

Over the last few stories, I’ve been trying to shoehorn in a story arc that leaves the Doctor and Romana a little careless in their adventures of late. Effectively, I’m trying to find the bad in every story’s ending. To begin with, I didn’t really think I’d found one in this tale. The Doctor has given them the way off the planet, set them up to move forward with their lives and give them back the power that they never really knew they’d lost… it all seemed to work out rather well. But then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that, no, that’s not the case at all. There’s a stronger theme developing here than I’d even really realised.

All these stories are ending with the Doctor effectively setting up a new civilisation, and then running away before he even really stops to give it a second thought. In The Leisure Hive, he gets rid of the warmongering Pangol, and then reworks their machines to rejuvenate there race - or at least to give them a bit longer to live, depending on how much work he’d done. Either way, whether the Fomasi ambassador is really to be trusted or not, it’s the ‘birth of a new Argolis’. Then, in Meglos, with their power source (and/or god) gone, the people of Tigella head out from their underground city to reclaim the surface and start fresh (completely fresh, since none of their technology will work any more!)

Then in today’s episode, the Doctor gives them a very brief run down of what everything on the control panel does (which they clearly don’t understand), and then tells them to simply follow the manuals. As the TARDIS departs, they watch the Star Liner head off into the stars… but where do they think they’ll go? They don’t really know what to expect from E-Space, and the people on the ship don’t really know what they’re doing, either. I’d not be surprised if the entire vessel exploded mere moments after the end credits rolled. I’m going to be keeping an even closer eye on this from now on, because it seems to be playing into an idea that’s cropped up a lot in the Eleventh Doctor’s era - the Doctor has simply gotten too ‘big’. He seems to have decided that it’s his place to swan in, sort out some problems then point them in another direction, before heading off somewhere new once he’s bored, and I’m hoping that it will have consequences for him before he regenerates… 

17 July 2014

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

Day 563: Full Circle, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There’s that lovely scene in Planet of Evil, where Tom really gets to go for it with his angry acting. Although he’d inhabited the part well right from the word ‘go’ in Robot, that scene was probably the moment that he really ‘became’ the Doctor for me, and I don’t think he’s ever turned in a better performance than he does there. Imagine my delight, then, when this episode contains what is in essence a counterpoint to that scene, in which he turns his anger against the Deciders.

He starts off almost along the lines of his over-the-top ‘what’s it for’ anger from The Pirate Planet, but even at this stage, there’s something in the back of his voice which just sounds different. There’s real fury in his performance, and the longer that his tirade against the Deciders goes on, the better he gets. It really must be the highpoint of his performance in the later half of his tenure, and I was totally spellbound by it. A few minutes where he simply proves that he’s the perfect man for this part. Despite a dip in his performance around season fifteen, it really feels as though he’s picked back up again lately, and this is absolute proof of it. Wonderful stuff - and it’s largely down to this scene that today’s episode has performed as well in my ratings as it has.

It’s not the sole reason, though. As the cliffhanger sting played out today I declared loudly to the room that this was certainly an ‘8/10’ episode, having spent yesterday’s episode hovering over giving that score before settling for a 7. There’s just lots and lots about Full Circle that’s really connecting with me, and I’m really enjoying being swept along with the story.

I’ve decided that the Marsh Men, despite my reservations yesterday about the realisation of certain bits of costume, are great. It’s a design that feels completely alien, and it realised better than the Fomasi, the Nimon, or the Mandrels have been in recent serials. I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best monster design we’ve had since probably as far back as The Robots of Death. So much care has been put in to them, and the way Romana’s infection so perfectly evokes the style of the creatures is magnificent.

Then there’s the scene in which the Marsh Child wakes up to find itself strapped to an operating table, and goes absolutely mad. Ripping free of the bonds, it kills the scientist about to experiment upon it, and smashes up the entire set. There’s real gusto in the performance, too, and you get the sense that this was a ‘one take or nothing’ kind of scene. That a few moments later, the death of this same monster is able to really case some emotion really helps to raise the stakes even further.

The nice design isn’t only confined to these aliens, because I really like the look of the world they’re inhabiting, too. I’ve already praised the location work before now, but the sets of the Starliner are really rather brilliant, too. I started off yesterday making a note about how nice the corridors of the place are, with the light filling in from all around, but actually I think the ‘trial room’ (for want of a better description) is rather brilliant, too. The height of it, and the sense that it fills a large chunk of the studio really help to make it something that bit special. In many ways, it feels as though we’ve finally struck the nice balance between the cluttered, realistic sets of the Graham Williams years, and the new style imposed by John Nathan-Turner in The Leisure Hive. It’s the best set we’ve had in a while, and I’m really rather impressed with that.

Quite aside from all of this, there’s the story itself. Full Circle seemed to be heading down that familiar route of ‘decedents of a crashed space ship’ that we had in The Face of Evil (and that I think I’m right in saying gets subverted in the next story, too). All of a sudden, though, there’s more to it than that - these may not be so simply the decedents of the original crew, and there may be more ties between them and the monsters they fear than they’d like to suspect. I also love the realisation that while they could take the entire Star Liner apart and rebuild it perfectly, there’s no one around who knows how to actually fly the thing. I honestly didn’t see that coming, so shared the Doctor’s sense of shock at discovering the news.

This one is turning out to be a real success, and while I was so sure of an ‘8/10’ score today, I did briefly hover over the number nine on the keyboard. here’s hoping that the final episode can tie it all together well, because I want this one to sit quite high in my list of favourite stories at this rate.

16 July 2014

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

Day 562: Full Circle, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m enjoying the story of the Doctor and the Marsh Child in this episode. Almost as if picking up the cue from The Leisure Hive, that the Doctor can be friends with the slightly strange looking aliens, we’ve got him off exploring on his own and encountering a specimen of this slightly unusual new race. His reaction to seeing one up close? Much like the Third Doctor when first meeting a Silurian, he simply greets it in a friendly manner, and continues on to persuade it that everything is ok.

We then go on to have something of a game of cat and mouse between the pair, as the Doctor continues his explorations further into his new surroundings and into the Star Liner, with the Marsh Child following not far behind, close enough to see and experience everything that’s going on, while remaining far enough behind to be cautious. It’s rare that an alien species in this programme is given ‘children’ among their ranks - it’s more often than not simply a fully gown race (of warriors, usually), so it’s creating a fascinating new way of seeing these creatures. I’m really hoping that the Doctor’s friendship with this particular Marsh Child will come in handy later on, when I’m sure the grown ups of the race won’t be quite as timid.

As far as the design of the Marsh Men goes, I think it’s probably one of the best we’ve had for a while in the programme. The thing that slightly lets it down - as is so often the case - has to be the way the costume works. As the creatures walk around and explore the environment (a small thing, but I love the way that they’re free to step in deep pools of water or mud - usually fears of damaging an expensive new costume would prevent such natural movement and interaction), their effectiveness is somewhat diminished by the way the latex costumes ‘bunch’ around the crotch. I’ve also not quite decided if the masks look too ‘plastic-y’, or just the right amount of ‘alien’.

These aren’t massive criticisms, though, because on the whole I’m very impressed by the design, and the way that they’re being used. Certainly, they’ve fared better than the other monster to appear in this episode - those spiders. I’m always a bit on edge when I know there’s spiders abound, and I’ve never made it this far into Full Circle probably for fear of reaching this point of the story. They’re even less effective than the ones from Planet of the Spiders, though! That old BBC rule about not making spiders look too realistic on screen has come to my rescue once again, because the actual sequence - in which these arachnids burst from the centre of fruit, including one right onto Romana’s face! - could be quite scary if the props didn’t look quite so… battery operated. The glowing eyes make them look cute, if anything!

I do feel a bit for Lalla Ward in this episode, it has to be said. While Tom’s off exploring a beautiful new world (has Ward even set foot on location yet in this story?), she’s stuck inside, dealing with a group of children. Obviously someone was paying attention to how well she worked when paired with the young sacrifices during The Horns of Nimon. The biggest issue that this causes comes when asked to portray the TARDIS being carried away by the Marsh Men. For a few minutes, the episode dips in to being exactly what everyone always thought Doctor Who was like - with the camera jerking to the side, and a delay before the group of actors hurl themselves unconvincingly across the set. We’ve had some great examples of this type of acting in the series before… but this isn’t one of them.

Still, she hasn’t got as raw a deal as poor K9. The campaign of hatred against the poor mutt continues today, with his entire head being knocked off by a particularly mean Marsh Man with a stick! Romana laments that they always seem to be repairing K9, and it’s no wonder when the current production team seem so intent on damaging him as much as possible (were they simply hoping to destroy the prop so much that they could simply claim not to be able to use it any more?). As if that wasn’t bad enough, even the incidental music in this story is mocking the poor creature, playing up the comedy when he’s unable to follow the Marsh Men across a small dip in the ground. At least he gets the best line in the entire episode today, though, when the Doctor points out that the creatures they’re watching have stopped moving, and K9 replies ‘the observation is correct’.

I’m going to miss the sarcastic thing when he goes…

15 July 2014

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

Day 561: Full Circle, Episode One

Dear diary,

Robot isn’t really representative of Philip Hinchcliffe’s era of Doctor Who. Horror of Fang Rock doesn’t really sum up the Graham Williams period, and Spearhead From Space (indeed, Season Seven as a whole, in many respects) isn’t the kind of programme that we’d see for the next four years under Barry Letts. The same is true, in some regards, with Season Eighteen, and the stories we’ve had so far. Oh, sure, The Leisure Hive feels at times as though the 1980s is slapping you in the face, but it’s not until this story that you suddenly get to see what Doctor Who is going to be for the next few years.

Most obviously, it’s the introduction of Adric, who’ll be travelling with the Doctor for much of the next two seasons. Adric has become something of a by-word to mean ‘a bad character’ in Doctor Who, but it has to be said that he’s off to a fairly good start here. Granted, Matthew Waterhouse isn’t giving the best performance that we’ve ever seen, but he’s certainly not giving the worst, either! I think it helps that so much of this episode is given over to him, too. The Doctor and Romana are absent for long stretches of the story, while we follow the exploits of Adric and his ‘tribe’ (for want of a better word).

Perhaps less obviously, this episode is stuffed full of continuity references. The Doctor and Romana have been called back to Gallifrey: but it means that there’s a chance to name check Leela and Andred (who were last seen - and mentioned - at the end of Season Fifteen, years ago!), plus the Key to Time, Romana pointing out that the Doctor once tried to fight the Time Lords, and his sad admission that he lost… I rather like some of these references, and watching the series at the pace of an episode a day means that these events weren’t all that long ago for me, but it does feel a little bit like the start of the series playing to the fan base perhaps a little more than the general audience. Odd bits of continuity being dropped in are fine - to the average viewer, there’s no difference between them and the Doctor referencing an adventure with Leonardo, but when they come as thick and fast as they do here, you start to feel as though you might be missing out on something, perhaps…

Still, that’s only a minor point in what has been a fairly enjoyable episode. It feels like ages since we last had an alien world represented by a real location (there’s a quarry in Destiny of the Daleks, but before that you have to reach back to The Power of Kroll. The series really was very studio-bound during Season Seventeen, unless it was gallivanting around modern-day Europe), and it’s a lovely one, to boot. It genuinely feels expansive when characters are running around and swimming, and right off the bat there’s a sense that these characters, even the supporting artistes, are part of a very believable world.

The location looks especially nice once the Mist Fall has started, too, with the trees and the rivers all shrouded in the fog. I’m hoping that we don’t move exclusively inside now that the star liner has been introduced - there’s opportunities for some very nice directing in locations like this. It’s perhaps a shame, then, that so much time is spent inside the TARDIS again here. I love the ship, don’t get me wrong, but after a whole episode and a bit with the Doctor and Romana trapped in there during the last story, I’d much rather they got outside and started to explore! 

14 July 2014

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

Day 560: Meglos, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This must be one of the quickest adventures that the Doctor has ever been caught up in. Once he’s left the TARDIS, he wanders through the jungle for a bit, gets arrested upon entering the city, is sentenced to death, and it’s only after this - in this final episode - that he actually gets stuck in and does something… and even then it’s simply ‘alter the settings on the alien cactus’ computer! Had he not been mistaken for Meglos and locked away in a cell for a bit at the end of the story, he’d have been away even quicker! At one stage during pre-production, The Lodger was planned to have Meglos turn up as a villain, and the Doctor wouldn’t remember him. It’s not hard to see why when watching this story - he was only a part of the Doctor’s life for a single afternoon!

It’s not only the Doctor’s adventure that’s running a bit short this time around, though, but the story itself. This episode features a cliffhanger reprise of almost three minutes in length - and it’s not the longest episode in the world, anyway! There’s less than 20 minutes of ‘new’ adventure in this episode, and I think that’s all helping to give the impression of things feeling a little… light.

My biggest concern, though… does the Doctor actually solve the problem? I mean… he stops Meglos from blowing up Tigella, sure, but what about all the people living there? Once the Conscience of Marinus - sorry, I mean the Dodecahedron - had been stolen, things in their city were beginning to fail, and the whole place was going to collapse in a meter of hours! As far as I can see, the Doctor doesn’t actually take it back to them at the end of the story, it’s left to be destroyed along with Meglos’ world.

There’s a suggestion in the final scene that they’ll be moving up to the surface again, and thus they won’t need the power of the Dodecahedron any more, but… well, the surface is dangerous! It’s full of carnivorous plants, and as far as I could see, all the Tigellan’s weapons were power-based. What happens when the batteries run flat? They’re going to have a bloody difficult job trying to start a new life when everything they’ve ever known has suddenly been wiped out! Not to mention the vast numbers of religious folk who’ve had their god stolen away, and are likely to now be left without a sense of purpose…

If I’m honest, this is really just me trying to force a bad outcome on to events - all part of my desire for the Doctor’s lack of care to catch up with him by the time he regenerates at the end of the season. Chances are, they can get along just fine, but… well… it’s something to think about, certainly. It’s been ages since I’ve been able to piece together an obscure and probably non-existent running theme like this through the series, so I’m rather keen to see it continue. What’s that the Eighth Doctor says about human seeing patterns that aren’t there…? 

13 July 2014

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

Day 559: Meglos, Episode Three

Dear diary,

This is the second time, after Creature from the Pit, that Romana has been left to distract a group of bandits while the Doctor gets on with the real story. As in the previous example, it’s absolutely brilliant, and possibly the best example of Lalla Ward in character - it’s just so fun to watch! I laughed for ages at her description of leading them in circles being down to the planet having an ‘anti-clockwise rotation’ (and the fact that they bought it), and then laughed even harder when she latter comments that such a rotation makes it very hard to navigate. Despite my reservations when we first moved over to this incarnation of Romana, I’ve grown to really enjoy both the character, and Ward’s performance.

While we’re on the subject of performances, it’s been a while since I’ve praised Tom Baker. He’s given so much to do in this story - flicking back and forth between being the evil cactus and the not-evil Doctor, and he’s managing to excel in both cases. There’s occasions throughout the entire seven-year run of Tom Baker’s Doctor where you can just see him being galvanised by a new script, and I think that Meglos may be one such occasion. The chance to play a slightly different role to his usual one seems to have given him a boost of energy, and he’s actually managing to make the plant seem quite menacing. I’m also loving the whole ‘fighting with the Earthling’ scenes, where some rather smart effects give the impression of the pair splitting apart. I may yet get to discover why he needed an Earthling brought to him after all…!

I suppose that since I’ve discussed two of the regulars, I’d better make a mention of the third. Poor K9, he’s really going through the mill this season, isn’t he? Throughout the last couple of years, he’s usually simply been left in the TARDIS when they want him out of the way for a story, but now it’s as if the production team are actively taking out their frustrations on the poor dog! In The Leisure Hive, he gets trundled into the sea and blown up as early as possible, so that he’s out of the way by the time we reach Argolis (even though it’s the kind of location he could easily manoeuvre in!), and today he’s had his batteries run down, before one of our bandits drops him on the floor and gives him a good kick! No wonder he’s leaving before long - it’s become a broken home!

Though she’s not a regular any more, I’m going to mention Jacqueline Hill while I’m at it - because I’m surprised how much she’s not all that important to the story. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she’s one of the leading guest stars, and she’s just condemned the Doctor to his death, but I always assumed that she would be the guest character for Meglos, simply because within the world of Doctor Who, she has such a reputation. I wonder if she turned up to rehearsals on the first day and reminded everyone that she was one of the original companions? I hope so. Still, there’s a certain irony, considering that Barbara’s stand-out story was The Aztecs - in which she sets herself up as a god in an attempt to put a stop to religious sacrifice - that in this story, one of the cliffhangers sees her condemning the Doctor to sacrifice in order to appease her god! I like to imagine that Jacqueline had a good chuckle about that when she first read the script…

12 July 2014

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

Day 558: Meglos, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Ere, listen! I’ve had this great idea for a new setting for a Doctor Who story! It’s set, right, in a jungle, yeah? Only this jungle isn’t your standard ‘Amazon Rainforest’ nonsense, because the plants in this jungle, right, are - wait for it - more like animal life than plant life. So, right, like, Doctor Who and his assistant have to make their way through all these carnivorous plants and things before they can make it to safety!

I joke, of course, but the programme really does give us an awful lot of jungles, doesn’t it? I’m not entirely sure why, but can only conclude that it’s down to them knowing they can produce something half decent in the studio, and the fact that a jungle represents an ‘exotic’ location. And, in all fairness, they’ve at least done something interesting with the concept this time around - or more interesting than usual. Whereas before we’ve simply had somewhat mindless killer plants attacking our heroes through general instinct (that’s the case with most Terry Nation stories), or because they’re being controlled by someone (as with the Wolf Weeds in last season’s Creature from the Pit), here, the main villain is actually a very intelligent plant. People mock Meglos, but I quite like that idea.

I’ve also quite liked him taking on the form of the Doctor throughout this episode. The fact that his awkwardness and abrupt nature can pass so well - even to me - as the Doctor is great, and I found myself listening to several lines of dialogue, wondering why they’re never included among the Doctor’s most famous ones, before remembering that it’s not really the Doctor speaking at all, but rather our fine cactus friend. The only thing I’m wondering, though… why did Meglos need a human being to transform in to? He didn’t seem to have any trouble in replicating the Doctor’s appearance based only of data from a screen (he’s even managed to get the coat right, and he only saw the collar of that briefly in a still image). Did he need to take the form of something less… spiky… before he could properly change himself? If so, then why did it have to be an Earthling? In the first Episode, that’s described as being really far away… it just seems like an awful lot of trouble…

Meglos must also rank as being one of the stories that takes the Doctor and Romana the longest period of time to reach the action. Sure, the time loop they’ve been caught in is a direct result of everything happening down on the planet, and they’ve sent a message down to them, too, but really, the Doctor’s only just met everyone as this episode closes, and Romana has been captured in the final moments, too! Still, I’m less interested in when they’re getting caught up in the action now and more about when the Doctor first came here. He tells a guard that it was ’50 years’ in their time, but how about for him?

Zastor describes the Doctor as being ‘a little older, little wiser’ when they first meet (or, at least, when he first meets the Meglos-Doctor, which amounts to the same thing, really), but that doesn’t really give us an awful lot to go on. I’d like to assume that it’s in the same gap from Robot, where the Doctor nipped off and caused all that trouble on Leela’s home world. There’s no mention of any travelling companion having been with him on the previous occasion (and Zastor’s unfamiliarity with Romana rules it out as being during the Doctor’s travels with her), but I suppose it could have happened between The Hand of Fear and The Face of Evil, or later between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation. It doesn’t actually matter, of course, but as a fan, it’s one of those insignificant little things I like to wonder about idly between episodes! 

11 July 2014

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

Day 557: Meglos, Episode One

Dear diary,

As with Season Seventeen, lots of this year’s stories were recorded out of order. As a result, Meglos didn’t enter production until some months after The Leisure Hive, and once Tom Baker had been through a bout of ill health, and the difference between him from yesterday’s episode to today’s is palpable. People talk of the fact that the Doctor looks a lot more frail this series than he has at any other point during this incarnation, and I was expecting to see that in action during the first story of the season, but there it was only really caused by swamping the man in such a large costume, with big coats, scarves, and hats. Today’s episode sees him without any jackets or coats on, and he simply looks gaunt. It’s quite striking, and knowing that this Doctor is headed for his death, it’s also a little bit saddening.

And as if to add to his woes - the Doctor and Romana don’t even get to leave the TARDIS in this episode! They spend the first half trying to fix K9, and the second half getting caught up in a time loop, played over and over again! It does mean, though, that we get a slightly different arrival for them into the narrative properly (or, at least, we will have), in that the Doctor has ‘called ahead’ to someone on this story’s planet of choice, and actively asked if they can pop in to say hello. In many ways, it’s the perfect thing to do having destroyed the Randomiser in the last episode, but they seem to have arrived in this part of space… at random. Oh well, it’s a nice idea all the same.

There are only two things that I know about Meglos: The villain is a cactus, and it features the return of Jacqueline Hill to the programme for the first time since Ian and Barbara headed back to 1965 in a Dalek time machine during the chase. From my point of view in The 50 Year Diary, that took place on March 24th last year - so it’s been a while since I’ve seen her! I’m not sure, though, that I’d have recognised her here were it not for knowing who she is. Fifteen years older, and with a rather elaborate headpiece on, she’d not quite the person I knew back in the early days of the programme.

And yet, when I first got in to Doctor Who, I used to be fascinated by the idea of this story! Somehow, in my mind, I’d simply discovered that Jacqueline Hill made her return in this tale, and figured it meant a return for Barbara after all this time. How she’d ended up on a distant world didn’t really matter to me, it was just an exciting thought that companions did that at all in the classic series. Obviously, she’s not actually playing Barbara, but this story makes her part of a very exclusive group of actors who’ve had the chance to play other characters after their stint as a companion.

The only other examples that I can think of are Jean Marsh (returning to play Morgaine in Battlefield some 23 years after being killed off in The Daleks’ Master Plan), John Leeson (although he doesn’t really count, because he played a character in The Power of Kroll at the same time as being K9), and Billie Piper (playing The Moment in The Day of the Doctor, although this is also debatable, because the device has specifically taken on her form). Extend out to the audios, and there’s lots of examples, including Anneke Wills in the role of Charlotte Pollard’s mother, and Daphne Ashbrook joining UNIT. As far as TV appearances as new characters go, it’s very rare.

It’s really nice to see her, though. I’ve said before while working through that even though I was somewhat sick of Ian and Barbara by the time they finally departed from the Doctor’s travels, I’m now at a point where I’m very keen to go back and see a few of the old serials again. I’d love to watch The Keys of Marinus or The Dalek Invasion of Earth - so hopefully having Jacqueline around for a few days will help to give me my ‘1960s fix’…! 

10 July 2014

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

Day 556: The Leisure Hive, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Oh dear. This one has all sort of fallen apart for me at the very end here. I like that Pangol has reached a point where he’s completely lost it and is ready to seize control of the planet - he’s so much of a stroppy toddler throwing a tantrum here - even though I’ve really disliked him throughout, it feels like this is what everything has been building towards. But after three episodes that move at a fairly leisurely pace, all of a sudden, everything happens at once, and the resolution seems to boil down to the Doctor happening to plug the Randomiser into the alien machine, which means that it cloned him instead of Pangol (?) and then reduced Pangol to a baby (jQuery152043949232366867363_1405198236843) who is then pawned off to others while Mena heads off to have some peace talks with the Fomasi.

My biggest problem with this sequence, though, is that while Pangol continues to get madder and madder, the Argolins simply stand around and don’t do anything! Even when Romana bursts in and points out that he’s gone crazy, they just… mill about. They don’t seem to be working for Pangol, because they make no attempt to stop Romana, they’re simply in her way by not doing anything. I found it just a bit frustrating.

I’m also wondering about the surviving Fomasi. We saw earlier that they can only communicate in language other than their native clicks and whistles when they’ve got a translating device on them, which speaks in the flat tone of Brock… so how do we know that this Fomasi is really the ambassador? Isn’t it just as likely that they shoved him onto the exploding space ship, took off their ‘West Lake’ badges, swiped back the translator, and then proceeded to kill all the surviving Argolins mere minutes after the Doctor and Romana have left? They’ve destroyed their main obstacle in the form of the warmongering Pangol, and the Fomasi could now claim that the Argolins started this second war, because Romana points out on a number of occasions that Pangols actions are declarations of conflict…

It’s a rather bleak way of looking at it, but I think I quite like it. It’s that idea again of the Doctor getting a bit too complacent (an idea I was keen on during The Invasion of Time), and being a bit careless as a result. I’m going to keep an eye on that throughout the season and see if I can find a theme of it - I might get my wish of him taking a fall under these circumstances after all! 

9 July 2014

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

Day 555: The Leisure Hive, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I can’t decide whether I’d be enjoying this episode so much without the sense of ‘new’ that pervades it. The plot isn’t particularly grabbing me, I’m still not entirely sure just what’s going on, and a lot of it seems to be a bit… dull. I think that if it were just another story from Season Seventeen, with that same design style, and the Doctor wandering around in what I’d still term to be his ‘usual’ attire, then I’d have probably been scoring a fair bit lower by now.

That said, I think today’s episode has been my favourite of the bunch - now you see where my uncertainty is coming from! The shock of everything looking a bit different has broadly worn off now, because I’ve had a few days of it in the new style, but there’s a few things in today’s episode which really stand out for me.

For a start, there’s the Doctor in his ‘old age’ form. In the ‘making of’ special feature on this DVD, Christopher Bidmead tells a story that Tom Baker wasn’t keen to keep this look up, and wanted to be reverted to his regular appearance as early as possible into this third episode. Supposedly, they talked him out of it by pointing out that the resolution to massive cliffhangers always comes really early on into the next episode (you can take the cliffhanger at the end of Episode One of this story as a great case-in-point of that), and that the real impact this time comes from keeping the Doctor ‘aged up’ for as long as possible.

All the same, I didn’t realise that he spends this entire episode (and, therefore, some of the next, presumably) in this form! Not what I expected at all. It’s quite good make-up, too - or it’s certainly working for me (I’ve seen it described as very poor elsewhere), and it’s quite nice to see Baker modifying his performance a little, too, to make a point of the fact that he’s now 1200 years old.

Then you’ve got the reveal of the Fomasi properly… and it’s a friendly one! The costumes for these creatures are another thing that’s come in for a bit of stick over the years, but I actually really like them. It helps that they’ve spent much the first two-thirds of the story only being seen in close ups or in shadows, haloing to build up a bit of suspense about how they actually looked. That one is finally shown in full, and he’s helping out heroes is just great, and it feels like an age since we’ve had anything like that happen. Still, large green aliens, who hide themselves inside human skin-suits? Had Russell T Davies been watching this one before the Slitheen were created?!

8 July 2014

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

Day 554: The Leisure Hive, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It’s really quite strange how this story comes along, and it’s as through the programme has suddenly realised ‘it’s the 1980s’. There’s so much about the design of the sets in this one, and the use of colour both in those sets and in the costumes of the guest cast which just feels like 1980s Doctor Who to me. Even in the music, it’s everything that says ‘the 1980s’ to me, and I think that’s what’s making the change between Season Seventeen and Season Eighteen feel all the more striking - the fact that it’s found its new groove this easily. I think, really, it comes down to the fact that what I think of as ‘1980s Doctor Who’ is really simply ‘John Nathan-Turner’s Doctor Who’, so I shouldn’t really be all that surprised.

You can also very much feel the hand of new script editor Christopher H Bidmead beginning to steer the programme here, because I’m not entirely sure what this ‘new science’ on Argolis is actually for. Oh, I get that it’s being modified and used here to try and de-age people (though that’s only a real possibility once Romana gets involved), but I don’t quite understand how the whole ‘tearing off limbs’ aspect comes in to play, or the stuff about the giant projected image… It’s interesting that, really, this is the same time experiment as seen in City of Death, moving objects or living creatures back and forth through their own personal time stream, but whereas it was perfectly clear to understand during that story (even if it was ‘technobabble’), here I’m completely lost. Season Eighteen is often thought of as the ‘scientific’ era of the programme, and it’s not hard to see why!

Something else I want to draw attention to today, because there’s a real risk that I’ll never get around to it otherwise, is the Doctor’s new costume. Now, putting my cards on the table early, I love the Season Eighteen look. The big greatcoat, the burgundy scarf, the hat, the boots (although they won’t actually turn up until later on), there’s something about it that just really chimes with me, and I think it’s the most successful of all the 1980s ‘uniform’ outfits for the Doctors.

Yet, I’m surprised to see how much variance is being thrown into the costume even at this early stage. I’ve always thought of this style being less ‘flexible’ for Baker, and that he couldn’t alter the look as much as he has done with all his other outfits, but already we’ve seen him in the full ensemble, complete with hat and Norfolk jacket (which I’ve never actually realised he had under that greatcoat!), but we get to see him in various stages of dress as these two episodes progress, taking off coats/jackets/scarves as he sees fit.

Wandering around the place without his scarf is something that - again - I’ve never really thought happened as often as it has, and I love that the scarf is being used so interestingly in this story. In yesterday’s episode, he tied it to a plastic statue of an Argolin and it gave Romana a shock when she followed the scarf to be presented with the unexpected ‘body’ at the end… so it’s great to see the same happen to the Doctor in this episode, only here to body is that of a dead man, and the Doctor has been arrested for his murder.

Then you reach the cliffhanger, and the Doctor’s had a whole new look again - aged up by 500 years! He’s really going through it in the cliffhangers to this story…! 

7 July 2014

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

Day 553: The Leisure Hive, Episode One

Dear diary,

Hooray! It’s my birthday! And what better way to celebrate than with the start of a whole new season of Doctor Who, complete with new producer and swanky new titles. I told myself before pressing play on this story that I’d not fall in to the trap that everyone else does when discussing this story, by mentioning that it’s all change and a different show… but, well, it’s all change and a different show!

People tend to hail the transition between Shada (or The Horns of Nimon) and The Leisure Hive as being as big as the transition between The War Games and Spearhead From Space, but I’ve never really been able to appreciate it before now. When I can pick a DVD of pretty much any Doctor Who story off the shelf at any time, and watch the programme in any old order, things just divide up differently. In the past, the difference between this story and anything from Season Seventeen is only as great as the difference between, say, The Web Planet and The Curse of Fenric, or The Green Death and The TV Movie. Doctor Who has been many different things throughout tits life, so the changes just come and go with whatever story you happen to be watching at the time - in short, we’re used to watching ‘classic’ Doctor Who these days in a very different way to the original audience on first broadcast.

But the only ‘classic’ Doctor Who that I’ve watched since the start of 2013 has been the episodes in order from An Unearthly Child onwards, I’ve not seen any of the John Nathan-Turner era since 2012. Although I’d told myself not to bring up all the differences between what had gone before and this story, they really do hit you in the face like a ton of bricks as soon as the opening titles begin. I’ve gotten so used to that ‘time tunnel’ effect (which has been with me in one format or another since only a few days into this year!) that it really does feel like a shake to the system when the star field bursts on to the screen with a whole new arrangement of the theme music. I’ve seen it described (both positively and negatively) as JN-T making a huge announcement that he’s arrived in the producer’s chair, and it has to be said that it does make a very bold statement. This is a new kind of Doctor Who, and that means the rules have changed.

We then move from this striking new titles sequence into… one of the longest tracking shots in Doctor Who history, as the camera pans along the beach, taking in deck chairs and beach huts for about a minute and a half. Eventually, we pan past the TARDIS to find the Doctor slumped snoozing, but it feels oddly juxtaposed to such energetic new titles. The fact that The Leisure Hive opens on Brighton beach is a fact that most people tend to know even if they don’t know much else about the story, but I’ve never noticed how isolated that scene is. It serves to set up the idea of the Doctor and Romana heading off on holiday quite nicely, but it feels as out-of-step with those titles as it does with much of what’s to come through the rest of the episode.

It doesn’t help that the sequence ends with the camera pulling away from the beach, with the shot slowly forming into an oval and drifting away among the stars of the title sequence. It’s a very odd way to transition between scenes (possibly the weirdest that we’ve seen in the show so far), but along with other slightly unusual transitions (wipes and fades among them), it further helps to spell out that you’re watching a very different type of programme.

It’s also a programme that feels scarier than it has in a while. Creatures like the Krargs, the Nimon, and the Mandrels are there to entertain the younger members of the audience, but their almost part of the joke - you know that they can’t really harm our heroes. This episode ends, though, with the Doctor’s limbs being pulled off, and the camera rushing in to Tom Baker’s screaming mouth. Considering the pains the episode went to earlier to show us a character being killed rather painfully in this exact manner, this really does feel like a universe a lot more dangerous than the one the Doctor’s been travelling in for the last few years. 

6 July 2014

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

Day 552: Shada, Episode Six

Dear diary,

I couldn’t remember what happened in this final episode, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be happy with the ending or not. Certainly, it seemed as though the story could have been wrapped up during the final stages of yesterday’s episode, so I worried that today would feel like spreading the story a little bit too thin. Actually, there’s a great deal to enjoy: the Doctor having to make his way through the Vortex from one ship to the other is a great idea (and something I can’t believe they’ve never done with the Master’s TARDIS!), the closing scenes with lots of humour to close the season (and the Graham Williams era), and the fact that the Doctor has to do battle with all these creatures purely through using his mind. If anything, this part of the story feels like it could do with one further draft, just to up the tension, but it’s certainly not a bad ending to the story at all.

I’m surprised just how much footage exists for each of the episodes in the tale, including this one, although you do become somewhat accustomed to seeing certain sets over and over again! I’ve been very impressed with the animation that’s used to fill the gaps in between, though. By this final episode, I’d even stopped noticing the discrepancies between the real Tom Baker’s voice and the impersonator used for the new segments - I don’t know if the performance gets better or if I simply got used to it, though I suspect it’s a combination of the two. It’s been nice to see the story completed, at any rate. And now, I’m going to imagine that Professor Chronotis goes off on various adventures with Chris and Clare at his side. I think they’d end up having TV Comic style trips through time and space, in the professor’s TARDIS!

There’s always a big question mark around Shada, and it’s that consideration that maybe it wouldn’t be quite so well loved if it didn’t have that status as the mythical ‘lost’ story of the Tom Baker era. It’s something I’ve long wondered when people bang on about how great this story is, and I’ve always put that partly down to the fact that it’s got such a reputation from being unfinished. I think, though, having now watched it properly in context with everything that came before it, I’m willing to say that there’s a lot in here to really love. It sort of runs out of steam towards the end, but on the whole I’ve really liked it. I think, had the production made it through to the end, it would probably be held up with City of Death as a tent-pole ‘classic’ of Season Seventeen.

With the end of this story, we say goodbye to the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who history. Three years that don’t, perhaps, have the best reputation among fandom, but which certainly seems to have produced some pretty decent stories. Looking back to the end of The Talong of Weng-Chiang, with the Williams era about to begin, I commented:

”I’m really interested to see how my feelings develop as we move forward into the Williams era. From where I stand now, at the end of Season Fourteen, I’m simply expecting it to be ‘cheap’. That’s the only thing that I think I really know about the period to come, and after stories like The Talons of Weng-Chiang*, and* The Robots of Death*, that may come as something of a shock to the system…”*

I think, in places, the series has looked cheap over the last few years, but that’s certainly not as prevalent as I was expecting it to be. Stories like The Androids of Tara, The Ribos Operation, or The Creature from the Pit all feature great settings that are realised as well as anything in the previous few years of the show. As far as the era has gone as a whole… it’s been a bit bumpy. Since Graham Williams took over the producer’s chair 70-something episodes ago, none have received higher than an ‘8/10’ (although there have been 13 of those, more than half of which in this last season, and the rest during Season Fifteen), and the era has attracted three ‘3/10’ (all for The Pirate Planet) and a few ‘4/10’, too.

The overall average score for the Graham Williams era is 6.32/10, which makes it better than a straight average, but it’s far from being the highest-rated era of the programme to date. In fact, it’s a score which makes Seasons Fifteen - Seventeen the lowest rated era of the programme so far (coming in just marginally lower than the Verity Lambert years, which averaged 6.33). That’s not to say that I’ve not enjoyed it, though. There’s a lot I like in Season Fifteen, and a lot I like in Season Seventeen, I think it really is that Key to Time season in the middle that just didn’t quite gel with me.

And now, we move on toe Season Eighteen and the start of the John Nathan-Turner years of the programme. Everything to come is going to be increasingly ‘marmite’, and while I’ve enjoyed it in the past, I’m wondering how much that will hold true now that I’ve seen everything that happened before 

5 July 2014

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

Day 551: Shada, Episode Five

Dear diary,

I’ve been somewhat pathetically looking forward to this episode, simply because I wanted to see what the Time Lord prison planet looked like. For some reason, the design used for the Big Finish webcast version of the story (it’s a gigantic ‘disc’ with the Seal of Rassilon on the top, surrounded by jagged rocks almost as though it’s being held by them) has always stuck in my mind as one of the most striking visual shots from the history of Doctor Who. Put simply, I love it. It was with bated breath, therefore, that I waited to see what the prison would look like in this version of the story.

It’s presented (as I suspected it might me) with footage from the original model sessions for the story, back in the 1970s. It’s… different, certainly, and I’m not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, it looks very functional as a prison - it’s very much a structure with a cold and stark purpose. On the other hand… it’s lacking the flair of the Big Finish version. Still, I suppose that if the prison is supposed to be a secret from the Time Lords of this era, then having it look like a giant copy of their most famous symbol doesn’t exactly hide it very well…

If anything, I think I’m just slightly disappointed that it’s such a simple model that they use for the prison. I was blown away by the explosion of the Think Tank, with bits of debris flying off in all direction (including directly towards the camera!), and the remains of the ship burning away as the explosion clears, so it feels a bit plain when we finally reach this supposedly mythical lost prison world.

I still really love the idea of Shada itself, though. It makes perfect sense to me that the Time Lords would have a secret prison, which can only be accessed by following a specific set of instructions involving one of their ancient relics. For a race that purports to be non-interventionist, the Time Lords have always taken a particularly strong role when it comes to their place in the universe. Put simply, they decide what’s wrong and what’s right, and thus I love the idea that they’ve got a place to lock up individuals that they deem to be too dangerous in the grand scheme of things. I like to imagine that if they could still remember the existence of the place, then Genesis of the Daleks would have simply been boiled down to Davros being plucked from his Time Stream and locked away here.

But that’s partly my problem with the scenes set in Shada here. Although it’s great fun to see a Dalek, Cyberman, Zygon, and Wirrn (and… a Roman Auton from The Pandorica Opens?), they don’t really feel right to be locked away in this place. In the scene these monsters first appear, Skagra describes the prison as being thep lace Time Lords put the criminals ‘they want to forget’. It strikes me that locking up a few odd members of these various species is just a bit… odd? Unless these happen to be extremists even within their own cultures, it just feels a bit like an anti-climax for this mythical ancient prison.

Still, I love the reveal that this ancient and famous Time Lord villain Salyavin is really Professor Chronotis in an earlier life! I’ve been somewhat saddened over the past few days that I was aware of this particular plot twist, because I’s love to see if I was shocked when the reveal finally comes. All the clues are certainly in place here (and even laid on a little too thick, in some cases!), but it’s great fin to see the characters starting to piece it all together as they go. I’ve also always found it a shame that Salyavin - the lynch pin to this whole evil plan, and a character who just happens to be one of the Doctor’s close friends in disguise - only gets mentioned for the very first time here, and not even in relation to the story itself.

Romana mentions the man in an earlier episode, seemingly from nowhere, and then he just happens to be vital to everything that’s going on. Were this the modern era, it’s a great example of where planting seeds in earlier stories would come in handy, so that the name is already there in the back of your mind, and it feels like a greater surprise when he suddenly pops up a year or two later (instead of just an episode or two!) 

4 July 2014

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

Day 550: Shada, Episode Four

Dear diary,

As has often been the case during six-part serials up to now, the fourth episode ends up being little more than filler material to keep the story going. Much of today involves people just padding out the running time, while the only real advancement to the plot is Skagra discovering how to use the book as a key. That’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying this episode, though, because even when it’s simply trying to bulk up 25 minutes of story, Shada is keeping me entertained.

I think the thing I enjoy most about this episode is the introduction of the Krargs, which is a design that I’ve always quite liked. One appears (briefly) on a screen at the end of Episode One, but today we get them en masse and even creating new versions of themselves in some of the most impressive bits of animation in this story so far - a lovely mix of the 3-dimensional effect and great work on the character animation of the creature itself. I couldn’t remember if you actually got to see one of the Kraags in the live-action footage, so it was a nice surprise at the end of the episode when one of them shows up. It’s a bit of a shame that the ones in the animated footage are simply… grey, though. The thing I’ve always liked the most about the design is the fact that they use CSO rather well to give it a kind of ‘molten’ effect across the scales, and it’s a shame not to see that continued over in to the animated segments, too.

There’s also a lot of lovely bits of Gallifreyan mythology cropping up in this one, too. The idea of the Professor’s rooms being a TARDIS in disguise is fantastic, and I wonder if his description of the way Clare has ‘tangled with [his] Time Fields’ could be reconciled with the kind of ‘remains’ we see of the Doctor during The Name of the Doctor? Could Chronotis’ rooms at Cambridge have ended up housing his time line, with undergraduates popping in to take a trip back through history by touching it?

Aside from that, there’s the workings of this mysterious book. This is the thing that always used to fascinate me about Shada - the idea of the book being imbued with a great deal of power, and the realisation that turning the pages of it inside a TARDIS would automatically unlock the secret and take the occupants to a hidden location. The description of the ‘Ancient Time Prison of the Time Lords’ used to fascinate me, too, and I can’t wait to see how it’s realised in the animation.

I have to also admit that I’m warming to the voice of the Doctor in the animation here. I still don’t think it’s quite close enough to the genuine article to really work for me, but I’m certainly not noticing it sticking out as much now. I think this may well be down to the fact that there’s a great deal more ‘animated Doctor’ in this episode than there is of the actual man himself! The animation is also becoming so much the major format for this tale that there were a few shots (mostly the inside of Skagra’s ship, or the initial shots on his Command Vessel) where I even had to stop for a moment to work out if we were looking at the animation or the real footage - it has to be said that the set design on this project is simply brilliant.

3 July 2014

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

Day 549: Shada, Episode Three

Dear diary,

We’ve hit the tipping point with this episode, and suddenly a lot more of the story is being represented through animation rather than live action. I’ve been worrying about this a little bit, if I’m honest. Not because I’ve a problem with the animation, but because my over-riding memory of watching Shada for the first time on the BBC VHS was just how quickly it all zipped along. It wasn’t until starting out on the story this time around that I suddenly realised - it ‘zipped along’ because so much was being boiled down to some linking lines from Tom Baker! I’ve been worrying a bit that I’d not find it quite as fast-moving or exciting when having to watch it at the regular speed.

The bonus to having a higher proportion of the story in animated form is that I can really start to enjoy watching it this way. My biggest concern about the way the tale is presented for this version is that it intercuts between the live action footage and the animated sequences. When I was first told that, I really thought that it would be an odd experience, and perhaps not an entirely pleasant one, having to adjust every few scenes to something new. In actual fact, you don’t really notice it at all!

In this episode, for example, the TARDIS appears in an alleyway, and the Doctor hurries inside, slamming the door so fast behind him that his scarf gets caught in it. The next scene - in the TARDIS console room - is all animation, but it doesn’t feel out of place to be so. The only time I did sit up and take a moment to process events was when we cut to Romana and Chris trapped in a cell aboard Skagra’s ship. It only felt so out of place, though, because up to that point, every scene aboard the ship had been rendered as animation, and I assumed they’d never managed to build any of those sets!

I think it also helps that I’m just too busy enjoying the story to worry too much about the chopping and changing of formats. Today’s episode contains the only scene that I can remember fully from a previous watch (although I actually remember the version from the Big Finish audio), in which the Doctor manages to confuse a computer into thinking that he’s dead, and can therefore operate it despite an order to the contrary. It leads in to the cliffhanger for this episode, with the computer deciding that if the Doctor is dead, then he won’t need any oxygen, and so it’s been switched off to preserve power. I wonder, though, why that hadn’t happened before this point, since the computer was expecting the Doctor to be dead anyway…

The scariest bit of this episode, though, isn’t to do with the Doctor suffocating: it’s actually Skagra heading to the TARDIS with Romana. Not to worry, our favourite Time Lady has promised that she’ll never give Skagra the key, so he can’t get in to the ship anyway. That doesn’t matter, though, because he’s already taken the Doctor’s copy from his ‘lifeless’ body. Still, Romana and the Doctor are the only people around here who can even fly the TARDIS, so we’ve still got the upper hand. Ah, but Skagra has a copy of the Doctor’s mind - so if the Doctor could fly the TARDIS, then so can he… The ship is usually a place of safety, so when something like this happens (and through such a sinister character, too), it feels genuinely unsettling.

While I’m here, I need to take a moment just to sing the praises of K9. John Leeson is providing the voice for this animation, and it’s so nice to have him back. I’ve really missed K9 having this particular ‘personality’. There’s a sketch from a BBC Christmas Tape, made at the end of Season Sixteen, in which K9 cannot provide the Doctor with the information that he requires, and the Doctor responds… less than positively to the metal mutt. This episode seems to be hinged around the same joke - with K9 shooting at walls when Romana exclaims ‘blast it!’ in exasperation, and repeatedly telling Chris Parsons that he has ‘insufficient data’ to answer the man’s rhetorical questions! I’ve missed K9 being such an annoying little thing, and it’s good to have him back like this again!


2 July 2014

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

Day 548: Shada, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We get to see a fair bit more of the animation in this episode (though it’s still less than the filmed footage at this stage), and I have to admit that I’m quite enjoying it! It mixes somewhat 3-dimensional backgrounds with 2-dimensional characters, and that looks rather good, giving the shots a depth that could otherwise be lost. The characters themselves are spot on, too, with great likenesses captured for everyone so far. The only one who doesn’t quite work for me is Claire, but I think that may simply be because I’ve yet to see her real-life counterpart, so I have nothing to compare her to! As it stands, she just feels a little less… finished than the others do.

There’s only one thing that’s letting the animated segments down for me, and that’s the Tom Baker impersonation that’s used for them. I think Tom is the only surviving cast member who didn’t take part in the recording for this animated version, so it probably makes him stand out even more because everyone around him feels so authentic. It feels more like someone trying and not quite managing to capture Tom’s voice - almost trying too hard. Still, I may get used to it yet, because there’ll be plenty of opportunity to hear it over the next few days!

Animation aside, there’s an awful lot that I’m enjoying in this episode. People always talk of Shada as being a lost ‘classic’, and I usually dismiss it as a product of being lost that gives it such a reputation (in the same way that both The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Web of Fear took a bit of a knock from their ‘untouchable’ status once they were back in the archive and available for all to see). Despite enjoying the story the last time I saw it, I’m pleasantly surprised by just how much there is to love in this one, and I’m smiling along with much of the story as it progresses.

Of particular note today is the Doctor’s chase through the streets of Cambridge (not so gratuitous as the running through Paris scenes from a few stories back, but possibly because there’s less looking at local landmarks here), and I found myself watching the entire sequence simply wondering… why wasn’t this used for the Time Scoop scene in The Five Doctors? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the ‘vanishing from the punt’ scene that we actually ended up with, but this feels like it would be a great opportunity! For a start, the Doctor is actually being chased by something that could very easily be replaced with a black shape!

Aside from that, there’s lots to enjoy back in the professor’s study. The more I look at it, the more I find myself realising just what a beautiful set it is - yet another example of the BBC being better at doing the down-to-earth settings over any of the far-flung space age stuff. Maybe it’s a good job that the scenes inside Skagra’s ship are reduced to being on animation - because that set looks rather good there, too, freed from a BBC budget!

I’m surprised to see the Professor shuffling off this mortal coil quite so easily here, and I’m sure there must be a way around it, because I’m vaguely recalling other plot twists still to come. Denis Carey continues to be an absolute delight, making the Professor another character from this season that I’d love to see bumbling around time and space with the Doctor and Romana. It’s a part (and a performance) that I can easily imagine Patrick Troughton in, had he not been cast as the Doctor.

1 July 2014

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

Day 547: Shada, Episode One

Dear diary,


Sorry, it’s a force of habit, that. A bit like shouting back when someone fondly recalls Crackerjack. Oh, but everyone knows about Shada. The jewel in the crown of ‘lost’ Doctor Who stories. The tale that got a fair way into production - filming, even! - before being hit by strike action and never managing to be completed (despite numerous attempts by John Nathan-Turner once he’d taken over the producer’s chair for the following season). All along, I’ve planned to simply skip this story. It never made it to broadcast, so why should I include it as a part of the 50 Year Diary? But then I went and did Farewell, Great Macedon, which didn’t make it even this far through the production process, and the closer I’ve gotten to reaching this point of the programme’s history, the more I’ve been thinking that I probably should cover it in some way.

The question: how? Ironically, for the only story in Doctor Who history which made it part way through filming and never got completed, there are more completed versions of this tale out there than many other stories! The first, as for many ‘definitive’ version of the story comes from the BBC Video tape, realised in the early 1990s. About seven or eight years ago, copies of this tape used to go for silly money on eBay, but I was lucky enough to get one for a fairly reasonable price. I recall watching it and enjoying it on the whole, even if I can’t remember a great deal about it. Then it was remade by Big Finish, but this time starring the Eighth Doctor alongside Romana and K9! This version made it out as an animated webcast, and also as an extended CD version, which I listened to with Nick Mellish when we wrote a book about all of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures on audio. Again, I seem to recall enjoying it.

Back in the day, Shada was one of the very few Doctor Who stories which didn’t get novelised for Target books. Again, somewhat ironically, there are now multiple versions of the novelisation in existence! There’s one produced by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society by Jonathan V Way, another by the New Zealand Fan Club written by Paul Scoones, and more recently a version officially published by BBC Books written by Gareth Roberts, which was then released as an audiobook read by Lalla Ward.

Ward must be sick to death of Shada by now, because she’s recorded it four times over! In addition to the original recording, the Big Finish version and the BBC audiobook, she also returned to voice Romana in a fan-made animated version of the story made a few years ago. It’s this version that I’ll be watching for the next six days, since someone kindly sent me a copy when enquiring if I’d actually be doing Shada in some form for the marathon. I did briefly consider doing a different format for the story each day, but that seemed to be a little bit too much!

The first few episodes of the story (this one in particular) don’t suffer massively from the loss of recording, and so there’s only a few brief clips of animation at this stage. I’ll hold back discussing any of that for a day or two, until I’ve had a better chance to see what it’s like when there’s a lot more of it. As for the story itself… well, it’s just as much fun as I remember it being. It’s very much in the same humorous style that’s pervaded a few of the stories this season, and it’s great seeing the Doctor and Romana interacting with Professor Chronotis. With the way I’ve been enjoying our regulars’ relationship this season, this simply feels like they’ve brought in a doddery uncle to meet the newlyweds!

The thing that struck me the most about this episode is how oddly it’s structured. We don’t have any dialogue for the first two-and-a-half minutes, and even then it’s simply a recorded computer message being played out over loudspeaker. The first actual, proper, line of the story is ‘excuse me’, coming four-and-a-half minutes in. The episode doesn’t suffer because if it - if anything it works all the better as a result, because it makes that early scene with Skagra and the Sphere all the more unusual and un-nerving.

After that, the Doctor and Romana don’t actually appear until almost nine minutes in, but their involvement isn’t missed all that much, because frankly I’m loving the Professor enough to simply watch his antics! When the pair do appear, the feel of their lolling about Cambridge on the punt is reminiscent of the early parts of City of Death, with them simply enjoying each other’s company together in beautiful surroundings. Even once they get caught up in the story proper, visiting Chronotis and searching for the book there’s plenty of humour to be found between them, and it’s just fun to watch them together! 

30 June 2014

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

Day 546: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Four

Dear diary,

This episode marks a number of important moments for the history of Doctor Who. I’m artificially extending out Season Seventeen over the next six days with the inclusion of Shada, but since that story never made it to broadcast, this episode is officially the final appearance of several key things. It’s the last appearance of this particular title sequence, which has been in place since Tom Baker’s first season, and is an adaptation of the one used in Pertwee’s final one.

Along with the titles goes the ‘diamond’ logo for the programme, which has come to be such an emblem of the ‘classic’ series. It’s also the last time in the original BBC run that a story isn’t produced by John Nathan-Turner, who’ll be taking over from the next (broadcast) story, and then sticking around until shortly after the programme finishes in 1989. That said, the next story I’ll be watching didn’t make it out of the BBC until the early 1990s, with an edit produced by JN-T, so this really is the end of an era before he takes on the job.

Alongside those things, we also see the Doctor’s multi-coloured scarf for the final time. I’ve always thought of him as having several different scarves throughout his era - which he does - but when you watch through an episode a day like this, you start to lose track of them. The scarf he dons in this story may as well be the same one he emerges from the TARDIS wearing in Robot, for all the notice I’d have taken! This is also the final appearance of David Brierley as K9, with John Leeson taking back over again for the final days of the metal mutt in Season Eighteen (Leeson also voices K9 in the version of Shada I’ll be watching, so this really is the end for Brierley).

Despite this episode being such an important ‘tipping point’ for the programme, there’s no sense of that at all. Because The Horns of Nimon was never intended to close Season Seventeen, it has none of the scale, or grandeur that - say - The Invasion of Time or The Armageddon Factor had. In many ways, this is just a run-of-the-mill episode of Doctor Who, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s by far my favourite episode of this serial.

As a story, The Horns of Nimon has felt a bit fractured. We start on the spaceship, move (briefly) through the planet before the Doctor, Romana, and all the supporting cast are trapped in the labyrinth. It’s never really felt like it’s managed to get going, but I think there’s a bit of energy injected with this part. Having the ability to show us more than one Nimon (it seems like a great expense to have them really only for this last episode), adds a little more threat to the story. Having one solitary creature stalking around the place wasn’t making much of an impact - now they’re en masse, they feel like more of a problem. Kenny McBain’s direction does a decent job of making it feel like there’s more of them, too, though I’m sorry to say that I’ve noticed in this episode that they walk as though they desperately need the loo… and once you’ve seen that, you can’t forget about it!

I’ve also found that the idea of them hopping from world to world, destroying them as they go, is an idea that really chimes with me. I’m fascinated by the idea that Romana can effectively meet Soldeed’s counterpart on another world that’s further along the ‘Journey of Life’ than Skonnos is. I almost wish that they’d made more of this fact through the story - moving back and forth between the worlds to really hammer home the threat that’s facing these people. I also wonder if I’d have liked Soldeed to come fact-to-face with his ‘other’, and really see the error of his ways.

While I’m on the subject of Soldeed… During each episode of this story, I’ve made note to mention him. When I’ve sat down to actually write the entries, though, I’ve never really been able to find the right words. It has to be said that Graham Crowden is really going for it (whatever it may be) with his performance in this story, and it feels almost like the last of the Williams-era eccentricities, sending this phase of the programme out on a high. Even though it’s such an over-the-top performance, I think it actually works! I’ve certain enjoyed watching him, and it’s not harmed the story for me. Crowden was on the short list of people to play the part of the Fourth Doctor back in 1974, and I think this episode may give us an indication of where he may have taken the series if he’d been cast!

29 June 2014

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

Day 545: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I still can’t really tell how I feel about the design of the Nimon creatures, even though we’ve now got three of them to admire. In some ways, it’s quite a striking look, resembling enough the minotaur from legend, while also giving it enough of a contemporary update. On the other hand, though, it real is a man-in-a-monster-suit, isn’t it? When stood upright, the mask sits quite nicely, running relatively far down the actor’s back, but there’s several shots today where the creature is given cause to move its head… and you watch as the mask comes away from the rest of the costume, which really amounts to a body-stocking. Then there’s the way they walk around with their hands out awkwardly… Actually, I think that typing about it has made up my mind - I don’t really care for the creatures, sadly. At least they have rather interesting effects applied to their voices, which is a nice touch.

There’s a number of things about this story which are reminding me of the Big Finish audio Seasons of Fear, with the Eighth Doctor. The Nimon arrive as the villains of the piece in that story, and there’s lots of symbols arriving here which I can’t claim to have fully appreciated when listening to that CD a few years ago. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten much of it, but I’m suddenly getting flashbacks as this episode progresses. The main one was the egg-shaped spaceship, which I suddenly remembered the existence of just before it began to materialise - and I always get a nice smug feeling when I piece things together like that! I didn’t much enjoy Seasons of Fear at the time… I wonder if I might enjoy it more now that I’ve properly watched this serial?

Thankfully, the design work on the sets is faring much better with me. There’s lots of areas that I really like, including the labyrinth itself, but I’m enjoying again the cluttered feel of the ‘control room’ set at the heart of the Nimon’s empire here. In much the same way as the space ship bridge from the first two episodes of this story, it has a kind of ‘real’ feel to everything, with lots of cables, and slightly dodgy-looking equipment. I’m ale enjoying the neat parallel between the Doctor tinkering with the TARDIS back at the start of the story, and what the Nimon is up to here.

Something that’s been troubling me over the last few episodes… the characters of Teka and Seth don’t have a whole lot to do so far, do they? They serve their purpose in Episode One, giving the Doctor and Romana another reason to get involved with the spaceship, but in tho episode, they’re continually reduced to simply standing guard in the corridor until something happens, sending them running for the Doctor. I’m rather hoping that they’ll be given some great scene in the final episode (in which either Set defeats the Nimon single-handed - or, rather, the Doctor and Romana make it look as though he has - or dying while trying to take on the Nimon), because I’m slightly disappointed in them right now. For all I’ve been saying how much I enjoy the Doctor/Romana pairing, they’ve worked best this season when paired up with a great supporting cast, and this pair are no Duggan or Organon!

28 June 2014

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

Day 544: The Horns of Nimon, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It’s becoming quite a theme in this series to have the Doctor and Romana separated for long periods of time. In this episode, they don’t even get to stand in the same room together, or speak to each other. They’re close enough in the closing moments that I assume they’ll be colliding mere minutes into the next episode, but they spend much of the story quite far from each other. It strikes me that were this the 1960s, it’s the kind of trick they’d use to give the Doctor a week off - following Romana and the tributes all the way to Skonnos, and not touching on the Doctor and K9, drifting off somewhere in the TARDIS.

I can’t say that I’d have minded that situation too much. While there’s a lot to enjoy between the Doctor and K9 in this one (and I’m loving the beating that the console prop is taking - if I didn’t know better, I’d assume that they were planning to build a new one next season, so sending this one out in style first!), it’s really Romana that I’m finding the most interesting to watch. I said yesterday that I’d grown to love the pair of them being at a similar intelligence level, and it means that the Doctor’s absence isn’t felt all that strongly here when he’s not around. There’s even the problem of a Sonic Screwdriver being left behind, and he’s not even needed for that!

All of Romana’s sequences benefit from being slightly more interesting than the Doctor’s. Especially while on the spaceship, it’s nice to see her given a villain to face in the form of Malcolm Terris’ Co-Pilot. He’s one of those great breeds of Doctor Who villains - someone who’s nasty just for the sake of it. Yes, he’s keen to get back to Skonnos with the tributes so that they can begin a new war with the universe and take control again, but it really wouldn’t kill him to wait a few moments for the Doctor to return to the ship. Later, once they’re facing Soldeed, it’s great to see him lying so openly about the way in which the ship was repaired… and then getting caught out, and sent to his death. Right to the end, he’s willing to be a murderer just to gain the upper hand, and he’s even great when lying to the Nimon about his reasons for being in his labyrinth.

Ah, yes, the labyrinth. That’s the only thing about The Horns of Nimon that I knew before starting out on the story: it’s based loosely on the legend of the minotaur and the labyrinth (which made the reference to such an adventure during The Creature from the Pit all the more bizarre!) I didn’t know that it was a king of high-tech futuristic labyrinth, though, in which the walls move suddenly behind our characters, and new routes open up when they’re just not looking. It’s actually very well realised on screen, with lots lingering shots in which a character walks past a blank wall, then doubles back to find it gone. It’s always nice to be impressed by things like this.

When it comes to the NImon itself… well, it’s always been considered one of the weaker Doctor Who monsters, and it’s very clearly a man with an over-sized mask placed over his head. I’m not entirely sure if the design works for me (though I do like the way it’s echoed in the model work of the buildings - a nice touch), but I’ll reserve judgement for now until we’ve seen a bit more of the creature in action. If nothing else, I love that the horns light up when he’s attacking, and I realised that they would about three seconds before it happened - though I’ll admit that I was expecting (and hoping for, honestly) the ‘moving’ lights like those in the Gel Guard’s claws from The Three Doctors! 

27 June 2014

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

Day 543: The Horns of Nimon, Episode One

Dear diary,

You’ll need to brace yourself, because this story marks something of a milestone for The 50 Year Diary, and for myself as a fan… because The Horns of Nimon is, I’ve just worked out, the only Doctor Who story left that I’ve never experienced in some way. Obviously, I’ve watched every episode that leads up to this story - you can click back through the blog entries here on Doctor Who Online and read them all (with, in fairness, the exemption of The Highlanders, Episode Four. Though I listened to the Target novel reading of that one, so I’ve still experienced it, he argued). Every story that comes after this one, I’ve seen all or some of.

Now, it has to be said that I’ve still got stories coming up which I’ve sort-of seen, but can’t really claim to have watched - Meglos, for instance. I have the DVD. The story played out in the background when I first bought it, but I was doing something else at the time. Aside from there being something with a cactus, I don’t really know what happens. The same could be said for Terminus. I’ve seen up to the bit where a door (or something) appears in the TARDIS (or something) and that’s all I know. Not sure I’ve ever made it past that bit. The same goes of Warrior’s Gate, which I know I’ve seen, but for all I remember of it, I may as well not have. Still! For all intents and purposes, The Horns of Nimon is officially my last ‘new/old’ Doctor Who story. It should feel momentous! It has to be the single greatest slice of Doctor Who ever produced! It needs to be a fitting capstone for my marathon! So far it’s… Well, it’s alright.

That sounds like I’m being negative, but I’m really not. I genuinely mean it when I describe this story as being ‘all right’. There’s several things in here that I’m enjoying (more on which in a moment), but it’s not exactly the greatest episode that I’ve ever watched of the programme. It’s simply a fairly solid slice of Doctor Who - it’s never going to be anyone’s favourite story, but I doubt that it’s anyone’s least favourite,m either (go on, prove me wrong! There must be someone, somewhere, who can fill both those rolls!)

So: things that I’ve liked about this episode. Well, for a start, there’s the Doctor tinkering with the TARDIS console, and Romana building her own Sonic Screwdriver. During City of Death I mused that I’d never been keen on the Doctor/Romana pairing as an idea. I worried that they’d have the problem Barry Letts always spoke of in regards to Liz - The Doctor needs someone who’s not on his level, so he can explain things. I worried that having Romana around would simply result in two very intelligent people swanning around the universe. Actually, that’s exactly what we’ve got, but it works! I’ve enjoyed them solving problems in a slightly different way (as, for example, in the previous story, where the Doctor is able to leave Romana to do complex things with bits of machinery while he goes off to do other important things).

I love the idea that in the middle of all these adventures, the pair are able to take some time off and have a lazy Sunday afternoon inside the TARDIS just getting on with their hobbies. The Doctor gets to mess around with the workings of his ship, while Romana becomes increasingly used to his way of life, and creates her own Sonic Screwdriver because she’s become accustomed to how useful it can be. It also makes her ‘I’ll need a screwdriver’ line in Nightmare of Eden all the more pertinent! You might remember that during the Second Doctor’s era, I used to track the evolution of the Sonic in the Doctor’s mind before it finally turned up in Fury from the Deep. There’s none of that journey to be had here - Romana realises how much she could do with one, so she builds it. Simple!

Away from the TARDIS, I’m quite keen on the spaceship set. It’s perhaps the greatest over-use of that typical BBC ‘science fiction’ panel that we’ve seen since probably the Pertwee years, but the actual bridge of the ship feels very real to me. Whereas Nightmare of Eden gave us your typical 70s spaceship with lots of flashing buttons and ‘futuristic’ controls, the bridge in this episode is barely held together. It’s a mass of cables, and wires, and it can possibly be best compared to the Ninth Doctor’s TARDIS - where the occupant has had to make modifications and patch things up as he goes, just to keep the ship running. The crew even complain about the dated, failing equipment not being up to task, and it feels so very much like conversations I used to have ten times a week back in my old workplace.

Then, once the ship comes under power failure, we get that familiar ‘camera shake’ while the actors throw themselves around a bit… but the set itself is moving, too! Wires and cables all get thrown around! Things fall off! When it finally goes up in smoke at the end, it genuinely feels as though it’s coming from real equipment finally giving up after years of service. This is closer in style to the types of set we’ll see in the new series - a future that’s far more rooted in reality than the sterile while and chrome visions of years gone by. I always love getting designs like this, so it’s certainly a thumbs up from me!

26 June 2014

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

Day 542: Nightmare of Eden, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I have to admit that I didn’t guess who the drug runners were before the reveal came. I’d suspected both Tryst and Dymond at separate points throughout the story, but I don’t think that I’d guessed they were in it together. I’m glad that it makes sense, though, and that you can go back through the narrative and see various hints in different places. Despite the mystery, and the fact that it wrong-footed me (always quite fun to find that you’ve been wrong!), I’m sad to say that Nightmare of Eden didn’t really grab me at any point right through to the end.

Oh, sure, this episode is similar to the other three from this story in that there’s things I’ve enjoyed about it, but it’s just not really come together for me successfully. I’ve delayed writing today’s entry for as long as I can, trying to think of a better way to explain that fact, but I’ve simply drawn a blank - this is just one of those stories which has not been up my street for one reason or another.

While I’ve been putting off the writing of the story, I’ve been looking in to the somewhat troubled production of the tale. Lots of Doctor Who, especially at this point in the programme’s history, has troubled behind-the-scenes stories, but this one seems to have been a particularly turbulent one. The special features on the DVD cover most of the reasons in quite a bit of detail - from the production of the model shots having to be done on video instead of film (as one commentator points out, they were able to shoot five day’s worth of model shots in two and a half hours… but they look like they were shot in two and a half hours!), and the costume department instead of the special effects team having to make the monsters, which everyone seems to agree is the reason that the Mandrels don’t really work. Despite all this, I’m still convinced that they’re a rather nice design, so there.

And then there’s the whole situation with Alan Bromley taking on the director’s role for the story, and then either resigning or being fired from his post, following multiple delays and cast criticism. Stories are often passed around of Tom Baker being difficult with some directors, and by the sounds of it, bromley was just the type of person to get on Baker’s bad side. Thinking back to his previous work on the programme, in The Time Warrior, I couldn’t recall it being especially bad (though my friend Nick did remind me of that exploding castle shot at the end), but there’s a fair amount in this story which has struck me as being a bit of a let down - chief among them the way that the Mandrels are so often shot in harshly-lit corridors!

I think, in the end, I’m simply going to have to file Nightmare of Eden away with stories like The Dominators as ones which don’t really work for me for some reason or another. Thankfully, I don’t think that this one hits the lows of that story, but it’s certainly not one that I’m going to be rushing to re-watch once the marathon is over.

25 June 2014

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

Day 541: Nightmare of Eden, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Of course there had to be some kind of clever, Doctor Who twist on the way - it couldn’t simply be something as relatively mainstream as a tale of drug smuggling (even if it does have some ‘crashed’ spaceships involved). I really rather love the idea that the new source of the drugs is the monsters stalking their way around the ship - and that when they die they turn into the drug (which, in fairness, seems a bit odd even by Doctor Who standards. I’m assuming that they simply turn into perhaps a key part of the drug?), it spins things off into a slightly more unique direction, and that’s perked up my interest in the tale somewhat.

Also keeping me involved is the fact that at this stage, I simply don’t know for sure who the drug smuggler is. I’ve been through more or less every character at some point throughout the last few episodes, and there always seems to be something crop up which manages to change my mind about it! To begin with, I was entirely sure that it was simply Secker trying to make a bit of money on the side, and leading the ship off course to try and make a delivery. Before long, though, he was dead and there was still a drug problem developing. On top of that, I also can’t decide now if the ship was purposely off course, or simply slipping because of his lack of interest caused by the drugs?

I’ve also gone through various members of Tryst’s team, including the trapped-in-the-projection Stott. He was lurking in the shadows, supposedly dead… it all seemed to point in his direction, especially when the evidence that the source of the drugs was the projector itself. But, no, it now turns out that he’s on the side of good, trying himself to uncover the smuggler! Ok, then, maybe it’s Della? There’s certainly plenty of evidence pointing in her direction. Or maybe it’s even Tryst himself? He’d certainly have the opportunity, knows the machine, and is funny about anyone else getting to touch it… That’s not even mentioning the captain of the other spaceship, or perhaps the captain of this ship, who’s simply hidden it very well… It’s certainly the part of the story which has been most enjoyable to me.

I’m also pleased to see that the Mandrels are given more of a chance in this episode. When they’ve been milling around in various brightly-lit corridors up to now, they’ve not really had any mystery about them. The epitome of ‘man in a monster costume’. Here, though, show in the dark and moody jungle of Eden, they come across as far more effective - especially during their initial appearance where we just see the great big luminous eyes moving through the shadows. It’s a shame in some ways that they couldn’t have been seen like this throughout the whole story - green eyes glaring through the smoke in the corridors, or just seen in small snatches here and there. They’ve suffered early - whereas this would have been a much better introduction to them! 

24 June 2014

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

Day 540: Nightmare of Eden, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I came in to today’s episode ready for a fight. I was looking to defend the Mandrel costumes to the hilt, but… oh dear. They’re not really given much of a chance, are they? After the slightly odd reveal of one at the end of yesterday’s episode, the poor creature is left to hang out of a hole in the wall, flailing its arms about while K9 shoots at it. The level of lighting on the set is giving us plenty of opportunities to get a good look at the design, and it’s not a great first impression.

That said, I do still really like the look of the creatures, and I’m still willing to say that they’re one of the better, more unique, creatures we’ve been given in the programme. We even get that ‘emerging from the smoke’ shot today that I was so expectant of during the last episode, and while it’s perhaps not quite as dramatic as I’d envisioned, it gives a much better idea of the monster than the earlier, swinging arms shot did!

I’m sorry to report, though, that Nightmare of Eden simply isn’t grabbing me in the way that many of the other recent stories have done. I’m not entirely sure what that might be, because there’s certainly a lot of great ideas on display, and it’s a story in many ways very far removed from your standard Doctor Who fare. I love that this programme can go from stories in which all of reality is threatened, then scale it back to a single planet, or here a single incident. Oh, sure, we’re told how much destruction this drug could cause if it’s allowed to get back out into the supply chain, but the whole story feels like its on a far smaller scale, and it’s nice to have that change of pace once in a while.

It’s strange, considering that there’s so many things to like about this one, that I’ve ended up with so little to say about it! Somewhat in desperation, I found myself casting around for people’s opinions on the story, and they all seemed to be generally positive! People all praised different elements of the story - from the fact that it’s not the kind of thing any other Doctor Who tale gives you, to the ‘genuinely funny script’, the ‘great characters’, and even that accent. And yet, there’s something about Nightmare of Eden which has simply failed to connect with me at all!

The one thing that most people seem to agree on is that the Mandrels aren’t really all that great - so maybe everyone has a different part of this story that they like, and mine just happens to be the slightly ropey monsters? 

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