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8 January 2013

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

Day Eight - The Ambush (The Daleks, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

If there's one thing I could change about this marathon, it would be how much I know about Doctor Who.

For the early years of the programme, each episode had its own individual title (much like the modern series), but because each story was spread over several weeks, the viewer never quite knew how long each narrative was going to last for.

Now, I know that The Daleks is a seven-episode-story, so I know that there's still another 75 minutes of story to go, but if I'd not been so sure about the length of the stories, then today's cliffhanger would have had a bit more impact. The first story was four episodes long, and since this one builds up to the TARDIS crew headed back to the ship until the last thirty seconds or so, I'd have been in the same mind about this story, I'm sure.

As it is, the cliffhanger feels weak. I know the story's not over, so it feels like a way to extend it pointlessly.

Still, this isn't the complaint it might appear to be. By the time I'd reached the fourth episode of An Unearthly Child, I was bored of the setting, bored of the guest cast, bored of the story and more than ready to move onto something new. I worried briefly that this may turn out to be the case with all the stories - that I'd become so used to watching a Doctor Who in one or two sittings to the point I couldn't enjoy it in this way.

Thankfully, though, and still much to my surprise, I'm still enjoying this one. I've spent the day eager to get home and tune in, and I'm already looking forward to tomorrow. Huzzah!

It helps that, quality wise, this story has remained pretty damn consistent for me. I've been enjoying it all along, and while it's not quite perfect, it's certainly better than some tales. Today's instalment continues to give me things to smile at, and I'm particularly keen to focus on one aspect; the effects.

Back in the first episode of this tale, I commented that the Dalek city looked pretty good, and that the props themselves were rather well made, too. In this episode, we're treated to several special effects - certainly more than we've had in the series up to now.

The lift looks fantastic - I'm assuming here that they've not built an actual lift in the studio, but have created it with some camera trickery? Maybe someone more familiar with it can let me know in the comments? Though the shots panning down the lift shaft as it rises and falls do become a bit repetitive after a while.

Especially impressive, though, is the effect of the wall being blistered when a Dalek gun hits it. Done with some form of split-screen effect, it works surprisingly well. Though we don't get actual rays from the Daleks' guns for some time yet, this story does a perfectly valid job of making them seem like a powerful weapon.

The Daleks cutting through the door to reach the TARDIS team is just one of the shots from this story that gets visually referenced many years later for Chris Eccleston's swan song Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways (The other being the first shot of the Daleks' sucker arm in Episode One), and it works just as well here as it did in 2005.

Aside from the effects, the music has also been particularly good this time around. There's a scene where the Daleks hide from the Thals, and their movement in unison out of sight, coupled with the effect of the incidental music really helps sell the tension of the scene. It's fairly easy to see why the Daleks were considered so scary at this stage - here, they're not the single-person tanks they'll later become, but scheming, manipulative little creatures encased in metal.

The Doctor has softened a bit here - already he's becoming a different man to the one I met a week ago at the start of this experiment. When he sits with the Thal woman, looking over the history of Skaro, there's a wonderful mix ofd the excited explorer I enjoyed so much at the start of the last story and the cuddlesome grandfather he'll later become.

And yet, there's still flashes of the original Doctor in here. The debate over weather they should stay and help the Thals or simply leave while they have the chance ('The Thals are no business of ours') is strongly reminiscent of the same debate in the last story, with the teams still being equally drawn.

Still, I'm glad to see that this story isn't wearing me down in the way I'd expected. I'm certainly enjoying it more this time around than during any other watch I've ever done of it…

Next Episode: The Expedition

7 January 2013

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

Day Seven - The Escape (The Daleks, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

A complaint that I often see levelled at the classic series is that it's pacing is just far too slow and plodding. I tried to get my girlfriend to watch an episode once, and she'd practically fallen asleep before the end of Part One.

Now, I've got a bit more of a tolerance for the pace of 60s telly. I'd say around half my DVD collection is stuff from the 50s/60s, so I'm used to watching telly at that pace on a day-to-day basis. Except for Doctor Who.

For some reason, I always seem to sit and watch a classic Who story in a single sitting. You know what? It really doesn't do it justice. Frankly, I'm shocked that I've reached the end of Episode Three of The Daleks, and I'm still thoroughly enjoying it. It's been a while since I last saw it, but I seem to remember being more than a little bored with it by this point.

Taking things an episode a day, though, I'm really enjoying the way that the story is building. Each episode is slowly introducing us to another element. In the first episode, we've got the jungle and the city, then the Daleks show up in part two. At the start of this episode, we're introduced to the Thals, and more of them arrive during these 25 minutes.

This particular instalment also sees us given lots of backstory to both our guest races for the tale. We're given something of a history lesson via Susan and Alydon, and start to understand more about them.

What's interesting is how easily you forget the Daleks' story while watching. I know them as the scourge of the galaxy, feared by everyone and main enemy of the Doctor. While watching along, though, you quickly forget all of that, and find yourself swept up in the thrust of the story.

Aside from the introduction of new elements, the story itself is moving along at a comfortable pace for me. We've had the regulars locked up in a cell for the best part of two episodes, but the end of this one (as the title suggests) sees them making a break from their prison, via the inside of a Dalek casing.

And it all feels just right. The speed at which the Doctor and Ian deduce how Daleks work, before closely studying one bringing them food, is spot on - just long enough for it not to be easy for them, but not so long that you tire of their deductions. The same is true of the story involving the radiation sickness. In some respects, it feels like they've been sick for ages, but actually it's only been the last 45 minutes or so.

There's lots of little things to love in this episode, like the iris on the Daleks' eyes moving. I'd not noticed it before in this story, but it's quite unsettling when it contracts in during the Daleks' speech about giving the TARDIS team sleep, food, and false hope.

Then there's the first almost-mention of the Daleks' most famous catchphrase - when one suggests that the solution for the prisoners breaking the camera is 'extermination, then?'.

I also want to draw attention to Carole Ann Ford in this one. I mentioned earlier in the week that I'm not a great Susan fan, and it bugged me yesterday when she scoffs at the suggestion there could be something inside the Dalek casing, but it has to be said - she's great here.

She's very much the focus of this episode, meeting Alydon outside the TARDIS at the start, and being the go-between for him and the Daleks, while also being present in the cell for the rest of the narrative. She's obviously had a very busy evening in the studio this week!

But it pays off. The moment when she explains to the Daleks that she's signed their message 'Susan' because it's her name is the best performance we've had from her since the very first episode. She's really relishing having a lot to do.

And then a cliffhanger that wills me forward. I'm looking forward to the next episode, but I'm happy to wait until tomorrow. This is starting to feel like a vital part of my evening, now…

Next Episode - The Ambush

6 January 2013

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

Day Six - The Survivors (The Daleks, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

Doctor Who and the Daleks. It's always 'and the Daleks', isn't it? When people at work find out I'm a fan of the show (not that it's any real secret. The last couple of weeks, colleagues have actively been seeking me out to say how much they loved the Christmas special, as if I'll feed it back to the production team), they always make comment about remembering the show from childhood. And then they tell me how mud they loved the Daleks.

My friend Phil (Born 23rd of November, 1963, which officially makes him cool!) is always coming up with new tidbits. 'Was there one with the Daleks in an old Victorian house?' 'What's the one where the soldiers come back from the future, and there's Daleks in the sewers?' 'Didn't they team up with the Master one time?'.

Even my mum, who can't bear the show, has memories of hurriedly leaving the room when the pepper pots from Skaro arrived on the scene.

The point I'm trying to make is that the Daleks are absolutely synonymous with Doctor Who. What's so magical about them is that they're the first aliens to appear in the series, aside from the Doctor and Susan. Every other alien adversary the Doctor has faced has come after he fought the Daleks.

And it's lovely to see just how many hallmarks of Dalek law actually appear in this story. The design, the voice, the 'heartbeat' noise in the heart of their city… all these things survive to this day. Oh, sure, they've changed a bit down the years - the Daleks are rarely as articulate as we find them during this episode, but they're still basically the same creatures.

I have to confess, I love their first appearance here. Discounting the plunger at the end of the last episode (and it's really hart to imagine how scary that would have been on first transmission. Would anyone have really guessed it might be an alien? Or did a nation of children think Babs was being menaced by a plumber?), we don't see them until the Doctor, Susan and Ian emerge into a room full of them.

And there's the style of these models. There's something wonderful about the 1960s Daleks - it's no wonder that Big Finish choose to use them for the majority of their audio plays. Equally, Steven Moffat has recently sung their praises, claiming that the Daleks work best when they're small like this. Ironically.

But, before we go much further, and before I appear to be a real Dalek fanboy… I have a confession to make.

My name is Will, and I don't really like the Daleks.

Yes, yes, I know! I've just waxed lyrical about how they're the iconic villains, how great they look, how important it is for the Doctor to have this enemy… but I just… don't care for them. Give me a Cyberman any day.

Which is why I'm pleasantly surprised with how much I'm enjoying this story so far. By stripping things back to the pace of an episode a day, I'm finding myself able to concentrate on things other than the fact that this is 'the first Dalek story'. I went in expecting to be a bit bored by the whole piece, but actually - what we've had so far is quite good!

The Daleks here are interesting, because I'm seeing them with more personality than I'm used to, and I'm switching off before Dalek fatigue sets in. In many ways, like the last episode, this is 25 minutes focussed on just out four main characters. The Daleks are there, too, but it's hard to engage with them - being faceless machines and all.

The cast is still giving it plenty of enthusiasm and effort. All of them are on fine form still, but throwing an enemy into the mix gives them something to play off. Doctor Who at this stage still feels more like a serial than it usually does. The characters are growing, and they refer back to recent events. It's almost soap-like, with the TARDIS team as the central family of focus.

One other thought, without much of a home. I love the way the TARDIS doors open, and the jungle is just there, outside. There's something magical about that, and I'm so glad it's been brought back for the 21st century series. A black void beyond the doors just isn't as inspiring as this is, and while it's only a product of the way the set's been constructed, I love that the roundels glow when the lighting flares outside.

Next Episode - The Escape

5 January 2013

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

Day Five - The Dead Planet (The Daleks Episode One)

Dear diary,

I couldn't wait to get home today and start this one. Can't tell you how happy that makes me. Historically, I've never been that fond of The Daleks as a story (or as creatures, but we'll come to that in a day or two), but today, it was all I could think about to get home and stick another episode of Doctor Who on. I'm five days in and already it's just becoming a part of the routine. This pleases me no end.

In some ways, it's because I'm predisposed to like The Dead Planet. Like the very first episode of the series, it's one featuring (more-or-less) just our regular four characters. I've praised them enough this week to not need do it again here, but I love them being given a chance to shine like this.

The Doctor's back in his adventurer/scientist/explorer role, as we saw during The Cave of Skulls; eager to get out and examine the petrified jungle. Once he catches sight of the city below, there's no question about it - he has to go and explore. Of course, doing this leads to a life-long battle with a group of evil pepper pots, but still, for now he's as excitable as a child.

His whole character has mellowed somewhat here, too. He's still not the Doctor we know and love (and won't be for some time, yet), though he's got his darker side. Removing the Fluid Link and draining the supply of mercury, just to have an excuse to visit the city, against the wishes of his three companions? That's devious, but it's wonderful. He's lighter, though, in general. He laughs a few times here, and seems - at times - to genuinely enjoy having Ian and Barbara with him in the jungle.

When they find the metallic creature frozen to the rocks, he chides Ian for not being able to conceptualise it, though seems to relish the chance to explain it to him. Equally, he's softer towards Barbara, asking her to talk with his granddaughter, and even admitting that the age gap can be something of a problem between them.

This whole episode feels more like Doctor Who than anything we had during the last story. There, they were dumped into the strange new environment and instantly victims of circumstance. Here, they have a bit more time to explore and actively engage with the adventure. It feels like the whole of An Unearthly Child was there to set things up, and now we can be on our way with the adventure.

There's a few other things I want to draw attention to, but I don't have much to say about them, really. One is the model of the city. I've seen people talk of how rubbish it is; but actually, I really like it! It's got a very 1960s sci-fi feel to it, but it's very well realised. This episode was remounted and re-shot a few weeks after the first recording, so I'm guessing it allowed them more time to work on the model. While I'm on the subject, the shot of the TARDIS team looking over the valley toward the city works very very well. So n'yer.

The second thing I wanted to draw attention to, and sticking with the theme of 1960s sci-fi, is the TARDIS' Food Machine. What a wonderfully 60s idea. I love that the food comes out in little blocks and that Ian is surprised by this. I can't imagine this particular set of TARDIS occupants getting their food any other way, so I'm more than happy to see it here. I can't remember it showing up on many other occasions (though a few spring to mind), but it's perhaps my favourite bit of TARDIS kit.

Ian and Babs must be shattered by the time they get some sleep in this episode, mind. They taught a whole day at Coal Hill, followed a pupil home and then spent several hours playing capture and escape with some cavemen. I'm surprised they didn't slap the Doctor when he first suggested they go explore the city below…

Next Episode - The Survivors

4 January 2013

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

Day Four - The Firemaker (Episode Four)

Dear diary,

I'm only four days in, and watching Doctor Who in this way is already having an effect on me. I'm used to watching the 'classic' series in one sitting, or at least a few sittings across a single day/weekend. My pattern for the last nine years has been to buy the DVD, rush it home and watch it, for the most part.

But on the way back from work earlier on, pondering what to cook for dinner before sitting down to watch The Firemaker, I realised; I was ready to move on from the whole cave man set up and see something different. Not that I've not been enjoying it - I have - but I've just had enough of this setting.

It feels as though I've been watching this particular story for absolutely ages, rather than just a few days. It's a strange sensation, and I'm not sure I entirely dislike it. It's far closer to the experience of watching the programme week-by-week on first transmission. I'll defer to older fans for this, as I wasn't born until the show's dying years in the 1980s; did stories seem to stretch on for ever? This would have taken a month to watch in 1963, and the next story would have taken almost two!

I've therefore spent much of the afternoon wondering why I'm feeling this way. As I've said above, I'm still enjoying this story, despite the slight blip in Episode Two, but at the same time, every time Za and Her come on the screen, I just want to move onto something different.

I'm wondering if it may be the weight that this story holds? This is the very first story, so obviously it has to do an awful lot. It establishes huge swathes of the series (and the next story makes another huge contribution to that), but it's quite unlike anything else the series has ever done.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that the cave-men-looking-for-the-secret-of-fire storyline is mere window dressing. This whole story is about the Doctor and Ian, and the way that they interact together. Ian tells the tribe that he is not the leader of their group, but there's an on-going power struggle with the Doctor right up until the end of the story and their return to the TARDIS.

The story is very much about these characters and the way that they interact with each other. I've commented before that the first episode of the series didn't feel especially distinct from a lot of 190s telly, and this is true to some extent as far as this episode. Yes, we've been through time and space to get here, but it's still not particularly 'out there'.

With the next tale standing at almost twice the length, I'm interested to see if I'll end up with the same feeling of simply wanting to move on with things.

Now comes the interesting bit, where I'm going to have to sum up my thoughts on the story over-all. I've been rating episodes individually as I go, which was the main reason for doing this marathon an episode a day. I'm interested to see how I react to stories where one episode lets them down, or picks them up.

Taking the ratings for An Unearthly Child, The Cave of Skulls, The Forest of Fear and The Firemaker, I'll be giving this story (which I'm titling over-all as An Unearthly Child, no arguments, please);

Do expect some graphs and charts and figures once we reach key stages in the marathon. Love a bit of figure analysis, me. There'll be some thoughts about my ratings system at the bottom of today's post, too.

I think, on the whole, I like An Unearthly Child, but it's just not Doctor Who as we know it. I like a lot of it because of the history and what it begins. I've mentioned a few times that people often say it's one episode, followed by three mediocre ones, but actually, there's a lot to love.

As I seem to keep saying, these episodes are about the characters themselves. Doctor Who characters aren't often given as much thought and development as our quartet are in this story, and it's lovely to see. At the end of these few episodes, I feel I know the Doctor and Ian well enough, though Barbara has had little to do overall.

My main complaint, I guess, comes down to format. I stated yesterday that Episode Three avoided the trap of being 'capture-escape-capture', but looking back, that's very much the whole story. They're captured by the tribe in Episode Two, escape for Episode Three, are re-captured for Episode Four, before making another escape.

It's not the end of the world, though, and I'm glad to say that I'm excited to be moving on to a new time and space, so perfectly teased in the final moments of this story…

* * *

And now, a word on my rating system. Often online, I see ratings of '9' or '10' being thrown about far too easily. I've seen it said in some forums that people wouldn't rate a story below a '6'.

To me, though, this simply defeats the point of rating something out of ten in the first place! Surely '10' is the absolute pinnacle, '1' the nadir, and '5' just pretty average? I've been rating these episodes as I go along purely on gut instinct. An Unearthly Child, for me, contains a couple of episodes that are little more than average, and a couple that rise above that.

So, this is my scale of '1-10' ratings. I'll be using these definitions in my mind as I continue in the marathon…

10 - Perfect. The absolute pinnacle.
9 - They don't get much better than this.
8 - Fantastic!
7 - Well above average.
6 - Above Average.
5 - Average.
4 - Below Average.
3 - Poor.
2 - Dreadful.
1 - Why am I doing this, again?

3 January 2013
 

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

Day Three - The Forest of Fear (Episode Three)

Dear diary,

A lot gets made in this episode about the moment that the Doctor prepares to kill a caveman to make his escape. So much is made of it, in fact, that in my head it's this big moment where he picks up a large rock and holds it above the man's skull.

Of course, in actual fact, it's little more than the Doctor picking up the stone and turning it in his hand. His intention is clear, and when Ian asks the Doctor what he's doing, neither one of them says it aloud, but they're both aware of what could have happened. It's better this way, than the version in my head. Far more subtle. The entire interaction is sold on the skills of Hartnell and Russell, their interaction and the direction of the brief scene.

This is a stronger episode than the last - far more enjoyable. Even the scenes with the cave people were more to my taste, and I wonder if it's simply because I'm getting into the story more? It's certainly not got the problems that many later Doctor Who stories develop in Episode Three, where it becomes little more than a sequence of capture-and-escape.

Here, we're presented with an episode mostly involving our heroes running away from their enemies, and then coming around to help them. It may not sound all that far removed from a traditional Episode Three, but here we're treated to a hefty dose of character development.

It's often held up as something that the modern incarnation of Doctor Who does very well, but here it's in evidence just three weeks in. The Doctor and Ian are still suspicious of each other, but they've softened. The Doctor is being stubborn for the sake of it, and Ian simply refuses to let him get away with it.

But the Doctor is already warming to his new companions. He tells Barbara that 'fear makes companions of us all', and that's certainly in evidence here. He agrees with Ian that they must remain hopeful of an escape, and he tries to comfort his fellow travellers before they're set free from the cave.

He reverts somewhat to being less helpful when faced with the prospect of helping the cavemen. Having watched as his would-be-captor is mauled by a wild animal, he's very willing to use the opportunity to escape for freedom. Ian is of the same opinion - it's Barbara and then Susan who convince them otherwise.

Like the sequence with the stone, much gets written about how the Doctor at this stage in the series is so very far removed from the hero figure we know and love from much of the show's history. This is the first example of why it's Ian and Barbara that turn him around, teach him to be more forgiving of others and more willing to help.

We'll see this theme coming up more and more over the next few weeks, but it's nice to see that it's already begun as early as this.

Next Episode: The Firemaker

2 January 2013
 

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

Day Two - The Cave of Skulls (Episode Two)

Dear diary,

The common conception of An Unearthly Child as a story is that it's a brilliant first episode, followed by three instalments of dross. I've always riled against this - I love to be a bit different, after all. That said, the scenes with Kal and Za fighting over leadership of their tribe are bloody dull.

The first few minutes of the episode, following an extended reprise of the fabulous cliffhanger from yesterday are just boring. There's no other word for it. Watching Za (The son of the great Fire-maker, don't-cha-know) rub his hands above a pile of sticks, while promising that today is the day the Great Orb will show him the secret of fire is… well…

I should explain. I've set myself a few rules for this marathon, aside from the whole 'no more than one episode a day' thing. One of these rules is that I'm not allowed to play with my phone at all while I watch. If I'm busy playing Angry Birds, then I'm not realign getting the full benefit of watching through, am I? Anyway, the point is that it's not a good sign if three-and-a-half minutes into an episode, I'm glancing toward my phone and wondering if it's too early to break that rule.

Things do pick up once we join our four time travellers in the TARDIS, though. Yesterday, I commented that there would be plenty of time to praise these four, and this seems like an ideal opportunity. The Doctor and Ian confronting each other around the TARDIS console is a marvellous scene; Ian simply refusing to hear what the Doctor is telling him (he almost goes full-on Victor Meldrew when Barbara tells him she's willing to accept it!), and the Doctor treating him as a child in return.

Hartnell and Russell really have a great time with this material, though you do rather side with Ian on the debate. Yes, fair enough, they've just entered a police box in a junk yard and found it to be bigger on the inside, but that's no reason to simply believe that they've actually moved just because the TV on the ceiling shows an image of a desert. For all Ian and Barbara know, the Doctor could be watching an episode of Zoo Quest.

The enjoyment continues outside the ship, when the travellers set off to explore. I love that the Doctor carries a bag with him, and that Susan insists he'd never go anywhere without his note book. The Doctor really comes across as a scientist, here, taking his geiger counter outside and seeming positively thrilled by the chance to study the rocks and find out where they are.

He spent a while in the last episode telling us how much he disliked being settled in 1963 (though he tolerates it), and so he's clearly enjoying the freedom here and now. His concern that the TARDIS hasn't changed shape to blend in with the surroundings is one of the lines from this story that's often quoted, but I've never noticed how much it's set up as a mystery.

I've always taken it for granted that the TARDIS looks like a London police box because it was stuck that way after a time in the junk-yard, but you forget that it's explained away like that so early. Susan later draws attention to it, commenting on how unusual it is to have not changed. It almost feels like they're setting this up as an on-going mystery, though I'm not sure if that's the case. I've never noticed it before, so I'll be interested to see if it's brought up again, or forgotten after this point. 

Now, Susan. I'm going to have to address this topic at some stage, so we might as well do it here, because it's already started. Susan really gets on my nerves. She's fairly hysterical in this one, when she finds the Doctor has gone missing, and there's a lot of shrieking, and jumping on cave people's backs.

Be warned. There's likely to be more than one moan about Susan over the next couple of months…

Next Episode - The Forest of Fear

1 January 2013
 

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

Dear diary,

Hello! Happy New Year. 2013 - surely this is the year to be a Doctor Who fan? Anyway, resolutions made (same as ever, I promise to visit the gym more. I'll go later. Or maybe tomorrow.), and it's time to settle down to watch the first episode of my marathon.

Now, let's be under no illusions, right here from the start. I'm not coming to 'classic Doctor Who cold. Not even slightly. Since I saw my first episode way back in 2003 (weyhey! it's been a whole decade. I've only just noticed that!), I've seen a large chunk of televised Who. There's a few select stories that I know nothing about, but for the most part, I know what's coming.

This is especially true of An Unearthly Child. It's hard to imagine, with this year seeing the final few releases for the DVD range, but there was a time I didn't have (almost) the entire series sat on my shelf in shiny disc form. I didn't get to see this first episode until 2006, when the 'Beginning' box set was released. Since then, I've seen it plenty of times.

I like that I had to wait to watch it way back when! I can still remember picking it up from Woolworth's on my way to college, and some of my friends looking at it in a lecture. We'd had the Ninth Doctor by this point, but Doctor Who still wasn't 'cool' among most of my friends at the time. It took David Tennant to bring many of them into the fold.

But they were genuinely interested! Because here was a Doctor Who DVD of a story made some forty-three years earlier! Yes! It had that much history! Brilliant! Fantastic! And their excitement only made me more excited! It was bad enough that I had lectures and classes all day, I wanted to get home and watch the first episode!

Of course, the mistake I made upon actually getting home was to select 'play all' from the menu, so I watched the pilot episode first, assuming it was the first episode, then got very confused when the second instalment was the same thing with some subtle changes to it.

Since then, though, I've seen it plenty of times. It must be up there with The Five Doctors in terms of how often I've sat down to watch this episode. There's a common conception among Doctor Who fans that these 25 minutes are bloody brilliant, and some of the best the show has ever produced.

And you know what? Much as I'd love to be all contrary, they're right!

It's quite hard to watch this story in isolation. 50 years of history have attached a significance to this opening episode that it just wouldn't have had on its first television outing. I've read plenty of blogs that describe the opening shot, which tracks from a policeman in the fog, through the gates and unto the mysteriously humming Police Box as being 'iconic', but it simply wasn't. Not then, anyway.

We've given in this meaning in the years that have followed, because we know that 25 minutes later it'll be stood on a rocky plain, and then in a few weeks it'll be on Skaro, then captured by Marco Polo, before being sent off to Marinus, etc, etc. It's bloody difficult to take this episode for what it is; just another piece of TV.

This time round, though, I'm in the right frame of mind. Just before Christmas, Network DVD had a massive sale of their archive titles. I've spent the last few weeks sat in front of episodes of Danger Man, The Saint, 1960s episodes of Coronation Street and The Army Game. Just a few weeks ago, I was watching William Russell ride a horse around Camelot as Sir Lancelot!

My screen has been more black and white than it has been colour in the last month or so, and you know what? This episode fits right in. It doesn't feel ground-breaking. It's not iconic. It's just another piece of drama. It's very good drama, don't get me wrong, but in the context of the day, it's just another half-hour programme.

But you know what? It's better for that! I've never enjoyed this episode more than i have tonight. I've never seen it so detached from the weight of what's to come. There's plenty of good dialogue, and the four main cast turn in performances which I'm sure I'll be praising over the next few months, but it's a surprisingly low-key start to this most famous of series.

It's so very tempting to move right on. I know many people who watch this one episode and then skip the next three, but this first cliffhanger is a great one. This first episode might be little more than normal, but the last few seconds promise something bold and different to come…

Next Episode - The Cave of Skulls

15 December 2012

Dear diary…

There are two things in life that I'm very bad at (look at that, I'm just thirteen words in, and I've already lied. Truth be told, there's lots of things in life I'm very bad at. Like trying to make flapjacks, or successfully remove an intruding spider from my flat. There's two things I'm very bad at, though, which are vital to this entry); keeping a diary and completing a Doctor Who marathon.

That's a good start, isn't it? You've just clicked onto the first post in my 50 year diary for Doctor Who Online, and I've told you I'm rubbish. Start as you mean to go on, I suppose.

Thing is, they're tricky, aren't they? Both diaries and marathons. Diaries are tricky because I'm never sure what I want to write in them. I started one once, I must have been about thirteen or fourteen, with the sentence 'Went to Woolworths. Bought some sweets' (Woolworths, hah, that dates it…). Like I was ever going to look back in a decade's time and find that fascinating.

And then I wonder what to write about the bad times. Do I write it down verbatim, or will it just bum me out when I read it back? Do you see? Tricky. The solution - which I've found over many years of painstaking research - is to simply give up on January 4th and only open the diary again when you need to check what day your birthday falls in, or you need some paper to draw a funny picture of a Taran Wood Beast. Oh, don't judge me, we've all done it.

Marathons, then. Why are those tricky, you all ask? Well, one of you probably. Well, actually, marathons aren't all that tricky. Not really. I've watched through Friends in order several times, for instance. It's only Doctor Who marathons that I struggle with.

It's not that I don't like it. Quite the opposite - especially at the start! I love the 1960s! I'd go so far as to say (this is putting my cards on the table pretty early) that the 1960s is possibly my favourite era of the show. A time of limitless imagination against the odds. Yes, the other half sniggers when she catches me watching The Web Planet, but you know what? It's got charm. They didn't care if the budget didn't quite stretch that far - they were making television, and they were going to do their best.

No, the problem is that there's just so much of it. Doctor Who is big, and sprawling. At the time of writing, there's somewhere in the region of 789 individual episodes, with another due in just over a week. Then there's 2013! The big 5-0! It's daunting, when you see it all there waiting, and that's a bit off-putting.

But the biggest problem I have when it comes to trying a Who marathon? Gluttony. I love it too much! I'll watch An Unearthly Child, The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction all across one lazy weekend, then hurry through the rest of that first season before the week is out.

Frankly, I burn out.

So that's where this new project comes in. I'm going to be starting a brand new diary from January 1st 2013, as I make my way through Doctor Who, an episode a day. At that rate, by the end of 2013, I'll have only made it to Season Eleven.

And I'm being strict about this, too. No 'Oh, go on, then! Just one more episode!', it's one a day! Once I've watched, I'll be posting my thoughts here in my diary on Doctor Who Online. I can't promise it's going to be particularly intellectual reading, but it'll be my honest thoughts as I make my way through time and space, in a little blue box.

Hopefully, some of you will follow my journey! That'd be nice! If I've someone reading my diary, then there's a reason to keep writing, and more importantly, a reason to keep to my mission.

ONE per day! No more! No less!

I've set myself a few more rules for the task, which I'll go into more detail about once we've rung in the New Year, but for now, I thought I'd say 'hello!', and invite you aboard.

I'll see you back here January 1st…

-----

Will Brooks is a freelance writer and kitchen designer based in Cardiff, just a stone's throw away from the Torchwood Hub. He's written for the official Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space Role Playing Game, and made his way through a marathon of the Eighth Doctor's audio plays with Nick Mellish for the 2011 book Memoirs of an Edwardian Adventurer.

He's very pleased to be posting his blog on Doctor Who Online.

If you fancy keeping up with Will's non-marathon adventures, you'll find him on Twitter.

18 January 2012

Being Human is back, having controversially parted ways with two of the three regulars and parachuted in a new vampire and werewolf. 

Why this is relevant, aside from SciFiNow going behind the scenes on the new series – as recounted in the latest issue by the stunning scribblings of our senior staff writer Jodie Tyley – and Toby Whithouse dropping a few Doctor Who Series Seven nuggets in there, is that the backlash to the casting change instantly draws comparisons to another slab of BBC telefantasy with a devoted following. 

One of the voices proclaiming that the series should just end rather than replace its original cast had for his Twitter icon an image of Matt Smith. The irony alarm had to be unplugged it was making so much noise. 

I know, I know, that’s a bit unkind. The ability to change the core cast of Doctor Who is central to the concept, and that’s not the case for Being Human, but you have to remember that it wasn’t always so, and change was just as alarming 40-odd years ago as it is now. 

William Hartnell left, perhaps because of his glove habit (+10 Who Points if you laughed at that), and the production team were left with a number of options: they could find another crotchety old character actor, kill the show dead, or cast a radically different new face into the same rough chassis of the old one, while inventing some guff about the Doctor’s alien race needing periodic renewal to smooth over the cracks.

How would you have reacted in 1966 when you heard the cult show of the day was just sweeping the previous three years under the carpet? “Pffft, a new Doctor!?” you might have screeched on whatever passed for Twitter in the Sixties. “You might as well change the police box into a rocket-powered Cadillac, because it’s clearly not going to be the same show.”

It wasn’t the same show. Well, it kinda was, but it also wasn’t. The concept expanded and matured, and the dynamic shifted radically, and then in 1969… they did it all over again!

There’s a lot we can still learn from Doctor Who. A show with this sort of lengthy and cluttered history, with incredible highs and lamentable lows, is a good vantage point from which we  can look down at the rest of science fiction and fantasy.

Like the Doctor himself with his centuries of perspective, our love for a show that is nearly half a century old is a wondrous aid for putting things into perspective. There’s a new vampire in Being Human? Pffft, whatever, my favourite show replaced its lead actor ten times!

SciFiNow Issue #64 is out now, with a massive behind the scenes feature on the controversial new series of Being Human, and an eight-page Complete Guide to the Second Doctor. You can buy it digitally from the Apple Newsstand, or online from the ImagineShop. Check it out at www.scifinow.co.uk.

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