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13 February 2015

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

Day 774: Partners in Crime

Dear diary,

Oh, the fury when it was announced that Catherine Tate would be returning to the show for a full season as the regular companion. Outpost Gallifrey was so cross that a comedy actress - God forbid - would be travelling in the TARDIS for so long. And then this episode aired, and people were split! An episode with a large dollop of comedy thrown in for good measure! Some people fell over themselves to do a volte-face and proclaiming that Donna would be a great boost to the series, while others simply pointed to the moments of levity in this one as signs that she’d be taking the programme down with her.

As for me, well, I was thrilled when they announced Donna’s return - I’d enjoyed her well enough in The Runaway Bride, and it sounded like she was going to be a lot of fun. When Partners in Crime aired, I was beside myself - it’s a great way to set up the new series.

For starters, it’s nice to open in such a different way to previous years. Rose and Smith and Jones are both about someone getting caught up in the Doctor’s adventures and enjoying the thrill (though both are very different stories, even if you can group them in this lose category), while New Earth was about continuing the adventure, with pre-established characters. Partners in Crime gets to be an unusual new spin on the format, with a character who’s already been established and allowed to peak into the Doctor’s world (I really love the way the Doctor tries to impress Donna in the TARDIS at the end, only for her to stop him with a simple ‘I know all that’), while at the same time allowing the ‘getting caught up in the adventure’ strand to play out. 

I’d forgotten just how long they play the whole ‘Doctor and Donna Missing Each Other’ thing at the start, but it’s all the better for it - when they finally spot each other across the office about 20 minutes in, the moment is lifted simply because they’ve been coming so close. And if there was ever need to prove that a comedic actress in Doctor Who can be a fantastic thing, just look at this scene! I’ve not watched the episode in full for years, but I must have seen this bit ten times over - it never gets old for me.

As for the story itself… Eh. I mean it’s not bad, by any stretch, but it’s just sort of ‘average’ Doctor Who. I can sort of take or leave the actual story of this episode, because it’s so much about the Doctor and Donna meeting again, and looking at the way their lives have changed since they last saw each other. I love Russell T Davies’ description in ‘The Writer’s Tale’ about the way you meet someone special and desire that your whole life is going to change, but then you get up the next day, and there’s bills, and work, and all that nonsense. It feels so very real8 that Donna should have failed to ‘walk in the dust’ after the events of *the Runaway Bride, and the sad way she admits it to the Doctor here is beautiful. As for the Doctor, it’s really nice for him to finally acknowledge just how much Martha meant to him, and to try and face the way that he treated her during their adventures. Something I’d never appreciated before is the way in which the Doctor says the Adipose here are just children and can’t help where they came from - Donna’s right, it is a real change, because he murdered the Racnoss children last time they met. I don’t think I’d ever noticed quite how nicely that parallels before, but it’s one of the highlights for me. 

12 February 2015

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

Day 773: Voyage of the Damned

Dear diary,

I’ll confess I’ve not been looking forward to reaching this one. Not that I have any bad memories of it (indeed, I’ve quite happy memories of it - at Christmas, we used to rotate every year between which family member was hosting the evening meal, so I got to watch The Christmas Invasion at home, and the same for The Runaway Bride, because while Christmas that year was at the grandparent’s, they only lived thirty seconds the other side of the farm, so I could nip home in time to see the Doctor and the Bride. Christmas 2007 was spent at the aunt’s house, but myself and another family member were outvoted on who got the TV remote, so we ended up watching Voyage of the Damned on the tiny little telly in the kitchen instead - the irony of watching what it arguably the first real ‘blockbuster’ of Doctor Who on the smallest screen ever still isn’t lost on me, but it was fun to sit and watch and laugh our way through it, while picking at the leftover turkey).

No, the thing that’s been putting me off is the sheer size of this episode. It’s over 70 minutes! I’m easily able to set aside 45 minutes a day to sit and watch the latest Doctor Who for the Diary, but having to find a slot significantly longer than that was making me dread this a little bit, and then I started to think of the episode as being a bit bloated, over-long, and rubbish. It didn’t help that over Christmas, I routinely saw this episode listed second to only The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe as the worst of the Xmas specials. In short, I was worried that I’d be setting aside a large chunk of time to watch an episode that wasn’t very good. 

But in that wonderful way that’s happened time and time again throughout this process, I sat down, hit ‘play’, and absolutely fell in love with the episode I was watching! Why on Earth are people rating this so low among the Xmas specials? There’s so much to love here! Remember last Christmas (Oh, fine, ‘remember two weeks ago’), when I said that you could suddenly see the production team stretching their wings and really showing us what they could do? That feels like nothing compared to the scale of what we’ve got in this episode. That old irony of watching this one on such a tiny TV screen suddenly hit home even harder today, because I don’t think I’ve ever realised just how grand this one is.

And as for being bloated and over-long? Not a bit of it! I didn’t once find myself checking the tine (as I’d feared I might do). The story moves at exactly the pace it needs and wants to, and then ends when it’s done. The episode is 70-odd minutes because that’s how long it takes to tell it. It also means that we get to take a step back and really enjoy the story. I said a few days ago that Human Nature was quite a slow episode, devoting real time to setting everything up so that we really felt embedded in that world by the time things kicked off in the second half of the tale. We get to see that same system at work here again - with loads of time given over to just the Doctor wandering around the crowded room, meeting various people who we’ll be spending the adventure with, and setting everything in to place. Oh, it’s glorious. Even once we’ve done that initial set up, pulled back to reveal the Titanic is a spaceship hovering over the Earth (Which, by the way, is a great image to hook in your casual audience, perhaps more so than anything since the Daleks came back), we come out of the titles and resume at that same pace. The extended running time allows us to really enjoy the story, and not have to rush through it at breakneck speed. As if to underline that point, we don’t get our first sight of Kylie Minogue until five minutes in… and even then it’s only in passing, as we cut between images of different people in the room. A major guest star like Kylie on board, and they can afford to be leisurely about it!

Oh, but then the meteorites crash, and the action kicks into gear. We don’t lose that measured pace once everything kicks off - far from it, there’s plenty of time to stop, take stock, and share real character moments - but we get action sequences like the entire scene of the cast crossing the open engines, which really show off what this programme can do. A friend the other day described Series Four as being the most confident that Doctor Who has ever been, and that starts right here in this episode. This is Who made by a team who are absolutely certain of themselves, and all the better for it.

I’m not going to list everything that I’ve enjoyed in this one, because I’d be here all night (I’ve mentioned Kylie in passing, but not said how good she is, nor praised the performance of Geoffrey Palmer, who dies fairly early on but gives perhaps the best performance in the entire episode), but I do want to draw attention to something else - there’s subtle foreshadowing of the Tenth Doctor’s demise creeping in here, and it’s not something I would have noticed before, because when this aired, we still had another few years of Tennant to go (and I’m fairly sure, from repeated readings of ‘The Writer’s Tale’ that the Tenth Doctor’s downfall hadn’t even been dreamt up by this point).

No, I’m not talking about the first appearance of Wilf, though it’s fitting that he shows up here when these threads start to draw together. It’s the end of the episode, where the Doctor suddenly realises that Astrid was wearing a teleport bracelet, and tries desperately to bring her back to life. When it’s suggested to him that this simply can’t be done, the Doctor screams, and shouts, and kicks the stand of bracelets, while proclaiming that he can do anything. It’s the kind of arrogance that we see later on from the Time Lord Victorious, and I love that it’s then thrown into focus by Mr Copper just a moment later;

MR COPPER

If you could choose, Doctor, if you decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster. 

It was only afterwards, discussing this with a friend, that it was pointed out this theme really runs from now right up to the regeneration, and it’s certainly something that I’m going to be keeping an eye out for in the next few weeks… 

11 February 2015

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

Day 772: Last of the Time Lords

Dear diary,

When you're in fandom for long enough, you start to get used to the same old complains about stories cropping up time and time again. This story is one of the ones that tends to rear its head on a fairly regular basis, and it's largely down to the ending. People complain that the 'reset button' way this story is closed - with the world being reset so that the events of the last year never happened weaken the story, but I'm not sure that's quite the problem. Certainly, something didn't sit quite right with me in today's episode - but it wasn't the fact that things got re-set at the end.

It took a discussion with my friend Nick to really hammer out what the big issue with this story was - it's all a bit too easy. I spent a fair bit of time yesterday praising the way that the stakes had been raised possibly higher than ever before - certainly things hadn't felt more desperate for the Doctor and his companions yet in the revived series. Cut off from any sort of support, and with the world in thrall to the Master… it really felt like there was no way out. By the time the episode ended, the Toclafane had begun the destruction of the Earth's population, the Doctor had been aged radically, and Martha had teleported away from the Valiant, stuck on her own, with only a quick whisper from the Doctor to tell her what needed to be done.

All of that, in theory, sets us up beautifully for today's episode, and certainly when we open in the world of 'One Year Later', it does feel desperate still. The Master is in control. Humanity is enslaved. He's built an army of warships ready to wage war across the stars. So far, so good (well, you know what I mean). But then, Martha arrives on a little boat and tells us about the struggles she's had to face in the last twelve months and it all just feels… I don't know. False? 

I think the fact that we don't get to see any of the hell the planet has faced in any great detail (the episode does its best to fill us in here) means that rejoining the story just in time for the downfall was always going to feel a bit off. Watching it through at this pace of an episode each day makes it feel like Martha laves the Valiant, then returns again and brings an end to it all. The threat is just dissipated too quickly. It doesn't help that the Doctor, Jack, and Martha's family are all still stuck aboard the Valiant in more-or-less the same state as when we last saw them. It doesn't feel like the 'Year of Hell' has actually occurred.

This is where we come back to that issue of the re-set ending. It shouldn't be a problem. So, the Year of Hell never actually happened for the people of the Earth, it all got undone. Well… so flippin' what? Because the preceding half hour has failed to really engage me with this so-called 'Hell', it doesn't feel like undoing it all makes that much of an impact. That's not the issue.

Realistically, resetting the time line and leaving those aboard the Valiant as the only people who can remember all those events should be a great opportunity for dramatic potential - almost all of Martha's family have been through it, and it forms the basis of her departure at the very end of he episode. But, as I've said, it doesn't feel like they've had much of a struggle. Yeah, the Joneses have been forced to act as the Master's 'staff' for twelve months, and I'm sure he's made them watch some of the horrors supposedly happening down on the surface, but… we don't see any of that. It's not even hinted at. Add into that the fact that we then don't get to see much of the fallout from the situation (we watch the family through the window when Martha heads out to say goodbye to the Doctor, but that's it), and that I've never connected to them in the same way I did with Jackie and Mickey… and we're just left with a bit of a damp squib.

Yesterday, I debated wether this finale was a three-part story (including Utopia), or a two-parter. I can't help but thinking that three parts might have been better pent by giving over 45 minutes to the 'Year That Never Was', actively showing us Martha as she walks the Earth, and the struggles that those aboard the Valliant were forced to endure, because as it is, this finale is certainly a three-parter, but the final third is far weaker than the two that precede it.

10 February 2015

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

Day 771: The Sound of Drums

Dear diary,

I’ve seen a lot of debate over the years about the Series Three finale. Specifically, is it a two-parter, or a three-parter? Certainly, the BBC officially class it as a three-parter, and watching here it’s hard to disagree with that statement. Utopia doesn’t end with a tease into the next episode, and the next adventure, it ends on a proper cliffhanger, with the Doctor and his companions trapped at the end of the universe while the Master regenerates and escapes in the TARDIS. We pick up in today’s episode with our trio escaping those events, and following the Master’s trail back to 21st century Earth… in my mind this is clearly the next episode in a trilogy. I think the issue comes in Series Four, when Turn Left isn’t classed as the start of a three-parter with that finale, but I’ll reserve judgement for a couple of weeks until I’ve watched it again. How about you lot? Where do you stand on the great Utopia/Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords debate? Two parts or three? Answers on a postcard (or just in the comments).

I’ve also seen a lot of debate as to the various merits or otherwise of this finale. I think it’s fair to say that it’s not overly loved by fandom, is it? In last year’s big story poll by Doctor Who Magazine, it was ranked as the 55th best story - meaning that only Season Six’s finale, The Wedding of River Song, placed lower (at number 129 - ouch), while all the other season finales of the modern era were ahead of it - some by considerable margins (The Name of the Doctor comes in at 15, with Parting of the Ways pulling the lead at number 13).

My memory of this one is that the story was all right, I suppose, but it was hardly Earth-shattering, and if anything it all felt like a bit of a mess by the end, so I’ve never really thought of it in a particularly positive light, truth be told.

That said, I’ve found a fair bit to like in today’s episode, and it largely starts with the scale of the threat. It really reels very desperate, doesn’t it? The Parting of the Ways faces us with an army of Daleks, and little hope of escape. That’s bad enough. Doomsday posits an Earth invaded by Daleks and Cybermen, ready to wage war over the planet. Also, fairly high stakes, though two weeks on from that one, it all feels a bit artificial. This episode, though, hits home by being so very real. Oh, yes, fine, there’s an alien as Prime Minister and he’s working in league with floating silver balls, but they only make up a very small part of today’s episode - and don’t really come in to play in a major way until the end. 

Instead, the majority of this one is given over to the Doctor, Martha, and Jack on the run. They’re ‘most wanted’ and on the news, so it’s not like the last couple of finales, where the Doctor can swan in and take command. They have to lie low. On top of that, Martha’s flat is blown up, and we have to watch as her family is dragged (literally kicking and screaming) into custody. Because we’re watching events that could very easily happen on any of our streets at any time (and, indeed, in some parts of the world aren’t all that unusual occurrences), it hits home in a way that the other finales simply don’t.

While I’m on the subject of Martha’s family… I said during The Lazarus Experiment that they never really worked for me, but I’ve been surprised on this watch through just how much they have. Oh, they’re certainly still the weakest of the RTD-era families, but they’re also a lot better than I’ve been giving them credit for all these years. One of my bugbears was the fact that they couldn’t get Reggie Yates in for filming more than a day’s work on these finale episodes, so he’s largely sidelined in the plot. For ages, that’s always been something that serves as a minor irritant, and the perfect example of why the family never really felt as strong as the others. Actually, though, it’s handled quite well! If I didn’t know he’d simply been unavailable, I don’t think I’d have batted an eyelid. Perhaps one of those times where knowing too much about the behind the scenes going-ons actively harms the programme itself?

So… cautiously, we’re not looking too bad at this middle stage. I’ll be interested to see if tomorrow’s episode continues this trend of things holding up better second time around… 

9 February 2015

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

Day 770: Utopia

Dear diary,

A couple of days ago, I mentioned planning a holiday around the end of the series, and making sure I didn’t miss this episode by being away. It seemed like the most exciting thing in the entire world at the time. Not only was it the return of Captain Jack - who, of course, we’d spent thirteen episodes with the previous year in Torchwood, but hadn’t been part of the main series for a couple of years - but there were very strong rumours that the Master was going to show up in this one. Oh, that was the kind of spoiler that I love. You see, everywhere online fans were speculating about the return of the Master, and how likely it was that John Simm was playing him, and that he might make a surprise cameo in this episode… 

…and yet, as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t actually confirmed to be the case. not yet, anyway. Oh, sure, there were lots of things pointing towards it (though some of them felt ridiculous - someone had worked out that ‘Mister Saxon’ was an anagram of ‘Master No. Six’, and Simm would be the sixth actor to play the character, for example, but only if you didn’t count Gordon Tipple’s brief appearance, or you amalgamated the two versions of ‘decaying Master’ from the 70s into one, despite their being played by two different people. You see what I mean? It sounded silly!) But certainly I had managed to avoid any speculation about Jacobi also playing the Master, and regenerating on screen!

Oh, it was the most exciting thing in the world settling down to watch this episode, and slowly piecing it together in time with the professor as the adventure went on. I can distinctly remember watching all these words overwhelming the character and assuming that he was going to reveal that he knew another man who claimed to be a time traveller with a TARDIS, and here he comes now! I can’t remember when it dawned on me that Jacobi was the Master, though. I think the realisation kicked in the second that he produced the watch - even before he turns it over, you just know what it means.

And you know what, I can admit right now that this episode gets a slightly higher score simply because watching it brings back all those emotions of seeing it the first time around. Was the Master coming back? Even if he was, would he be putting in an appearance during this week’s episode? Where is all of this leading? Does the Professor know something? Some*one*? Even now, it’s watching that story unfold that really works for me. It’s watching Jacobi’s performance (just like bringing in Eccleston to fill the role of the Doctor before Tennant could take over and do it his way, it was such brilliant casting to get someone like Jacobi in to play the part of the Master here - he really steals the scene at every turn) that I enjoy the most about Utopia, because the story itself I can sort of take-or-leave. It’s all window-dressing for the real tale, and set up for the finale to come.

Jacobi isn’t the only one who lights up the screen here, though. I know I spent an entire entry the other day praising David Tennant’s performance, but I need to signal him out once more here. That scene, where he watches Jack through the window of the radiation chamber… oh, there’s something chilling about the Doctor here. There’s a look he gives Jack, and you can see the character’s darker side just for a flash. At the time, I recall it being something of a mystery as to why the Doctor had rushed off and left Jack behind at the end of Parting of the Ways - for ages, I speculated that he simply didn’t realise that Rose had brought him back (and that him telling her he had ‘plenty to do’ in rebuilding Earth’s Empire during the 2005 Children in Need episode was him trying to spare her the knowledge that he’d died, since she’d forgotten all the events of her ‘Bad Wolf’ moment), but I still like the idea that he simply ran away from the man, because he knew what had happened, and it made his skin crawl. Still, it’s great to have the character back, and I’m glad that he works so well with the Tenth Doctor - they gel so effortlessly in a way that he didn’t quite with the previous incarnation, and I can’t help but love him a little bit. 

8 February 2015

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

Day 769: The Infinite Quest

Dear diary,

Oh, I debated over including this one in The 50 Year Diary. The debates that raged inside my head! Largely, those debates were centred on the fact that it was broadcast in three minute chunks weekly alongside the series, so would be an awkward format to sit through (though I briefly considered doing one part a day, to write about alongside the episodes proper). It wasn’t like Dreamland, which I’ll be coming to during the 2009 specials, which was one nice, complete episode…

…until about three weeks ago, when I happened to be browsing the shelves in a DVD store and spotted The Infinite Quest among the other titles. I couldn’t have told you that this ever made it to DVD, and it transpires that it’s a compilation version that makes it a complete episode! I’ve since been reliably informed that this version was shown on TV at the time, but it must have completely passed me by. Suddenly, this changed everything. I’ve said several times in the last month that some of these episodes feel like new ones because I’ve not seen them for so long… but this really is an entirely new-to-me episode of the Tenth Doctor era! Exciting! Plus, the DVD was only a pound, so who am I to say no to that?

Truth be told, I wasn’t really expecting all that much from this one. After all, it was produced to go out in those little bites alongside a children’s show to accompany the main series. This was never going to beat out the episodes I’ve been watching over the last few days. Actually, though, it does a pretty decent job of standing on its own as a kind of ‘bonus’ episode for Series Three. Certainly, the Doctor and Martha are well written, and fit in with their characterisations throughout the rest of the run (Though I’d say it’s fair to suggest that both Tennant and Ageyman ease into it as the story progresses and they get more comfortable with playing these parts to a different medium).

As for the story itself… well, it’s good enough if a little on the slight side. It can’t ever get too involved, presumably because of the original broadcast format (and having to build to a king of ‘mini-cliffhanger’ every three minutes or so does become a little wearing as the episode goes on - even in this omnibus form, it’s very clear where the breaks were originally), but it means that this Hartnell-esque chase across space is perfectly suited. That also gives me yet more ammunition in my continuing (and not entirely serious) suggestion that Series Three is one big homage to the Hartnell story The Chase. Some of the locations we get here feel uniquely suited to those kinds of Hartnell stories, too, with worlds of ‘twin suns’ (hence, very hot), and worlds of pure ice (hence, very cold). There’s even a jungle thrown in for good measure, on a world populated by insects!

The main thing to mention, I suppose, in an animated episode of Doctor Who is the actual animation itself. It’s… well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest. On the one hand, there’s some really lovely bits of design going on. The look of the Infinite as a marooned shipwreck caught in an asteroid belt is lovely (oh, one of my favourite images from all of Doctor Who, I’d dare to say - it’s very nicely done). Then there’s odd hints of that pseudo ‘3D’ style that Futurama is so well known for dotted about here and there - most obviously in the character of Caw - which works very well, too. But then there’s the animated versions of our heroes, and they’re not the greatest. Occasionally (and, again, it’s something that happens more and more the further into the episode we go) there’s a hint of a movement or expression which feels very in keeping with the performances I’m used to seeing on screen throughout the rest of Series Three, but largely they simply don’t work for me. It’s even more of a shame when you watch some of the behind-the-scenes footage on the DVD and Ageyman and Tennant are doing odd little things here and there which end up totally lost in the translation. A pity! 

I also can’t help but wonder if they missed a trick by making our lead villain look like a man with a bandage wrapped around his head. In an animated episode, you’re not bound by the kind of restrictions the live action programme has, so it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to not have a villain which we’d struggle to see in a regular episode. I suppose that Caw fulfils that role to some extent, but having seen the kinds of creatures we’ve had in the show more recently (I’m thinking specifically of the huge robots from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship), I’d love to see how the production team might build a working version of him!

7 February 2015

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

Day 768: Blink

Dear diary,

Oh, Blink. Blink, Blink, Blink. D’you know, in 2007, I was planning a holiday. I knew it would mean missing an episode from the end of the series, and so it was simply down to the brief previews there’d been in Doctor Who Magazine to help me pick which week to be away. This week seemed like the obvious choice. There was no way I’d miss Utopia, for reasons I’m sure I’ll mention in a couple of days, and this was the season’s ‘Doctor-lite’ instalment. If there was to be an episode I didn’t get to see straight away, it could probably be this one (Blink is the only Russell T Davies era episode I didn’t get to watch on day of transmission. Some were delayed until later in the evening, but actually having to wait until another day to see the new episode? That was almost unthinkable to me at this point. You can tell how desperately I wanted a holiday!).

If the past is another country, then 2007 was a place where I didn’t have easy access to the internet while I was away. That seems almost as unthinkable now as missing an episode was then, but that’s a discussion for another time. I went and sunned myself on a beach for the week, read the Tenth Doctor and Martha novel in which they fought the Zygons, watched Robot for the first time… I had a nice break, completely unaware that back home, people were absolutely raving about an episode that still routinely get’s listed as among the very best that Doctor Who has ever done (in last year’s Doctor Who Magazine poll, it ranked second out of almost 250 stories, placing it higher than everything in Doctor Who history but The Day of the Doctor). What a one to miss! I landed back on British soil, turned on my phone, and was inundated with messages from friends - some who weren’t even regular viewers - praising the episode. Naturally, the first thing I did upon arriving home was to sit down, boot up Sky Plus, and hit ‘play’.

Of course, I loved it. I thought it was all very well done, and when I sat a few days later in an interview for a university course (completely unprepared, having intended to take a gap year before just sort of… wandering into university), asked who my favourite director was, I simply started to babble about this episode, and the way that it was shot - especially the gorgeous direction of Larry trying not to blink as the angel approaches. How many times must I have seen that scene over the years, and yet it still made me jump tonight. Thankfully, at the time, the person interviewing me had seen the episode, too - another non-fan sucked in by such positive reviews - and I think it helped to sway his decision…

And yet, in the years that have passed since, I’ve become a bit jaded. Blink has sort of gone down in my mind as being ‘rather good, but largely over-rated’, in the same way stories like The Evil of the Daleks or The Caves of Androzani have garnered these ‘untouchable’ reputations that they certainly make a stake at deserving, but don’t entirely make it. But tonight, I’ve sat and watched and been really blown away by it! There’s so much of this episode that’s done so well, and it really takes the ‘Doctor-lite’ brief and runs with it. If anything, I felt the episode suffered a bit when the Doctor and Martha arrive to greet Billy in 1969 - the previous few minutes have done such a great job of building up the atmosphere and the tension, and then this pair sort of undermine it a little.

The real success of Blink, though, has to be the Angels themselves. They’ve sort of lost their appeal a bit for me now, following several return appearances to the programme, but it’s stunning just how effectively they work here. They were set up just right to tell the story at hand, and not everything that’s followed with them has strengthened the creatures (but I’m sure we’ll get round to more on that when the time comes). Everything about the Angels here - in a world where we’ve not encountered them before - is set up wonderfully. ‘The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely’, the Doctor says, and that’s exactly how they’re presented. Their introduction, largely through showing us the effect of their touch on Kathy, really works - you couldn’t ask for a much better interaction to them than this.

As far as I can think of, the Weeping Angels are the only 21st century Doctor Who monster to do the Dalek thing of being invented for a one-off appearance opposite the Doctor (or not opposite the Doctor, in this case - does he actually appear in the same shot as the angels at any point?), and being so popular that they simply had to come back again. Oh, sure, other aliens have made return appearances - the Ood, the Silence (though their returns were scripted), the Slitheen (though that was more popularity with the writer that ensured the return, and even then it’s the return more of the character than the monster), heck even the Hoix from Love & Monsters showed up in Torchwood - but I can’t think of any which have made their return after striking such a chord with the audience… and it’s not hard to see why these were the ones that made it.

6 February 2015

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

Day 767: The Family of Blood

Dear diary,

I’ve not really spent much time discussing David Tennant’s performance in the last couple of weeks, but it’s only right that I bring it up today, because I think The Family of Blood features not only his best performance in the series to date, but also some of the best we’ve had of any Doctor throughout the programme. It’s perhaps typically Doctor Who that this should come during scenes where he’s not even playing the Doctor, but rather John Smith.

I think he’s absolutely at the top of his game from the moment he sees the TARDIS outside the school, right through to the moment he sits alone with Joan and tries to decide what he has to do. It’s simply pitch-perfect on every line, every action… the whole thing really holds together and just works for me. The scene where he sits with the woman he loves and sees flashes of their potential future is beautifully done, but I’d somehow forgotten just how wonderful that earlier bit was. And yet, as soon as we cut to that shot of the Family around the TARDIS, I could remember posting a clip of that scene on Facebook the night this episode aired, and proclaiming it to be the finest three minutes of Doctor Who I’d ever seen. I don’t think - even after watching for 700-something days - I’m far out with that declaration.

Not only in those scenes does Tennant get to shine, though; it’s almost as though this episode is specifically crafted to showcase his range as an actor - and as a Doctor. We’ve had flashes of this incarnation’s darker side since right back at the beginning, where he set up Harriet Jones’ downfall during The Christmas Invasion, but it’s here where we perhaps see it most clearly for the first time. We watch as he traps the family for all eternity - in black holes, and mirrors, ensuring that they receive the immortality they so desperately courted. Remember back in The Five Doctors, when the Doctors were all slightly stunned and fearful of Rassilon’s gift of immortality? This is taking that same idea and stretching it to the very extremes.

But those brief scenes aren’t the cruellest that we get to see the Doctor in this episode - that comes afterwards, when he goes back to visit Joan, and insensitively asks her to travel with him. Specifically, it’s this moment;

JOAN

Could you change back?

DOCTOR

Yes.

JOAN

Will you?

DOCTOR

No.

It’s a really cruel inversion of the decision John Smith has spent the last fifteen minutes wrestling with - and yet the Doctor doesn’t even have to consider it for a second. It serves to really highlight how different the two men are (and I’d never noticed it before, but it’s a play on the Doctor and Rose’s little conversation about changing back in the 2005 Children in Need episode - only here it’s far more assured and definite). 

5 February 2015

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

Day 766: Human Nature

Dear diary,

Let’s start off with a confession, shall we? I’ve never been a big fan of the New Adventures novels. There’s some lovely ideas in there, and I love the fact that when Doctor Who finally gets taken off television (seemingly for good), it simply shifts over to another medium and continues to thrive there (am I right in saying that, taking into account the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures, and the modern series tie-in novels, the Doctor Who book holds the record for most books officially published about a single character? Sure I read that somewhere…). The start of the New Adventures really is the start of Doctor Who becoming invincible - there was no way it was simply going to fade away quietly, simply because it wasn’t in active production any more. But despite that admiration, the stories themselves largely aren’t for me. It’s just not a style of Who that I can get properly invested in. But when they announced that Human Nature was to be adapted for the TV series, even I could appreciate what a big deal it was. Human Nature was probably (and still is, thanks in no small part to this adaptation) to most famous of all the New Adventures, and the central premise - the Doctor turns human - is such a good one, that it was automatically something to be excited about.

And speaking of things that you can be ‘automatically excited about’, am I alone in thinking that this episode might have the best pre-titles sequence in all of Doctor Who? Oh, it hits the ground running. Bang! There’s explosions, and laser bolts fired (inside the TARDIS, of all places - our safe haven). The Doctor and Martha are running - scrambling for their lives. There’s shouts, and screams, and pressure, and adrenalin. The Doctor is actively worried, and Martha (who’s shown herself to be so good at remaining calm and composed on the whole) is struggling to keep up with him. Then there’s a plan forming and the watch, and the statement that the watch is…

…before we wake up in a study. On Earth. In the past. The Doctor isn’t the Doctor, and Martha is his maid, and the Time Lord claims to be completely human. I come to this episode knowing that the main hook is ‘the Doctor turns himself human’, but it’s still so exciting. How must this feel to people who don’t know the basic premise? Talk about grabbing your audience’s attention!

Yet for all that madness, and rushing around, and blood pumping, Human Nature is a very measured episode. Oh, it’s slow. It’s possibly the slowest-moving episode we’ve had since the show came back. It ceases the running and panic once the titles have played out and opts instead to spend time setting up the world, introducing the characters, and evolving their relationships. We only get to find out the real nature of the watch and answer some questions about that opening scene in drips and drabs as the story progresses - only bringing things to light when the time is right and the narrative demands it. Actually, I’m not sure ‘slow’ is the way to describe this one - it’s ‘crafted’, and it’s done beautifully.

This is one of those occasions - and it’s been a little while since we last had one - where I have very little to actually say about an episode, because I’ve simply spent the time enjoying it. My notes are littered with things I’ve liked (ranging from lines of dialogue, to specific shots - mentions that the TARDIS looks beautiful here, both in the way it’s shot from the outside, and the way it’s been lit as ‘emergency power’ on the inside - and references to the Journal of Impossible Things*), but I don’t actually have much to write about them, because it would simply turn into a list of things from the episode, and I’d rather avoid that if I can. So for now I’ll just bask in the fact that we’re into a ‘golden’ period for the programme, and I’ll worry about trying to describe things like that tomorrow…

*Actually, no, I can’t not mention the Journal, can I? Doesn’t it seem strange - in a post-Night of the Doctor world - to think that there were debates as to the canonicity of the Paul McGann Doctor right up until about the point that this episode aired, and his face was front and centre among the other incarnations in the Journal? I still remember the reaction to that, with some people cheering because, of course, he’d always counted as a Doctor, while others complained that he shouldn’t really be there. Even at the time, I found the concept that he somehow ‘didn’t count’ bizarre, so it was nice to have some sort of official decree!

4 February 2015

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

Day 765: 42

Dear diary,

Although I grouped it in under the heading of ‘appalling’ during a quick summing up yesterday, I’ve never actively disliked 42. It’s just one of those stories that gets forgotten about and overlooked - possibly in light of the run of episodes that immediately follows it. In comparison to adaptations of the New Adventures, the introduction of the Weeping Angels, and the return of the Master, 42 is just left as something of a filler in the middle of the season. And, sadly, that’s almost entirely what it’s become for me today, I’m afraid. I think it’s a combination of the fact that I’m looking so forward to the next week’s worth of episodes, and the fact that I’ve never really cared for this one. It all just clusters together in my mind and makes it hard for me to really muster the enthusiasm.

So, tell you what, I’m going to try extra hard, just for you lot, and find things that I like about 42. I could go all-out and try to find ’42’ things that I like about the episode, but we’d probably be here until Christmas. Anyway;

The design of the ship. I’m talking largely interior settings, here, though the exterior design is a rather nice one, and different to anything we’ve seen before in the show. No, specifically, I really like the kind of ‘run down’, ‘industrial’ look of the future that’s so prevalent in the Russell T Davies era, and it’s rarely (if ever) done better than it is in this story. The use of the steam and the very harsh lighting really ties everything together, and really gets you caught up in the setting. Lovely.

2) The ‘pub quiz’ doors. It’s a perfect example of taking something that’s a bit of a sci-fi cliche (having to get through several security doors, all coded, to reach the controls that you need to save the day) and subverting it through a Doctor Who prism. It also gives us that Beatles reference which allows me to see Series Three as a homage to The Chase, so that’s always got to count in its favour.

3) The ‘real time’ element. It’s odd to think that this had never happened before in the programme, but then I suppose that the serialised nature of the ‘classic’ series didn’t especially lend itself to introducing such a thing (and it wasn’t so much part of the television language in the 20th century in the same way it was when this episode rolled around). It’s a bit of a gimmick, but one that works nicely enough, and this is probably the best way of exploiting it for Doctor Who - ‘you’ve x minutes until this spaceship crashes into a sun’. Lovely. That said, it did start to bother me that the countdown was read out at completely random times - surely it would be set to announce the time exactly on the minute, or at least on a regular loop? Instead, we get random minutes and seconds such as ’12:55’, ’40:26’, ’34:31’… it’s a really pedantic niggle, but it bothered be more and more the longer it went on… 

4) It’s basically the same story as Planet of Evil, compressed down to a 45-minute time slot, and with a living sun as opposed to an antimatter gateway. I loved Planet of Evil

Oh, and I also rather like the red version of the Doctor’s spacesuit. But that’s a very small detail, so that really only counts as half a ‘thing I liked’. Actually, no, let’s make it count for less than a half, and dub today’s entry ‘4.2 things that I like about 42’…

3 February 2015

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

Day 764: The Lazarus Experiment

Dear diary,

Series Three has always felt like something of an odd beast in my mind. When I look back on it, there’s a really good opening episode, a few good-but-not-great episodes in The Shakespeare Code and Gridlock, a run of appalling episodes from Daleks in Manhattan to 42 (inclusive), and then one of the programme’s strongest runs of episodes with the likes of the Human Nature two parter, Blink, and Utopia. In the end, it sort of fizzles out with a finale that I can remember liking but hardly loving. It’s always felt like a bit of a mishmash of very strong stories, nestled alongside very poor ones. But as has often been the way with this marathon in the last few years, on re-watch it’s not been anywhere near as black and white as that. Smith and Jones was still the great opener I could remember, but then The Shakespeare Code was an absolute blinder - and moved right up my list of favourites. Gridlock didn’t fare half so well, but even the two Dalek episodes surprised me by being really rather good. Sadly, The Lazarus Experiment hasn’t undergone a similar transformation (even if the elements are there, untapped, in its DNA… sorry, no, I am).

It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t, upon re-watch, call this story ‘appalling’ any more. Over the last 700-odd days, there’ve been only maybe a handful of episodes which I’d slot in to that category (and even then, I’d have reservations), and this isn’t one of them. I can’t hand-on-heart say that I’ve really enjoyed this one all that much, but there’s still lots in there that I have liked, and which have made today’s 45 minutes worthwhile. For example, there’s lots of dialogue in this one which I really like, including one bit that I’ve been able to quote verbatim ever since my only previous viewing, because I thought it was so beautifully crafted;

LAZARUS

I came here before, a lifetime ago. I thought I was going to die then. In fact, I was sure of it. I sat here, just a child, the sound of planes and bombs outside… In the morning, the fires had died, and I was still alive. I swore I'd never face death like that again. So defenceless.

There’s one or two other nice moments that stand out, too (I really like the Doctor and Martha’s various conversations around the subject of her leaving here), but none quite so much as that bit. It really moved me first time around, and I’m pleased to find it’s got the same poignancy today.

What’s pleased me the most, though, is Martha’s Mum. Martha’s family has never really worked for me. They’ve always come across as being a bit of a mess - especially when they’re outshone by the likes of Jackie on one side, and Sylvia and Wilf on the other. The dynamic is a good enough one (Mum, Dad, Dad’s Girlfriend, Brother, Sister), but they never felt as cohesive as I’d have liked. Part of that problem lies in the fact that - from their point of view - Series Three only takes place over a few days (meaning things like Tish’s frequent promotions and new jobs without mention in earlier appearances stand out more than they should). Another part of the problem is the availability of various people, meaning that when Reggie Yates couldn’t make the filming of the finale, they had to quickly script in a very brief scene to explain where he was. They’ve always felt far less rounded out than the other relatives of the Russell T Davies era.

But much as with the quality of these various episodes, it had become exaggerated over the years in my mind, and there’s a lot more to enjoy about the way Francine gets written here. I’d forgotten lots of little details like the Doctor knocking a drink out of her hand and the agent of Mr Saxon drip feeding her subtle warnings throughout the evening - in my head she’d just taken a dislike to the Doctor and then been approached by the government at the very end. I’m pleased to see that there’s a bit more to it than that. I’m also pleased to see that Leo makes an appearance in this one! I’ve mentioned above that they could only get Reggie Yates in for the single scene during the finale, but I thought that was the only other time he appeared after Smith and Jones! Granted, he doesn’t get a massive roll, here, but at least there’s a bit more to him that I could recall!

2 February 2015

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

Day 763: Evolution of the Daleks

Dear diary,

Spoilers! I’ve never been able to make my mind up, really, when it comes to spoilers and Doctor Who. I’ve never been one to actively go out of my way looking for spoilers, but I’ve never really been the type to go into a complete sensory blackout, and avoid the things at any and all costs (something of a fools errand, I think. Does anyone ever manage to avoid everything? Really?). It’s funny that Doctor Who is the type of show that attracts spoilers, and it’s position and popularity over the last decade has meant that those spoilers are considered to be newsworthy. It means that occasionally, without even realising it, you’ve spotted a spoiler completely by accident, and there’s absolutely no way to avoid it. 

This story is probably the ultimate example of that - because in the week leading up to this story going out, the Radio Times cover was a nice big image of the Dalek Sec hybrid staring out at you, with the strap-line ‘Half-Human, Half-Dalek, Total Monster?’. I think this may be the only time that a Doctor Who spoiler has ever really irritated me, and it’s all down to how much I already knew. There’d been rumblings that Dalek Sec would be creating the ultimate heresy and diluting the Dalek gene pool by splicing DNA with humans (It may have even formed a part of the episode’s preview in Doctor Who Magazine), but they’d managed to keep a pretty tight lid on what the result would look like. Even if I knew that the hybrid was coming, it was to be a great reveal, and right in the closing moments of Daleks in Manhattan… and then it’s all spoiled by walking in to a shop few days before broadcast, and seeing this cover staring out at me from the magazine racks! That said, I’ve just googled the cover to check I’d written the strap-line correctly (I had - that’s how much it’s seared into my memory! hah!) and I’m impressed by just how dramatic that cover is. The photo of the hybrid is lovely, and no matter how much it annoyed me at the time, I can’t argue with the logic of using this as publicity for the story.

So I said yesterday that I’d be holding off on commenting about the actual story of this one until now, because I’d been enjoying it far more than anticipated, and wanted to see how the rest of the piece held up. If I’m being honest, I think I was expecting everything to fall apart in today’s episode and I’d find my previous dislike of this one justified, but that’s not happened - I’ve found a whole new appreciation for this two-parter!

My previous complaint was largely centred around the fact that I’d always thought of this as being a Dalek story for the sake of having a Dalek story - not because they had something interesting to actually do with them… but I’m not sure I’d agree with that any more. I’d rather forgotten the whole storyline about the humanised Dalek Sec starting to come around to the Doctor’s way of thinking, and I’ve never appreciated how well done it is across these 45 minutes. That it works its way in slowly, with the new hybrid becoming picked by the killings his ‘troops’ make is rather powerful, and I’m still surprised by Solomon’s death here (remember during Series One when I complain that Daleks later on don’t just kill people for the sake of it? I’d completely forgotten this death - and it actually shocked me on today’s viewing!). I can’t help but think that there should be some reference to the fact that the Daleks we had back in Parting of the Ways were desperate enough to start using humanity as a replenishment for their forces, though. Much is made today of the fact that this is only being considered because that’s the entire point to the Cult of Skaro - the rally dare to think outside the box - and it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity not to make a connection in there.

I’m also rather fond of the way the Doctor is written in this one. There’s something really rather fun about the way he greets the Daleks in the beginning (‘hello, surprise, boo, etc.’), and the way they interact throughout. It’s that daring to believe that there could be a spark of goodness indie a Dalek’s mind which is still plaguing the Time Lord right up to the most recent series. That line from yesterday - ‘they always survive while I lose everything’ - sums the Doctor up so well, and is perhaps the Time War summed up in seven words.

So, yes! A complete about-face from me on this story, and I’m really pleased. There’s nothing better than taking a story you previously thought very little of, and finding things to love about it. I’m in the middle of what I’ve always thought of as being a weaker batch of episodes, so I’m hoping that the trend might continue…

1 February 2015

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

Day 762: Daleks in Manhattan

Dear diary,

I’ve made much in the last couple of days about the fact that Doctor Who has suddenly exploded in scope between the Second and Third Series. Everything has gotten bigger, and louder, and more extravagant, to the point that Series One feels almost quaint in places. It’s probably more noticeable to me watching through like this (it’s only been a month since I started out on Rose, so we’re racing through the stories), because at the time, the two years between that Auton invasion and reaching this point felt like a lifetime. Several lifetimes. And yet, occasionally, something comes along that makes even this third series look all innocent compared to what we’ve still got to come. Today’s episode is a case in point. I can recall Russell T Davies really promoting the fact that this two parter features shots specially filmed in America. A small team headed over, took some plate shots of New York, and then found a near-matching wall in the south of Wales somewhere to insert the Doctor and Martha in. It sounded huge at the time, and all the publicity was really geared towards the fact that they’d managed to do this. And yet, it feels quite provincial knowing that the following year they went off to Rose to film the fall of Pompeii, and then on to Dubai the year after that, then Croatia, and Utah, and… well, you get the idea. I’m really enjoying this aspect of watching the new series back, and seeing how it evolved over the years. It’s so noticeable in this episode-a-day format.

It’s also great - as I’ve said before - to go back and revisit my opinions on the episodes. This Dalek two-parter is another one of those tales I’ve not watched since the original broadcast in 2007. Even this morning, I was explaining to Emma that this story was a Dalek story for the sake of having a Dalek story, and that it hadn’t worked, and it wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t looking forward to watching it at all. And then, I’ve sat down, and found myself really engrossed for 45 minutes! With other recent episodes I’ve not seen since broadcast, bits and pieces have come back to me as I watch - usually just ahead of those same things actually happening on screen. Today, though, has been like sitting down to watch a brand new episode for the very first time.

Oh, I could remember the basics - Hooverville, Pig Slaves, Laszlo, Daleks in the Empire State Building (which, as far as my head canon is concerned, was a plan formed after they archived the building’s design during The Chase - that’s Shakespeare, now the Empire State Building… Isn’t there a question about the Beatles in 42? Series Three is shaping up to be a proper Chase-fest), but the actual story at the heart of it; the emotional beats of the tale? Not a clue. Maybe that’s worked in the episode’s favour? Having spent almost eight years thinking that it was one of the very worst stories in Doctor Who’s long history - and certainly one of the weakest from the recent past - I’d actually done the episode something of a dis-service. There was no way it would end up being as bad as I remembered (a similar thing occurred last week with Fear Her, though not quite to the same extent).

To that end… I don’t actually plan on really discussing the story here today. Sorry! I’m so surprised by the fact that I’m actually liking it, that I want to wait and watch the whole thing play out before I really make much of a comment on it!

One thing I will talk about it something that*does* still bother me a little bit about this one, and no matter how good the story turns out to be at the end of tomorrow’s episode, I doubt it’ll allay this particular complaint. It feels like there should be a sort of buffer between Gridlock and this one. It always felt a bit strange that the Doctor and Martha go straight from New New York (actually the fifteenth New York since the original, which makes it… no, actually, never mind) to good old New York, without there being more of a point about it (Martha comments ‘I've always wanted to go to New York. I mean the real New York, not the new, new, new, new, new one,’ but it doesn’t specifically make mention of the fact they’ve just come from the latter). In some ways, this feels like a similar scenario to School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace last season, where something has been missed in the changeover from one writer to another. There’s also something that feels slightly ‘off’, narratively, about having the Doctor first tell Martha about the Daleks and the war at the end of one episode… only to have them run into the Daleks in the very next episode. Until I’ve re-watched The Lazarus Experiment in a couple of days, I won’t really know if it might have fitted neatly in between Gridlock and this one (though I’m certainly going to be keeping it in mind), but it’s just something that’s always bothered me. Am I the only one? 

31 January 2015

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

Day 761: Gridlock

Dear diary,

Macra! Hahaha! Oh, I love the fact that after almost 40 years, the bloody Macra can show up again in Doctor Who, and completely unexpectedly. Oh, true, they’re not really the same creatures that I loved so much back during The Macra Terror, but it’s still something truly wonderful and bizarre, and a nice way of linking the 21st century show right the way back to the early days of the Second Doctor. Mind you, we’re into 2015 now, and I’m still*waiting for the return of Zaroff and his Fish People…
Looking back at this story, it’s a bit of an odd one. I recall being really excited at the time because we knew the Face of Boe would be dying and passing on his final secret… but then everyone had sort of worked it out. As soon as I joined online fandom in the summer of 2006, it had already been taken as established fact that Boe’s final words would be ‘You Are Not Alone’, because they were the words used in Russell T Davies’ write up of the Time War for the 2006 annual. I can’t remember *how
people had made the leap (did Russell make a comment that Boe’s secret was a four-word-phrase? That rings a vague bell in the back of my mind…), but when the moment came, and Boe breathed his last… it was a bit of an anti-climax, really.

I can’t help feeling that the same is sort of true for Gridlock as a whole. There is a certain amount to like in here - the different peoples on the motorway have been nicely sketched in with just a few brief seconds on screen for some, and the re-dressing of the ‘car’ set is very well executed, for example - and I’ve found on this watch that I’ve really enjoyed moments like the singing of the hymn, but I spent far too long thinking about elements that just don’t add up. Something’s never sat right with me about the whole idea of the people trapped on the motorway, and while this time around I connected strongly with the idea that they know it’s not right, but they just don’t talk about the fact, it still just didn’t really feel… I don’t know. Believable? Is that what I mean? It feels rich to be talking about the believability of a motorway in the year five billion, where giant crabs snap at your bumpers, but something just never really worked about the idea for me.

With that, we’re sort of back to the age-old problem that used to crop up from time to time during the ‘classic’ run of this marathon - once the story had lost my interest, it was something of a fight to get it back again, and I’m not sure it really managed it. There’s a lovely upswing at the end where the Doctor sits and tells Martha about Gallifrey, but I couldn’t tell you much, a few hours on, about other things which happened throughout the story. A pity, perhaps, but after the highs of the last few days, this one simply hasn’t found favour with me.

30 January 2015

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

Day 760: The Shakespeare Code

Dear diary,

Let’s start today with a confession, shall we? I can’t bloody stand Shakespeare. His work bored me in school. It bored me at A Level. I’ve recently had a lodger staying while she took a part in Richard the Third, and it bored me when she tries to discuss the play with me (and seemed to take offence when I asked if they’d updated the plot to end in the car park). I know he’s considered the greatest English writer in history, and that his plays are heralded as works of genius, and talent the likes of which is rarely seen… but I just can’t get in to them. Nothing doing for me, I’m afraid. Maybe if he threw in a Dalek or two? 

Where I’m going with this is; I wasn’t all that excited when it was announced that the Doctor would be meeting the Bard in Series Three. I vaguely thought that it’d be inevitable at some stage (following a brief earlier appearance in The Chase some 40 years previous, and numerous mentions down the decades), but I wasn’t exactly hyped up for it. But then the genius of what’s been done with the man here is painting him in a way that you simply don’t expect. I was all prepared for something a bit stuffy and literate, but he’s written and played as some sort of rock star (I’m sure I’ve read an interview with Gareth Roberts where this was the stated intention, too). As soon as you realise that they’re doing something different and interesting with the man, it’s much easier to get on board. 

Quite apart from the way that Shakespeare is portrayed in this one, I’m rather fond of the Doctor and Martha, too. There’s the one moment of him pining for Rose, but really they’ve slotted very well into this whole ‘best friends in time and space’ thing, haven't they? There’s something so fresh about bringing in a new companion, and as much as I’d taken to the Tenth Doctor last series, it’s like he leaps up a whole lot more in my estimations across these last few episodes. I love the way he wanders around in Elizabethan London (the moment where he runs hand-in-hand with Martha to see the Globe is lovely), and I love they way they spark off each other. Humour is rife in this episode, and they get to share lots of it (my favourite moment - and it’s one I’ve always loved - is when the Doctor comments that Martha can tell people back home that she’s met Shakespeare, and she retorts ‘yeah, and then I can get sectioned…’).

I also have to confess that I love the confrontation between the Doctor and Lilith. I think I’m right in saying that it was originally a sword fight, right up to the point where the scene was being filmed, and a stuntman was injured (I might go even further and say I think he might have taken a blow to the eye, or something… it was nasty, nonetheless!), but the craft of the rewrite is such that I genuinely couldn’t tell. Until it was pointed out in a commentary, I’d have always assumed it was meant to play out thew way we see on screen.

Oh, but I can’t heap all the praise on to the writing. During The Runaway Bride, I said that you could really see the programme (and the production team) stretching their wings out and seeing just how far they could push this programme. How big they could make it. That’s carried on to this point, because The Shakespeare Code is possibly my favourite episode of Doctor Who from a visual standpoint. It just looks so good! Taking a week out from Wales and effectively touring the country to take in so many locations - including the Globe Theatre itself - really does pay off, because it gives this story a visual identity that really stands apart from anything else. I’ve been saying for two years now that the BBC are always very good at doing historical stories, but I don’t think we’ve ever had it done as well as we do here. From the outdoor locations to the sets, everything feels so perfectly right. 

That extends to the computer effects, too. The digital matte paintings for this story have always stuck in my mind - especially the shots looking out across the Thames, with the Doctor and Martha running around somewhere in the back of the shot. I can also recall Russell T Davies raving about the fact that you’ve got tiny little people running away from the Globe in those final shots of the theatre being consumed by the Carrionites, and can’t help but look out for them every time I watch.

And yet, despite all the praise I’m heaping on this one today, I don’t think I’d ever realised how much I liked it. It’s certainly been a good few years since I last saw it, and while I knew it was one I’d enjoyed, I’d always just thought of it as being a good story, if not a particularly great one. Yesterday, when I said Smith and Jones wasn’t ‘going to be the only high point in this run of episodes’, I was thinking more specifically of the latter half of the series, when we reach the obvious stories like Human Nature, Blink, and Utopia, so I’m delighted to see that I’m having to bring out the higher ratings sooner than anticipated - Series Three really is something a bit special!

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