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26 January 2015

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

Day 756: Army of Ghosts

Dear diary,

By the time this finale rolled around, it didn’t matter how much or how little I’d enjoyed the individual episodes throughout the season - excitement was at fever pitch, and I’d been oh-so-clever and worked it all out, you see. I’d been piecing it together for months. Little snippets of info would turn up in Doctor Who Magazine, or in press releases, and when you added it all together, it was obvious what was going to happen. Rose and the Doctor were going to break up. I didn’t know how, or why, or when, but before we reached the season finale, the dream team would be no more. And I knew this because at the end of School Reunion, Sarah Jane makes such a point of telling Rose to find her one day if she needs to - should the Doctor leave Rose behind. Oh, that was too significant to not be followed up on, so Rose was going to go and hunt Sarah Jane down, and then the world was going to come close to the end.

Because that was the other thing that had been confirmed - the Cybermen weren’t only going to turn up for one two-part story this season, they were coming back fro the finale, too. Doctor Who Magazine made a point of saying that the finale was going to be really heart breaking and terrible, and there was a press release that claimed the DVD artwork couldn’t be released until after the finale, because it had a special lenticular sleeve, and the artwork on there would give away major spoilers about the finale. Oh, it was all so obvious - Rose was going to get turned into a Cyberman! Somewhere else, a point was made that the Doctor and Rose would be separated permanently, and that there’d be absolutely no way to get her back; what’s more final that the companion being turned into a Cyberman, and the Doctor having to sacrifice his companion as part of the overall victory? That would certainly qualify as heart-breaking, it would explain the spoilerific DVD sleeve (obviously it was going to alternate between the face of Rose and a Cyberman), and it would tug nicely on the threads right back to the first season - ‘I could save the world but lose you…’

Oh, but then I was wrong! About all of it! Hah! Not the last time, either; we’ll be having another couple of paragraphs like this next month when we reach Journey’s End. There’s no Sarah Jane… Rose doesn’t become a Cyberman… there really is a way to get Rose back (repeatedly)… ho-hum. It was a nice theory while it lasted, and every new bit of information that slipped out fitted so perfectly into the narrative I’d imagined that it was too good to not be true! Well, almost every piece of information. Do you remember when the Doctor Who team went up to collect an award for the programme (was it a BAFTA?)… and Dalek Sec comes trundling out on to stage! A Dalek painted head-to-bumper in black. Well that certainly didn’t show up in Series One, so obviously the pepper-pots would be back again at some point… only then Russell T Davies made a point of saying somewhere that people were wasting their time speculating - they’d painted the Dalek black to match all of their own formal outfits for the awards event. It was clearly rubbish… but I fell for it hook, line, and sinker! It didn’t fit my nice neat theory, you see, in which Rose underwent conversion, so I was happy to go along with the idea that the Daleks weren’t going to be cropping up before the series was out. I didn’t even twig, until that moment when you get the tiniest hint of an eyestalk coming out of the Void Sphere. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I thought was in there.

I said, the other day, that Love & Monsters was perfectly placed within the season to give us a look at the way Jackie’s life has been affected by the Doctor, before she gets to take on a bigger role than usual for this finale. I don’t think I really appreciated just how true that is, though, because almost everything she does here is informed by what we see in that episode. Her conversation with Rose aboard the TARDIS, in which she worries about her daughter’s future is so beautiful, and true, and perfectly in keeping with the character as we saw her a few days ago. And then so’s the way she starts to describe the plot of EastEnders to the Doctor, too! Hah! Oh, I hooted at that one.

Jackie takes on an even bigger role than I remembered in this one - somehow I’d completely blanked out the fact that she has to pretend to be Rose for a while as the Doctor starts to investigate Torchwood. In many ways, she serves as the comic relief for the episode, and she does it perfectly. I’m glad she got the chance to really play up the humour in this second series (it all starts - in some ways - with the killer Christmas tree), and that she gets to leave the programme with this little sub-plot. It’s simply making me grin like a fool throughout. I really find it hard, watching the show back now, to think that I didn’t like Jackie to begin with, first time around!

One other thing that really stuck out for me today was the Doctor’s description of what a Void Ship does. Do you recall, just a few days ago, how the Doctor was so adamant that nothing could exist that comes from ‘before’ the universe? Well, here, he very quickly states that some people call the Void ‘Hell’, and that if you sit inside a Void Ship, you’re completely outside of time… and you could go past the end of the universe and into the next! Now, in fairness, he does say that he’d always thought of Void Ships and being merely a theory - not something that actually exists - but still, if he’s aware of the idea, then he wouldn’t be so set on his belief? Maybe meeting the Beast has loosened up his thinking on such things? 

25 January 2015

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

Day 755: Fear Her

Dear diary,

Fear Her is another one of those stories like The Long Game, or Boom Town, which people tend to think of as simply being weaker elements to their respective seasons, and overlook. I’ve always thought of this one as being one of the worst episodes that the programme has given us, and I’ve consciously avoided watching it again since it was first broadcast. Over the years, I think it’s taken on such a reputation in my own mind that I’d grown to actively despise it. But then there’s my friend Nick. We tend to have pretty similar views than it comes to Doctor Who (indeed, I’ve mentioned him a lot throughout the course of the 50 Year Diary, and our views have usually correlated), and he really likes this one. Because of that, it went from being one I was approaching with a sense of dread, and instead became a story that I was looking forward to re-evaluating.

And you know what? It’s not as bad as I was expecting it to be. Not remotely as bad as that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete convert, and I can’t profess to really like this story now (sorry, Nick), but I’ve certainly come away from it with a much higher opinion than I had going in, and that’s always a positive thing. So; thing I liked about Fear Her this time around…

Well, for a start, it’s a very funny episode, and that can usually fare pretty well with me. Right from the TARDIS arriving the wrong way round, and the Doctor having to correct his parking (that’s the kind of thing I would have rolled my eyes at when I was younger and things had to be ‘serious’, which probably counted against this story on first viewing), through his flippant remarks and jokes as they investigate the missing children, and on to what might be one of my favourite exchanges in Doctor Who history, as Rose realises where the Isolus pod has crashed, and grabs a pickaxe to dig up the road;


Whoa, wait, wait, wait. You just removed a council axe from a council van. Put it back. No, don't, wait. Put the axe back in the van. That's my van. Give me the axe. No! Wait! No!
[Rose starts hacking at the road surface Kel has just laid]


No! You, stop! You just took a council axe from a council van and now you're digging up a council road! I'm reporting you to the council!


It went for the hottest thing in the street. Your tar.


What is it?


It's a spaceship. Not a council spaceship, I'm afraid.

Once again, it’s the kind of thing I know I’d have sneered at as a teenager, so I’m glad I can appreciate it this time around. That said, Rose is really getting on my wick again in this one. When people start to reappear, she just becomes absolutely useless, wandering around and whining that the Doctor hasn’t reappeared yet. Does she not think to go and check the end of the street where she last saw him? I know he’s quickly run off to chase the Olympic Flame, but it feels like Rose is too busy moping at people to actually think straight… 

I also have to confess that I really like the way they drop in the Doctor’s remark about being a father. It’s done so simply, without feeling forced, and lingered on for just the right amount of time before the story takes over once again and we’re back into the main thrust of the narrative. It’s part of a grander drip-feeding of information about the Doctor that we’ve been getting since the return of the programme, introducing new viewers to all these little things that had built up about him throughout the ‘classic’ years, and it’s very well done. It’s telling that we’re almost at the end of the second season, and we’ve still not had him actually name Gallifrey (that’ll be coming in the Christmas Special). It feels like they’re trying really hard to not overwhelm you with information about the show’s mythology all at once (though it did feel strange when the Doctor kept referring to it as ‘my home planet’ in The Impossible Planet…!) 

24 January 2015

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

Day 754: Love & Monsters

Dear diary,

Has there ever been a more contentious episode of Doctor Who than this one? The summer of 2006 was when I first sort of stumbled into online fandom, finding discussions of the programme on various forums, and enjoying the opportunity to connect with other people who loved the show. When Love & Monsters is one of the first episodes to air after you’ve joined an online forum, you get something of a baptism of fire in the extreme reactions of fans. Generally, this episode seems to split the fandom right down the middle - there are some who would tell you that this is one of the biggest blemishes on the programme’s long history, while there’s others who’d say it shines as a prime example of just how malleable this format can be - allowing writers to tell a story which is so completely off-the-wall, and yet still make it fit neatly within the world of Doctor Who.

So, where do I fare with this one? Well, at the time, I remember not dis*liking the story, but not being especially blown away by it, either. Largely, I suspect that I was slightly disappointed by the lack of the Doctor from the tale (certainly, when the story was announced in *Doctor Who Magazine, I recall feeling a bit put-out that we’d be getting an episode of the programme with so little of it’s leading characters, even if I understood the practical reasons for producing it), and that coupled with my general apathy towards this series just meant it washed over my head. I’m not entirely sure if I’ve seen it in the years since first broadcast - though I’m fairly certain that I haven’t - so this is a chance to sit down and give it a shot as new.

Overall, I’m not particularly bothered. I certainly don’t hate the story, but I can’t say it’s ever likely to become one of my favourites, either. The lack of the Doctor lends this one a slightly strange feeling of not ever quite feeling like an episode of Doctor Who, even though there’s plenty in here which also makes it perfectly in keeping with Doctor Who (bear with, I’ll come to that, and I’ll try to make a bit more sense). No, instead, this feels almost like an extra-long mini-episode, or prequel to a story, rather than standing as a story in its own right. Series Two was the first time that they started to experiment with the idea of small prequels without the main cast, serving as a set-up to the story-to-come; Love & Monsters feels like this idea, expanded to fill a full 45 minutes*.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there’s not some rather nice elements to this story which make it worthwhile - and largely, it’s the fact that we get to spend so much time with Jackie Tyler, and see her when she’s left on her own. I spoke a lot during Series One about the fact that there’s various episodes which are perfectly placed to serve a purpose, and this is another one like that - we’re going to be seeing a strong role for Jackie in the series finale, so this is a great chance to catch up with her, and get a good look at the way she’s been affected by the Doctor. Plus, there’s few things funnier than her flirting!

I also can’t help but feel that this works very much as a Doctor Who episode because parts of it are completely ridiculous. There’s that scene with the Doctor and Rose chasing the Hoax creature in a full-blown parody of Scooby Doo, and you can’t help but think that that sequence must be exactly what Doctor Who looks like to people who aren’t all that interested by it - lots of running around, chasing weird monsters, and generally being a bit silly!


*While I’m on the subject of the TARDISodes, I should point out that I’ve not been watching them as I go along - and I didn’t watch them first time around, either, truth be told - but I did sit and view them this afternoon, which is possibly what’s made me associate this episode so strongly with them. Overall, I’m not entirely sure they work. There’s not any music on the majority of them, which leaves you with the sense that you’re watching something a bit half-finished, and makes them stand out as being a bit… well, rubbish. It’s a pity, really, because they’re nice little scenes on their own, and they serve as brilliant teasers for the stories to come. If anything, they’re even more impressive in hindsight; 60-second teasers which were primarily designed to be watched on your mobile phone. These days, that doesn’t sound out of place at all, but it was quite forward thinking at the time, and it’s a bit of a shame that we’ve not seen the return of something like this in recent years, when smartphones and tablets are all the more prevalent!

23 January 2015

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

Day 753: The Satan Pit

Dear diary,

I made a note yesterday to the effect that the ‘reveal’ of the Ood (‘we must feed’) didn’t quite pack the same punch that it did first time around, now that we’re so used to the idea that the Ood are a largely peaceful slave race. Although I could recall it being one of the things I really liked about the episode the first time I watched it, having seen the creatures pop up several times since had somewhat taken the edge off things. But then, as is always the way when I’m writing up these entries, I ended up talking about something else entirely, and didn’t even mention the Ood. 

And it’s probably a good job,m because I’d be completely retracting that statement today! The Ood are actually scary. Scary in a way that I’m not entirely certain they were when I first saw this one (my attention had probably lapsed too much by this stage). I’d even go so far as to say that in this particular episode, they’re one of the scariest creatures the programme has ever given us. There’s just something about the way that they become damn near unstoppable once the Beast has taken possession, coupled by the way they move (especially in the not-a-ventilation-shaft-honestly sequences) that’s really made an impact on me today. Now, though, I can’t help but wonder if the success of the creatures here may impact the way I view them by the time we reach Series Four and Planet of the Ood - because they undergo a similar ‘red eye’ transformation there, and there’s a risk it may end up looking like a watered down version of this… 

Still, If I’m entirely honest, it’s not the only thing to have made an impact this time around which I’d not really picked up on before hand. I really like the idea that right up to the point where he’s facing down the creature in the pit - and even after that once they’re safely back in the TARDIS - the Doctor still tries to find excuses for what this thing can be. It’s nicely offset with discussions about the way that we all have our own set of rules about what we’re willing top believe, and it’s possibly the most interesting part of the episode. It also gives David Tennant a chance to really shine, as he hangs alone in the dark pit, just soliloquising. We’ve seen a fair few extremes of the Tenth Doctor so far this series (probably a broader range of emotions than the Ninth Doctor was able to give us in his year), so it’s always nice when we get to see him playing things quietly and with some real consideration. It’s when Tennant is really at his best.

I’m left wondering, though… the Doctor refuses to believe that the Best could have come from a universe before this one… but haven’t we encountered such creatures before now? Certainly if we take in to account things said in some of the novels and audios then creatures like the Animus, the Great Intelligence, and the Gods of Ragnarok are said to have existed in previous universes, but I’m sure we must have had at least one being in the series before now which is unequivocally stated to have existed before time? Ferric, maybe? Answers on a postcard…

22 January 2015

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

Day 752: The Impossible Planet

Dear diary,

If The Idiot’s Lantern was especially notable because of the direction, then The Impossible Planet is notable for its music. There’s so many lovely cues in this episode that I could hum off by heart, despite having not seen this story since it was first on TV all those years ago. Evidently, I’ve listened to the soundtrack more often! Music isn’t something that I’ve really brought up a lot over the history of the Diary - only really commenting on it when it either stands out as being particularly beautiful or particularly rubbish - but this episode is one that I really have to lay some praise on. While I’m on the subject of music, mind… I finally understand those complaints that used to do the rounds about how bloody loud it’s been in these first two series. More than once, I’ve found myself having to sit adjusting the volume throughout the episode so that I can hear the dialogue clearly enough while not allowing the music to irritate anyone within a one-mile radius. I can’t say I ever noticed this in the past (though I was aware of other people complaining about it), but now I suddenly completely understand!

So, after yesterday being a lovely day where I got to talk of happy memories of watching the episode on first transmission, today we’re back to my usual, grumpy, recollection of the 2006 series. Oh, this one bored me to tears. For that one summer, I’d found myself really into a sport for the first and only time, and we’d set up a net on the lawn where we could while away the time playing. My only real memory of this episode’s first broadcast was wishing that it would hurry up and finish so we could get back outside and continue our game. I didn’t care about the people in the space base. I didn’t care about the black hole. I didn’t care that the TARDIS was lost down a cavern. I just wanted it to end!

I think, watching it today, that I know where my younger self was coming from. Compared to some of the other stories this year which start at a breakneck speed and simply refuse to let up for the entire running time, this one is positively glacial. Oh, there’s plenty of action - from the Ood closing in, to the earthquake, Scooti being sucked into the vacuum, and the decent in to the pit - but all of these serve to punctuate very long scenes in which people just… talk. I can’t remember the last time we had an episode as talk-y as this. Some sequences, notably in the control room of the base early on, seem to go on for ages as we’re introduced to each character in turn, given a history of their mission, told (repeatedly) how impossible it all is… everything really just slows right down for long stretches at a time…

…And it’s all the better for it. Oh, like I say, I can see where 2006 Will would perhaps get a bit bored with this one - nice day outside, an afternoon of tennis and the prospect of several more games ahead, and I’m sat inside watching people talk - but 2015 Will can’t get enough of it. I often see people online bemoaning the fact that two-part stories have become so scarce in Doctor Who over the last few years, and always thought that I wasn’t that bothered if we had one part or two (though, if I’m honest, I’ve always leant more towards the one-parters), but this episode totally sells me on the idea of a two-part story.

That long scene I’ve described above, where everyone and everything is introduced in great detail isn’t long and boring - it’s the atmosphere of the whole thing. You come out the other side of that scene with a real sense of this place, and the people within it. Everything is so much stronger for it. The slow pacing also means that the slow corruption of Toby is given the space to breathe that it really needs, and it picks up such a sinister vibe in doing so. I can’t imagine something as well crafted as that having any place in a single 45-minute story - you’d lose all of the atmosphere, and it would fall completely flat.

I think tomorrow’s episode is likely to pick up a greater pace now that everything has been manoeuvred into the right position for the story, but that’s probably necessary as the appropriate counter-balance to this instalment. Once again, watching things through with a few year’s distance and a more patient attitude is letting me see these episodes in a whole new light, and it’s good.

(Also, I shall rise from the pit. So there.) 

21 January 2015

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

Day 751: The Idiot’s Lantern

Dear diary,

Over the last week, I’ve banged on repeatedly about the fact that I simply couldn’t get in to this second series of the revived programme, and that I didn’t like this about it, or that about it… So it’s nice that today I get to share a happier memory with you all about the watching of this particular story. A friend was staying with me the week this one aired, and although he was vaguely aware of Doctor Who, he’d never really latched on to it. I seem to recall that in the summer of 2005, when I was raving about Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, he’d been bitten by the Star Wars bug, instead. I was also working in a shop at the time, and we sold the Doctor Who sticker book. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but somehow I was able to buy an entire box of stickers (40-something packs) for a real knock-down price, and we while away the summer evening opening each pack, laying the stickers out on the floor, and building up to a complete collection (although, actually, after all that - literally hundreds of stickers, I was still two or three short!). The only time we broke was to watch this episode as it went out, and it really is one of my happiest Who memories.

There’s just something about the bright colours and the sunny skies of this story that really connects with you on a warm summer evening, and I have to admit that - even on this watch-through for the marathon - the Tenth Doctor and Rose pairing has completely won me over. How brilliant is is, when they arrive in the 1950s, simply larking about? They laugh, and they joke, and yes I know there’s a few moments that really do make you want to cringe ridiculously hard (I’m thinking of the ‘Hiiiiiiiiiii!’ moment in particular), but somehow, magically, impossibly… they simply work. If I were to travel around in time and space, this is the life I’d want. A best friend by my side, and an inexhaustible sense of sheer adventure.

But, actually, I’m getting more from this story now than I have on any previous watches, because over the years my interests have changed. Specifically, they’ve changed in regards to archive television, which means that there’s a number of levels here which really speak to me in a way they simply couldn’t have before. I didn’t know it at the time, but the setting of Alexandra Palace means so much in the history of British broadcasting of course, but then there’s loads of little easter eggs woven in to the script.

Perhaps most obviously, there’s The Quatermass Experiment, with the hand clenching movements made by the faceless crowd, but then you’ve got a snippet of Muffin the Mule, strong overtones of Watch With Mother, and even the street name (‘Florizel Street’ was the original name given to the cobbles known better as Coronation Street). All of these thing went more-or-less over my head before, whereas they’re now references to things sat on my DVD shelves. This is one of the things I’m most enjoying about this phase of the marathon - seeing how my reaction to (and relationship with) these stories has been changed by the intervening years. It’s not something I’ve ever been able to really do before (even with the stories from the ‘classic’ series that I’d seen before) because I’d not seen any of those in context before, with the nostalgia and memories that revisiting them comes with.

Something else which has, I think, always gone over my head with this story is the direction. It’s Euros Lyn in the chair this week, and although I’m used to his direction from so many stories in this period of the programme, this one really stands out as unique in a way that I can’t recall of others off the top of my head. Specifically, it’s the use of the extreme angles for several shots that give the story a visual identity that really stands out, and I’m finding myself constantly impressed by this throughout! These individual tales in the middle of seasons can occasionally become a bit overlooked when you think back over a series, so it’s always nice to find that they’ve got their own hidden depths on a re-watch. 

20 January 2015

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

Day 750: The Age of Steel

Dear diary,

Oh, maybe I’ve not changed all that much in the last decade. Remember yesterday, when I bemoaned 2006 Will for his letter to Doctor Who magazine, in which I said I couldn’t decide if I liked the ‘new’ Cybermen design or not? Well, I’d decided in the closing moments of yesterday’s episode that on reflection, the answer was no. I didn’t care all that much for them.

But then, today… oh, I’m starting to have second thoughts about it! There’s a lovely shot of Lumic addressing his Cybermen, where the camera moves almost a full 180 degrees around one the the silver giant’s heads, and it does look like such a beautiful design… I’m completely torn! And then, later on, the Doctor and Mrs Moore venture down into the cooling tunnels under the Cyber Factory, and the suits look gorgeous down there, too, lit in that kind of half light, leering out of the darkness… Oh, I don’t know. For now, I’m chalking it up as being ‘yes, okay, I like this design,’ but there’s every chance that may change again come the end of this season… Maybe I’ve not changed all that much since 2006, after all!

While I’m on the subject of the cooling tunnels, I’m sort of wondering… why have these Cybermen been put on ice? The implication is that they’re fresh recruits (I think I’m right in saying that no one is actually converted before that lone ‘test’ Cyberman in the pre-titles teaser to yesterday’s episode, and the implication is that he’s the only one until the homeless people are rounded up and processed ready for the attack on the Tyler’s mansion… but then, actually, we were told that people had been going missing from the streets for ages; was that just for testing bits of the Cyberman technology?), but surely they should therefore be out and about patrolling the streets of London with the others, making sure they round up every last member of the population? I suppose you could argue that with people being converted so quickly they can afford to simply start putting people ‘on ice’, but still, it stuck out as a bit strange that they’ve already started putting them into the ‘ice tombs’…

Oh, but that’s really me just being picky, I guess. There’s nothing actually wrong with the cooling tunnels, but wondering why they’re down there did take me out of the story for a few minutes while I mused on it. When I returned to Pete’s World, I found myself staring at something that did bother me first time around, but I’d managed to block out since; the emotion of this episode.

Now, emotion is no bad thing to see in Doctor Who. Heck, last time Pete showed up, I found my eyes watering, because it was emotional. The programme has always done emotion (that first companion departure, when the Doctor gives his iconic speech to Susan is an early highlight), and since the revival in 2005 that strand has been more clearly defined than at any point since those early 1960s stories. But there are times - today’s episode being a prime example - where they get the emotion wrong. When I say ‘wrong’, what I mean is that they make the emotion false. Pete’s sacrifice in Father’s Day works for me because it feels like a truly human emotional response. Everything has been geared towards that moment, and all of the interaction between characters up to then has led us forwards. It’s emotion because everything ties together to make it so.

This episode, on the other hand, throws in things that are supposed to tug on our heartstrings… but they simply fall flat because that’s the only reason they exist. I’m largely thinking of the moment that they disable the emotional inhibitor of a Cyberman only to discover that the human converted in to this creature was due to get married the next day. The scene tries really hard to make you care about the woman inside there… but I just can’t connect with it because it feels too blatantly as though I’m supposed to connect with it. The same is true, to a lesser extent, when Mrs Moore dies mere moments later having just explained to us how she’s had to abandon her husband and kids to protect the world. I can’t connect because it all just feels a bit cynical and false (though I suppose that simply could be the product of my own mind, projecting that onto these moments - does anyone feel emotional at the Cyber-Bride? Really?)

Overall, I’m left a bit deflated by this two-parter. Several stories I’d not particularly liked in the past have gone through a bit of a re-evaluation this season, but this story has just been a bit… weak. It’s certainly not one of my favourites… 

19 January 2015

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

Day 749: Rise of the Cybermen

Dear diary,

I can still remember the announcement in Doctor Who Magazine that the Cybermen were to be making a return in the 2006 series, and I was absolutely thrilled by the idea. At some point prior, I’d decided that they were by far my favourite Doctor Who monster (though I’m fairly sure I’d only seen The Tomb of the Cybermen and Earthshock by then… had any others been released on DVD? I didn’t start delving into old Who on VHS until the summer this aired…), and I couldn’t wait to see what the modern programme would do with them. Unlike the four stories preceding this one, I can’t remember how I felt when the return actually aired. I don’t recall being as disappointed by it as I had been in the previous four episodes, but equally I can’t recall being particularly in love with the story, either.

The one thing that I can vaguely recall was that I didn’t like the idea of Pete Tyler coming back - it seemed to cheapen Father’s Day from the year before - but then even that comes to make a rather nice circle when the finale rolls around, and Rose gets packed off to this parallel universe to be with her complete family unit.

One other thing I can recall is writing to Doctor Who Magazine when the new Cybermen were first revealed during production, with a somewhat over earnest letter in which I gave my verdict on the new look, but couldn’t make my own mind up and threw in a reference to the Troughton-era just to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about… remember the other day when I said I was the kind of teenager who was always trying to be old and grumpy and important? Yeah, that’s exactly how that letter reads to me these days! To quote myself (with reluctance, honestly);

Hmm, I don’t know if I like them or not! I like the faces, the eyes and mouth are good - back to a more classic ‘Second Doctor’ style. But I’m on the fence about the shape of the face. On first sight, I thought that the body looked a bit too chunky, but now I’m warming to it… Hmm. Well, maybe I’ll just have to wait and see what the Tenth Doctor does with them!

That said, I know I went on to really like this model of Cyberman. Once it had made an appearance on screen and we’d seen them moving around, I was completely sold on the design, and it became one of my favourites… so it surprises me that I look at them today and think that it’s not all that great of a design! I wonder if it’s because I really love the look they’ve had since Nightmare in Silver, and so this version has been kicked a little further down the list? I certainly recall one of the reasons I was so impressed with them being that the action figure versions looked exactly like the full-size costumes on screen - they were by far the most accurate toy released in those early years!

I’d not remembered that they’re kept shrouded in mystery for the majority of this episode, though. We get to really feel their presence throughout - they’re seen out-of-focus in the background, or harshly illuminated from behind, keeping them just abstract enough to keep you wondering - until almost the very end of the episode, when they come in to storm the Tyler mansion. Even though I was well aware of the design marching towards us, I’m pleased to say that it’s worked really effectively here, and it’s possibly one of my favourite stylistic things about the entire story.

It’s not the favourite, though, because that honour has to go to the ‘dead’ TARDIS. I really enjoy the whole sequence of the ship tumbling through the gap between universes, blowing up and then resorting to being just a dead, empty shell (I particularly like the gas masks that come tumbling down from the ceiling!), and it’s somewhat impressive that the set can look so good when left simply blank. I’ve not really found a chance yet to discuss the different ways the TARDIS set gets lit throughout the Russell T Davies years (based, I believe, on the fact that there were two different Directors of Photography, who each liked to light the set in a different way - one more golden and one with that vibrant green that we see at the start of this story), but I’m surprised, watching through like this, just how much of a difference there is from episode to episode. It’s nice to see it in a somewhat more derelict state, here, though - although the Doctor seems oddly excited at spotting a little glow of power somewhere in the bowels of the ship’s workings when the floor lights around the edge have been burning brightly since they crashed! 

18 January 2015

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

Day 748: The Girl in the Fireplace

Dear diary,

Ah, now this episode I have seen since watching it on first broadcast, and more than once. I’ve a distinct memory of seeing it the first time around, and then texting a friend to admit that, nope, Doctor Who simply wasn’t doing it for me this season, and that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. I can’t remember why I felt that way so strongly after watching this particular episode, but I must have re-evaluated the decision pretty quickly, because only a few months later when preparing my final project for A Level, I used extracts of this script to illustrate a photography project about the passing of time (incidentally, I unearthed the final piece when I was visiting home last Christmas, and it was terrible. Maybe my opinion of the episode hadn’t changed, and I was simply venting my dislike through what I could only very loosely describe as being ‘art’!)

What’s struck me strongly today - so strongly that I’m going to have to discuss it before I get on to anything else - is just how much this story feels like an audition piece for the Eleventh Doctor’s era. I don’t know if I’ve seen this one since Matt Smith took over the role, but looking at it now it seems ridiculously obvious. Of course, it’s written by Steven Moffat, who will go on to spearhead the Eleventh Doctor years, but there’s just so much about this one that feels entirely in keeping with the Doctor we’d get a few years down the line. It’s most noticeable in the characterisation of the Doctor, and the lines that he’s given to speak. Take almost any of the lines David Tennant spouts here, and just spend a moment imagining them in Matt Smith’s mouth - they fit perfectly! I can very much imagine him dancing his way through the ‘drunk’ Doctor scene, which seems almost tailor-made for him! There’s something of a trend at conventions of getting various incarnations of the Doctor to read speeches from other incarnation’s eras - someone get Matt to read out this scene, please?

Perhaps what surprises me the most about this episode today is just how much I’ve connected to the story of the Doctor and Madame De Pompadour. I’ve never thought of the Tenth Doctor’s romantic streak as being the heresy some other people see it as, but I don’t think I’d really latched on to just how deeply the emotions run in this one, especially during the ‘mind reading’ scene. Again, we’re tugging on strings that will go on to make the Eleventh Doctor’s bow - the Doctor’s lonely childhood, and the fact that his name is more than just a secret (again, I’m tempted to think that Steven Moffat really likes Silver Nemesis) - and having now been through the show under Moffat’s stewardship, these scenes have picked up a bit more feeling for me. Reinette is painted as being so very much the perfect companion for the Doctor - intelligent, resourceful, flirty, and able to see and understand the Doctor’s great heartache (it was touched on in School Reunion, too, with the Doctor actively explaining to Rose the curse that being a Time Lord can bring).

I mentioned yesterday how much I disliked Rose’s reaction to Mickey going the TARDIS crew full-time, and said that I was pleased they dropped that thread without another word, but actually watching this episode I’m a little sorry that it doesn’t continue throughout. Rose and Mickey spend a large amount of this story on their own, with the Doctor off ‘dancing’ in France, and it does feel a little bit like a wasted opportunity to explore further the idea that Mickey is trying to move in on Rose’s special life with the Doctor. Especially given that he’ll be leaving us in the next story, I sort of wonder if it may have been more dramatically appealing to have the pair of them bickering more in this episode - he doesn’t fit in at home anymore (there’s shades of that at the end of The Christmas Invasion, where his heart is broken by Rose’s declaration that there’s ‘nothing’ for her back home), and he doesn’t fit in with Rose’s new life, either. Settling down in a parallel world would therefore be an entirely viable option, and it would carry all that extra weight if we’d seen the pair less happy with each other’s company here. It may also work as a nice counter-balance to the relationship blossoming on the other side of the time windows.

But who am I to complain, because it’s not as if The Girl in the Fireplace is exactly short of things to love. I think, if I had to choose my favourite element of the story, then it’s the idea that the Doctor and his friends never find out why they wanted Reinette, above any other person. Those final shots, with the TARDIS fading away to reveal the portrait, and then the words on the side of the ship are so masterfully done - as, while I’m on the subject, is the opening shot of the episode, where we see the vastness of space, with galaxies and stars, expecting to pan onto a spaceship… before actually panning down to reveal the palace of Versailles! It’s such a brilliant, and very Doctor Who, bait-and-switch, and it even had me fooled again watching today. It’s the perfect way to introduce a story which so clever blends the past and the future.

17 January 2015

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

Day 747: School Reunion

Dear diary,

Way back at the very start of this marathon, one of the key things I said I wanted to get out of it was a real sense of ‘attachment’ to the various characters from the programme’s past. Because of the somewhat unique way that Doctor Who has been released on video and DVD over the years, it’s always been a case of dipping in and out of varying eras as I please - I can go from Sarah Jane’s first story to her last story, then back to the middle with no trouble at all (indeed, at times the release schedule of stories necessitated it), but I never really form the same kind of bond with the character that you do with the current version of the programme that’s airing on TV week after week.

I’ve been pleased to find that by-and-large this effect has come out of doing a marathon - there have been occasions where I’ve been really sad to see a Doctor or companion leave the programme, knowing that from my point of view, I won’t be able to see them again for a fair old while. On the other hand, there’s been times when I’m more than ready for a character to go, because I’ve spent so long with them that they’re actively starting to bore me. I’ve been pretty strict with myself over the course of this Diary (if I’m entirely honest, I’m surprised just how well I’ve stuck to it), in that the only episodes I’ve seen ‘out of era’ are the brand new ones as they come out - so the latter half of Series Seven and into Series Eight. Oh, there have been times where I’ve been very tempted to go back and see a bit of the 1960s stuff, but I’ve been sticking to my game plan and not cheating. There’s a little voice in my head that says it’ll be worth it in the end, once this marathon is over and I can really savour those episodes again.

But all of this makes Sarah Jane Smith a fairly special element in the marathon - a companion who spends a fair old whack of time traveling with the Doctor… and then pops up again from time to time throughout the rest of the experiment! When she left in The Hand of Fear - Episode Four of which I watched on April 1st last year - I found myself entirely unmoved by her departure. Supposedly one of the saddest the programme has ever done, and yet it didn’t move me at all. I speculated at the time that it may be because I knew she’d be coming back, and now that I’ve reached that point… I think it’s fair to say that I was right. Since that fateful call back to Gallifrey for the Doctor, I’ve seen Sarah Jane pop up in K9 and Company last August, The Five Doctors in September, and Downtime in December - and we’re about to enter a period where she pops up a few more times in the main show, as well as receiving her own series of adventures to compliment it (More on what I plan to do with The Sarah Jane Adventures at the end of today’s entry). What I hadn’t considered, though it seems so obvious, now, is that this story has also suffered a bit from Sarah Jane’s numerous returns over the last few months.

I’m not watching School Reunion thinking ‘It’s Sarah Jane!’ in the way it was intended, because she’s just not all that exciting to me in the context of the Diary. When this story was first transmitted, she’d still made all of those returns (plus an audio series from Big Finish), but they were years apart - there was still an impact. It’s a shame, really, because it takes one of the story’s biggest selling points and flushes it away.

Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there from being plenty of other things to enjoy in this episode, and the return of Sarah Jane is still somewhat saved by the reaction of David Tennant to seeing one of his childhood icons sharing the screen with him. There’s something about the sheer look of delight on his face when Lis Sladen first walks in to the staff room… perfect. Even if the return of Sarah Jane in general isn’t enough to really make me sit up and take notice again, this scene alone justifies the entire idea. As a side note, their final goodbye outside the TARDIS is also beautiful - and especially poignant since Lis Sladen’s death. I still can’t believe it’s been four years!

I’m also rather fond of all the bickering that occurs between Sarah Jane and Rose - it’s so catty, and yet it seems to fit absolutely perfectly. It does, however, highlight another of the things I can remember being a bit annoyed with when this series was first broadcast, though, namely that Rose spends so much of it being so incredibly jealous and selfish. The reaction to discovering that the Doctor had an ex is overblown enough, but her reaction to Mickey asking to join the travels is something that’s always bothered me - especially since it’s completely overlooked in the very next episode, and never brought up again!

Speaking of Mickey, I commented last week about the way his character evolves over the course of his time on the programme, and we’re seeing another big step in that here. We’ve gone from him running whenever Rose calls him, or the TARDIS lands, to a position where he’s the one making the call and bringing the ‘experts’ in to investigate strange going ons. I know he thinks of himself as being the ‘Tin Dog’ of the team, but I really like the idea that he’s keeping an eye out for suspicious activities in London, especially in light of the fact that Sarah Jane goes on to do something similar in her own series. I love that the Doctor’s companions don’t stop fighting the good fight, just because they’re not aboard the TARDIS.

Besides, what’s wrong with being the Tin Dog, other than breaking down if you’d be too convenient to the story…? 

16 January 2015

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

Day 746: Tooth and Claw

Dear diary,

In a podcast recently, Russell T Davies said that one of the notes the Production team was given when planning began on this second series was to give the historical stories ‘a kick up the arse’. I think you can really see that in action in this story - because we don’t waste much time getting everything in place before there’s some mystery, some tension, and a bloody great werewolf charging around the place! This is a story that packs in a lot of action, and it’s probably the most adrenalin-filled that we’ve had since the programme came back to screens - compare this with The Unquiet Dead, for example!

What’s surprised me most though - nine years on - is just how well the CGI on the werewolf has held up, especially considering that I wasn’t too sure about it at the time (or, at least, that’s my memory of things). Of course, it’s never going to be perfect, and technology is constantly moving forward, but I don’t think this looks at all out of place compared to more recent efforts that the programme has given us. I’m also surprised at just how brutal this creature is - that scene where a character is wrenched up into the rafters is absolutely brilliant! I’m not sure how I’d managed to forget a moment like that, but I doubt I'll be doing so again this time around! He’s also more than a little creepy in his human form, while trapped in the cage - something which really did go over my head the first time I saw this one. There were moments of it yesterday, and several today, too, where i can sense how unengaged I was with the programme this point, because there’s so many little hidden things I’d never payed enough attention to before - and I’m really looking forward to uncovering them as I move along.

Aside from all the action and wolf business, the thing I’m enjoying the most about this story is simply the inclusion of Queen Victoria. Celebrity historicals aren’t anything new (they were doing them right back in 1964!), but I wonder if this might be a more ‘accessible’ historical figure than most? There’s such an iconic image of Queen Victoria that you just grow up with in Britain, and Pauline Collins certainly manages to fit into the preconceived idea of this person, while also breaking the mould a little bit - the moment when she kills one of the Brethren because her protector has been disarmed, for example, is a particular highlight. 

I’m also finding myself oddly drawn to the Doctor and Rose here, despite the fact that they’re firmly back in ‘smug’ mode. I wonder if that’s because this story is largely about their smugness, or at least it comes back to haunt them in the final scenes, and so it feels more justified? Quite aside from that, I’m sort of just enjoying these two best friends roaming around in time and space, having a bit of a laugh with each other. It seems so strange to think that the Tenth Doctor has only been around for a couple of episodes, because these two are already so embedded - and I like that!

Also - really small thing. Silly thing. I love the way the Doctor looks in this story. There’s something about his hair, and the outfit and everything that really just gels for me - and I think it’s my favourite ‘version’ of the Tenth Doctor’s look from across his entire time on the show. Is that weird? Please tell me that other people have odd episodes here and there where the Doctor just looks ‘right’ to you? 

15 January 2015

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

Day 745: New Earth

Dear diary,

It felt so strange, sitting down to watch this in 2006. I’d seen quite a few of the older Doctor Who episodes by this point, and I’d watched all of Series One over again when the DVD came out, but there was something really odd about the thought of another thirteen brand new episodes ahead of me for the next thirteen weeks. It was exciting! We had a new Doctor who I’d enjoyed at Christmas, and every new issue of Doctor Who Magazine brought with it some more exciting news - the Cybermen were going to make a comeback! So was Sarah Jane Smith - with K9! Oh, the excitement was building. I sat down to watch this one, so glad that my favourite show was back on TV…

…and, well, oh dear. Oh, I hated it. As in, by the end, I wasn’t even that bothered about the thought of the next twelve weeks - surely they couldn’t all be as bad as this? Actually, I had something of a backlash with Series Two. A week later, when Tooth and Claw was on, I didn’t even realise until someone called from the other room to say I’d missed ten minutes of Doctor Who. Once Girl in the Fireplace ended, I turned to a friend and announced that I simply couldn’t get in to Doctor Who this year. Something about it was wrong. I think, looking back, that it was simply that ‘second album’ effect - I was so used to the fourteen episodes we’d had in 2005, that these somehow felt like pretenders. It didn’t really let up for the rest of the series, and as the years have gone by Series Two has sort of sat in my mind as being Not Very Good. It means that there’s several episodes here I’ve not seen since their original broadcast. New Earth is one of them, and the same can be said for the Cyberman two-parter, the Impossible Planet two-parter, and Fear Her. I’ve been really excited about reaching this point of the marathon, because it’s almost like coming to these episodes as new - and seeing if my thoughts on them have changed, nine years on.

Certainly, time has been kind to this one, because I’ve really enjoyed New Earth! There’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to say! It didn’t start well, I’ll admit. There’s something about the scenes of the Doctor and Rose emerging from the TARDIS on that hillside that just doesn’t sit right with me - they’re far too smug (a complaint levelled at much of this series, and one which comes back to haunt them later on; it’s using the same trick that was employed between Boom Town and the Series One finale, but taken to extremes). Once they’ve arrived at the hospital, though, and things are underway, there’s a lot to really enjoy about this one.

Including, it has to be said, all of the body swapping! There’s that great line in Time Crash about the Doctor acting grumpy and important ‘like you do when you’re young’, and I think that’s very true of me. I can recall thinking that all of the body swapping and camping up the performances was really silly the last time I watched this one, but I’ve actually found myself laughing at it this time around. I wonder if it might be because I’ve seen all of David Tenant’s episodes, now, so can better appreciate what he’s doing here? At the time, I think I worried that he was going to be messing around like this every week, and that thought put me off a bit. It also means that I didn’t get to appreciate the more serious moments of the story - when he discovers the flesh and confronts the cat nuns… oh God there’s fire in that performance. Tennant can be really scary when he’s playing the Doctor as angry, and it’s great to see that done so well right here at the beginning of his tenure. If anything, it serves to heighten the scenes in which he’s playing Cassandra - really contrasting nicely with them.

Now, I’m not suddenly a convert. I’m not going to start proclaiming that New Earth is the best episode that I’ve ever seen, or trying to convince everyone that it’s fantastic (there’s still a few bits that leave me cold - the solution is all a bit quick and easy, for example, and I’m sure I’ve heard Russell T Davies describe it as being a bit ‘skin of [his] teeth’), but there’s far more in here to enjoy than I’d ever considered before. I’m therefore desperately hoping that more episodes I’ve not enjoyed over the last ten years will undergo a similar process of re-evaluation. I know they’re not all going to end up being classics, but if we can have another few stories go through the transformation process that New Earth has taken, I’ll be a very happy person…


14 January 2015

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

Day 744: The Christmas Invasion

Dear diary,

Christmas comes around quick these days, doesn’t it? It seems strange, less than a month on from our tenth modern Doctor Who Christmas Special, that this felt like such a big deal back in 2005. These days, Doctor Who is just a part of the furniture on Christmas day, with all the presents, and turkey, and family, simply there to fill the time until the TARDIS arrives. Oh, but how exciting was this ten years ago? That wait between the regeneration in the summer and finally getting a chance to see the new man in action here felt like it went on forever.

There was one small way of plugging the gap, though, in the form of the Children in Need mini-episode Born Again, which came along in November and gave us a scant few minutes of the Tenth Doctor breaking himself in and reassuring Rose that he was still the same man. For years, I’ve thought it somewhat strange that this scene wasn’t planned all along, because it felt like such an integral part of the new Doctor’s introduction, but having watched it again as an appetiser for the episode proper, I’m not sure it really is all that necessary. For starters, it means that we get to see Rose accepting that this strange new bloke is the Doctor (‘Run!’) before slipping right back into being unsure and having to do the whole realisation again (I’d also never noticed that the way the Doctor convinces Harriet Jones in the episode is almost identical to the reassurance he gives Rose in the mini-episode).

But once we’re into the main event… oh, it races along, doesn’t it? I remember thinking at the time that it was somewhat brave to spend the new Doctor’s first episode with him largely tucked up in bed, but actually it works perfectly, and it means that when David Tennant is given the chance to start getting out and doing things, you’re really paying attention to his every movement. He really hits the ground running - that scene where he gets up and heads out to see the Pilot Fish is fantastic, and he’s so instantly the Doctor right away. Not that it harms the proper reveal of him later on, as the Sycorax language starts to get translated and we move in to see him framed in the TARDIS doorway. I’m not ashamed to say that I actually cheered at this bit. Out loud. To myself, in an empty room. It’s just so perfectly done, and then he’s really off - jabbering away, having a sword fight, threatening the Prime Minister… yeah, once he’s up and about, he’s a busy man!

Keeping him confined to bed rest for so long gives the rest of our supporting cast a real chance to shine, too, and on first transmission this was the episode where I suddenly ‘got’ Jackie, and fell in love with her. I can’t help but watch her during the tree attack and smile (‘I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas Tree!’). Mickey had always fared a bit better with me than Jackie, but it’s great to see them coming together as a proper family ‘unit’ now. Then you’ve got Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (yes, you know who she is), too! I really love that we get to see her come back to the programme, and I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated just how clever it is to show her downfall as the introduction to a new Doctor. Surrounding the new incarnation with familiar characters isn’t a new trick - we’ve seen the same thing done with Daleks in the 1960s, and UNIT in the 70s - but we’ve never seen a new Doctor really flex his regenerated personality in this way before. It really helps to set him out as a completely new man, and reinforce his ‘no second chances’ line just a few minutes earlier. I’ve often thought of the Ninth Doctor as being more angry and powerful than the Tenth, but I’m not sure I could imagine him in this scene. Oh, he would rage at Harriet and really express his disappointment, but I can’t imagine him using the six words to bring her down. It’s really beautifully done.

As is the entire end of the episode. Oh, Song for Ten. I love that piece of music. I sing it sometimes. Genuinely. It’s a really lovely piece, and it helps to underscore another change for the Doctor. The last few episodes of Eccleston’s run were all about the fact that the Doctor is constantly moving on - he doesn’t stick around in the aftermath. The adventure here is over, but the Doctor’s stuck around for Christmas Dinner with the Tylers (another change - the Ninth Doctor didn’t do ‘domestic’). It’s something we’ll see him willing to do a bit more from now on - In School Reunion, he’s still around once the Krillitane threat is over, for example. As he’ll say in tomorrow’s episode, we’ve got a ‘new new Doctor’, and he’s off to a good start… 

13 January 2015

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

Day 743: The Parting of the Ways

Dear diary,

Oh, where do you start with this one? The Parting of the Ways holds one of my strongest memories from this season - having to pause the episode for a few minutes before it started so that someone could finish up a phonecall. I can just remember being really anxious to get going with the episode, because of everything at stake; we knew that the Doctor was regenerating. The Daleks were back, en masse. Everything was to play for… I just wanted to get in to it already!

That sense of excitement hasn’t lessened in the decade since. The stakes for this one have been so successfully raised by Bad Wolf, and now it feels almost as though the story can really get going.

Last week, while watching Dalek, I complained that the Daleks were never as good or powerful after that episode, and mused that it was a real pity. Actually, though, I was wrong, because the Daleks in this story are from completely the same mould - and I’m a little saddened that the Daleks aren’t quite like this any more. My friend Nick describes it perfectly with just a single word - these Daleks are ‘ruthless’. It’s best summed up when they board the game station and venture down to the lowest levels to kill all the humans huddled there… simply because they can. They don’t need to - they’re no threat to the Daleks or their plans, but what the heck, we’ll kill them anyway. During our discussion, I compared it to a scene from The Day of the Doctor in which the Daleks close in on a group of Gallifreyans, ready to kill… but then they realise the Doctor has arrived elsewhere, and they hurry off to try and kill him instead. The Daleks of this story wouldn’t have been so lenient - they’d have headed off to find the Doctor, and then swivelled their middle section around while they retreated, to kill the group of people anyway.

And they’re all the better for it! I really get the idea that the Daleks are an unstoppable force when I’m watching them here, simply slaughtering their way up to the top of the station to find the Doctor. There’s something so powerful about the way that they don’t come in all-guns-blazing, but simply glide their way slowly upwards, killing anything that gets in their way calmly and efficiently. It’s best evidenced when we reach the ‘last man standing’ moment with Jack - a character we’ve grown to like over the last few episodes, and the Doctor’s companion - and they simply wait until he’s out of bullets, before taking him out with a single beam. I know the Daleks couldn’t always be this effective, but it would be nice to have them like this again just once…

While I’m on the subject of our pepper-pot friends, I need to finish up a bit of narrative that I started during Dalek. I was speaking then about why these Daleks are so much more powerful, but couldn’t tell the whole story until we’d been through this episode so that I could check the facts. There’s one or two little wrinkles, but they’re fairly easily smoothed out…

So. A Dalek in the closing seconds of the Time War manages to perform and Emergency Temporal Shift and escape the carnage. He’s the only one who does it - or the only one who successfully does it, at least - and he ends up burning in a crater for three days, screaming because his mind has been warped by the things he’s seen. Eventually, he ends up in Henry Van Staten’s vault, meets the Doctor, and learns that the war is over. What he witnessed in his final moments was the end of the Dalek race, and he’s the only survivor. Then he meets Rose, and through her touch he’s able to regenerate himself. Eventually, the presence of human touch changes the Dalek. It starts to feel, and eventually accepts orders to destroy itself. The last Dalek in existence, wiped out. 

But… what if that’s not what happens? What if those spheres coming out of the skirt and converging on the Dalek isn’t a self destruct protocol, but a dressed-up Emergency Temporal Shift? There’s an undercurrent through Dalek that the creature is simply looking for orders, and the Doctor confirms that he’s never going to get any orders, because there’s no other Daleks around to give them. Instead, what if it reverts to it’s base programming - that the Dalek race must survive under any circumstances? To this end, the Dalek Temporal Shifts to the future, and sets about manipulating the human race to create a brand new army of Daleks. Its contact with Rose has shown it that there is some benefit to the human condition, and even though he’s still picky (only one cell in a billion is suitable), he’s more willing to harvest the humans than Daleks would usually be.

This goes on for centuries. We’re told as much in these two episodes, that the Daleks have been behind everything that’s gone wrong for humanity - the loss of that Fourth Great and Bountiful empire. Over time, our original Dalek sets itself up as Emperor (it is the only remaining ‘genuine’ Dalek, after all, so the perfect candidate for the job) and goes slowly mad, thinking of himself as a god. By the time we catch up with him here, and find him surrounded by half a million other Daleks, the thought that his army is born from humanity sickens him - all that he learnt from Rose has been wiped away by time. It’s not a completely flawless plan, but it works well enough for me, and I think I prefer it to the idea that two Daleks managed to escape right at the end of the Time War, and that the Doctor encounters them in fairly quick succession. You can also build in the fact that the TARDIS visits this time and place immediately after the first adventure with a Dalek, and thus could be the ship trying to warn the Doctor what’s happened, but he’s too busy showing off and swanning about to take notice. 

It also builds nicely in to the regeneration, I think. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken a lot about this season of adventures being perfectly formed to tell the story of the Doctor’s post-war recovery, and I think it’s a nice capstone to have his regeneration brought about by the ‘final’ act of the Time War. 

On the subject of which… that’s it! Goodbye, Ninth Doctor! It’s gone quick, hasn’t it? Remember those days where I spent six months with the Tom Baker Doctor? We’re down to two weeks for an incarnation now! It strange, in a way, because even though Paul McGann was only around for the one night, it feels stranger to have a Doctor round for several stories, but still only a very short time. Yet, I think I’m glad that we only had the Ninth Doctor for this one run of adventures. Even though I think he’s great, these thirteen episodes tell a complete story so well (I think I’m right in saying that Russell T Davies planned them out so that if no further episodes were commissioned, then these would work as their own self-contained story), that it might somehow lessen them to spend another year in the company of this incarnation.

And besides, we’re off into the Tenth Doctor’s era, now! There’s several stories coming up in the next few weeks which I’ve not seen since their initial broadcast - up to nine years ago, in some cases - so I’m really excited to see how I take to them all. I’m in the swing of the way the new series works again now (spending two years in classic territory meant that the first few episodes of the Ninth Doctor threw me a bit!), and I’m ready for the next adventure!

12 January 2015

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

Day 742: Bad Wolf

Dear diary,

It’s been so long since I last saw this story that I’d sort of forgotten the Daleks don’t show up until the end of this first episode. In my head, this one has become a massive, sprawling, Dalek epic that closes out the season, but there’s a lot more to it than all of that. And, actually, it’s all the better for it - because there’s a lot in this opening episode which I’d never really paid all that much attention to, but which is really rather well done.

For instance; I’ve been banging on a lot in the last fortnight about the way episodes in this season are perfect placed to move the story on, and to take both us and the characters on the right journey. There’s lots in this episode which really pays off all that careful setting up, and I’m not sure that I’ve really noticed it on previous watches. The obvious one is that we’re back on Satellite Five a hundred years after the events of The Long Game, but this then plays in to the themes of Boom Town, with the Doctor realising that the ‘hundred years of hell’ the Earth has been experiencing is all his fault. It picks up the threads dangled by Margaret Slitheen yesterday when she commented on the way the Doctor swans off and leaves others to clean up the mess - and when you counterpoint that statement with a flashback to the end of The Long Game where he does just that… it really works.

On top of that, you’ve got the really rather brilliant idea of the gameshows themselves. I can remember finding it hilarious at the time that the Doctor had ended up in the Big Brother house (when this episode first aired, I’d dipped in and out of various seasons of Big Brother, so knew enough about the programme to really connect with the joke), and actually it’s still fun now. I can also recall something of a vague worry that it would cause the episode to date incredibly quickly, but I don’t think it’s really suffered from that. For starters, Big Brother is in the news a lot as I type this, and the likes of The Weakest Link - even though no longer in production - are so ingrained into popular culture that the joke is still relevant for us ten years on.

Something that did surprise me is the way that this episode is structured. The Doctor and Rose have been separated before now, but never quite as thoroughly as this - they only come close to each other during the break out from the Weakest Link studio (there’s a sentence!), and then communicate via video link at the end. I’m not sure I’d noticed that before, because the episode is largely about the Doctor fighting his way to get back to his companion.

We’ve also got the arrival of another potential companion in ‘Lynda-with-a-Y’, and I have to confess that I really didn’t take to her first time around. I’m not sure why that is, if I’m honest, because she’s not all that bad here. I think I thought she was so obviously the next companion (yes, yes, they hooked me!) that I didn’t like how blatant it was! And then when Rose is ‘killed’ by the Android…

But despite all the great build up in this one, things really get in to their swing during the final minutes, with the Doctor face-to-face with a new Dalek empire. To say I’m excited for tomorrow’s episode is probably a bit of an understatement…

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