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7 October 2013

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

Day 280: Inferno, Episode Two

Dear diary,

There’s a danger that I’m just going to end up repeating myself here, but frankly I’m so surprised by it that it really does bear repeating – I’m finding myself completely won over by the Third Doctor. I spoke yesterday about the fact that he was so willing to use UNIT as a way of getting access to the drilling project simply so that he could steal power (and let’s be honest, that’s exactly what he’s doing!) and try to get the TARDIS working again.

I really love the idea that he only works with UNIT because he’s stuck on Earth and he needs something to be doing. Today’s episode makes it almost quite dark – there’s a very real danger that everyone on this drilling project could be dead before long. There’s at least one person roaming the site murdering for no apparent reason. The Doctor has seen the effect of getting to close to those people who are infected (though he follows a primordial UNIT soldier across the gangways for a while, then seemingly forgets all about this!), and knows the danger of drilling down this deep – heck they’ve already come close to wiping themselves out.

And yet when Professor Stahlman cuts his power and manages to dispose of the computer circuit before the Brigadier can be alerted to the danger the man poses… the Doctor simply leaves. He announces that he could be doing something better with his time anyway, and heads off to tinker with the TARDIS some more. He even goes as far as to lie to Liz simply to get her out of the way while he makes a runner. It really does feel like a return to the personality that Hartnell’s Doctor had right back at the very beginning, when he was willing to kidnap people just to stop them revealing the secret of the TARDIS, or endanger them all to satisfy his own curiosity. I’m imagining that the Doctor will mellow and grow to accept his current lot (I always remember him as enjoying his time with UNIT, but maybe that’s simply my lack of affinity with this era), but for now it’s creating a really interesting dynamic.

It works pretty well when you give Pertwee some great guest characters to play off, too. He really works brilliantly opposite Olaf Pooley as Stahlman, and you can quite easily believe that the pair would wind each other up no end. Even Nick Courtney, who’s always on the top of his game, seems to be turning in an especially good performance here. The only problem I’ve got with the cast is that every time Christopher Benjamin turns up on screen, I find myself loudly saying ‘Henry Gordon Jago!’ to an empty room, especially having finished the Sixth Season of Jago & Litefoot just this morning.

This feels like a good time to heap some praise on Caroline John, too, considering that this is her last story. Liz has always been one of those companions I’ve never really had much time for. She’s only in four stories (Well, five if you count The Five Doctors, I suppose), and they’re from this era of the programme that I’ve never paid that much attention to. Up until this story, I was more-or-less ready to claim that – despite how good she might be – Liz wasn’t really a companion. She’s far more independent than a companion would usually be, and she’s really got her own life outside of the Doctor.

I think it’s helped by the whole format of Season Seven. Because the Doctor and Liz are having all their adventures within comfortable driving distance from London, you get the impression that Liz goes home to her flat at the end of each day, while the Doctor spends his time underneath St Pancras station, trying to kick start the TARDIS. When this story started, I was going to concede my point and suggest that maybe she was a companion, simply on the basis that she’s his friend, and he’s specifically asked her to help with his escape attempt (there’s implication in Episode One of this story that she’s been helping him with these ‘experiments’ for a while). As it is, though, he’s simply using her – he needs that extra knowledge on hand if he’s in with any chance of making the console work, and he’s willing to get her out of the way if he thinks she’ll get in the way of him making a break for it.

I’m going to keep the jury out on Liz’s companion status for the rest of this story, but I’m glad that there’s a new depth to it. Just like the new slightly morally ambiguous Doctor, it’s a fresh dynamic for the programme, and it’s really helped to freshen things up following the trend of companions all being a bit samey towards the end of the 1960s (no matter how much I ended up loving Zoe!)

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