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19 December 2013

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

Day 353: Carnival of Monsters, Episode One

Dear diary,

It really does feel like a culture shock suddenly coming back to the Pertwee era after a couple of weeks in black and white. And it’s just the right time to come back – because we’re returning more to the style of those 1960s stories, with the Doctor and his companion arrive at some new destination in the TARDIS and set off to explore.

I’m surprised that it feels so odd watching the ship arrive in the cargo hold of the SS Bernice, because the last few seasons have been far less ‘UNIT orientated’ than I’d expected, and the Third Doctor being off-Earth isn’t as alien a-concept as I’d imagined. Still, there’s something exciting about seeing the familiar shape of the blue box materialise; it’s still rare for this point in the programme’s run.

As is a trip into history! We visited Atlantis in the closing few episodes of the last season, but the Third Doctor hasn’t really spent a lot of time on pre-1970s (or 80’s, take your pick) Earth yet. I’m glad he’s ended up where he has, though, because it looks very nice. The Third Doctor really suits this kind of 1920s, upper-class lifestyle, and it’s great to see him brushing up against it. Extra points for him almost blowing Jo’s cover story by refuting the fact that he’s not travelled very much!

I’m also really rather liking the script we’re being given. More and more, I’m understanding why people hold up Robert Holmes as one of the truly great Doctor Who writers. Here, I’m enjoying the way he’s sending up the programme itself in the dialogue – ‘Roll up! Roll Up! See the monster show!’ – and in amusing little scenes like Jo’s over-reaction that there’s something alive in the cargo hold with them… only to discover that it’s a cage of chickens. I love it when Doctor Who can make me laugh out loud, and this was a brilliant example.

Elsewhere… I’m a bit up-and-down with my reaction to this episode. My first note of the day was to comment on the CSO fringing early on (where it seems to have been used simply to add in a sky behind some character’s heads), but then the rest of my page comments on how good the CSO effects for today are. They’re not flawless (The boat on the open waves doesn’t quite work, but it’s close enough to not matter so much…), but shots of the dinosaur seen through an open doorway are very well realised.

Similarly, I’ve made lots of notes about the design of our latest alien culture, commenting that the style has been nicely developed to tie a thread through the sets and the costumes, and making it feel like a very real world. The set itself is quite interesting, and there’s lots of shots that really make the most of it. But then I switch tone and complain that the masks and the make up are a bit below-par in places.

The two notes that I enjoy the most, though, are both related to loose story arcs. There's the Sonic Screwdriver arc, which I've been following for much of the year, obviously. Here, we're told that the Sonic only works on 'electronic locks' (something that's been alluded to in the modern series, too: most recently being a fun point in The Day of the Doctor), and when the Doctor tries to open up the mysterious hatch in the ship's floor, he suggests that they need a 'magnetic core extractor', and it's happy to have one in the TARDIS *.

But we also see the first mention of 'Metebilis III', which the Doctor describes as 'the famous blue planet'. I've never really thought of there being an arc as such with this - although I'm aware that he'll make a quick recce of the world before this season is out - but it's great to see it being seeded in this early, though I'm sure it wasn't intended as foreshadowing of the Doctor's demise at the time! I've seen lots of talk recently - especially given Matt Smith's final episode - of the way in which the modern series foreshadows the departure of the Doctor long before it happens, but it's not a new idea! It's been going on since at least 1973…

*As a side note, wouldn't it have made the Daleks' invasion of Earth much easier if they'd thought to bring an industrial, planet-sized version of this technology? That's why they're always getting beaten by the Doctor - they just don't think things through…

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