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29 December 2013

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

Day 363: Planet of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

I thought that Frontier in Space was something of a nostalgic story, which pandered to my recent nostalgia for the 1960s era of Doctor Who. Frankly, it had nothing on this.

For a start, it's the return of Terry Nation to the series for the first time since Christmas 1965. It's funny to think that the last time we saw his work was for The Daleks' Master Plan, because in many ways the series is a completely different beast now, almost eight years on. Not that Terry is aware that things have changed much, though, because he brings with him a whole host of stock 'Terry Nation Story Ideas' which feel like they've been given the briefest of dust downs since he hung them up all that time ago.

For a start, we're back in a jungle! It feels like an age since we had a proper jungle, whereas when Terry was last around, it's the only environment the TARDIS seemed to land in. And - of course - Jo remarks that (all together) 'The things growing in this jungle seem more like animal than plant life…' (hooray!). Just in case we missed that point, it gets reiterated by a Thal a little bit later on in the episode.

And there's a point - it's the Thals! Back for the first time since The Daleks, which seems like an absolute age back (it was - for me it's been a whole year!), and just to refresh out memories it even gets a mention, along with Ian, Barbara, and Susan. And still, the Thals don't show up until 12 minutes into the episode. Until then, it's just the Doctor and Jo carrying the action, and the Doctor is in a coma for lots of that time!

We don't get a character called 'Tarrant', but we do have a 'Taron', so we're halfway there, at least!

With all of this crammed into these 23-and-a-half minutes, this episode could end up feeling like a bit of a dull re-hash of so many old ideas. but you know what? I've loved it. Every minute of it! The Three Doctors at the start of this season kicked me off thinking about how much I missed the early years of the show, and a trip back to the 1960s for the recently recovered The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear just cemented that feeling of nostalgia, but it really feels like the programme itself is starting to reach a point where it can start to delve into its rich past and use ideas to tell new stories.

And I'm wondering how 'traditional' this episode would have felt at the time? For me it's easy to pick up all the trappings of a Terry Nation story because I've seen all his previous efforts within the last twelve months, but as I've said above, when Planet of the Daleks first aired, he'd been away from the series for seven-and-a-bit years. To put that in context, there's about as long between The Feast of Steven and this episode as there is between The Runaway Bride's first airing and now. Doesn't that just feel like a lifetime? In those seven-and-a-bit years, the programme has seen in two new Doctors, plenty of new companions and enemies, tonnes of new episodes… I wonder if at the time, this would have felt as nostalgic as it does to me now? Any memories of this one first time round?

In some ways, it feels like this would have been the right episode to reintroduce the Daleks with after their long absence, instead of Day. Sure it means that we wouldn't have gotten that brilliant reveal in yesterday's episode when the Master introduced us to his allies, but we'd get them back in a very 'retro' tale, and it seems somehow fitting. It even properly does the 'reveal the Daleks at the end of Episode One, even though their name is in the titles' thing that they didn't quite manage last season!

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