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21 January 2014

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

Day 386: Death to the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’ve been wondering today about Doctor Who and ‘Jumping the Shark’. I’d imagine that several of my readers will be aware of what this means, but for those of you who aren’t, allow me to quote from TV Tropes;

””The moment when an established TV show changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realise that the show's finally run out of ideas. It's reached its peak, it'll never be the same again, and from now on it's all downhill.

It’s something of a contentious issue among fans of any number of TV shows, and there’s only a handful of programmes where the majority of people can pinpoint - and agree on - a single moment when their show has made the jump. For example, I’ve seen a lot of talk in recent weeks that the third series of Sherlock may have ‘Jumped the Shark’, while I’ve also seen plenty of people confirm that it was their favourite series of the three. The longer that a programme runs, the higher the chance that it will actually end up going off the boil somewhere, which surely makes Doctor Who a prime candidate?

Now I know what many of you are thinking. There’s a loud group of fandom who think the programme ‘Jumped the Shark’ during the 1980s, and depending on your age, the exact point you think it all went wrong can vary from the casting of Davison/Baker/McCoy (delete as applicable), or the introduction of the question marks on the lapel/that coat/question marks on a jumper, or even when Tegan/Peri/Mel/Ace joins the TARDIS as a new companion. There are even some of us who don’t think there’s any thing wrong with most of the above options, and have no issue with any of them.

You see, I think because of Doctor Who’s unique nature, it’s either not possible for it to ‘Jump the Shark’, or it’s constantly jumping it… and then jumping back again. Doctor Who changes too often for it to run out of ideas - it can go anywhere, do anything, and just when you’re getting bored of the regular cast, they go and change them. Take the latter half of Season 21, for instance, where in the space of four episodes we lose two companions and a Doctor, and gain a new one of each.

All that being said, I think that certain elements within the programme can become stale and - yes - ‘Jump the Shark’, and today I think we’ve witnessed the Daleks doing so. You probably know the moment that I’m thinking of. The Daleks have come to Exxilon in search of a rare mineral. The mysterious power drain on the planet which has stranded both the TARDIS and our guest cast’s spaceship has also rendered the Daleks’ weapons useless. Not to worry, though, because they’ve got a back up, using more conventional guns in place of their usual attack. So, off the Daleks pop to their convenient shooting range, where they test these new weapons… by taking pot-shots at a model TARDIS.

I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be funny. As in, genuinely, I just can’t tell. I think that it might be, but I spent more time wondering if the Daleks had stopped off at Toys’R’Us on the way to Exxilon and picked up one of the Character Options toys! It’s a tiny little scene, and it shouldn’t bother me so much (well, I’d not say it bothers me, as such, rather it just took me completely out of the story), but I think it’s a very definite moment when the Daleks ‘Jump the Shark’. We’ve had the pepper pots back once a season for three years, now, so I think I’m just starting to tire of them again. Their constant reappearance in the 1960s saw me growing to love them, but the more they turn up in colour, the less bothered by them I’m finding myself. Thankfully, they’ve only one more story before taking another extended break, and it’s supposed to be the ‘best Dalek story ever’, so I live in hope for next season…

I wonder if I might also be a bit put off by the fact that this episode feels like a distinct step-down from yesterday. I mused that the ‘daylight’ scenes at the tail end of Episode One weren’t anywhere near as atmospheric or beautiful as the night time ones had been, and seeing today’s episode entirely in daylight seems to have confirmed that to me. The scenes out on location is a quarry are just that - scenes out in a quarry. There’s no attempt to hide it at all, and the more I look at it, the less I like it. There’s some lovely direction on display, still, as we look down at our heroes, and up at the Exxilons, but they’re not a million miles away from similar shots in the last Dalek tale, but re-enacted in a smaller quarry with less scope.

Even when the Exxilons attack, and there’s arrows and spears being thrown everywhere, there’s not real tension or pace to the proceedings. It all feels a bit flat, and when we go from there to scenes down in the Exxilon’s sacrificial chamber… frankly I was just left cold by things. No wonder the sight of a Dalek shooting a toy TARDIS has me wondering if the show’s gone ‘past it’!


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