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6 February 2014

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

Day 402: Robot, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I was wrong. Yesterday, I said that Robot wasn’t really about the titular mechanical creature, but rather an excuse to introduce us to the new incarnation of the Doctor. I mused that UNIT, the Robot, Think Tank, everything was just set dressing around a few episodes of Tom Baker finding his feet in the role. But actually, watching today’s episode, I was completely wrong.

You see, all of that was true of yesterday’s episode. Not only the scenes early on in the UNIT lab where the Doctor roams around in his pyjamas and tries to prove to Harry that he’s perfectly well, but throughout the rest of the episode, too. Even the cliffhanger is given over to Sarah Jane in danger rather than out new man, as though they don’t feel like he’s quite embedded enough to have a cliff hanger of his own yet.

It’s all change today. Tom has completely settled into the role – though I’m not sure if he looks quite comfortable surrounded by Pertwee’s trappings, it could be more that it doesn’t look right to me because I’ve just come from a long period in the company of these characters and this style – and it feels almost as though he’s been the Doctor for ages, certainly not just two episodes. I think it may be helped by the casual way in which he plays the role. There’s a moment in today’s episode where he lies down and goes to sleep on the Doctor’s lab table, and he’s just got a complete disregard for the whole place. You can’t imagine Pertwee’s Doctor behaving in the same way, and though you sometimes got the impression that the Third Doctor was simply tolerating the Brigadier, the Fourth really seems to give off a sense of complete ambivalence towards both the Brigadier and the situation they’re facing.

It works, though! The Doctor never seems like he’s actually bothered by any of this, almost as though he’s not even paying attention - he spends most of the time building piles of random electronic equipment, or looking around wondering where Sarah Jane is, or simply napping. Even in yesterday’s episode, he says his piece before disappearing into a bundle of hat, and scarf, and curls. Underneath it all, he’s fiercely intelligent. It’s the same kind of thing we saw with the Second Doctor, whereby you don’t really pay him much attention, but then he opens his mouth and comes out with exactly what you need to hear.

People always talk about Tom Baker as being the best of all the various Doctors (‘the definitive article’, as he himself puts it during this story), and it does have to be said that he’s instantly watchable here. Even when he’s not the focus of a scene, you can’t help but watch him. Over such a long time in the part, it’s obvious that he’ll evolve the character, and that’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to watching over the next few months, but it’s amazing just how well he lands on his feet here – there must have never been any doubt that they’d found the right man for the job.

There’s plenty to love with the introduction of Ian Marter to the cast, too. Harry jumps right in to the action, suggesting that they should have someone on the inside at Think Tank (though it’s the Doctor who nudges the conversation towards sending Harry), and then turning up in full on ‘Steed’ gear, complete with bowler hat. There’s no other indication at this stage that he’ll become a regular companion for the rest of the season, as opposed to just being a one-off UNIT member, but it’s nice to see him getting involved in the action all the same. Elsewhere in UNIT, Benton has been promoted! I didn’t have a clue that this had happened at any point after him becoming Sergeant, but I love the idea that he receives a UNIT promotion every time there’s a new Doctor on the scene!


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