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2 March 2014

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

Day 426: Planet of Evil, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I’ve been praising Tom Baker’s portrayal, and the way that he just ‘gets’ the Doctor since he first appeared in Robot, and it’s true to say that he’s been nothing short of wonderfully confident in the role through all his other stories. But here, today, in this episode, I’ve suddenly completely understood what people mean when they say that he’s the best Doctor ever.

It comes as he’s started to work out exactly what’s happening here, and while he’s under trial for his life, accused of murdering seven people. Every time he’s tried to interject - either seriously or with that typically ‘Doctor’ sense of humour - he’s been cut off, and told that he’ll have his chance… eventually. In the end, he gets sick of waiting, and uses an opportunity to answer a simple question to turn the situation in his favour.

Here on Zeta Minor is the boundary between existence as you know it and the other universe which you just don't understand. From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe. Each is the antithesis of the other. You call it “nothing”, a word to cover ignorance. And centuries ago scientists invented another word for it. “Antimatter”, they called it. And you, by coming here, have crossed the boundary into that other universe to plunder it. Dangerous.

The speech is given while the camera mostly focusses in on Baker, moving slowly towards him. Moments later, when Sorenson confirms that all his mineral samples are aboard, the Doctor continues…

Sorenson, you can’t take
any part of this planet with you. Sorenson… if you don’t listen to me, you’ll never leave this planet!

As he says that final sentence, he’s dragged away by guards to be locked back up in a cell. Right the way through this sequence, I found myself completely captivated by Baker’s performance. It is, put simply, the best I’ve ever seen from one of the Doctors to date. He completely sells the threat of the situation to me, and he manages to make it scary. He’s got a very distinctive voice, and here it’s used to its best effect as he drops down into a solemn tone to deliver his deadly warning.

It contrasts so nicely with his attitude earlier in the episode, because I think that this is also the first time I’ve seen a hint of that whole ‘best friends’ thing between the Fourth Doctor and Sarah. She had such a great rapport with the Third Doctor, and although they share their moments (that scene in Robot, where she successfully convinces him not to just fly off in his TARDIS, for example, or the famous ventilation shaft sequence from The Ark in Space), I feel as though her relationship with this new incarnation has been overshadowed by his friendship with Harry.

But as they make their way through the jungle, even though they know they’re being followed and accused of murder, they’re nothing short of good friends. They laugh and joke about Shakespeare, and you can just as easily imagine Baker and Sladen making it up on the spot - it’s not particularly vital dialogue, and it’s not even focussed on, it’s just chatter as they make their way into the background. I’m completely caught up by his performance, and I’m genuinely thrilled by it. During his serious speech today, I actually had goosebumps; it’s not often that Doctor Who has moved me like that.

And yet it’s all the more apparent to me that I’m not really all that bothered by the story to this one. There’s some interesting concepts going on, but it’s not grabbing me in the way I’d like. I’m far more distracted by the performances, or the sets, or the direction. Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing to focus on, so the storey itself ends up fading into the background somewhere. Still - what a complaint to have!


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