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23 March 2014

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

Day 447: Doctor Who and the Pescatons, Episode One

Dear diary,

It seems like an absolute lifetime since I had to listen to an episode of Doctor Who instead of popping in a DVD to watch. Doctor Who and the Pescatons was released on LP in June of 1976, between the transmissions of The Seeds of Doom and The Masque of Mandragora, and with Sarah Jane’s time in the TARDIS heading towards its end, I’m happy for any excuse to prolong her adventures with the Doctor.

My first thought in all of this is just how… familiar it all seems. The stories it most closely recalls are Fury From the Deep and Terror of the Zygons, and there’s elements from both present in this opening episode. We’ve got a killer seaweed, which is signalled in the soundtrack by an ominous, thumping heartbeat, which the Doctor first hears on the beach. The main enemies are trying to find a new world, because their old one is (nearly) destroyed. Then there’s a spaceship hidden at the bottom of a large expanse of water, and a creature swimming up the Thames, as people look on in horror. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised this story was written by Victor Pemberton, which perhaps makes the Fury comparisons even more obvious.

I found myself mostly confused by the scene in which the Pescaton swims up the Thames, but mostly because of my own preconceptions about this story. For some reason - despite what the cover to the LP clearly depicts - I’ve always imagined Pescatons as being short creatures. I don’t know why, but In my mind whenever I’ve seen an image of the one on the cover, I’ve assumed that they’re about three-and-a-half feet high. The kind of alien which would have been played by Jimmy Vee in the Russell T Davies era. I’ve also always assumed that they’re a kind of comedy alien played for laughs, but the script seems to be treating them in a deadly serious manner.

I’m not sure where any of these thoughts have come from, because I’ve never listened to the story before, or even really given it a second thought, but it’s certainly not what I was expecting it to be. I’m induing myself surprised, too, by how much this is Tom’s story. I was always under the impression that it was released due to the popularity of The Doctor and Sarah Jane as a partnership in the television series, but she harpy appears at all during this episode. She turns up to be attacked by a monster early on, and then to ask the Doctor what a Pescaton is, so that he can fill us all in on the idea, but that’s really all she gets to do in this one so far!

That’s not necessarily a complaint, because Tom Baker is (of course) on fine form throughout. I’m surprised by how much this feels like on of Big Finish’s ‘Companion Chronicles’ range, with Tom taking on the role of lead narrator, guiding us through the story. It moves at quite a pace, too - on more than one occasion, I had to skip back a minute or so, just so I could catch up with what’s going on, or where I was supposed to be. My favourite bit, though, has to be his opening speech, which introduces us to the story:

THE DOCTOR
My life is an endless journey across the bounds of space and time. A time traveller, drifting among the great galaxies of the universe.

It paints such a beautiful picture, and it sounds so right coming out in Tom’s very unique tones. It’s a lovely description, and it makes the episode worthwhile in those opening few minutes.

And then we end on an equally beautiful image, as we’re described a view of the sky over London lighting up as a shower of meteorites fall into the Thames. I’ve got my concerns about how well this would have been achieved on screen in 1976 (so perhaps it’s better suited to being on audio here!), but I’d love to see the modern team tackle it - I’m sure they could make it look lovely…

 

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