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3 April 2014

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

Day 458: The Deadly Assassin, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don’t know if I was simply feeling especially sour yesterday, but I’ve been much more willing to go along with The Deadly Assassin today. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a darn sight more solid than I was giving it credit for being. There’s still one or two moments peppered here and there which take me out of things (I can’t decide if the chalk outline of the murdered president - complete with Time Lord head gear - was supposed to be funny or serious), but on the whole I’m being much more swept along with the story.

Yesterday, I said that there were elements of the sets that I rather enjoyed, but I tempered my praise with complaints that they were - on the whole - a bit drab. I think I still feel the same way having watched this episode, but I’m willing to give them a bit more attention than I was before. Seeing the Panopticon set without all the Time Lords stood around inside it means that we get to see the full scale of the area. There’s some great high shots looking down across the space, and it’s here that the setting makes a real impact. We also get some nice wide shots which also seem to include a domed ceiling overhead (Though I can’t decide if we’re supposed to be looking at a painted dome, or windows looking out onto a night sky). This is the design at its best - the shape of the room and the scale of it really do make the impression that they’re supposed to.

But then it’s still all looking a bit drab. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not expecting some kind of fantastically elaborate setting that would cost a million pounds, but I’m just sort of looking for something… more. My favourite version of Gallifrey, I think, is the one we see briefly at the very start of the Animated Shada webcast. The Eighth Doctor returns home to visit President Romana in her rooms in the Capitol, and it’s a lovely hybrid of ‘classic’ Gallifrey, and the snatches we see of the war-torn planet in the more recent series. The animation is basic, but we get to see a room with high, arched windows which look out across the stunning landscape, bathed in reds and golds. This is the Gallifrey I imagine when Susan describes it during The Sensorites, or the Doctor recalls little details in Gridlock.

As I said yesterday, I completely understand that the idea here is that the Doctor ran away because Gallifrey is like this - he left because he didn’t like the place being so stuffy, and dull. It’s only when you’ve said goodbye to something that you start to really remember all the good aspects, and that’s what he’s doing when he tells Martha all about his home world. And yet, as much as I love the idea of a young(er) William Hartnell getting bored with all the tedious rituals and boring info dumps and running away in a TARDIS, I still want to see Gallifrey as beautiful. I want to see the place as stunning… but populated by people who simply can’t appreciate the beauty.

I was thinking about this yesterday, actually. For years and years, around the time Torchwood started up, and the TARDIS began making infrequent stops in Wales, I told myself that - one day - I’d live in Cardiff Bay. The image of that water tower, and the Millennium Centre, and the water… that was the dream for me. Well now… I do! I live about a four minute walk from that water tower, and I can see the Millennium Centre from my window. And it is brilliant, and amazing, and everything I’d ever hoped… but then you start to just take it for granted. When I go into the Bay now, it’s not because I want to go out and experience everything the area has to offer… it’s because I’m on my way to Tesco. Or the Bank. Or to collect a pizza.

It was a nice day, yesterday. One of those rare ones where the sun is out, it’s not too cold, and we’ve got tourists around. There’s people over there taking pictures next to the water tower, trying to figure out which of the paving slabs John Barrowman has stood on the most, and carrying bags to the Doctor Who Experience. They’re all full of the excitement and joy that I had, the very first time I was brought to the area. But now it’s all just there. I barely even look at the water tower any more, and whereas I used to purposely walk past it on my way to buy milk, I’ve now found a slightly quicker route, and I don’t even really miss seeing the tower - I know it’s there.

Then there’s times like the other day, where I rounded a corner on the way to the shop… and there was the TARDIS! The actual TARDIS, stood in the middle of the street. And there’s Clara Oswald (well… Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor (ok… Peter Capaldi) in the middle of an adventure. Crew, and cameras, and extras all busying themselves about. I smiled, text the missus, and then carried on with my day. There was a time when turning the corner and running into the Doctor Who crew making a new episode would have been the most amazing thing in the world, but now that I’ve been here a few years, it’s simply become a part of everyday life. I’m sure they’ll turn up a few more times before the year is out.

This is exactly how I imagine the Time Lords. They live in - or, rather, they should live in - the most beautiful place we’ve ever seen in the series. A world where the sky is a burnt orange and there’s trees with leaves of silver. I want it to all be the reds and golds of the new series, with a sense of grandeur which almost borders on the obnoxious. I think if you were to take all the characters in this story, exactly as they are, and drop them into that setting, I’d be on top of the world. All these stuffy old people who’ve been here so long that none of this is beautiful to them. But that’s when you start needing a character like Sarah Jane to be alongside the Doctor when he visits home. You’d need her to be pointing out how stunning it all is. How rich, and beautiful, and unappreciated. You need a scene where the Doctor and his companion gaze out across the landscape as the suns set, and she wonders how anyone could ever leave a place like this.

(For the record, not that you asked, my perfect Gallifrey would be filmed in the entrance hall to the Natural History Museum. Those huge stone staircases. The pillars. The arched windows, which would be perfect for streaming in that deep, orange light. If you get a change, Google for images of the place shot with a fish-eye camera lens - that’s my Gallifrey.) 

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