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24 May 2014

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

Day 509: The Stones of Blood, Episode One

Dear diary,

Until I moved out of home at seventeen, I used to live in a small village about 20 miles from Norwich. When I talk in the Diary about visiting the farm or seeing my family, it’s still the place I’m returning to. All that time I spent living there, and some of it as a Doctor Who fan, and I never realised that only about a fifteen minute walk away lived a man who - whisper it - had actually written adventures for Doctor Who. In fact, I didn’t actually discover this fact until some years after I’d moved out (and even crossed the country to live in Cardiff), and I was sent a clipping from the local newspaper about a ‘local man’ who was writing a Doctor Who ‘radio play’.

Of course, that ‘local man’ was David Fisher, and the ‘radio play’ was the audiobook of The Stones of Blood. While Terrance Dicks had been responsible for the original Target book in 1980, Fisher wrote a new version of the tale to be read for the CD. Suffice to say, I couldn’t believe that an actual Doctor Who writer - and a man responsible for what I’ve long considered to be my favourite segment of the Key to Time season - had been living almost on my doorstep! David Fisher will be responsible for several stories over the next few seasons, and he’s one of that small group of writers who get to contribute two consecutive stories on their first outing.

I can’t really tell you why I’ve thought of The Stones of Blood as my favourite Season Sixteen story for so long, I simply recall it being the one which grabbed my attention the most when I first watched them all. Truth be told, I can’t even recall a great deal about the story - I know it involves stones which kill, and about halfway through we’ll relocate from the rural setting to some kind of advanced space ship… but that’s all I can tell you! Oh, and a character dresses up in that bird costume at some point, but I remember that more from photographs of the outfit than from my first viewing of the story itself!

Certainly, we’re off to a decent start in this episode. The opening recap of the whole arc is perhaps a little too much of an info dump (although I rather enjoy Romana nodding along and pointing out that she knows much of the information), but I’m mostly glad that we get to see them piecing together the segments of the Key. Things were left a bit up in the air during the last story, so it’s nice to see that they did actually manage to retrieve the segment. I’d always assumed that the actual retrieval of the Key would be a key scene in each of these stories… but perhaps not! Curiously, I could remember what the segment was for The Pirate Planet, but I can’t recall what it’s disguised as in this story, or the next one. I think I rather like that - because it adds a bit of excitement to them!

We’re also back to the BBC trying to do the kinds of sets it does best. The main hall at ‘the Big House’ is just lovely, and the use of the stairs here really allows a few interesting camera angles, too. There was a moment - only a moment, mind - when I even wondered if it had been shot on location. The sets in the last story didn’t really do it for me, so I’m glad to be back on more familiar ground with these ones. I’m also really interested to see how they compare to the spaceship sets coming up letter on, and see if those are kicked up a gear by work on settings such as this one.

I’m also loving the continuation of a running theme across this series so far: Romana being the one in charge. It starts as far back as The Ribos Operation Episode One, with her giving the Doctor instructions on using the Tracer, and being responsible for creating the hole in the TARDIS. It’s continued into The Pirate Planet with her piloting of the ship, and being the one that the locals are willing to speak to when they first touch down on a new world, and here she’s the one who can both fit the segments of the key together, and suggests that they get on with looking for the next segment. The Doctor’s reaction to this last incident is particularly amusing!

It’s a good thing that we’re getting moments like these, because for the rest of the episode, she’s reduced to what I’d call your typical ‘companion’ role. She’s left to complain about things, wear inappropriate shoes, ask questions, and even gets left behind when the Doctor goes off to explore. The fact that she’s the one lured into peril during the cliffhanger should come as no surprise! I’m hoping that she gets to continue taking the upper hand before long, though, because Romana really doesn’t shot the typical ‘Doctor Who girl’ role… 

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