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26 May 2014

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

Day 511: The Stones of Blood, Episode Three

Dear diary,

It could simply be that I’m having another Pirate Planet incident, where I’m simply not paying enough attention to follow the plot, but I’m not entirely sure what’s happening now. As I say, I don’t know if that’s my fault, or an intention of the script that I should be left slightly in the dark at this point. I understand that the ship is based in Hyperspace, which is in a different dimension to our own. I get that Vivian has been around on Earth for some 4000 years, and thus she’s worshipped by these local people as some kind of goddess. What I don’t yet understand is how these things are related. The Doctor speculates that the Hyperspace ship is a prison ship… I’m assuming Vivian was a prisoner? How did she escape? Did the Ogri come with her from the ship, or were they already in place? Do you see? I’m lost! So many questions!

And yet, I have to admit that I’m still rather enjoying this one. Is it the best that Doctor Who has ever offered us? No, not by a long shot. Is it a decent 25 minutes of the programme? Yes, I’d say it is. In many ways, it feels like an odd sort of hybrid between the type of story that the series used to do - you know, back when the Doctor travelled the universe with Sarah Jane - and the kind of thing it likes to play with these days. It’s such an odd hybrid of the horror elements (and more on those in just a moment), and the kinds of outer space tomfoolery that feels like it’s on the increase. I wonder if that’s where some of my confusion is coming from: the story’s not following my expectations of either style.

If any one side of the story is winning out over the other, I’d have to say that it’s the horror elements. We’ve a sequence in today’s episode where some seemingly post-coital campers encounter the titular ’Stones of Blood’ and are reduced to skeletons, while the screen fades to a deep red. It’s straight out of a Hammer Horror film, and it feels like a while since that was true of Doctor Who. I have to admit, I was starting to wonder if I’d imagined this scene, because I’ve long remembered it as being the very first moments of the story. Of course, it works much better coming over halfway though, once we’re already used to the moving stones as a threat. Suddenly, they’re not only capable of crushing people and damaging K9, but they can harvest the blood they need in a horrible way.

On the other side of the Hyperspace divide, aboard the ship, I’m not enjoying it as much as I expected to. I remembered the Doctor opening the door to find a Wirrn in a much more exciting fashion (actually, thinking about it, I remembered him opening the door and then my mind cuts to the first cliffhanger from The Ark in Space, in which the dead creature falls out and startles everyone), and I have to admit that I’m actually a bit bored by all these sequences. That said, there’s some lovely model work, and we’ve got the return of the ‘live action shot inserted into the model work’ that I’ve been longing for more of since The Robots of Death. It just helps to make it feel as though the Doctor really could be aboard that ship.

I think the biggest success of all, though, is that the Doctor spends so much time paired off with Amelia Rumford. Beatrix Lehmann is one of those actors for whom Tom Baker really ups his game, and it’s great to watch the pair of them spark off each other. There’s a longstanding anecdote that during the production of this story - and because of the fun he was having with Lehmann on board - Tom suggested that the next companion should be a lady of a similar age. Frankly, I’d love to see more of this pair together, and I’m hoping that they get the chance to share a bit more screen time in tomorrow’s episode, too. I’m not all that familiar with Lehmann’s work outside of Doctor Who, but I do know that this was her final acting role, and that she died less than a year later. It’s nice to think that she seems to have had such fun with her final character! 

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