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11 July 2014

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

Day 557: Meglos, Episode One

Dear diary,

As with Season Seventeen, lots of this year’s stories were recorded out of order. As a result, Meglos didn’t enter production until some months after The Leisure Hive, and once Tom Baker had been through a bout of ill health, and the difference between him from yesterday’s episode to today’s is palpable. People talk of the fact that the Doctor looks a lot more frail this series than he has at any other point during this incarnation, and I was expecting to see that in action during the first story of the season, but there it was only really caused by swamping the man in such a large costume, with big coats, scarves, and hats. Today’s episode sees him without any jackets or coats on, and he simply looks gaunt. It’s quite striking, and knowing that this Doctor is headed for his death, it’s also a little bit saddening.

And as if to add to his woes - the Doctor and Romana don’t even get to leave the TARDIS in this episode! They spend the first half trying to fix K9, and the second half getting caught up in a time loop, played over and over again! It does mean, though, that we get a slightly different arrival for them into the narrative properly (or, at least, we will have), in that the Doctor has ‘called ahead’ to someone on this story’s planet of choice, and actively asked if they can pop in to say hello. In many ways, it’s the perfect thing to do having destroyed the Randomiser in the last episode, but they seem to have arrived in this part of space… at random. Oh well, it’s a nice idea all the same.

There are only two things that I know about Meglos: The villain is a cactus, and it features the return of Jacqueline Hill to the programme for the first time since Ian and Barbara headed back to 1965 in a Dalek time machine during the chase. From my point of view in The 50 Year Diary, that took place on March 24th last year - so it’s been a while since I’ve seen her! I’m not sure, though, that I’d have recognised her here were it not for knowing who she is. Fifteen years older, and with a rather elaborate headpiece on, she’d not quite the person I knew back in the early days of the programme.

And yet, when I first got in to Doctor Who, I used to be fascinated by the idea of this story! Somehow, in my mind, I’d simply discovered that Jacqueline Hill made her return in this tale, and figured it meant a return for Barbara after all this time. How she’d ended up on a distant world didn’t really matter to me, it was just an exciting thought that companions did that at all in the classic series. Obviously, she’s not actually playing Barbara, but this story makes her part of a very exclusive group of actors who’ve had the chance to play other characters after their stint as a companion.

The only other examples that I can think of are Jean Marsh (returning to play Morgaine in Battlefield some 23 years after being killed off in The Daleks’ Master Plan), John Leeson (although he doesn’t really count, because he played a character in The Power of Kroll at the same time as being K9), and Billie Piper (playing The Moment in The Day of the Doctor, although this is also debatable, because the device has specifically taken on her form). Extend out to the audios, and there’s lots of examples, including Anneke Wills in the role of Charlotte Pollard’s mother, and Daphne Ashbrook joining UNIT. As far as TV appearances as new characters go, it’s very rare.

It’s really nice to see her, though. I’ve said before while working through that even though I was somewhat sick of Ian and Barbara by the time they finally departed from the Doctor’s travels, I’m now at a point where I’m very keen to go back and see a few of the old serials again. I’d love to watch The Keys of Marinus or The Dalek Invasion of Earth - so hopefully having Jacqueline around for a few days will help to give me my ‘1960s fix’…! 

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