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20 July 2014

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

Day 566: State of Decay, Episode Two

Dear diary,

There’s something in the format of this story which feels very different to usual. The Doctor and Romana making their way around the spaceship as they explore is the kind of thing that would usually make up an Episode One of a story, but here it’s the focal point of this second episode, while they also get their first confrontation with the villains of the piece, and start swapping information with them that feels as though it’s coming too early in the story. That might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not - it’s nice to have a story which is a bit different the the norm. Despite having seen this story once before, there’s an awful lot of it that I’ve forgotten, and the fact that Adric still hasn’t encountered the Doctor and Romana since leaving Alzarius surprises me: I thought that they’d have all met up by now.

What’s appealing most to me about this story, though, is the world in which it’s all set. It’s been a little while since Doctor Who has given us a medieval society like this one, and every aspect of it is beautifully realised. Even though K9 has told us that there’s a fair amount of technology in this settlement, it really feels striking and unusual when Ivo takes out a walkie talkie, because we’ve just spent plenty of time being led to believe that our favourite tin dog has been mistaken (we’d forgive him this time - he had his head knocked off last week).

Today is the episode with bits that I most vividly recall from the story - all those shots of the Doctor and Romana while out and about exploring the ship. Scenes of them climbing up and down ladders, and arriving in the nose-cone of the rocket ship. That scene where they arrive above the engines and theres all the bodies around them is seared into my mind - and yet I only realised that once the scene came on and I was able to recite it word for word. There’s something quite magical about all this, and I love that the set designers have managed to make the futuristic parts of the ship look just as lush and beautiful as the more ‘historical’ trappings in places like the throne room.

If The Leisure Hive was a new style for Doctor Who, then this is the team taking it one step further - painting the series as the ‘dark fairy tale’ that Steven Moffat has also used to describe it. Something about this run of stories simply screams ‘autumn evenings’ to me, and while I didn’t especially watch them at that time, these episodes evoke a feeling of coming home from school on a late October afternoon, playing in the garden until nightfall, and then settling in to watch an episode of Doctor Who just like this one. It’s scary - not in the way that the Doctor being torn apart a few weeks ago was, or Romana having a spider leap on her face, but simply through the way that it feels - the sheer atmosphere of the thing.

I think it’s this, perhaps more than the story itself, that I’m really connecting with at the moment. A wonderful sense of nostalgia that warms me inside. This is Doctor Who tailored to be something I’d enjoy, and I’m thoroughly loving everything about it. While the graham Williams era dabbled with dropping the Doctor and Romana into a fairy tale, with The Ribos Operation or - more obviously - The Androids of Tara, something didn’t feel right about it. There it was simply the trappings of a slightly diff adventure series (no matter how much I may have enjoyed the stories themselves).

Here, it feels only right that our heroes should be called ‘lord’ and ‘lady’, and they suit the place perfectly. I’m pleased that Adric has still to join the Doctor and Romana not just because it means they all get their own strands of the story, but because he’s spoil the wonderful dynamic we’ve got going on this week - just before we lose her from the series - Romana has never felt more right by the Doctor’s side. The Doctor and Romana, and more importantly, Tom and Lalla, have never quite fitted the series as well as they do here, steeped in the story, and the feel of the whole piece. Who could ask for more?

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