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9 September 2014

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

Day 617: Mawdryn Undead, Episode Two

Dear diary,

This episode really is an unashamed continuity fest. And you know what? As much as we might look back at 1980s Doctor Who and complain that it gets far too entrenched in continuity, on this first occasion it’s absolutely glorious. This really feels like it’s supposed to be a celebration of the programme’s first twenty years, and the montage of old clips used to represent the Brigadier’s memories coming back is absolutely perfect. The few brief shots we got of the earlier Doctors confronting Cybermen in Earthshock was exciting, but this is something completely different.

I can’t quite relate to children of the time watching that scene, because for them they’d likely never seen any of these moments, only read about them or heard about them from older fans, but I can get at least a sense of how it must have felt, because I’m excited by it! All these moments of Doctor Who gone by - there’s clips in there on The Invasion, which I saw just over a year ago… but it feels like a lifetime! The programme has been through so much since then. I’m even feeling nostalgic about the Pertwee years - and that’s not something I could have predicted way back when! If anything makes the montage extra special; above and beyond the way the Brigadier’s face fades into a shot of his earlier self, or the way we get to see glimpses of Zygons, and Yeti, and the original Omega, it’s the way that the montage comes full circle, and ends with a shot of the Brig meeting this latest incarnation of our hero, just a few scenes earlier. Somehow, it makes him feel even more like the Doctor.

That montage isn’t the only ‘kiss to the past’ in this episode, either. The Doctor himself mentions the Yeti, and all of his Pertwee era companions. We get an update on where Benton is these days (somehow, selling used cars seems both so right, and also so wrong for him - it couldn’t be better), and Nyssa goes to pains to remind us that they used the Zero Room during the Doctor’s last regeneration. As I say, it’s an unashamed continuity fest, and I don’t even care, because it’s wonderful to see. I’d imagine that such things will feel less special when - say - we reach stories like Attack of the Cybermen which are entirely built upon the idea of continuity, but for now, I couldn’t be happier.

I think it also helps that this is a rather good episode in itself. There’s something wonderful (and very in-keeping with the rules of the programme during the Steven Moffat years), about the Doctor trying to find out where his companions have ended up, with the Brigadier starting to remember Tegan… who we see meeting a younger Brig, intercut with these moments. It feels like an exciting way of playing with time in the programme, and it’s not something we’ve seen done very much at this stage. I also love that the two Brigadiers are identifiable by the state of his moustache!

Another great idea in this episode is Nyssa and Tegan believing that the Doctor has regenerated… but it doesn’t quite work as well as it should. It’s great when they enter the teleport capsule expecting to find the Doctor, and mistake the only occupant as being him… but even though he’s badly burnt, he’s clearly not the Doctor, even before they think he’s regenerated. They could have at least cast someone with similar hair to Peter Davison, so that they’d have more of an excuse for getting it wrong!

 

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