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24 September 2014

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

Day 632: Warrior’s of the Deep, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I like to think that I’m generally pretty fair when I’m writing The 50 Year Diary. The lowest scores I’ve ever handed out are 3/10’s (which, by the criteria I set out in January of last year during An Unearthly Child, means that no episode of Doctor Who so far has been classified as either ‘Dreadful’, or ‘Why am I doing this again?’), and there’s only been a handful of episodes which have scored the covered 10/10. The reasons for this are quite simple - I hate it when things get marked too far as extremes. There’s a few Hartnell episodes that I look back on now and think I should have given a 10/10 to (including that very first episode), but then it wouldn’t have left room to breathe when even better episodes come along. The scores I give out most often are 6’s and 7’s, and I think they’re pretty strong figures - anything more than that means that an episode is really stand out, while anything less is a bit of a let down.

In addition to trying not to ‘overrate’ stories, I try to be fair when dealing with episodes that I’m not keen on. The Highlanders. The Dominators. The Curse of Peladon. The Pirate Planet. All of these stories have scored pretty low with me, but it’s still been a 3/10, because there’s always something I can enjoy in them, be it the Doctor, his companions, or a monster. I also find that my opinions don’t always fall in to step with the perceived wisdom of ‘fandom’. The Evil of the Daleks bored me, on the whole (and I note that it’s slipped again in the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, continuing its trend of becoming less revered as the years go by), and I just didn’t get on with The Dæmons either. At the other end of the spectrum, there are stories like The Invisible Enemy, which I’m not supposed to enjoy but I just can’t help myself! I try to be as open and fair to an episode as I possibly can be, and I’m willing to overlook the odd bad effect, or dodgy performance, if everything else is up to par.

Can you guess where I’m going with this? I bet you can. Ladies and gentlemen… The Myrka! Oh, the Myrka. It really is held up alongside the Taran Wood Beast as the time that Doctor Who just got it so spectacularly wrong. I’ve been all ready to defend the Myrka. It was going to become one of my ‘causes’. You’d have seen me stood outside WH Smiths with a collection bucket and a ‘save the Myrka’ t-shirt. Because, in a way, I quite like the creature. It appears on the cover to Mike Tucker’s The Silurian Gift book, and while it looks a bit cute and cuddly there, I think it actually fits in well with the new Silurians, and that’s always made me a bit more sympathetic towards the creature.

Oh, but then today happened. When the doors first started to buckle, I prepared myself to mount a defence. There’s a flash of fin behind the collapsing doors, and I’ve made a note to say that it’s not awful at that moment, but then… gah. It’s not necessarily the Myrka itself. I’ll admit that on screen the design doesn’t work, and it does come across as more ridiculous than scary (one of the final shots of the episode is looking up towards the creature, in a move that should make it imposing and give it stature, but watching the arms flail around simply makes it look ridiculous), but I’d be just about willing to overlook the creature. Possibly. No, it’s the fact that everything around it is so poorly done, that it all adds up to being one big mess.

You’ve got the actual ‘pantomime horse’ scripture for starters (complete with paint that hadn’t quite dried, I think I’m right in saying), coupled with one of the brightest parts of the Sea Base set (I thought that over-lighting was an issue of this entire story, but there’s several scenes where things are toned down a little and we get some really nice contrast), the doors really looking like they’re made of polystyrene, and a complete lack of tension to any of the proceedings. When the Doctor realises what’s about to burst through the doors, we get one of the most ridiculous moments we’ve ever seen in the programme, in which he declares that it’s a Myrka… and everyone carries on milling around. We even cut to a few other scenes before coming back to find them all still stood there, wondering when the action might start.

I’ve been wrong for all these years, because I thought this was an example of fans disliking a story because of a single bad costume. I’d never realised just how poorly done the entire sequence is, and I’m sorry to say that it has brought down the episode several points in my estimation. In the build up to the Myrka scene, I was expecting to give this episode maybe a 6/10 - not as good as yesterday, but still fairly decent, and better than expected. But then disaster after disaster strikes when the creature turns up, and there’s no way that even I can justify is all. I think this might be the first example in this marathon of one event going so wrong on screen that it effects the score in such a big way.

While I’m on the subject of being a bit let down by this episode, there’s something else that I want to draw attention to. We all know the age-old joke about ‘classic’ Doctor Who (well, there are several of them, and we all know the lot), which tends to get rolled out when someone - usually a relative - finds out that you watch it. They almost always mention the ‘wobbly sets’ as if it’s something the series was famed for back in the day. I’ve taken issue with this conception before in this marathon, pointing out that it actually doesn’t happen all that often, and certainly no more than in any other BBC programme made during the same period. Today, though, is the first time that I’ve really noticed a set wobble. It’s in the reprise to yesterday’s cliffhanger (and in fairness, I didn’t spot it last night), when the Doctor is having his fight. He’s slammed in to a wall, at which point the whole set does a wobble. A second hit makes it even more obvious. It’s a pity, because the rest of that particular set is fantastic, and it comes mere moments before he goes over a gantry and falls into a pool of water, in a shot that looks rather good!

Ho hum. On the plus side, I wasn’t expecting the Myrka to turn up until the final episode (or at least the Episode Three cliffhanger), so I can now at least hope that once it’s been disposed of, the story can get on with being somewhat good again. It’s a real shame to have thing ruined so spectacularly by just this one scene!

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