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7 November 2014

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

Day 676: Terror of the Vervoids, Episode One (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Nine)

Dear diary,

Largely inspired by the gorgeous staging and camera work during today's cliffhanger, I watched on in the credits eagerly to see who the director was. It's Chris Clough's first work on Doctor Who, and I'm pleased to know that he'll be back for several more outings over the next few seasons. That final shot today is beautiful, as Mel's scream fades into the closing theme, and the camera pulls back past sparks and explosions, and giving us the brief look at something bursting out from the pods… this sequence wouldn't be out of place at the height of the Philip Hinchcliffe era, when the programme is supposed to be 'scary'. Not many of the cliffhangers during The Trial of a Time Lord are anything other than a close up of the Doctor's face, so it's nice to see that this one has used the break from the current norm to do something really interesting and different!

I think it's helped, too, by the fact that the Hydroponics Centre set is so beautifully done, and the same can be said for the hold outside. Some people write off all 1980s Doctor Who as being poorly lit like the Myrka sequences from Warriors of the Deep, but this is the perfect example that the programme can still get it right in this era! This episode is also a good one for showing off the full sale of the trial room setting - it's another huge set, and when shot from interesting angles, there's lots of little details to pick out. Sadly, not all the sets in this story are as effective, and I don't really much care for the main passenger quarters of the space liner. I think they're supposed to look a bit cheap and tacky, but they come across as terribly dated now, too. There's one or two shots where I can sort of see what they were aiming for (with some nice shots of the stars passing by the windows overhead), but I'm afraid that I'm not being won over by them.

Today's episode also sees the introduction of a new companion for the Doctor… and I think it's fair to say that it's the strangest introduction we've ever seen for a new regular to the programme. Forget Dodo bursting in and giving us her life story, here, Mel just happens to be stood around with the Doctor in the TARDIS, forcing him to work out on an exercise bike! Something I've not missed this season is the lengthy TARDIS scenes which so dominated Season Twenty-Two. We've not had any sight of the Console room now since Timelash, which has been a refreshing break. When we catch up with this pair in there today, it feels as though it should be a fairly fun scene, with the Doctor and his companion getting on with something a bit more mundane in between adventures, but…

Well, I just don't care about Mel! Not yet, anyway. Were this the Doctor and Peri opening the episode with this scene, I think I'd be more willing to buy it - they're clearly written and acted as two people who have spent a lot of time together and become great friends, but because this is the first time we ever set eyes on the girl, it's very hard to muster up much enthusiasm towards her! That said, her enthusiasm is infectious, and it's hard not to quite like her when she sets off exploring. She clearly works very well with Colin's Doctor, too, which is quite fun, and they're already at the stage here that Peri took until The Mysterious Planet to reach in the Doctor's attitude! 

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