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6 December 2014

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

Day 705: The Happiness Patrol, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Oh, you know, I’ve been dying to type these words. I’ve been hovering over them for a couple of weeks but wanted to save it for something special - and we certainly got that in today’s episode. So…

Sylvester McCoy is bloody good, isn’t he?

Hooray! Woo! Canned audience cheers in the background. Oh, of course I knew that Sylv was great. Of course he’s great, but you know Season Twenty-Four really threw me. The performance he’s giving in those four stories just isn’t right for him, and I love that he comes back and really decides to do it the way he feels is right in this season. He’s brilliant right from the start of Remembrance of the Daleks, but it’s when you get a scene like today’s ‘gun’ exchange that you really appreciate just how brilliant he can be. I try to only quote little bits here and there in The 50 Year Diary, but this really needs to be done as a longer excerpt;

DOCTOR

You like guns, don't you.

ALEX

He'll kill you.

DOCTOR

Of course he will. That's what guns are for. Pull the trigger, end a life. Simple, isn't it.

DAVID

Yes.

DOCTOR

Makes sense, doesn't it.

DAVID

Yes.

DOCTOR

A life killing life.

ALEX

Who are you?

DOCTOR

Shut up. Why don't you do it then? Look me in the eye, pull the trigger, end my life. Why not?

DAVID

I can't.

DOCTOR

Why not?

DAVID

I don't know.

DOCTOR

No, you don't, do you. [He take’s DAVID’s gun away from him, and indicates ALEX] Throw away your gun. [ALEX does so.]

It’s not only a triumph of acting, it’s also such a beautiful scene - possibly the best writing that the programme has seen in a long time. There’s something about it which so perfectly encapsulates Doctor Who, and really sells the concept that he’s a hero who needn’t resort to violence, and although I’m starting to actually bang on about it, McCoy pitches it perfectly. Can you imagine the way he’d turn out this sequence in his Season Twenty-Four persona? No, me neither, because I’m actively trying not to. What we get here is glorious.

As is the sequence with Trevor Sigma, where he turns the questioning on its head. A lot of the dialogue here seems to be lifted from McCoy’s audition scene (as, indeed, is the idea of a villain based upon Margaret Thatcher - with Janet Fielding there filling in as ‘the Iron Woman’), but there’s a marked step-up in terms of performance. You really *do* get the impression that McCoy has had the chance to sit down, think things through, and really choose what he wants to do.

I think there’s an element of ‘cutting the apron strings’ in all of this - and I don’t just mean with McCoy. John Nathan-Turner has always been described as being very hands on and insistent on what he wanted from every bit of the programme (there are stories that the character of Mel was created simply because JN-T walked in to the office one day demanding that the next companion have red hair - though I’m not sure how true that may be). It feels often, though, that in the programme’s final years, Nathan-Turner was willing to sit back a little and let other people do their thing. Andrew Cartmel shapes the show at least as much as JN-T does in this period - and I’d argue moreso. Season Twenty-Five feels like the first opportunity of the show just ‘getting on with it’ and I think it’s working all the better for it.

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