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22 December 2014

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

Day 721: Survival, Episode One

Dear diary,

I can’t quite believe that I’m actually at Survival. I’ve said plenty of times throughout the course of this marathon that I never expected to actually make it much past The Sensorites Episode Three, but now I’m staring down the final story of the programme’s original run. There’s something really rather exciting about that, and if I’m honest, I’m a little bit proud of myself for actually getting to this point!

And how brilliant that this final story should start out so well! I’ve never really cared all that much for Survival. I don’t mean that I’ve actively disliked it, but my memories of watching it before are that it was ‘okay’, but a bit of a strange way to end the programme*. Therefore, as I’ve moved closer and closer to seeing this one, I’ve been setting up its importance as a milestone for the Diary, but not especially looking forward to it on its own merits. How wrong that may have been!

The first thing to note is just how closely this resembles the 21st century series. I’ve brought that up a few times in the last week or so, but it’s never more prevalent than it is in this one episode. We’re set in ‘modern day’ London, with ordinary people whose worlds just happen to collide with the Doctor and the monsters. There’s a great central mystery in the disappearance of the locals, and there’s even the perfect ‘pre-titles’ sequence, in which the man washing his car gets chased by an un-seen ‘something’ before completely vanishing and leaving us with an empty street. Already, I’m wondering about an edit of this story compressing it down to 45 minutes…

While I’m on the subject of that opening scene, I just want to draw attention to how beautifully directed it is - and that goes for the rest of the episode, too. It was no surprise during the credits to see that this one is directed by Alan ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ Wareing, who was responsible for Ghost Light, too. That shot I’ve mentioned, as the camera pans up and then chases its prey from that height is so simply effective, and it becomes a great visual shorthand for what’s happening. Late in the story, when we watch the same camera move happen while framing Ace in shot, it’s actually scary, because we know just what it’s signifying.

And it’s not just the direction that’s standing out for me in this one - the script itself is wonderful. As I’ve said, it’s far closer in style to the modern series than it is anything else from the ‘classic’ run, and I’d love to see what Rona Munro would do with another story. It seems such a shame that we’ve only got the one story from her. There’s a way that she writes all these characters - including Ace - and makes them instantly real and relatable. Ace has always felt like a more naturalistic character than some of the previous companions did, but it’s a credit to Munro’s skill that she can be so brilliant when placed back in her natural setting. The way she interacts and speaks with people she knows from her old life is lovely, and different from the way she reacts to the Doctor. It means that Sophie Aldred is given more chances to shine, too, which is always welcome.

I’m looking forward ti seeing just how well the story holds up now that more of the action has been shifted away from the benign normality of Perivale, and out onto an alien planet, but it looks like the ‘classic’ run is going to be going out with a bang…

*Truth be told, and I only remembered this last night when talking to Emma; when I first watched Ghost Light, I thought that was the end of the ‘classic’ run. I’d obviously read somewhere that it was the final story to be recorded, and just sort of assumed from there. I think that ended up adding to my general not understanding of that story, because it seemed such an odd note to leave things on! When the time finally came to see this one, there was that lovely final speech, but it still seemed like an odd place to leave the programme - of course, I didn’t know the full behind-the-scenes story at that time, but I’m sure I’ll discuss that more in a few days.

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