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24 December 2014

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

Day 723: Survival, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I feel oddly… hollow at the end of today’s entry. Survival, Episode Three, is a huge milestone to reach in The 50 Year Diary - the end of Doctor Who’s original 26-year run on television - but it just sort of gets swept up as part of the ongoing marathon. The episode itself isn’t anything particularly special (that’s not to say it’s bad - I’ll come to the quality in a moment), just that it’s not been made as any kind of final ‘cap’ for the programme, and that final speech aside, it really does seem like an odd way to bring an end to such a long-running journey, that started all the way back on Totter’s Lane in 1963. I don’t know what I was expecting to feel at this point, but probably some huge sense of accomplishment? Or some sadness that a big phase of the marathon is over? I think the problem might be that there’s now so much to come that Survival doesn’t feel as poignant as it once did, and yet not so much to come that the real end of the marathon feels like a million miles off. I think my brain is just delaying all the emotions until I reach The Time of the Doctor in a few weeks…

I mentioned the other day that I’d always found Survival to be the oddest way to bring Doctor Who to a close. It sees the return of the Doctor’s arch enemy, sure, but not a great deal is made of that fact. It just happens to be A.N.Other battle between the pair, and the Doctor comments at the end that the Master will be back again, because he always is. When I first watched it, I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t done something more spectacular - if this was to be the Doctor’s final adventure, possibly ever, then why not go all-out? Do an ‘End Of Season Fourteen’ and say to hell with the budget, really pushing the boundaries as far as you could possibly take them? Of course now, several years on, I’m well aware that it wasn’t actually conceived as being the final story of the programme, and that the fact only became clear later on during production. Seen in that sense, that final speech is lovely, and it’s one I’ve known the words to off by heart for as long as I can remember. Of course I was going to have to quote it here;

DOCTOR

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do!

All things considered, I think that the Doctor and his companion walking off into the sunset, at the end of an adventure which reaffirms the TARDIS as their ‘home’ is probably the best possible way to leave things. It’s also for the best that this is a relatively simple story of the Doctor vs the Master - because it’s the heart of what the programme has always been; good vs evil. What I’d also not realised before is just how bloody good this story is, so all in all I think we’ve probably done fairly well in the whole ‘final adventure’ stakes!

It seems odd to start an entry by discussing the very end of the episode, but that needed to be gotten out of the way, really. This episode’s position in the overall narrative of Doctor Who makes it something of an elephant in the room that needs to be discussed before we can really get down to the actual content of the story.

Once again, I’ve really enjoyed this final episode, and while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly rocketed right up towards the top of my ‘favourite stories’ list. The tale is so much richer than I’d ever realised before, and I’m certainly going to be revisiting it again in the near future. There’s a very real danger here that I’m just going to end up repeating everything that I’ve been saying in the last couple of days, about the very real setting and the characters who populate it, and the fact that we get a fantastic version of the Master to see Ainley bow out on. Instead, i think it’s only fair that I think about Ace a little bit, considering that (save for Dimensions in Time tomorrow), this is her last story.

I’ve praised the character a fair bit over the time she’s been with us - and I think it’s a testament to the way that she’s developed over her time in the programme that it feels like Ace has been a part of the show for much longer than nine serials. It’s an attempt at character development and an ‘arc’ that the programme hasn’t attempted for a long time - and I’m not entirely sure that it’s ever attempted it on this scale before now. This final season in particular has been wonderful for her, with three of the stories really focussing on her, and making the adventures about her own experiences. I mused the other day that I’d love to listen to all the Big Finish Seventh Doctor plays, and I think that’s doubled for me over the last few days, because I’m sad to see Ace go.

And that, I think, is the heart of why the programme has managed to be so successful again in its final few years. I don’t feel sad to be at the end of the ‘classic’ run, and I won’t be mourning the loss of this stage of the marathon, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed it over all. Instead, I’m sadder to be moving on from our current crop of characters. Doctor Who has been many things over the years, and in these final few it’s managed to recapture some of the spirit that made it brilliant so many times before. A large part of that is entwined with Ace as a character, and I think that’s why I’ll be missing her so much.

I’ve mentioned briefly above that I’ll be watching Dimensions in Time tomorrow, so I think it’s worth filling you in on how the next week is going to play out. I’ve been wondering about the ‘Wilderness Years’ for a while now, and specifically how best to tackle them. Do I read all the New Adventure novels? Or listen to all the Audios? Do I skip them entirely and move on to the TV Movie then on to Rose?

What I’ve decided on is keeping it simple. It doesn’t feel right to go from the Seventh Doctor to the Ninth in the space of three days, but equally, I don’t want to artificially prolong the period to the point that it becomes ridiculous. So, I’ll be doing Dimensions in Time tomorrow - both episodes, but believe me, I considered doing one a day - and then Downtime after that. I spent so long trying to work out the Great Intelligence’s timeline back in Season Five, and I want to see how well it corresponds! Besides, what better way to celebrate reaching the end of the ‘classic’ run than with a return for several much loved characters?

The TV Movie will follow that one, after which I’ll be doing The Curse of Fatal Death. For so long, I’d been sure I’d not be doing that one - it doesn’t feature any of the regular cast, and it’s a parody of the programme… but Steven Moffat has gone on to incorporate so many of the ideas into Doctor Who proper, and I want to refresh my memory of the story before heading off into the 21st century series. Finally, I’ll be doing Scream of the Shalka over the course of three days - two episodes each day, since they’re only short. After that, I’ll be on to the ‘new’ series, just in time for the new year. Perfect!

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