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30 December 2014

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

Day 729: Scream of the Shalka, Episodes Three and Four

Dear diary,

This one definitely grows on you, doesn’t it? Having almost reached the point of turning off during yesterday’s episodes because I just couldn’t enthuse myself enough to care about Scream of the Shalka, today I’ve come away having quite enjoyed it! I think it helps that the cast seem to have woken up by this point in the recording - they must have been doing that first episode early in the morning before they’d had their coffee. Suddenly, everyone is giving a lot more to their performances - chief among them being Richard E Grant.

I mused yesterday that the character he’s being asked to play here has several ver Doctor-ish traits to him, but that it feels like they’re being read from a page, rather than coming naturally to him. Today, though, and from about the moment he slips away from the soldiers and sets out on his own to have the adventure, he suddenly comes alive and seems to realise that it’s supposed to be a fun part to play! Contrast the way he acts in the Fourth episode with the way he does in the first - very clearly the same character, but a world of difference in the way they’re being played.

Not much difference in the way they’re being written, though, because he continues to be very much ‘like the Doctor’ here. I think a highlight is probably falling through a wormhole but taking the time to leave a voicemail (that feels bot very Doctor Who and very 2003, for some reason), and the way he struts back into the TARDIS and very quickly ejects the creatures who’ve taken up residence. You could very easily imagine most of the post-2005 Doctors playing out these exact scenes, and I think that’s probably the biggest compliment I can give.

The script doesn’t only serve the Doctor, though. It seems to have joined the cast in really coming alive with these middle segments, suddenly finding the voice it wants to use. There’s several lines that I’ve noted down as making me laugh or at least raising a smile (always a sign of a good episode when I’m noting down every fourth line of dialogue), and the story itself has started to grab my attention, too.

Something I’ve not mentioned yet is the actual animation of the story… it’s not bad, is it? There’s lots of moments when you can tell they’re supposed to be buffering the next section of playback (I think I’m right in saying that Scream of the Shalka was designed just to buffer as it went with as little delay as possible), and this means we get static images just panning across the screen, or we switch to a view of our characters in silhouette against a barely-moving background, but all of this actually adds to the particular style of the adventure. It certainly looks very different to the way Doctor Who usually did - and not just because we’re now being animated, but because it’s been consciously designed to look different. I think it works, too, and there’s some areas where it stands up especially well. Considering that this was made for broadcast on the website as something of an experiment, an awful lot of love has gone in to it.

And there’s lots of little bits of the design which I really like! The TARDIS Console Room is beautiful with those stairs and the harsh shadows (though I’m not so keen on the actual console itself), and the design of the Shalka is lovely, looking enough like a man in a monster costume to fit in with the rest of Doctor Who and yet unique enough to take advantage of the animated format. I’d love to see an attempt at creating a ‘live-action’ version of the creatures - surely that’s something that someone has photoshopped over the years? No? Right then. I’m off to Photoshop…

Just as an aside, I checked my notes while writing this paragraph in order to see if there was anything I wanted to quote, and I’m pleased to say that some of the lines actually caused me to laugh out loud again. Of particular highlight was the Doctor’s reaction to the Shalka’s plans being grander than invading a small portion of Lincolnshire - ‘you mean… Nottinghamshire?!’

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