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5 January 2015

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

Day 736: World War Three

Dear diary,

Oh, I love the Slitheen. That’s not a particularly popular opinion, is it? It’s true, though. I loved them when this episode was first broadcast, and I love them now. Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing lots of graphic design bits for the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. It means that I spend odd days in there while it’s closed to the public, getting the images we need and planning out what needs to be done. One of my favourite moments has to be going through a number of costumes tucked away in storage, pulling back a protective sheet and finding a Slitheen bearing down on me. They’re such a great design, managing to be exactly what you expect a Doctor Who monster to be (‘big and green’) and yet doing something fun with it. As the first real ‘monster’ of the 21st century - in the sense of being a man in a big monster outfit - I think it’s great, and I’m sort of hoping we see a return for them, however brief, this year to mark their tenth anniversary.

Something I didn’t notice as much when I first saw this one (or, at least, something that I didn’t notice enough to actively remember it a decade on) is just how poorly the costumes match up to the CGI versions of the creatures. Each, in their own right, works rather well. The costume allows our human cast to properly interact with a towering big monster in front of them (and it means that when we see, for example, one of the Slitheen pick up the secretary, it looks better than the CGI equivalent might have done), while the CGI creatures allow them to run and move in a way that the costumes simply wouldn’t have allowed. The problem comes when they try to cut between the two versions of the Slitheen - or perhaps more notably, the problem is when they’ve chosen to do so.

Take the moment that Harriet and Rose make their initial escape from one of the creatures in the Cabinet Room. We get a shot of a rubber monster chasing after Harriet, and it’s possibly the worst that they ever look. Because of the way the costume is designed (with the Actor’s head concealed in the neck of the outfit), the head bobs around as it moves, making the whole thing look like… well, making the whole thing look - again - like the kind of thing you expect when you think ‘Doctor Who Monster’. It’s not their finest moment. But we cut from this to the rather more fluid CGI version of the same Slitheen chasing them, and it’s suddenly much more polished! It actively took me out of the moment, and that’s a shame. Still, I should probably be thankful that we didn’t have to watch the bobbing head as some poor actor tried to run across the set in that outfit…

Aliens of London and World War Three were filmed alongside Rose as the first stories of 21st century Doctor Who (indeed, I think I’m right in saying that the first line spoken on recording the series came from Tosh, and Eccleston’s first shot as the Doctor involved chasing a space pig down a corridor), and I think they’ve got a style that sets them apart not only from what came before, but also everything that would come after them, too. Russell T Davies’ vision for the series is entirely present throughout all three episodes - you can see the seeds being sown for things which will be utilised over and over in the next few years - but they feel far more ‘children’s television’ than the programme would later become. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but it really stands out when you’ve had quite a while away from these episodes, and watch them again; especially after the likes of Series Eight last year!

They’re also set apart visually by the direction of Keith Boak, who doesn’t return to Doctor Who after this production block. I can’t say that his direction has been particularly outstanding or noticeable (whereas watching the TV Movie prompted me to note the direction on about every third shot, the work in these episodes has been far more workman like), but there’s one expiation to that - I love the way that Boak shoots the TARDIS set. There’s lots of moving cameras and caring angles that I can’t remember seeing a lot of anywhere else - at least, not in this style. I could be wrong, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it over the next few seasons, but it’s certainly something I noticed both in Rose and again in the last few days.

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