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10 January 2015

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

Day 740: The Doctor Dances

Dear diary,

Back in the day, on the official Doctor Who website, they used to have a team of children who would watch the episodes and then rte them out of five for their ‘fear factor’ - ie, just how scary was that week’s episode. I can’t say that I’ve ever really found Doctor Who scary, but that’s possibly because I came to it as a teen, whereas I’d have probably had a better chance at hiding behind the sofa at five years younger. This episode very quickly racked up the maximum score from all four children - ranking the episode as ‘terrifying’. As much as I can’t say that I’m scared watching this one… I can’t help but see why you might be.

For starters, there’s a lot in here that’s almost quite adult compared to other parts of the modern series so far. Oh, sure, it’s horrifying to watch a Dalek sucker a man to death, or to see the Moxx of Balhoon perish as the sun dies, but there’s something really grotesque about the way that people transform into the gas-mask creatures… almost to the point that I’m surprised we see it a few times throughout these episodes. I think the scariest one must be the transformation on the train tracks as Jack watches on - there’s just something about it which really sells the horror for the situation to me, and it’s helped along by Nancy’s description just a few minutes earlier of how the process feels.

On top of that, it’s also perhaps the most desperate that the situation has felt up to now. Even in other stories where hope seems to be spread thin, there’s always been some clause - in Dalek, they’ve got the bulkhead, and in Father’s Day, if worst comes to worst, the Doctor knows that Pete’s death will save the day. Here, the Doctor simply doesn’t have a clue. The situation is too advanced, there’s a bomb about to fall… no hope. But then it’s all turned on its head magically, as the Doctor finally puts all the pieces together to work out who Nancy and the child really are, and starts to speculate that there might be another way out. The resulting scene (‘everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!’) is glorious, and perhaps the one we most needed for a Doctor overcoming the loss of his own people in a devastating war.

But the darkness in this episode doesn’t entirely define it, and there’s a lot of great humour in this one. Jack’s character, for starters, is a revelation. Written larger-than-life (and cast with John Barrowman, who isn’t exactly meek and mild-mannered!), the character fits in perfectly, and helps to add some much needed levity to certain moments. There’s also a lot of depth to him here that I’d simply forgotten about over the years, or things which I thought might have come later, what with successive returns to the programme, and four seasons in his own show. I’d completely forgotten, for example, the missing two years of his life; and, if I’m honest, a bit saddened that we’ve never found out what happened - not because I think it would be better if we knew, but because here it’s very much Jack’s driving force, and it’s a shame that he’s never been seen to get resolution for himself.

It’s an interesting relationship with Jack and the Doctor, too, with both men wary of each other while equally appreciating just how useful the other may be, and also finding their personalities oddly attracted. The Doctor almost slips back into being his ‘old self’ at times (I can so easily imagine the Fourth or Sixth Doctors during the Weapons Factory scenes). It forms a nice contrast with the inclusion of Adam a few episodes ago - because the experience with the boy wonder has no doubt further coloured the Doctor’s thoughts on Jack here. I know when we pick up with the team in the next episode things are much more jolly, but I wonder if I’ll miss the air of distrust that currently exists between them? It’ve certainly an interesting dynamic…

I also have to confess that I laughed a little too hard at Mrs Harcourt’s leg - a joke I’d completely forgotten, and perhaps my favourite in all Doctor Who.

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