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22 January 2015

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

Day 752: The Impossible Planet

Dear diary,

If The Idiot’s Lantern was especially notable because of the direction, then The Impossible Planet is notable for its music. There’s so many lovely cues in this episode that I could hum off by heart, despite having not seen this story since it was first on TV all those years ago. Evidently, I’ve listened to the soundtrack more often! Music isn’t something that I’ve really brought up a lot over the history of the Diary - only really commenting on it when it either stands out as being particularly beautiful or particularly rubbish - but this episode is one that I really have to lay some praise on. While I’m on the subject of music, mind… I finally understand those complaints that used to do the rounds about how bloody loud it’s been in these first two series. More than once, I’ve found myself having to sit adjusting the volume throughout the episode so that I can hear the dialogue clearly enough while not allowing the music to irritate anyone within a one-mile radius. I can’t say I ever noticed this in the past (though I was aware of other people complaining about it), but now I suddenly completely understand!

So, after yesterday being a lovely day where I got to talk of happy memories of watching the episode on first transmission, today we’re back to my usual, grumpy, recollection of the 2006 series. Oh, this one bored me to tears. For that one summer, I’d found myself really into a sport for the first and only time, and we’d set up a net on the lawn where we could while away the time playing. My only real memory of this episode’s first broadcast was wishing that it would hurry up and finish so we could get back outside and continue our game. I didn’t care about the people in the space base. I didn’t care about the black hole. I didn’t care that the TARDIS was lost down a cavern. I just wanted it to end!

I think, watching it today, that I know where my younger self was coming from. Compared to some of the other stories this year which start at a breakneck speed and simply refuse to let up for the entire running time, this one is positively glacial. Oh, there’s plenty of action - from the Ood closing in, to the earthquake, Scooti being sucked into the vacuum, and the decent in to the pit - but all of these serve to punctuate very long scenes in which people just… talk. I can’t remember the last time we had an episode as talk-y as this. Some sequences, notably in the control room of the base early on, seem to go on for ages as we’re introduced to each character in turn, given a history of their mission, told (repeatedly) how impossible it all is… everything really just slows right down for long stretches at a time…

…And it’s all the better for it. Oh, like I say, I can see where 2006 Will would perhaps get a bit bored with this one - nice day outside, an afternoon of tennis and the prospect of several more games ahead, and I’m sat inside watching people talk - but 2015 Will can’t get enough of it. I often see people online bemoaning the fact that two-part stories have become so scarce in Doctor Who over the last few years, and always thought that I wasn’t that bothered if we had one part or two (though, if I’m honest, I’ve always leant more towards the one-parters), but this episode totally sells me on the idea of a two-part story.

That long scene I’ve described above, where everyone and everything is introduced in great detail isn’t long and boring - it’s the atmosphere of the whole thing. You come out the other side of that scene with a real sense of this place, and the people within it. Everything is so much stronger for it. The slow pacing also means that the slow corruption of Toby is given the space to breathe that it really needs, and it picks up such a sinister vibe in doing so. I can’t imagine something as well crafted as that having any place in a single 45-minute story - you’d lose all of the atmosphere, and it would fall completely flat.

I think tomorrow’s episode is likely to pick up a greater pace now that everything has been manoeuvred into the right position for the story, but that’s probably necessary as the appropriate counter-balance to this instalment. Once again, watching things through with a few year’s distance and a more patient attitude is letting me see these episodes in a whole new light, and it’s good.

(Also, I shall rise from the pit. So there.) 

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