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1 February 2015

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

Day 762: Daleks in Manhattan

Dear diary,

I’ve made much in the last couple of days about the fact that Doctor Who has suddenly exploded in scope between the Second and Third Series. Everything has gotten bigger, and louder, and more extravagant, to the point that Series One feels almost quaint in places. It’s probably more noticeable to me watching through like this (it’s only been a month since I started out on Rose, so we’re racing through the stories), because at the time, the two years between that Auton invasion and reaching this point felt like a lifetime. Several lifetimes. And yet, occasionally, something comes along that makes even this third series look all innocent compared to what we’ve still got to come. Today’s episode is a case in point. I can recall Russell T Davies really promoting the fact that this two parter features shots specially filmed in America. A small team headed over, took some plate shots of New York, and then found a near-matching wall in the south of Wales somewhere to insert the Doctor and Martha in. It sounded huge at the time, and all the publicity was really geared towards the fact that they’d managed to do this. And yet, it feels quite provincial knowing that the following year they went off to Rose to film the fall of Pompeii, and then on to Dubai the year after that, then Croatia, and Utah, and… well, you get the idea. I’m really enjoying this aspect of watching the new series back, and seeing how it evolved over the years. It’s so noticeable in this episode-a-day format.

It’s also great - as I’ve said before - to go back and revisit my opinions on the episodes. This Dalek two-parter is another one of those tales I’ve not watched since the original broadcast in 2007. Even this morning, I was explaining to Emma that this story was a Dalek story for the sake of having a Dalek story, and that it hadn’t worked, and it wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t looking forward to watching it at all. And then, I’ve sat down, and found myself really engrossed for 45 minutes! With other recent episodes I’ve not seen since broadcast, bits and pieces have come back to me as I watch - usually just ahead of those same things actually happening on screen. Today, though, has been like sitting down to watch a brand new episode for the very first time.

Oh, I could remember the basics - Hooverville, Pig Slaves, Laszlo, Daleks in the Empire State Building (which, as far as my head canon is concerned, was a plan formed after they archived the building’s design during The Chase - that’s Shakespeare, now the Empire State Building… Isn’t there a question about the Beatles in 42? Series Three is shaping up to be a proper Chase-fest), but the actual story at the heart of it; the emotional beats of the tale? Not a clue. Maybe that’s worked in the episode’s favour? Having spent almost eight years thinking that it was one of the very worst stories in Doctor Who’s long history - and certainly one of the weakest from the recent past - I’d actually done the episode something of a dis-service. There was no way it would end up being as bad as I remembered (a similar thing occurred last week with Fear Her, though not quite to the same extent).

To that end… I don’t actually plan on really discussing the story here today. Sorry! I’m so surprised by the fact that I’m actually liking it, that I want to wait and watch the whole thing play out before I really make much of a comment on it!

One thing I will talk about it something that*does* still bother me a little bit about this one, and no matter how good the story turns out to be at the end of tomorrow’s episode, I doubt it’ll allay this particular complaint. It feels like there should be a sort of buffer between Gridlock and this one. It always felt a bit strange that the Doctor and Martha go straight from New New York (actually the fifteenth New York since the original, which makes it… no, actually, never mind) to good old New York, without there being more of a point about it (Martha comments ‘I've always wanted to go to New York. I mean the real New York, not the new, new, new, new, new one,’ but it doesn’t specifically make mention of the fact they’ve just come from the latter). In some ways, this feels like a similar scenario to School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace last season, where something has been missed in the changeover from one writer to another. There’s also something that feels slightly ‘off’, narratively, about having the Doctor first tell Martha about the Daleks and the war at the end of one episode… only to have them run into the Daleks in the very next episode. Until I’ve re-watched The Lazarus Experiment in a couple of days, I won’t really know if it might have fitted neatly in between Gridlock and this one (though I’m certainly going to be keeping it in mind), but it’s just something that’s always bothered me. Am I the only one? 

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