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8 January 2013

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

Day Eight - The Ambush (The Daleks, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

If there's one thing I could change about this marathon, it would be how much I know about Doctor Who.

For the early years of the programme, each episode had its own individual title (much like the modern series), but because each story was spread over several weeks, the viewer never quite knew how long each narrative was going to last for.

Now, I know that The Daleks is a seven-episode-story, so I know that there's still another 75 minutes of story to go, but if I'd not been so sure about the length of the stories, then today's cliffhanger would have had a bit more impact. The first story was four episodes long, and since this one builds up to the TARDIS crew headed back to the ship until the last thirty seconds or so, I'd have been in the same mind about this story, I'm sure.

As it is, the cliffhanger feels weak. I know the story's not over, so it feels like a way to extend it pointlessly.

Still, this isn't the complaint it might appear to be. By the time I'd reached the fourth episode of An Unearthly Child, I was bored of the setting, bored of the guest cast, bored of the story and more than ready to move onto something new. I worried briefly that this may turn out to be the case with all the stories - that I'd become so used to watching a Doctor Who in one or two sittings to the point I couldn't enjoy it in this way.

Thankfully, though, and still much to my surprise, I'm still enjoying this one. I've spent the day eager to get home and tune in, and I'm already looking forward to tomorrow. Huzzah!

It helps that, quality wise, this story has remained pretty damn consistent for me. I've been enjoying it all along, and while it's not quite perfect, it's certainly better than some tales. Today's instalment continues to give me things to smile at, and I'm particularly keen to focus on one aspect; the effects.

Back in the first episode of this tale, I commented that the Dalek city looked pretty good, and that the props themselves were rather well made, too. In this episode, we're treated to several special effects - certainly more than we've had in the series up to now.

The lift looks fantastic - I'm assuming here that they've not built an actual lift in the studio, but have created it with some camera trickery? Maybe someone more familiar with it can let me know in the comments? Though the shots panning down the lift shaft as it rises and falls do become a bit repetitive after a while.

Especially impressive, though, is the effect of the wall being blistered when a Dalek gun hits it. Done with some form of split-screen effect, it works surprisingly well. Though we don't get actual rays from the Daleks' guns for some time yet, this story does a perfectly valid job of making them seem like a powerful weapon.

The Daleks cutting through the door to reach the TARDIS team is just one of the shots from this story that gets visually referenced many years later for Chris Eccleston's swan song Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways (The other being the first shot of the Daleks' sucker arm in Episode One), and it works just as well here as it did in 2005.

Aside from the effects, the music has also been particularly good this time around. There's a scene where the Daleks hide from the Thals, and their movement in unison out of sight, coupled with the effect of the incidental music really helps sell the tension of the scene. It's fairly easy to see why the Daleks were considered so scary at this stage - here, they're not the single-person tanks they'll later become, but scheming, manipulative little creatures encased in metal.

The Doctor has softened a bit here - already he's becoming a different man to the one I met a week ago at the start of this experiment. When he sits with the Thal woman, looking over the history of Skaro, there's a wonderful mix ofd the excited explorer I enjoyed so much at the start of the last story and the cuddlesome grandfather he'll later become.

And yet, there's still flashes of the original Doctor in here. The debate over weather they should stay and help the Thals or simply leave while they have the chance ('The Thals are no business of ours') is strongly reminiscent of the same debate in the last story, with the teams still being equally drawn.

Still, I'm glad to see that this story isn't wearing me down in the way I'd expected. I'm certainly enjoying it more this time around than during any other watch I've ever done of it…

Next Episode: The Expedition

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