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25 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Four: The Watcher (The Time Meddler, Episode One)

Dear diary,

For some weeks now, The Time Meddler has felt like something of a Holy Grail. As I've meandered my way through Season Two, finding it to be mostly average-to-poor stories with the odd flash of brilliance, this tale, nestled in the final slot of the series, has seemed like a beacon of shining light.

I mused a few days ago that Ian and Barbara had come to represent everything that I wasn't enjoying about the series, and now is the best time to qualify that statement so that it makes a bit more sense. Everything post-Season Two holds some kind of excitement for me. This story is another vital stage in the arc of altering history. Galaxy 4 has a recently-recovered episode, and the DVD has been sat on my shelf for weeks, now, calling out to me, while I stubbornly refuse to watch before the allotted day in the marathon.

The Myth Makers is hailed as being a rather fantastic tale, and my newfound appreciation for the Daleks means that the idea of a 'twelve-part Dalek epic' seems exciting enough. The only things that was tying me to the middle-of-the-road second season stories were… well… Ian and Barbara.

It's felt like the arrival of Steven would be exactly the thing to kick the series back into gear: a breath of fresh air, sweeping through Doctor Who like a hurricane as it moved everything into a position to be fantastic again. And we start with today's episode which is, let's face it, bloody marvelous.

Yesterday, I talked about the odd way they leave things with Steven, and hoped that they would pick them up properly here. Well the good news is that they not only pick things up properly, but they use the opportunity to create the best opening to an episode that we've had in a long time. In much the same way that The Rescue was used as a chance to re-establish the series post-Susan, the opening to this tale is used to bring us back up to speed again before we continue.

We get mention of the original TARDIS team, Vicki even gives us a recap of what the acronym stands for, and she explains to Steven that the ship can move anywhere in time and space. We're then re-introduced to the idea that it's broken, and thus we never know where we'll be next, and the reasons why it looks like a police telephone box.

And yet, while all this could be incredibly dry stuff for someone like myself, who's enough of a fan of the series as to know all of this stuff like the back of my hand, it's written so perfectly that it never gets dull. Steven is given a wonderful vein of humour to draw from as he encounters all these strange and wonderful new things. (An absolute highlight has to be the Doctor explaining that the ship can change its appearance to look like anything, and agreeing that it would turn into a large rock if it were to land on a beach. Steven then turns to Vicki and exclaims 'You know that large rock over there looks exactly like a police telephone box…').

Quite aside from this, the whole episode looks gorgeous. I spent a little while trying to figure out if it had all been shot on film or if it just looked lovely. The direction is first class and the sets are stunning. There's a moment when two Saxons look over the edge of the cliffs and we see the sky moving above them, and it's flawless. Really impressive stuff.

The only thing I regret is knowing what this story is about. I know that the Monk has lost a wrist-watch. I know that the chanting in the abandoned monastery is coming from a grammar phone. I know that there's a second TARDIS secreted away in 1066. Knowing all of this does take something away from the impact of these reveals, but having come to this story the long way (at the pace of an episode a day) it really does feel fresh, new, and different.

What a great way to start this fabled 'new era' I've been so looking forward to!

Next Episode: The Meddling Monk

Next Episode: The Meddling Monk 
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