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31 March 2013

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

Day Ninety: Airlock (Galaxy 4, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

I've been a good boy with this marathon. I told myself that I'd take it an episode a day, and stick to the era that I'm currently in. That means that since January 1st, the only episodes of Doctor Who that I've watched are the ones you've seen me write about for Doctor Who Online. I caught a 30-second clip of a Colin Baker episode the other day when a friend was watching and it completely there me. Who was this strange man? Why does he call himself 'the Doctor'? And what's with all the colour!

Something that's come along quite nicely for the pace of my marathon is the DVD releases this year. The Reign of Terror came out just about a week before I needed to watch it, and The Aztecs special edition - including today's episode of Galaxy 4 - was out just a couple of weeks ago. The problem is that because I'm being a good boy and not skipping ahead, I've not been able to watch this one! It's only been back in the archive for 18 months, and so the thought that it was sitting on the shelf while I was wading my way through The Space Museum was slowly killing me.

And then, on the day of the DVD's release, my friend Nick Mellish (who's opinion on Doctor Who I'd trust any day of the week. Even if he is wrong about Time of the Daleks. We wrote a whole book about it once) popped up on Facebook: “I've just watched Air Lock! A new-old episode of Doctor Who! Amazing. I mean, sort of: fair to say that the episode and story itself are rather patchy affairs, but it has its moments. Some brilliant stuff hidden in there. But, Will! New Who! A new episode! Let's face it, that's bloody wonderful regardless of quality.

Now, for me, there's slightly less of a thrill about the episode. As I said the other day, Season Three is my weak area of the Hartnell-era. I've seen bits of it (The War Machines) before, and other bits (The Gunfighters) I've been holding off watching until I finally did a marathon like this. The rest of it just doesn't exist, so I've never sought to find it. That means that many of the episode this season are going to be 'new-old' episodes of Who. Heck, the last two episodes were! And the next several are!

But there's still something special about Airlock. I think it's the magic of knowing that it was sat, unknown, in a collection for years. Waiting patiently to be discovered and reappraised again. It also helps that until a few years ago, with the recovery of a single photograph, we didn't have a clue what the Rills actually looked like! There wasn't any surviving material to show us. Throughout the 80s and 90s, you could only speculate as to what these 'hideous' creatures resembled. And now we've got a whole episode which features them! Sure, they're behind a glass screen, but we get the basic idea.

And I think, on the whole, that's why I'd much rather see at least one episode from every missing story returned, rather than a single full story. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to have a full story come back to the archives, so that we can enjoy it as originally intended from start to finish, but being able to actually see this episode has helped, a bit, to raise my opinion of the story as a whole, just as the surviving Episode Three did during The Crusade.

So! Anyway! The episode itself. My first port-of-call when loading up the DVD was to take a brief look at some of the recon bits from Episodes One and Two. Not the full thing, just snippets here and there. They look great, there's some really effective stuff in there, including the CGI Chumblies which are just adorable. Actually, that's true of the live-action Chumblies in the rest of Episode Three, too. I've long thought that Chumblies are meant to be a little bit naff, this kind of rubbish monster from the start of Season Three which doesn't quite work…

But they're ace! For a start, they've got lights inside them which flash around its body! I'm fairly sure that Peter Purves didn't describe that to me on the narrated soundtrack! They make them look far better than they might have otherwise. And the way they move is smooth and fun, gliding around the Rill's spaceship as they escort Vicki and the Doctor. Of course, it's not entirely flawless - I'm not keen on the way that the top 'dome' wobbles for a while when they come to a halt - but it's better than I'd anticipated.

Really, 'better than I'd anticipated' is a pretty good way to describe many of the things we see here. Catching the tail-end of the second episode on the recon, where the Doctor and Vicki explore the Rill ship, I was thinking how great it would be if the ship could have really looked as good as the backgrounds here, with the metallic frame and the sheets between them… and it does! That's what the ship really looks like throughout Episode Three!

On the whole, there's a lot of excitement associated with this episode, but the story itself still isn't the most fascinating thing in the world. I'm going to take the fair option and ration my excitement at actually seeing some of the story against how much the story itself is grabbing me, giving this episode:

Next Episode: The Exploding Planet

Next Episode: The Exploding Planet 
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