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2 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Two: Mission to the Unknown

Dear diary,

When you think about the early years of Doctor Who, the Dalek serials divide themselves up quite nicely. One in the first season, two in the second, a feature-length adventure for the third year, and then back to having two for the fourth, before they disappear from screens for a bit. Watching the marathon in order like this, though, you realise how darn quick this one comes around again - wasn't it only about a week ago that I last watched the Daleks trundling around in a jungle?

Much like the fantastic timings of The Reign of Terror and Galaxy 4 on DVD, this episode has come around just right for me, with the animated version being posted online about six weeks ago. I know there was a lot of talk about the episode at the time, but I purposely avoided it all. I wanted to wait and experience it in context with the rest of the marathon. It's also quite timely considering I realised yesterday that there's about as many missing episodes left to wade through as there are episodes that I've already experienced. That was a scary thought.

So then! This story has the infamous distinction of being the only episode of Doctor Who to feature neither the Doctor or any of his companions. Ellie found it a most bizarre concept to get her head around, and wondered why it was even considered a part of the series. In some ways, I figure that she probably has a point. I'm hoping that events of this story will prove to be integral to the upcoming Dalek epic, but I have a feeling that it could be boiled down to just a few bits of the scenes featuring the Daleks and the array of weird and wonderful alien delegates - something tells me that's all I'm going to need to know from this one.

And that's kind-of ok. Certainly the aliens turning up was one of the stronger parts of the episode. I have to confess that I found the opening to be more than little dull, and I wasn't relishing the project of a full episode of two new characters stood around repairing a spaceship. It's telling that it picks up for me once the Daleks start to pursue them through the jungle, and eventually kill them. The Daleks here are colder than we've seen them for a while, and that's an interesting development.

One of the things I did pick up on during this one, and possibly as a result of this coming so close to The Chase*… Terry Nation does *really like the idea of plants that are part vegetation, part animal, doesn't he? I know that it's something of a joke within Doctor Who fandom - one of those ideas that he reuses time and time again, but actually, it's glaringly obvious when you sit down to watch it! We had a cliffhanger built around it in The Keys of Marinus, last week the Doctor was commenting on how fascinating it was on Mechanus, and now we've got the Vaaga plants here.

Actually, though, I'm not really complaining. The idea of the Vaaga plants is by far the most interesting one that Nation has given us in this theme. I like the idea that they are part animal because they've taken over a living creature, and it does make for quite a chilling moment as several of the plants move in on the spaceship and its remaining crew, even more so when you remember that one of the plants was their former crew-mate.

It's another area where it's perhaps better than this episode exists now as animation rather than physically in the archive. The effect of the Vaaga plant shuffling toward you, or as a person transforms into it, it rather well realised, here, though I'd imagine it could look less effective in the studio in 1965. The same is true for the moment that the Daleks destroy the spaceship, and it's described as 'just falling apart' - something that would either really work, or really not in the studio.

On the whole, I think I was rather fond of the animation used here. It took me a while to get over the fact that the Daleks all seem to have the wrong dimensions (but then, I'm a Doctor Who fan. Of course that was going to irritate me!), but I think it helped this episode fare better in my estimation than just the soundtrack might have. I don't think this was as polished at The Reign of Terror or The Invasion, but it's certainly nice to have it in existence.

Barring unforeseen miracles, this is the last time that things will fall into place just in time for the marathon. The other upcoming animations - for The Tenth Planet and The Ice Warriors - won't be available until long after I've passed those stories in the run. It's a shame, as I head deeper into the wastelands of 1960s Who, but it's been nice to have so many things arrive just in time so far.

Next Episode: Temple of Secrets

Don't forget to 'like' the 50 Year Diary Facebook page ! I'm sure I'll be using it to ask questions etc in relation to the marathon! 

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