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7 February 2013

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

Day Thirty-Eight: Guests of Madame Guillotine (The Reign of Terror, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

All the regulars have managed a bit of a break for a trip to Spain, now, then! I'm surprised that I've never noticed it before, but the last four stories have each seen time taken off by one of our regulars. I think watching in order like this makes things more apparent, as does the shift between videotape and film. There was a time that I'd never really noticed the shift, but now I spend more time watching archive telly than modern stuff (I don't even own a television!), I've become more accustomed to it.

The absence of William Russell from the story is done in a slightly odd way; it's a mixture of the 'cutting right out of the story' that we had in The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites with a bit of the 'only there for pre-filmed inserts' seen in The Aztecs. I say this because Ian still appears in his cell, and during a brief shot early on, but there's some bizarre attempts to hide him in other scenes.

One particularly noticeable one starts with Ian having just been chucked in the cell, and not responding to Susan's calls. I'm a bit surprised they didn't at least play in a recording of William Russell reassuring her or something!

I think it's also quite noticeable simply because of how different the Ian bits of the story look. The fact that they're shot on film, combined with what seems to be an unusually high exposure rate make them look like Russian cinema of the 1920s (my specialist subject at degree level. That came in useful…). It's never more noticeable than when we cut to a reaction of Ian while they're trying to appeal - you almost expect it to cut away to a caption!

All of this sounds like I'm complaining, which I'm not, really. This has been another episode I've enjoyed, although I'm not overly sure that a lot has happened. In many ways, this feels like the second half of an Episode One - everyone is being moved into the right position, and the strands of the story are being introduced. On the one hand, we have Ian being given a mission to seek out James Stirling. Susan and Barbara are being carted off to meet the Guillotine (setting up, I'm sure, a daring escape for tomorrow's episode!), and the Doctor is making his way to Paris.

With the Doctor's part in the story, we're given the series' very first location footage - and it's really quite good! The shots linger on a bit, perhaps; there's one show of the Doctor crossing a cornfield that seems to hold on just to say 'look! It's not a painted backdrop! He can keep walking!', but they're all really effective. The locations chosen are great, and it's pretty easy to picture them as being in France. It helps that the weather seems to have stayed nice for the day!

A lot gets made of the scene in An Unearthly Child, where the Doctor considers using a rock to smash a caveman's skull. It's often cited as an example of the Doctor's callousness at the very start of the series. I even talked about it for this very blog about a month ago (and concluded that, actually, it's not as bad as people make it out to be).

Why, then, does no one mention this episode? The Doctor - in an attempt to escape from a captor and get back on with his mission - tricks him into bending down… then whacks him with a shovel! You could argue that he just knocks him flat on the back, but that doesn't seem to be the implication from the way its been directed. Crikey! This is by far the most violent we've seen the Doctor so far. I'm baffled that it doesn't get brought up more often!

Oh, and I don't want to dwell on it, but blimey, Susan must be driving Barbara mental.

Next Episode: A Change of Identity

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