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6 February 2013

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

Day Thirty-Seven: A Land of Fear (The Reign of Terror, Episode One)

Dear diary,

I love it when this marathon throws up odd little coincidences. The first recon I watched - for Marco Polo - came on the same day that I saw The Hobbit in its 48fps version. Coming home from that to a tele snap recon that was less than 48 frames per minute? Bit of a culture shock.

Today, I've embarked on The Reign of Terror having spent my afternoon in a cinema watching Les Miserables . It's a full on French Revolution Day for me! Thankfully, having spent two-and-a-half hours trying to stay awake in the cinema (the misses loved it, though, so that's something…), I've really rather enjoyed this.

I should say, before I discuss the episode itself, that I've been purposely avoiding the Reign of Terror DVD for quite some time, now. I started thinking about this marathon several months ago, before we had any preview clips, and so I've avoided them ever since. It's been a tricky ten days or so since the DVD turned up, because I can hear the newly animated episodes calling to me… Still, it's only another few days, and I'm sure I'll appreciate them more by watching them in context like this.

I didn't mention it yesterday, but the cliffhanger comes rather out of nowhere, doesn't it? I've just spent a while praising how far the Doctor has come as a character over the course of this first series, and how much he's bonded with Ian and Barbara, and then one slightly mis-stepped sentence, and the Doctor's throwing them off the ship!

It still feels a bit odd here, when he sets them down and tells them to be off. I'm not sure if it's all going to come round by the end of the story, with him announcing that he doesn't really want them to go (Ian muses early on that he's not really that disappointed that they're off on another adventure together), but for now it feels more than a little jarring. It seems like the Doctor has gone right back to his old self again. Still, i I like the idea that the faults we've witnessed with the TARDIS are quite recent, as is the Police Box look, and that the Doctor isn't used to not having control over his ship yet.

And then we're off! The first time I saw Reign of Terror (many years ago, on a poor quality VHS) I knew that it was the first time the series had done any location work - and I thought it was these opening scenes in the woodland! Looking at it now, on a freshly spruced-up DVD, and having spent just over a month looking at the show's sets, it's quite clear that this bit is only a studio, but it's still looking pretty good.

I was also a bit surprised to work out that this is the first child we've seen in the series since the kids at Coal Hill right back in the first episode. Coming at it from the Matt Smith era, where lots of stories revolve around children, it seems quite bizarre! I'm guessing from his panicked look towards the end of the episode that he'll be back to help the Doctor out during Episode Two.

The cliffhanger here is pretty good, and certainly better than the last episode's. Ian, Barbara, and Susan getting carted off to Paris while the Doctor remains stuck in a burning farmhouse is very typical of Season One - splitting the team up ready to get the adventure going - but it works well enough. I'm also quite keen on the model of the burning farmhouse; The effect of the roof caving in is particularly well done.

All in all, it's a good start to the story, as I've come to expect from historical stories. I'm looking forward to following it on…

Next Episode: Guests of Madame Guillotine

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